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Klallam Tribe Facts and History

Klallam Tribe

The Klallam tribe is made up of four different, but related Northwest Indian Tribes. They practiced slavery at the time of European arrival.

Two tribes reside on the Olympic Peninsula and one on the Kitsap Peninsula in the State of Washington.

The fourth is located across the border in Canada on Vancouver Island in the province of British Columbia.


Prior to the arrival of famous explorers from Europe, the Klallam tribes populated the Northcoast of the Olympic Peninsula from the mouth of the Hoko River to Port Discovery Bay.

The Klallam primarily lived on the coast of Washington up to Vancouver Island with a few villages inland near the larger freshwater lakes.

Like many other indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest coast, the Klallam held potlatches, which played a large role in determining social status.

At the time of European arrival, there were an estimated 10 – 30 Klallam villages.

European Contact

The first Europeans to arrive on the Northwest coast came in 1774, just one year prior to the Battles of Lexington and Concord that began the Revolutionary War.

Juan Perez of Spain was the first to navigate up the coast.  Spain had claimed the Northwest coast over 250 years prior when Vasco Nunez de Balboa saw the Pacific Ocean. However, the Spanish Conquistadors and Crown did little to develop or colonize the lands and focused much of their energy on Mexico, Central and South America.

Captain James Cook began to explore the Northwest Coast in 1778. The infamous British explorer that would discover Hawaii and circumnavigate the globe did not directly interact with the Klallam tribe, but the tribe would hear of him and others that were exploring the region.

The 1780s would bring in fur traders from Europe who would eventually interact with the tribe. 

Charles William Barkley was the first European known to have entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca, in 1787. Robert Gray reached Clallam Bay in 1789. From 1790 to 1792 the Spanish, based at Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island, made multiple expeditions into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. 

Manuel Quimper reached Port Discovery Bay in 1790. In 1791 Francisco de Eliza led a small exploring fleet, which for a time based itself at Port Discovery.

It is not known which ship first made contact with the Klallam, but it was most likely before 1789 and probably at the village at Clallam Bay or Port Discovery, and involved gifts of knives, buttons, and copper. 

George Vancouver made contact with the Klallam tribe in 1792. He thought he was the first European to visit them and wrote about their indifference, which surprised him. He traded them copper, knives, and minor trade goods.

The 19th Century

In 1825 the Hudson’s Bay Company established Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River. There was little traffic between the Klallam and the fort.

In 1828 two Klallam Indians killed five Englishmen. The Klallam warriors said that the men had mistreated them, however that decision to retaliate would be a poor decision and lead to the death of many.

The English retaliated by sending 60 men from Fort Vancouver to a nearby village. They attacked and killed seven Klallam Indians and then proceeded to attack, plunder, and destroy a nearby village. 

The Hudson Bay Company recorded the attack and noted that 25 Klallam were killed. 

The end result was 32 Klallam dead. 

In 1832 the Hudson Bay Company trading post Fort Nisqually was established on the southern shore of Puget Sound, in what is the city of DuPont today. Fort records indicate that Klallam were visiting to trade furs and game by 1833.

Between 1833 and 1835 Klallam parties visited Fort Nisqually at least nine times, and more regularly in the following decade. During the same period a Hudson Bay Company trading party visited Klallam territory.

This party found the Klallam mostly unwilling to sell furs, saying the company’s prices were too low and that they would instead wait for some other, more competitive trader.

Paul Kane visited Fort Nisqually and the larger region in 1847. His descriptions of the Klallam indicate that they still practiced slavery, had given up bows and arrows for guns, that duck netting was common, shell money was still valued, and shamanism still practiced.

One village he visited was fortified and inhabited by about 200 Klallam.

Attack on the Chimakum

In 1847 about 150 Klallam warriors joined with Suquamish led by Chief Seattle in a major attack on the Chimakum people, intending to wipe them out completely.

They largely succeeded, destroying the last Chimakum villages and leaving nearly everyone dead or enslaved. The few surviving Chimakum fled and subsequently joined the Twana, or Skokomish, near the southern end of Hood Canal.

After this the Klallam occupied the former Chimakum territory, which was the northeastern part of the Olympic Peninsula, especially on the Quimper Peninsula, where Port Townsend is today, and along northern Hood Canal.

Interaction with

The first white settler of Port Townsend arrived in 1850. That same year the Klallam chief Chetzemoka, known as the Duke of York—many Klallam were given royal names by whites who had difficulty pronouncing Klallam names—was taken by a ship captain on a visit to San Francisco, returning very impressed.

In the early 1850s many settlers came to Port Townsend and elsewhere in the region. By 1853 there were sawmills operating at Port Townsend, Port Gamble, and Port Ludlow.

A small settlement was established in Klallam territory near Dungeness Spit and present-day Sequim.

These early settlers, who lived in conditions little better, or worse than the Klallam, began selling large amounts of liquor to the Klallam, which quickly had deleterious effects.

The Demise of the Klallam

In 1855 the population of the Klallam was approximately 2,000. The tribe had been devasted by disease and alcoholism.

The Klallam tribe regularly raided their neighbors but had almost completely stopped using clubs and bows. The Klallam had many tools and utensils of European manufacture. They were growing potatoes in cultivated fields.

The fur trade, formerly vital, was almost extinct. Slavery and potlatching were still practiced.

In 1855 the Klallam, along with the Skokomish and the surviving Chimakum, signed the Point No Point Treaty.

Under the treaty the Klallam were supposed to give up their land and move to the Skokomish Reservation, near today’s Skokomish, Washington, in exchange for government aid in the form of rations and instruction.

However the Klallam never made this move and remained in their territory along the northern coast of the Olympic Peninsula.

Around the time of the Civil War (1860) a smallpox epidemic broke out and brought their population numbers down more than they already were.

The Klallam tribe again engaged in intertribal warfare when they massacred over 30 Tsimshian men, women, and children. 

The once great tribe had lost any influence by the mid 1800s and was known to be a violent and drunk people. They were pushed off the land and placed on a reservation.

This led to Chief James Balch, who had been a heavy drinker until his reform in 1873, to lead the Klallam in purchasing their own land and create their own community. He and other leading Klallam collected enough money to purchase a parcel of 250 acres, in 1874, and found a town they named Jamestown, after James Balch.

This was very unusual for the time, not least because Native people were legally barred from buying land at the time.

By doing this and not moving to the Skokomish Reservation they gave up the possibility of federal assistance of any kind.

For many decades Jamestown was one of the few examples of a Native settlement fully owned and managed by the native people themselves, with no governmental assistance or oversight.

In 1981, over a century later, and after six years of effort to gain official recognition as a tribe, the federal government agreed, resulting in the federally recognized Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe of Washington.

Some Klallam never joined the Jamestown project. Today there are several other Klallam groups, such as the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, the Port Gamble Band of S’Klallam Indians, and, in Canada, the Scia’new First Nation.


The Klallam tribe had a better ended than many of the other Native American tribes when they purchased their land.

However, they made many mistakes during European exploration and American expansion which led to the deterioration of the tribe. 

Their population dropped significantly due to the usual factors such as smallpox and other diseases. However, the tribe was also given to drunkenness which caused much violence among their tribe and other neighboring tribes.

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