Timeline: Port Gamble Bay and the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe

Pre-18th Century

Port Gamble S’Klallam are the descendants of the nəxʷsƛ̕áy̕əm̕ meaning “Strong People.” They are part of the coastal Salish cultural-linguistic family, which extends from the central British Columbia Coast to northwestern Oregon and the interior Fraser River drainage. By 1000 A.D. Coast Salish speaking communities were well established throughout Puget Sound and both shores of the Straits of Juan de Fuca. S’Klallams have lived along the shores of Port Gamble Bay for over 1,000 years.

At the time of contact with Europeans in the late 18th century, S’Klallam maintained at least 15 winter villages stretching along the south shore of the Straits of Juan de Fuca as well as others on the southern coast of Vancouver Island.

The area thought of today as the town of Port Gamble was home to ancestors of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, who called the site nəxʷq̕íyt during the time when their main village was situated there.


Old Little Boston18th Century

The first contact between S'Klallam people and European explorers and traders occurs.


Andrew Jackson Pope and William Talbot establish the Puget Mill Company on the shores of Port Gamble Bay. After promises of lumber to build homes and jobs at the mill as well as other assurances, many Port Gamble S'Klallam people are relocated to the Point Julia side of the Bay. The name once used to describe their home at Port Gamble--nəxʷq̕íyt--is now applied to Point Julia. 


The United States and representatives of the S'Klallam, Twana and Chemakum tribes sign the Treaty of Point No Point. In the Treaty, the Tribes surrender vast areas of land but explicitly reserve hunting, gathering and fishing rights as well as access to traditional lands and harvest areas such as Port Gamble Bay. 

The Treaty reserved 3,840 acres at the head of Hood Canal for the exclusive use of Point No Point Treaty tribes. The reserved tract eventually became the Skokomish Reservation. Many S'Klallam people however chose not to leave their homeland, including the Port Gamble S'Klallam who refused to leave Port Gamble Bay. 


The town of Port Gamble is established and the mill is fully operational as the Puget Mill Company. The town was owned and operated by Puget Mill Co. and later Pope & Talbot.

Cattails at Pt. Julia 7 21 1923


Despite the Point No Point Treaty, increasing pressure from settlers moving into the region marginalizes S'Klallam access to traditional harvesting and settlement areas. Through the 1860s and 70s, more families move to Port Gamble to work at the mill and the settlement of  nəxʷq̕íyt on Point Julia grows.


Without a reservation, Port Gamble S'Klallam families begin to purchase land around Port Gamble Bay. The first lands were acquired by Joseph Anderson in 1885 through the Indian Homestead Act, and during the next several years S'Klallam families purchased lands on the east side of Port Gamble Bay in order to establish a land base. This was an important step in preserving the Tribe's identity and traditions. Their physical and geographic ties to Point Julia and Port Gamble Bay represented a deeper connection to their ancestral lands and way of life. 


The Puget Mill is the second most productive and financially successful sawmill among the 310 mills in operation within the Washington Territory. Workers include those from the east coast—mostly Maine—plus immigrants from Northern and Central Europe and China as well as S'Klallam tribal members.


Between 1909 and 1913, the federal government attempted to negotiate with the Puget Mill Company to purchase Point Julia and adjacent uplands for a community land base for the S'Klallam people. The mill company refused to sell any lands at that time. Eventually, layoffs came to the mill brought on by the Great Depression. As a consequence, many families could not pay taxes on their lands and they were lost in foreclosure to Kitsap County. 


The Indian Reorganization Act was established. This allowed the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe to further its work towards establishing a reservation. During this time, the federal government purchased 1,234 acres from the McCormick Lumber Company (formerly Puget Mill Company). It would be an additional three years before the areas would be recognized as a reservation. 


The Port Gamble S'Klallam Reservation is established. The S'Klallam people continue to practice ancestral traditions such as sustenance fishing in Port Gamble Bay.


A decision is reached in United States v. Washington State aka "The Boldt Decision" (named for the judge in the case). This ruling affirmed the right of Washington Treaty tribes to take half the harvestable salmon in their "Usual and Accustomed" fishing grounds and to regulate their own fisheries. The ruling extended to shellfish in 1994. 

A second phase of the case held that State actions that degrade the environment and reduce tribal fisheries may violate treaty rights.  


Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribal hatchery is established. This operation is still going strong today.


In an attempt to manage salmon and other marine resources, the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe begins its annual net pen transfer operation, which trucks in several hundred thousand coho salmon smolts from George Adams Hatchery and transfers to the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe's net pens (usually in mid-February) in Port Gamble Bay. The smolts are reared for about three months and then released.


Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe begins monitoring for pollutants in Port Gamble Bay.

Point Julia Air PhotoEarly-1990s

The Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe begins extensive studies of Port Gamble Bay. These include biological and ecological examinations of the water and marine life. The findings of these studies, which have an emphasis on toxicity levels and possible effects on human health, encourage the Washington State Department of Ecology and Department of Health to initiate their own studies.

During this period, Port Gamble Bay cleanup becomes a top priority for the leaders of the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe. They spearhead efforts to repair old septic lines to prevent fecal coliform bacteria from flowing into the water table, aquifers, drainage ditches, and nearby water surfaces. In addition, they work with homeowners—tribal and non-tribal alike—to fund cleanup efforts of private land.

The Point No Point Treaty Council attempts to assemble a coalition to support an outreach program to address water quality in Port Gamble Bay. While the program received initial funding and support, the program ended after only a couple of years when additional funds were not available.


Puget Mill closes after 142 years of operation.


Environmental studies find hundreds of thousands of tons of woody debris leftover from Puget Mill operations. This waste rests within the shoreline of Port Gamble Bay. As the woody debris breaks down in salt water, it robs the water of oxygen and creates a toxic stew that includes sulphides and ammonia. Studies also find petroleum hydrocarbons, arsenic, chromium, lead and mercury in the Bay and on its shores. 

Based on toxicity levels, the Department of Ecology begins to designate shellfish closure zones throughout parts of Port Gamble Bay. Today, these closures continue depending on the results of ongoing testing. 


The Department of Ecology dredges 17,000 cubic acres—a small fraction of the affected area—of woody debris sediment from a one-acre portion of Port Gamble Bay. The dredged materials are rinsed with freshwater to remove salt and then used as topsoil to support nearby forestlands.

The Department of Health closes the entire western shore of Port Gamble Bay to shellfish harvesting. This closure is still in effect.


The Environmental Protection Agency finishes a multi-year study of the possible human health and environmental impacts from the Hansville Landfill, which is adjacent to Port Gamble Bay. No significant, long-term human health issues are found. Monitoring continues.

A tugboat sinks at the old mill site resulting in more than 200 gallons of diesel being leaked into Port Gamble Bay. The Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe responds to the spill.


Port Gamble Bay is listed as a Model Toxics Control Act cleanup site. The Model Toxics Control Act creates a comprehensive regulatory scheme to identify, investigate and cleanup contaminated properties that are, or may be, a threat to human health or the environment. The Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe begins working with the Washington State Departments of Ecology, Health, and Natural Resources along with Pope & Talbot (now known as Pope Resources) on a cleanup plan for Port Gamble Bay. The development and implementation of the cleanup plan is currently in progress.


The Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe receives oil spill response equipment from Washington State Department of Ecology. This includes booms, buoys, and absorbent pads.

In conjunction with the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Department, the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe begins a comprehensive study of plankton levels in Port Gamble Bay and Hood Canal. Plankton is essential to a marine ecosystem because it is the most basic level of food. All marine life—either directly or indirectly—eats plankton.

A permit application for a large marine dock in Port Gamble Bay is denied by the Army Corp of Engineers with comments of concern from the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe. Docks create immediate environmental impacts to waterways including general pollution brought into the area by an increase in marine traffic as well as shading eelgrass and other marine vegetation, which can severely hinder fish spawning and migration.

LB Creek fish2008

Based on their findings, the Washington Department of Health institutes strict guidelines for shellfish harvesting in Port Gamble Bay. For example, shellfish cannot be harvested on very hot days when toxicity levels tend to be highest.


Olympic Property Group and Kitsap County announce the North Kitsap Legacy Partnership. This proposed project would allow the county to purchase 7,000+ acres of land in exchange for major development at Port Gamble. Several environmental groups and concerned citizens join with the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe in openly opposing the project, which could provide severe environmental impacts to Port Gamble Bay.

At community hearings in 2010 and 2011, Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribal members speak to their dependence on Port Gamble Bay for sustenance fishing.

The Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe's Natural Resources Department is awarded a multi-year Brownfields Grant, which is intended to help communities prevent, assess, safely cleanup and sustainably reuse brownfields sites. Brownfield sites are defined as areas, such as Port Gamble Bay, that may be complicated by the presence of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants.


The Natural Resources Department of the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe, in conjunction with Central Washington University, begins conducting interviews with tribal elders to record ancestral history relating to the original village at Port Gamble and Port Gamble Bay.

A former Navy torpedo tender, which was owned by a private citizen, breaks loose from its mooring in Port Gamble Bay and washes up on the beach. Approximately 1,000 gallons of fuel is on board. The Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe responds to the cleanup.

Bookmark and Share