A Newsletter of the White River Valley Museum

July 1999

Arthur Ballard, and the Mythology of Southern Puget Sound

By Kenneth (Greg) Watson


Arthur Ballard


Reprinting a Classic
In 1929 the University of Washington printed "Mythology of Southern Puget Sound" as part of its series of scholarly publications, University of Washington Publications in Anthropology. This was the second University publication of Native American legends collected by Arthur C. Ballard, following "Some Tales of the Southern Puget Sound Salish" in 1927. These legends represent an important cross section of Native American literature from the area including the present cities of Seattle, Bellevue, Auburn and Tacoma.

The public circulation of these articles was never great. They were not intended for a general audience, and although they are often sought and quoted by scholars they have not been reprinted until this year, when the Snoqualmie Valley Museum republished "Mythology" with a grant from King County's Landmarks and Heritage office.

Today a greater portion of the non-Native population is interested in Native American traditions than, perhaps, in any previous generation. In Native American cultures themselves there is a strong impulse to include tradition in contemporary culture. Reprinting "Mythology of Southern Puget Sound" is an effort to improve access to a cultural treasure for all persons interested in this area's original literature.

In order to understand the importance of Arthur Ballard as a translator and preserver, it is well to first understand something about the culture that produced the legends and the lives of our area's Native people at the time Ballard began his work.

The Ancient Culture
For millennia, every river drainage in the Puget Sound basin was home to hundreds if not thousands of indigenous people, and every stretch of saltwater coast held a village of one or more extended families. It is from the names of these villages and the waters where they stood that the modern names of tribes and reservations came - for example Duwamish (inside or river people), Snoqualmie (people of Moon the Transformer in the valley where legends say the transformer was brought to earth as a baby), Muckleshoot (place name meaning "where they can see all over", a reservation for Ilalkoamish, Stuckamish, Skopamish and other villages on the Green and White Rivers.)

Villages had one or more large rectangular houses made of split cedar boards covering massive post and beam frames carved from cedar logs. Each house was home to an extended family headed by an individual with enough wealth and accomplishment to be accepted as leader of a house, a village, or a region.

These large homes were sleeping quarters, kitchens, storehouses for preserved food and other supplies, and workshops for carving, netmaking, basketry, spinning, weaving, and many other skills taught by one generation to the next.

During the warm months, individuals and groups came and went from the villages, travelling to gather food and material resources from the rivers, woods, burn-cleared prairies and mountains. In summer the mountain passes could be easily crossed for trading with friends and relatives to the east.

In winter, the most important, intangible wealth of traditional Puget Sound - the ancient legends and ceremonies handed down through generations - became most active. After the moon (approx. November) called Sicalwas (shee-chal-wass) "putting paddles away", one of the large dwelling houses or al?al? (ahl-ahl) could be cleared of partitions and excess domestic furnishings and converted to a piGidaltx (pee-gwee-dalt-wh), a "smokehouse" or "longhouse" where tribal members could nightly share the dances and songs given to them by their guardijavascript:OpenWindow('MilwaukeeRoadMap.htm') with the supernatural world. These gatherings were also the best times for other cultural "work", including marriages, healing ceremonies and confirmation of important family names for young men and women. Guests would be lavishly fed and given gifts according to their wealth and status, agreeing by their presence to be witnesses to the work.

Every evening one or more elders would provide the experience that gave Puget Sound Native American culture its surest continuity - the telling of syayahub (syah-yah-hobe) or legends. Through the oral literature of the syayahub, given as short sketches, epics, or cycles of stories, the culture's wisest members could pass on information about the origin of the world and its inhabitants, about ancient monsters, natural phenomena and present day species, and about culture and the results of right and wrong behavior.

These legends were heard many times by young people as an important part of their education. They were cherished and repeated by adults, refined and dramatized by elders. Although they contain many lessons, a storyteller never said anything like "and the moral of this legend is...". Figuring out the point of a story and applying it to one's own life is an important part of the educational process. The job of the audience was (and is) to pay attention and think. To show their alertness listeners call out a signal word, "Haboo" or "Hamoo", when the legend teller pauses during a story.

Usually, syayahub do not describe historic "real time" or the actions of human beings. Although the people in the stories may walk and act and speak as human beings, they are myth people - that is, they are the ancestral forms of animal species, plants, forces of nature, and supernatural beings that inhabited the pre-human world envisioned by many Native American cultures. In many cases, the action taking place, such as the change of a human-like being into a plant or animal or the death or weakening of a monster, is explained within the story as taking place because "the generation of human beings is coming". Legends like these, as well as those dealing with death, ghosts, and the exercise of spiritual power, show some of the framework of Native American spirituality. It is important for the modern reader outside of this culture to keep in mind that these legends are not just foolish stories for the amusement of children. Although they often contain humor, they are as important to a traditional-minded Native American person as is the Bible to a Christian or the Koran to a devout Muslim.

This oral literature was created by centuries of Native American life in the Puget Sound area, and in turn helped to shape the culture as it evolved and was refined. They offer one of the best glimpses we now have of our region prior to the coming of the explorers of the eighteenth century and immigrant homesteaders of the nineteenth. It is fortunate that such insights survive, given the amount of adaptation and enforced change that occurred in the area's Native American material culture, especially after the treaties of 1854-1855.


Typical of Arthur Ballard's careful and respectful work, he recorded the names and genealogies of his informants. In marked contrast to many of his peers, we know he also paid informants for sharing their knowledge and time. In an abbreviated form, here are the Puget Sound Native Americans whose stories Ballard recorded:

Name Region Year of birth (approx)
John Xot Puyallup 1845
John Simon Upper Puyallup 1840
Tom Milroy Upper Puyallup 1845
Dick Suwatub Lower Puyallup 1840
Jack Smohallah Suise Creek 1850
Jonan Jack Suise Creek 1880
Big John Green River 1840
Mary Jerry Green & White River 1860
August James White River 1885
Major Hamilton Duwamish 1870
Sampson Green River 1845
Lucy Sampson Duwamish 1850
Dan Lake Washington 1845
Susie Lake Washington 1850
Christine Smith Green River 1840
Ann Jack Green River 1840
Annie Jack Green River 1880
Charles Sotiakum White River 1835
Snuqualmi Charlie Snoqualmie 1850
Jack Stillman Snoqualmie 1887
Joe Young Puyallup 1863
James Goudy Skagit 1865
Charley Ashue Yakima-Puyallup 1855
Burnt Charlie Puyallup 1835
Lucy Bill Snoqualmie 1870
Nancy Big John Duwamish 1840

In the early 'teens, when Arthur Ballard began his work of collecting the legends of the Puget Sound area's first people, the traditional world had been turned upside down. Most Native Americans were living in poverty on crowded reservations. Most of the payments and material benefits promised by the treaties had never appeared. Native Americans were unable to vote or own land in most cases. Tribal lifeways had long been under attack: Multiple family communities had been broken up by appropriation of ancient village sites and by assignment of nuclear family allotments on reservations.

Agents and Sub-Agents of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, stationed on the reservations, were given broad powers .

Among the major duties of these officials was encouragement of civilization, usually taken to mean abandonment of all traditions, especially ancient religious practices. Gatherings in which tribal members could freely wear their spirit dance paint and costumes were limited to celebrations that had some obvious "acceptable" purpose, such as the commemoration of the treaties, the Fourth of July, or the life of Chief Seattle. Otherwise, for many years religious gatherings were held in secret, under threat of the Bureau's wrath.

From the late 1800s, many young people were taken to boarding schools and released to see their families for only a short time each year. At school, students were forbidden to express traditional culture through dress or action. Any use of ancestral languages was punished, and ancestral religion was forbidden and derided as superstition or devil worship.

At home, elders became more and more isolated. Younger relatives who went away to boarding schools were increasingly unfamiliar and uncomfortable with Lushootseed or Whulshootseed (Puget Sound Salish language), often the only one spoken by the older generation. Since reservations and other Indian communities were widely separated and available transportation was scarce, elders had fewer opportunities to visit relatives and friends of their own age and experience. These circumstances made life increasingly difficult for the elders who adhered to their responsibility to remember and tell the ancient stories. The overwhelming message from European American culture, to itself and to the tribes, was that traditional culture was doomed and not worth preservation. Ballard recalled "people told me they were a dying race, and not to fool with them."

It was a time of hardship and loss, but not defeat. More traditional knowledge was retained and shared within tribal communities than most outside observers could have guessed. Many ceremonies, names, legends and other traditions were maintained in secret or in memory, even if only by a few people who hoped or knew that a time of greater cultural self-determination would come. Often, these elders were willing to share some of their knowledge with sincere scholars (linguists, anthropologists, and historians) in order to insure preservation for their own descendants and others who would listen. Prominent among these was Arthur C. Ballard.

Arthur Ballard and His Work

Arthur Ballard is sometimes referred to as a "lay Anthropologist", a term which does little credit to the high quality and pioneering nature of his work or the respect afforded him by his colleagues in the field.

Ballard's cultural work was centered in the area where he spent his childhood and grew from an interest in Native Americans he had known from his earliest years. He was born on his family's homestead in the precinct of Slaughter, King County, Washington Territory on October 18, 1876. At that time, the White and Green Rivers converged just downstream from the Ballard property, running into the Duwamish River and then into Puget Sound, as well as to Lake Washington via the Black River. The Native Americans whose villages stood for centuries on the shores of the White and Green rivers - the Skopamish, Yilalkoamish, Stkamish, and others - formed the majority population of the Muckleshoot reservation, established by Presidential Order in 1874. These were familiar childhood neighbors to Ballard, who recalled that "Old Nelson", a powerful leader in treaty times, had cleared the first acres of the Ballard homestead for Arthur's father, Levi.

Young Arthur attended the local grammar school (less than 30 students when he started), went on to Whitworth College and graduated from the University of Washington in 1899 with a B.A. in Latin (the University offered no degree in Anthropology at the time). As an adult, Ballard supported himself and his family by working as a schoolteacher, post office worker, and City Clerk for the City of Auburn, as well as secretary for the Azurite Gold Company and the Auburn Investment Company. He married, raised a family, and lived all his 85 years in the town where he was born.

Ballard's interest in languages was lifelong: when he was about 15 years old, he started compiling Yakima word lists, later regretting that he didn't know enough about phonetic spelling to make the work of any real value. As an adult he was skilled in Latin, Greek, German, Spanish, and Esperanto, as well as Native American languages from Puget Sound and eastern Washington.

How Raven Tried to Get Dried Salmon
as told by Jack Smohallah

Pheasant rose in the morning and looked toward the dry timber and wished for dried salmon.

He took his stone hammer and wedge to the fir trees. He drove in the wedge, and as he drove he sang, "Telo'p, Telo'p (dried salmon), and each time he drove in the wedge out would come a dried salmon. He took them home and gave much food to his children.

"The Pheasants are doing much talking," said Raven, and he sent his boy to see about it. Raven's son went and saw them eating. He went back and told his father. Raven sent and asked of Pheasant, "How do you get the salmon?" "Oh! I use by hammer on the dry timber," he said.

Next morning Raven set out to hunt for dry salmon in the timber. Raven took his wedge, struck it with the hammer and said, "Telo'p, telo'p," and a big salmon came forth. Raven took the salmon and ate it in the woods. Raven said, "I am hungry for more salmon, I shall get more from the tree."

Raven drove the wedge and said, "telo'p," but no salmon. Thus he took much bark. This he carried home, and said to his wife, "That is salmon." But it remained nothing but bark.

Ballard was willing to learn as he went. In the winter of 1911-12 he walked from his home in the town of Auburn to the Muckleshoot Reservation, several miles, mostly uphill, to talk with a man named Sukwa'lAsxt (Big John), born about 15 years before the treaties were signed. He failed to bring an interpreter on this occasion and apparently had little success in learning any of Sukwa'lAsxt's wide knowledge of traditional matters, but returned later - Big John is listed as the source for several legends and footnotes in this volume. Ballard regarded his work with John Xot (Hote), Puyallup tribe, born about 1845, as a breakthrough in substantive information. "He knew it all", said Ballard of the five interviews conducted with Xot, "That sort of broke the ice."

Blanket Rock
as told by Ann Jack

The young wife of a member of the Taitida'pabe, a tribe near Squally became homesick and wished to go back to her parents, who lived on the shore of Puget Sound near Three Tree Point.

When she got there, her people had set off with their camp equipment in a canoe. The young woman hastened
along the shore, until she caught sight of the boat in the distance. Crying to her mother, "Wait for me," she sank down exhausted. There she is to this day, in the form of a white rock.

Her husband was dressed in a blanket of whistling-marmot skins. He was turned into another boulder, down the beach. The surface of that boulder looks like a wrinkled blanket. The white people call it Blanket Rock (derived from our word for marmot). It now stands on the beach near Buenna...


Ballard actively continued his collection of cultural material from the 'teens onward, making contact with young anthropologists, most of them students of the great Franz Boas, who were scientifically studying the area's Native American cultures. These included Hermann Haeberlin, who wrote the initial version of The Indians of Puget Sound; Erna Gunther, who brought Haeberlin's work to the English language press and served as Director of the Washington State Museum; Marian Smith, author of the invaluable volume The Puyallup-Nisqually; and Thomas Talbot Waterman, first Anthropologist hired by the University of Washington. In the introduction to his posthumously published (1973) Notes on the Ethnology of the Indians of Puget Sound, Waterman places Ballard's value and contributions in perspective as follows:

"A good deal of the field work was done in company with Mr. Arthur C. Ballard, of Auburn, who had previously, on his own initiative, recorded a very considerable body of information concerning Indian life around Puget Sound. Mr. Ballard may be regarded as the leading authority on the Indians of the State of Washington. His acquaintance with them and with their mode of life has extended over a long period and is extremely intimate. Certain information obtained by Mr. Ballard is embodied in the present paper, which to that extent is a joint enterprise."

Ballard collected information on past lifeways and technologies (his Ethnographic and Linguistic Fieldnotes on Puget Sound Salish are in the archives of the Royal Anthropological Society in London). He also published articles on kinship terminology and fishing technology, but his real love of the culture centered around language and literature.

The story texts in "Mythology" are written in English, with the exception of names and some song texts in Whulshootseed. We know that he understood the language to some extent in his later years, although he also worked with translators when transcribing material from elders who spoke little or no English. At any rate the fragments of Whulshootseed included in this volume indicate that Ballard had a sensitive "ear" for rendering the Native language into the standard linguistic alphabet or orthography of the day, a system adopted by the American Anthropological Association in 1916. In a 1961 newspaper article, the 85 year old Ballard recalled "I made over some keys in my old Woodstock typewriter so I could write them down". 
Ballard's sense of individuality in the subject matter and its creators is evident. When given variants of the same story by different informants, he translates and transcribes all, carefully noting sources. This gives an excellent sense of the variations in the legend record between families and communities. It also highlights informants' individual voices. Ballard also carefully notes the identity and genealogy of those whose words he collected, listing names (Native American and "English"), tribal affiliation and relatives of each source. This is a vast improvement over the usual anonymous "from an Indian legend".
The material well-being of his sources was also Ballard's concern. He conducted his work "as opportunity offered and I had funds - I had to feed and pay my Indian informants". Such consideration was a matter of practicality for impoverished elders, but no doubt it also marked Ballard as a man who understood the traditional value of generosity and of respect for the elderly. He also gave his assistance by sharing in return some of the information he had been given. In 1957 he testified on behalf of the Indian Claims commission, verifying lineages, ancient village locations and traditional resource sites using information which had been given to him by elders then deceased.

At age 85, Ballard finished a book that promised to be his most important work - Listen My Nephew: Myth, Tradition and History on Southern Puget Sound. The text was complete and in the hands of publishers when the author passed away on May 16, 1962 (He is buried in Auburn's Mountain View Cemetery). The decision of his family not to go forward with publication has aroused curiosity and regret ever since.

Anthropology is a profession and a science, but its most successful members are marked with a true respect and love for the people with whom they work. Few have approached the genuine sympathy with the "history and problems of the elder race" held by Arthur C. Ballard.

Kenneth (Greg) Watson