Ear: Swan

Sunday was the 320th anniversary of the last time the Cascadia Subduction Zone slipped on Jan. 26, 1700, causing a massive 9.0 earthquake and tidal wave.

James B. Swan (1818-1900, pictured in 1883), the first school teacher at the Makah Reservation at Neah Bay, Washington, wrote down a traditional narrative of the event — as told to him by Native American Billy Balch — in his July 12, 1864, diary entry (tinyurl.com/Swan1864):

"… (Billy said) the water flowed from Neah Bay through the Waatch prairie, and Cape Flattery (on the Olympic Peninsula) was an island. That the water receded and left Neah Bay dry for four days and became very warm.

"It then rose again without any swell or waves, and submerged the whole of the cape, and in fact the whole country, except the mountains back of Clayoquot (on the west coast of Vancouver Island).

"As the water rose, those who had canoes put their effects into them and floated off with the current, which set strong to the north. Some drifted one way and some another, and when the waters again resumed their accustomed level, a portion of the tribe found themselves beyond Noothu (Nookta, also on Vancouver Island) where their descendants now reside, and are known by the same name as the Makah or Quinaitchechat.

"Many canoes came down in the trees and were destroyed and numerous lives were lost. The same thing happened at Quillehuyte and a portion of that tribe went off either in canoes or by land, and found the Chimahcum tribe at Port Townsend."

"There is no doubt in my mind," Swan noted, "of the truth of this tradition."

Elleda Wilson is an editorial assistant for The Astorian and author of the award-winning In One Ear community column. Contact her at 971-704-1718 or ewilson@dailyastorian.com.

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