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Savoirs locaux, langues et représentations

The Role of Traditional Environmental Knowledge in Taytnapam Toponyms

Le rôle des connaissances environnementales traditionnelles dans les toponymes Taytnapam
Eugene S. Hunn et Richard H. McClure Jr.


Les Taytnapam sont une communauté autochtone méconnue de la région de la côte Pacifique Nord-Ouest des États-Unis. Ils ont vécu dans le bassin supérieur de la rivière Cowlitz, et ont été relativement peu touchés par la colonisation euro-américaine jusqu’à la fin des années 1800, échappant au dépeuplement et au bouleversement subis par les communautés autochtones voisines en raison des maladies introduites et de la colonisation. La majorité de leurs descendants appartiennent aujourd’hui à la nation des Yakamas et à la tribu autochtone des Cowlitz. Le linguiste Melville Jacobs a publié un inventaire détaillé des toponymes Taytnapam tels qu’ils lui ont été dictés en 1927 par deux aînés autochtones en Ichishkíin (Sahaptin), un dialecte local. Une part importante de ces toponymes fait directement ou indirectement référence à la flore et à la faune locales, illustrant l’influence des connaissances environnementales locales dans l’ancrage des Taytnapam sur leurs terres traditionnelles. Les récits géographiques traditionnels, comme ceux des aînés Taytnapam, Jim Yoke et Louis Castama, ont joué un rôle pédagogique essentiel dans l’éducation des jeunes au respect des moyens de subsistance autochtones. Sur un inventaire de 300 toponymes autochtones Taytnapam, 60 d’entre eux font référence à des espèces végétales ou animales tandis que d’autres font référence aux connaissances environnementales traditionnelles relatives aux principaux habitats et cycles saisonniers. Il faut noter que les aînés Taytnapam attribuent ces noms à Coyote, messager du Créateur, héraut du droit coutumier, tamánwit, qui régit l’ordre de l’univers. Ces noms ne sont donc pas « créés par l’homme ».

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1TEK, that is, Traditional Environmental/Ecological Knowledge, since 1983 (Hunn 1993), has taken center stage as the proper focus of ethnobiological research and analysis, extending an earlier obsession—as some would have it—with first, utility, then, formal classification (Hunn 2007). TEK transcends our appreciation of the fact that in a particular local community this or that species of plant or animal was named and used in some way. In TEK we appreciate how that knowledge, accumulated over centuries—indeed millennia—made possible a sustainable community livelihood in a traditional homeland. Nevertheless, naming remains the essential foundation on which such traditional knowledge of the natural environment is based.

2Naming the “things of the world” is the sine qua non of humanity, the tools of thought, of memory, of discussion, of imagination. Each named thing is a complex node of ideas and connections which, together, form the cultural tapestry. In this essay, we examine a particular set of connections from this weave, those that link specific plants and animals to particular places, implicating in the process the human activities elaborated there. Our case study is that of the Taytnapam, an Indigenous community at home on the upper Cowlitz River in the Pacific Northwest of the contemporary United States (McClure and Hunn n.d.).

3A few descendants of the original Taytnapam still live on the upper Cowlitz River (Figure 1) in the shadow of Mt. Rainier, a.k.a., Taxúma; most of the original inhabitants of this river valley were displaced in the latter half of the 1800s following the influx of Euro-American explorers, traders, missionaries, and colonists. Their great-grandchildren, now grown, have enrolled as citizens of two tribal federations, the Yakama nation and the Cowlitz Tribe. They have not forgotten where their people came from. Fortunately, a rich oral history of these people and the lands of their ancestors had been recorded in “their own words.”

Figure 1 : Relief map, Washington State (USA), showing the traditional territory of the Taytnapam (arrow) within the upper Cowlitz River watershed of the Cascade Mountain Range

Figure 1 : Relief map, Washington State (USA), showing the traditional territory of the Taytnapam (arrow) within the upper Cowlitz River watershed of the Cascade Mountain Range

Base map courtesy Wikimedia commons

4As a graduate student at Columbia University, Melville Jacobs was recruited by Franz Boas to document several “vanishing languages” of the Pacific Coast. Jacobs traveled across the country from New York in the summer of 1927 (Seaburg and Amoss 2000). He continued up the Cowlitz River to the fishing camp of one Jim Yoke (Figure 2) at a place called Likalwít, well known to the Indians on both sides of the Cascade Range as a place of abundance in the late summer and fall, where a half-dozen species of anadromous fishes could be harvested by spear and net, and baskets of berries gathered in the nearby mountains. Jacobs was primarily interested in recording “mythic tales” featuring the exploits of the Plateau culture hero, Coyote, a.k.a, Spilyáy, with the goal of a Freudian theoretical analysis of underlying folkloric themes. However, Mr. Yoke had other ideas. Though apparently deathly ill, he insisted that Jacobs also record a “geographic narrative” (Jacobs 1934:228-237). This folkloric genre is not well documented elsewhere, but the two such Taytnapam narratives—the second by Louis Castama (= “Lewy Costima” … Jacobs 1934:238-246)—constitute a virtual mental map of the Taytnapam known world.

Figure 2 : Jim Yoke, Taytnapam elder and raconteur, in 1923 (left), and in his later years (see right photo) at Lɨkálwit, a traditional summer fishing camp. Yoke’s geographic narrative included a majority of the documented Taytnapam Ichishkíin (Sahaptin) toponyms discussed here.

Figure 2 : Jim Yoke, Taytnapam elder and raconteur, in 1923 (left), and in his later years (see right photo) at Lɨkálwit, a traditional summer fishing camp. Yoke’s geographic narrative included a majority of the documented Taytnapam Ichishkíin (Sahaptin) toponyms discussed here.

Photos courtesy of Mary Vanderpool and the White Pass Country Historical Society

5In Yoke’s narrative, Coyote travels across the land, following well-known trails linking the mouth of the Cowlitz River (Figure 3) at the mighty Columbia with the middle course of the Yakama River, an eastern tributary of that same master stream. En route, Coyote crosses the Cascade Mountains and descends the namesake Tieton River -- the Taytnapam are literally, “people of the Tieton.” As he travels, he names the land, specifying where Chinook and silver salmon will spawn, where steelhead will rest as they migrate upstream to spawn; dictating where the many species of roots and berries will be found, describing each twist and turn of the river, and indicating where people will gather to camp or spend the winter. In sharp contrast to the colonial strategy of claiming land for an alien sovereign or flattering influential patrons by imposing their names on the alien landscape, the Taytnapam inherited a sacred landscape and the names to go with it.

Figure 3 : The upper Cowlitz River at the geographic center of traditional Taytnapam territory

Figure 3 : The upper Cowlitz River at the geographic center of traditional Taytnapam territory

Photo courtesy of Dave and Martha Garoutte, White Pass Country Historical Society

6Jacobs benefited greatly from the assistance of a young bilingual Taytnapam consultant, Sam Eyle, Jr., son of Sam and Mary Eyle (“Eyley” in Jacobs 1934:102). Jacobs faithfully transcribed these narratives and a corpus of Taytnapam myths in Ichishkiin (Sahaptin), and with the collaboration of the younger Eyle, was able to publish an English translation (Jacobs 1934). The original Taytnapam Ichishkiin version was published by Jacobs in 1937. These texts are matched story by story in both languages, paragraph by paragraph, and sentence by sentence, allowing a person with some familiarity with the Indigenous language to verify each word.

7Our primary source in this article is Yoke’s geographic narrative. Here Yoke names 273 places in the Taytnapam vernacular. Some of these places are described in sufficient detail that they are readily mapped, others may be plotted by virtue of the fact that the narrative is sequential, as if Coyote were leading the reader on a grand tour of the area, beginning and ending at his favorite fish camp above Packwood near the headwaters of the Cowlitz River. Jacobs recorded a second geographic narrative from Louis Castama (1934, 1937). This account is less extensive as it is limited to the upper Cowlitz basin, but it includes many intriguing mythic asides. The two narratives are in close agreement on place names, though Castama’s narrative adds some 24 additional toponyms absent from Yoke’s story.

8We have been able to plot the great majority of these named places with respect to their approximate GPS coordinates on a series of maps to be published separately (McClure and Hunn n.d.). We have located an additional 35 toponyms in the testimony of several younger Taytnapam, most notably from the Taytnapam matriarch, Mary Kiona (1869-1970), her daughter Minnie Placid, and her granddaughter, Joyce Eyle. Our maps were generated through a GIS application, with spatial data provided in digital form to the Cultural Resource departments of the Cowlitz Tribe and the Yakama Nation.

9To identify the plants and animals incorporated in a substantial fraction of the toponyms or mentioned in conjunction with sites named in the narratives, we had recourse to Hunn’s previous ethnobiological studies with Yakama and Umatilla consultants (Hunn & Selam 1990:311-350) and Erna Gunther’s ethnobotanical studies of the “Cowlitz.” Most of this information was provided by Mary Kiona (Gunther 1945:10) in the Upper Cowlitz language, that is, in the Taytnapam dialect of Ichishkiin. We will detail below the extensive ethnobiological information incorporated in our inventory of Taytnapam toponyms and the additional details of natural history noted as “annotations” to the places visited by Coyote in these geographic narratives.

How Are Taytnapam Toponyms Composed?

10Place names are by definition nouns. Taytnapam nouns are variously simple or complex. Examples from our inventory include such simple names as the following, some unanalyzable, some metaphorically descriptive, others particularizing a general term, some indicating a valued plant or animal resource.

Simple Taytnapam Place Names

11Xiit’áy, perhaps descriptive of flat rocks beneath the current that facilitate spearing migrating salmon; one of a long list of fishing sites below Cowlitz Falls.
Pátu, for Mt. Adams, a term that may be used to describe any snow-capped peak but in context refers specifically to this prominent summit.
Kw’ɨp, literally “waterfall,” for a creek just below Cowlitz Falls and a winter village, home to the Kw’ɨp-łama, “people of the falls.”
Núshnu, literally “nose,” descriptive of a river feature at this fishing site and winter village, home to the Núshnu-Ɨama, people of the Nose village.
P’na, literally, a depression in the rock at a rapid which serves as a natural fish trap. There are two places in our inventory with this name.
Plus, literally “brains,” for a curious white mineral deposit on the shore of the river.
Papsh, literally “Douglas-fir,” for a creek.
Ɨshtɨ’sh, literally “prickly-pear cactus,” for a place on the Tieton River trail, presumably where this desert plant is first noted by travelers descending the eastern slopes of the mountains.
Ptis, literally “muskrat.”

12More often the place name employs a suffix such as X-(y)ash, X-(y)as, or X-ins(h) indicating a place where the item named X is to be found. Roughly equivalent is the possessive suffix X-nmí “has X.” Typically, the item named is a plant or animal, but might also be a mineral.

Complex Taytnapam Place Names

13Ayáy-yash, “rainbow/mountain trout place.”
Alála-yash, “nettles place.”
Txú-wash, “cow parsnip place.”
Wilaps-as, “sturgeon place.”
Wit’íq’in-ash, “Band-tailed Pigeon place.”
Mit’úla-yash, “spawned-out Chinook salmon place.”
Ptís-as, “muskrat place.”
Yápnit-ash, “elk place.”
Áwxanapáyk-ash, “Blue Hole” on modern maps, a place, a tall rock cliff above a deep pool in the Ohanapecosh River where several men stand in line on ledges with dip-nets ready to intercept migrating salmon.
Shúuksh-ash, “place of The Knower,” likely a mythic reference.
Aytɨ’min-ins, “cutthroat trout place.”
Xwiyatł-ínsh, “sweat lodge place,” for a prominent boulder near Cowlitz Falls, attributed to Coyote.
Wáptash-insh, “feather place.”
Ch’alacha-nmí, “has bracken ferns.”
Nukshay-nmí, “has otters.”
Waan-mí, “has loons” [n.b., not “swans” as in Jacobs’ gloss].
Ɨnwa-nmí, “big burned over place.”

14Occasionally, these suffixes combine, as in Shusháynsh-ash-nmí, “has steelhead place.”

15Reduplication may indicate that the item named is either particularly small or that it is numerous; or the reduplicated name may be descriptive of the item itself, e.g., k’aslay-k’áslay, a “wiggly-tailed water bug” for which both a mountain ridge and a creek are named:

Reduplication in Taytnapam Place Names

16Paps-páps, “many young firs.”
Nánɨk-nanɨk, “many small cedars,” from nank, the western red cedar (Thuja plicata).
Xts-xɨ’ts-ash “water parsley place.”
K’usí-k’usi-yash, literally “dog’s place,” where “dog” is literally, “little horse,” an intriguing etymological story in itself.
Ayám-‘ayam, “many trout,” using a variant of ayáy “rainbow trout.”
Tak-ták, “meadows,” suggestive of several small meadows at this location (Figure 4).
Ɨlwáxam-ɨlwaxam, “little fire-cleared open place.” cf. Ɨnwa-nmí, “big burned over place.”
Támash-tamash, “many roasts,” referring to pit ovens for baking camas, for example.

17Other suffixes may apply, as for Shishpash-aypáx, “mouth of the Cispus river.” Áypax-kan-ɨshchɨ’t, “trail to the Yakama” (literally, “trail to the people of the river mouth” in reference to the Yakama people).

18A few toponyms are verbal nouns, often descriptive of the course of the river or of trail features: Wíitł’ak-sha, “sliding rocks break twigs,” > the verb stem wiitł’k- “to break down” plus the verbal aspect suffix -sha.

Figure 4 : The mountains known to the Taytnapam as Mɨ’smɨs and Tak-ták rise above the prairie known as K’usí-k’usi-yas, or “dog place” along the Cowlitz River

Figure 4 : The mountains known to the Taytnapam as Mɨ’smɨs and Tak-ták rise above the prairie known as K’usí-k’usi-yas, or “dog place” along the Cowlitz River
2015 photo by Pete Caster, The Chronicle (Centralia, Washington)

Mythic Events in Taytnapam Place Names

19Finally, we should note references to events of the mythic era during which animals (and sometimes also plants and other natural phenomena) act as humans in stories recounted by elders during long winter nights passed in communal tule-mat houses. These mythic characters are known by their names marked with an honorific suffix -(y)áy or -ya. For example, a mountain near Packwood is known as Tiskáya, for mythic Skunk, the mythic character whose name is derived from tiskáy “skunk.” A mountain above the Tieton River is called Xwashxwáya, mythic “Blue Jay,” from xáshxwáy “Steller’s Jay.” Several basaltic post-pile formations are named for the notorious “Soft Basket Woman Monster” of legend, T’at’ashíya (or T’at’ałíya), originally derivative of t’at’ásh, the large woven burden baskets for carrying a day’s harvest of roots back to camp. The mythic demon abducted human children, packing them home in her burden basket to feed her offspring (cf. Beavert 1974:78-82). Coyote turned her to stone, of course, to make the world safe for humanity. We may make rough counts of the ethnoecological references incorporated in this inventory of Taytnapam toponyms. Of our total of 339 such terms, 70 explicitly name a local plant or animal (see appendix); five more cite a mineral resource; that is, 23% in all. Twelve places are named for particular species of fish (or fish byproducts): Chinook salmon (tkwínat), post-spawning Chinook salmon (mɨt’úla), edible fish in general (waykánash), steelhead (shusháynsh), sturgeon (wílaps), suckers (xwun), various types of trout (tkwála, ayáy, aytmɨn), fish gills and fish head cartilage. Ten places bear mammal names: beaver, dog, elk, mouse, muskrat (twice), mountain beaver (twice), river otter, and mythic Skunk. Seven are named for birds (or parts thereof): Band-tailed Pigeon, loon, hummingbird, Pacific Wren, Spotted Sandpiper, Steller’s Jay (in myth), and feather. “Frog croaking” is our sole herpetological place name and the lowly “wiggly-tailed water bug” (possibly mosquito larvae) pops up twice. Animals thus account for 32 names in all. Plants account for 38 more: alder; big-leaf maple (twice); bracken fern top; bracken fern rhizome; cactus; camas; cedar; cow parsnip; dhazelevil’s club (twice); Douglas-fir; young Douglas-firs; Douglas onion; grand fir; hyacinth brodiaea; huckleberry; Indian carrot; ironwood/ocean spray; leaf; mountain grass; mule’s ears; nettles; wild onion species; Oregon ash; Oregon grape; raspberry; root; skunk cabbage (twice); strawberry; sword fern; tiger lily; tree moss/lichen; water parsley; water moss 1; water moss 2; . Finally, we have five places named for useful minerals: blue clay, red ochre, and white agate.

20The examples cited above illustrate the rich cultural detail beneath the surface of these simple nouns. Additional insights are included in the typically brief “annotations” offered by the narrator of these geographic tales, as noted in several of the examples cited above.

Annotated Place Names Provide Critical Context

21Annotations are comments closely appended to a particular named place in these Taytnapam geographic narratives. Most such commentaries accompany places that do not explicitly indicate a plant or animal in the name. These add another 108 places noted for their resource potentials, for a total of 178, 60% of the 297 place names in the two geographic narratives. Of these annotated place names, 61 mention fishing sites, 23 note berry patches, nine discuss mountain goat hunting sites, seven are noted for edible roots, three for game, and five for minerals.

Annotated Fishing Sites

22These annotations specify virtually every local fish species of economic significance, often adding details with respect to the behavior of the animal, methods of capture, and habitat preferences. Near Cowlitz Prairie, known as Nawkxw, Mary Eyle notes that, “Smelts themselves came up river indeed, the smelts occasionally would reach Cowlitz Prairie, and they [the Lower Cowlitz or Tł’kwílipam] would catch them. Once in a while they died from smelts. When they caught them they were always fearful of the smelts, because a great many died from smelts” (Jacobs 1934:225). This, apparently, refers to incidents of “red tide” poisoning that is best known in shellfish, but which may also affect these small anadromous fish. At Winston Creek, known as Ch’álch’alsh, Castama elaborates on the local fishing possibilities: “At that place [Coyote] made a place to catch fish, he made a seat from which to spear fish, he made it for spearing better, so that one could tug strong and not fall into the water. There in the river he made a place where it boils and bubbles, there fish come out on the surface, there he speared them” (Jacobs 1934:239). This river feature is highlighted in a fishing site named Imútł’k-sha, literally “It Boils and Bubbles” (Jacobs 1934:230).

23Lalálx, at the junction of the Cowlitz and the Tilton Rivers, may have been the largest Taytnapam winter village. Edward Curtis was informed that it contained 30 houses, and thus several hundred people (1913:173). Castama is enthusiastic: “… Coyote made the fish dam, he fastened it with hazel rope…. He took soft maple and willows and made dip nets with which to catch salmon…. He made a shallow water trap with sticks, he laid it in the water of a small creek, and caught salmon…. Coyote made a basket trap for them in Tilton Creek … here. There will always be a basket trap there. In summer time, in the dry season, when the river goes dry, there will always be fish there, Graylings (that is, mountain whitefish), salmon trout (likely rainbow trout), silverside (silver or Coho salmon), Chinook salmon, steelhead will go into it” (Jacobs 1934:231-232).

24Upriver where Rainey Creek joins the Cowlitz, Castama again waxes eloquent: At Ptís, literally “muskrat,” “There will be many people there. [The future tense reflects Coyote’s perspective as he prepares the world for the first people.] They will have a good big time, they will always catch food (there)…. at that pti’s they will make trout hooks, there they will get food with long ropes, they will haul them out of the water, early in the morning they will see a great many fish, trout, salmon trout, Dolly Varden (now known as bull trout), graylings, suckers” (Jacobs 1934:242; note that Indian words here are spelled as quoted). At Shq’úni, literally “eddy,” “The falls [Cowlitz Falls] go down, at the place where the falls go down, there fish drop into it [a p’na, a natural rock formation that serves as a fish trap], when they leap towards shore…. There is where a great many people used to stay, and obtain fish” [here the past tense indicates that such concentrations of Indian people are a thing of the past.] (Jacobs 1934:230). Jim Yoke’s fishing camp at Lɨkálwit near the headwaters of the Cowlitz supported a comparable inventory of food fish (Jacobs 1934:246).

25Near the winter village called Núshnu (“nose”) is a fishing site known as Iyánsh “driftwood” or “log jam” where “it boils and bubbles, it is also a place where people catch salmon” (Jacobs 1934:231). There are three such named sites in the Taytnapam inventory. Such features of the river were so notable that there is a myth-time character called Iyansh-yáy, literally, “Log Jam Person” (Jacobs 1934). At Ch’áchɨn, literally “Pacific Wren,” at a rapids below Cowlitz Falls, “a great quantity of food is taken (there), at the whirlpool [múutł’ksh-pa] at t’cat’cǝn there is always food to be caught” … “There will be many people there. In future, they will have a good big time, they will always catch food (there)” (Jacobs 1934:230, 242). The name may allude to the story about how Coyote borrows Wren’s penis to impregnate the beautiful Merganser Maiden at a site near Cowlitz Falls (Jacobs 1934:243-244), or more simply, it may note the ubiquitous presence of this tiny forest diva in the damp forest understory.

26Some named sites lacked fish altogether, such as Washápani, literally “carrying it along” where Yoke notes that there is “no fishing in this creek” (Jacobs 1934:230). Perhaps it was otherwise notable. Xiit’áy is a “salmon stopping place” (Jacobs 1934:230). Ch’alach’ash-nmí, literally “has bracken ferns,” a site up the Cispus River, is noted as a “spawning place for steelhead” (Jacobs 1934:232). Nearby is a prominent rock pillar known as Shushaynshash-nmí Tiixáy “Steelhead Spear Pole, “stands there… in the myth of Coyote (it was) made by his command…” (Jacobs 1934:232). “Up above there is Yuyu-łá (“person who shouts”) river, a spawning place of silverside salmon” (Jacobs 1934:232). At Anawitash-nmí (“hunger place”)—the North Fork Cispus River—“… steelhead and Chinook salmon spawn” (Jacobs 1934:232). Why people would go hungry here given the reported fish spawning is a puzzle. These annotations noting spawning sites for Chinook and silver salmon and steelhead high up the Cispus River well above Cowlitz Falls demonstrate the falsehood of published opinion that the falls were an effective barrier to salmon migration to the upper reaches of the Cowlitz basin, and that thus the Taytnapam territory was impoverished (cf. Ray 1966:A-8).

Sites Noted for Game, Berries, Roots, and Minerals

27While these fishing resources predominate in our Taytnapam place name annotations, prairie and montane sites are noted frequently for such resources as mountain goat, berries, and roots. We offer a few examples here, of sites toward the Cispus River headwaters. At Mɨliiish-ínsh “tongue place” “… long ago at that place people caught mountain goats” (Jacobs 1934:232). At Ts’áqap-sha “(mountain), a huckleberry patch, there the people of yore used to get huckleberries, and they would dry them” (Jacobs 1934:232). At Lalíwat, “There is a mountain… a huckleberry patch” (Jacobs 1934:233). At Tɨmlá-tɨmla mountain, literally “little hearts,” “a rock of that shape is there…, a huckleberry patch” (Jacobs 1934:233).

28At Sit’axs, literally “liver,” as Hamilton Butte was known, “There [at Xit’áy] (“big flat site”) the source of the Cowlitz River first appears. At that place is a large long rock named sit’a’xs (‘liver’), a great many mountain goats (are) there, they caught the mountain goats, and smoke dried (the meat) …. There is a large rock cave [túli], they smoke dried inside it there…” (Jacobs 1934:233). Goat meat was also smoke dried in a cave on the Cascade Crest at present-day “Goat Rocks,” a site named Ásh-ash, literally “go inside place” (Jacobs 1934:233). At Shamchash-wákuł, “resembling orange-pink face paint,” “There is a mountain goat place” (Jacobs 1934:233), as well as a source of this mineral pigment (McWhorter 1919).

Annotations of Ecological Significance

29Among those toponyms lacking some explicit ethnoecological data, 41 describe features of riverine or terrestrial habitat, including four that indicate the role of fire in landscape modifications. Nine name campsites, seven name winter villages, five name trails, and three indicate social boundaries.

30Riparian features of note, besides kw’ɨp “waterfall,” include iyánsh “log jam” or “driftwood.” Rapids where the river “boils and bubbles” may be incorporated directly in a place name, as at I-mútł’k-sha, a verb that combines stems relating to boiling and breaking, for a site not far below Cowlitz Falls. Yáwashɨmlii-t or Yáwashɨmlii-sha, literally, “sits in the water,” is nearby. Yoke explains that this names a rock in the river where the water “boils and bubbles” (Jacobs 1934:230). A site is named Shq’úni, < shqw’ní “curve” or “whirlpool,” “where the falls go down, there fish drop into it, when they leap towards shore” (Jacobs 1934:230). Two sites are named Pna, “hollow rock under falls” … a “natural rock trap at falls; Coyote made it,” where leaping fish are caught (Jacobs archive 1927-1931). On the Tieton River there is a fishing site called Tuksáy (“bucket”), perhaps referring to a similar rock formation where fish might be trapped. Awxanapáyk-ash “stand up, stand in a row, line up” or “standing at the edge” (Beavert & Hargus 2009:15; Jacobs archive 1927-1931), describes how several dip-net fishermen line up on a long rock over a narrow channel where they take turns snagging a migrating salmon (cf. Hunn & Selam 1990:156-157).

31Key productive montane habitats are highlighted, as for Taak-táak “small prairies.” Huckleberries abounded in the years following a fire, as noted at the following sites: Inwa-nmí “big burned over place,” Nuwaxám-insh “fire clearing,” and Ilwáxam-ɨlwaxam “little fire cleared opening” … “long ago a great many people stayed there and got huckleberries” (Jacobs 1934:233). This last site may be the place cited by Mary Kiona in her Indian Claims Commission testimony as “Lawakum” (1953), the boundary between Taytnapam and Yakama territory at the Cascade Crest, perhaps the remnant of a massive forest fire of years past. Xit’ay, literally “big flat site,” is targeted for huckleberries (Jacobs 1934:233). Likewise, xwaway “large level place” is “a root digging place” for bitterroots and desert parsley.

Annotations of Spiritual Significance

32Twenty-five place names refer to events or beings of the myth era or to a place of spiritual power. Several examples are found below.

33Basalt formations are interpreted as stone embodiments of the Mythic “Soft Basket Woman Monster” T’at’ashí-ya or T’at’ałí-ya, frozen in time by Coyote as he prepared the land for the coming of the People. Near one such site is a trail Yoke names the Kw’aalí-nɨm-schɨt “trail of the Dangerous Being [kw’alí].” This is the modern-day “Klickitat Trail” which heads south from the Cowlitz River toward Goat Rocks. Wilawáyk-ash, literally “jumping across place,” names Sluiskin Falls on the south slope of Mt. Rainier where “according to the belief in the mythology, the people who were made in myth times used to jump across… where they leaped across in myth times” (Jacobs 1934:233-234).

34The rocky peak near Rimrock Reservoir on the Tieton River now known as Goose Egg Mountain is called Myáwax “chief,” alluding to a well-known Coyote story (Beavert 1974:188). The Chief here is Coyote’s son. This mountain looms over a rich meadow at the junction of the two forks of the Tieton, site of a major village of the Nachiish-łáma, neighbors and close linguistic allies of the Taytnapam. In the immediate vicinity one finds a series of rock summits named for neighboring groups: Taytnapam-í “of the Taytnapam people,” Wishxam-í “of the Wishram people,” and Taptatpam-í “of the Prosser people”. Each sent young women in hopes of establishing marriage alliances with the great Chief, son of Coyote. Nearby is Tɨmatɨ’sh “menses place”; “Coyote’s daughter had her first menses here” (Jacobs 1934: 234). A living mythic landscape.

35Xwiyatł-ínsh “place of sweats,” is a mountain near Morton. The sweat lodge was personified as “The Old Man,” to whom prayers were offered to effect a cure. Sweating was considered essential for hunters to prepare themselves for their task. Shɨmlíi-sha “swim in the water,” a site in Mount Rainier National Park, likely refers to the practice of seeking spirit power by a purifying swim (Jacobs 1934: 236). Shúuksh-ash “The One Who Knows,” at the Goat Rocks, is a mountain goat site (Jacobs 1934: 233); Yuyu-łá “Person Who Shouts,” a tributary of the Cispus River, possibly Iron Creek (Jacobs 1934:232). Mulmul-łá “Bubbles Person” and Waltuti-łá “Spray Person” (Jacobs 1934:233) are additional examples of the Taytnapam proclivity to personify striking natural features.


36Indigenous place names have been a focus of much recent documentation and analysis. Indigenous communities across the globe have initiated atlas projects to formally recognize their territorial claims, treating Indigenous place names as “moral title deeds” (cf. Carlson 2001; Cruikshank 1990; Hunn et al. 2015; Kari and Fall 2016; Thornton 2012; Tunbridge 1987). The survival value of Indigenous place naming practices, the millennia of meticulous toponymic mapping by Indigenous communities—wherever detailed accounts have survived colonial pressures—is striking. Place names anchor individuals within their ancestral homelands, inspiring powerful emotional responses to deeply familiar places. One well-documented example is that of the Western Apache (Basso 1984, 1988). Their place names are perhaps extraordinary in their poetic and moral power. Each is a haiku-like image of the place, and stories relating to places are like “moral arrows that pierce the heart,” drawing the wanderer home (Basso 1996). Taytnapam place names are perhaps more prosaic, but no less powerful.

37Indigenous place names contrast dramatically with the names of our contemporary cartography (Hunn 1996). For comparison, we have analyzed a collection of 1221 contemporary Washington State place names detailed in Phillips’ compendium, Washington State Place Names (Phillips 1971). Of these, some five percent (60) are “ethnobiological” in the sense detailed above. Examples include: Alderdale; Appleton; Badger; Beaver; Bluestem; Bush Point; Camas; Cedar Falls; Cottonwood Island; Cougar; Cypress Island (for juniper); Deer Harbor; Doebay; Elk; Evergreen; Ferndale; Fircrest; Fruitland; Goose Island; Grapeview; Holly; Horse Heaven Hills; Huckleberry Island; Laurel; Loon Lake; Magnolia Bluff (for madrone, misapplied); Manzanita; Maple Falls; Nighthawk; Oak Harbor; Oakville; Oysterville; Puffin Island; Ravendale; Rosedale; Silvana (from Latin, “forested”). Strawberry Island (twice); Tanglewilde (invented name to promote real estate); Trout Lake; and Winesap. Others (N = 122) are borrowed from local Indian names for places or “honor” prominent Indian leaders. Quite a few of these indicate prominent plants or animals (N = 40), reflecting thereby Indigenous naming patterns.

38However, a plurality of the contemporary places in this modern inventory are named for individual people, either for local settlers or their family members or for prominent soldiers or politicians (> 40%). A goodly number of place names memorialize the colonists’ birthplace or implicate some biblical or literary source (ca. 17%). Twelve percent of contemporary names are borrowed from one or another Indigenous name for a tribe, village, or Indian leader. We should note that NO Taytnapam toponyms refer to individual humans, given that Coyote did the naming as he prepared the land for “people who are coming soon.”


39Our goal in this essay is to stress the rich ethnographic detail that rewards a close inspection of a corpus of Indigenous toponyms. We would emphasize that Indigenous place names are fragile cultural artifacts that may vanish in a single generation when the Indigenous people are displaced from the land they have called home for centuries. It is also essential to appreciate that these names do not “speak for themselves,” but can only be understood when “annotated” by elders privileged to have learned these names in the course of a lifetime of living at, in, and with them. By placing these Taytnapam names beside those of our contemporary maps, we can see what has been lost to colonization. At this late date we can but “bear witness” to the deep ethnoecological roots that sustained Indigenous communities, and perhaps then, as a result, visit their ancient homelands with proper respect and appreciation.

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Appendix: Scientific names of plants and animals mentioned

alder (Alnus spp.)
Band-tailed Pigeon (
Patagioenas faciata)
bear (
Ursus arctos horribilis and/or U. americanus)
beaver (
Castor canadensis)
big-leaf maple (
Acer macrophyllum)
blue-jay = Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)
bracken fern (
Pteridium aquilinum)
camas (
Camassia quamash)
cedar = Pacific red cedar (
Thuja plicata)
Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tschawytscha)
cow-parsnip (Heracleum maximum)
coyote (Canis latrans)
cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii)
devil’s club (Oplopanax horridum)
Dolly Varden, now classified as bull trout (Salvelinus cconfluentus)
Douglas onion (
Allium douglasii)
Douglas-fir (
Pseudotsuga menziesii)
elk (
Cervus canadensis)
grand fir (
Abies grandis)
grayling = mountain whitefish (
Prosopium williamsoni)
hazel (
Corylus cornuta)
huckleberry (
Vaccinium membranaceum, V. deliciosum)
hummingbird = Rufous Hummingbird (
Selasphorus rufus)
hyacinth bodiaea (
Triteleia hyacinthina)
Indian carrot (
Perideridia gairdneri)
ironwood/ocean spray (
Holodiscus discolor)
loon = Common Loon (
Gavia immer)
merganser = Common Merganser (
Mergus merganser)
mountain beaver (
Aplodontia rufa)
mountain goat (
Oreamnos americanus)
mountain grass (Poaceae sp.)
mouse (Cricetidae sp.)
mule’s ears (
Wyethia amplexicaulis)
muskrat (
Ondatra zibethicus)
nettles (
Urtica dioica)
Oregon ash (
Fraxinus latifolia)
Oregon grape (
Berberis spp.)
otter = river otter (
Lutra canadensis)
Pacific Wren (
Troglodytes pacificus)
prickly-pear cactus (Opuntia spp.)
rainbow trout (
Oncorhynchus mykiss, resident)
raspberry (
Rubus idaeus)
salmon (
Oncorhynchus spp.)
silver/Coho salmon (
Oncorhynchus kisutch)
skunk (
Mephitis mephitis)
skunk cabbage (
Lysichitum americanum)
smelt (
Thaleichthys pacificus)
Spotted Sandpiper (
Actitis macularia)
steelhead (
Oncorhynchus mykiss, anadromous)
strawberry (
Fragaria spp.)
sturgeon= white sturgeon (
Acipenser transmontanus)
sucker = large-scale sucker (
Catostomus macrocheilus)
sword fern (
Polystichum munitum)
tiger lily (
Lilium columbianum)
tree moss/lichen (
Bryoria spp.)
water-parsley (
Oenanthe sarmentosa)
wiggly-tailed water bug/mosquito larvae (Culicidae spp.)
wild onion (
Allium spp.)
wren = Pacific Wren (
Troglodytes pacificus)

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1 : Relief map, Washington State (USA), showing the traditional territory of the Taytnapam (arrow) within the upper Cowlitz River watershed of the Cascade Mountain Range
Crédits Base map courtesy Wikimedia commons
Fichier image/jpeg, 368k
Titre Figure 2 : Jim Yoke, Taytnapam elder and raconteur, in 1923 (left), and in his later years (see right photo) at Lɨkálwit, a traditional summer fishing camp. Yoke’s geographic narrative included a majority of the documented Taytnapam Ichishkíin (Sahaptin) toponyms discussed here.
Crédits Photos courtesy of Mary Vanderpool and the White Pass Country Historical Society
Fichier image/jpeg, 368k
Titre Figure 3 : The upper Cowlitz River at the geographic center of traditional Taytnapam territory
Crédits Photo courtesy of Dave and Martha Garoutte, White Pass Country Historical Society
Fichier image/jpeg, 373k
Titre Figure 4 : The mountains known to the Taytnapam as Mɨ’smɨs and Tak-ták rise above the prairie known as K’usí-k’usi-yas, or “dog place” along the Cowlitz River
Fichier image/jpeg, 372k
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Eugene S. Hunn et Richard H. McClure Jr., « The Role of Traditional Environmental Knowledge in Taytnapam Toponyms »Revue d’ethnoécologie [En ligne], 21 | 2022, mis en ligne le 30 juin 2022, consulté le 30 novembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Eugene S. Hunn

Department of Anthropology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. USA

Richard H. McClure Jr.

Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Trout Lake, WA. USA

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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