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Neah Bay

Headquarters of the Makah Native American Reservation reservation, it occupies a crescent-shaped flat at the foot of wooded ridges in a sheltered bay in the lee of Cape Flattery. Extending into the bay are two long slips, to which are tied dozens of fish boats and houseboats.

The Makah ( “cape people”) a branch of the Nootka, whose chief abode is on the outer side of Vancouver Island, and more closely connected with the culture of southeastern Alaska than with that of other Washington Native Americans. The Makah excel in the art of canoe making, their finished canoes ranging from the shovel-nose dugout, used in ascending shallow streams and capable of carrying one or two persons, to the ocean-going whaling canoe. In great canoes, as well as contemporary boats, the Makah still brave the dangers of crashing surf and ocean.

For early whaling, a harpoon or spear with detachable head was thrown at the whale. Attached to each harpoon was a stout rope about 20 feet in length (made from cedar bark chewed by Native American women) with a float attached, usually an inflated seal bladder. When close enough for the first thrust, the harpooner threw his barbed weapon, aiming just above the huge flipper of the exposed side. The float was thrown overboard, as the oarsman back-watered to avoid the lashing tail and pounding fins of the whale.

Floats prevented the whale from diving too deep and assisted the canoeman in tracing his course. When the animal came up to breathe, another spear was thrown. In this manner several floats were attached; the whale, unable to dive, was killed and towed ashore. Often as many as eight days were consumed in beaching the carcass.

Images

1909 view of Clallam Bay, on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Ca. 1960 view over Sekiu and Clallam Bay.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

Makah Cultural and Research Center

The Makah Cultural and Research Center is located on the south side of SR 112 just after entering Neah Bay, offers an amazing array of artifacts and insights to the Makah way of life. Many artifacts recovered from the Ozette excavation are on display here.

Cape Flattery

From Neah Bay, signage leads travelers to the road to Cape Flattery. From a parking lot it is a moderate half mile hike to the most northwestern point of the continental U.S. Visitation to Cape Flattery requires a recreation permit, which can be purchased at several locations in Neah Bay, including the gas station.

Waada Island

Waada Island is on the east side of Neah Bay, in northwest Clallam County. It is connected with the west shore of the bay by a breakwater. It was named Neah Island by Cmdr. Charles Wilkes in 1841 for the name of its bay. Capt. Henry Kellett placed it on British charts in 1846 as Wyadda Island, using the Makah Native American name. Other spellings of the name, found on various maps and records, include Waadah, Waaddah, Wa-dah, and Wa-a-dah.

Tatoosh Island

Tatoosh Island lies one-half mile off the Washington Coast, at the entrance to the Strait. The island was used heavily by the Makah and continues to hold great importance to the tribe. In 1857, a lighthouse was built on the island to warn vessels from the dangerous rocks that menaced the entrance to the Strait. There are no wharves, and rock cliffs drop perpendicularly into the sea. Public access to the island is not allowed due to its importance as a biological reserve. During the 1940s a naval radar station was based on the island. The weekly mail and supplies were lifted from the boat by an overhanging crane. The impossibility of landing or delivering supplies during heavy weather made it advisable to carry six-months’ supplies on this insular dot. During the fall, the sea in the vicinity is alive with fishing vessels. In October 1939, the light keeper counted 436 trolling boats within a radius of five miles. Presently, the National Register-listed light station is still visible from Cape Flattery, although the station has been fully automated since 1977.

Spanish

On May 29, 1791, the Spanish frigate Princesa landed here, with the first settlers to touch the soil of what is now the State of Washington. The colonists, coming from San Bias, Mexico, headed by Lieutenant Fidalgo, were ordered by the expedition leader, Bodega y Quadra, to “establish a small battery on the mainland, respectable fortifications, provisional barracks for the sick, a bakery and oven, and a blacksmith shop, and to cut down all trees within musket shot.” They called the place Bahia Nunez Gaona in honor of an archbishop of Mexico. In five months, the establishment was abandoned.