In search of a Wapato in Spanaway

I was recently in the Northwest room of the Tacoma Public Library, looking for information about Spanaway Park. The librarian found this rare book about the period when the lake was a water source for the City of Tacoma. Without going into detail, use of the lake for water only lasted from 1899 to 1905. When I came across this passage, I went on another search, for the plant that helped give the area the name Spanaway.

The book is titled, Spanaway Park & Flume Line, Tacoma Metropolitan Park District. Here is the marvelous passage:

“We have it from Indian legend and lore that prior to the coming of the white man, the region surrounding this lake was truly a happy hunting ground. Elk, deer, and other game animals abounded on the vast prairie surrounding it, and could be easily taken – the flesh for food, the skins for clothing; beaver, marten, otter, mink, and other fur bearing animals inhabited the lake, the small streams, the woods and the prairie in profusion their pelts to be taken for clothing or to be used for barter and trade; wild fruit and berries grew in abundance to add to the food supply; camas and wapato vegetable growths both of which the Indians relished, grew and thrived along the shores of the lake; the lake and small streams teemed with trout and salmon which could easily be taken and dried for the principal winter food supply; wood for fuel was plentiful, while the lake furnished an ever present supply of the purest fresh water. Briefly, that is the story of the Indian as to the lake and the region surrounding it while it was part of the tribal domain.”

The Indian name for the area is recorded in the Hudson’s Bay Company records as Spanueh. It is an Indian term meaning “place to dig roots.” Yes, Spanueh or Spanaway as we now spell it, is an Indian word. It is also spelled Spinally on one of the HBC maps. Perhaps that is a clue as to how it was pronounced, a cross between Spanueh and Spinally.

So this week, I went on a search to find wapato. I looked in the Spanaway Marsh. I looked in Spanaway Lake. I looked in Tule Lake and the Bresemann pond. No luck.

Today, I went to visit Ken Ross, one of the Descendants of Fort Nisqually Employees Association members. I was there to discuss the Ross family reunion in Victoria, Canada next week. But there, next door to his house, was the wapato. The father of his former neighbor, was a botanist and had planted it there in the cool, moist ground at the edge of their manufactured home. The current neighbor was trying to get rid of it as it is a very persistent species, a native, but invasive plant. I am sure in the next few days he will offer to get rid of the bulbs, which is the edible part, in order to make them go away for a long time. Now I just need to find a history book with a recipe.

A native food source, the bulb is edible and was a staple for local Indians prior to the British and American settlements

One Comment Add yours

  1. J. Rust says:

    Great Blog Newspaper. Even though I’m not a local, it was interesting to learn of local history, and how Spanaway got its name. Also appreciated the older article mentioning Camas flowers – I thought your banner photo was of Bachelor Buttons!
    Keep up the good work, this is a great resource for news and information for your community.

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