“It’s the most sacred place… It’s the home of our ancestors. Our spirits are there.”– Gene Jones, Sr. of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe
Just northwest of Chimacum, over the hill from Anderson Lake, is a large rock of ancient geologic origin which appears to have thrust itself out of the valley floor. That rock is now known as Tamanowas Rock or Chimicum Rock and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “Tamanowas” is a Chinook Jargon term for a guardian spirit, also applied to ceremonies and objects that could harness or direct supernatural power. For the S’Klallam people of the Jamestown, Port Gamble, and Lower Elwha, Tamanowas Rock stands over a valley steeped in rich cultural history, a site of spiritual significance and sacred ceremonial and gathering site for over ten thousand years.
More than fifty years ago, Gene Jones, tribal elder of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, stood as a young boy on Tamanowas Rock with his grandfather, who told Gene that one day he would have to fight for this place. His grandfather was right.
Everyone assumed Tamanowas Rock would be there forever. Then, in the early 1990s, Gene Jones got a phone call saying the land had been sold and would be developed for housing. Faced with the possibility that the Rock would be destroyed to build condominiums, Gene Jones and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe sprang into action. More than two decades of meetings, negotiations, fundraising, and community collaboration followed in a concerted effort to protect the site.
Early attempts to purchase the Rock from the developer were unsuccessful, and gravel roads were built and some of the forest near the Rock logged. A coalition was forged between the Jefferson Land Trust, Jamestown S’Klallam tribes, local investors, Washington State Parks, Northwest Watershed Institute and the Jefferson County Conservation Futures Fund, and the first 20 acres just north of the Rock were purchased by the S’Klallam Tribe in 2005. Over the next few years, the protected area grew through a combination of cooperative ventures with Washington State Parks, which extended the boundaries of nearby Anderson Lake State Park, and Jefferson Land Trust conservation easements.
In 2009, the parcel of land on which Tamanowas Rock stood came up for sale and coalition partners negotiated a sale to Jefferson Land Trust that was paid for through a loan from the Bullitt Foundation and capital contributed from the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, with an option to purchase. Additional community support helped to cover the costs of acquisition, protection, and stewardship, and in December 2012, more than 20 years after Gene Jones received that phone call, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe purchased Tamanowas Rock from the Jefferson Land Trust and established it as a protected sanctuary. Protecting Tamanowas Rock was never just about preserving land however; visitors had long been coming to the Rock, and while the S’Klallam Tribes wanted to restore and protect the sacred identity of the Rock, today the area is open to all—tribal citizens, the local community and other visitors—but the sanctuary does not allow motorized vehicles, rock climbing, horses, bicycles, hunting, camping or pets. The S’Klallam Tribe also reserves the right to close the property to the public during tribal ceremonies.
The fight for Tamanowas Rock foretold by Gene Jones’s grandfather is now over, and generations can rest assured that this sacred site is protected forever.
It is not proper for outsiders to offer public field trips or to create their own forms of ceremony in the S’Klallam sanctuary without permission from the S’Klallam Tribe. This is the Tribe’s sacred space, and they ask the public to respect their decision to limit gatherings and ceremonies there to those of their own choosing.
This essay will be included in the Jefferson County Historical Society update to the local history classic City of Dreams. https://www.jchsmuseum.org/Resources/CityOfDreams.html