Gift of Salmon
Throughout the Columbia River drainage basin, enormous runs of fish filled the westward flowing rivers for about six months of each year. This food source was literally a gift, since it came to the tribes and did not require cultivation.
Men took principal responsibility for harvesting the fish, either with traps or spears at waterfalls or narrow places in the river; women processed the catch. Salmon--which were dried, pounded into powder, mixed with roe and stored in baskets--were a vital food source and trade item.
George Catlin (1796–1872) depicted this woman—whom he identified as a “Flathead Indian—as she gathered fish from her husband’s catch.” Catlin wrote that fish “had been from time immemorial a good and certain living…..”
George Catlin. “A Flathead Woman Basketing Salmon,” copied
from Souvenir of the North American Indians As They Were in the Middle of
the 19th Century, 1852.