La Push is the traditional community of the Quileute people situated at the mouth of the Quillayute River within the Quileute Indian Reservation and surrounded by the coastal strip of Olympic National Park, about 32 miles (51 km) south of Neah Bay and 12 miles (19 km) west-southwest of Forks, Washington. The community name is derived from the French ‘La Bouche’, meaning ‘the mouth’, referring to the mouth of the Quillayute River. The Quillayute River is formed by the Bogachiel and Sol Duc Rivers that merge about 4 miles (6.4 km) upstream from the Pacific Ocean. When all the tributaries are included, the Quillayute River watershed is one of the largest on the Olympic Peninsula. The name ‘Quillayute’ comes from the Quileute people who are known for building canoes from western red cedar ranging in size from small two-person to large ocean-going crafts capable of carrying many people and three tons of cargo. Like the Makah to the north, the Quileute were expert whalers as well as seal hunters. They bred long-haired dogs and spun and wove the “wool” into clothing and blankets. The Quileute name was historically applied to all the people living in the many small communities scattered along the lower course of the river, including the Chimakum. According to Quileute oral tradition documented by Edward Curtis, the Chimakum were a remnant of a Quileute band that was carried away in their canoes by a great flood, possibly thousands of years ago, through a passageway in the Olympic Mountains (Strait of Juan de Fuca) and deposited on the other side of the Olympic Peninsula. Around 1789, there were about 400 Chimakum living on the Quimper Peninsula and along Hood Canal. Shortly before 1790, they were fighting a number of tribes including the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Klallam, Makah, and Ditidaht. In 1847, a conflict with the Suquamish effectively devastated the Chimakum tribe which is now extinct.
The Quileute were known to be stubborn fighters when attacked, and their village was relatively inaccessible, so they successfully maintained their tribal integrity against the frequent attacks of their enemies. The Quileute have fought with almost every saltwater tribe between the Columbia River and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but most of their encounters were with the Makah, and particularly with the Ozette band. These affairs were more often defensive on the part of the Quileute, who when threatened sought refuge on James Island, a high perpendicular rock close to the mainland which is isolated by water except for a short time at low tide. A raid occurred in about 1845, and the story was related to Edward Curtis in the early 1900s, which is the only written history of the event. A typical attack was to lie in ambush in the woods or on the beach and cut off the unwary, killing men and carrying off women and children. The heads of slain enemies were displayed as trophies on stakes before the houses of the victors. On this occasion, several canoes of Makah and Ozette warriors, seeking revenge for slain relatives, came south and lay through the night behind a rocky point in a small cove south of the river mouth, now called Second Beach. It was midsummer, and in the morning a number of Quileute canoes put out to sea to troll for salmon. When they were well out from shore, the Makah canoes darted from behind the point to intercept the fishermen. Some of these turned and headed for the shore others made for James Island. One canoe went straight out to sea and escaped. Four men were killed and one was taken prisoner, the latter being subsequently traded to the Nisqually and dying on the Nisqually Reservation about 1910.
In 1788, Captain John Meares on the Felice Adventurero, and Captain William Douglas on the Iphigenia Nubiana sailed from Macau, China, and spent the summer trading for furs along the coasts of present-day British Columbia and Washington. Meares documented one of the earliest contacts with the Quileute people. Sailing generally southward from Cape Flattery, he described the village of ‘Queenuitett’ situated on a high perpendicular rock (James Island) and joined to the mainland by a narrow causeway, with several houses scattered along the shore. In 1792, John Boit, an officer with Captain Robert Gray on the Columbia Rediviva, documented an encounter with the Quileute when they brought fish and skins out to the ship from the village. In September 1808, the Russian-American Company dispatched the schooner Saint Nikolai with a complement of 24 from New Archangel (Sitka), Alaska, to establish an outpost in the Oregon Country. In October, the ship was driven ashore during a gale and wrecked near the Quillayute River and James Island. A skirmish with the Quileute resulted in three natives killed and many of the Nikolai crew injured. In the aftermath of the fighting, the survivors fled south to the Hoh River, where the Hoh Tribe took them captive. A group attempted to escape by sea in canoes but were killed or captured. Another group fled to the interior and spent a miserable winter in the rain forest where they eventually surrendered to the Makah. At least three survivors reached the Columbia River in 1809. An Aleut or Alutiiq man was ransomed by Captain George Eayers of the American ship Mercury when he was offered for sale by his captors on the bank of the Columbia River. Crewman Filip Kotelnikov had been bought by Chinooks from the Hohs or Quileutes and decided to remain with them voluntarily. A crewman named Bolgusov had been sold to Columbia River Indians and was ransomed by Captain Thomas Brown of the American ship Lydia. Brown then sailed north to the territory of the Makahs where the other survivors were held captive. On May 6, 1810, the Lydia anchored off the coast of Neah Bay and Brown negotiated the release and ransom of the remaining captives including 9 Russians, one American, two Aleut men, and two Aleut women. Russian navigator Nikolai Bulygin and his 18-year-old wife Anna died in Makah captivity. Five others died in battles with the Quileute or Hoh or died in captivity. Captain Brown returned the survivors to New Archangel, Alaska on June 9, 1810. In 1855, the Quileutes signed a treaty with representatives of Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens and were moved to the Quinault Reservation in Taholah. In February 1889, an executive order by President Grover Cleveland established a one-mile square (258 ha) reservation at La Push. In 1929, the U.S. Coast Guard Station Quillayute River was established at La Push. The station’s area of responsibility extends from Cape Alava to the Queets River and includes the treacherous inlet at the mouth of the Quillayute River. In 1966, James Island was removed from the surrounding Quillayute Needles National Wildlife Refuge by the U.S. Department of the Interior and returned to the Quileute people. Read more here and here. Explore more of La Push here: