A long, long time ago, before white men came to the Pacific Northwest, a Samish Indian village was located in a protected cove at Rosario Head near Deception Pass, between Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands of northwest Washington. The village dwellings consisted of split red cedar houses. Fragrant wood smoke rose from the smoke holes. Long, graceful cedar dugout canoes were pulled up on the beach. Children played and women cooked over wood fires while the men attended to their hunting and fishing equipment. The sea and forest provided food, clothing and building material. Clams, oysters and several species of fish were available, including salmon from the nearby Skagit River during the autumn spawning run. The salmon were split, then smoked or dried over alder wood fires.
Deer were abundant in the surrounding Douglas fir forest.
It is a beautiful place, popular with visitors to Deception Pass State Park, who come, stroll the beach, walk cool rain forest trails, or simply sit on the shore and absorb the quiet beauty.
Little do the visitors realize what happened here long ago, unless they stumble upon a weathered story pole in the nearby forest, the statue of an Indian maiden standing at the edge of the sea. The pole is curiously two-sided. One side shows a clean, beautiful maiden. The other shows a very different image. According to legend, this is what happened:
This 23-foot-high story pole was carved from redcedar by Tracy W. Powell of Anacortes. The pole was a joint project of the Samish Tribe and the Skagit County Centennial Commission. It was dedicated in a colorful, spirit-filled ceremony September 24, 1983
Ko-kwal-alwoot, a beautiful Samish Indian girl lived in a village at this site. Her raven-black hair shinned like obsidian, and reached below her waist.
She was gathering seafood one day, near where visitors sit on the shore, when a young man from beneath the sea saw her. He was very handsome, and his skin shone like silver. His eyes were large and luminous. He immediately fell in love with the young woman.
But when this man of the sea asked her father for her hand in marriage, he refused, for fear she would try to follow her suitor, and drown.
The young man warned Ko-kwal-alwoot's father that he held great power, and that the seafood would disappear unless permission was granted for his daughter to marry.
Her father was a chief, and not disposed to succumb to threats, especially from a fish. He refused.
Sure enough, clams, crabs and the succulent goose tongue that grew on the rocky shore, became scarce. The nearby sweet spring water dried up, and no longer trickled down the beach.
Villagers protested that they were hungry for seafood. Under pressure, Ko-kwal-alwoot's father granted permission for the marriage.
They were married at the sea’s edge. You probably can guess what happened next, because it is the bride’s duty to follow her husband. The bridegroom wasted no time returning to the water. He had only to beckon to his bride and Ko-kwal-alwoot followed, slipping beneath the waves without a backwards glance. Once again seafood became plentiful, and icy, clear water gushed from the nearby spring.
Remember, this pole has two sides. On the opposite side of the pole, Ko-kwal-alwoot is not the beauty she once was. The legend continues: AKo-kwal-alwoot returned to her people once a year for four years. Barnacles disfigured her once lovely hands and arms. Her long raven hair was intermingled with long, stringy kelp. Chill sea winds followed wherever she walked, and she seemed unhappy out of the sea, away from her husband.
Seeing her unhappiness, Ko-kwal-alwoot's people told her she did not need to return to them each season. Since that day, she has been the Samish Tribe's guiding spirit, and through her protection there has always been plenty of seafood and pure, sweet spring water.
It is said that if you sit on nearby Rosario Head and stare out across Rosario Strait long enough, and if you believe the legend, you may glimpse Ko-kwal-alwoot's long, black kelp-filled hair streaming in the current just below the surface.