The Smartlowit Family


Photograph of Smartlowit children outside with their dog. Two infants are sitting on a blanket while two older siblings are standing in the background (1920).

Cultural Narrative: 

The Smartlowit Family: The Smartlowits are a large Yakama family. Many of them lived in the Ahtanum area, the northern Yakama reservation boundary. Vivian M. Adams, Yakama 

Traditional Knowledge: 

Daily Life

We all had family living along the hill line following the Ahtanum Creek down to what is now called Union Gap. During those years (1920s and on) there were not very many of us Yakamas living in that northern area of our reservation. Many of us had farms and cattle ranches. When I was growing up there (1940s - 50s) white farmers homes and ranches were sprinkled here and there just outside that northern reservation boundary, the Ahtanum Creek. Today you would never recognize the area because there are so many new homes and a lot of the farms and ranches are gone. My familys' surname was once Yemowat, changed to Adams to honor the family that raised my orphaned grandfather. That kind of name change happened a lot. Our fellow Ahtanum families were the Phillips, the Senators, the Winniers, and the Skahans. It feels good to belong to a group of Yakamas who populated that area as far back as Kamiakin! We all lived just below the sagebrush covered foothills that led to the high mountain timbers. So it was a short distance to hunt and the trout in the creeks was plentiful during that time. I'm now 66 years old and I was born in 1943, so decades before, my grandfather built his home in Ahtanum. It was a time when the wild horses roamed those same foothills. We saw them every year being rounded up and trucked off. My older sister and I and our cousin/brother Johnny attended a two-room school several miles away from our home. Marx School housed the first and second grades in one room and the third and fourth grades in the other room. We had the school bell rope that called the students to class and in from recess. If you were an especially good student that day you could enter the boy's restroom to pull the rope and ring the bell! We tell the tired but true experience to our kids and grandkids of having to walk a couple miles to catch the school bus and were expected to come snow, sleet or rain! All my aunts and uncles moved away to boarding schools but returned for family gatherings with their children at our patriarch's home. As a child I can remember the Christmas gatherings at Grampa's home "over at the barn," there were so many strangers who were our relatives! We were pretty isolated at our home and didn't see much of our other family members except at gatherings like the holidays. All my family from my father's side are Catholic. He went to school at St. George's in Fife, WA but graduated from White Swan school here on the rez. My mother went to public schools and attended Chemawa in Salem, Oregon for a couple years also. My aunt told of having the Mass held home to home at Ahtanum, Wiley City and Tampico. (This is the area where the first Catholic mission was built, Ahtanum Mission, on lands given to the oblate fathers by Kamiakin). Church members would use my grampa's sled and draft horses to set the alter upon and it would be pulled to the next home for Indian families to gather for Mass. Plateau people joined other Christian churches but also combined that religion with our traditional longhouse beliefs and sought traditional Indian healing from the Shaker Church members. It's not unusual to mix them all together to seek our needs for do we not all pray to the same Creator? The above is a short example of life during the times shown in the image here, during the youth of my parents. I mentioned some of my experiences to show the changes that were made during that short span of time. Vivian M. Adams, Yakama