Palmer Lake—Stone Tools

9,600 years ago, a small group trekked across the North Cascades, then turned north.

The Ice Age had ended. Towering mountains of ice had melted forming vast lakes which sent their waters 300 miles into the Pacific Ocean.

The People needed to avoid the rushing meltwaters, and so they headed north, away from their destructive power.

Some miles up the Cascades, they found Palmer Lake. The lake lay up against Chopaka Mountain.  Streams trickled off the mountain watering a rich wetlands below. The people had found a place to survive!

Food and Medicine plants revealed themselves.

Birds and their eggs, mollusks, antlered animals  – fed them.

They would survive and endure.


Beyond Palmer Lake, around the bend in the upper Similkameen River country,  a special type of stone was buried in deep beds.

You may know the mineral obsidian.  Often black or red, it is extremely sharp, sharp enough to be used for surgery.

The science of it is wiki awesome. Obsidian is a cryptocrystalline silicate, wickedly sharp because of its concoidal structure, a structure which is an essential characteristic of the stone used in Stone Age tool making.

Flint Knapping – using cryptocrystalline rock, is the basis of making stone tools.  Flakes are chipped by a precise technolgy. Imagine the handsome and lethal technolgy of mammoth killing Clovis points.

The first settlements of stone age people were at sites where they found tool making stone.

Palmer Lake people would have discovered the quarry at Stirling Creek, a tributary to the upper Similkameen River.

The crystalline stone found there was the earliest known source of stone age rock in the Interior Plateau of the Pacific Northwest.

From Palmer Lake to Flathead Lake, indigenous peoples, with their tools of stone,  survived and prospered.

© 2018—Jeré Gillespie

1. “A Plateau Microblade Tradition Site: Upper Similkameen Valley, BC.” By Stanley A. Copp. Langara College. April 17, 1997. Northwest Anthropology Conference. Ellensburg, WA. [Revised 17 May 1998].
2. “America Before the European Invasions.” By Alice Beck Kehoe. 2002. Pearson Education Limited. Harlow [Great Britain]. 
3. “Complex Hunter-Gatherers: Evolution and Organization of Prehistoric Communities on the Plateau of Northwestern North America.” Edited by Wm C. Pretiss and Ian Kuijt. 2004. University of Utah. Salt Lake City, UT.
4. “Similkameen River Multipurpose Project Feasibility Study, Cultural Resource Reconnaissance.” Corps of Engineers, Seattle District. 1987. Defense Technical Information Center []. Salo, Lawr. V. 
5. “Of Time and Wildness in the North Cascades.” By Tim Steury, Washington State Magazine, Spring 2010. Washington State University.


Author: Jere Gillespie

For about a decade, I have wanted to write about the Stone Age. For some of those years, I was an instructor at Nespelem, Washington, on The Confederated Tribes Of The Colville Reservation. One of my jobs was to assemble curriculum for the classes I taught. There I came upon the importance of the Stone Age, especially its happenings right here in the Pacific Northwest at Kettle Falls and up in the Similkameen River Valley. Trek the Stone Age is built on these stories. —Jeré Gillespie

One thought on “Palmer Lake—Stone Tools”

  1. What else can we learn about the ancestral use of Palmer Lake? Was it permanent annual site used to go into the north cascades during the summer months? How long was it inhabited? What is known of the stone tool beds of the upper Similkameen River area? Fascinating adventure you are taking us on, Jeré!


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