The Life Of Chief Seattle Essay, Research Paper
When stories are told about the American Indian it is usually the Indians that are looked upon as the heathens. They are portrayed as savages who spent most of their time raiding wagon trains and scalping the white settlers just for fun. The media has lead us to believe that the American government was forced to take the land from these savage Indians. We should put the blame where it belongs, on the U.S. Government who lied, cheated, and stole from the Indians forcing many Indian leaders to surrender not only their tribes but their nation in order to save the lives of their people.
Among the Indians of the Pacific Northwest, perhaps the best known may be Chief Seattle. Chief Seattle (more correctly known as Seathl or Sealth) was born sometime between 1786-1790 on Blake Island at the campsite of his ancestors. Blake Island lies south and a little east of Bainbridge Island and west and a little south of Seattle. Seattle was the son of Suquamish leader named Schweabe and a Duwamish woman named Scholitza. He became Chief of the Suquamish, Duwamish, and allied Salish speaking tribes by proving his leadership qualities in a war that pitted his and other saltwater tribes against those of the Green and White Rivers. (1) He was considered to be Duwamish since his mother was the daughter of a Duwamish chief and the line of descent passed matrilineally. This was sometimes the case when fathers died while their son’s were was still young and the mother would return to her tribe to raise the children. The Duwamish lived on the Duwamish River and various islands across the Puget Sound. Seattle was married twice, his first wife Ladaila, died after bearing one daughter, Kiksomlo, known as “Angeline”. His second wife, Oiahl, had three daughters all of whom died young and two boys, George and Seeanumpkin. (2)
In 1792, Captain George Vancouver anchored off Restoration Point on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound. Seattle, according to the recollections of various old-timers, often spoke of seeing the ship and being impressed with the guns, steel, and other goods. Seattle was known for his courage, daring and leadership during his youth. Throughout the violent periods, Seattle remained a steadfast and loyal friend of the settlers and encouraged the Indians to remain peaceful. He gained control of six of the local tribes and continued the friendly relations with the local whites that had been established by his father. Seattle learned early in his life that peace was preferable to war. Seattle moved to Port Madison Reservation and lived in Old Man House, just across from Bainbridge Island; “This was a community house measuring some 60′ x 900′ feet easily the largest Indian made wooden structure in the region”. (4) When settlers first came to America they were meet by Indians. Once the settlers were able to make it on there own, they no longer needed Indian help. Then they began to try to change the ways and beliefs of the Indian. One of the aspects that the settlers spent much time on trying to change of the Indians was their religion. Influenced by missionaries, Seattle decided to convert to Christianity and was later baptized in 1838 by Father Modest Demers, at which time Seattle adopted the Christian name “Noah”. One of the major differences I noticed while researching information about Chief Seattle is that in Catholicism there is one book, I’m sure that we all have heard of it, the Bible. In Catholicism it is made up of the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is made up of scriptures before the coming of Jesus. The New Testament is made up of scriptures written up after the coming of Jesus. These scriptures are written up pretty straight forward and they are read year in and year out. There is no room for individual interpretation by the reader, it is set in structure. In the Indian religion everything is told through myths and legends. Because of this everything is passed down from chief to chief and person to person. By this exchange of information and story telling there is great room for individual interpretation. Every generation these tales will change and the myths will be told in a different tone, style or version. When white settlers came to the Northwest after the California Gold Rush, the Indians gave them a warm welcome and, in 1852, the whites named their small Puget Sound Settlement Sealth or Seattle after the chief. Because the native pronunciation of his name was too difficult for English speaking people to say, the name Sealth or Seattle was suggested by a local physician, Dr. David (”Doc”) Maynard. Dr. Maynard had left his wife of 20 years in Ohio to come west and make his fortune.
On January 22, 1855, 2,300 Indians assembled at Point Elliot where Chief Seattle and eighty-two headsmen signed the Port Elliott Treaty. The council began and ended in a single day, which may be attributed to the fact that it is unknown whether or not the treaty was ever explained to Seattle or any of the other signers. This marked Chief Seattle’s official acceptance of life on a reservation for his people, specifically the Port Madison reservation. The Port Elliott Treaty was made with the Duwamish, Etakmur, Samish, Skagit, and Lummi Indians which set apart four reservations for Indian use. “The Tulalip or Snohomish Reservation is comprised of 22,490 acres. The Swinomish reservation consists of 7,170 Acres. The Lummi Reservation, which lies at the mouth of the Nooksack River, not far from the northern boundary of Washington territory, is comprised of 12,312 acres for which the Indians received patents in 1884. The Port Madison reservation lies on the opposite side of the Bay from the town of Port Madison. There are 7,284 acres in it.” (1) For the next 15 years, warfare took place between other Indian tribes and the U.S. Army as Indians resisted being moved onto reservations. Chief Seattle however, was determined not to let his people’s blood be shed over something he felt was going to be inevitable. It was hard to believe that just a decade earlier Chief Seattle and his people roamed freely hunting, digging clams, constructing bird weirs, picking berries, fishing, and building canoes.
Even though the government was getting the best part of the treaty, they were not satisfied with progress. In 1871 the Indian Appropriation Bill was passed which stated “hereafter no Indian nation or tribe within the United States shall be acknowledged or recognized as an independent nation, tribe or power with which the U.S. may contract by treaty”. (5)
Chief Seattle spent the last years of his life at the Fort Madison Reservation and Agate Point on Bainbridge Island where he died on June 7, 1866 from fever or ague, at the Old Man House in Port Madison. “By his deathbed were his family and his best “Boston” friend, George A. Meigs, owner of the Port Madison lumber mill”. (1) He was buried in the Suquamish Indian cemetery near Seattle according to the rites of the Catholic Church and with Indian customs added. Today there is only one known photograph of Chief Seattle. This photograph has apparently been doctored numerous times over the years. In the original photograph Chief Seattle’s eyes were closed. Later versions were retouched so that his eyes appeared open. In the one of the latest versions, he carries a cane and in yet another his head has been grafted onto the body of another man.
I’m glad I chose Chief Seattle as my topic to write about. The research I’ve completed has definitely opened my eyes about the “History of the Pacific Northwest”. Having been born and raised my whole life in Washington State, (Monroe, Oak Harbor, Bremerton, and Tacoma) I never really stopped and noticed the number of cities, rivers, landmarks and waterways in Washington State that have been named after Indians and Explorer’s to the Pacific Northwest. Especially that the Skagit tribe that lived in Penn Cove on Whidbey Island. Penn Cove is less than five minutes away from my mother’s house. I remember riding my bike there as a child.
This paper has brought new insight about the way I think not only about people of Indian descent, but about reservations and Indian rights. I cannot begin to describe the number of encounters I have had with this subject while growing up. While living in Monroe as a boy I remember playing little league baseball against two teams from the Lummi Indian Reservation. The only memories I have were that they were the two teams that didn’t have any uniforms. Now I look back and for all I know maybe they couldn’t afford any. While I was in high school I remember driving with my friends to the Indian reservations to buy illegal fireworks. I never really gave it much thought beyond the fact that they were places to get illegal fireworks. Anyway, like I wrote earlier “this is just two examples that I have experienced while growing up in Washington State”. This class truly has been a learning experience.
(1) Ells, Myron. The Indians of Puget Sound. University of Washington
Press: Seattle, 1985
(2) Jeffers, Susan. Brother Eagle, Sister Sky. Dial Books: New York, 1991
(3) Sturtevant, William. Handbook of North American Indians. Smithsonian Institution: Washington, 1990
(4) Dockstader, Frederick. Great North American Indians. Litton Educational Publishing: New York, 1977
(5) Ruby, Robert. Indians of the Pacific Northwest. University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 1981
(6) Deloria, Vine. Indians of the Pacific Northwest. Double Day And Company: New York, 1977
(7) Schwantes, Carlos. The Pacific Northwest. University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln, 1989