Chief Seattle

Chief Seattle



    Seattle earned his reputation at a young age as a leader and a warrior, ambushing and defeating groups of enemy raiders coming up the Green River from the Cascade foothills, and attacking the Chemakum and the S'Klallam, tribes living on the Olympic Peninsula. He was also a slave owner. He was very tall for a Puget Sound native at nearly six feet. He was also known as an orator, and his voice is said to have carried half a mile or more when he addressed an audience.

    He married well, taking wives from the village of Tola'ltu just southeast of Duwamish Head on Elliott Bay (now part of West Seattle) His first wife died after bearing a daughter. A second wife bore him sons and daughters. The most famous of his children was Princess Angeline. After the death of one of his sons, he sought and received baptism in the Roman Catholic Church, probably in 1848 near Olympia, Washington. His children were also baptized and raised in the faith, and his conversion marked his emergence as a leader seeking cooperation with incoming American settlers

    When Seattle died on June 6, 1866, he was believed to be about 80 years old. He would, therefore, have been born around 1786, a full generation before Joseph. Because he had reached middle age before he appears in the historic record, information about his early years is fragmentary. He told settlers he was born on Blake Island in central Puget Sound. His father, Schweabe, was a noble from the main Suquamish village at Agate Pass and his mother, Sholitza, was Duwamish from the lower Green River. His birth occurred during an apocalyptic time in his peoples' history when epidemics inadvertently introduced by western traders decimated the native population, and the introduction of western trade goods and firearms added to the turmoil. Seattle claimed he was present when the British ship H.M.S. Discovery, captained by George Vancouver, anchored off Bainbridge Island on May 20, 1792, and the happy memories of the explorer's visit and his appreciation of the power and abilities of Westerners remained with him all his life. (See also: "Vancouver and the Indians of Puget Sound")

    Despite an attribution of slavery in his lineage, Seattle's noble status was affirmed by his reception of Thunderbird power from an important supernatural wealth-giver during a vision quest held sometime during his youth. He married well, taking wives from the important village of Tola'ltu on the western shore of Elliott Bay. His first wife died after bearing a daughter, but a second bore him sons and daughters, and he owned slaves, always a sign of wealth and status.

    During the period when his famous uncle, Kitsap, led a coalition of Puget Sound forces against the powerful Cowichans of Vancouver Island, who had been sending raiders south, Seattle succeeded in ambushing and destroying a party of raiders coming down the Green River in canoes from their strongholds in the Cascade foothills. He also attacked the S'Klallam, a powerful people living on the north shore of the Olympic Peninsula, and claimed to have taken a length of shell money from one of their headmen. He may also have participated in raids on the upper Snoqualmie River. By the time he entered the historic record in 1833, when the Hudson's Bay Company founded Fort Nisqually near the head of the Sound, he enjoyed a reputation as an intelligent and formidable leader with a compelling voice. The nickname given him by Company personnel, 'Le Gros' (the big one), indicates he had a physique to match his personality.

    The Chief Trader at Fort Nisqually, Francis Herron, considered Seattle important - and dangerous - enough to request his mark on a treaty foreswearing murder. His intimidating presence during frequent visits to the fort, however, kept officials on their guard, and the trouble he caused by murdering a Skykomish shaman in 1837 led Herron's replacement, William Kittson, to hope that the Suquamish would kill him. They, however, valued his leadership. In 1841 he led a crippling raid on the village Yila'lqo, at the confluence of the Green and upper White Rivers, to revenge a murdered kinsman, and six years later he helped lead the Suquamish in an attack upon the Chemakum stronghold of Tsetsibus, near Port Townsend, that effectively wiped out this rival group.

    The death of one of his sons during this episode appears to have affected him deeply, for not long after that, Seattle sought and received baptism into the Catholic Church, taking the prophet Noah as his spiritual intersessor. (See also: "Christianity, a Matter of Choice") He was probably baptised by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate at their St. Joseph of Newmarket Mission, founded near the new American settlement of Olympia in 1848, and he appears as Noe Siattle in the Oblate Sacramental Register. His children were also baptized and raised in the faith, and his conversion marked the end of his fighting days and his emergence as a leader seeking cooperation with incoming American settlers.

    These reached Puget Sound in 1846, and the warm welcome and aid Seattle gave those visiting his homeland earned him the reputation as a friend of the whites. His speech greeting Isaac N. Ebey and B. F. Shaw when they visited Elliott Bay in the summer of 1850, requesting that they settle among his people and trade, was recorded by Shaw. The glowing description of his country that Ebey published in the Oregon Spectator shortly afterwards encouraged settlement in the Duwamish River Valley.

    Seattle actively sought out settlers with whom he could do business and trade, and he took up residence at Olympia to develop contacts. His first success came with Charles Fay, a San Francisco merchant, with whom he organized a fishery on Elliott Bay in the summer of 1851. When Fay departed in the fall, Seattle returned to Olympia and convinced David S. Maynard to take his place. In the spring of 1852, Seattle and Maynard organized another fishery at dzidzula'lich, a native village on the east shore of the bay. By the summer, the Americans who took claims near the village named the hybrid settlement Seattle after their patron and protector.

    Seattle's efforts to participate meaningfully in the creation of the new community and blend his people's future with the settlers' fell victim, however, to land hunger and the desire of many influential whites to keep their people separate from the native population. This, however, did not lessen Seattle's friendship and loyalty. Notes from the translation of his speech greeting the prospect of treaty negotiations announced by Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens during the latter's visit to Elliott Bay in January, 1854, were purportedly written down by Henry Smith, a recent arrival to the area. Stevens recognized Seattle's importance as a native leader, and because of his age and prestige, he served as native spokesman during the treaty council held at Point Elliott (Muckilteo), from December 27, 1854, to January 9, 1855. Despite voicing misgivings about his people receiving money for their land, he was the first to place his mark on the treaty document ceding title to some 2.5 million acres of land, retaining a reservation for his Suquamish but none for the Duwamish.

    Unhappiness over the treaties and American arrogance caused many Duwamish to repudiate Seattle's leadership and led, ultimately, to the Yakima Indian War of 1855-57. Subsequent native accusations of his duplicity during that conflict suggest he tried to maintain contact with all native parties east and west of the mountains, but he remained a firm ally of the Americans, and his contacts provided them valuable intelligence.

    After native forced were defeated, Seattle struggled to help his people, unsuccessfully seeking clemency for the war leader, Leschi, and petitioning the governor to hurry ratification of the treaty. On the Fort Kitsap (Port Madison) reservation he attempted to curtail the influence of whiskey sellers and prevent the ritual murder of slaves. He had freed his own slaves as required by the treaty. Off the reservation, he participated in meetings to resolve native disputes.

    He retained his friendship with Maynard and cultivated new relationships with people such as William De Shaw, Indian Agent and owner of a trading post at Agate Pass, and sawmill owner George Meigs, whose teetotaling company town provided native workers a safe haven from predatory whiskey sellers. Seattle continued to befriend Americans; expressing pleasure at being invited to their gatherings, and suffering their slights and humiliations with stoic dignity.

    He received the sacrament of Confirmation at Tulalip in 1864, reaffirming his commitment to his faith, but the leadership of the native Catholic community at Suquamish rested with another Suquamish leader, Jacob, who built the first church there. An 1865 ordinance enacted by the newly incorporated town of Seattle forbade permanent Indian houses within the city limits, forcing Seattle to vacate the place where he had greeted Shaw and Ebey and invited them to settle. He lived at his homes on the Port Madison Reservation, and probably north of the city limits where the daughter of his first wife, called Angeline by settlers, lived, but he was a common sight in town, visiting friends and caring for his people who worked there and continued to gather at temporary campsites on its waterfront.

    Chief Sealth's Great Speech:

      B. F. Shaw Tells an Exciting Story of Indian Days on the Sand Spit. Transcribed verbatim from an undated [1904*] newspaper clipping in the Clarence Bagley papers, Box 17, Folder 8, ACC. 36, University of Washington Libraries.

      Chief Sealth's Great Speech: Wondered That the White Men were Not Afraid of the Warriors:

      It was in the latter part of the summer of 1850, that Col. Ebey, Mr. Kinsey and myself loaded a ship's long boat with provisions and a few other articles for exchange with the Indians, and started out from Olympia with the intention of exploring Whidbey's island and the bays and rivers on the east shore of what was then called the Puget Sound country, down as far as the British line. The first day we were fortunate to have a good wind, and so in the evening of that day we rounded Alki point and crossed to the east shore of Elliott bay.

      On seeing an Indian village located on a large sand spit, which was alive with moving Indians, we ran in and landed. In less than a minute after our boat touched the sand, out they all came and rushed down to the beach, and such a whooping, such a jumping stiff-legged, such a shaking of knives and blankets and shooting off of guns, I had never seen before. Then a large, middle-aged Indian, with a very wide head, came out and stood on a log that was partly buried in the sand. He had with him a young Indian for an interpreter, as he could not speak the Chinook language. He spoke to us as follows:

      "My name is Sealt, and this great swarm of people that you see here are my people; they have come down here to celebrate the coming of the first run of good salmon. As the salmon are our chief food we always rejoice to see them coming early and in abundance, for that insures us a plentiful quantity of food for the coming winter. This is the reason our hearts are glad today, and so you do not want to take this wild demonstratoin (sic) as warlike. It is meant in the nature of a salute in imitation of the Hudson Bay Company's salute to their chiefs when they arrive at Victoria. I am glad to have you come to our country, for we Indians know but little and you Boston and King George men know how to do everything. We want your blankets, your guns, axes, clothing and tobacco, and all other things that you make. We need all these things that you make, as we do not know how to make them, and so we welcome you to our country to make flour, sugar and other things that we can trade for. We wonder why three Boston men should wander so far away from home and come among so many Indians. Why are you not afraid?"

      So when his fine speech was ended, he applauded with a great whoor-r-r-r-r -, and indicated to us that we were to speak in return.

      As neither of the other gentlemen could speak Chinook it fell to my lot to answer him. So mounting upon the bow of the boat, and after feeling to see if my scalp was still there, I proceeded to make my maiden speech, which was as follows:

      "Great chief! you can see that I am a mere boy, not entitled to speak the big words of a great chief, but the colonel who is with me is a chief."

      "When we first arrived, my friends were somewhat startled, but as I have seen such demonstrations before, I do not feel uneasy. You asked me for the reason why we three have ventured so far from home. And so I will tell you the reason why our hearts are so stout. We are the representatives of a great people way over the mountains towards where the sun rises in the morning; we know that the people will treat the Indians well if they are friendly, but if they do us harm they will surely come and punish the Indians. We have come on a mission of peace and friendship and as our people are becoming so crowded in the East we are looking for a place to locate them; if we find any country for these people to settle in that is suitable a letter will be sent to them bidding them to come. Then our people will perhaps come out and settle in your great country. They will build sawmills, flouring mills, sugar mills, blanket mills and stores, where everything will be kept for trade with the Indians. They will build churches and school houses where your children - if they desire - can learn to do all the things that we can do."

      "You think you have a great many people, but they are nothing to compare with the great number of our people. Can you count the number of salmon that are running in your bays and rivers, or the trees that are standing on these hills? No more easily can you count our people. We want to be friendly, so that the great Doquebalt (God) will look down upon us all and make us of one heart."

      So I ended my first speech, and if their chief had received great applause, I certainly received an ovation.

      After this we alighted on the beach and built a fire and made ready to prepare our supper. We finished our meal, and then one of the minor chiefs of one of the inferior tribes came down and invited us to come up to the chief's house and witness a great war dance which was to be given in honor of our arrival.

      We walked up the beach to the high ground where a long, low shed of a house stood. It was built of split cedar boards and was about 200 feet long, by 40 feet wide. In the interior of this house were long rows of bunks, which lined each side of the building, and a large space was left open in the middle, in which fires were built by the different families for cooking. When we entered these fires were being cleared away in order that the space might be left open for the ceremony. We were ushered by a young chief to the center of the building and were invited to sit upon a raised platform - which was covered with clean mats - by the side of the great Sealt and his sub chiefs.

      We had just become comfortably seated, when the orchestra, which consisted of five naked Indians, who beat upon large, flat deerskin drums, and who were painted with the insignia of their profession, came in and took their positions just opposite us on the ground. They beat their drums wildly and began to sing in their weird and excited way.

      They filed in a grand body, a procession of four or five hundred Indians, painted in war costume. Some were painted with representations of the bear, the cougar, the deer, the otter, the beaver, the eagle, the gray wolf and various other animals, while others had such as the canoe builder, the arrow maker and all of their other occupations.

      The drums struck up more furiously than ever, and this great throng, dressed only in breechclouts, commenced moving in time to the beating of the drums and singing their weird song, which was: Ha-ha-we-ah - ha-ha-ha we-ah - ena-ena-ha - Wena-wena-ha - wiena-ha - whoop-whoop-whoo-o-o-o. On they came carrying knives, guns, bows and arrows, spears and paddles, rattles and strings of little bells. Some were bending low in imitation of the bear and other four-footed animals, while others jumped in the air and waved their arms in imitation of the wild goose and the eagle. Such contortions and movements would lay in the shade all modern contortionists. Up and around they came, keeping time to the beating of the drums, and only stopping for a moment now and then to allow some brave to relate his great exploits of how he had killed the bear or the enemy, when again the din would begin louder than ever and the dancing faster and more furious, until they were fairly wet with perspiration. Then they ended with a great war whoop, and when the curtain fell, the odor of dirty Indians and smoked salmon was so strong that we were glad to get outside and breathe the untainted air again.

      After we were outside we were informed by the interpreter that they had another surprise in store for us, which was the initiation of a new Tamanewas man. Fires were built in two lines running down to the water and Indians took their positions on each side. This Tamanewas man was supposed to have gone out in the woods and there met the great Tamanewas, who had inspired him with the halk-sko-lala-toot Tamanewas (big luck medicine man). Here he came, tearing down the line, rolling and tumbling, snapping and biting and frothing at the mouth and emitting a sound that resembled the howl of the sea lion. The lines of Indians fell back, as his bite was supposed to be deadly. Away he went down the line and finally brought up in the bay, where he stood biting pieces of flesh out of his own body and swallowing them. There he remained until he seemed to be entirely exhausted. Then his friends carried him up to his medicine house and laying him on his medicine mat left him to dream of the many battles he was to have with the disease, in all of which he was to be the conqueror. Thus ended my first reception in Seattle.


      *Clipping includes a photograph of the California Building at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.


        Letter of Commissioners Gaines, Skinner, and Allen, appointed to treat with the Indians of Oregon, dated April 19, 1851

        Suquamish woman named Angeline,

          3 Photos

          Suquamish woman named Angeline, daughter of Chief Seattle, Washington, ca. 1893


            Chief Seattle, Chief of the Suquamish Indians allegedly wrote to the American Government in the 1800's - In this letter he gave the most profound understanding of God in all Things. Here is his letter, which should be instilled in the hearts and minds of every parent and child in all the Nations of the World:

            "The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?

            Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.

            We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.

            The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each glossy reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father.

            The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness that you would give any brother.

            If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.

            Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.

            This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

            One thing we know: our God is also your God. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.

            Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted with talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is to say goodbye to the swift pony and then hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.

            When the last red man has vanished with this wilderness, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shores and forests still be here? Will there be any of the spirit of my people left?

            We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother's heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it, as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us.

            As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you.

            One thing we know - there is only one God. No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all."

            Seattle, also known as Sealth

              Suqwamish and Duwamish (1786-1866)

              Seattle, also known as Sealth, was very young when George Vancouver came to Puget Sound to map the region. Before that time, the Duwamish and Suquamish (his mother and father's respective tribes) had had very little contact with the whites. Seattle's brief experience with Vancouver impressed him greatly, which was perhaps why, in later life, he tried to advocate a peaceful coexistence with the settlers. When he was a young man Seattle inherited his father's position as chief, after first having proved his leadership in warfare against other tribes in the area. Seattle was so impressed by the French Catholic missionaries that in the 1830's he converted to Christianity, taking the baptismal name "Noah".

              By the 1850's the settlement had begun to grow and prosper and the name was changed from Alki Point to Seattle. More and more settlers began to move into the area, and in 1855 the governor of Washington Territory called together the tribes to propose a new treaty. This treaty would send the tribes to a reservation and their lands would be controlled by the government. Although Seattle continued to council for peace, the conflict lasted many years. Finally Seattle moved onto a small patch of land on the western side of Puget Sound where he spent the remainder of his life.

              Quotes from Chief Seattle

                Quotes from Chief Seattle:

                Every part of all this soil is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been hollowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. The very dust you now stand on responds more willingly to their footsteps than to yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch.

                Even little children who lived here and rejoiced here for a brief season love these somber solitudes, and at eventide they greet shadowy returning spirits.

                And when the last red man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall become a myth among the white men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe; and when our children’s children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the pathless woods, they will not be alone.

                Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death, only change of worlds.

                We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of the land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The earth is not his brother, but his enemy - and when he has conquered it, he moves on. He leaves his fathers' graves, and his children’s birthright is forgotten.

                The sight of your cities pains the eyes of the red man. But perhaps it is because the red man is a savage and does not understand.

                The Indian prefers the soft sound of the wind darting over the face of the pond, the smell of the wind itself cleansed by a midday rain, or scented with pinon pine. The air is precious to the red man, for all things are the same breath - the animals, the trees, the man.

                Tribe follows tribe, nations follow nations like the tides of the sea. It is the order of nature, and regret is useless.

                Like a man who has been dying for many days, a man in your city is numb to the stench.

                To us, the ashes of our ancestors are sacred.

                A few more hours, a few more winters, and none of the children of the great tribes that once lived on this earth, or roamed in small bands in the woods, will be left to mourn the graves of the people once as powerful and hopeful as yours.

                The whites, too, shall pass - perhaps sooner than other tribes. Continue to contaminate your own bed, and you might suffocate in your own waste.

                When the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses all tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires, where is the thicket? Where is the eagle? Gone.

                And what is it to say farewell to the swift and the hunt, to the end of living and the beginning of survival? We might understand if we knew what is was that white man dreams, what he describes to his children on long winter nights, what visions he burns into their minds, so they will wish for tomorrow. But we are savages. The white man’s dreams are hidden from us.

                Your religion was written on tablets of stone, ours on our hearts.

                Day and night cannot dwell together.

                His brave warriors will be with us, a bristling wall of strength.

                Today is fair. Tomorrow may be overcast with clouds. My words are like the stars that never change.

                At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with returning hosts that once filled and still love this beautiful land.

                The white man will never be alone.

                Youth is impulsive. When our young men grow angry at some real or imaginary wrong, it denotes their hearts are black.

                We are part of the earth and the earth is part of us.

                There is no quiet place in the white man’s cities, no place to hear the leaves of spring or the rustle of insects’ wings. Perhaps it is because I am a savage and do not understand, but the clatter only seems to insult the ears.

                I will not dwell on, nor mourn over, our untimely decay, nor reproach our paleface brothers for hastening it...

                There was a time when our people covered the land as the waves of a wind-ruffled sea.... that time has long since passed... I will not mourn...

                My people resemble the scattering trees of a storm swept plain.