& Tornado Alley
The Indian Wars|
in the Puget Sound Region
As more American settlers poured into the Puget Sound Region in the very early 1850's
some frictions with the native population developed. Some of the settlers took over land
that previously had been campgrounds. The impacts on the native population were not all
negative. There was increased opportunities for trade to obtain useful items and novelties.
There was even the opportunity of work cutting down trees and preparing the trunks for
shipment on the trading ships. Friendships between the natives and the settlers developed.
But there were vast differences in culture between the two peoples. The European notions
of individual property rights must have seemed very alien to the natives. Much of the
differences boil down to the natives being tribal in mentality and behavior and their
presumption that the Americans were likewise tribal.
When American leaders negotiated a treaty and immediately afterwards Americans out of the
control of the leaders violated the treaty the native leaders felt betrayed. In tribal societies
the members do not go off on their own doing things contrary to the dictates of the
tribal chief. When the native tribal leaders found Americans violating treaty provision
this would be presumed to be with the permission of the American leaders.
In tribal warfare all members of an enemy tribe are killed without distinction for gender or
age. This is of course in violation for the mores of European societies. When European
were subjected to such massacres they became enraged and began to think of the natives as
subhuman. Soon there would be so many revenge and retalitory massacres that it would be impossible
to distinguish between the two sides.
Time Line of the Seattle Indian Wars of 1854-56
- Early 1854: An engineer for the Alki saw mill is murdered by some Snohomish Indians
whom he had hired as guides for a back country search for land to claim.
- A team of sheriff and four deputies pursue suspects in the murder. The Indians attack
wounding three of the deputies, one of them fataly. Nine Indians are killed and two of
the murder suspects are brought back to Seattle. The suspects plead guilty and are
executed by members of their tribe.
- 1855: Isaac Stevens is appointed governor of Washington Territory. He makes the negotiation
of treaties with the tribes one of his highest priorities. Stevens negotiation of treaties
may have prompted the attacks. The audacity of a white man to come into their territory
and talk about treaties alerted the Indians that something was up.
- 1855: Rumors are heard that the horse Indians of Eastern Washington are planning to
attack the American settlements around Puget Sound and are seeking support from the canoe
Indians of the Puget Sound area. There is a fear that the British in Canada might be behind
such threats, seeking to dislodge American control over the area.
- January 1855: Chief Seattle signs the Elliott Point Treaty. The treat provided for the
Indian groups to receive provisions, some cash, education and a guarantee of fishing rights.
The Indians were to settle on a reservation at Point Madison. In return they gave up
free access to the land occupied by American settlers.
- February 1855: The Territorial Legislature sends a request to Washington, D.C. for a
warship to be sent to the Puget Sound to protect against Indian hostilities.
- Late 1855: The U.S. Navy sloop-of-war Decatur with a crew of 140 is reassigned from Hawaii to Puget
Sound to protect against possible Indian threat. The threat could have come from Indians from
outside of the region such as from Canada or Eastern Washington Territory. The acting governor
tried to convince the captain of the Decatur that there was no threat but the
captain decided the threat was real.
- September-October 1855: Settlers begin constructing log block houses for protection. They organize
- October 1855: Some settlers families in the White River Valley are killed. Nine people altogether including some children. The
acting governor of Washington Territory had assured those families that it was safe to return
to their homesteads.
- November 1855: Captain Hewitt and 55 volunteers from Seattle go to the site of the killings
to bury the dead. They return to Seattle with the story of the massacre.
- Doc Maynard as Indian subagent is order to resettle over 400 Puget Sound Indians on a
- NOvember 1855: Lieutenant Slaughter and 50 soldiers along with two companies of volunteers
go to the White River Valley to find the perpetrators of the massacre. They engage the enemy
but to no effect. At night Lieutenant Slaughter does not take proper precaution against a
night attack and some of his troops are wounded, four including Lieutentant Slaughter are killed.
The bodies are taken back to Seattle where they provoke fear for the safety of the settlement.
- January 1856: Several hundreds of Indians stage a mass attack on Seattle.
They are repulsed in large part by the bombardment of the Indian forces by the Decatur
which fortunately was anchored just offshore from Seattle in Elliott Bay. When word was
received on the Decatur of Indians massed for an attack the ship started bombarding
the Indians with fused charges. The residents
of Seattle are alerted by the booms of the bombardment that an attack was under way and
find shelter in the block house fortifications. The attacking Indians burn several
houses of the edge of the settlement. They also slaughtered the settlers' livestock. Two
settlers were killed during the attack.
When it was clear that the attack had failed the Indians left destroying any settler property
they came up on. Nearly all structures outside of the protective shelter of the Decatur's
guns were destroyed.
- February-March 1856: Army troops pursue the Indians who attacked Seattle. Several Indian
leaders are captured. They are tried, convicted and executed.
- Spring 1956: Settlers plant their crops under the protection of Army troops.
A real hero of the time was Chief Seattle. He was able to discourage perhaps four thousand
warriors among the tribes around Puget Sound not to join in the attack against settlements.
(To be continued.)