Interference with Cherokee Government

In 1839, the Cherokee in Oklahoma had gathered to create a new government. They adopted the Act of Union which was to be their new constitution. Under this constitution, they then selected John Ross as Principal Chief. However, John Ross had been the leader of the Cherokee who had been force-marched from Georgia to Oklahoma and was known for his opposition to removal. The United States in its foreign policy—Indian tribes are designated as nations by the U.S. Constitution and the Supreme Court, thus fall under the realm of foreign policy—had traditionally opposed any democratically elected leader who has criticized U.S. policy. The U.S. response to this democracy is a blatant attempt to overthrow it, by force of arms if necessary.

In 1840, the Secretary of War directed the army to declare martial law among the Cherokee, to dissolve their government, and to call together all factions of the Cherokee to form a new government. Under the directive, neither John Ross nor William Shorey Coodey would be permitted any voice in the new government.

In Washington, D.C., the John Ross faction, commonly known as the National Party, prepared a memorial to Congress outlining the steps they had taken to re-establish their government in their new home and the difficulties created by the opposing parties and by the military. In response, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution calling for the Secretary of War to provide:   “copies of all orders and instructions issued from the department to any officer of the army, or to any agent of the Government, requiring his interference with the Cherokee Indians in the formation of a government for the regulation of their own internal affairs.”

Before the Secretary of War could respond to the request, the Cherokee opposing John Ross, known as the Treaty Party, filed their own memorial outlining the wrongs imposed upon them by the Ross faction and asking Congress to intervene.  While both President Martin Van Buren and the Secretary of War refused to see John Ross and William Shorey Coodey, they warmly welcomed Stand Watie, John Bell, and William Rogers, all members of the Treaty Party.

The U.S. House of Representatives sided with Ross and charged President Martin Van Buren and the War Department with unjustified interference in Cherokee affairs.

The Cherokee After Removal

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, many prominent and influential Americans, particularly those from the southern states, had decided that the United States should not contain any Indians. Pretending that their primary concern was the “protection” of the Indians, they pressured Indians to move across the Mississippi River using open threats and harassment. In response some Cherokees began moving from their homelands in Georgia and Tennessee to the Southern Great Plains. When it became apparent that most Indians would not move voluntarily, the United States passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. Under the legal authority of this Act, in 1838-1839, the United States military forcibly and brutally force-marched thousands of Cherokee to their new home in what would become Oklahoma.

Upon their arrival in Oklahoma in 1839, some 13,000 Cherokee immigrants were to be issued subsistence rations by a government contractor. The government contractor, however, had little interest in Cherokee welfare and focused instead on enhancing profits with the government contract. The flour and meal which was provided to the new arrivals following their forced march was infested with weevils. Realizing that no-one in the government cared about these Indians, the contractors seized the opportunity to get rid of cattle which would be otherwise unsalable while charging the government for prime beef. Cherokee chief John Ross called the meat “poor and unhealthy.” When his complaints received no response, he purchased rations for the people from another private contractor.

In Oklahoma, the Cherokees faced the task of forming a new government. Three different groups were involved: (1) the Treaty Party which had the support of the Old Settlers and the planters, (2) the National Party which had the loyalties of two-thirds of the Cherokee population and was loyal to principal chief John Ross, and (3) the Keetoowah Society which had been formed prior to removal to prevent removal and considered itself to be a sacred institution rather than a political institution. American officials generally worked to discredit John Ross and the National Party as they viewed the Treaty Party as true patriots. The American officials generally portrayed Chief John Ross as a villain and the recent arrivals as “savages.”

John Brown, the first chief of the Western Cherokee, declared that the Eastern Cherokee had accepted the hospitality of the Western Cherokee and therefore they should live under the Western Cherokee government. However, John Ross argued for the continuation of the eastern Cherokee government. The Cherokee Nation—that is, the eastern Cherokee—had a written constitution and they had a far more elaborate law code than the Western Cherokee. The eastern Cherokee also constituted a major of the Cherokees in Oklahoma.

A constitutional convention was held and was presided over by Sequoyah, an Old Settler. Sequoyah and Jesse Bushyhead (an eastern Cherokee Baptist minister) worked out a compromise. The convention passed an Act of Union which was intended to unify the nation. The Old Settlers were guaranteed one-third of the seats in the new legislative body.

In the formation of the new government, John Ross was selected as principal chief; Joseph Vann, an Old Settler, was selected as second chief; and Young Wolf, an Old Settler, was chosen as speaker of the National Council. The Act of Union established the laws by which the Cherokees could live in harmony among themselves and deal with the American government which was threatening not only their traditional way of life, but their very existence.

In the Act of Union, the Cherokees made reference to inalienable rights and stated that each Cherokee had specific God-given rights. Since the Cherokee had the same God as that of the United States, this meant that the Cherokees should have the same political standing as other Americans. However, President James Polk stated:

“The Cherokees have been regarded as among the most enlightened of the Indian tribes; but experience has proved that they have not yet advanced to such a state of civilization as to dispense with the guardian care and control of the government of the United States.”

While American officials attempted to oust John Ross from the government, the United States did recognize the Act of Union as the Cherokee constitution.

The Act of Union did not bring about harmony or union. The animosities that divided the Cherokees continued. A group of 100 to 150 Cherokees associated with the National Party met in secret to discuss what to do about the Treaty Party. They felt that the men who signed the Treaty of New Echota were traitors and should be executed. They drew up a list of those who were to be killed and then drew straws to determine who would do each killing. John Ross did not attend the meeting.

The first to be killed was Elias Boudinot, the first editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, as the law of blood revenge was revived. Two other leaders of the Treaty Party, Major Ridge and John Ridge, were also murdered. Stand Watie managed to escape assassination. As signers of the Treaty of New Echota, all of these leaders were in violation of Cherokee law and the penalty for this violation was death. In one day, the prominent leaders of the Treaty Party were eliminated. These actions increased the friction between the two main Cherokee groups as those who had committed the murders now became targets of revenge.

The Council of the Cherokee Nation met shortly after the murders and declared that the three men had been outlaws since they had signed the removal treaty. The Council thus decreed that the killings were legal executions.

Stand Watie, distraught over the murders of his brother, uncle, and cousin, vowed revenge and began to raise a militia to kill John Ross.

The Secretary of War (who was in charge of Indian Affairs at this time), after listening to members of the Treaty Party, declared that the legitimate government of the Old Settlers had been illegally overthrown by Ross and the National Party. The American government demanded the arrest of those who had murdered the Treaty Party leaders. The American government refused to pay Cherokee annuities to the Ross government.

The divisions among the Cherokees continued to disrupt the peace and harmony of the nation for more than a generation.

Fort Manuel Lisa and the Indians

When the Corps of Discovery under the leadership of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark returned to St. Louis after their journey to the Pacific Ocean in 1807, they brought back reports of the rich beaver country at the headwaters of the Missouri River. As a result, the Upper Missouri in Montana became one of the most sought after prizes of the fur trade. In St. Louis, 12 separate companies were formed to exploit this newfound source of wealth.

One of the first fur traders to enter into the upper Missouri River area of what is now Montana was Manuel Lisa, a Louisiana Spaniard by birth. Lisa established a fort at the confluence of the Bighorn and Yellowstone Rivers. The venture was under the auspices of the Missouri Fur Trading Company of St. Louis and included four men who had been with Lewis and Clark. The expedition had a total of 42 men, including 37 French Canadians.

The trading post was named Fort Raymond by Lisa, but most people called it Fort Manuel. Some historians claim that the log cabin, consisting of two rooms and a loft, was the first permanent building in what would become the state of Montana. This claim, however, either ignores or is unaware of the permanent structures which had been built centuries earlier by Indian peoples.

Fort Manual was unusual it that it had coal for fuel. This was a luxury which was rare in the upper Missouri area.

Fur trading companies at this time would establish a trading post at a location convenient for several tribes, then have the Indians come to them bringing in the furs to trade. The new fort was located in Crow country. However, the Yellowstone Valley at this time was also used by the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Blackfoot hunting parties. This meant that the new trading post was also positioned to trade with these Indian nations as well as the Crow.

Lisa departed from the usual practice of waiting for Indians to bring in furs to trade by sending out his own trappers. He ignored any possible concerns that Indians might have about taking their animal resources.

In 1807, John Colter, one of Manuel Lisa’s employees, set out from Fort Manuel to make trade alliances with the Absaroka (Crow). He found the Crow to be friendly and travelled with them into the area that is now known as Yellowstone National Park. When he later reported about the geysers and other sights that he had seen, many non-Indians did not believe him.

In 1808, John Colter set out from Fort Manuel (now also known as Lisa’s Fort and Fort Ramon) on the Yellowstone River, crossed the Bozeman Pass and encountered a Flathead buffalo hunting party. He convinced them to return with him to the fort to establish trade relations. Near Bozeman Pass they were attacked by a large Blackfoot war party. Colter was wounded in the thigh. As the Flathead were about to be defeated, the Crow entered the battle and the Blackfoot were driven off. As a result of this battle, the Blackfoot considered the fur traders to be allies of their enemies and treated them accordingly. As a result, the Blackfoot attacked the fur trading and fur trapping parties.

The following year, John Colter was trapping when he was discovered by a Blackfoot party. From the Blackfoot perspective, he was not only trespassing on their hunting grounds, but he was also stealing their resources. Colter is captured. Instead of killing him, they strip him naked, and tell him to run for his life. This was a traditional punishment for people who were banished. Colter managed to escape and his story became legendary.

Lisa had hoped to monopolize the Missouri River fur trade and to establish trade with the Blackfoot. However, when he failed to establish peaceful relations with the Blackfoot, the fort was abandoned in 1811. The Blackfoot had not only refused to patronize the fort, but they had also run off the fort’s livestock and harassed the traders.

The Spanish and Indians in Florida, 1513 to 1527

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The Spanish invasion of what is now Florida began in 1513. At this time, there were at least 200,000 Native Americans living in the area. Even before the first Spanish explorers set foot in Florida, European diseases had begun to impact the Native population. Smallpox had been carried to the Calusa by Native people from Cuba. The Native people of south Florida were well aware of the Spanish from the reports from the Natives of the Caribbean islands with whom they had regularly traded for centuries.

Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon (the conqueror of Puerto Rico) explored the coast of Florida in 1513. It was Easter Week – Pasqua Florida in Spanish— when he landed and so the land was called Florida. The primary goal of the expedition was to obtain slaves. At this time, the Spanish were interested in Americans as laborers, sexual partners, guides, porters, and suppliers of food. While one of the common misconceptions repeated in history is that Ponce de Leon was looking for a fountain of youth, he was really looking for slaves who would add to his wealth.

The Spanish under Ponce de Leon landed just north of present-day Cape Canaveral which was the northern end of Ais territory. Sailing south of Cape Canaveral they sailed into Biscayne Bay and landed at a Tequesta town.

The Spanish ships then sailed into San Carlos Bay where they intended to clean and recaulk one of the ships. Eighty Calusa canoes filled with archers with shields approached the Spanish ships. The Spanish attacked, drove the Calusa to shore, broke up some of the canoes, and captured some women. The Calusa warriors, however, forced the Spanish to withdraw.

In 1517, three Spanish ships under the command of Hernández de Córdoba stopped for water at San Carlos Bay. The well-armed Spanish landing party was driven off by the Calusa. Six of the Spanish soldiers were wounded and one was carried off alive. However, the Spanish reported that they killed 35 Indians.

In 1519, Spanish sea captain Alonso de Piñada sailed along the Florida coast and then up the Mississippi River for about 20 miles. He reported seeing about 40 towns along the river.

That same year, a series of smallpox episodes began to strike the Native American population with a mortality rate of 50-75%.

In 1521, Juan Ponce de Leon attempted to establish a colony for the Spanish Crown. With a force of 200 men, including Catholic priests, 50 horses, and livestock (cows, sheep, goats), the Spanish landed at San Carlos Bay. They were met by Calusa warriors who inflicted a number of casualties and wounded Ponce de Leon in the thigh with a reed arrow. In the close combat conditions, the European weapons proved less than effective. The Spanish returned to Cuba where Ponce de Leon dies.

The Spanish soldier Pánfilio de Narváez, with a reputation for brutality and a strong desire to find gold and wealth, invaded Florida in 1527 with a force of 600. Narváez had two primary goals: to find gold and to discover a passage to the Pacific Ocean.

The Spanish landed somewhere near present-day Tampa. On a beach empty of any Indians, a monk reads the requerimiento and with this the Spanish feel that they have met the legal and religious obligation to take possession of the land and wage war against the natives. The requerimiento was a recitation of the Christian history of the world followed by the requirement that the Natives come forward of their own free will to convert to Catholicism or

“with the help of God we shall use force against you, declaring war upon you from all sides and with all possible means, and we shall bind you to the yoke of the Church and Their Highnesses; we shall enslave your persons, wives, and sons, sell you or dispose of you as the King sees fit; we shall seize your possessions and harm you as much as we can as disobedient and resisting vassals.”

Furthermore, the Natives who resisted were to be held guilty of all resulting deaths and injuries. The requerimiento was read in either Spanish or Latin with little concern for any possible Native comprehension of the words.

Narváez opened up negotiations with the Indians by having one of the chiefs and his family come into the Spanish camp. Spanish hospitality involved cutting off the chief’s nose and having his wife torn apart by dogs.

The Spanish entered a Timucua village which included one dwelling that could hold 300 people. The village was deserted as the Timucua planned to encourage the Spanish to leave by offering no hospitality. However, the Spanish found a gold rattle that ignited their gold-lust.

Next, the Spanish marched north to Tampa Bay. At one village the Franciscan priests ordered that the revered remains of the Timucua ancestors be burned. The Spanish continued their march northward without seeing any natives. The Timucua considered their policy of avoidance to be successful.

Near the Apalachicola River, the Spanish were met by the Timucua chief Dulchanchellin who was carried on a man’s back and was accompanied by a group that included musicians playing reed flutes. The two groups exchanged gifts and the chief led them to his village where he fed them. In the morning, the Spanish find that they are alone.

The Timucua warriors attacked Spanish soldiers as they were attempting to cross through a lake. The Timucua warriors fired arrows at a range of more than 200 paces with great precision. Spanish armor proved nearly worthless as the arrows, tipped with snake-teeth, bone, or flint, penetrated the steel. In spite of this, most of the Spanish soldiers survived.

Farther north, the Spanish carried out an unprovoked surprise attack against the Apalachee village of Apalachen. Even though this was one of the largest Apalachee villages, the Spanish did not find the treasure they were seeking. They found only corn, deerskins, woven cloth, and corn-grinding bowls. There was no gold.

The Spanish continued their march north into Aute country. They found that the Aute had burned and abandoned their village before the Spanish arrival.

The Narváez attempt was a failure. The Spanish found out that their crossbows were no match to the Indian longbows. The Indian bows, 6-7 feet long, were accurate to about 200 yards. Furthermore, the arrows, tipped with flint, bone, snake teeth, and fish scales, penetrated the Spanish armor. Spanish horses proved worthless as war machines in the Florida swamps and brush.

Only four members of the expedition survived: Narváez, Alvar Núnez Cabeza de Vaca, Andrés Dorantes, and a black slave Esteván (also called Estévanico and Esteban). They finally managed to return to Mexico City in 1536.

Old Fort Benton (Photo Diary)

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Fort Benton was originally established as a trading post in 1846. It traded with the Blackfoot Indians primarily for buffalo robes which were then sent by boat down the Missouri River to St. Louis. While the fort was originally made from timbers, it was soon reconstructed using adobe brick.  

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Typical of trading posts, it was walled for protection and had a contained a large courtyard surrounded by a number of buildings. It has two blockhouses on opposite corners which have rifle slits and cannons. The entrance to the fort was-and still is-a large gate which faces the river. The gate leads into a large courtyard which today contains some wagons and Indian tipis and provides a setting for activities such as concerts.

Across the courtyard from the main gate is the agent’s quarters and the clerks’ quarters, two story adjacent structures. The lower story of this structure currently houses a gallery of art by Karl Bodmer and Bob Scriver.

To the right of the main gate is a building which housed the carpenter shop and the blacksmith shop.

To the left of the main gate is the warehouse and the trade room. The warehouse currently houses an extensive display on the Blackfoot and the trade room allows visitors to experience the feel of a trading post.

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Shown above is an 1860 photograph of the fort.

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Shown above is a model providing an overview of the original fort.

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Shown above is a replica of a buffalo hide press. The buffalo hides would be folded, hair side out, into a three-foot square. Then 10-12 hides would be pressed into a bundle which weighed about 150 pounds.  According to the display:

“The long tree pole of cotton-wood is anchored into the ground at one end. It is lifted up at the other end with the gin pole which opens up the bed of the press. The folded robes are placed on the lower bed and the cottonwood log is lowered with the top bed of the press. With the men adding their weight, the furs are tightly pressed together and tied before they are removed and carried to the boat for shipment down river.”

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Shown above are photographs of the outside of the reconstructed fort. The blockhouse is original and is the longest continually utilized structure in the state of Montana.

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Shown above is the inside of the blockhouse.

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Shown above is the blacksmith shop at the fort. This was an important part of the fort during the fur trade era as many tools, including axes and traps, were manufactured here.

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Shown above is a tool display at the blacksmith shop at the fort.

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Shown above is a Red River Cart. These carts were characteristic of the Métis of Canada. The large wheels meant that they would not get mired down in mud. No grease was used and consequently they were more than a little noisy.

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Shown above is Bruce Druliner (Burnt Spoon), a living history interpreter, demonstrating equipment in the wood shop.

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Montana Murders

The Territory of Montana came into existence in 1864 with the passage of the Organic Act. Section 1 of the act states:

“That nothing in this act contained shall be construed to impair the rights of person or property now pertaining to the Indians in said territory so long as such rights remain unextinguished by treaty between the United States and such Indians…”

In general, the Americans living in the new territory ignored any potential rights of the aboriginal inhabitants and viewed them as unwanted intruders. One of the first acts of the newly formed Montana Territorial Assembly was to pass a resolution calling for the expropriation of Indian lands.

In 1865, in response to an attack by a Blood war party led by Calf Shirt in which ten woodcutters were killed, the governor attempted to organize a militia to chastise the Indians. However, the Blood had already crossed the border into Canada and the militia was disbanded without seeing any action. Some of those who had volunteered for the militia had done so because they wanted to kill Indians.

In 1866, violent Indian-hater John Morgan, who had led the unsuccessful militia group in an attempt to kill Indians, invited four Blackfoot Indians to his home under the pretense of giving them some whiskey. They were met by a group of his friends who hung three of them and shot the fourth as he was trying to escape. While there was no law enforcement response to the murders or any call for justice, there was Indian retaliation.

A group of Kainai (Blood, who are a part of the Blackfoot Confederacy) raided a horse herd in the Sun River Valley and captured all of the horses and mules from a wagon train headed to Fort Benton.

Chief Bull Head led a group of North Blackfoot warriors in an attack on the government farm at Sun River. They killed one employee and burned the buildings. John Morgan and his family took refuge with the Jesuits at Saint Peter’s Mission. In the meantime, the raiders killed his livestock, captured his horses, and then followed his trail to the mission.

At the mission, the Blackfoot warriors slaughtered the cattle herd and killed the young herder. As a result of this attack, the Jesuits gave up on trying to pacify the Blackfoot: they closed the mission and moved back to the Flathead Reservation west of the Rocky Mountains.

As a result of the Indian attacks, an unorganized band of non-Indians (described by some historians as “ruffians” but which may have included some prominent Montanans) attacked a small Blackfoot band near Fort Benton. They killed one Indian. The next day, they attacked another band, killed six Indians and scalped them. They then returned to Fort Benton where they conducted a scalp dance in the street.  

Treeing a Town

In 1864, gold was discovered in Montana. Ignoring a treaty, the gold seekers invaded the Blackfoot country north of the Missouri River. The illegal invasion upset the Blackfoot, and the American government, instead of stopping the prospectors, attempted to transfer this mineral wealth from the Indians to non-Indians. The illegal squatters had little respect for Indian culture, land, or lives.  

In 1868, representatives of the American government met with representatives from the Blackfeet Confederacy (South Piegan, North Peigan, Blood, and Siksika), Gros Ventre, and River Crow at Fort Benton, Montana. The reason for the new treaty, according the Montana Post, was that the current treaty needed be changed

“because the gold discoveries created valuable assets which should be taken from the Indians”

While the Montana press lauded the treaty as being advantageous to the Americans, transferring wealth from Indians to non-Indians, the Indians were not particularly happy with the terms which they had been forced to accept. While the treaties called for a series of land sessions, they were not ratified by the Senate. The annuities promised to the Indians were never delivered and the Indians simply assumed that once again the American government had lied to them.

After the treaty council had left Fort Benton, Blackfoot chief Little Dog rode into town to warn people that Mountain Chief and his band of North Peigan, together with some Kainai (Blood) and Siksika had been celebrating with some whiskey. They were threatening to attack both Fort Benton and the Gros Ventre (Atsina) who were camped nearby. Mountain Chief’s brother had been murdered in Fort Benton and his body stuffed into a well. As with all Indian murders, the government had refused to investigate or attempt to bring the killers, who were well-known in the community, to justice. As a result, Mountain Chief disliked Americans, particularly those living in Fort Benton.

Little Dog told the residents of Fort Benton that he would help in the defense of the town. Little Dog was well-known as a friend of the Americans.

About 500 warriors rode across the bottom by the fort and town and then circled the nearby Gros Ventre camp. Insults and challenges were exchanged as they rode around the camp. There was only verbal abuse: no shots were fired.

The war party then turned and rode into the town, yelling and firing their guns into the air. On Front Street-the main street of Fort Benton which parallels the Missouri River-the war party stopped and made a half-circle. Some of the chiefs rode forward, making threats and calling names. However, the possibility that Little Dog and his warriors, who were watching from a nearby hill, might enter the fray was a deterrent to further action.

Later that afternoon, the war party returned. This time they had tied calico cloth to their horses’ tails. They rode full speed, calico trailing colorfully out behind, through the bottom and into the town. Once again they were yelling and firing their rifles into the air. The non-Indian population of Fort Benton scattered, many seeking shelter in their cellars. The Indians continued to terrorize the town through the night. This event was called “treeing the town.” It was neither the first time nor the last time that Indians treed a Montana town.  

Chehalis Treaties and Reservations

In 1855, Washington Territorial Governor Isaac I. Stevens set out to negotiate-or rather, impose-a series of treaties on the Indian nations of the region which would free land for non-Indian settlement and place Indians on less valuable land, out of the way of American settlement. Stevens knew very little about Indians and assumed that all Indian cultures were the same and were inferior to American culture. He sought a long-term goal of eradicating Indian cultures.  

It should be noted that by this time, the once populous Chehalis living along Grays Harbor had been reduced from many thousand to just a few hundred due to the “big sick” which had struck a few years before.

On the Chehalis River near Grays Harbor, Washington, Stevens met with the Queets, Quinault, Satsop, Lower Chehalis, Cowlitz, and Chinook. The Quileute did not attend the conference even though they had been invited. The tribes were strongly opposed to the land cessions and removal which Stevens was attempting to force upon them. After several days of talks, the Indians refused to sign the treaty.

One of the consequences of the Stevens Treaties was war. In 1855, war broke out in the Puget Sound area. While the Chehalis and other Indian nations in the Grays Harbor area had no tradition of warfare, but tended to be business-oriented (i.e. traders), the Americans were fearful that they would join the Indian uprisings. Americans with rifles began to raid the peaceful Indian villages, disarming the Indians, and placing them under surveillance. Some of the Indians-Upper and Lower Chehalis-were herded together on Sidney Ford’s farm near Steilacoom; some of the coastal Indians, including the Cowlitz, were placed in a “local reservation” on the Chehalis River; and the Chinook were placed inland at Fort Vancouver. The Indians were stripped of their personal property and held as captives for nearly two years.

In 1857, The Northwest Coast; or Three Years’ Residence in Washington Territory by James Swan provided some description of the Indians of the Territory. He did not generalize about Indians and criticized the literary stereotypes of the Indians. He wrote:

“In all matters relating to Indians, I only give an account of those I have lived with [original emphasis], the Chenooks, Chehalis, and one or two tribes north of Gray’s Harbor.”

With regard to the Indians’ desire to trade, Swan noted that this did not mean that they wanted to adopt European or American lifestyles:

“They feel as we would if a foreign people came among us, and attempted to force their customs on us whether we liked them or not. We are willing the foreigners should come, and settle, and live with us; but if they attempted to force upon us their language and religion, and make us leave our old homes and take up new ones, we would certainly rebel; and it would be by a long intercourse of years that our manners could be made to approximate.”

The Chehalis continued to oppose the idea of an American imposed treaty with its land cessions and reservation. In 1859, a group of Chehalis killed Chehalis chief Anawata because he escorted an Indian agent to the Chehalis River for a treaty conference a year earlier.

In 1864, the Chehalis reservation was established by Presidential executive order. The reservation contained 4,225 acres. The superintendent sought to bring onto the reservation all of the nonreservation Chinook, Willapa Bay, Cowlitz, and Chehalis Indians. Government “potlatches” were held where gifts were given to the Indians in an attempt to persuade them to move to the reservation and give up their “bad habits” of gambling, head flattening, polygyny, sorcery, and drinking. The government attempted to remove the Cowlitz to the Chehalis Reservation, but the Cowlitz refused to move.

Hibulb Cultural Center (Photo Diary)

The Treaty of Point Elliot was signed near present-day Everett in Western Washington in 1855. Eighty-two chiefs attend the treaty conference. Fifteen tribes sign over to the United States 10,000 square miles of their ancestral lands. Each of the tribes is to receive $150,000 in annuities to be delivered over a twenty year period.

The Point Elliot Treaty is signed by nine Snohomish chiefs. The Snohomish Reservation (later called the Tulalip Reservation) is intended for occupation by the Snohomish, the Skykomish, the Snoqualme, and the Stillaguamish.

Today the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve has the mission to revive, restore, protect, interpret, collect, and enhance the history, traditional cultural values and spiritual beliefs of the Tulalip Tribes who are the successors of the tribes which signed the Treaty of Point Elliott.  Shown below are photographs of some of the displays in the cultural center.

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The Tulalip tribes–Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and others-have lived along the Salish Sea (Puget Sound) for thousands of years.

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Two traditional Salish welcoming figures (shown above) greet visitors to the Cultural Center. The female figure shows an elder woman carrying a clam basket. The male figure is dressed in regalia holding a paddle, symbolizing the fact that that the Tulalip people are historically saltwater and river people.

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Cedar:

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One of the displays shows the importance of cedar to the Tulalip tribes.

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The three baskets shown above have two design motifs that make them distinctly Tulalip: the whale and the duck.

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The Tulalip tribes made clothing, such as the shirt shown above, out of cedar. This type of clothing provided protection from the rain. Shredded cedar bark was woven into blankets, aprons, and hats as well as shirts. Cedar barks strips were pounded into soft, workable piece. Natural oils, such as bear fat, deer tallow, duckoil, and dogfish oil, would then be added to the shredded bark to make it softer. To make their clothing and blankets extra warm, the weavers used a variety of fur, such as the hair of an extinct breed of wooly dog and mountain sheep wool, which was woven into the garment.

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The drawing shown above shows how the bark was removed from the tree.

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Fishing:

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According to the display:

“We only too what we needed”

“Our ingenious ancestors crafted ideal fishing and hunting methods suited to the type of catch and environment.”

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During the spring and summer, families would leave their winter longhouses and camp along the shorelines, rivers, islands, and creeks. During this time, they would often build mat houses such as the one shown above.

Salmon were harvested using weirs-fences made from small cedar, maple, or hemlock poles lashed together. The weir would be stretched either part way or all the way across the river. As the salmon swam upstream they would be forced to swim along the weir to the only opening which led into a fish trap. According to the display:

“Weirs were only as good as the leaders in charge of their construction. Our ancestors ensured a good catch by setting weirs according to the environment and the migratory patterns of the salmon.”

The display also indicated:

“Even though they could harvest a large quantity of salmon, history taught our ancestors the need to share the wealth and conserve for future harvests. They were careful to take only what they needed to allow the remaining salmon to swim to the spawning ground.”

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The harvested salmon would be preserved by air drying and smoking (shown above).

Foods would often be prepared by boiling and steaming. Watertight baskets would be filled with water, then hot rocks added to bring the water to a boil. Salmon, shellfish, and other meats would be prepared this way. Steamer clams and mussels would be cooked on hot rocks and covered with seaweed to trap the steam.

The Tulalip people gathered shellfish, speared fish, and caught ducks at night using torches which they would set on the beach or in the bow of the canoe.

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Shown above is an open basket which was used for gathering clams and small fish.

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Shown above is a stone anchor.

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The paddle on the left (shown above) is a woman’s paddle; the center paddle is a steersman’s paddle; and the paddle on the right is a hunting paddle.

Stone Tools:

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Shown above are some stone mauls.

Sacred items:

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Shown above is a raven rattle.

The Chehalis Indians

In 1792, American ships from Boston under the command of Captain Robert Gray sailed along the Pacific Coast of what is now Oregon and Washington seeking to trade with the coastal Indians and obtain furs which were valuable in the European and Chinese markets. On May 7, Gray sailed into a large estuarine bay about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of the mouth of the Columbia River. Ignoring any possibility that the indigenous people who lived in the area might have had a name for it, he named it Bullfinch Harbor in honor of Charles Bullfinch of Boston, one of the owners of the Columbia Rediviva.  Later, Captain George Vancouver named it Grays Harbor in honor of Captain Robert Gray and this is the name that it carries today.

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Shown above is a portrait of Robert Gray which is on display in the Polson Museum in Hoquiam, Washington.

While most history books credit John Gray with “discovering” the harbor that currently carries his name, the people who lived there when he sailed in didn’t feel like the area needed to be “discovered.”  When the ship sailed into the harbor, the Chehalis came out in canoes to greet it. John Boit, the ship’s fifth officer reported:

“Vast many canoes came off, full of Indians. They appeared to be a savage set, and was well arm’d, every man having his Quiver and Bow slung over his shoulder.”

The Americans traded with the Chehalis for some fish and furs. Boit also noted:

“The men were entirely naked, and the women, except a small apron made of rushes, was also in a state of nature. They were stout made, and very ugly.”

When the natives approached again the following day, the ship opened fire on the canoes with their cannons, destroying one canoe with 20 men in it and driving the others off. Boit wrote:

“I am sorry we was obliged to kill the poor Devils, but it could not with safety be avoided.”

The message to the people was clear: the intruders were not particularly peaceful.

The Chehalis are a group of culturally, linguistically, and historically related tribes that have lived in the Pacific Northwest for thousands of years. With regard to language, Chehalis is classified as a part of the larger Salish language family. The Salish language family is found on the Northwest Coast and in the Columbia Plateau area. Salish is generally felt to have great antiquity in the Northwest Coast. Linguists estimate that this language family may be 6,000 years old, although some feel it may be as young as 3,000 years old.

The Chehalis are generally divided into two broad groups: Upper Chehalis and Lower Chehalis with the boundary between the groups the confluence of the Chehalis River and the Satsop River. The lower Chehalis include the Copalis, Wynoochee, and Humptulips. The Satsop are part of the Upper Chehalis.

Like the other Indian nations living along the Pacific coast of what is now Washington and British Columbia, the Chehalis subsistence activities emphasized fishing and marine mammal hunting. Sturgeon was a popular item and often weighed 200 to 300 pounds. Sturgeon fishing was an art and was done with a large hook fasted to a cedar and spruce bark rope. This was fitted to a long pole, often 20 feet or longer. Holding the rope and pole, the channel floor would be probed for the large fish. It would sometimes take hours to land a large sturgeon. It is reported that a skilled fisherman would pull a 300-pound sturgeon into a canoe without shipping water.

In addition, they gathered shellfish and plants. Mussels and cockle clams were staples.

While the stereotype of American Indians envisions them as living in tipis, the Indians of the Northwest Coast lived in substantial wooden houses. These multi-family houses were built with planks on a post and beam frame. Coast Salish houses were typically 30 to 50 feet wide and they ranged from 50 to 200 feet in length.

In 1824, Hudson’s Bay trader John Work brought a large trading party into Grays Harbor. He reported:

“We passed 4 villages of the Chihalis nation, 2 houses in the first, five in the second, 2 in the third and 3 in the fourth, opposite which we encamped.”

Work described the houses:

“These peoples houses are constructed of planks set on end and neatly fastened at the top, those in the ends lengthening towards the middle to form the proper pitch, the roofs are cased with plank, the seams between which are filled with moss, a space is left open all along the ridge which answers the double purpose of letting out smoke and admitting the light.”

Salish houses were divided into compartments. The compartment would occupy the space between two rafters and would contain a hearth.  Each compartment would be occupied by two related nuclear families. The walls were usually lined with rush mats which helped to seal the cracks between the wall planks. These mats could also be used as sleeping mats and as pillows. Along the walls there was often a bench which was used for storage and sleeping. Items would be stored both on top of the bench and underneath it.

The houses would usually be arranged in a single row facing the water. Villages might have as few as four or five houses, while many villages would have 15 or more.

One of the cultural features of the Northwest Coast Indian nations is the potlatch. The potlatch is a series of songs, dances, and rituals. As a part of the potlatch, the host clan gives away a great deal of wealth which serves as a validation of the clan’s status of the society. Wealth was important to the Indian nations of the Northwest Coast and giving it away was a way of gaining status.

Potlatches are held to honor the dead as well as to celebrate life transitions such as marriages and births. The potlatch brings people-both living and dead-together. The guests at a potlatch see and experience the social business of the event, such as the inheritance of a name. They mentally record and validate that which has happened.

The potlatch itself often lasts for days with special songs for greeting the arriving guests and large quantities of food. During the several days of the potlatch, the hosts provide the guests with two large meals per day.

Since Americans are obsessed with the acquisition of property, the idea of giving it away is somehow offensive. Christian missionaries opposed the potlatch and it was banned in both Canada and the United States. However, Indian people continued the potlatch away from the government and the missionaries. The potlatch is currently legal in both countries

One of the functions of the potlatch is to memorialize those who have died. Among most of the Northwest Coast Indian nations, death involves reincarnation.

At the time of first contact with Europeans, the Coast Salish used wooden coffins and canoes set up in graveyards as a means of disposing of dead bodies. Regarding Chehalis burials, nineteenth century school superintendent Edwin Chalcraft reported:

“It was the old-time Indian custom in burying the dead at Chehalis to have the grave shallow enough to permit the cover of the box in which the body had been placed to be level with the surface of the ground, and then build a small house, about three feet high, over the grave.”

Blackfoot Fur Trade (Photo Diary)

By the end of the eighteenth century, the two largest fur trading companies in North America-the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC, headquartered in London) and the North West Company (Nor’westers, headquartered in Montreal) were vying with each other to establish trading relations with the Blackfoot. With their homelands stretching along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, the Indian tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy (South Piegan, North Peigan, Kainai (Blood), and Siksika) were in prime beaver territory.  

In 1807, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark returned to St. Louis from their journey across North America with reports of the vast wealth of beaver in the Rocky Mountain area. At least a dozen fur companies were almost immediately organized to go up the Missouri River and establish trade with the Blackfoot. None were successful: the Blackfoot, with a reputation as being a fierce and warlike people, did not look favorably upon the American fur traders who were invading their land.

In 1846, Alexander Culbertson and his wife Natawista (the daughter of Blood chief Two Suns) established Fort Benton at a site favorable for trade with the Blackfoot. By this time, the European market demand for beaver was basically dead and the 60 million beaver which had inhabited the headwaters of the Missouri River in 1800 were now almost extinct. On the other hand, the market demand for buffalo robes was strong, and the Blackfoot were located in prime buffalo country.

Today there is a modern replica of Old Fort Benton on the original site-the original blockhouse has been incorporated into it. The warehouse in the Old Fort Benton is dedicated to displays on the Blackfoot Fur Trade. Photographs of these exhibits are shown below.

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Shown above is a display showing how the Blackfoot captured eagles. The trap was baited with a dead rabbit. The hunter then waited concealed in a hole for the eagle to come to the bait. According to the explanation on the display:

“Golden eagle feathers were used by the Blackfoot for ceremonial regalia. Tail and wing feathers were collected by grabbing the eagle by the legs, pulling it into a hole and crushing it. It was high risk work, with injury from beak and talons almost a certainty.”

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Shown above is a display of stone pipe bowls. The pipe is an important part of Blackfoot spirituality.

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Shown above are Indian saddles. While there is a popular stereotype perpetuated by Hollywood movies that Indians rode bareback, in reality they not only used saddles, but also made them.

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Shown above is a Hudson’s Bay Blanket, a very popular Indian trade item which was introduced in 1740. Each short line or “point” woven into the edge of the blanket indicated the number of beaver pelts to be exchanged for the blanket.

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Shown above is a display showing the inside of a tipi.

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Shown above is a medicine bundle. The bundle contains items which symbolize the individual’s personal spiritual power.

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Shown above is a display of a sweat lodge. The sweat lodge is an important part of Plains Indian ceremony. The small lodge is heated using rocks which have been “cooked” in a nearby fire until they are red hot. Within the lodge, water is sprinkled on the rocks to create steam.

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Shown above is a grass dance outfit which belonged to the Indian artist William Standing. According to the display:

“The legend of the Grass Dance began when a mighty warrior had a vision that carried him to a spacious lodge in the sky. The warrior found only a large white rooster inside the lodge. The rooster instructed him in the ways of the new dance and ordered him to take the knowledge back to his people to unify and bring them closer together. The costume consists of a headdress representing the comb of the white rooster, rightly decorated moccasins, and a whipstock made of wood and rawhide lashes which was used during the dance to punish the unruly.”

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Calf Shirt’s Revenge

Gold was discovered in Montana north of the Missouri River in 1862 and this brought a flood of gold-seekers into the area who ignored the fact that this was Blackfoot land and the treaty did not allow their presence. The government ignored the treaty, too, and attempted to negotiate a new treaty in which the gold-rich lands would be ceded to the United States. The general feeling was that Indian reservations should not contain gold mines.  

Calf Shirt was a prominent Kainae (Blood) chief in the era after the Civil War. This was an era in which the American traders no longer viewed the Indians as equal partners in the fur and hide trade and had no respect for Indian culture. Calf Shirt is generally described as a large and powerful man. He was aggressive and became a terror when drunk. While “under the influence” he was considered a mean bully and had killed a number of his own people while in one of his drunken rages.

In the spring of 1865, a group of American miners established Ophir at the mouth of the Marias River in an attempt to challenge Fort Benton’s dominance as the head of steamboat navigation on the Missouri River. There was, however, trouble with the Blackfoot. During the winter, some horses went missing and the Americans simply assumed that Indians-meaning the Blackfoot-had stolen them. A group of four Americans then killed three Blood Indians (the Blood are a part of the larger Blackfoot Confederacy) who they assumed were the thieves. It was later found that the horses had actually been liberated by a Crow war party.

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In May 1865, Chief Calf Shirt led a war party of about 100 warriors seeking revenge. They found a group of woodcutters from Ophir near the Marias River and attacked them. They killed ten in revenge for the death of the three Blood warriors. In the eyes of the Blood, this was an equal trade. As a result of this attack, the community of Ophir dissipated and the wood from the cabins was used to fuel the steamboats.

In December 1873, after trading his buffalo robes at Fort Kipp, Calf Shirt kept demanding more whiskey. Young Joe Kipp refused and Calf Shirt pulled a gun. He missed, but Joe Kipp did not. Calf Shirt stumbled, wounded, out of the trading post where a volley of 15 more shots from other whiskey traders brought him down. His wives asked a medicine man to pray over his body for 3 days in an attempt to bring him back to life. Both the Bloods and the Americans asked them not to do this. They did not want him resurrected.  

Bob Scriver and the Indians (Photo Diary)

Bob Scriver (1914-1999) is among the West’s greatest sculptors. He was born on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. His forte was American Indians. As a scholar of Blackfoot Indian culture and history, he is known for his ability to capture historically accurate detail in his sculptures. He was given the Blackfoot name Sik-Poke-Sah-Ma-Pee.  

Scriver’s biography in the Fine Art Dealers Association states:

An accomplished musician, Scriver earned his master’s degree in music, taught in Montana public schools, and played professionally in big bands before taking up taxidermy, which would assist him in his ultimate profession, sculpture. A student and scholar of Native American artifacts, Scriver is best remembered for creating a series of sculptures that chronicled the history of the Blackfeet Tribe, as well as a series devoted to rodeo subjects.

Scriver operated the Museum of Montana Wildlife and the Hall of Bronze in Browning on the Blackfeet Reservation. After his death in 1999, these two collections were given to the Montana Historical Society.

The Scriver family collection of Blackfoot artifacts was sold to the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton, Alberta. This collection included some ceremonial Blackfoot bundles and this upset many of the tribal elders. Alberta returned the sacred objects to the Canadian Blackfoot.

Shown below are some of the Scriver sculptures which are on display at the Old Fort Benton in Fort Benton, Montana.

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The Blackfoot Beaver Dance is shown above.  According to the display:

“The beaver bundle was the largest and oldest sacred bundle of the Blackfoot and is uniquely theirs. For years beaver holy men added parts and songs from other bundles. As the ritual grew, there were more and more participants. The sacred rites and songs multiplied to such an extent that the owner and his wife needed help with the ceremony. The part of the bundle opening ceremony depicted here is the Dance of the Beaver done by the wives of the Beaver Men. Holding beaver sticks in their mouths and carrying a stuffed beaver skin, they imitate a beaver swimming in and out of the lodge to the beat and songs of the rattles. Today there are too few beaver people to perform the complete ceremony.”

Karl Bodmer and the Indians

In 1832 Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, with young Swiss draftsman Karl Bodmer and hunter-taxidermist David Dreidoppel, embarked on a scientific expedition to study the flora, fauna, and native peoples of western North America. In 1833, they left St. Louis on the steamboat Yellow Stone owned by the American Fur Company and began their journey up the Missouri River. At Fort Pierre in what is now South Dakota, they changed to the steamboat Assiniboine which took them to Fort Union on the Montana-North Dakota border. From here they went by keelboat (a human-powered craft) to Fort McKenzie.  

Prince Maximillian was fascinated by Native American culture and they spent a month in the area. At Fort McKenzie, Maximilian met Bear Chief, a Blackfoot chief, who was introduced to him as a man who had never traded with Hudson’s Bay Company. Maximilian writes of the Blackfoot:

“They are always dangerous to white men who are hunting singly in the mountains, especially to beaver hunters, and kill them whenever they fall into their hands; hence the armed troops of the traders keep up a constant war with them.”

Prince Maximilian produced a book of his scientific observations made during the trip and an atlas of 81 lithographic prints done under the supervision of Karl Bodmer. A number of Bodmer’s prints are on display in the Bodmer Gallery in Old Fort Benton in Fort Benton, Montana. According to the display:

“Exploration on the Upper Missouri by Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuweid and artist Karl Bodmer provided a vivid description of Native American life along the Missouri River corridor before the Anglo-European culture had much effect. Bodmer’s precise attention to detail and his lithographs of individual pieces of clothing, weapons, tools and ceremonial regalia leave an image to accompany the details found in the Prince’s journals.”

Bodmer’s works are considered one of the definitive works on Native Americans. They are today considered as the most accurate accounts of the Plains people before their ways were changed by the arrival of the Euro-Americans. Photographs of some of these prints are shown below.

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Kolaskin, A Sanpoil Prophet

The Columbia Plateau refers to the area between the Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and Western Montana. Many of the Indian nations in this region, such as the Sanpoil, speak languages which belong to the Salish language family. For many of the Salish-speaking tribes, prophecy was an important part of their spirituality. Prophecy is a traditional way of knowing the future and is used to predict such events as salmon runs and war party success. In most cases, prophets were men and women who had died and then come back to life. The prophet would usually return to life with a special vision resulting from their journey to the land of the dead.  

Among the Salish-speaking tribes of the upper Columbia River it was necessary to have a guardian spirit to obtain any success in life. Consequently, both boys and girls at about the age of puberty were sent out to spend some time alone so that a guardian spirit would reveal itself to them.

Like other Sanpoil youth during the last half of the nineteenth century, Kolaskin (also spelled Skolaskin) obtained a guardian spirit. It was not a particularly powerful one, but he proved to be a likeable young man. When he was about 20 years old, Kolaskin became very ill. He developed sores and his legs became flexed. Soon he was unable to straighten them out. He tried herbal remedies, but they failed to work. Medicine people tried to cure him, but they also failed.

After two years of living in pain, Kolaskin went into a coma and people thought that he had died. As they were preparing his body for burial, Kolaskin came back to life. He began to sing a song which no one had ever heard. He announced that his pain was gone and that he had received a great revelation while dead.

While Kolaskin regained the ability to walk, his knees remained permanently flexed. This meant that he had to walk in a stooped position with a hand on each knee.

At this time, Kolaskin was living among the Spokan as his own parents were dead. He began preaching to the Spokan that people should not drink alcohol, steal, or commit adultery. People were to pray to the new god-called Sweat Lodge-each day when they arose and before eating. Every seventh day was to be devoted to praying and singing. On this day there was to be no work, no dancing, and no gambling. People were to be kind and friendly to everyone.

Kolaskin made only a few converts among the Spokan before returning to the Sanpoil. He took up residence at the village of Whitestone and he was hailed by the Sanpoil as a great prophet. Nearly all of the Sanpoil converted to the new religious movement.

At Whitestone, Kolaskin built a structure in which he could hold his meetings. On Sundays, there would be one or two meetings during which he would teach prayers and songs addressed to Sweat Lodge. He would tell of his revelation while dead and of his miraculous cure.

At Whitestone, Kolaskin received a second revelation. He saw the coming of a great flood which was to arrive in ten years. To avoid destruction by this flood, he had a sawmill built near the church to produce lumber for making a boat. Those who would board the boat-both humans and animals-would be saved. Although the lumber was cut for the boat, the boat itself was never actually built.

In 1873, Kolaskin predicted that another disaster was going to occur. Then, on November 22, 1873, a major earthquake shook the region with tremors and aftershocks lasting until spring. With this successful prediction, his reputation was enhanced. He gained many followers among the Spokan and Southern Okanogan. Even many of the Protestant Christian Spokan began to follow this new path.

For those who failed to live up to his expectations, Kolaskin had a jail built. The jail was essentially a pit which was covered with boards. Kolaskin then appointed policemen who acted as judges to determine who should be imprisoned. People were jailed for minor offenses and forced to live on a starvation diet while in jail. This created some ill-will toward Kolaskin.

Finally, two of Kolaskin’s prisoners escaped and his police went in search of them. One of the prisoners was found, and when the police attempted to tie him up to take him back, the prisoner’s uncle came to his aid. He shouted that Kolaskin was always making trouble. Kolaskin had the uncle tied up and taken to the jail. Another nephew entered the fray, and Kolaskin’s policeman shot him dead.

The dead man’s family took the body to Whitestone for burial. They then stormed the jail and released the uncle and the nephew. They attempted to burn the jail, but could not get the fire going.

The Indian agent had Kolaskin and his policeman arrested. While the policeman-the man who actually did the killing-was released, Kolaskin was sent to the McNeil Island prison for three years. Upon his return to the Sanpoil, Kolaskin tried to disband his religious organization. He told the people that his teachings were wrong, but many continued to follow the new path.

Following his release from prison, Kolaskin continued to function as the chief of Whitestone. In this position, he advised his people not to accept anything from the Americans as the Americans would try to steal the Sanpoil land. He continued to practice as a traditional medicine man.

Kolaskin died in 1920 and his religion continued to be practiced on the Colville reservation until 1930.  

The Astorians and the Indians

John Jacob Astor came to the United States following the Revolutionary War and through his contacts with the North West Company in Canada soon entered into the fur trade. By 1800 he was one of the leaders in the American fur trade. He also began trading furs and other items in China.  

Astor envisioned a chain of trading posts on the upper Missouri River and a fleet of trading ships that would supply posts on the Columbia River. These ships would also be able to trade along the coast and supply the Russian trading posts in Alaska. The ships would then carry the furs to Canton, China where they would be traded for prized Chinese merchandise which would then be transported to the northeastern United States.

In 1808 he established the American Fur Company which sought to control the fur trade in the Great Lakes area.  The Pacific Fur Company was then created as a subsidiary of the American Fur Company with the idea of controlling the fur trade along the Columbia River and providing a direct link between American furs and the Chinese market. Two decades earlier, American traders had discovered that there was an exceptionally high demand for sea otter fur in China and this could be translated into huge profits. The working partners in the new venture included three former partners in the Canadian North West Company: Alexander McKay, Donald McKenzie, and Duncan McDougal.

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Astor is shown above.

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Shown above are some of the Chinese goods which the traders would bring back to the United States.

In order to create his Pacific coast fur trading empire, the Pacific Fur Company John Jacob Astor established Fort Astoria near the mouth of the Columbia River in 1811. The American traders and trappers who worked out of Fort Astoria became commonly known as Astorians. In the Pacific Northwest, the Astorians would enter into competition with the long-established Hudson’s Bay Company (whose investors lived in England) and the North West Company (the Nor’westers made up of working partners based in Montreal, Canada).

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While Astor provided the capital for the new company, several partners were given a small ownership of the company and would be in command in the field. With one exception, the other partners were Canadians who had once worked for the rival North West Company.

To establish his new trading post at the mouth of the Columbia, Astor sent out two groups: one traveled by ship and the other came overland. Astor purchased a first rate ship-the Tonquin-for the voyage and filled it with $54,000 in trade goods. On its way to Oregon, the Tonquin stopped at the Hawaiian Islands where the Astorians engaged in some local trade. When they sailed for Oregon, they carried pigs, goats, sheep, and poultry which they had acquired in Hawaii as well as 24 native Hawaiians.

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The Tonquin had been originally built in 1807 and prior to being purchased by Astor, the ship had made two trips to the Pacific and China. The ship was 94 feet long, 25 feet wide, and 12 feet deep.

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Shown above is a drawing of the Tonquin crossing the Columbia River Bar.

The ship arrived first and the Astorians set about building their new fort. As they were setting up the fort, a party of Nor’Westers under the leadership of David Thompson arrived. Thompson told the Astorians that he had already taken possession of the country upstream and had established a permanent post on the Spokane River.

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The map above shows the location of the Indian nations near Fort Astoria.

After dropping the Astorians at the mouth of the Columbia River, the ship was instructed to sail north to Alaska. Astor had been negotiating with the Russians for supplies and furs and wanted to stop the British from establishing any posts on the Pacific coast. Somewhere near Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the ship’s captain managed to insult a Native chief. The following day, a war party of more than 200 Native warriors attacked the ship. During the battle, the ship exploded killing everyone on board. The Astorians, who were counting on the ship to resupply them, were essentially marooned.

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Shown above are displays of the trade goods the Astorians brought in. These displays are at the Heritage Museum in Astoria, Oregon.

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The map above shows the outline of the original fort and its buildings and the current city park commemorating the fort.

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Shown above are photographs of the reconstructed blockhouse and the mural of the fort at the city park which commemorates Fort Astoria. The designation “Fort George” and the Union Jack in the mural show that the fort is depicted after the takeover by the North West Company. Notice the cranial deformation on the natives. The high forehead, achieved by binding the skull of an infant, was considered a mark of beauty.

Fort Astoria was constructed in Chinook territory, though the Americans simply ignored any possible Indian land claims. The traders dealt primarily with Chief Comcomly’s band. The American traders soon found that Chinook women were as active in the trading process as were the men.

Following the establishment of Fort Astoria, the Astorians quickly spread out to establish other trading posts along the Columbia River and its tributaries. They soon established Fort Okanogan to serve the people in the Upper Columbia River area and to provide competition with the North West Company.

In 1812, the Pacific Fur Company overland party under the leadership of Wilson Price Hunt arrived at the trading post in Astoria. The party left their goods and began the overland trip back with orders for the supplies for the coming year.

By May 1812, the Astorians had purchased 3,500 pelts for the local Indians, including 1,750 beaver, 15 sea otter, 15 squirrel, and 1 red fox.

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Shown above are beaver pelts which are on display at the Heritage Museum in Astoria, Oregon.

In 1812, the Pacific Fur Company established Fort Spokane a short distance from the Nor’wester trading post. It was not uncommon for rival trading companies to set up next door to each other. While they competed for furs, the two groups mixed socially. The American post boasted a dance hall where the Nor’westers and Astorians would mix.

In 1812, Pacific Fur Company trader Donald McKenzie established a fur trading post at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers near present-day Lewiston, Idaho in Nez Perce country. McKenzie soon became discouraged by: (1) the reluctance of the Nez Perce to trap for the company, and (2) the relative lack of fur-bearing animals in the area. Historian Alvin Josephy reports the trading post failure this way:

“The Nez Perce were willing to trade things they owned or produced, like clothing, food, and horses, but they were not willing to become beaver trappers and laborers for the whites.”

In addition, while the Palouse and Nez Perce were interested in the manufactured goods, they felt that the prices were too high.

In 1813, Pacific Fur Company trader Duncan McDougall married the daughter of Chinook chief Comcomly. From Comcomly’s perspective, having McDougall as a son-in-law increased his access to goods which in turn increased his prestige. From the Astorian viewpoint, the marriage into one of the most powerful Native families in the region provided the company with economic and physical security.

In 1813, Pacific Fur Company trader John Clarke traveled from the Spokane River area to the Palouse village of Palus where he prepared his canoes for the journey down the Snake and Columbia Rivers. In order to impress the Indians, he brought out two silver goblets, poured a little wine in one of them, and had a chief drink from it. The next morning, the trader found that one of the goblets was missing. After the goblet was recovered, traders then hung the man believed to have taken the goblet. The incident provoked hostility toward the Americans from all of the neighboring tribes. Americans would later find that Indians have long memories.

In Idaho, the Pacific Fur Company established a trading post at the confluence of the Snake and Boise Rivers. The post was located at a traditional Bannock summer camping area where the people fished for salmon. The Bannock were not happy about the post’s location.

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In January 1813, Donald McKenzie, one of the “working” partners arrived at Fort Astoria with the news that the United States was now at war with Great Britain. There were rumors that two British warships were sailing to Astoria to take over the post. The two working partners at the post, McKenzie and Duncan McDougall, began making plans to abandon Astoria.

In October 1813, 75 Nor’westers arrived at Fort Astoria and set up camp outside the stockade. The Nor’westers and the Astorians were long-time veterans in the fur trade and knew each other well. Talks between the two groups were friendly and soon they struck a deal to sell Astoria to the Nor’westers for $58,000. When the British corvette Racoon arrived in Astoria two months later with orders to seize Fort Astoria from the Americans, Captain William Black was surprised to find the British flag already flying over the fort. He was also surprised at the size and construction of the fort:

“What, is this the fort I have heard so much of? Great God, I could batter it down with a four-pounder in two hours!”

Captain Black was under orders to seize the fort, so he insisted on a formal surrender ceremony. The American flag was once again run up the flagpole, then taken down and once again replaced with the Union Jack. Captain Black officially named Astoria Fort George, after King George.

With the takeover by the Nor’westers, Fort Spokane was also transferred to the new owners and was designated Spokane House. Most of those who worked there, however, continued to refer to it as Fort Spokane.

The Nor’westers continued to operate Fort George until their merger with Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in 1821. At the time of the merger, the Nor’westers had 97 trading posts and HBC had 76. In 1825, the post was abandoned when HBC moved its quarters to Fort Vancouver. Part of the reason for abandoning Fort George was to break Chinook chief Comcomly’s monopoly on trade in the lower Columbia.

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The Cypress Hills Massacre

In the 1860s and 1870s packs of non-Indians known as wolfers roamed the Northern Plains of Montana and Alberta seeking to exterminate wolves. They would kill a buffalo, then douse the carcass with poison and wait for the wolves to devour the poisoned meat and die. They would then skin the wolves and collect the bounties. They got $2.50 per hide in bounties.  

It was not uncommon for Indian dogs to eat the tainted meat and die. While this created hardships for the Indians, for many wolfers there was little distinction between the extermination of wolves, buffalo, and Indians. They viewed all as a common nuisance whose extinction they sought.

In 1873, a group of wolfers, known as the Green River Renegades, paused in Fort Benton, Montana for some heavy drinking. When they returned to their camp outside of town, they found that they had lost about 40 of their horses. While the horses were most likely captured (some Indians would say “liberated”) by a Cree party, the wolfers made little distinction between one Indian tribe and another.

The Green River Renegades assumed that the raiders would take the horses across the Medicine Line into Canada where they would be traded at one the whiskey forts along the Whoop-Up Trail. These forts were run by American traders seeking to circumvent the US prohibition against selling alcohol to Indians and ignoring any possibility of Canadian law.

The Green River Renegades crossed into Alberta and stopped at Fort Farwell. They asked the trader about any Indians with horses in the area and were informed that there were only some peaceful Assiniboine in the area and that they didn’t have any more than a few horses. Upon hearing this, the wolfers sat down, ordered whiskey and got drunk.

Led by John Evans, the wolfers located the Assiniboine camp of Little Soldier. Abe Farwell, the owner of Fort Farwell, beat the wolfers to the camp and attempted to warn the Indians that they were in danger.

The wolfers attacked the camp, killing 30 people, and mutilating the bodies. The wolfers were well-armed with Henry and Winchester repeating rifles, while the Assiniboine had only bows and a few muzzle-loading muskets.

The wolfers captured a number of Assiniboine women and gang raped them throughout the night. One elder, Wankantu, was clubbed to death and then decapitated. His head was impaled on a spike outside of nearby Fort Solomon.

The Indians protested to the American Indian agent as well as to Canadian authorities, but the wolfers were never brought to justice. Even though the leaders of the Green River Renegades– John Evans, Thomas Hardwick, George Hammond-were well-known in the region. The Americans seemed to have little interest in justice. On the other hand, the brutality of this attack helped stimulate the creation of the North-West Mounted Police and end the illegal whiskey trade in the region.

The Assiniboine refer to this attack as the Cypress Hills Massacre.  

Chief Sealth (Seattle)

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Sealth was born about 1786. His father, Schweabe, was Suquamish and his mother, Scholitza, was Duwamish. As a young boy in 1792, he witnessed the arrival of the first Europeans: British Captain George Vancouver entered Puget Sound and traded with the Suquamish.  

As a young adult, Sealth successfully stopped an attack against the Suquamish by the Cascade tribes. About 1825, he set up a successful ambush on a river bend near present-day Auburn. As a result of this military success, he was designated as a tribal chief. From 1820 to 1850 he was a spokesman and diplomat for the Suquamish and other Puget Sound tribes in their dealings with fur traders and missionaries.

In 1852, he formed a partnership with David “Doc” Maynard from Olympia to set up a fishery on Elliot Bay. He hired the Duwamish to help him build a new store and named it the “Seattle Exchange” after Chief Sealth. He filed a city plat with Seattle as the new settlement’s name. Maynard obtained Sealth’s permission in exchange for an annual payment during his lifetime. Among the traditional Suquamish, the names of the dead are not mentioned for at least five years and the names of dead chiefs are not to be uttered for ten. The payment, a kind of royalty, was an acknowledgment of the pain which would be inflicted on Sealth after his death because a variation of his name-Seattle-would continue to be spoken.

Seattle became an important economic outlet for the Suquamish and Duwamish people and allowed them easier access to American goods.

In 1855, Sealth and other tribal leaders in the Puget Sound area signed the Treaty of Point Elliott. In this treaty, the Suquamish gave up most of their land in exchange for a small reservation, health care, education, and acknowledgment and protection of their rights to continue to fish and hunt.

The 1855 treaties imposed on the Indian nations of Washington by Governor Isaac Stevens led to a war east of the Cascade Mountains led by Kamiakin, and the Puget Sound War led by Leschi. Despite these wars and the many grievances of the Indian people against the American invaders, Sealth kept his people at peace.

He died in 1866 at the Old Man House winter village and is buried in the Suquamish cemetery.

Chief Seattle’s (Sealth’s) Grave:

Shown below are some photographs of Chief Sealth’s grave.

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Comcomly, Chinook Chief

The river known to the Chinook Indians as Hyas Cooley Chuck collides with the Pacific Ocean to create the worst wave conditions on the planet. While Native people crossed the Bar in their large ocean-going canoes, the rough water stopped many of the early European explorers who were looking for the mythical River of the West. In May 1792, the American fur trader Captain Robert Gray waited out nine days of adverse conditions on the Bar before finally crossing into the river. He named the river for his ship, the Columbia Rediviva.  

The ship’s young fifth mate kept a journal in which he recorded:

“The Indians are very numerous, and appear’d very civil (not even offering to steal).”

He described the Indians:

“The Men, at Columbia’s River, are strait limb’d, fine looking fellows, and the Women are very pretty. They are all in a state of Nature, except the females, who wear a leaf Apron.”

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A replica of a Chinook longhouse is shown above.

Among the Chinook men who met with the American fur traders was a young man known as Comcomly, who would later become a major chief.

In 1795, the British trading ship Jane under Captain John Myers sailed into the Columbia River. The ship carried a cargo of axes, chisels, hammers, copper sheets, small bells, paints, clothing, china beads, buckets, firearms, and ammunition to trade with the Chinook.

Soon after Jane, the British ship Ruby under Captain Charles Bishop sailed into the Columbia. The ship traded for furs for eleven days. When the Chinook ran out of furs, the British traded for clamons, a kind of body armor made by the Chinook. These were in high demand by the Indian nations farther up the Pacific coast. The captain noted in his journal:

“The Sea Otter skins procured here, are of an Excellent Quality and large size, but they are not in abundance and the Natives themselves set great value on them.”

Captain Bishop invited Chief Comcomly to spend the night aboard the ship and provided him with a fine coat and trousers. Comcomly then led a Chinook expedition 300 miles upriver to obtain more clamons. Some of these were obtained by less than peaceful trading.

Over the next two decades, Comcomly solidified his leadership among the Chinook bands using a combination of trading skills, diplomacy, and marriage. Some writers report that he had a wife from nearly every tribe in the confederation as well as some outside of the confederacy. With regard to his physical appearance, Comcomly is generally described as being short and blind in one eye.

In 1805, the American Corps of Discovery under the leadership of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark reached the mouth of the Columbia River and established their winter camp, Fort Clatsop, on Chinook land. Thanks to the cooperation of the Chinook and the Clatsop, the Americans were provided with the food that enabled them to survive the winter.

While Comcomly did not greet the Americans when they first arrived, he did sit in council with them at his village later. The Americans provided him with a medal and an American flag. Both Clark and Lewis admired Comcomly’s sea-otter robe and tried to bargain for it. Comcomly pointed to Sacagawea’s belt of blue beads and indicated that is what he wanted for the robe. One of the captains then gave Sacagawea a blue coat for her belt and she gave the belt to Comcomly. The journals do not indicate who finally got the robe.

The Americans generally expressed mistrust and contempt for both the Chinook and the Clatsop. There is some indication that Comcomly also mistrusted the Americans as evidenced by the fact that he did not visit their camp.  

In 1810, the Boston ship Albatross under the command of Nathan Winship sailed up the Columbia River past Chinook chief Comcomly’s trading headquarters. About 45 miles upstream, the Bostonians built a fort. As an old hand in the Pacific fur trade, Winship wanted to bypass Comcomly’s monopoly on trade with the Indians of the Columbia River and to establish direct trade with the Indian nations upstream.

Comcomly was insulted by this action, and a delegation of warriors, all fully armed, paddled to the newly established fort. There was some hostile confrontation in the form of shooting and shouting. One of the Bostonians recorded:

“Much to our chagrin we find it impossible to prosecute the business as we intended, and we have concluded to pass farther down. On making this known to the Chinooks they appeared quite satisfied and sold us some furs.”

The Bostonians abandoned their enterprise after eight days.

The first permanent settlement of American traders at the mouth of the Columbia River came in 1811when the Pacific Fur Company established Fort Astoria. The first group of Astorians arrived on the ship Tonquin. Two of the American partners, Duncan McDougal and David Stuart came ashore in a small boat and met with Chief Comcomly. They found Comcomly agreeable to the idea of a trading post for his people.

When the Americans set out to return to their ship, Chief Comcomly pointed out that the rough conditions on the river would make the trip across the Bar difficult in their small vessel. The Americans didn’t listen and set out anyway. Chief Comcomly, knowing that they couldn’t make it, simply followed in one of his canoes. When the traders’ boat capsized, Comcomly rescued them. Comcomly took the wet men ashore, built a fire, dried their clothes, and then took them to a Chinook village. He advised them to wait until conditions were more suitable for the return to their ship.

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The Americans found that the Chinook village consisted of about 30 very large, wood houses. For three days they were entertained in the village (it is assumed that this included having sex with Chinook women). Then Comcomly took his guests back to their ship in his royal canoe. This helped firm up the good relations between Comcomly and the traders.

The trading alliance with Fort Astoria added to the prestige and wealth of the Chinook in general and Comcomly in particular. The power which Comcomly held over the trade along the Columbia can be seen in the log of the Pacific Fur Company. Fort Astoria was visited by few Clatsop and Chehalis and when asked about why they didn’t trade directly:

“They told us that being cautioned by the Chinooks, against coming, as we were very inveterate against their Nation, for their conduct to former Visetors they did not wish to put themselves in our power. This we made them sensible to be an egregious falsehood imposed upon them by the Chinooks, merely to monopolize the Trade….”

In order to solidify the alliance even further, McDougal dispatched one of his clerks with an important message for Comcomly: he wanted to marry one of Comcomly’s daughters. Comcomly, who had many daughters, was pleased to oblige.

Comcomly made almost daily visits to Fort Astoria and was admitted to the most intimate councils of his son-in-law. He was also given his own quarters in the fort.

Word that the United States was at war with Britain reached the Astorians in 1813 along with a party of Nor’westers (traders from the North West Company-owned by the British). The Nor’Westers informed the Astorians that a British war ship was on its way to take over the fort and consequently the Astorians hastily sold the fort to the Nor’westers.

When the British warship Racoon arrived, Fort Astoria was renamed Fort George. Comcomly was soon aboard the Racoon telling the captain that he was delighted to see a British ship on the river. He left with a British flag, coat, hat, and sword. The following day, he wore his new regalia to Fort George. Duncan McDougal, the working partner of the Pacific Fur Company who sold the company to the Nor’Westers, stayed on at the fort in the employ of the Nor’Westers. This meant that Comcomly retained his connections with the trading post.

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In 1821, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and the Nor’westers merged. In 1824, HBC governor George Simpson and Dr. John McLoughlin, the new chief factor for the fort, arrived at Fort George. Simpson was not pleased with either the fort or with Comcomly’s relationship to it. With regard to Comcomly and the Chinook, Simpson said:

“They never take the trouble of hunting and rarely employ their Slaves in that way, they are however keen traders and through their hands nearly the whole of our Furs pass, indeed so tenacious are they of the Monopoly that their jealousy would carry them the length of pillaging and even murdering strangers who come to the Establishment if we did not protect them.”

HBC moved their trading operation 90 miles upriver where they established Fort Vancouver. This moved deprived Comcomly of his role of middleman, thus diminishing his prestige and wealth.

Comcomly had an excellent understanding of the Columbia River and its dangerous Bar. With the increasing number of ships attempting to cross the Bar bringing in trade goods and supply, Comcomly’s skill as a pilot was soon in great demand. His skill as a pilot earned him the respect of the HBC captains as well as Chief Factor McLoughlin.

In 1830, the epidemic known as the “cold sick” (possibly malaria) swept through the Native populations of the region. One of the victims of this epidemic was Comcomly. He was estimated to be in his mid-sixties when he died. His body, together with his war weapons, ceremonial dresses, and other possessions, was placed in a canoe. The canoe was placed on a raised platform near Point Ellice.

The Tulalip and Europeans

The Tulalip tribes–Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and others-have lived along the Salish Sea (Puget Sound) for thousands of years. Dramatic changes in their cultures began 1792 with the arrival of the British ship Discovery. Several of the displays at the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve tell the story of these changes from the Tulalip perspective.

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The initial contacts involved trade: the Europeans offered the Tulalip many different kinds of European manufactured goods in exchange for furs and food. The fur trade intensified after the Hudson’s Bay Company established For Langley in what is now British Columbia. Unfortunately, the European traders also brought with them epidemic diseases-smallpox, measles, chicken pox, influenza, tuberculosis, and alcoholism-which devastated the Native population. In a few short years, half of the population died.

The fur trade also brought over hunting which resulted in fewer animals. Then came the European and American settlers who ignored Native rights to the land and simply cleared the land they wanted for their homesteads. This culminated in the Treaty of Point Elliot in 1855. Eighty-two chiefs attended the treaty conference near present-day Everett, Washington. Fifteen tribes signed over to the United States 10,000 square miles of their ancestral lands. Each of the tribes was to receive $150,000 in annuities to be delivered over a twenty year period

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According to one display:

“Not everyone agreed that signing the treaty was a good idea. Some leaders felt they did not have a choice and that signing was the only way to preserve their traditional way of life for future generations.”

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A copy of the treaty is shown above.

Under the reservation system established by the treaty, the people were impoverished. Laws and regulations were imposed on the people as to how they were to live and where they could fish, gather, and hunt. The boarding schools were designed to destroy tribal cultures.

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Religion:

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The United States government sought to exterminate all vestiges of Native American religion and from 1884 to 1934 traditional Indian practices were illegal. The Indian Shaker Church was organized on the Tulalip Reservation in 1810 as a means to continue Native spirituality.

Revitalization:

The exhibits at the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve also tell a story of cultural revitalization: reviving Tulalip culture in the twenty-first century.

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