Drew W. Crooks, "Governor Isaac I. Stevens and the Medicine Creek Treaty, prelude to the war in Southern Puget Sound," Pacific Northwest Forum X (Summer-Fall, 1985) p. 23-35.

The Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854 was a watershed in the development of Southeastern Puget Sound. Its terms of Indian land cessions and reservations led to the 1855 outbreak of war in the area. One individual, Governor Isaac Stevens, played a crucial role in the making of the Treaty.

Isaac Ingalls Stevens in 1853 entered the new Territory of Washington as its first governor and superintendent of Indian affairs. In addition, he was the head of the Pacific Railroad Survey's northern party. Before coming to the Pacific Northwest, Isaac Stevens resigned from the United States Army. 

He had served, since graduating from West Point in 1839, in various military engineering positions. Franklin Pierce's successful presidential race in 1852 was supported by Stevens. Consequently, Isaac Stevens was rewarded with the jobs out West.

Stevens actively took part in the intensely partisan life of the mid-19th century. Historian Kent Richards described Isaac Stevens in the following way:

Virtually all who knew him agreed that he possessed a brilliant mind, enormous energy, and a dominant personality. These characteristics were highly respected in the nineteenth century, particularly on the American frontier. A Minnesota newspaperman best captured the admiration for Stevens' character when he praised him as a true representative of the times, "a regular, go-ahead man;" but others castigated him as a Napoleonic dictator with delusions of grandeur and a narrow egotism that brooked no criticism or opposition. Stevens' career reflected these divergent opinions; he acquired many loyal friends, but he also engaged in monumental feuds.

In 1854 Governor Stevens visited Washington, D.C. While in the national capital, he was appointed Indian treaty commissioner for the tribes inhabiting Washington Territory. Isaac Stevens also obtained the funding necessary for such a position.

As historian Murray Morgan noted, 'No one saw anything improper in the fact that Stevens represented the white citizenry as governor, the tribes as Indian superintendent, and the U. S. State Department in negotiating with those same tribes. Nor that he would be determining reservation boundaries for tribes whose continued presence along the right-of-way he advocated for the railroad might prove an impediment to its construction."

On December 1, 1854 Governor Stevens returned to Olympia, the capital of Territorial Washington. He was accompanied by his family. Quickly, Isaac Stevens confronted the regional issue of Indian-White disagreement over land ownership. Settlers in Washington Territory were entitled to free land under the Oregon Donation Land Law of 1850.

The Indians, however, still legally possessed their lands. Strife between the two races grew as the settler community expanded in size. Stevens moved to resolve the issue through the customary treaty system in which Indian tribes, by way of formal treaties with the United States, ceded most of their lands in return for payments, reservations, and limited government services.

Personally, Governor Stevens felt confident in his relations with the Indians. Kent Richards wrote that Isaac Stevens' wife, Margaret, "perhaps accurately reflected her husbands opinion of the Indians when she observed in a letter to her mother that 'the Indians ... think so much of the whites that a child can govern them'."

She believed, as did the governor, that 'Mr. Stevens has them right under his thumb - they are as afraid as death of him and do just as he tells them.

The second annual session of the Territorial Washington Legislative Assembly was addressed in person by Governor Stevens on December 5, 1854. Stevens' emphasis at that time on Indian affairs was clearly indicated in his ending statements:

"In closing this communication, I will indulge the hope that the same spirit of concord and exalted patriotism which has thus far marked our political existence, will continue unto the end.

"Particularly do I invoke the spirit in reference to our Indian relations. I believe the time has now come for their final settlement. In view of the important duties which have been assigned to me, I throw myself unreservedly upon the people of the territory, not doubting that they will extend to me a hearty and generous support in my efforts to arrange, on a permanent basis, the future of the Indians of this territory."

Two days later Isaac Stevens held the first meeting of a commission to handle the Indian treaties. Members of the commission included, besides Stevens (commissioner), James Doty (secretary), George Gibbs (surveyor), Hugh Goldsborough (commissary), Benjamin F. Shaw (interpreter), and Michael Simmons (Indian agent for the Puget Sound District). After much discussion of Indian treaties, Gibbs was assigned the task of drawing up a draft treaty.

Meeting again on December 10th, the commission adopted, after some changes, George Gibbs' draft treaty. This document formed the basis for the Medicine Creek Treaty and other Indian treaties negotiated by Stevens during his governorship. The commission went on to make plans for Indian councils, and to determine probable reservations. Ten Western Washington reservations were listed. 

However, the commission "proposed, if practicable to remove all the Indians on the East Side of the Sound as far as the Snohomish; as also the S'Klallams to Hoods Canal, and generally to admit as few Reservations as possible, with a view of finally concentrating in one.

The commission wanted to "civilize' the Indians. Behind the hope, to quote Kent Richards, were "several assumptions that the commissioners erroneously accepted as truisms: that it was best for the Indians to be converted to the European way of life; that this transition could be accomplished by an economic shift from hunting and fishing to farming; that the federal government and its agents would faithfully provide the foods and services stipulated in the treaties; and that the Indian could be persuaded that all of the above were in his best interests.

Future events proved the falsity of these assumptions.

In any case, Governor Isaac Stevens summoned the Southern Puget Sound Indians to council on December 24, 1854 at the She-nah-nam Creek. It would be the first of Stevens' treaty negotiating sessions with the Indians of Washington Territory.

The Medicine Creek Council was held on the Nisqually Delta in Thurston County. Pioneer Ezra Meeker more precisely described the location: "The ground selected for holding the council is a small wooded knoll on the right bank of the She-nah-nam Creek (known locally as McAllister Creek), about one mile above the mouth, where the waters of the creek fall into and mingle with the tides of Puget Sound. Nisqually Indians had long used the area for meetings. The current name for the She-nah-nam Creek is McAllister Creek, named after the early settler McAllister family.

Governor Stevens in December 1854 sent an advance group, including Benjamin F. Shaw and Michael Simmons, to make ready the council site. On the 24th Isaac Stevens and his party arrived at the chosen place. The governor's party numbered among its members Territorial Secretary Charles Mason, Lieutenant William Slaughter of the 4th Infantry, and Stevens' twelve year old son Hazard, as well as James Doty and George Gibbs.

They joined the advance group. To the already gathered Indians Governor Stevens was an unimpressive sight. Murray Morgan pictured him with "his flannel shirt open at the throat, twill pants bloused and tucked into his boots forty-niner style, the ensemble topped by a black felt hat with a pipe rather than a feather in its band. Practical garb to be sure, acceptable to Jacksonian democracy, but to the Indians, with their sense of occasion and concern for dignity, an affront."

The Indians brought together at the Medicine Creek Council came from the many small bands which lived in the Southern Puget Sound region. Main groupings were the Nisqually, the Puyallup, the Sahehwamish, and the Squaxon. Uniting the entire region, in a nonpolitical sense, were similar cultures, environments, and Salish dialects. There was no political unity.

Both whites and Indians assembled on December 25th, Christmas Day. Governor Stevens distributed certificates of authority to selected Indians who were to represent their "tribes' at the Council. Among the Nisqually, Quiemuth was appointed a full chief, while his brother, Leschi, was made a subchief.

Leschi played a key role at the Medicine Creek Council and in the Indian wars of 1855-1856. Charles Grainger drew a verbal portrait of Leschi as he looked at the time of his death in 1858:

"Leschi was a square-built man, and I should judge would weigh about one hundred and seventy pounds. He was about five feet six inches tall. He had a very strong, square jaw and very piercing, dark-brown eyes. He would look almost through you, a firm but not a savage look. His lower jaw and eyes denoted firmness of character. He had an aquiline nose, and different kind of features than these Flathead Indians - more like the Clickitats. His head was not flattened much, if any at all. He had a very high forehead for an Indian."

Before the Medicine Creek Council, Leschi was not considered a chief or a sub-chief by his people. Instead, as Ezra Meeker stated, "Leschi was but a common citizen of the Nisqually tribe, yet one of influence and universally liked".

He had, as if by common consent, become what might be termed a judge or arbitrator, who held court without law and whose judgment was without appeal, but he was over and above all a citizen of wealth and sobriety, and one whose word commanded respect. The Nisqually father and the Yakima mother of Leschi gave him blood ties to Indians on both sides of the Cascade Mountains. Leschi was bilingual in Salish and Sahaptin, the Yakima language. He had maintained friendly relations with Whites.

On Christmas Governor Stevens at the Medicine Creek Council explained the proposed treaty to Leschi and the other Indians. Benjamin R Shaw interpreted, using the limited Chinook jargon. The process was slow and susceptible to misunderstandings.

Pioneer Owen Bush would later declare, "I could talk the Indian languages, but Stevens did not seem to want anyone to interpret in their own tongue, and had that done in Chinook. Of course, it was utterly impossible to explain the treaties to them in Chinook." The council adjourned for the day, leaving the Indians to ponder such concepts as land cessions and reservations.

In the evening the Indian commission met. According to its records, "the Draft of the Proposed Treaty was read, and after a full discussion of its provisions by the gentlemen present, viz Messrs. Simmons, Gibbs, and Doty, it was ordered to be engrossed.' Where were Stevens and Shaw, the other members of the commission?

Drinking in a party celebrating the day's progress? Gibbs in an 1857 letter to the Washington Republican newspaper claimed that Isaac Stevens "appeared intoxicated ... at the treaties here on the sound.' Lack of evidence throws a shadow over the evening's events.

December 26th was the last day of the Medicine Creek Council. The participants reassembled. Six hundred and sixty two Indians were present.

Governor Stevens spoke:

"This is a great day for you and for us, A day of peace and friendship between you and the whites for all time to come. You are about to be paid for your lands, and the Great Father has sent me today to treat with you concerning the payment. The Great Father lives far off - He has many children - some of these children came here when he knew but little of them, or of the Indians, and he sent me to inquire into these things.

"We went through this County this last year, teamed your numbers and saw your wants. We felt much for you, and went to the Great Father to tell him what we had seen - The Great Father felt for his children - he pitied them and he has sent me here today to express those feelings and to make a Treaty for your benefit.

"The Great Father has many white children who come here, some to build mills: some to make farms: and some to fish - and the Great Father wishes you to have homes, pasture for your horses and fishing places. He wishes you to learn to farm and your children to go to a good school, and he now wants me to make a bargain with you, in which you sell your lands and in return be provided with all these things.

"You will have certain lands set apart for your homes and receive yearly payments of Blankets, axes, etc. All this is written down in this paper which will be read to you. If it is good you will sign it, and I will then send it to the Great Father - I think he will be pleased with it and say it is good: but if not, if he wishes it different he will say so and send it back and then if you agree to it, it is a fixed bargain and payment will be made.

The Treaty's articles were read and explained to the Indians in Chinook jargon. Stevens briefly talked again. Afterwards, the official records stated, "The Indians had some discussion, and Gov. Stevens then put the Question, "Are you ready? If so I will sign it" - There were no objections, and the Treaty was then signed by Gov. I. I. Stevens and the Chiefs, Delegates and Headmen on the part of the Indians and duly witnessed by the Secretary, Special Agent and seventeen citizens present.

All sixty-two Indian leaders, including Leschi, have their signature marks on the Medicine Creek Treaty.

The position has been strongly argued that, contrary to the official records, Leschi opposed the Medicine Creek Treaty at the Council, and refused to sign the document. If this is true, his signature mark on the Treaty would be a forgery. Ezra Meeker believed it was. To back his view, Meeker quoted in his book 'Pioneer Reminiscences of Puget Sound and The Tragedy of Leschi' various Indian participants of the Medicine Creek Council.

For example, he wrote:

I have recently interviewed John Hiton [Haiton], an Indian, one of the five survivors of the signers, who steadfastly refused to go into the war. He says he did not sign; that he stood up before the Governor and said that if he "could not get his home, he would fight, and that the Governor then told him it was fight, for the treaty paper would not be changed"

Continuing, Hiton [Haiton] said he then took the paper out of his pocket that the Governor had given him to be subchief, and tore it up before the Governor's eyes, stamped on the pieces, and left the treaty ground, and never came back to it again.

Following the signing of the Medicine Creek Treaty, gifts and provisions were distributed to the Indians present, and promised to some late arriving Puyallup Indians. The latter were delayed by poor weather.

The Indian treaty commission held an evening meeting with all members attending. The next day the commission divided. George Gibbs moved to survey the new reservations outlined by the Medicine Creek Treaty, while Michael Simmons and Benjamin F. Shaw went on with others to gather Indians for ensuing treaty councils. Isaac Stevens, Charles Mason, and James Doty returned to Olympia. The Medicine Creek Council lasted three days.

In theory, the Americans and the Indians negotiated as equals at the Medicine Creek Council. The reality was otherwise. Stevens dominated the Council. He allowed no major modifications of the predrafted Treaty, and kept everything proceeding at a fast pace.

Articles one, two, four, and six formed the heart of the Medicine Creek Treaty.

The first article detailed the vast area ceded by the Indians to the United States. Roughly 2,240,000 acres were transferred. In terms of modern counties, the cession contained, except for the reservations, all of Thurston and Pierce and sections of King and Mason Counties. The United States in article four agreed to pay the Indians $32,500 for their lands. The amount was to be paid in non-cash items. This sum of $32,500 was based on the number of Indians who attended the Medicine Creek Council.

Many Southern Puget Sound Indians, for one reason or another, did not go to the Council. Consequently, as historian Richard White noted, the Americans "seriously underestimated the number of Indians they were dealing with and never corrected the figures, the actual amount paid came to a little over a dollar a Year Per Indian for twenty years."

Three reservations were granted to the Indians in the Medicine Creek Treaty's second article. Hazard Stevens, Isaac's son who was at the Medicine Creek Council, listed them: Yiah-she-min Island, known as Squaxon Island, situated opposite the mouths of Hammersley and Tottens inlets, and separated from Hartstene Island by Peale Passage, containing about two sections of land, or 1280 acres, a square tract of two sections near and south of the mouth of McAllister's Creek, and another equal tract on the south side of Commencement Bay, now covered by the city of Tacoma."

Small and heavily wooded, the reservations did not satisfy numerous Indians who wanted river bottom land for fishing and pastures for grazing horses.

Perhaps hopes of someday combining these separated reservations were expressed in article six. The opening sentence here read: The President may hereafter, when in his opinion the interests of the Territory may require, and the welfare of the said Indians be Promoted, remove them from either or all of said reservations to such other suitable place or places within said Territory as he may deem fit on remunerating for their imp the expenses of their removal and improvements or may consolidate them with other friendly tribes or bands'

On March 3, 1855 the Medicine Creek Treaty was ratified by the United States Senate. President Franklin Pierce proclaimed it law a little over a month later.

War broke out in Southeastern Puget Sound in the Autumn of 1855, less than one Year after the conclusion of the Medicine Creek Council. Many factors led to the outbreak of hostilities between Indians and whites. One factor was anger caused by white mistreatment of Indian women.

Another was pressure Eastern Washington Indians placed upon Western Washington Indians to join in an anti-White coalition. The two Native American groups had marriage and trade connections.

Yet the real Problem igniting conflict in Southeastern Puget Sound was the continuing disagreement over land.

George Gibbs remarked, "the land is at the root of the war."

Governor Stevens made no immediate effort to move the Southern Puget Sound Indians to the Medicine Creek Treaty's reservations. Other Indian councils kept his attention focused away from the area. Settler takeover of traditional Indian lands, however, accelerated. Also, the dislike of many Indians for the reservations did not lessen with time.

Benjamin E Shaw, said 'Two or three days after the treaty was made I rode over to Nisqually and met Leschi and Stahl (the brother-in-law of Leschi) and they were very much dissatisfied, and they complained very much.

George Gibbs in a January 1855 letter wrote, The Skokomish came over & commenced a talk about the reservation - wanted another in their country.

We shut them up by telling them it was too late to talk about encounter with him and his companion then the great emphasis of the unsuitableness of the reservation intended for them, and a passing Indian approaching to listen, they reproached him in bitter terms for having failed at Medicine Creek to support their protest. Isaac Stevens continued to be concerned with Indian councils outside Southeastern Puget Sound. In Olympia Charles Mason served as acting governor. Mason faced a critical situation by early October 1855.

The Yakimas had killed Indian agent Andrew Bolon on September 23rd and won a victory over Major Granville Haller's regular army forces in Eastern Washington, shocking the entire region.

Mason in response called for the formation of volunteer companies. One such military unit, the Puget Sound Ranger's, attempted on October 24th to seize Leschi and Quiemuth as a preventive measure.

The two brothers escaped to become leaders in the Indian War which started in Southeastern Puget Sound at the end of the month. In their haste to get away, they left a plow forsaken in a winter wheat field.

Richard White commented on this plow:

An old symbol, the plow abandoned in a field. Maybe odd that the plow was an Indian plow and the soldiers Americans who justified their conquest by the superiority of the farmer over the hunter. A strange beginning for an Indian war. Almost a reversal of the mythic justification of the farmer's conquest of a continent. But as the Cherokees had found out, what an Indian did with land made little real difference to a white. That the Indian held it and the white wanted it, was closer to the core."

Fighting in Southeastern Puget Sound had stopped by August 1856. Governor Stevens on the 4th met at Fox Island with the noncombatant Southern Puget Sound Indians concentrated there. He gave more land of better quality to the Medicine Creek Treaty bands. The Nisqually Reservation was relocated to include Nisqually River bottom land, and enlarged from 1,280 acres to 4,700 acres.

The Puyallup Reservation jumped in size from 1,280 acres to 23,000 acres, while the Squaxin Reservation stayed the same at 1,280 acres. In addition, a Muckleshoot Reservation, 3,500 acres in extent, was created near present-day Auburn. Most of the Muckleshoot Reservations intended residents came from near the Green and White Rivers. They did not take part in the Medicine Creek Council.

A Presidential executive order on January 20, 1857 put into effect the terms of the Fox Island Council. President Franklin Pierce acted on the matter under authority granted him in the sixth article of the Medicine Creek Treaty. Possibly the hopes of uniting separate reservations perished beneath the 1855-1856 wave of Indian hostility.

During the Indian War and after its conclusion, Isaac Stevens maintained an uncompromising attitude towards Indian opposition leaders, including Leschi and Quiemuth. His view was reflected in a letter written to Colonel George Wright on October 4 1856:

Sir: I have received your letter of this date, in answer to my requisition for the delivery of Leschi, Nelson, Quimuth, Kitsap, and Stahl, to be sent to the Sound to be tried by the civil authorities.

These men are notorious murderers, and committed their acts of atrocity under circumstances of treachery and blood thirstiness almost beyond example. All belong to bands with whom treaties have been made, and in the case of all, except Nelson, the treaty had been sanctioned by the Senate, and the execution of the treaty has been placed in my hand.

Whether a treaty has been made or not, I am of the opinion that men guilty of such acts should at least be tried, and if convicted, punished... "

Eventually Quiemuth and Leschi fell into the hands of vengeful Whites.

The former was murdered in November 1856, and the latter executed in February 1858. Before the time of Leschi's death, Stevens had left the governorship and become Washington Territory's Delegate to Congress. Later Isaac Stevens fought as a Union General in the Civil War. He died in battle on September 1, 1862 at Chantilly, Virginia.

The Medicine Creek Treaty was a turning point in the history of Southeastern Puget Sound. Today the original document is stored at the Legislative and Diplomatic Branch of the National Archives, Washington, D.C. Copies of the Treaty can be found on paper and microfilm in various Washington State libraries.

Two historical markers presently commemorate the Medicine Creek Treaty. A monument, erected by the Washington State Historical Society in 1922, stands next to the Old Pacific Highway. Another marker, set up by Timberline High School students in 1976, is located on Nisqually bluff overlooking the Medicine Creek Council site.

At the site itself is located perhaps the most stirring physical reminder of the Medicine Creek Treaty. This is the Treaty Tree, a dead Douglas fir which still remains upright. The tree was alive in December 1854 and witnessed the meeting between Indians and Whites.

Only recently did the old tree die despite human efforts to preserve its life. Seedlings however, from the Treaty Tree have been successfully grown.

The Nisqually Delta is currently a peaceful national wildlife refuge. Almost 130 years ago the future of Southeastern Puget Sound was decided here at the Medicine Creek Council.


1. Kent Richards, Isaac I Stevens: Young Man in A Hurry (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1979), p. xii.

2. Murray Morgan, Puget's Sound. A Narrative of Early Tacoma and the Southern Sound (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981), p. 90.

3. Kent Richards, “Isaac I. Stevens and Federal Military Power in Washington Territory," Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Vol. 63, No. 3 (July 1972), p. 82.

4. Governor Isaac I. Stevens to the Second Annual Session of the Legislative Assembly, December 5, 1854. In Charles M. Gates, editor, Messages of The Governors of the Territory of Washington to the Legislative Assembly, 1854-1869 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1940), p. 14.

5. "Records of the Proceedings of the Commission to Hold Treaties with the Indian Tribes in Washington Territory and the Blackfoot Country." In Edward G. Swindell, Report on Source, Nature, and Extent of the Fishing, Hunting, and Miscellaneous Related Myths of Certain Indian Tribes in Washington and Oregon Together with Affidavits Showing Location of a Number of Usual and Accustomed Fishing Grounds and Stations (Los Angeles: United States Department of the Interior, 1942), P. 328.

6. Kent D. Richards, Isaac I Stevens: Young Man in a Hurry pp. 198-199.

7. Ezra Meeker, Pioneer Reminiscences of Puget Sound and The Tragedy of Leschi (Seattle: Lowman & Hanford, 1905), p.233. Ezra Meeker states on the same page that the Medicine Creek was not the She-nah-nam Creek proper, but a tributary to the She-nah-nam called by the Indians Squaquid. In contrast, Hazard Stevens, son of Isaac Stevens, identified the She-nah-nam Creek as Medicine Creek. See Hazard Stevens, The Life of Isaac Ingals Stevens, vol. 1 (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1901), p.456.

8. Murray Morgan, Puget's Sound - A Narrative of Early Tacoma and the Southern Sound, P. 91.

9. Quoted in Ezra Meeker, Pioneer Reminiscences of Puget Sound and the Tragedy of Leschi, pp. 453-454.

10. Ibid., p.216.

11. Ibid., p. 208.

12. "Records Of The Proceedings Of The Commission To Hold Treaties With The Indian Tribes In Washington Territory And The Blackfoot Country," p. 328.

13. Letter of George Gibbs, May 30, 1857. In Washington Republican, June 5, 1857, p. 2.

14. "Records Of The Proceedings Of The Commission To Hold Treaties With The Indian Tribes In Washington Territory And The Blackfoot Country," pp. 328- 329.

15. Ibid., p.329.

16. Ezra Meeker, Pioneer Reminiscences of Puget Sound and the Tragedy of Leschi, p.242.

17. Richard White, The Treaty at Medicine Creek: Indian-White Relations on Upper Puget Sound, l- 1880 (M. A. Thesis, University of Washington, 1972), p. 62.

18. Hazard Stevens, The Life of Isaac Ingals Stevens, Vol. 1, p. 459.

19. 'Treaty with the Nisqually, Puyallup, Etc, 1854' In Charles J. Kappler, edited, Indian Affairs, Laws and Treaties, Vol. II (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1904), p. 663.

20. Letter from George Gibbs to James Swan, January 7, 1857. Quoted in James G. Swan, The Northwest Coast (Reprinted edition. Fairfield, Washington: Ye Galleon Press, 1966), p.429.

21. Statement of Benjamin F. Shaw, March 11, 1893. Quoted in Judge James Wickersham -The Indian War- l855-1856 -Pro and Con (Fern Hill Historical Society, 1949), p. 5.

22. Letter from George Gibbs to Isaac Stevens, January 6, 1855. In National Archives, Record Group 75, Documents Relating to the Negotiation of Ratified and Unratified Treaties with Various Tribes of Indians, 1801-69 (T494), Roll 5 (microfilm).

23. Letter from William Tolmie to Fayette McMullin, Governor of Washington Territory, January 12, 1858. In Tolmie Papers, University of Washington Library.

24. Richard White, The Treaty at Medicine Creek: lndian-White Relations on Upper Puget Sound, 1830-1880, p. 72.

25. Letter from Isaac Stevens to Colonel George Wright, October 4, 1856. In Washington National Guard, The Official History of the Washington National Guard, Vol. 2. Washington Territorial Militia in the Indian Wars of 1855-56, p. 358.

Drew W. Crooks, "Governor Isaac I. Stevens and the Medicine Creek Treaty, prelude to the Indian War on Southern Puget Sound,"  Pacific Northwest Forum X (Summer-Fall, 1985) p. 23-35.

Cecelia Carpenter, The Americans Come.

Then in 1846 the international boundary was set at the 49th parallel and the Americans in growing numbers came into the area north of the Columbia. The settlers soon claimed Nisqually lands under the Donation Land Act of 1850. James McAllister settled his family on fertile lands on the Nisqually Delta at Leschi's invitation. James Longmire took up a claim east of the Yelm Prairies. The establishment of a U.S. Army fort at Steilacoom completed the encirclement of the Nisquallies.

On March 2, 1853, Congress carved Washington Territory out of old Oregon, and Isaac I. Stevens was appointed first territorial governor and superintendent of Indian affairs. A veteran of the Mexican War, the new governor surveyed a possible railroad route on his way to Olympia. After attending to legislative duties, he set out to make treaties with the Indian tribes whose ownership of the land had to be relinquished so that American settlers could have legal titles to their claims.

Governor Isaac I. Stevens set up a treaty commission, selected an acceptable treaty form, divided western Washington into five treaty districts, and arranged for headmen or chiefs to be appointed for each tribe. He offered schools, hospitals, blacksmith shops, and allowed each major Indian group to reserve its hunting, gathering and fishing rights, as well as a piece of land to live on. Reservations would be located at the discretion of the Treaty Commission with provisions in the treaties which would allow the government to later consolidate the reservations in a more remote area.

The first treaty concluded was the Medicine Creek Treaty, so named because the signing took place on She-nah-nam or Medicine Creek on the Nisqually Delta. The treaty was explained to the assembled Nisquallies, Puyallups and assorted bands who spoke Chinook jargon, and on December 26, 1854, the governor asked those he had appointed chiefs to sign. Leschi refused although an X appeared before his name.

He felt that the proposed Nisqually and Puyallup reservations were inadequate. He knew that the Nisqually allotment, south of the delta on high forested land, would condemn the tribe to a slow death, for there would be no river for fishing, no pasture land for horses. Moreover, to sign the treaty might mean eventually being moved to the dreaded lands to the north.

Governor Stevens made more treaties to the north and east. Meanwhile, Leschi, traveling across the Cascades to the Yakimas and the Klickitats and then south into Oregon, noticed the hostility of these inland peoples to the settlers rushing onto Indian land.

In October, 1855, he went to Olympia and met with Acting-Governor Charles Mason (Stevens was away) and told him that the Nisquallies wanted peace with the white man, but they also wanted to stay on their river bottom where they could fish and farm. Receiving no clear direction from Mason, Leschi returned home to his fall plowing.


Joseph T. Hazard, "Medicine Creek Treaty," Companion to Adventure. Portland: Binfords and Mort, 1952, p. 122-127.

Meetings were held by Governor Isaac I. Stevens and his Special Indian Service to clarify treaty policies and to liberalize treaty terms. Two men, added to Simmons, Shaw, and Cushman, contributed much. They were George Gibbs, who had made a study of the tribal customs and the intertribal relations of Northwest Indians; the other, James Doty, able son of Governor Doty of Wisconsin, who had read and analyzed many treaties with Wisconsin, Missouri, and Omaha tribes, and during a long Montana winter, had studied the Blackfeet and had taken census.

These experts, clarified in thought by argument, and united by compromise, adopted inn, salient, features and principles, to guide them:

1- The Indians were to be concentrated upon adequate reservations encouraged to cultivate the soil, to adopt settled and civilized habits.

2- They were not to be paid for their lands in money but in annuities of blankets, clothing, and useful articles during a long period of years.

3- They were to be provided with books, teachers, farmers and farming tools, blacksmiths, carpenters, shops.

4- Dangerous disputes and wars were to be prohibited between the many tribes and tribal groups.

5- Slavery must be abolished.

6- The use of liquor, as far as possible, was to be prohibited.

7- To make change from nomadic to civilized habits gradual, they were to retain the rights at their accustomed places of fishing, hunting, berry picking, and pasturing stock on unoccupied land, as long as it remained vacant.

It was added, as a final assurance of good faith and full future citizenship, when they had become fitted for it, that the lands of the reservations were to be allotted to them in severalty. With these principles and procedures established, final arrangements were made that the Treaty Corps might cover, first, all of Puget Sound.

The Governor chartered the schooner, R. B. Potter, with E. S. Fowler, captain and owner, for $700 a month, to be on full time service. Captain Fowler was to assume all responsibility for "sailing and victualling," selecting and paying his own crew, buying, cooking, and serving the food. In this way only could the Treaty Corps keep its individual minds on counselling. How else could the treating parties search out and visit so many Puget Sound bays and inlets, bights and headlands, sounds and islands, where massive forest with jungled shore fringes were myriad. And where trails were missing.

Like the advance men of a circus or camp meeting, Old Cush, Sid Ford, Hank Cock, and their helpers, always worked well ahead, picking camps and preparing council grounds, making surveys, and even drawing or inducing Indians to draw crude maps of the treaty terrain. Several interpreters were always present, for every Indian was to be assured understanding both of terrain and of treaty terms.

Indians were to find it expected and easy to voice views, wishes, objections, and to ask questions. They were even given "time to talk matters over among themselves and make up their minds." With these wise and understanding arrangements ten councils were successful, and two only broke up dangerously and in anger. The Medicine Creek Treaty was the first of the ten.

Governor Stevens reached his first treaty grounds on the day before Christmas, December 24, 1854. He and his eager Treaty Corps paddled about ten miles "down Sound," which meant north, from Olympia. Their dug out canoes turned for a mile up Medicine Creek which winds up Nisqually Flats, a mile and a half south and parallel with Nisqually River which is about to finish its wild flight from Mount Rainier to the Sound.

Strange feats performed by "Our Greatest Mountain," which separates Cowlitz Glacier from Nisqually Glacier by thrusting up a single ridge of rocks called Cowlitz Cleaver, then shoots Cowlitz River down from there to Columbia River just below Monticello (Longview) and Nisqually River down from so nearly the same place to Puget Sound.

The treaty grounds were waiting a mile up Medicine Creek, with the four immortals, Colonel Mike, Frank Shaw, Hank Cock, and Old Cush and many Indians already there. Those four men of might had cleared almost two acres from logs and brushwood and piled them to form an oblong square. A great tree, prone and protecting, formed a gigantic south backlog for the cozy grounds.

There were rude tables and a canopy with framework of poles whereon were hung "carcasses of beef' mutton, deer, elk, and salmon, with a cloud of wild geese, ducks, and smaller game." Nearby were piles of potatoes, sacks of flour, and the smaller ones of sugar and salt. All these as free as air to the attending braves, headmen, and chiefs who felt the urge of hunger. Clear Medicine Creek was gurgling along at the north bottom of the grounds to quench the thirst of one and all.

Logs were strewn for seats in rows arranged to honor rank and preference.

With the Governor were Secretary Charles Mason, younger brother of James Mason, Lieutenant Slaughter of the regular army, Gibbs, Doty, and many prominent settlers; and "Son Hazard," who found himself present with all the solemnity and alertness of a normal twelve year-old.

The boy, in his first thirty days on Puget Sound, had clung like a burr to mighty and six-foot-four Frank Shaw mastering the "Chinook Jargon," and all Indian lore. In fact, it wasn't so long before the boy was dignified by the earned title of Assistant Interpreter. In fact, at the first Treaty Council, he made himself useful by teaching white games to Indian children, and learning the Indian games of scalp and chase. At the close of the "Council" he signed the treaty with all the dignity of the older "boys."

The entire proceedings took three days. Gathering and greeting the day before Christmas; explanations, interpretations, charts, maps, and questions on Christmas Day; on the third day, December 26, 1854, the successful signing of the first of the ten Washington Territory Indian treaties, the Medicine Creek Indian Treaty. 

At nine o'clock on the morning of the treaty signing, the scene was both varied and lively. Everyone, from blanket braves, to booted settlers, to dapper officers of the U. S. Army, to Territorial officials, was smiling and contented. Some, probably, deep underneath, were hiding hatreds, for they well knew that the treaty meant off with the old ways and on with the new, but not one of them showed it.

Ezra Meeker, who was not there, writes that Leschi, whose original Indian name was spelled Lashchyach, ranted and raved against that treaty, tore up his commission and his copy of the chief's commission given him, and cast it in fury at the feet of Governor Stevens.

Frank Shaw, who was there, and who lived a long and honored life with Northwest citizens and Indians, has this to say:

"Leschi acted like a gentleman the whole time that the treaty was being made. He did not have to sign the treaty. No one insisted on his doing so. No treaty would have been made against his determined opposition as he was a very important man."

Again, Meeker states as fact that Leschi didn't sign. Strange, is it not, that no person has ever questioned the fact that Qui-e-muth, the brother of Leschi, standing beside him, did sign? Would one brother have signed when the other refused, and, the two of them, almost inseparable?

Again quoting Frank Shaw: "I saw Leschi make that cross and the Secretary write the name opposite to it."

James Doty, devoted to truth and honor, was that Secretary. Today, at the historic site of those first treaty grounds, and 99 years later, 1953, a huge monument marks the spot of signing. Here a sign on U. S. Highway 99 invites a stop. The inscription upon that great monument, that we may read before we roll onward, tells the story of the first successful and official event of justice to Northwest Indians, honoring their rights of ownership of their lands.

Sixty-two Indians, all the chieftains, headmen, and delegates of the nine tribes of King, Pierce, Thurston, and Mason Counties, with their cities of Seattle, Tacoma, and Shelton, signed the crucial treaty.

Governor Isaac I. Stevens, and nineteen well-reputed Territorial officials, and pioneers, signed for the white man.

The United States Senate ratified this one treaty too rapidly. It was signed and proclaimed in Washington D. C. on March 3, 1855, a little over two months after the Treaty Corps and the Indians had signed it at Medicine Creek.

In the meantime Governor Stevens had found out that the reservations set aside by the treaty were inadequate. One was an island near Shelton, a second, forested bluffs near the mouth of Medicine Creek, a third, some of the boulder-shot hills on which the City of Tacoma was built long afterwards. While, now, they have developed great values, then, they presented unproductive homes for reservation Indians.

Governor Stevens played fair with those Indians. He delayed placing them upon their reservations, then, when he could, in 1856, he "caused them (the reservations), to be exchanged for two larger tracts of fine fertile bottom land."

A violent and criminally inclined minority among the settlers of 1854 were death on Indians. They opposed with a bitter violence of ruthlessness, that turned into pitiless hatred, every attempt of Isaac I. Stevens to save the Indian. Greedy to grab Indian lands without cost or tide, they made furious objections to what they considered the excessive size and value of the reservations granted the Indians by solemn, open council treaty.

As an aftermath of the few, but loud-wailing, protests against what they considered the over-size and over-value of permanent reservation grants, the Tacoma Ledger had these things to say in the year 1892:

"It is satisfactory to know that something is being done to investigate and settle the difficulties surrounding the question of what we are to do with our Indian reservations. That they were bestowed at first with far too liberal a hand is beyond dispute....

"The final disposal of the Indians is only a question of time. Civilization does not agree with the red man's constitution, and a slow, but sure, extirpation of the race seems unfortunately to be, by general consent, a foregone conclusion. . . .

"But the lands which were consigned to their occupancy by a prodigality on the part of former legislators, which only ignorance of the nature and future value of the gift could excuse, is a matter which the increasing tide of prospecting settlers will not allow to be ignored....

"...there is every reason why they should not receive state aid to maintain them as idle vagabonds and 'sturdy beggars........

Dead wrong, Tacoma Ledger, on all four types and counts of Indian hatred and abuse.

"Extirpation" is a strong word connoting "eradicate, destroy wholly." 244,437 native U. S. Indians by the census of 1920, 333,969 native U. S. Indians by the census of 1940. Does this look like extirpation?

One of the two exchange reservation tracts, granted in 1856, is the Nisqually Indian Reservation of today. The other, in the Tacoma-Puyallup lowlands, became very valuable, and was parcelled out, "in severalty," to the heirs of the original Nisquallys of Medicine Creek. The reservation that still remains, briefly up-stream from the Nisqually Bridge of U. S. Highway 99, is as valuable farm land today as any in Washington.

Joseph T. Hazard, "The Medicine Creek Treaty," Companion to Adventure. Portland: Binfords and Mort, 1952 p. 122-127


Kent D. Richards, "The Medicine Creek Council," Isaac I. Stevens, young man in a hurry. Provo: Brigham Young University, 1979. p. 197-202.

After returning to Olympia in December 1854, Stevens set to work on his program to conduct treaty negotiations. He planned to treat with the tribes on the Sound during the winter and then to move east of the Cascade Mountains in the spring and work his way to the Blackfoot council.

The governor and his associates had attempted to prepare the tribes for the treaties during 1853-54 when they advised all to keep the peace, promising that treaties would soon be made that would provide justice for all. Most Indians in the territory had forewarning of the treaty councils, although in some instances this increased rather than lessened fears.

The first council took place at the mouth of Medicine Creek (on the Nisqually Flats between Olympia and Fort Steilacoom). While men rode out to escort the Indians to the councils, set up the council grounds, and procure the necessary supplies, the governor gathered his negotiating team in Olympia.

In addition to Michael Simmons (who had been named as Indian agent for Puget Sound), the group included James Doty as secretary, Benjamin F. Shaw as interpreter, George Gibbs as surveyor, and Hugh A. Goldsborough as commissary. Simmons and Shaw were veteran frontiersmen and early settlers on the Sound. (Shaw was alleged to be the only man in the territory who could translate from English into the Chinook tongue while a man talked at normal speed.) Gibbs was rapidly becoming the most apt student of Indian language and customs in the Northwest, and Doty had just arrived on the Sound after his year's residence among the Blackfoot Indians.

Goldsborough, an eastern lawyer who had been in the territory for several years, was the only member of the commission who lacked previous experience in Indian relations.

Several of these men later concluded that the policy of treaty councils was a mistake. Benjamin Shaw argued that the United States in fact had the land and erred in letting the Indians think they were equal parties in decisions relating to land disposal. Stevens' thoughts on this question in December 1854 are not known, but his earlier statements would indicate that given a choice he would have dictated a policy that would speed settlement yet offer protection for the Indian.

This hypothetical policy could not have brought worse results than the treaties; whether it would have produced a more favorable climate for Indian-white relationships is open to conjecture. A consistent policy largely under the supervision of one man (McLoughlin) had earlier produced an environment acceptable to whites and Indians, but although there were similarities between Stevens and McLoughlin, the territorial system was not the Hudson's Bay Company's style, the American settlers were not Company employees, and 1855 was not 1825.

In any event, there was no alternative to the treaty process. It was fixed government policy, and Stevens realized that he would have to work within its framework. There was no question as to if or when the Indians would be brought under treaties; the only issue open to discussion was how.

Drawing on their knowledge of the Puget Sound region, its tribes, and previous treaties, the commissioners adopted nine principles as guidelines: to concentrate the tribes as much as practicable; to encourage soil cultivation and other civilized habits; to pay for the land with annuities consisting of useful goods rather than cash; to furnish teachers, doctors, farmers, blacksmiths, and carpenters; to prohibit war between the tribes; to end slavery; to halt the liquor trade; to allow the Indians to hunt, fish, and gather berries until the civilizing process was complete; and, in time, to allow division of the reservation lands in severalty. 

It was an enlightened policy in that it allowed for a transition period and a process of gradual assimilation. The policy was, however, based on several assumptions that the commissioners erroneously accepted as truisms: that it was best for the Indians to be converted to the European way of life; that this transition could be accomplished by an economic shift from hunting and fishing to farming; that the federal government and its agents would faithfully provide the goods and services stipulated in the treaties; and that the Indian could be persuaded that all of the above were in his best interests.

On Christmas Eve, Stevens arrived at the council ground, where the Nisqually and Puyallup bands had already assembled. Sidney S. Ford and Orrington Cushman, two settlers employed as assistant commissaries, had stocked the camp with beef, mutton, deer, elk, wild geese, ducks, and salmon, all of which gave evidence that the talks would be interrupted by abundant feasting.

The next day Stevens, Doty, Shaw, Gibbs, Mason, and Lieutenant Slaughter assembled at a table in front of the governor's tent, and the Indians gathered in a semicircle before them. The other whites sat off to one side on campstools as a small cloud of witnesses.

The governor was dressed in a red flannel shirt with his pants tucked into the boots "California style," but as a concession to the Indians, who preferred that important people dress the part, he wore a dark frock coat and black felt hat with a clay pipe stuck in the band.

After the treaty draft was read, the council adjourned until the next day, when the governor opened the proceedings with an address which became the prototype for many speeches during the next year. He informed the Indians that it was a day of peace and friendship between you and the whites for all time to come.

You are about to be paid for your lands, and the Great Father has sent me today to treat with you concerning the payment. The Great Father lives far off. He has many children-some of those children came here when he knew but little of them, or of the Indians, and he sent me to inquire into these things.

We went through this country this last year, learned your numbers and saw your wants. We felt much for you, and went to the Great Father to tell him what we had seen. That Great Father felt for his children. He pitied them and he has sent me here today to express those feelings and to make a treaty for your benefit.

The Great Father has many white children who come here, some to build mills, some to make farms, and some to fish. And the Great Father wishes you to have homes, pasture for your horses and fishing places. He wishes you to learn to farm and your children to go to a good school. And he now wants me to make a bargain with you, in which you will sell your lands and in return be provided with all these things.

You will have certain lands set apart for your homes and receive yearly payments of blankets, axes, etc., all this is written down in this paper which will be read to you. If it is good you will sign it, and I will then send it to the Great Father. I think he will be pleased with it and say it is good. But if not, if he wishes it different, he will say so and send it back, and then if you agree to it, it is a fixed bargain and payment will be made.

This speech was translated into Chinook by Shaw and then retranslated into the Indian dialects by natives. Stevens asked, "Is it good? If it is good we will sign it; but if you dislike it, in any point, say so now." He promised a distribution of goods after the signing, and more the next summer, with any further distributions coming after approval of the treaty in Washington D.C. After a period of deliberation, the Indian representatives gave their assent.

All the goods were passed out, but towards evening James Swan appeared with twenty-nine Indians and said twenty more were on the way. Satisfied that they had been delayed by rainy weather, the governor sent to Olympia for more presents for the latecomers. The council had taken only two days.

Under the terms of the Treaty of Medicine Creek the whites gained the land bounded by the Cascade Mountains, Puget Sound, the present southern suburbs of Seattle and the Skookumchuck River. The Indians received three small reservations (each containing two sections or 1,280 acres) located at Squaxin Island at the south end of Puget Sound; an area south of Commencement Bay on the present site of Tacoma; and the Nisqually Flats.

They were to move to the reservations within a year after ratification of the treaty or "sooner if the means are furnished them." The tribes retained the "right of taking" fish, at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations ... in common with all citizens of the Territory ... together with the privilege of hunting, gathering roots and berries, and pasturing their horses on open and unclaimed lands." Payments for the land were spread over twenty years, decreasing gradually from $3,250 the first year to $1,000 each of the last five years-the money to be spent at the discretion of the President for items that would most benefit the tribes.

In addition, a sum of $3,250 was allotted for the initial expenses of settlement and breaking the land. The President retained the authority "when the interests of the Territory may require, and the welfare of said Indians be promoted," to move them to another reserve if they were compensated for improvements and moving expenses. In addition to giving up the land the Indians agreed to eight other provisions: (1) their dependence upon the United States; (2) friendship with whites and other Indians; (3) delivery of lawbreakers to white authorities; (4) prohibition of the sale or use of liquor on the reservations; (5) deductions from annuities to pay for stolen property; (6) abolition of slavery; (7) prohibition of trade outside the United States; and (8) exclusion of foreign Indians from the reservations.

The United States promised to maintain an agricultural and mechanical school in the Puget Sound region for twenty years. In common with other tribes on the Sound, there would be access to a farmer, a blacksmith, and a carpenter who would offer occupational instruction, as well as a physician who would provide free care and medicine. Leschi, Stahl, Quiemuth, and fifty-nine other chiefs and subchiefs joined nineteen whites in signing the treaty.

Governor Stevens was pleased with the results of the Medicine Creek council. He had gained title to 2,500,000 acres in exchange for widely separated and concentrated reservation lands totaling 3,840 acres. Some of the chiefs had asked for more land during initial council sessions, but Stevens held firm and objections ceased. Stevens believed the reservations adequate because they were so situated that the Indians could hunt, fish, and participate in the "labor of the Sound."

When the treaty was submitted to the federal government, Stevens emphasized the severalty provision which allowed an eventual break up of the reservations in favor of individual allotments. He believed this provision, along with the authority granted to the President to combine the reservations if necessary, would remove any objection to three separate reserves.

The governor, in anticipation of objections to the allowance of payments for improvements, noted that such costs would be minimal as only the village at Quiemuth could have qualified at the time. Stevens also defended the Indians' right to continue fishing, hunting, and berry picking off the reservation. These activities would, he argued, allow the Indians to remain largely self-supporting and would not create any problem for the settlers.

The governor noted, for example, that the Indians usually fished with spears in the deep water rather than using seines or weirs like white fishermen. He emphasized the importance of the training school and claimed that some Indians had asked him to include a compulsory apprentice system in the treaty. Stevens did not want to make the school compulsory, but he informed his superiors that the Sound Indians would become excellent artisans. 

To provide a doctor and medicine was, the governor said, "an act of simple justice since the disease resulted from their contact with the whites." Governor Stevens was later criticized for giving the Indians too little, but his primary fear as he concluded his first treaty was that the government would reject it because he had been overly generous.

After the Medicine Creek council the commissioners met to discuss future policy before moving on to other council sites on Puget Sound. The point which produced the most debate involved the number of reservations west of the Cascades. Simmons and Gibbs argued vigorously that different customs, languages, and the need for sufficient fishing stations dictated that they continue creation of numerous small reservations scattered about Puget Sound.

Stevens recognized the validity of this position, but fresh in his mind was the explicit instruction from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that the tribes be placed "on a limited number of districts in country apart from the settlement of whites." The Commissioner had suggested a maximum of six treaties for all the tribes in the Washington Superintendency. These orders and the specter of recent failures to ratify Oregon treaties overrode all other considerations in the governor's mind. He suggested that they make one more treaty with the remaining tribes on the Sound, but this was voted down with only Doty supporting the governor.

"Considerable argument" followed as the governor received more opposition from his own commission than he had from the Nisqually or Puyallup Indians. In an attempt to reach a compromise between the Indian Bureau and his advisors, Stevens proposed one additional treaty with the Indians on the east side of the Sound and one with those on the west side. All agreed, and they also decided to locate one school, one hospital, and a training center for all the Puget Sound tribes. The Indians also were to be allowed fishing rights at accustomed places (in common with whites) as well as the use of unclaimed land for pasture."

Stevens speculated that if the whole treaty program proceeded as smoothly as Medicine Creek, and if Congress acted promptly, the next year would find the Indians from the Missouri River to the Pacific at peace. He sent Doty to the east side of the Cascade Mountains to prepare the way for treaties in the spring, and he named Gibbs as the new secretary of the commission. As the new year began, the members of the team scattered through the Puget Sound region to bring the tribes on the east side of the Sound to the council scheduled for late January at Point Elliott.

Kent D. Richards, "The Medicine Creek Council," Isaac I. Stevens, young man in a hurry. Provo: Brigham Young University, 1979, p. 197-202.