Far-seeing men of the early days realized that the territory of Washington depended for its future development and growth upon the building of a transcontinental line to connect it with the settled states east of the Mississippi, so that supplies could be obtained, settlers invited and capital interested in promoting the material resources of the new domain.

Even as early as 1835 Rev. Samuel Parker, a missionary, declared that no insuperable obstacle prevented the building of a railroad across the continent and from that time on public sentiment was gradually educated to the idea until it became a measure of national insistence. But for the Civil War there is little question that a railroad to the Northwest coast would have been under construction.


In 1837 Dr. Samuel Barlow, a distinguished physician of Boston, and in l838 Willis Gaylord Clark, the poet and editor, each advocated the building of a road to the Pacific. This, be it remembered was long prior to the acquisition of California, and while the Oregon question was still a subject of bitter controversy with England.

During the forties, Asa Whitney continually agitated the importance of a transcontinental road. With prophetic vision he prepared and presented the scheme for its construction, which was, in the main, ultimately crystallized into the land grant that made the Northern Pacific a possibility. He offered to construct a railroad in twenty years time from Lake Michigan to the headwaters of navigation on the Columbia, providing Congress would give him a land grant along the line sixty miles in width.

So earnestly did he labor, and so profound was the influence he exerted that in 1848 a select committee of Congress recommended that steps be taken to explore and survey a route from the Mississippi to the Pacific.


This report led, in 1853, to a Congressional appropriation of $150,000 for surveys, in order to ascertain the most practicable route. Isaac I. Stevens, who had just been appointed governor of the newly created territory of Washington, was given charge of the northern route, being instructed to explore and survey from the Mississippi to Puget Sound.

George B. McClellan, who was then a captain of engineers in the army was sent to Puget Sound with a party in order to work eastward and meet Governor Stevens. As a result of the work of these two corps the practicability of the northern route was demonstrated passes being found through the Cascades and Rockies readily amenable to engineering skill.

In his report Governor Stevens, besides recommending the straight route across the Cascades through the Natches Pass, also recommended the construction of a branch line down the Columbia from a point near the mouth of Snake River.


In January, 1857, the territorial legislature adopted a bill incorporating the Northern Pacific Railroad Company and prescribed lines almost identical with those now used by the system. Congress was at once appealed to in order to obtain national charter for the enterprise; but before action was taken, the Civil War, broke out and all else was forgotten during the first three years of that mighty conflict.

When it appeared certain that the North would win, however, Congress again turned its attention to matters of national development and on July 2, 1864 granted the charter prayed for. This instrument is entitled "An Act granting lands to aid in the construction of a railroad and telegraph line from Lake Superior to Puget Sound, on the Pacific Coast, by the Northern Route."

The conditions imposed by Congress were accepted by the company on December 15,1864.


Joseph Perham of Boston was the first president of the company. As the charter among other things, prohibited the issuance of bonds, the company was seriously restricted in obtaining funds. This discouraged Perham and his associates who finally transferred the charter to J. Gregory Smith and others.

The new management went before Congress in 1866 and petitioned for aid, asking that the national government guarantee the interest on a part of the stock which was to be sold for construction purposes. This, however, was denied. Applications of a similar nature were made to succeeding Congresses until, in 1870, the company secured the passage of a resolution authorizing it to issue bonds, securing the same by a mortgage on its property of whatever nature, including the franchises.

In the meantime the work of surveying the route was actively pushed. In 1867 two parties of surveyors examined the passes of the Cascade range from the Columbia north to the Skagit river, finding six passes, of which, three were determined to be feasible, according to the report of General James Tilton, chief engineer of the Cascade division.


With the permission granted by Congress to issue bonds, the work of raising funds was undertaken. On July 1, 1870, the company issued its mortgage to secure bonds to Jay Cooke and J. Edgar Thompson, as trustees. Jay Cooke advanced five million dollars and work was commenced at Duluth in February, 1870, when the first spike of the present Northern Pacific was driven. It was seventeen years later before the last spike was driven home.

Jay Cooke, while not especially opposing Puget Sound was a strong adherent of Portland, having been materially assisted in securing the charter amendments by United States Senators from Oregon. The line across the Cascades was, therefore ignored and all the influence of the great promoter was thrown to the city of the Willamette.

As the charter amendment required the construction of twenty-five miles of road between Portland and Puget Sound prior to July 2, 1871, work on this line was commenced in 1870 and completed northward from Kalama within the prescribed time. 

The following year forty miles had been built northward and were in operation though in a rather primitive fashion. Many pioneers recall the discomforts of travel on that particular branch.

The selection of a Puget Sound terminus had been agitated for some time, Seattle, Olympia, Steilacoom, and the hamlet at Old Tacoma, all claimed it. On January 1, 1873, General John W. Sprague and General John N. Goodwin, agents of the Northern Pacific issued an announcement that Olympia had been officially selected as the western terminus.


But it was not to be. The genius of General Morton M. McCarver and the influence he exerted in high quarters prevailed in favor of Tacoma, and in July, 1873, the City of Destiny was formally declared the point where the rails should first meet the sails.

For a time it was determined to call the new town Commencement City but at the suggestion of Colonel Clinton P. Ferry, then in Portland, the name Tacoma was selected in honor of the imperial mountain that overshadows her.

In September, 1873, Jay Cooke and Company failed and a terrible financial panic swept over the land. New enterprises like the Northern Pacific were the first to feel the blow. Operations were embarrassed but by herculean efforts the branch from Kalama was completed to Tacoma, just one day preceding the date prescribed in the charter that it should be finished.


The discovery of coal veins along the Carbon River called the attention of Northern Pacific officials to the necessity of tapping this cheap and desirable fuel supply. At Wilkeson, it was demonstrated early in the seventies, that coal existed in commercial quantities. General Stark, vice president of the road, made a personal examination of the mines and was so impressed with their value that he used the following language in his report:

"The building of this (Cascade) branch for the development of our coal resources seems now to be the one wheel which, if started, will put the whole train in motion; and I trust that ways and means to accomplish it will be devised at an early date."

Vice-President Stark's recommendation was acted upon as early as possible but it was not until the summer of 1877 that the branch was constructed connecting Tacoma and Wilkeson. For the first time the valley of the Puyallup echoed to the whistle of the locomotive.


It was the intention of those whose influence had secured the building of this branch to make it the western end of the Cascade Division of the main line. Yet they had many things to overcome. Portland was jealous of her commercial supremacy, and in her fight to prevent the road crossing the Cascades had powerful financial and political assistance.

Tacoma, on the other hand, was still a village with nothing but her superior location as a terminus to offer, while the hostility of Seattle and Olympia prevented a union of Puget Sound interests and at the time seemed to place victory in Portland's hand. Had it not been for the stern attitude of the Congress of the United States it is questionable if the main line of the Northern Pacific would have ever crossed the Cascades.


In 1878 the senators from Oregon secured the passage of an act in the Senate that ostensibly granted to the Northern Pacific an extension of time in which to complete its road. The act contained such provisions however, that to have complied with them would have in all probability killed the line across the Cascades and given Portland complete control of tidewater business for all time.

But the scheme was exposed in the House of Representatives which promptly defeated the bill and thus prevented the extension of time asked.

After the failure of this bill, and finding that something had to be done to hold its charter, the Northern Pacific sent Chief Engineer William Roberts with two parties into the field. One of these parties was commanded by Charles A. White and the other by D. D. Clarke. They spent the season of 1878-79 in examining the passes of the Cascades.


In the meantime President Charles B. Wright was compelled to resign on account of ill health. He was succeeded by Frederick Billings, an able and energetic executive. President Billings favored the completion of the entire line and in the summer of 1880 sent out four engineering parties to the Cascades. Engineer Sheets, in charge of one of the parties, after a careful instrumental survey, reported in favor of the line crossing via the Natchez Pass.

During the fall of 1880 Henry Villard secured control of the Northern Pacific. Under his energetic management work was actively prosecuted. A loan of forty million dollars was negotiated; a railroad along the south side of the Columbia to throw out branches and thus tap the great wheat growing sections of Eastern Washington was projected; great schemes were in the air, for Villard was full of them. Portland was the focal point to which all the wealth of the Northwest was to be gathered.


Jay Cooke had only been nominally opposed to Puget Sound, being forced to this position in order to gain the support of the Oregon senators in Congress; but Henry Villard seemed to have a bitter personal enmity toward it, and used all the vast power of his position against constructing the main line here.

His speeches make interesting reading. In one of them, talking about the contemplated branch line, he declared that Portland should always be "...the focus, the center, the very heart, so to speak, of a local system of transportation lines aggregating fully two thousand miles of standard-gauge road." At Portland discussing the policy of President Billings his predecessor, Villard used this extraordinary language:


"There was a determined effort resolved upon by the former management of the Northern Pacific to disregard the Columbia River, to disregard the commerce of this great city, and to make direct for Puget Sound, in pursuit of the old unsuccessful policy of building up a city there.

"I do not believe that any effort to build up a rival city on Puget Sound can ever succeed. I mean that Portland will always remain the commercial emporium of the Northwest."

That speech was delivered twenty-three years ago. Could Villard visit the coast today, he would find at least two cities on Puget Sound whose volume of commerce, manufacturers, and finance not only equal but in many ways surpass those of Portland.


Villard was faithful to the Willamette Valley city. He made preparations to expend five million dollars in constructing terminal facilities at that point. These were being commenced when the crash came and Villard was forced to the wall. He had been a plunger and had plunged too far.

He was hopelessly stranded. With his fall, Portland's dream of commercial supremacy slowly faded away. Harris was elected president of the Northern Pacific, and under the new regime the fortunes of Puget Sound, of the Puyallup Valley, and of Tacoma, began to look up again.

It was soon announced that the Cascade division would be built by way of Stampede Pass, connecting Tacoma with the line at Pasco Junction. The construction of this division became imperative because of the threatened action by Congress to forfeit the land grants unless the main line was quickly constructed to salt water on Puget Sound.


Overland railroad communication with St. Paul and Duluth was consummated on September 7, 1883, when the last spike was driven sixty miles west of Helena, Montana. To reach St. Paul, however, necessitated a trip around by the way of Portland.

On January 1, 1886 the contract for piercing the Stampede tunnel through the Cascades was awarded to Nelson Bennett of Tacoma, the requirement being that the work be completed within two years. Meanwhile a temporary switchback was built over the Pass.

This was finished June 1, 1887 and the first through train from St. Paul passed down the Puyallup Valley and reached Tacoma on July 6th following. It was a time of great public rejoicing. Tacoma celebrated the event with memorable demonstrations of delight. On May 22, 1888, the switchback was abandoned, and the first train passed through the Stampede tunnel. The Northern Pacific was finally an accomplished fact.


The depression of 1893 affected the Northern Pacific with exceptional seriousness, because it traversed a region whose prosperity largely depended upon mining. Its revenues diminished to the point where it became impossible to pay the interest upon its bonded indebtedness.

While in this condition receivers were appointed by the United States courts who managed the road until finally a complete reorganization of the company was effected. Since 1896 the road has been doing a continually increasing business every year, is now in splendid financial condition and under a progressive and excellent management.


"Puyallup Accord three years later; the good and bad," The Seattle Times. May 9, 1993, B-2.

For the Puyallup Indians, it has purchased a lot since the tribe signed a landmark land-settlement agreement three years ago. Under the settlement, the tribe relinquished its century-old claim to thousands of acres in the industrial heart of Tacoma and other parts of Pierce County in exchange for cash, programs and real estate from federal, state and local governments as well as private landowners.

A show case marina has been built, programs were started to help Tribal members, and new businesses have been launched by the Puyallups. But the land-claims settlement is still met with conflicting emotions by the tribe.

Some programs for the elderly have yet to get off the ground, while others are being effected slower than anyone imagined, concedes Carlos delos Santos, one of the tribe's lawyers.

Specific programs funded by the settlement are job-training and placement, economic development, an elder-care center, a day-care center, a small-business development program and a fisheries-enhancement program.

Part of the problem, Delos Santos says, is that no money was included in the agreement for administration of the programs. "It was a tremendous oversight on everybody's part," he says.

To properly manage the different programs contained in the settlement, the tribe has to set up oversight boards, and sometimes hire consultants and professional administrators. Delos Santos says the tribe is having problems enough meeting current expenses let alone find anything left over to administer settlement programs.

But in many respects the settlement has been a boon to the tribe's 1,600 members. Each adult received $20,000 when the agreement was signed, allowing them to pay bills, buy household goods, or even go into business.

Mike Turnipseed says the money helped him strike out on his own. Two years ago he opened Mike's Smoke Shop, a combination deli, espresso stand and cigarette store. Settlement money also helped the tribe buy 69 acres of property to build a new school, which will include a swimming pool and a television station.

Roleen Hargrove, chairwoman of the Puyallup Tribal Council, says the settlement has allowed the tribe to begin restoring its base through land acquisitions and to help meet members' housing and social-service needs.

"The economic, environmental and social benefits of the settlement will continue to accrue far into the future," she says.

One of the initiatives that's lagging badly is a private-sector job-placement program. In conjunction with a job-training program, employers in the Tideflats industrial area were to have provided 115 jobs for Puyallup Indians within two years of the settlement.

About 100 people have taken jobs through the program but only about 20 to 30 are still working in those jobs, says Karl Anderson, vice president of Concrete Technology Corp. and the employers' representative in the program.

There have been disappointments and frustrations on both sides. Employers found that some tribal members who were offered jobs weren't "ready, willing and able" to work, or quit shortly after starting. Tribal members thought some of the jobs paid too little. The tribal official overseeing the program has declined to comment.

Also as part of the settlement, the tribe is receiving nearly 200 acres on the Tideflats and in Fife. All the land was supposed to be cleaned up and turned over by the Port of Tacoma by March. While some of the property has been turned over, the rest required extensive environmental cleanup that continues. Port officials expect to transfer the remaining land by the end of June.

But the Chinook Landing Marina, developed on 72 acres on the Hylebos Waterway, was opened May 1 and is expected to produce gross revenues of $650,000 a year. The tribe financed the $4 million project.

In addition, Puyallup International is negotiating with a Korean company to build a newsprint recycling and de-inking plant on the tribe's land adjacent to the Blair Waterway.

The biggest single beneficiary of the settlement was a trust board set up to administer $22 million. The board has so far distributed $2.2 million for programs ranging from a youth leadership program to cemetery maintenance.


The Puyallups, A History. Tacoma: Tacoma Public Library, May 1977.

Northwest Exploration

The first contact between Europeans and Indians in present Pierce County occurred in the late Spring of 1792 when Captain George Vancouver of the Royal Navy explored Puget Sound for the British Government. In May of that year, Vancouver in exploring the lower reaches of the Sound met local Indians near Brown's Point.

Several accounts exist of Vancouver's expedition all of which describe the Indians as being masterful boat handlers, having a subsistence level economy, a loose pattern of organization and differing from the near neighbors only in dialects of a mother tongue.

The Puyallups lived in a number of semi-permanent villages around Commencement Bay and on the lower reaches of the Puyallup River with some locations near the South Tacoma swamp and on Vashon Island. Their larger and more powerful neighbors to the south, the Nisquallys lived on the river that bears their name, on the upper reaches of the Puyallup, and at places on the islands that dot Puget Sound.

There is evidence that inter-group marriages were common as there is ample evidence of mixes between local tribes as far away as Whidbey Island and across the mountains into Eastern Washington. The economy of the Puyallups was based mainly on what could be gathered from the sea with salmon taking first priority along with clams and other shell fish. The land provided berries, roots, and with the introduction of the potato, that tuber became important.

In 1833 the Hudson's Bay Company entered the area by constructing a facility near the mouth of the Nisqually River. Indians were invited to trade furs, skins, fish, bark and other items for the blankets, axes, knives, and luxuries of the European civilization. 

It was during this period that the Indians experienced the most stability in their way of life. While not totally protected from the raids of northern Indians and conflicts between neighbors, the "Great Peace" nurtured by the Hudson Bay Company guaranteed protection to all who traded at Fort Nisqually, while at the Fort, and on the way home.

By 1841 it became apparent that the supply of furs was soon to be depleted. The Hudson's Bay Company attempted to gain control of the area by encouraging permanent settlement. It had organized the Puget Sound Agricultural Company which introduced herds and flocks to the plains stretching inland from the coast. While the Puyallups were not directly affected, it soon became apparent that the style of life for all in the area was to change dramatically.

Employees of the Hudson's Bay Company nearing retirement were encouraged to permanently settle on lands that would be provided while a group of nearly one hundred people were brought into the Puget Sound country from Manitoba to take up claims.

It was this group of Manitoba settlers who became the first to encroach on lands that could be considered as belonging to the Puyallup tribe. The Hudson Bay Company experiment was a failure in that by 1844 all of the Manitoba settlers had left the area abandoning their farms and homes.

On the international scene the joint occupancy of the Oregon Country between the United States and Great Britain ended with all territory south of the 49th parallel being United States territory and that to the north belonging to England. While the rights of the Hudson's Bay Company were to be preserved it soon became apparent that their claim to nearly all of present Pierce County would be ignored.

In 1844, an Englishman named Joseph Thomas Heath arrived to found what he eventually called Steilacoom Farm on the flatlands above Steilacoom Bay. He hired local Indians to work the land for him and had contacts with nearly all local tribes. He was often involved in attempting to arbitrate the constant conflicts between local Indians and did what he could to stop the continual blood letting which was so common between the groups.

Heath died during the winter of 1848-49 and the Hudson's Bay Company took control of his property. Later that year a group of local Indians in an attempt to rid the area of white intruders staged an attack on the local symbol of white man's power, Fort Nisqually. The attack was a failure and the Indians were driven off although one white man was killed.

Since the territory belonged now to the United States, the Governor of the new territory of Oregon was called upon for assistance. Because there were only seven regular U.S. army soldiers in the whole region little could be done to provide for local defense except for the distribution of government weapons.

Several months passed and finally in August of 1849, elements of the United States Army arrived, the attackers of Fort Nisqually were pursued and arrested and a relative peace restored. The handling of the captured Indians perhaps demonstrates the wide gap between the white culture and that of the Indians as evidenced by the details of the trial.

While the Indians may have considered themselves at war with the whites, the government viewed the death of the white man at Fort Nisqually as murder, not an act of war. The reward offered for the capture of the Indians was deprecated by many for it was felt that such a rich reward, fifty blankets, would only lead to additional murders. One Indian who stood trial was not even present but he was a slave, who, it was thought, would serve as an adequate substitute.

Northwest Land Apportionment

The gold rush in California temporarily slowed American migration to the Northwest. As late as 1850 less than 500 whites lived in the Puget Sound area. However, the Oregon Donation Land Act of September 27, 1850 quickly stimulated rapid settlement. Under this act, each adult U.S. citizen could receive 320 acres and made it possible for a man and wife to receive up to 320 acres each.

Prior to this, Congress had followed a policy of recognizing Indian title to land, but the Indian claims had not yet been extinguished before the Land Act was passed and settlers began to move in. The same year Congress passed the Indian Treaty Act which authorized the purchase of the lands from the various North Coast tribes and the removal of the Indians to areas which were not wanted or needed by the settlers.

In Pierce County, few accepted the provisions of the Donation Land Act, and even with an extension, slightly more than 100 individuals in present day Pierce County, availed themselves of the opportunity to secure free land.

On March 2, 1853, Washington became a territory of the United States without consultation with the Indians who still held title to the lands. A young army officer, Isaac Ingalls Stevens was appointed to serve both as Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the new territory. When he arrived on Puget Sound, Stevens did a number of things; he conducted a census, selected a capital and sought to write treaties with the local Indians.

When Stevens arrived, he proceeded immediately to extinguish Indian ownership to the territory. It is estimated that in less than a year, Governor Stevens made treaties with more than 17,000 Indians and in doing so, extinguished the Indian title to more than 100,000 square miles (64 million acres) of land now making up most of the territory of Washington, Idaho and Montana. Although the Indians recognized the need to sell much of their country, they were adamant against being moved away from it, and refused to accept centralized reservations.

White culture regarded land as a commodity to be owned, fenced, bought, and sold, whereas to the Indian, land was part of a religious heritage, not a chattel and not an article of trade. Stevens acceded to the reserving by tribes of a portion of their homeland. In so doing, he did not achieve the degree of concentration he had desired, though it was more than the Indians wished.

Treaty of Medicine Creek: December 26, 1854

In the winter of 1854, Stevens gathered all the tribes, bands and groups of Indians he could on the banks of a small creek near the mouth of the Nisqually River to develop a treaty. Stevens claimed representation from most of the tribes of the Puget Sound lowlands, and after several days of what was considered hard negotiation, a treaty was written.

Stevens insisted that the transaction take place in the Chinook jargon, a trade patois of a few hundred words from several Indian languages with additions from English and French. It is very probable that the Indians did not understand the full import of the treaty. On December 26, 1854, the Treaty of Medicine Creek, ceding the territory of the Nisquallys and the Puyallups, along with that of a number of other tribes and bands, was signed. 

Aftermath of the Treaties: Indian Wars of 1855-1856

Stevens soon left the treaty ground and continued to make treaties with other Indian tribes. While Stevens viewed the treaties as models of justice, the Puget Sound Indians were bitter with second thoughts. However, there was no time for reconsiderations. Settlers had already moved on to the lands even though the treaties were not supposed to go into effect until they had been ratified by Congress. While Stevens was treating with tribes still further east, war suddenly exploded in both the Puget Sound region and eastern Washington.

The Indians were dissatisfied not only with the treaties themselves and the way they had been negotiated, but also with violations of their terms by the white settlers. The war consisted of the usual killings, destruction of property and attendant miseries. There was an attack on the village of Seattle, a series of raids in the White River Valley and the evacuation of the entire Puyallup Valley.

At this time, there were only seventy-nine white residents in the entire valley who all fled to be accommodated at the town of Steilacoom and at Fort Steilacoom, which had been built by the United States Army on the farm of Joseph Thomas Heath.

Establishment of Reservation Land

During the hostilities the noncombatant Indians were taken to Fox Island near Tacoma. Most of the Nisquallys and the Puyallups were among that group. In August 1856, Governor Stevens went to the island and held a council wherein changes were negotiated in the Nisqually and Puyallup reservation areas and the Muckleshoot reservation was established.

The Indians viewed the council as another treaty-making, but there is no evidence of formal proceedings. Stevens negotiated the changes under the authority granted by Article VI of the Treaty of Medicine Creek, and recommended that the President put them into effect by Executive Order. By the Executive Order of 1857, the Puyallup reservation was enlarged so that it contained 36 sections of land, approximately 23,000 acres of land on the east side of Commencement Bay.

The area encompassed land in the vicinity of Puyallup Avenue; Portland Avenue to South of 72nd Avenue East; most of Fife and part of Milton; some of the Puyallup Valley; most of Browns Point and Dash Point; and part of Northeast Tacoma where it follows the King County-Pierce County line.

In 1873, President Ulysses S. Grant approved alterations in the reservation to permit the Northern Pacific Railroad free access across the reservation land, and in 1876, a branch line was approved. In 1888, a right of way was granted to the Puyallup Valley Railway and another agreement with the Northern Pacific Railway was ratified by Congress in 1893. The land once reserved for the Puyallups was becoming necessary as a byway to other white settlements.

The Puyallup reservation was under special pressure because it was directly in the path of non Indian commercial and industrial development, lying entirely on land which has since been occupied by the City of Tacoma.

In 1871, Congress passed a law declaring that it would make no more treaties with Indian tribes which were no longer to be considered separate nations. The legislation specifically provided, however, the terms of all treaties which were then in existence were to be honored.

Indian Reservation Land Allotted

At the time of the formation of reservations, the Indians held land in common and there was no such thing as individual ownership. However, with the growth of population centers throughout the country, the pressure was on the legislators to change the laws so that the Indian land could be used by communities throughout the United States. This resulted in the General Allotment Act, or the Dawes Severality Act of 1887.

General Allotment Act - 1887

This act was passed by Congress in 1887 and stated that the Indian reservation land was to be allotted to individuals. The allotments were supposed to be sufficient to enable a family to make a living by farming. In practice little attention was given to the qualities of the land or the interests and talents of the families. Allotments were to be inalienable for twenty-five years, after which an allottee might apply to be declared "competent" to manage his affairs and to receive title in fee simple.

On his receipt of such title, his land passed forever out of trust status, and he could sell it to whomever he wished or do with it whatever else he saw fit. The Bureau then had no further interest in it. The land also passed on to the tax rolls of the jurisdiction in which the reservation was situated.

In addition, the Act also provided that Indian land left over after the allotments had been made could be declared surplus and might be sold to the United States.

Puyallup Reservation Allotment - 1887

The Puyallup reservation was allotted to 178 Indians holding individual tracts and 585 acres held in common for school purposes. Each family owned 40 acres of land, and was restricted for twenty-five years from disposing of this land. The land held in common was known as the Agency Tract and was land in which the Cushman School, Indian cemetery, Indian hospital and Presbyterian Mission church were located. The Puyallups, however, claimed the map which contained the description of the land that they agreed to receive in lieu of that land released by them, and on which the City of Tacoma now stands, included all the land on the borders of Commencement Bay to low water mark.

Puyallup Indian Commission 1890-1892

Because of the extensive lobbying by Tacoma business men, in 1890 Congress appointed a three man Commission to investigate several areas of concern. The Commission is known as the Puyallup Indian Commission. Based on the findings of said Commission, in 1893, Congress passed a special Act for the Puyallups, the Puyallup Allotment Act, the purpose and result of which was to bring about the alienation of almost the entire reservation area.

Puyallup Allotment Act -1893

It directed that all Puyallup lands not required for the allottees home, the school, and the burying ground were to be sold, and it provided that those lands remaining in Indian ownership could be alienated after ten years (instead of twenty five as provided in the General Allotment Act). By 1920, it became evident to the Bureau of Indian Affairs that the General Allotment Act had been a failure.

Indian Reorganization Act -1934

In 1934, the further allotment of land still in tribal ownership was forbidden by the Indian Reorganization Act for those tribes which voted to accept organizational provisions of the Act. While not all reservations had been individually allotted, all reservations in the State of Washington had been allotted to some extent, and most of those in western Washington had been allotted almost in entirety among them the Puyallup.

The Indian Reorganization Act allowed greater self government to tribes, forbade further alienation of land, and encouraged tribal consolidation of fractionated holdings. It established a revolving loan fund and provided financial assistance to cooperative enterprises, expanded educational opportunities and encouraged the trend from boarding to day schools, and supported craft development.

For the first time Indians were protected in the exercise of their own religions and ceremonials. The revolutionary step allowed local option; Indian tribes voted on whether or not to accept those provisions of the Act which related to tribal organization.

Establishment of Puyallup Tribal Council -1936

Although some tribes did not do so, the Muckleshoots, Puyallups, and Nisquallys each voted to organize representative tribal governments in accordance with the Act. The Puyallup tribal Constitution and Bylaws were approved by the Secretary of the Interior May 13, 1936.

Article II provides that membership shall consist of all persons of Indian blood on the roll approved in 1929 and all children born to any member who is resident on the reservation or within a twenty mile radius of the Tacoma Hospital Reserve (i.e., Cushman Hospital, now Cascadia). The Constitution grants the tribe the authority to determine who exercises the tribal fishing right.

The Puyallup tribe allows members and spouses to fish. They have made regulations governing fishing, but the Bureau of Indian Affairs has not supported their authority over what the Bureau has considered to be off-reservation fishing. Tribal officials contend that reservation boundaries are still valid, that fishing rights are not limited to the reservation in any case, and that the tribe has authority to regulate the behavior of its members.

The Puyallup Tribal Council consists of five members elected for three year terms. There is no tribal economy in the accepted definition of economy. In March of 1972, the Bureau of Indian Affairs estimated the population of the tribe to be one hundred and seventy one (171). The total area owned by the tribe is 35 acres approximately.

Indian Land Today

The Puyallup reservation today consists of about 35 acres of land. This land remains in trust status, as defined by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, although the Puyallups do not concur in the Bureau's position based on alleged irregularities in conveying some of the land out of trust status. About 200 to 300 acres of land still are owned by Indian heirs of the original allottees.

None of the land officially defined as trust land touches Commencement Bay or the Puyallup River. The Puyallup Tribe has not accepted the legality of the condemnation procedure by which the tribal land was conveyed to the State for the construction of a highway across the Puyallup River.

The bridge was built but the tribe contends that legally the land is theirs in trust status, since the tribe had never accepted payment from the State.

Indian reservation land is held in trust by the United States government for the Indian owners, with the Bureau of Indian Affairs as the Trustee Agent. Land so held is commonly referred to as trust land, land in trust status, or restricted land. Trust land is not subject to Federal, State, County, or Municipal Taxes; neither can it be sold, leased, or otherwise exploited without the approval of the trustee, the United States Government acting through the Bureau.

It cannot be transferred to a non Indian and must remain in trust status. At the present time, part of the trust land of the reservations is tribally owned and part of it is owned by individual tribal members. The government, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is the trustee in each case.

The Indians, interpreting court decisions maintain that the Puyallup reservation still exists even though much of the land was sold to non Indians; that the reservation includes a seven mile stretch of the Puyallup River between Commencement Bay and the City of Puyallup; and that the boundary lines of the reservation are still intact, as they were never extinguished by the Federal government which established them in 1873.

It has been asserted that the Puyallup-Nisqually culture is gone. The Puget Sound Indians do not ordinarily wear outwardly distinguishing articles of clothing or adornment. Few speak or know any Indian language, all speak English. The communal longhouse dwellings are gone, supplanted by conventional one family frame structures.

Skiffs with outboard motors have replaced the canoes and highly efficient fiber nets have given away to equally efficient nylon nets. The question of the existence of a Puyallup culture is moot. In the Supreme Court decision of May 27, 1968 (unanimous), it is stated in a footnote that the Puyallup Reservation had passed to private ownership except for two small tracts used as a cemetery, and that the Court does not decide whether the reservation has been extinguished. The Court thus recognized the Puyallups as a tribe.


Maine - "As Maine goes so goes the nation." In 1975, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Gignoux issued a ruling that could void non-Indian title to more than ten million acres (about 50%) of the State of Maine. The Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Indians of Maine did not have treaties ratified by Congress. In fact they have only three small reservations in the eastern part of the State.

The Indian plaintiffs argued that all treaties and agreements not ratified by Congress were null and void. They maintained that the original transfer of land from Indians to non-Indians violated the Indian non-Intercourse Act which in 1796, required that all State and local treaties be approved by Congress. The First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Gignoux ruling in December of 1975.

The ruling by the Appeals Court was so definite that neither the State of Maine nor the Justice Department appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, the Justice Department supported the Indians' claim. Early in 1977, the Indians returned to Court with an amended claim of about five million acres. Federal Judge Edward T. Gignoux allowed until June 1 to work out a legal strategy or reach an out of court settlement.

The State continued to oppose the claim and hired Washington attorney Edward Bennett Williams as counsel. The Maine congressional delegation submitted legislation to eradicate the Indians' rights to the lands, although permitting them to seek compensation through civil suit. Meanwhile, municipal bonds in the contested areas are not marketable and titles to real estate are not certifiable as the result of the decision and the uncertainty.

The Indians plan to file suits against a limited number of major land owners, including paper producers such as Georgia Pacific Corporation, Great Northern Paper Company, Diamond International Corporation and International Paper Company. But Congress may well legislate a compromise, leaving all or most of the land with current owners by providing Federal compensation for the Indians.

The outcome - in either legislation or litigation - could set the pattern for the settlement of similar yet smaller Indian land claims in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and South Carolina. The implication for Tacoma should be very obvious.

Massachusetts - The Wampanoag tribe of Mashpee on Cape Cod claimed the entire town of Mashpee (population 1288), an area of 17,000 acres.

The Wampanoags of Gray Head (population 118), on Martha's vineyard, claimed 5,000 acres in the town, which has already voted to return a 230 acre parcel.

Rhode Island - The Narraganset tribe claims 1300 acres in the town of Charlestown (population 2863).

Connecticut - The Schaghticoke tribe claims 1300 acres in the town of Kent (population 1990).

The Western Pequot tribe claims 1,000 acres in Ledyard (population 14,559), near Groton.

New York - The Oneida tribe claims 300,000 acres in and around the town of Oneida (population 11,658), between Syracuse and Utica.

Alaska - The Alaskan Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 was thought to have answered most Indian problems which are now plaguing other states. Under the terms of this act, Alaska's qualified native inhabitants - now some 77,000 of the State's population of 370,000 received 40,000,000 acres of land and $962,000,000 to be distributed over a 20-year period.

The cash settlement was split $462,000,000 to be paid by the Federal government, $500,000,000 by the State. Bulk of the funds is being dispersed to 13 regional corporations and 250 village corporations. At least 10% must be shared among individual stockholders. By the end of 1976, according to Alaska's State Department of Economic Development, the average individual payment will amount to $762.00. By 1980, a total of $548,000,000 will have been dispersed to native inhabitants and corporations. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was six years in the making and was one of the most complex pieces of legislation Congress ever passed. While not a perfect piece of legislation, ANCSA did answer the four main issues at the root of the Indian controversy throughout the states. These are:

1.Whether reservations are sovereign or should be tax paying bodies with no special rights over other political groups or individuals;

2.Who has the authority to manage fish, wild life and other natural resources;

3.Assuring Indians an adequate land base;

4.Guaranteeing Indians freedom to run their own lives in the cultural or religious ways they wanted.


Until recently, it appeared that the Alaska solution might be the best approach to Indian claims in the other 49 states. The American Indian policy Commission, a Congressional Commission, has just issued a report that recommends that Indian tribes be eventually given increased legal powers over both Indians and non-Indians.

The principle proposed by the remission for adoption as Federal policy states: "The ultimate objective of Federal/Indian policy must be directed toward aiding the tribes in achievement of fully functioning governments exercising primary governmental authority within the boundaries of the respective reservations. This authority will include the power to adjudicate civil and criminal matters, to regular land use, to regulate natural resources such as fish and game and water rights, to issue business licenses, to impose taxes, and to do any and all of those things which all local governments within the other states are presently doing."

The Commission report further states that: "The growth and development of tribal government into fully functioning governments necessarily encompasses the exercise of some tribal jurisdiction over non-Indian people and property within reservation boundaries." Issues raised by this proposed policy are ominous and are as follows:

1.Taxing authority and fiscal impact.

2.Political representation.

3.The Question of jurisdiction.

4.Land Use and Environment.

5.Building Codes.

6.City Services.

7.Schools and Education.

8.Non-Compliance with State Laws (i.e. Air pollution, clean water shoreline management, SEPA, etc.).

9.Law Enforcement.

10.Tribal Courts - Civil Litigation.


1792. Captain George Vancouver explores and maps the area for the British Government.

1833. The Hudson's Bay Company founds Fort Nisqually near the mouth of the Nisqually River.

1838. The Puget Sound Agriculture Company is organized by the Hudson's Bay Company to exploit the agricultural possibilities of the Northwest including the Pierce County area.

1841. Captain Charles Wilkes of the United States Navy maps and explores the area.

1841. Hudson's Bay Company employees from the Red River settlements in Manitoba are invited to settle in Pierce County.

1844. Joseph Thomas Heath founds Steilacoom farm and employs local Indians.

1849. Indians attack Fort Nisqually leading to the establishment of Fort Steilacoom by the United States army.

1850. Congress passes the Oregon or Donation Land Law which gives free land to white settlers who meet certain conditions.

1853. The Territory of Washington is organized out of portions of Oregon Territory.

1854. Territorial Governor Isaac I. Stevens negotiates treaties and agreements with Indians including the Medicine Creek Treaty which provides for the establishment of the Puyallup Reservation.

1855. The Indian War of 1855-56 began on both sides of the Cascades. After the defeat of Indian forces in the Puget Sound Country it was continued east of the mountains and not finally concluded until 1858.

1856. Governor Isaac I. Stevens holds a meeting with Indians at the temporary reservation on Fox Island.

1857. A presidential executive order enlarges the Puyallup Reservation.

1872. Indian Appropriations Act excludes Commencement Bay Tidelands.

1873. Changes are made in the boundaries of the Reservation which also allows railroads to be built.

1887. The Dawes Severalty Act is passed by Congress which allows a general allotment of reservation lands.

1890. The Puyallup Indian Commission is organized by Congress.

1893. Congress passes the Puyallup Allotment Act.

1924. Congress grants citizenship to all Indians.

1934. The Indian Reorganization Act is passed by Congress.

1936. The Puyallup Tribal Council is established with a Constitution and By-Laws approved


Carpenter, Cecelia Svinth Troubled waters of Medicine Creek; an investigation...... 1971.

Drucker, Philip Indians of the Northwest Coast. New York: McGraw, 1955.

Evans, Elwood Puyallup Indian Reservation, an address delivered before the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce by Hon. Elwood Evans, May 17, 1892.

Friends, Society of American Friends Service Committee. Uncommon controversy; fishing rights of the Muckleshoot, Puyallup, and Nisqually Indians. Seattle: University of Washington, 1970.

Gibbs, George Tribes of Western Washington and Northwest Oregon. Seattle: Shorey Book Store, 1970.

Indian Reservations in Washington Territory. Correspondence of Isaac I. Stevens and the U.S. Commission of Indian Affairs in 1856 and 1857. Olympia, 1855-1897.

Northwest Indian War. A collection of articles from Puget Sound Newspapers. Tacoma Public Library, 1966.

National Lawyers Guild. Law Student Indian Summer Project. Project Report. Seattle, 1973.

Puyallup Indian Agency. Report to the Puyallup Commission by Edwin Eells, U.S. Indian Agent, February 20, 1891.

Puyallup Indian Commission. Letter of the Secretary of the Interior to the President with Report of the Puyallup Indian Commission, and accompanying papers. February 6, 1892.

Shackleford, Elizabeth A history of the Puyallup Indian Reservation, Tacoma, 1918.

Smith, Marian Wesley The Puyallup - Nisqually. New York: Columbia University Press, 1940.

Tyler, S. Lyman A history of Indian Policy. U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs. Washington, G.P.O., 1973.

Underhill, Ruth Murray Indians of the Pacific Northwest. Sherman Institute Press, 1945.

U.S. Laws, Statutes, etc. Indian Affairs, Laws and treaties...... compiled and edited by Charles J. Kappler. Washington: G.P.O., 1903-1936.

U.S. Laws, Statutes,, etc. Treaty between the United States and the Nisqually and other bands of Indians. December 26, 1854.

Williams, C. Herb. American Nightmare; Indian treaties, by C. Herb Williams and Walt Neubrech. Seattle, outdoor Empire Pub. Inc., 1976.


Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown, "Puyallup Indians," A guide to the Indian Tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Revised edition. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992 p. 166-69.

The derivation of the name Puyallup has been traced to a Nisqually Indian word for the mouth of the Puyallup River, along which the Puyallup villages extended for about fifteen miles east from Commencement Bay, on which lies the city of Tacoma, Washington.

The name Puyallup has also been traced to a native word meaning "shadow," because of the dense forest shades of Puyallup lands. It is also said to mean "crooked stream." At certain seasons the Puyallups were found at various places besides the Puyallup River, such as Carr Inlet and southern Vashon Island in Puget Sound. A reservation, city, and a valley near Tacoma also bear the tribal name.

The Puyallups were primarily a piscatory people. They supplemented that diet with berries and roots and with potatoes after contact with fur traders. The original 1,280 acre Puyallup Reservation was established by the Medicine Creek Treaty of December 26, 1854. It was later enlarged to 18,062 acres by executive orders on January 20, 1857, and September 6, 1873.

Some Nisquallies, Cowlitzes, Muckleshoots, Steilacooms, and Indians of other tribes also lived on the reservation. Although many of the Pacific Northwestern Indian reservations were located at some distances from large population centers, that was not true of the Puyallup.

The city of Tacoma on its borders was at one time larger than Seattle farther north. The proximity of the reservation to an urban center affected not only its eventual size but also cultural developments among its inhabitants.

In the 1960s and 1970s the contemporary Puyallup Tribe, Puyallup Reservation, Washington, was in the forefront of the fish wars with the state of Washington over Indian off-reservation fishing on the Puyallup River, whose waters the state regulated for purposes of conservation. Once an abundant resource, salmon was the measure of wealth for many Pacific Northwestern Indians.

By the early twentieth century this natural resource was diminished through overharvesting and the alteration of streams for power production and irrigation. The artificial means used to revive the runs were insufficient to meet the demands of white and Indian sport and commercial fishermen.

Indians were losing out in the competition for fish, which led the Puyallups and other Indians of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Puget Sound, and the Columbia River, including the Nez Perces of Idaho, to assert their rights under their treaties with the United States. Major combatants in this new type of legal warfare were the Puyallups, who fished in defiance of state laws.

The clash was publicized when Hollywood personalities joined them in the "war", which involved verbal, and sometimes physical confrontations with state officials on the Nisqually River south of the Puyallup Reservation. On October 13, 1965, at Franks Landing on the Nisqually River six Puyallups were the first Indians arrested and jailed for illegal fishing. Their trial was delayed until January 15, 1969.

Other litigation involving fishing cases followed until the federal government sued the state of Washington on behalf of the Indians for their rights to fish. In 1974 a federal judge, George Boldt, ruled that federally recognized western-Washington Indian tribes were entitled to take from many western Washington streams 50 percent of the harvestable runs of salmon and steelhead trout (United States v. State of Washington, 384 F.Supp. 312, 1974).

Numbers: As of 1984 the Puyallup Tribe numbered 1,286. In 1853 the Puyallups had numbered 150. In 1854 they were reduced to 50, perhaps because of the ravages of smallpox. An official report in 1856 gave their numbers as 550 ' but that may have included tribesmen of other tribes. In 1929 the base tribal roll was 344. In 1937 they were listed at 322. In recent times their quest for tribal identity and the lowering of the native blood quantum have increased Puyallup numbers. In 1989 there were 7,987.

History: In Puyallup mythology, as in that of other nearby tribes, the figure Dokibatt the Changer, or Transformer, was believed to have created everything from language to roots and berries. It was believed that Dokibatt had removed life from stones, had rendered the insects small and less harmful, and had taught the people how to make fire, clothing, fish traps, and medicines.

In reality, the greatest "changer" of the Puyallups was the white man, especially Americans. Attempting to interfere as little as possible with Indian mores, the British Hudson's Bay Company had been content simply to draw the Puyallups and other tribes of the region into its trading system, but from the time of their first settlement on southern Puget Sound in 1845, Americans had pressured their government to effect a treaty with these Indians.

The result was the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854, to which the Puyallups were a party. In the war that broke out the following year, the Upper Puyallups joined other Indian combatants in futile resistance of the Americans. In 1855 many Puyallups were among the 530 Indians whom an acting agent, J. V. Weber, confined to Squaxin Island in Puget Sound to separate them from the "hostiles" in the war.

The Puyallups first came under Roman Catholic influence in the 1840s, but under the Puyallup Agency they were supervised by Protestants because of the President Ulysses S. Grant Peace Policy of the 1870s. During this period the cultivated acreage on their reservation increased from 291 acres in 1871 to 1,200 in 1880, a significant increase considering the difficulty of clearing land. 

The Puyallups raised wheat, oats, and hay on natural meadows near tidal flats. An American traveler among them in 1884, on observing the efforts of their school children and other signs of "Puyallup in progress," termed the Puyallups the "most creditable specimens of civilized Indians to be found in the West." Among the various schools established over the years on the Puyallup Reservation was the Puyallup Indian School, earmarked after 1906 as a trade school for Indians of all tribes. in 1910, as the Cushman Indian Trade School, it attracted Indian youth of various tribes.

Increasing white preemption of the Puyallups' marine food sources hastened the allotment process on their reservation, for which provision had been made in their Medicine Creek Treaty.

Allotting and patenting were completed in 1886, one year before the enactment of the General Allotment, or Dawes Severalty Act of 1887. The continued growth of Tacoma, which by 1890 had a population of 40,000, caused its citizens to seek removal of the restrictions on allotted reservation lands. Their first maneuver resulted in the establishment by Congress on August 19, 1890 (26 Stat. 354), of a commission to authorize sale of Puyallup Reservation tracts.

An act of March 3, 1893 (27 Stat. 612, 633), provided for another commission to select and appraise portions of allotments not required for Indian homes and part of an agency tract that was not needed for school purposes, to arrange for their sale by public auction. The 1893 statute provided that the land not chosen for sale remain in Indian hands and not be sold for ten years.

When that time expired in 1903, buyers were able to deal directly with the Indians. Before that time Indian signatures were required for sale of their lands. The sales, which began in May, 1895, were conducted by agency personnel and approximately half of the reservation was sold under the authorization of the commission. The Indians claimed that they were coerced into signing permissions for the sales.

A railroad company that had located its western terminus near the Puyallup Reservation in 1873 was said to have obtained its lands by cunning. By congressional action on March 2, 1899 (30 Stat. 990), railroad companies received blanket approval from the secretary of the interior for rights-of-way through Indian lands.

Among the Puyallup lands sold by the commission were valuable waterfront tracts which were concentrated in the possession of railroad, lumber, and land companies and other businesses and industries. In 1903, when the ten-year restriction against selling their lands had expired, the Indians had little choice but to succumb to whites and lose their lands, and by 1909 their losses were nearly complete.

That year the Puyallups tried to regain their tidelands in a lawsuit, U.S. v Ashton (170f. 509, 1909), and lost their case. But in another suit the United States Supreme Court on February 20, 1984, upheld a United States Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that twelve acres taken over by the Port of Tacoma in 1950 belonged to the Puyallups. This twelve acres was but a small part of exposed original 270 acres on the channel of the Puyallup River after it was diverted in 1918 and in the 1940's.

The area involved extended southeast from Tacoma's Commencement Bay to the limits of the city of Puyallup, and it became occupied by homes and farms of non-Indians. In February 1989, President George Bush signed a bill settling Puyallup tribal claims against the federal government. The latter paid $77.25 million of a $162 million agreement.

The balance consisted of $43 million from the Port of Tacoma, $21 million from the state of Washington, $11.4 million from private businesses, and $9 million from local governments. Each tribal member was paid $20,000, and the first government housing project was begun. A $5 million commercial marina with 298 moorings is planned.

Government and Claims: The Puyallup Tribe, Puyallup Reservation, Washington, owns 66.9 acres of land in several parcels. It maintains a tribal organization provided under its constitution, which was approved by the secretary of the interior on May 13, 1936. The Puyallup Tribal Council is the designated governing body.

The Puyallups submitted a claim for compensation for alienated lands before the Indian Commission (Docket 203). Because of the poor recovery rates experienced by various tribes and the great amount of work in pressing their claims, all of which would have yielded them but a small per capita payment, the Puyallups ceased their efforts before their case was even heard or acted upon.

Contemporary Life and Culture: Many tribal members are employed as skilled and semiskilled workers in lumbering, fishing, and other industries. The tribe has begun a salmon business since its victory in the contest for fishing rights on its ancestral fishing grounds on the Puyallup River. The tribe also operates a fish hatchery. Work on a 350 bed hospital began in 1941. Later the facility became a diagnostic center run by the state of Washington, but after confrontations less violent than those attending the fish wars, the center was returned to the Indians in 1980.

Special Events: The Puyallups participate in a powwow held in Tacoma late in August or early in September.

Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown, "The Puyallup Indians," A guide to the Indian tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Revised edition. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992, p. 166-69.