Judicially Murdered

By Anne T. Kaylene

Copyright 1999 Melton Publishing

All rights reserved


After the Creator had made the great Tahoma, he gave it life. He used his finger to scrape Tahoma’s flesh, and from the scrapings he made the trees and rocks and meadows, the camas bulbs and the sweet berries, the streams and rivers that flow from Tahoma’s snow-covered peak. After his work was finished, he sat down to rest on the western hills and bathed his feet in the coolness of the great ocean waters. He wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand and flung the moisture away. When the droplets landed like a spring rain on the slopes of the great Tahoma, they mingled with the soil and began to grow into people—men and women and children. The Creator saw them. He smiled. He laughed with a sound like thunder. He saw that the people were happy, and then he went home to sleep in his winter lodge.


From the top of the hill, Sam could see most of the Nisqually Basin. There were a few grassy plains in the area. Of them, the Basin was the largest. A pleasant blend of scents drifted past on a light breeze—pine, cedar and damp moss. It was a clean smell, a green smell. Under that was the faint odor of smoke rising in hazy columns from distant meadows. All along Puget Sound, the Tribes had torched the meadows to kill evergreen seedlings that had sprouted during the spring and summer. This ancient ritual marked the end of the growing season. Without the yearly holocaust, the forests would have quickly overrun the small open areas. Here in the Basin, though, Nature held back the invading trees without Man’s interference.

He stood on one of the heavily wooded hills of virgin timber that walled the open plain on three sides—to the north, south and east. The west side bordered on the clear blue waters of Puget Sound. The Nisqually River cut an almost straight course east-to-west across the Basin, until it flowed into the salty water of the Sound. Its flanks were lined by a thick growth of trees and brush, much darker than the surrounding vegetation.

Called the Whulge by local tribes, Puget Sound was a deep Pacific Ocean channel that reached inland like a long curved finger. Only a fraction of it was within Sam’s view, but he could see some of the islands that dotted its expanse between the Olympic Peninsula to the west and the mainland to the east. With lush evergreen forests covering the islands from crown to shoreline, they looked like emeralds on a sparkling bed of blue sapphire.

Told by several of the local tribes, one of Sam’s favorite stories of the Whulge’s origin explained how the waterway had been made by the Changer, one of their powerful good spirits. According to legend, the Changer wanted to punish a selfish inland tribe, so he scooped out huge handfuls of earth to build a range of mountains between the coastal rainforest and the high plateau country to the east. When the Changer had finished his work, ocean breezes blew clouds inland only as far as the mountains, where they piled against the west slope and unloaded most of their rain and snow. So little moisture escaped over the mountains that the eastern plains became a virtual desert, arid and unbearably hot in the summer, numbingly cold in the winter, inhospitable to the selfish people who lived there. At the same time, the Changer sent the ocean to fill the trench left by his digging, and he sent the salmon up the Whulge to feed the coastal people.

Revered as much by the Whulge tribes as the buffalo was by the tribes of the Great Plains, the salmon was more than a source of food. Life cycles and rituals pivoted around annual runs when the fish worked their way through the Whulge and up its tributary rivers to their inland spawning grounds. Catching, cooking, curing and eating the salmon had sacred implications for the Tribes and fed their need for spiritual as well as physical nourishment.

The Whulge also linked villages along its coastline with those scattered along the rivers. The Nisqually, in the Basin below, was one of those rivers. Because traveling over open water was easier and safer than struggling overland through dense tangles of rainforest undergrowth, Sam often hired natives to take him by canoe from Olympia to Steilacoom or even farther north to the tiny settlement of Seattle.

The Sound was a busy place and had been long before the Whites came. The natives always seemed to be going somewhere. Although most of them owned and raised horses, they generally preferred canoes. Trading, always big business there, had become even more lucrative since the arrival of the first Whites. It was one thing that kept people on the move. Every time Sam looked across the Whulge, he saw sleek dugout canoes and heard the voices of men and women singing or talking as they skillfully navigated the waves and currents.

Unlike the tribes, Sam’s countrymen thought of the Sound as just another deep harbor in a wet, temperate climate. Their attitude was that its history began when the European explorers arrived. Never mind that people had been living there for centuries before they even knew it existed. The only value most of them placed on the land was directly linked to its natural bounty. Indeed, Puget Sound and the inland wilderness seemed to have an endless supply of fish, fur-bearing animals and timber; and all this untouched wealth lay ready for the taking in an underdeveloped area sparsely populated by friendly, cooperative "primitives."

In this ancient place with its old patterns of activity, changes were afoot. In the past few years, Sam had noticed that loud whistles and the rhythmic cadence of modern machines more often overpowered the usual sounds of the Whulge. Every year, more British and American steamships intruded, disturbing the calm water with the measured splashing of their rotary paddles, chugging through the channel carved by the finger of a god, leaving a pall of acrid smoke and spreading wakes behind to mark their passage.

Every steamship brought more settlers. Lately, Sam had witnessed a flood of men who were not trappers, fishermen or bachelor farmers. Most settled near the coast, but a few did venture farther inland where they cleared patches of forest or built fences around small meadows. They brought their steel axes and guns, their plows and domestic animals that were strange to the Whulge Tribes. They also brought their wives and children to share the long and dangerous journey and the hardships, as well as the rewards, of life in a rugged land.

A year ago, in 1853, this area had become Washington Territory. With a stroke of a pen and a vote of Congress, the huge Oregon Country was split. Between the Columbia River to the south and the British-Canadian border to the north, Washington Territory sprang into being, but it was just a paper reality. It showed on maps and in printed words but made no mark on the land itself to show where the invisible lines had been drawn. Few natives knew of this change. Even fewer were interested in what the White Man was doing.

While Sam and the other Americans celebrated the announcement, the Whulge Tribes paid attention to the shifting seasons. Men hunted and fished while the women gathered camas bulbs and berries. They lit fires under racks sagging under the weight of salmon smoking for the winter. They wove baskets and mats. They built canoes and gambled. They welcomed newborns and said farewell to the dead. Trading with the Whites and among the tribes continued as usual, and, as had been their custom, the nomadic people followed their ancient traditional migratory routes through the months. They were as unaware of the change in territorial status as they were of the invisible borders.

Becoming an official territory hadn’t affected them yet, but Sam knew that the Whulge Tribes couldn’t avoid feeling the impact eventually.

The shriek of a hawk drew his attention downward.

Except for the circling hawk, the Nisqually Basin looked deserted. The Nisqually and Puyallup Tribes had shared the fertile Basin during the summer months, but most of them had moved to their winter villages several weeks before Sam’s arrival on that October morning. It was a little out of his way, but Sam had business with two men who had made a permanent home for themselves and their families along the south bank of the river. Although he hoped to trade with them, this day would be more than business. They were Sam’s friends, and he looked forward to seeing them.

A wisp of smoke rose from a dwelling beside the river. The smoke, more than anything, marked the site of the lodge belonging to Leschi and Quiemuth, brothers and members of the Nisqually Tribe of the south Whulge. Sam could not spot the horses from that distance, but he knew that the herd owned by the two brothers was pastured somewhere below.

The autumn day was clear, crisp and sunny—a fine time to travel. Sam was eager to get going while the unpredictable weather held. With the packhorse close behind, he led his limping mount down the steep hill. The horse had stepped in a hole and wrenched its leg. Sam wasn’t willing to bet that it would heal well enough to survive the harsh winter on the mountain where he planned to set his traps. The lame animal slowed him. Distorted shadows of late afternoon stretched across the flat plain before Sam neared the lodge. The sun dangled above the leading edge of a dense fog bank that reached from the ocean into the Sound. With a trace scent of the salty mist, its fringes had already began to creep upriver.

A man walked toward Sam. It was Leschi.

At least six feet tall and weighing well over two hundred pounds, Leschi was an odd man among the short and stocky Puget Sound natives. His height came from his mother’s side of the family. She was a Klickitat-Yakima woman that his father had chosen for a wife from one of the tribes of eastern Washington Territory. Her people were "horse Indians." They were taller, more nomadic and more aggressive than their coastal relatives. Leschi’s bulk had come from his Nisqually father.

His physical appearance was remarkable, but Leschi’s intensely black eyes and his calm manner along with a strong but subtle personal charisma made him even more exceptional. With such characteristics, he was probably the most recognizable man on the Sound. He was also a man who had seen incredible changes in his lifetime.

When he was a child, Leschi had watched the first European explorers drift slowly into the Whulge in their giant winged canoes. At first the white-skinned men with hairy faces had simply passed by. As an adolescent, Leschi had often hidden in the forest and watched as the Whites came ashore in small groups. They were few and apparently harmless, even friendly in their own odd way. They met with the Whulge Tribes and offered them gifts. By the time Leschi had reached young manhood, the Whites were living in fortified trading posts where they bartered with the Tribes for fish and furs. Before long, Leschi and the others became accustomed to their unusual neighbors.

Except for the fierce Haidas, a northern Whulge tribe that preyed on everyone, Leschi’s tribe and the others welcomed the newcomers. The White traders paid the natives to trap, and the natives broke an age-old conservative hunting tradition that had balanced births and deaths and maintained a steady population of fur-bearing animals. Now in exchange for steel knives, cloth, muskets, gunpowder and other wares, they brought in their canoes loaded with pelts. What began as a slow, devious assault had escalated over the years. It couldn’t go on forever, though. Even then, the end was in sight. Sam had noticed a measurable decline in the animal population during his decade as a trapper. Each year, he had to travel farther from the coast in search of good trapping.

Things were changing, but this wasn’t the first social overhaul the Whulge Tribes had seen. Leschi had told Sam about other invasions by outside tribes. Some were violent, some peaceful. Either way, the new people had eventually claimed their place among the inhabitants, and life went on. The invaders brought new ideas, new beliefs and new technology that enriched all the people. Along with the other natives, Leschi didn’t see any difference between those new people and the White settlers. Naively, they assumed that it was just a matter of time before the Whites would find their own niche and blend in with the established tribes.

Looking at his friend that day, Sam could tell how much Leschi had been influenced by the settlers. He wore a European-style hat, coat and trousers. A shiny metal crucifix dangled from a twisted cord around his neck. He had worn it since his conversion and baptism by a Catholic priest, one of the missionaries who had accompanied the early explorers.

Like most of the natives, Leschi was a deeply spiritual man. Before the missionaries came, he had practiced the ancient religion of his people, which had been passed down by word of mouth from a time before even the oldest of them could remember. He and many others had been impressed by the missionaries’ Bible stories, many of them similar to their own myths. There was a Nisqually myth about a terrible flood that destroyed all the wicked people of the Whulge. Other myths also praised men and women who sacrificed themselves to save their tribes. Good and bad spirits inhabited the Nisqually mythological world, and, like the White Christians, the Nisquallies believed in an afterlife. Death was a passageway to the home of their ancestors, a place of joy where they would be free of the problems of living in the present life.

Leschi had adopted more than the spiritual beliefs and the clothing style of his White neighbors. He plowed his land like the settlers and planted the neat rows with White Man’s seeds. Sam figured that his friend would someday abandon his old lifestyle and embrace the settler’s ways completely. There was only one serious barrier to Leschi’s full absorption into the culture—language.

Leschi spoke Salish, the common language of the Whulge Tribes. His mother had taught him Sahaptian, the tongue of her Klickitats and Yakimas. For trading with distant tribes, he used Chinook Jargon, which wasn’t a true language. It was a simple mixture of less than a thousand words from several native dialects. Easy to learn, it had been adopted long ago and was especially suited for trading.

Leschi and Quiemuth had taught Sam to speak Salish and Chinook Jargon fluently, but Sam had not been able to teach them more than a few English words. Leschi said that he wasn’t interested in learning the "strange and difficult White Man’s tongue." Sam could understand that. After all, didn’t Americans expect immigrants from other countries to learn English? Why shouldn’t the Whulge Tribes feel that it was the duty of the Whites as foreigners to speak the dominant native language?

The native tongues shared some words, phrases and grammar, but none of them were similar to English in any respect. Learning English was quiet a task for Leschi and his people. That was one reason so few of them could speak it. Before becoming a professional trapper, Sam had taught school in San Francisco. He was aware of how difficult English was, even for students who had spoken it from birth, and how much more difficult it was for those who spoke other languages.

The broad smile that brightened Leschi’s face communicated his greeting before he said in Salish, "Sam Devin, my friend, welcome! Too many tides have come and gone since your last visit with us."

"Greetings, Leschi, my friend," Sam replied also in Salish. "How is everything with you and Quiemuth and your families?"

As if on cue, two other men, three women and several children came out of the lodge and stood beside Leschi.

Sam nodded a greeting to Quiemuth, Leschi’s older brother, but he didn’t recognize the other man.

One of the women was Quiemuth’s wife. She liked to entertain Sam with her singing whenever he came to visit. She was a happy woman with a big smile and a generous heart to match. Quiemuth’s son, who was almost seven years old, stood beside her. The other two women were Leschi’s wives, Annie and Mary. His first wife, Sara, had died some time before Sam met Leschi.

Leschi had taken two wives, even though the celibate priests condemned the practice of polygamy. They said that it was a serious offense against the rules of the Christian faith. The mission priests opposed his marriage to Mary, the second wife, but Leschi ignored them. Evidently, he was reluctant to shed some of the remnants of his culture. Leschi’s arrangement didn’t harm anyone, so Sam figured that it was no one else’s business. If the priests had bothered to ask Annie, she would have told them that it was better to have another woman in the family to share the heavy labor. As far as Sam was concerned, it was a matter for Leschi, his wives and the priests to settle. He didn’t care about his friend’s marital status one way or the other.

From the viewpoint of the two Nisqually brothers, Sam was more foolish for not taking a wife and beginning a family. Since they and Sam had become good friends, Leschi and Quiemuth often teased that old age would grip Sam in its cold fingers before he found the courage to accept the role of husband and father. Some of Sam’s White friends said the same thing. He hadn’t even reached his mid-thirties. He still had time for a domestic life if, someday, he chose it. So far, nothing had moved him in that direction. His reply to those who pushed him was that some men weren’t cut out for family life. He wasn’t sure that he was included in that group of men, but that statement usually closed the subject.

Leschi introduced Sam to the third man. "This is our nephew, Sluggia, from our home village, Bashalabesh. When the others left to seek the comfort of their winter lodges, he stayed behind to visit. Quiemuth and I invited him to live with us so that we could teach him farming, but he sees no benefit in learning the White Man’s ways of growing food."

Sluggia was a young man, probably in his late teens or early twenties. His attitude was surly, bordering on rudeness, unlike his uncles who were openly pleasant. He lifted his chin proudly and replied, "Uncle, I have no desire to enslave myself to a small patch of dirt!" He pointed north, south, east and west. "I seek the food that the Changer has provided for me in the hills, the valleys and the waters guarded by Tahoma. There, I find salmon, deer, camas bulbs—all the nourishment I need to satisfy my hunger." With an intensely hostile gaze, he turned to Sam. "You Whites might try, but you will not keep us away as you tear the camas fields apart with your plows and drag away the forests tree by tree!"

Leschi reasoned calmly with Sluggia, "There is plenty of land to share with the Whites."

Sluggia became agitated. "Foolishly, we have welcomed them! Uncle, how do they return our generosity? With selfishness! Every year, they imprison more land inside their fences! They show us papers," he snorted his contempt, "and they forbid us to cross the land that they say belongs to them, the land where they live with their strange beasts! Their iron plows rip the ground and leave behind scars like open wounds in its naked flesh! They are not like our people because they have no love for this place and because they cannot share! They only know how to take what belongs to all and keep it for themselves!"

Tactfully but firmly, Leschi suggested, "We will discuss this at some other time. Now, we must make our guest feel welcome."

Leschi was adopting the best of the White Man’s ways. Sluggia struggled to keep his life the same in spite of new obstacles that were interfering more each day. He felt the clash of two cultures more keenly than his uncle did. Leschi embraced what he saw as an opportunity. Sluggia rejected what he saw as a menace. Sam had met purists on both sides—native and White. He knew settlers who couldn’t see any value in the knowledge and skills of the Whulge Tribes, and he knew natives who didn’t think that the Whites had anything worthwhile to contribute to their lives and their technology. Only those like Leschi and Quiemuth and some of the settlers who could look beyond their prejudices and accept change were adjusting gracefully.

Sam empathized with Sluggia on one point. From a city three thousand miles away, a government ruled the Whites. It was, to the Whulge Tribes, a foreign government. They didn’t understand it, but it made strange documents giving White settlers the right to exclusive use of what was once free land. Not only were the natives unable to read the documents, they didn’t understand the concept of land ownership, and no one had taken time to treaty with them. No one had asked them to help decide which areas of Washington Territory belonged to the tribes and which were open for White settlement. As more Whites came to the Sound, Sam felt a growing tension between the two groups. For as long as their oral history reached back into time, the Whulge Tribes had governed themselves. They had, as far as anyone knew, never been subjected to conquest and mass assimilation by invaders.

Sluggia’s comments interested Sam because the young man wasn’t the only native who resented the settlers. His attitude was shared, if not by a majority, by enough to warrant close attention. Although Sam and Sluggia had much more to say, both did as their host suggested and politely set their discussion aside. They turned their efforts instead to the work that had to be finished before dark.

The days were short. The men worked quickly, but thickening dusk had settled before they finished and went into the lodge. Leschi and Quiemuth invited Sam to share their evening meal, and Sam didn’t hesitate to accept.

All afternoon, Sam had sensed that the two brothers had something on their minds, but he didn’t ask what it was. He knew them well enough to realize that they weren’t holding back out of shyness. It was a matter of priorities, Nisqually protocol. Bringing up business before making a guest feel relaxed was rude and uncivilized. Sam knew that very well. His friends would tell him in their own time and in their own way. Until then, he was content to respect their customs.

Once inside the lodge, they couldn’t feel the misty cold breeze or hear it softly whining through the trees. The lodge was about thirty feet long and over fifteen feet wide, one open room without partitions. It was larger than many of the settlers’ crude cabins. The two families shared it. Its basic frame was made from tall sturdy vertical side poles, which were anchored in the ground. The angled roof poles were lashed to those. Horizontal bracing formed a sort of truss where the roof met the walls. To shed the rain, which sometimes fell heavily as storms blew in from the Pacific, layers of woven reed mats covered the structure. They insulated the occupants from winds sweeping upriver, too. Several of the mats were pulled back at the peak to let smoke escape from the cooking fire at one end of the lodge and from the warming fire at the other end. The mat-covered entrance near the cooking fire faced away from the prevailing winds.

Sam took his place with the other men around the small warming fire. Pinkish-brown shriveled slabs of dried smoked salmon hung from the rafters above his head. The families’ belongings were neatly stored on tiers of shelves fastened down the length of each wall. Another thick layer of mats covered the packed dirt floor, except for the fire pits. All in all, it was tidy, clean, warm and cozy. From a distance, its rectangular walls and peaked roof could be easily mistaken for a settler’s cabin.

The permanent winter lodges, like those at Bashalabesh, were made of long, hand-split overlapping cedar slabs. They looked even more like cabins, but they were huge in comparison. The Whulge Tribes had maintained the winter villages in the same locations longer than anyone could remember. Selected for protection from the worst of the winter storms, they were also near forests where hunters could supplement dried salmon and pemmican with fresh game.

Each village had three or more lodges, each of which housed several families. Winter was a time for visiting and for working on tasks that had been postponed during the nomadic treks of warmer months. Sam assumed that Sluggia would soon join his people at Bashalabesh where the Mashel River joined the larger Nisqually River upstream from Leschi’s farm. Leschi and Quiemuth would someday build a winter lodge to replace the temporary mat home.

The mat house might be temporary, but Sam appreciated the shelter that it provided and the chance to enjoy the hospitality of its owners. Trapping would soon take him far from such luxuries. Most people believed that a trapper was a loner who shunned companionship. For some, he supposed, that was true. For him, though, it was different. He suffered days and nights of awful loneliness and isolation while he gathered his precious pelts. The loneliness was intensified by a sense of exposure to dangers that could bring sudden tragedy. Out in the silent hills, Sam always felt vulnerable. Coming upon the frozen carcass of an elk or bear only confirmed his belief that life was a fragile state at best.

So, why did he desert civilization for the wilderness? Maybe the challenge of facing danger alone made up for the months of torment. It might have been the anticipation of a joyful reunion with friends at the end of the season that lured him, but it was more likely the independence inherent in the occupation that drew Sam to the solitude of the mountains.

Sam’s mind had wandered as his body absorbed the warmth of the fire. Leschi interrupted his thoughts. "My eldest son approaches the age for seeking his spirit guide," he said. "The next time you come, he will sit with the men. He shows great promise as a hunter and a master of horses."

"He follows in the footsteps of his father, Leschi," Sam commented.

Leschi nodded. His quick acceptance of Sam’s praise sprang from his perception of the truth, not from conceit. His reputation as a superior marksman, hunter, horse breeder and trainer among his people and the Whites was no accident. Through hard work over many years, he had developed his skills, and he knew that. He didn’t need to show false modesty or brag of his accomplishments. His self-appraisal was honest and sincere. The Nisqually knew himself well and saw no reason to belittle the man called Leschi or to boast of his achievements.

"My son will soon be a man," he said. The father’s eyes sparkled as he regarded his son. "Each day my heart rejoices that his spirit is strong and his mind clear; but, Sam Devin, you must meet the newest addition to our family. The little one entertains me with his constant energy. Do you remember how he pestered his mother before his birth? Day and night, he gave her no peace. Now he tries to leap like a deer when he can barely walk the length of the smooth lodge floor. His tiny body is never still, and his mouth keeps pace with his feet!"

He called to Mary, and she brought her son to him.

Sam had always admired Mary’s grace and beauty. Her frame was small, even for a Nisqually, and delicate, too. Leschi had reached his late forties or possibly early fifties, Sam guessed. Mary was much younger. The child wriggled and squirmed out of her arms and into his father’s. The Nisquallies traditionally raised their children with love and gentle guidance. The grin on Leschi’s face and the way his strong arms cradled the small child demonstrated his parental skills and his deep affection for the boy.

"Notice the vigor of our little son," Leschi commented with another smile. "He has seen only one summer; yet, he eagerly explores all that he sees. Nothing escapes his eyes." To the toddler, he said gently, "Could it be that Coyote has blessed you with some of his fine qualities? I will watch for those as you grow, small one."

He gave the boy back to its mother. A hint of sadness clouded his face as he watched Mary take the child to the other end of the lodge. Did he wonder how their rapidly changing world would affect his child’s future? How could a caring father of that time, that place and that tribe not ask himself such a question?

When the meal was ready, Mary served it to the group of men. More than once, Sam caught Sluggia and the woman exchanging subtle glances. Once, the young man dared to reach out his hand and brush his fingertips along her slender ankle as she stopped by him to set a dish on the mat. A coy smile tugged at the corners of her lips, but Sluggia didn’t let any hint of his playfulness show in his face.

Sam looked at Quiemuth. He had seen the gesture, too, and Quiemuth looked away quickly to hide his feelings from Sam. He disapproved of Sluggia’s rash behavior and was ashamed of the forbidden intimacy between his brother’s wife and his nephew, a guest in their home. Sam had seen incidents when even less affectionate displays had provoked outrage and violence. He had heard of more than one case when indiscrete lovers had sparked intertribal feuds lasting several generations. Like the Whites, the Nisquallies had strict rules for the conduct of a married woman and a man who wasn’t her husband. Mary and Sluggia had slipped into the realm of the forbidden.

Leschi had apparently missed the interplay. It was just as well, Sam thought. He wasn’t in the mood for a serious family squabble. According to rumor, Leschi’s first wife, Sara, had been caught with another man early in their relationship. Restoring marital harmony and peace between Sara’s tribe and his had cost Leschi dearly. He may have outgrown the impulsive temperament of his youth, but Leschi would most likely not sit passively and let his wife and his nephew break a strict taboo. No, he would seek whatever justice Nisqually law mandated against the offenders.

Quiemuth, the peacemaker, so the story went, had helped settle the problem between Sara and Leschi. He was a gentle, quiet man, one who would do his best to avoid a volatile domestic argument in front of an outsider. The elder of the two brothers didn’t say anything about what he had seen. He had an even stronger motive than sparing the family embarrassment, though. What he and Leschi had to discuss with Sam Devin was much more important at the moment.

After they finished eating, Leschi glanced at his brother. Quiemuth nodded his consent. "Sam Devin," Leschi said, "we received a curious message recently. My brother and I ask that you interpret it for us."

He rose and took a paper from one of the shelves. He handed Sam the neatly folded sheet written in the White Man’s scrawl.

"The man who brought this said that the White Governor Stevens had sent him. He tried to explain it, but he could not speak Salish very well. We are not sure that we understood this message," Leschi explained. "Quiemuth and I cannot read this." He sat beside his brother.

Quiemuth said, "We ask that you read the words on this paper and tell us what they mean in Salish."

Sam unfolded the paper and saw that it was a letter from Gov. Stevens. The seal of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs of Washington Territory was stamped prominently in one corner. At the age of thirty-six, Isaac Ingalls Stevens was more than the territorial governor. President Franklin Pierce had also appointed him as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the region. The two offices granted him a degree of control over Whites and Indians as well.

As if those two jobs weren’t enough, Congress had commissioned him to map a northern route for a railroad that would connect the East Coast with the West. He had spent more than a year working on the survey and arguing his case in front of President Pierce and Congress and his supporters in Washington, D.C. He had tried to convince them that Puget Sound was the best ice-free, deep-water port for the western terminus of the railroad. Meanwhile, the settlers complained that he was neglecting his more important duties in Olympia, the territorial capitol. They were impatient to organize their new territorial government. After all, what was the point of moving the seat of government closer to them if its leader was off somewhere on other business?

Word had spread that Stevens was smart and energetic, but Sam was far from alone in questioning the governor’s ability to handle the workload. He wondered if it was wise for Stevens to have so much control when he was so far from his superiors. Besides, being governor and establishing his administration would be more than enough to keep any man busy. How could Stevens possibly have time for the two other demanding jobs?

After reading the document, Sam folded it again and handed it back to Leschi.

"It says that Gov. Stevens has appointed you, Leschi, as Chief of the Nisqually Tribe. You are supposed to help negotiate a treaty at Medicine Creek, the one you call She-nah-nam, on the 25th day of December, Big Sunday, two moons from now. He also wants you to be the spokesman for the Puyallup Tribe at that meeting."

Leschi and Quiemuth nodded.

"That was what the man told us," Leschi remarked quietly. "How can the White Governor Stevens choose a chief for our people? Why would he do that? We do not need a chief unless we are threatened by outside danger. Even then, the headman has little power. He has no right to command the members of the tribe. He can only persuade them to follow him."

Quiemuth nodded. "When old Chief La-ha-let died ten winters ago, there was no reason for us to have a new chief. That has not changed."

"I have another question," Leschi said. "Why does he want me to be chief? Why did he not ask one of the other Nisqually males?"

As far as the tribe was concerned, things hadn’t changed. La-ha-let’s son should have taken over the job, but he wasn’t acceptable to the people as their chief after the old man died, and they had been at peace since then. Sam understood some of their laws. Even with a chief, a council of adult males from the villages made tribal decisions. Women, children and slaves were not allowed to sit in the councils. They were left out of the democratic process, but Sam didn’t see any difference between that and American law, which also withheld from those groups the right to vote and the right to hold office.

As human beings, the natives had a lot in common with the Whites, but their cultures and customs were as alien and confusing to each other as their languages. It wasn’t easy for Sam to explain to Leschi, Quiemuth and Sluggia how a White man could appoint a tribal chief, but they had asked, and he would try to answer their questions.

After thinking about it for a moment, he said, "As Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Gov. Stevens has the duty to council with the tribes. He is supposed to make treaties or agreements that say what belongs to you and what belongs to the Whites. Among my people, one man usually signs a paper on which the agreement is written. A king or president signs in the name of his people. The people he governs are bound to accept and to obey the terms of the treaty."

Leschi and Quiemuth exchanged puzzled glances while Sluggia grunted his disapproval. The notion of supreme power for a leader was outside their range of experience, except in the rare case of a War Chief who commanded the people during a major war. They had never given their tribal chiefs that much independence. It wasn’t wise to let one man decide for others, and it was just as foolish for an entire tribe to bind themselves to one man’s decision without the benefit of a council. They shook their heads at the odd ways of the backward Whites.

"Like a king or president, Leschi, you will be asked to sign a treaty document in the name of your people as their chief. You will also be asked to sign in the name of the Puyallup Tribe as their representative," Sam explained.

"I can only guess why he chose you, Leschi. You have always been friendly with my people, and you have helped us many times. The governor might have heard people talk about you. He might have heard of your service as an arbitrator among the tribes. Based on that information, you may have seemed the best man to represent the Nisquallies and Puyallups. I know that you have resolved some serious quarrels between individuals and tribes. You have used your wisdom and tact to avert bloodshed more than once, and you have always settled matters to the satisfaction of all parties. Such experience would be valuable at She-nah-nam. If the governor knew that, he probably…"

Sluggia leaned toward Sam. His voice, his gestures and his face showed the fury in his youthful heart as much as his words expressed it. "Your White Governor Stevens is not a Nisqually! He cannot take away the right of a council of the people to choose their own chief! This appointment trespasses into the affairs of our tribe, and I refuse to accept it! The Haidas are the hated slave raiders of the north Whulge, but even they would not dare to bypass our ancient ways so boldly! Their purpose is simple. They come in their war canoes, they take slaves, and they leave! The White Governor Stevens would trick us into giving up our dignity and our freedom as a people. He would reduce us to the status of slaves—with our consent! I will have no part in this disgrace!"

Calmly, Leschi replied, "Nephew, I do not have a personal ambition to be chief, and I agree with your objection. Before we go to She-nah-nam, I will sit around the council fires with the people. If they accept me as Chief of the Nisquallies, I will represent them as well as I can. If the Puyallups accept me as their spokesman, I will serve them, too. We are neighboring tribes, and our welfare is closely linked to theirs. If the councils reject me and choose another man for a chief or for a spokesman, I will support that man as the one who represents the tribes. I hope that you will join the councils, Sluggia, and state your viewpoint to the people."

Sluggia grunted noncommittally.

Sam could think of no other Nisqually male more suited to lead the tribe at that time. Leschi’s good reputation was known far and wide among the Whulge Tribes and east to the country of the Klickitats and Yakimas. Together, the Puyallup and Nisqually Tribes were nearly ninety percent of the natives covered by the Medicine Creek Treaty. Leschi would bargain carefully for them. He was an intelligent man and a well-practiced negotiator. A man of integrity and firm ideals, he wouldn’t accept inferior terms. If anyone could produce a treaty that was fair for both sides, Whites and Indians, Leschi was that person.

Sluggia was a young hothead. Sam was glad that the governor hadn’t picked him or another short-tempered extremist. The governor’s good judgement impressed Sam, but he wondered when Stevens had had a chance to hear about Leschi. He might have asked the settlers for suggestions. In that case, he had received some excellent advice. If he had asked Sam’s opinion, Sam would have given Leschi’s name as the logical candidate. Sam had seen Leschi in action. His performance was impressive.

It was about time that someone started the treaty process. Not having a treaty was uncomfortable for both sides. Before the British of the Hudson’s Bay Company had invaded Indian land, they met with the tribes and talked with them about the conduct of their affairs. In fact, with few exceptions, they didn’t settle the land beyond the trading posts that served both the Indians and the British. Not that problems hadn’t cropped up from time to time, but the system worked well.

Sam couldn’t make that same claim for the Americans. They had handled the matter far less diplomatically. They settled on the land before they talked with the natives. Sam felt that the Americans could learn something from the British experience, gleaned from years of dealing with colonies around the globe. It wouldn’t hurt to make the rights of each party clear even at this late date. Settling the new territory would be stressful enough without asking for trouble. At least a formal pact might help them avoid misunderstandings with the Whulge Tribes.

Sam’s relations with the tribes were a different case. Of course, he trapped in their territory, but he had asked their permission. He didn’t try to keep them out of a common area, and he didn’t claim the trapping grounds as his exclusive property. So, like the British, he had managed to keep a good rapport with the tribes. He respected their ways, and they let him cross their territory as he pleased.

The older settlers, the trappers and the British knew that mutual respect was the best policy, but many of the new settlers were so eager to claim their own land and become permanent residents that they forgot how important it was to deal fairly with the Indians, who, incidentally, far outnumbered them. The ratio of Whites to natives would surely change over time, but until then it was a wise point to consider.

Leschi’s news gave Sam a lot to think about while he drifted off to sleep that night. Congress had stepped up the pace of American settlement when it declared the area a separate territory. It gave land grants or deeds to people who were committed enough to take the journey overland or by sea to reach the farthest corner of America. The government wasn’t looking for trappers and traders this time. It wanted people who would stay to build homes and farms, people who would raise children there, people who would strengthen the presence of American government and its claims to that land.

There was nothing wrong with encouraging people to settle Washington Territory, but mistakes had already been made. Sam hoped that he wasn’t seeing a re-enactment of an old story, a shameful one that had been played first on the East Coast. There, Americans had battered the local tribes and persecuted them into virtual extinction. Were Americans of this time more compassionate? Sam feared that too many of them still believed in their social and racial superiority. Even so, in a land so rich and vast, couldn’t they find room beside their farms and in their hearts for the people who had lived on the Whulge for so many centuries before they came?

Maybe, Sam thought, Gov. Stevens will follow a different route than the one chosen by his predecessors.




The next morning, he bargained with Leschi for a horse to take into the hills on his trapping expedition. With the eye of an expert, Leschi examined the horse and found that the injury was only temporary. It was useless to Sam in that condition, but it was a fine animal that would add new blood to the Nisqually’s breeding stock.

Leschi was a shrewd businessman who had steadily improved the size and quality of his herd over the years. He traded as much with the Whites as he did with his own people, and he was known as a tough but fair man. Thinking that they could take advantage of a primitive, many White settlers found to their surprise that they had met their match in Leschi. He was honest, and, as the saying goes, it is hard to cheat an honest man.

Sam and the Nisqually brothers talked more about the meeting at Medicine Creek before he left. As he rode away toward the mountains, he decided to go to the most important event of the year. His traps could sit idle for a few days while he traveled to the treaty site.

Although Sam had heard things about the governor, he had never seen the man. Few outside Olympia knew Stevens by sight. Besides watching the treaty proceedings, Sam hoped to meet him. Also, he wanted to see how Stevens conducted himself in his official capacity as Superintendent of Indian Affairs.

As the weeks passed, the weather deteriorated. Fits of violent rain alternated with days of weak sun, brisk winds or misty calm. The erratic nature of the Northwest weather was certainly evident that year. Streams swelled and abated. One morning, snow would cover the earth, but the next day’s sunshine or rain would melt it. In that way, the days slipped through the months to December.

Sam worked his traps until December 22nd when he headed down the mountainside for the lowland Medicine Creek meadow that Gov. Stevens had chosen for the treaty talks. Travel became faster and easier the farther he went from Mt. Rainier. As he rode, he let his mind wander.

The thought occurred to him that Medicine Creek was an interesting choice for the treaty site. Some local tribes refused to fish it because of ancient warnings that promised certain disaster to individuals who were foolish enough to violate its waters. They believed that evil or mischievous spirits who lived in the creek would bring bad luck or death to any man who lingered there.

Did Gov. Stevens know of those stories? Probably, he didn’t. Most of the settlers didn’t know the local native lore. Sam and a handful of others who had lived for years on Puget Sound or had spent more time with the Indians were the exceptions.

Tahoma, the mountain that Americans called Rainier, was Sam’s constant companion while he made his way through the deep wilderness. A giant volcanic hulk, it dominated the horizon from any point on the Sound. It was a striking landmark, and it was also a reminder of the potent power of Nature. It figured as prominently in the contours of the landscape as it did in the ancient legends.

Leschi and Quiemuth had told Sam stories of the mountain. In some, it was a living presence that ruled not only the humans and animals but also the other "fire mountains" whose eruptions periodically rearranged the land. It was closest to Puget Sound, but Tahoma wasn’t alone. Mounts Baker, Adams, St. Helens and other volcanoes studded the Northwest and scarred the land with their violence while they granted their blessings.

Legendary Tahoma, home to powerful spirits, brought the natives good or evil. Tribes respected it. It was an ongoing threat to their well-being and the headwater source of vital streams and rivers. Its glaciers were already covered by a thick layer of fresh snow that barely softened the jagged, rocky points above the rivers of ice, which inched along slowly down the slopes over the centuries. When rain pelted the valleys and lower hills, white flakes landed silently on Tahoma. Softly they fell, almost as if to avoid waking the dormant hulk.

An anomaly among the lower ranges and rolling hills, it somehow reminded Sam of his friend, Leschi, who stood tall and dignified above the heads of his peers. It was easy for a man alone in the wilderness to feel the power of Tahoma’s presence when it was in constant view. Its peak was often veiled in swirling clouds, and horizontal shafts of windblown snow like huge daggers seemed to spear the sky. Skirting its base and peering up at its peak, a lone man could easily imagine how such fantastic tales of the mountain had started among the isolated and vulnerable Whulge Tribes. They had lived in its formidable shadow since before the legends began.


Christmas Eve, the day before the scheduled meeting, he arrived at Medicine Creek in the morning. Six hundred or more Indians had already gathered there. Most of the chiefs had brought their families and whatever members of their tribes wanted to join them. Sam didn't cause any particular excitement when he rode in, but the encampment went into a frenzy of confusion when forty fierce Haida warriors in two large war canoes beached at midday, but they didn't attack. They explained that they had come to watch the treaty talks. The chiefs and their people relaxed after they decided that the surprise visitors weren't going to take them away as slaves. That was the Haidas' usual business when they came south.

Sam had never seen the Haidas act civilized toward their cousins from the south. That day, they spoke with the chiefs about some disturbing rumors that were circulating among other northern tribes, mostly the Snoqualmies and Snohomish. Gov. Stevens had scheduled treaty talks with the tribes there as soon as he was finished at Medicine Creek. The Haidas lived in British-Canadian territory and wouldn't be a part of those talks. They were outside Stevens' jurisdiction, but they were interested in the fate of the south Whulge. As they explained, what happened there would affect the tribes up north. The chiefs accepted the Haidas' pledge of a truce between ancient enemies in the interest of the best outcome for all.

Even before that day, Sam had noticed how quickly the natives could reach a compromise. He couldn't deny that violence broke out among them at times, but they could also overlook fundamental differences when a situation required cooperation or, at the very least, tolerance. Their social graces and political practicality had more than once stirred Sam's admiration, as they did that day at Medicine Creek.

With these people, Sam knew that Gov. Stevens shouldn't have any problem coming up with an acceptable treaty. They were reasonable, even though their ways differed from those of the Whites. Their strength came from a willingness to unify in the face of danger, but the long periods of peace between the tribes came from their willingness to solve problems with words instead of with weapons. With that tradition behind them, the chiefs looked forward to negotiating with the White Governor Stevens for the future of their people.

On the rainy evening of December 24, 1854, Isaac Ingalls Stevens--Governor of Washington Territory, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, author of the Medicine Creek Treaty--came to She-Nah-Nam.

Copyright 1999 by Melton Publishing. All rights reserved. No portion may be electronically or physically reproduced without the express written permission of Melton Publishing.