Setting the Record Straight on the Puget Sound Treaty War

We talk about local history a lot here. When it comes to the Indigenous people who have occupied this land since time immemorial, though, accounts of that history are often distorted or incomplete. One of the most formative events in the history of the Puget Sound region is the Medicine Creek treaty and the ensuing war.

Over the last few months, Fort Nisqually has organized a series of panel discussions with local tribal leaders and historians to tell a fuller story of what happened in that tumultuous period of time. The first two panels (see below) happened in March and June. 


Tonight (September 9th) the next panel discussion will go live at 6:00. This article will be updated as panels are uploaded to the Fort Nisqually YouTube channel. You can register for tonight’s free viewing here.

More details on the panel from Fort Nisqually:

Historians from the Muckleshoot, Nisqually, Puyallup, Steilacoom, and Squaxin Island Tribes will be joining Fort Nisqually to discuss the immediate causes that led to the outbreak of war, who was involved and why, and the immediate impacts on tribal communities. The panel will be moderated by Jennifer Ott, Assistant Director of Historylink.org and introduced by Muckleshoot Elder and Warrior Descendant, Gilbert King George.

Stories from the war have been covered elsewhere, but seldom from the perspective of the Native people involved and their descendants. The program seeks to set the record straight by advancing the voices and knowledge of tribal members from stories that have been passed down through the generations.

“We encourage participants to do some research before attending,” says Fort Nisqually Living History Museum Event Coordinator, Elizabeth Rudrud. “Tribal partner websites include a wealth of information on these topics. Visiting these sites ahead of time will contextualize our discussion—both for folks just learning about these events but even for historians of the era.”

The Puget Sound Treaty War (1855-1856) was an armed conflict between soldiers of the regular U.S. Army, Washington Territorial volunteers and tribes involved in the Medicine Creek Treaty. The treaty, the first of several consecutive treaties negotiated by Governor Isaac Stevens in quick succession, sought the relocation of local tribes to reservations in exchange for cash payments and the preservation of hunting and fishing rights. The treaty was a catalyst for the conflict.

The above of Washington Territory was produced by the Surveyor General’s Office in 1855. At the time, the Puget Sound Treaty War was ongoing and unresolved. Note that this map, with a clear vision for American settlement, acknowledges the Puget Sound Agricultural Company’s claim to Fort Nisqually. It does not acknowledge Native settlement or communities.

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