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 war that it sparked.

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.

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.

The first three panels (see below) happened in March, June, and September 2021. Here’s some basic context from Fort Nisqually:

The Puget Sound Treaty War (1855-1856) was an armed conflict between the U.S. Army, Washington
Territorial volunteers and tribes involved in the Medicine Creek Treaty. The treaty, the first of several
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 above map 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.

Part 1

The first conversation in this series provides an overview of the Treaty War and its aftermath

Part 2

The second conversation in this series focuses on the era leading up to, and includes, the signing of the Medicine Creek Treaty.

Part 3

The third conversation in this series focuses on the Treaty War and covers the immediate causes that led to the outbreak of war, who was involved and why, and the immediate impacts on tribal communities.

Part 4

The Puget Sound Treaty War ended in 1856 but the battles continued—in fishing wars, boarding schools, land settlements, tribal sovereignty and in tribal stewardship and memory. The final panel includes a range of perspectives, and looks toward the lasting impacts of these historic battles.

As with any historical discussion, there’s always more to the story. Visit the websites for the participating Tribes to learn more:

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