February 4, 2002

Chief Seattle, Suquamish and Duwamish leader


A brief bio of Seathl (known as Chief Seattle to the white man), Suquamish and Duwamish leader for whom the city of Seattle, Washington is named.


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Chief Seattle was born about 1786. His name was originally spelled See-Yahtlh by the Indians.

Chief Seattle’s father was a noted headman and war leader. But his mother was a slave, so he was considered of low birth.

About the time of Chief Seattle’s birth, the Puget Sound area was hit hard by small pox, a white man’s disease that came to them before the Suquamish had even seen a white man.

Also at that time the Suquamish saw the white man’s great ships off shore. The Suquamish Indians took these things as a sign that the prophecy of the end of the world was eminent.

In 1792, Captain Vancouver’s ship Discovery visited the Pacific Northwest Indians to trade. This event left a lasting impression on the eight year old future Chief Seattle. He began to greatly
appreciate western technology, especially firearms. The respect for firearms grew from recent raids.

After 1800, tribes to the north of the Suquamish tribe raided them frequently to capture women and children to increase the size of their families.

The Yakama tribe to the east of the Cascades also raided the Puget Sound area, taking captives and selling them to small tribes on the lower Columbia.

Kitsap, a Suquamish leader, led a raiding party to Vancouver Island to put down the Cowiche peoples, ending further disturbance by the Cowiches. Chief Seattle took part in this battle and fared well.

By the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805-06, the battles among the Puget Sound peoples were under way. Chief Seattle led a group that killed a raiding party of Green River and White River people.

One of Chief Seattle’s methods of dealing with his enemies was very clever. Chief Seattle knew most attacks came at night and that the attackers traveled on the river. So he chopped down a tree so it fell just a few inches above the water.

Unsuspecting raiders would collide into it. While they were busy rescuing the canoe and their equipment, Chief Seattle’s men attacked from shore. After this successful raid, he assumed the name See-yahtlh, the name of his father’s father, at a potlatch ceremony.

Chief Seattle became chief of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes shortly after his victory over the Green River tribes. Chief Seattle was widely respected among the Indians for leading successful attacks on Puget Sound tribes.

About 1811, his first child was born, known by the settlers as Princess Angeline.

Chief Seattle was known to have owned eight slaves; some may have been concubines.

In 1832, the Hudson’s Bay Company began building a trading post at Nisqually Prairie. The Suquamish were active traders and Chief Seattle was quick to take advantage of the situation.

At the same time, whites were concerned about Christianizing the Indians. At this time several hundred Indians were baptized, Chief Seattle among them. His baptismal name was Noah.

The village headmen were then charged with bringing about reforms in their own villages, setting up chapels, and
instructing people. Chief Seattle established morning and evening prayer and instructional teachers. His conversion seemed sincere but it was also an advantage to him. It strengthened his relationship with the whites, who were his main trading partners.

Chief Seattle took part in several raids. In 1841 at 55 years old, he led an attack upon the winter village of Ee-lahl-ko at the confluence of the upper Green and White rivers.

Chief Seattle is also said to have led an attack on a Chemakum stronghold near Port Townsend. Some said Chief Seattle had participated in more raids than any other chief in the Puget Sound region.

In 1850, the Ebey-Shaw party had reached Elliot Bay and were welcomed by Chief Seattle and his band, who wanted to trade with the whites.

Chief Seattle talked Dr. David Maynard, an Indian agent and trader, into establishing a store near his people at Alki Point. This is when Maynard renamed the city after Chief Seattle.

Chief Seattle had invited Maynard to the town site established by Arthur Denny, which he had named Duwamps, in honor of the Duwamish tribe. Maynard’s successful enterprise prompted him to change the name after this to Seattle.

Chief Seattle wasn’t happy with this tribute, since his culture forbid use of a person’s name while they were still alive. But Chief Seattle received money and more influence as a result so his displeasure lessened somewhat.

On January 10, 1854, territorial governor Isaac Stevens arrived at Seattle to try to get the Suquamish and Duwamish to move to a reservation. Chief Seattle was there.

In a long speech, Seattle recommended that the Indians go to the reservation, but reserve the right to visit burial places whenever they wanted.

A treaty was made in which those who signed promised not to engage in revenge murder. Chief Seattle was one of those who signed.

At the time, Chief Seattle was troubled that white men gave more weight to a document with a signature than in believing his word. By this time, he was becoming more respected for his diplomacy than for his war skills.

Stevens appointed Chief Seattle as the representative for both tribes. Unfortunately, the Duwamish didn’t recognize this. So Chief Seattle got the reservation for the Suquamish and the Duwamish got nothing.

From then on, Chief Seattle tried to get whites to uphold their agreement. But it was an economically hard time. The Fraser River, British Columbia, gold rush of 1858-59 was the only high spot until after the Civil War.

Chief Seattle was always sensitive to the wishes of American and British authorities. He freed his own slaves after
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

Chief Seattle acted as judge at tribal councils. He eventually found this to be futile since his people kept declining due to disease, alcohol, and poverty. Chief Seattle petitioned the Indian agents for the needs of the tribe.

At his last potlatch in 1862 Chief Seattle gave away what few things he had: old clothes, a horseshoe, a muleshoe, fishhook, gunny sacks, tin cans, boxes, food, and knickknacks.

Chief Seattle spent his time leading prayers or petitioning the reservation agent for the people’s needs. He also acted as a judge in tribal councils.

Chief Seattle generally wore old pants, a shirt, and a Hudson’s Bay blanket. On special occasions he wore a frock coat and a stovepipe hat.

Chief Seattle died on June 7, 1866. His funeral was attended by a large number of Indians and sympathetic white men.

The letters I.H.S. were later inscribed on his tombstone. They stand for the Latin “in hoc spiritus,” which means “I have suffered.”

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