|Battlefields & Treaties
Indian Wars & Battlefields
The reasons for going to war are rarely simple to isolate-but the basic story almost never changes. Social, economic and territorial disputes lead to arguments that in turn lead to violence and murder. In the case of the Indian wars of the mid- 19th century, the issues are very clear. Spurred in part by information gathered during the Lewis & Clark expedition, the United States government had encouraged a westward expansion movement and land giveaway with no regard for the Tribes who had occupied the continent for thousands of years.
While freedom was the founding principle of a new nation, it was quite simply not applied equally to all - and the tribal presence did not present any moral obstacle to the aspirations of those seeking wealth and a new beginning west of the Mississippi. Land-hungry settlers began to encroach upon the Washington territory in the 1840s and as their numbers increased, tensions between the cultures rapidly mounted. In the mid-1850s, the responsibility for securing treaties with the local Tribes fell on the willing shoulders of Isaac Stevens who had been appointed territorial governor and Indian agent representing the US government. It is important to note that the concept of defining boundaries and signing over land from one person to another was an alien concept to the Tribes. As Chief Sealth stated in 1854, "The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth."
The terms of the treaties were pretty straightforward. In exchange for ceding nearly all their traditional land, the Tribes would receive small amounts of money and guarantees that they would always be able to hunt, fish and harvest crops in the areas they had used for centuries. The US government also agreed to provide primary healthcare and other limited aid. All Tribes did not sign these treaties, and those who did enter into the agreement, often did so under duress and threat of military action. It was soon discovered that the terms of the treaties were only upheld insomuch as they did not interfere with the rights of white settlers. When new farmland, timber or grazing areas were wanted, the government defended the settlers' rights even though they encroached on land that had been set aside or "reserved" in the treaties for the Tribes.
Our ancestors defended our homeland, our children and our way of life. The Indian wars from the 1850s and into the 1870s were a direct response to attacks and encroachments resulting from government policies toward Native Americans. There are still a few battlefields of note that you can visit in Washington State. The best way to fully appreciate these sites is to do your homework. A battlefield can look like any other pasture or meadow until you know the story. Discover who the primary participants were and the facts that led to the confrontation. Make a point to get information from tribal books, museums, websites and other tribal information sources. Since our history is based on an oral tradition, it's not always easy to get the native perspective, but you'll find that the effort is well worth the rewards.