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The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek: A Tragic Clash Between White and Native America
The riveting story of a dramatic confrontation between Native Americans and white settlers, a compelling conflict that unfolded in the newly created Washington Territory from 1853 to 1857.
When appointed Washington’s first governor, Isaac Ingalls Stevens, an ambitious military man turned politician, had one goal: to persuade (peacefully if possible) the Indians of the Puget Sound region to turn over their ancestral lands to the federal government. In return, they were to be consigned to reservations unsuitable for hunting, fishing, or grazing, their traditional means of sustaining life. The result was an outbreak of violence and rebellion, a tragic episode of frontier oppression and injustice.
With his trademark empathy and scholarly acuity, Pulitzer Prize–winner Richard Kluger recounts the impact of Stevens’s program on the Nisqually tribe, whose chief, Leschi, sparked the native resistance movement. Stevens was determined to succeed at any cost: his hasty treaty negotiations with the Indians, marked by deceit, threat, and misrepresentation, inflamed his opponents. Leschi, resolved to save more than a few patches of his people’s lush homelands, unwittingly turned his tribe—and himself most of all—into victims of the governor’s relentless wrath. The conflict between these two complicated and driven men—and their supporters—explosively and enormously at odds with each other, was to have echoes far into the future.
Closely considered and eloquently written, The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek is a bold and long-overdue clarification of the historical record of an American tragedy, presenting, through the experiences of one tribe, the history of Native American suffering and injustice.
As a transplant to western Washington, I followed the news of the historical court which considered the 150 year old case against Leschi, a Nisqually Indian leader who organized resistance to an unjust treaty. Kluger's narrative, based on very thoroughgoing research, covers the background, principal actors, and aftermath of the trial and conviction of Leschi, while making the case for his exoneration. Kluger doesn't stop there, but summarizes the subsequent history of the Nisquallys before relating the events leading to a joint resolution urging some kind of judicial exoneration of Kleschi and the successful effort to reconsider the case before a specially convened court.read more
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In the mid-19th century, the rainy shores of Puget Sound were among America's last frontiers-and the site of a brief but fierce war fought in 1855-1856 between the Nisqually tribe and the territory's militia and army. With vivid detail, Kluger (Simple Justice) examines the encounter, beginning with the benchmark 1853 treaty of Medicine Creek and its ambitious architect, Gov. Isaac Stevens, who "bloodlessly wrested formal title to 100,000 square miles." Despite scant source materials, the author sketches a portrait of Leschi, the Nisqually chief, whose resistance to the treaty placed him in direct confrontation with Stevens. After Leschi's arrest for allegedly killing a militiaman, Stevens engineered the chief's 1856 prosecution-and ultimate conviction and execution. (Leschi's final statement is heartrending: "I do not know anything about your laws, I have supposed that the killing of armed men in war time was not murder. If it was, then soldiers who killed Indians were guilty of murder too.") The conclusion, the 2004 exoneration of Leschi's actions by an unofficial historical court, followed by the launch of the tribe's Red Wind casino, winds up being a redemptive postscript to an affecting chapter of regional history. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.