Preface
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PREFACE THB CHAPTBRS THAT FOLLOW attempt to probe, weigh. stretch. and reconsider a literary and historical puzzle. In 1887 a columnist in a Seattle newspaper published a long speech by the Indian leader after whom the city was named The writer claimed that Seattle (or Sealth) had made this speech at a great meeting on the waterfront in the 1850S. a good thirtyyears earlier.The speech was a reply to some remarks by the first territorial governor, Isaac 1. Stevens. and it protested against the disappearance of Indian lands and ways under the pressure of recent white settlement. Over the years this speech has been modified. rewritten. embellished , broadcast, excerpted, popularized, discussed, and carved into many a monument. But what exactly it is. how it emerged into print, and what its occasion was or could have been have remained inadequately explained. No other source or record of this speech has turned up since 1887. No earlier notes. fragments. or closely parallel speeches by Seattle have come to light. What has emerged instead over the decades is a heightened awareness about Indian oratory. a recognition that it has often been celebrated by literate Europeans and Americans for their own purposes. It has been used to hold Indians at a distance, as noble. tragic. but very different peoples. Speeches of protest. in particular. show up again and again in American history as documents that prove the greatness of a "vanished" or "vanishing" race. Is the Seattle speech a surviving record of an actual event? Or is it a fabrication from white men's pens and presses, a subtle reshaping of history designed to mold Indian ideas or characters into a justification of modem developments? The available eviVII dence lends itselfto both interpretations. The text printed in 1887 contains many telltale touches that seem not contrived but authentic . accurate reflections of conditions and Indian beliefs in the 1850s. On the other hand, it is also a manifestly translated text. It bears many marks of the white American settler who wrote it and of the like-minded readers he addressed. To see into this puzzle, this book sifts textual, historical, and literary evidence. The opening chapters look, in turn, at the legendary dimensions of the speech as it is usually presented (as a Great Confrontation between a towering Indian and a short and officious American empire builder); at the textual problems plaguevery version of the speech since 1887; and at the historical circumstances ofevery known meeting between Seattle and Governor Stevens in the early 1850s. These chapters explicate the speech as we have it and explore most ofits puzzles in full detaiL But to press further. the remaining chapters pursue another tactic by turning to voices that answer this speech, whatever its source may be. The central question ofSeattle's speech is the relation of a people to the land. and in this respect the speech closely resembles other American texts of its time. Famous passages by Thomas Jefferson, Walt Whitman. and Nathaniel Hawthorne constitute three typical American answers to Chief Seattle, even though these writers never heard or read any of his words. The ideas in these writings also appear in the words and deeds of someone who certainly did. Governor Stevens has left substantial records about his own relations with Indians, to the West, and to the exploration and settlement of America. They do not directly show any trace ofa Great Confrontation on the Seattle waterfront. But reveal a larger encounter between Stevens's comprehen· sive intelligence and the pleas that inform the Seattle speech. T'hey unfold a long-term clash and accommodation betvveen the VIU ....- PRBFACB "'""-' ambitions of a mid-century. eastern-American patriot and the needs ofthe displaced, indigenous people ofthe Far West. The book closes by attempting to measure the speech against two further backgrounds: the geography and monuments to Indians that still stand out around the modern city ofSeattle. and the range oforal literature that survives as a heritage ofNortbwest Indians .The Seattle speech did notconclude Indian history. as some of its lines suggest. It has also been answered and illuminated by persisting physical landmarks and by persisting. complex tales and reminiscences. The aim of this study is not to authenticate or debunk the speech. but to bring to light the many layers ofits mystery - inadequate evidence about its origins, conflicting evidence about its main ideas. and conflicting attitudes toward those ideas in the American tradition. The speech printed in 1887. authentic or not, seems likely to...


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Subject Headings

  • Puget Sound Region (Wash.) -- History.
  • Suquamish Indians -- History.
  • Speeches, addresses, etc., Suquamish.
  • Seattle, -- Chief, 1790-1866 -- Oratory.
  • Human ecology.
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