3. The Vanishing Setting
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CHAPTER 3 The VanishingSetting SO FAR WB HAVB TRACBD a literary or textual problem and arrived at a tenuous conclusion. There is a very thin thread ofpossibility that Henry A. Smith actually heard and recorded some kind of speech by Chief Seattle in front of Isaac I. Stevens on a great public occasion at the Seattle waterfront. But ifthis was a historical event, there should be historical evidence ofit. There ought to be some historical moment when that encounter was possible. and it is hard to pin one down. There are three definite dates when Stevens visited the village of Seattle or the Seattle area and conferred with local Indians. One other date has been proposed. But for none ofthese occasions are there other records that fully confirm the speech Smith reports. Other records of Stevens's travels and councils are sharply at odds with what Smith has written. So are other records of Chief Seattle's speeches. One or another of these dates may fit with a great speech by Seattle or another leader, but none squares very well with the speech Smith reports or his recollection of its circumstances. Worse yet, in the records of this period Seattle and Stevens do not appear as mighty opposites . The stark tableau of Smith's account and later versions of the speech simply cannot be found. It has to yield to complex realities about both these men and any setting they may have shared. Governor Stevens first reached Puget Sound on November 25, 1853. He and Seattle signed (or made a witnessed mark) on the treaty of Port Elliott over a full year later. on January 22, 1855. 47 "--'" THB SPBBCH AND ITS SBTTING tv--> Stevens was away from Washington Territoryon a trip back to the East Coast. from March to December. 1854. That leaves an interval between early December 1853 and March 1854. and a shorter inĀ· terval between early December 1854 and lateJanuary 1855, during which Seattle and Stevens might have met. In both periods Stevens was active with many duties. Stevens's own records. diaries . and correspondence about his work indicate only four possible encounters with ChiefSeattle: a visit to the village ofSeattle on an excursion around Puget Sound in January 1854: an emergency meeting there in March 1854, after violence between Indians and settlers on Whidbey Island; a possibJe but unrecorded meeting in December. shortly before the Port Elliott treaty council ; and the Port Elliott council inJanuary 1855. Stevens's son, Hazard Stevens, surveyed his father's papers for a two-volume biography published in 1900. For the excursion Governor Stevens made around Puget Sound in January 1854. he quotes some records but admits that they are not as fuJJ as he could wish. He complains of the "provokingly brief and meagre record of this trip, which occupied the whole month ofJanuary" (Hazard Stevens, Life, 1:417).The governor traveled bya small sailboat in order (in his words) "to visit and take a census of the Indian tribes. learn something ofthe general character ofthe Sound and its harbors. and to visit Vancouver Island and its principal port. Victoria" (1:416). This trip therefore had at least three purposes . It was a preliminary survey of Indians in preparation for later treaty negotiations. It was a geographical excursion, to further Stevens's work in surveying a northern railway route. And it was a diplomatic mission, to look over the disputed boundaries between the United States and the British-held territories to the north. Stevens sailed up the eastern shoreline of Foget Sound 'c.____ 3: THB VANISHING SETTING ~ and down the western shoreline, circling the disputed San Juan Islands. His son quotes his report that he "saw a large body ofIndians of nearly all the tribes [and] became greatly impressed with the important advantages ofSeattle, and also with the importance oftlIe disputed islands" (1:417). To the secretary of war the governor made particular mention of Seattle as the most advantageous port and the proper terminus of the transcontinental railroad. There is no mention of a meeting with ChiefSeattle or an oration by any Indian (1:417). but Stevens somehow absorbed part of Seattle's message before he left on this first excurs.ion. In a letter written to the commissioner of Indian affairs on December 26, 1853, just a month after his first arrival at the territorial capital. he described the Indians of Puget Sound as idle. sedentary people. who were prepared to sell their lands. except for...


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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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