Treaty Trail: Background Readings
Today, all Americans live on what was once Indian land. Treaties were paper documents signed by appointed tribal leaders and U.S. government officials, that transferred that land from Indian to United States control.
Before European/American arrival in the Northwest, there were no empty lands. The original homelands of native groups covered the entire expanse of lands now known as Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. These lands were places where Indians lived, traveled, hunted, fished, and gathered food. Sacred places where ancestors were buried and religious rites and ceremonies performed were also a part of these lands.
Prior to becoming Washington's first Territorial Governor, Isaac Stevens had been charged with making treaties with the Native Americans. The goal was to secure the necessary resources for building the railroad and to obtain land sought by the ever-increasing stream of settlers flowing into the region.
The readings below provided by tribal educators and historians illuminate aspects of the past and present of Native Americans in Washington state.
- Before the White Man Came
- Treaty Time at Nisqually
- Yakama Creation Legend
- The Legend of Mount Adams
- Ancient Inhabitants of the Eyakema Valley
- Breaking the Sacred Circle
- Tribal Treaty Rights
The U.S.-Indian treaties of 1854 through 1856 left native groups with only a fraction of their former homelands. Tribes ceded millions of acres in Washington Territory alone, in exchange for a guarantee or promise that their rights would be protected, that some lands would be reserved, and that many services would be provided for them. To see these changes, access the maps below.
- 1854 Lambert Census Map
- 1890 Reservations Map
- Current Reservations Map
- Detail of Western Washington Reservations Map
While there is a long list of people involved with the Treaties, both tribal and non-tribal, there are a few about whom a fair amount is known. We have selected a small collection of individuals about whom information is available. These are not extensive biographies, but more of a bio-pic feature—images and stories joined together to give you, the reader, a sense of who these people were and what impact they had on some of Washington's most important events.
Ten treaties were signed between the United States and Native American tribes in just 13 months. The text of the treaties themselves (and one treaty council report) are provided at the links below in PDF format.
- Medicine Creek Treaty (December 26, 1854)
- Treaty of Point Elliot (January 22, 1855)
- Treaty of Point No Point (January 26, 1855)
- Treaty of Neah Bay (January 31, 1855)
- Chehalis River Treaty Council (February 24-27, 1855)
- Treaty with the Walla Walla, Cayuse and Umatilla (June 9, 1855)
- Treaty with the Yakama (June 9, 1855)
- Treaty with the Nez Perce (June 11, 1855)
- Treaty of Hell Gate (July 9, 1855)
- Treaty with the Blackfoot (October 17, 1855)
- Spokane Treaty Council (December 5, 1855)
- Quinault Treaty (January 25, 1856)