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June 7, 2024 8 mins

On this day in 1866, Native American tribal leader Chief Seattle died at the Suquamish Reservation in Washington.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
This Day in History Class is a production of iHeartRadio,
Hello and Welcome to This Day in History Class, a
show that honors the dead by sharing their stories with
the living. I'm Gab Bluesier, and in this episode, we're
exploring the life of the man who lent his name

(00:21):
to the most populous city in the Pacific Northwest. The
day was June seventh, eighteen sixty six. Native American tribal
leader Chief Seattle died at the Sequamish Reservation in Washington.

(00:45):
As you may have surmised, the city of Seattle in
Washington State is named in honor of the venerable Chief,
though the word Seattle is an anglicized version of his
traditional name, which in his native Lashutzi language is closer
to Siag. Born sometime in the seventeen eighties and his

(01:07):
mother's village on the Black River, Seattle grew up to
lead the Duwamish and Sequamish tribes who lived along the
banks of what we now call the Puget Sound. He
was linked to both tribes through his parents, with his
mother belonging to the Duwamish and his father to the Sequamish.
Seattle is believed to have distinguished himself as a brave

(01:29):
warrior and shrewd leader from an early age, and after
inheriting his position as Duwamish chief from his maternal uncle,
he was able to forge a strong alliance with the
Sequamish due to his father's heritage. Growing up along the
Pacific coast, Seattle witnessed the arrival of the first Europeans
to the region. He and his people observed these British

(01:52):
and euro American traders with curiosity, and although the relations
between them remained friendly, the visitor's unw wwittingly brought new
diseases that nearly wiped out the Puget Sound's native population,
one that had inhabited the area for more than four
thousand years. The resulting epidemics of smallpox, measles, and influenza

(02:15):
proved so deadly to the tribes that over thirty percent
of their members are thought to have died during the
first eighty years of contact with Europeans. The white traders
that Seattle encountered in his youth eventually went back where
they came from, but by the early eighteen fifties, small
groups of euro American settlers had established makeshift villages along

(02:37):
the Puget Sound. By that time, Seattle had been accepted
as chief of four more local tribes, and in this
role he carried on the friendly relations with immigrants that
his father began in the seventeen nineties. He provided them
with guides to help familiarize themselves with the area, and
even assisted in clearing sections of the forest to provide

(03:00):
them with lumber for canoes and shelters and fields for
growing crops. The newcomers responded to Seattle's kindness with peaceful
gestures of their own. In the fall of eighteen fifty two,
Catholic missionaries invited him to be baptized into their faith,
and when Seattle accepted, he was given the Christian name Noah.

(03:20):
Then the following year, some of the settlers moved to
a site on Elliot Bay to establish a permanent town,
and in recognition of all Chief Seattle had done for them,
they named the settlement after him. Being the namesake of
a major city isn't the only legacy of Chief Seattle.
He's also remembered as a great orator, largely due to

(03:43):
the written account of a pioneer named doctor Henry A.
Smith in an eighteen eighty seven edition of the Seattle
Sunday Star. Smith reconstructed and translated a speech that the
chief was said to have given some thirty three years earlier.
Ark's concerned relations between Native Americans and Europeans and were

(04:04):
believed to have been addressed to the newly appointed territorial
Governor Isaac Stevens. According to Smith's translation and later versions
based on it, the chief delivered an eloquent plea for
the settlers to show respect for the land rights of
his people and to be responsible stewards of the natural world.

(04:24):
The earth does not belong to man, he said. Man
belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected,
Like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.
Chief Seattle is said to have struck an amicable tone
and spoke while resting his hand on Governor Stephens's shoulder,

(04:47):
But he also cautioned that transgressions against his people would
not pass unnoticed, saying, quote, let him the white man
be just and kindly with my people, for the dead
are not altogether powerless. Less than one year later, Governor
Stevens called for a conference of tribal leaders at Point Elliott,

(05:10):
which is now known as the City of muckle Teo.
He proposed a treaty wherein the tribal chiefs would relinquish
their claims to most of the area in return for
access to education and health care, as well as monetary
payments and the continued ownership of some lands aka reservations.

(05:30):
Chief Seattle was the first to make his mark on
the document, and other tribal leaders quickly followed suit. They
all knew that the white settlers posed a long term
threat to their way of life, but they believed that
any attempts to dislodge them would only hasten the process
and potentially lead to their full extinction. Chief Seattle was

(05:52):
therefore counted as a firm friend of the Whites, as
the inscription on his tombstone would later put it. But
not all the nameatives of the Puget Sound agreed that
maintaining peace was in their best interests. Many regarded the
settler's encroachment as the death knell of their people, and
in eighteen fifty five, a tribe from the White River

(06:13):
Valley decided not to go quietly. They mounted an attack
on the village of Seattle, and the fighting would continue
for more than a year. During that time, the peace
treaties signed by tribal leaders failed to fully deliver on
the promises they had made. Still, Chief Seattle kept his
word regardless, and did not take part in the fighting. Instead,

(06:36):
he stayed across the sound at Port Madison and convinced
as many of his people as he could to join
him there. In a powerful showing of integrity and empathy,
he even warned white settlers of impending attacks from other tribes.
In the spring of eighteen fifty six, the brief war
came to a close, and the European Americans stood triumphant.

(06:59):
In the use years ahead, tens of thousands of newcomers
would swell their ranks, with many unaware that the tribal
chief for whom their city was named was living just
across the sound in a nearby village. The chief was
said to visit Seattle from time to time, but for
the most part he stayed on the Sequamish reservation at
Port Madison, helping his people navigate new problems such as

(07:23):
overcrowding and disease. He remained there until eighteen sixty six,
when he contracted a severe fever and passed away on
June seventh. At the approximate age of eighty. Chief Seattle
may have been a firm friend of the whites, but
the majority were anything but in return. Still, their failure

(07:45):
to repay his kindness and justify his trust doesn't mean
he was wrong to give it in the first place.
He was right that the dead are not altogether powerless,
and that's why, more than a century and a half
after his death, Chief Seattle's vision of peaceful coexistence is
still worth striving for. I'm gay, Blues Gay, and hopefully

(08:11):
you now know a little more about history today than
you did yesterday. If you'd like to keep up with
the show, you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and
Instagram at TDI HC Show, and if you have any
comments or suggestions, feel free to send them my way
by writing to this Day at iHeartMedia dot com. Thanks

(08:32):
to Kasby Bias for producing the show, and thanks to
you for listening. I'll see you back here again tomorrow
for another day in History Class.

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