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A History of Treaty-Making and Reservations

A History of Treaty-Making and
    Reservations on the Olympic Peninsula

  •  On the Olympic Peninsula

Like many of the coastal Natives along Pacific, Straits of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound, the Makah, Quileute, and Hoh were organized in small autonomous bands, occupying individual villages-generally located at the mouth of waterways. Although all hunted land animals and gathered a variety of plants foods, all three cultures had strong links to their fisheries, both fresh and saltwater. All fished for salmon in the rivers and fished for halibut and other saltwater fish in the ocean, and they hunted whales, sea lions, and seals as well. While they might share a common language with their neighbors or come together for ceremonial purposes, they lacked any structured political organization although some historians have noted that many of the bands were linked together in a loose confederation connected through kinship and family ties. Those connections within and between Indian groups were often shattered by the impact of European diseases that killed an estimated 80 percent of the Native population along the Northwest Coast in the first 100 years of European contact. While all Indians in the Pacific Northwest had faced a series of epidemic disease outbreaks in the decades after the Spanish visited the coast in 1775, in 1853 smallpox ravaged the Natives along the Pacific coast of the Olympic Peninsula, killing an estimated 40 percent of the population. The result, as Carole Seeman has noted, was an amalgamation of the survivors that made it difficult to define tribes and tribal boundaries.

The remoteness of the Olympic peninsula-and the reputation the Makah, Quileute, and Hoh shared for fierceness-probably worked to the Indians' advantage. When Stevens arrived in Olympia he reported to Manypenny that a number of tribes inhabited the outer coast of Washington, most of "whose names are still unknown, but who, by the vague rumors of those upon the sound, are both numerous and warlike." (See Report of Governor Isaac I. Stevens, 1854). In 1858, Indian Agent Michael T. Simmons reported that, while the Makah and the Quileute had been decimated by smallpox, they remained "the most independent Indians in my district" and, much to Simmons's chagrin, did not acknowledge their "proper" position in the white man's world:

It has so happened that whenever these Indians have come in contact with the whites, they have had the latter in their power. In most cases ships have been wrecked on their coast. The consequence is, that they do not appreciate our importance, and are very independent, and sometimes insolent. (See Report of M. T. Simmons, 1858.)

By 1854, however, few whites had penetrated into the interior of the peninsula-the first white resident of Neah Bay since the Spanish hastily abandoned their fort in the 18th-century arrived in 1851 and the Quileute may not have encountered an American other than infrequent traders and shipwrecked sailors until Simmons showed up to negotiate a treaty with them in 1855. As a result, the treaty negotiations were not complicated by land claims made by whites under the Oregon Land Donation Act nor was there yet a clamoring from whites for access to the resources-primarily timber and fish-of the peninsula.

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