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A History of Treaty-Making and Reservations

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

  •  Tensions with Whites

If relations between the Quileute and the whites began well, by the early 1880s the Quileute were increasingly in conflict with a settlers who sought to dispossess the Indians of their land and homes in La Push, the Quileute village at the mouth of the Quillayute River. The most notable of these clashes involved Dan Pullen, a white trader. In 1882, a Quileute medicine man named Doctor Obi clashed with Pullen. According to the version of the story recorded by Willoughby, Obi and Pullen fought over a fence that Pullen had put up. Obi apparently tore the fence down and, when Pullen confronted him, the Indian began hitting Pullen with a club and threatened to kill him until Clakishka, a Quileute leader, separated the two men.

But, more than 60 years later, Obi's daughter recalled a different sequence of events, one that may seem more credible given Pullen's subsequent activities in La Push. Julia Obi Bennett Lee told anthropologist George A. Pettitt that Pullen had provoked the fight by trying to force Obi off Obi's land so Pullen could homestead it-something she said that Pullen had already done with other Indians at La Push. When Obi refused, Pullen grabbed Obi and the two began to struggle. As Obi's family members worked to separate the two, Obi picked up the club and began hitting Pullen. Obi was then arrested by his son, an Indian policeman in La Push, and spent most of the next year in jail, probably at Neah Bay.

There is little doubt that Pullen was trying to gain control of La Push. In 1885, Indian Agent Oliver Wood reported that Pullen was creating "a great deal of dissatisfaction" among the Quileute by trying to force them off the land so he could establish a clear claim to it:

The Indians make frequent complaints of the acts of Pullen, but as they are off the reserve I am powerless to give them such protection as they should have. They have occupied this land from before the knowledge of the oldest Indian on the coast or any of their traditions. They have built some very comfortable frame houses and have several very large buildings built in Indian style from lumber manufactured by themselves, and they feel it would be a great hardship to be driven off and lose all their buildings and improvements, and all fair-minded will agree with them. (See Neah Bay Agency Report, 1885.)

Figure 11. Quileute Children and Teachers, La Push, Ca. 1887
University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections, American Indians of the Pacific Northwest Collection

Two year's later Wood's successor, Neah Bay Indian Agent W. L. Powell, warned of the Quileutes growing discontent over Pullen's claims and urged his superiors to resolve the conflict by establishing a Quileute Reservation at La Push and evicting the white settlers. On February 19, 1889, he got his wish: President Grover Cleveland issued an executive order withdrawing the land-about one square mile at the mouth of the Quillayute River-from sale and making it available for the Quileutes' "permanent use." There was only one hitch: The order exempted any existing legal claims. (See Executive Orders.) "This last proviso," Powell complained, "has had the effect of leaving the Indians just was they were before; for their village, which has been occupied them from time immemorial, has been pre-empted by a settler, and no steps have as yet been taken to have him evicted." (See Neah Bay Agency Report, 1889.)

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