Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest

home historical context history of treaty making and reservations timeline.html reading activities source materials

A History of Treaty-Making and Reservations

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

  •  Introduction

The Washington Territory was carved out of the Oregon Territory in 1853, during the closing days of Millard Fillmore's administration. The appointment of the territorial governor then fell to the newly elected Democratic President Franklin Pierce. He chose Isaac I. Stevens, a military officer, veteran of the Mexican War, and a political supporter. Stevens was given a triple charge as governor, Indian agent, and chief surveyor for a possible route for a transcontinental railroad. It fell to Stevens to negotiate the treaties with the Indians in the territory, persuading them to transfer their lands to the federal government and move onto reservations. By the time he left office in August 1857 to represent the territory in Congress, Stevens had "negotiated ten treaties providing for the quieting of Indian title to some hundred thousand square miles of land." Among those treaties were two that covered the Indians on the Olympic peninsula north of Grays Harbor, including the Makah, Quileute, Hoh, Queets, and Quinault, and established two reservations: one at Neah Bay (the site of Spain's abortive attempt to build a fort and where John Meares first tried to trade with the Makah) and the other further south on the coast, north of Grays Harbor at Point Greenville.

Larger image and attribution

The treaties marked a significant shift in the uneasy balance between whites and the Natives of the Olympic Peninsula, requiring that the Indians concentrate in two widely separated and very remote communities (the first road to Neah Bay was not completed until the 1930s) and opening the land to settlement and exploitation by white immigrants who envisioned themselves as pioneers in a virgin wilderness. (For more on white settlement see the "Northwest Homesteader" curriculum packet about settlers on the Olympic Peninsula. To get an understanding of how one industry exploited the resources see Evergreen State: Exploring the History of Washington's Forests. Both packets are on the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest's website: The treaties also highlighted some of the inherent paradoxes and contradictions within federal policies toward Native Americans and demonstrated how well-intentioned policies dictated from Washington, D.C., were often implemented in ways that did little to protect Indians. At the same time, the experiences of the Makah, Quileute, and Hoh demonstrate how the resiliency of Native cultures sometimes forced the government to make qualified amends for the actions of aggressive treaty negotiators: Within 50 years executive orders issued by the presidents of the United States expanded the Makah Reservation and recognized the integrity and independence of the Quileute and Hoh tribes by providing them with reservations in their traditional homelands (albeit tiny fragments of what had been surrendered under Steven's treaties). And, perhaps remarkably, in the case of the Makah and the Quileute, these reservation expansions came at the expense of whites who had settled on Indian lands.

« Previous page     Next page »