Ask Us!
University of Washington Libraries

My First Reception in Seattle

B. F. Shaw Tells an Exciting Story of Indian Days on the Sand Spit. Transcribed verbatim from an undated [1904*] newspaper clipping in the Clarence Bagley papers, Box 17, Folder 8, ACC. 36, University of Washington Libraries.

Chief Sealth's Great Speech: Wondered That the White Men were Not Afraid of the Warriors:

It was in the latter part of the summer of 1850, that Col. Ebey, Mr. Kinsey and myself loaded a ship's long boat with provisions and a few other articles for exchange with the Indians, and started out from Olympia with the intention of exploring Whidbey's island and the bays and rivers on the east shore of what was then called the Puget Sound country, down as far as the British line. The first day we were fortunate to have a good wind, and so in the evening of that day we rounded Alki point and crossed to the east shore of Elliott bay.

On seeing an Indian village located on a large sand spit, which was alive with moving Indians, we ran in and landed. In less than a minute after our boat touched the sand, out they all came and rushed down to the beach, and such a whooping, such a jumping stiff-legged, such a shaking of knives and blankets and shooting off of guns, I had never seen before. Then a large, middle-aged Indian, with a very wide head, came out and stood on a log that was partly buried in the sand. He had with him a young Indian for an interpreter, as he could not speak the Chinook language. He spoke to us as follows:

"My name is Sealt, and this great swarm of people that you see here are my people; they have come down here to celebrate the coming of the first run of good salmon. As the salmon are our chief food we always rejoice to see them coming early and in abundance, for that insures us a plentiful quantity of food for the coming winter. This is the reason our hearts are glad today, and so you do not want to take this wild demonstratoin (sic) as warlike. It is meant in the nature of a salute in imitation of the Hudson Bay Company's salute to their chiefs when they arrive at Victoria. I am glad to have you come to our country, for we Indians know but little and you Boston and King George men know how to do everything. We want your blankets, your guns, axes, clothing and tobacco, and all other things that you make. We need all these things that you make, as we do not know how to make them, and so we welcome you to our country to make flour, sugar and other things that we can trade for. We wonder why three Boston men should wander so far away from home and come among so many Indians. Why are you not afraid?"

So when his fine speech was ended, he applauded with a great whoor-r-r-r-r -, and indicated to us that we were to speak in return.

As neither of the other gentlemen could speak Chinook it fell to my lot to answer him. So mounting upon the bow of the boat, and after feeling to see if my scalp was still there, I proceeded to make my maiden speech, which was as follows:

"Great chief! you can see that I am a mere boy, not entitled to speak the big words of a great chief, but the colonel who is with me is a chief."

"When we first arrived, my friends were somewhat startled, but as I have seen such demonstrations before, I do not feel uneasy. You asked me for the reason why we three have ventured so far from home. And so I will tell you the reason why our hearts are so stout. We are the representatives of a great people way over the mountains towards where the sun rises in the morning; we know that the people will treat the Indians well if they are friendly, but if they do us harm they will surely come and punish the Indians. We have come on a mission of peace and friendship and as our people are becoming so crowded in the East we are looking for a place to locate them; if we find any country for these people to settle in that is suitable a letter will be sent to them bidding them to come. Then our people will perhaps come out and settle in your great country. They will build sawmills, flouring mills, sugar mills, blanket mills and stores, where everything will be kept for trade with the Indians. They will build churches and school houses where your children - if they desire - can learn to do all the things that we can do."

"You think you have a great many people, but they are nothing to compare with the great number of our people. Can you count the number of salmon that are running in your bays and rivers, or the trees that are standing on these hills? No more easily can you count our people. We want to be friendly, so that the great Doquebalt (God) will look down upon us all and make us of one heart."

So I ended my first speech, and if their chief had received great applause, I certainly received an ovation.

After this we alighted on the beach and built a fire and made ready to prepare our supper. We finished our meal, and then one of the minor chiefs of one of the inferior tribes came down and invited us to come up to the chief's house and witness a great war dance which was to be given in honor of our arrival.

We walked up the beach to the high ground where a long, low shed of a house stood. It was built of split cedar boards and was about 200 feet long, by 40 feet wide. In the interior of this house were long rows of bunks, which lined each side of the building, and a large space was left open in the middle, in which fires were built by the different families for cooking. When we entered these fires were being cleared away in order that the space might be left open for the ceremony. We were ushered by a young chief to the center of the building and were invited to sit upon a raised platform - which was covered with clean mats - by the side of the great Sealt and his sub chiefs.

We had just become comfortably seated, when the orchestra, which consisted of five naked Indians, who beat upon large, flat deerskin drums, and who were painted with the insignia of their profession, came in and took their positions just opposite us on the ground. They beat their drums wildly and began to sing in their weird and excited way.

They filed in a grand body, a procession of four or five hundred Indians, painted in war costume. Some were painted with representations of the bear, the cougar, the deer, the otter, the beaver, the eagle, the gray wolf and various other animals, while others had such as the canoe builder, the arrow maker and all of their other occupations.

The drums struck up more furiously than ever, and this great throng, dressed only in breechclouts, commenced moving in time to the beating of the drums and singing their weird song, which was: Ha-ha-we-ah - ha-ha-ha we-ah - ena-ena-ha - Wena-wena-ha - wiena-ha - whoop-whoop-whoo-o-o-o. On they came carrying knives, guns, bows and arrows, spears and paddles, rattles and strings of little bells. Some were bending low in imitation of the bear and other four-footed animals, while others jumped in the air and waved their arms in imitation of the wild goose and the eagle. Such contortions and movements would lay in the shade all modern contortionists. Up and around they came, keeping time to the beating of the drums, and only stopping for a moment now and then to allow some brave to relate his great exploits of how he had killed the bear or the enemy, when again the din would begin louder than ever and the dancing faster and more furious, until they were fairly wet with perspiration. Then they ended with a great war whoop, and when the curtain fell, the odor of dirty Indians and smoked salmon was so strong that we were glad to get outside and breathe the untainted air again.

After we were outside we were informed by the interpreter that they had another surprise in store for us, which was the initiation of a new Tamanewas man. Fires were built in two lines running down to the water and Indians took their positions on each side. This Tamanewas man was supposed to have gone out in the woods and there met the great Tamanewas, who had inspired him with the halk-sko-lala-toot Tamanewas (big luck medicine man). Here he came, tearing down the line, rolling and tumbling, snapping and biting and frothing at the mouth and emitting a sound that resembled the howl of the sea lion. The lines of Indians fell back, as his bite was supposed to be deadly. Away he went down the line and finally brought up in the bay, where he stood biting pieces of flesh out of his own body and swallowing them. There he remained until he seemed to be entirely exhausted. Then his friends carried him up to his medicine house and laying him on his medicine mat left him to dream of the many battles he was to have with the disease, in all of which he was to be the conqueror. Thus ended my first reception in Seattle.


*Clipping includes a photograph of the California Building at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.

Back to top

Follow Us:

Twitter Flickr