The Survival of Washington Indians

Native Washington changed radically with the coming of white settlers. A government agent, ambitious and hurried, arrived in the 1850s. In record time, Isaac Stevens, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, brokered a series of treaties with many tribes and bands across the Northwest.

He promised to pay the tribes for their land, to educate them and to protect their sacred right to fish, gather and hunt. At various council grounds where treaties were negotiated, tribal leaders voiced concerns: the earth was not to be bought and sold.

Reservations where they were urged to live did not support their traditional way of life. Tribes struggled. Unhappiness spread. War broke out. In the battles known as the Indian wars, lives were lost on both sides.

Background image: The largest treaty council held in the Pacific Northwest takes place in Walla Walla in the Spring of 1855. Isaac Stevens, center, appears beneath a canvas shelter as a government agent. The three treaties he negotiates with Indian tribes here create the Yakama, Umatilla, and Nez Perce reservations.

Treaties resulting from the Walla Walla Council:

Learn more about treaties in Washington at the State Historical Society's Treaty Trail: U.S.-Indian Treaty Councils in the Northwest.