Author Topic: Chief Seattle quote?  (Read 5834 times)

Offline tecpaocelotl

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Chief Seattle quote?
« on: September 16, 2010, 06:29:58 pm »
"When the Earth is sick, the animals will begin to disappear, when that happens, The Warriors of the Rainbow will come to save them." - Chief Seattle

I always see this quote but could never find the origin of where this quote came from. It looks a bit new agey to me. Any help with its origin?

Offline educatedindian

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Re: Chief Seattle quote?
« Reply #1 on: September 16, 2010, 07:40:14 pm »
Philip Deloria in the last chapter of Playing Indian traced the whole Rainbow Warriors claim back to a play written by a Southern Baptist missionary looking to covert NDNs back in the early 60s. It quickly got picked up by hippies, esp the Rainbow Family. Today you often see the quote used for what it was intended for, to bring converts.

The whole rainbow warriors bit get attributed most often to unnamed Hopi or unnamed Cree. Two of the Greenpeace founders claimed to have distant NDN ancestry, and so the quote appealed to them, even naming the Greenpeace ship after it.

As for Chief Seattle, what hasn't been atributed to him? Tons of nonsense sources all over the net and much further back. The Nat'l Archives has this to say.

.... Despite its popularity, this affirmation of Indian eloquence may not be founded in historical reality.

The National Archives, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Library of Congress each year receive numerous requests for the original text of the statements attributed to the old chief.  The United States Information Agency has received similar inquiries from persons and institutions in many foreign lands.  Unfortunately, no one has been able to locate either the letter or a reliable text of the speech.

The purported letter by Chief Seattle to President Pierce is very likely spurious.   Among other charges, it denounces the White Man's propensity for shooting buffaloes from the windows of the "Iron Horse"— a remarkable observation by Seattle, who never in his lifetime left the land west of the Cascade Mountains and thus never saw a railroad and may never have seen a buffalo, either.  A letter from an Indian in 1855 concerning Indian policy and directed to the President would have required the usual nineteenth-century red tape.  It would have to pass through the hands of the local Indian agent, Col. M. T. Simmons; to the superintendent of Indian affairs, Gov. Isaac Stevens, to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs; to the Office of the Secretary of the Interior; and eventually to the President.

A search of the records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and of the Office of the Secretary of the Interior in the National Archives and the presidential papers of Franklin Pierce in the Library of Congress has not uncovered even a trace of such a letter.  It has not been found among the private papers of Pierce in the New Hampshire Historical Society.  It is known that Seattle was non-literate,5 so yet another person must have written the alleged message— yet no source for the text of the 1855 letter has ever been discovered.  Thus this widely-distributed document can safely be considered an unhistorical artifact of someone's fertile literary imagination.

....The text of Chief Seattle's monologue has frequently appeared in anthologies of American Indian literature and oratory, but most do not identify its source.  The main source for the speech is, apparently, a 1932 pamphlet by John M. Rich, copies of which are at the Seattle Historical Society and at the Library of Congress.8  Mr. Rich, in turn, cites an article in a Seattle newspaper from 1887 in which a Dr. Henry A. Smith reconstructed a speech by the Duwamish Chief on the occasion "When Governor Stevens first arrived in Seattle and told the natives that he had been appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs for Washington Territory," an event dated by Rich as December 1854.9

According to several local historians of Seattle, Dr. Smith was fluent in the Duwamish tongue and thus was able to transcribe Seattle's words verbatim.  Dr. Smith came from Ohio and homesteaded in "Smith's Cove" near Seattle early in 1853.  He served as the superintendent of the local schools and in the territorial legislature.  A biographer proclaimed him an "able medicine man and a poet of no ordinary talent, a rare scholar and a good writer."10  This man with his bilingual talents would surely have proven most useful to Governor Stevens in his dealings with the Indians, of Puget Sound.

There apparently were only three occasions between 1853 and 1856 when Isaac Stevens visited the Seattle area and could have witnessed the speech of Seattle reported by Dr. Smith.  Nothing much is known about Stevens's initial visit in January 1854; it is listed, as a brief stop during a sailing tour of Puget Sound.11  Two months later, Stevens rushed to the area at the head of a detachment of troops in search of Indians who had murdered a settler.  During a tense meeting with Seattle and Chief Patkanan of the Snoqualmies, Stevens introduced himself and explained the purpose of his visit.  Surveyor George Gibbs later recalled that "Seattle made a great speech declaring his good disposition toward the whites."12  Was this the oration recorded by Dr. Smith?  Apparently not, because another local citizen, Luther Collins, served as a translator into Chinook, the trade language of the Puget Sound tribes, and an Indian in turn translated into the local tongue.  Obviously, Dr. Smith and his language skills could not have been available to Stevens during this important confrontation.  In fact, Dr. Smith is not listed among those present at this council.13

In March of 1854, Governor Stevens departed for an extended sojourn to Washington, D.C., where he became embroiled in a dispute with Secretary of War Jefferson Davis over the route of the proposed transcontinental railroad.  The governor did not return to Olympia and Washington Territory until early December of 1854.  He addressed the legislative assembly and attended a treaty council at Medicine Creek with the Nisqually and Puyallup Indians, December 25 - 27, 1854.14

He arrived at Muleteo, or Point Elliott, just south of Seattle, on January 21, 1855, to meet the assembled Duwamish, Snoqualmies, and Skagit tribes.  Many books which cite Dr. Smith's version place the oration of Seattle at the Point Elliott treaty council, although Smith's 1887 report does not specifically give a date for it, Smith does state Seattle's reaction to a proposed agreement involving a reservation for the Duwamish tribe (which was part of the proposed Point Elliott treaty).15

The "Record of Proceedings" of this council is among the records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the National Archives.  It contains the following statements by Chief Seattle:

I look upon you as my father, I and the rest regard you as such.  All of the Indians have the same good feeling toward you and will send it on paper to the Great Father.  All of the men, old men, women and children rejoice that he has sent you to take care of them.  My mind is like yours, I don't want to say more.  My heart is very good towards Dr. Maynard [a physician who was present].  I want always to get medicine from him.


Now by this we make friends and put away all bad feelings if we ever had any. We are the friends of the Americans.  All the Indians are of the same mind.  We look upon you as our Father.  We will never change our minds, but since you have been to see us we will be always the same.  Now! Now, do you send this paper.16

>>>These are the only words of Chief Seattle recorded in the official record.<<<

The name of Dr. Smith does not appear among those listed as witnessing the Point Elliott discussions.  The widow of Dr. David S. Maynard [the doctor mentioned by Seattle] did not recall anything like Smith's version when interviewed by a biographer of Chief Seattle in 1903.17  The official interpreter, Col. B. F. Shaw, also survived into the twentieth century and failed to mention the remarkable oration.18  Another witness was Hazard Stevens, son of the governor, but he was only twelve years old in 1855.  In addition, an old Indian later recalled that during the preceding treaty council at Medicine Creek, he and Hazard Stevens "were having a good time eating black strap and playing Jews-harps while the men were talking. We didn't know what they were talking about."19

Ezra Meeker, a severe critic of Governor Stevens's Indian policies, accused Stevens of being drunk at the councils and of having suppressed a speech of opposition by Chief Leschi of the Nisqually Indians in the official record.  Surely Meeker, himself an early pioneer of Washington Territory, would have used the polemic words attributed to Seattle against Stevens if they had been known to him.  Meeker interviewed Colonel Shaw, the interpreter at the Point Elliott council, so he should have been aware of the speech if it actually occurred.20

The absence of any contemporary evidence (the territorial newspaper at Olympia is silent about any dramatic statement by Chief Seattle in 1855), the lack of a Duwimish-language text of the speech, the absence of notes bv Dr. Smith, the silence on the part of persons known to have been present during meetings between Stevens and Seattle, and the failure of the speech to appear in the official treaty proceedings create grave doubts about the accuracy of the reminiscences of Dr. Smith in 1887, some thirty-two years after the alleged episode.  Thus it is impossible (unless new evidence is forthcoming) to either confirm or deny the validity of this powerful and persuasive message placed in the mouth of an Indian sachem.  As of now, the verdict must be that of the ancient Scottish jurisprudence: "Not proven."

Perhaps Dr. Smith mistranslated Seattle's phrases; perhaps he mis-remembered the events of 1855; perhaps he combined several speakers' efforts into a coherent form and added the Victorian rhetorical flourishes; or perhaps it was the invention of his own literary muse.   Perhaps Clio, the muse of history, cannot now challenge the "Funeral Oration of the Great Indian Race,"21 for it may already have become transmuted into a mythical realm beyond the reach of the skeptical historian.

Does it really make any difference today whether the oration in question actually originated with Chief Seattle in 1855 or with Dr. Smith in 1887?  Of course it matters, because this memorable statement loses its moral force and validity if it is the literary creation of a frontier physician rather than the thinking of an articulate and wise Indian leader.  Noble thoughts based on a lie lose their nobility.  The dubious and murky origins of Chief Seattle's alleged "Unanswered Challenge" renders it useless as supporting evidence.   The historical record suggests that the compliant and passive individual named Seattle is not recognizable in the image of the defiant and angry man whose words reverberate in our time.


Jerry L. Clark is on the staff of the National Archives and Records Administration