Old Chief Seattle was the largest Indian I ever saw, and by far
the noblest-looking. He stood 6 feet full in his moccasins, was
broad-shouldered, deep-chested, and finely proportioned. His eyes
were large, intelligent, expressive and friendly when in repose,
and faithfully mirrored the varying moods of the great soul that
looked through them. He was usually solemn, silent, and dignified,
but on great occasions moved among assembled multitudes like a Titan
among Lilliputians, and his lightest word was law.
When rising to speak in council
or to tender advice, all eyes were turned upon him, and deep-toned,
sonorous, and eloquent sentences rolled from his lips like the ceaseless
thunders of cataracts flowing from exhaustless fountains, and his
magnificent bearing was as noble as that of the most cultivated
military chieftain in command of the forces of a continent. Neither
his eloquence, his dignity, or his grace were acquired. They were
as native to his manhood as leaves and blossoms are to a flowering
His influence was marvelous. He might have been an emperor but all
his instincts were democratic, and he ruled his loyal subjects with
kindness and paternal benignity.
He was always flattered by marked attention from white men, and
never so much as when seated at their tables, and on such occasions
he manifested more than anywhere else the genuine instincts of a
When Governor Stevens first
arrived in Seattle and told the natives he had been appointed commissioner
of Indian affairs for Washington Territory, they gave him a demonstrative
reception in front of Dr. Maynard's office, near the waterfront
on Main Street. The bay swarmed with canoes and the shore was lined
with a living mass of swaying, writhing, dusky humanity, until old
Chief Seattle's trumpet-toned voice rolled over the immense multitude,
like the startling reveille of a bass drum, when silence became
as instantaneous and perfect as that which follows a clap of thunder
from a clear sky.
The governor was then introduced to the native multitude by Dr.
Maynard, and at once commenced, in a conversational, plain, and
straightforward style, an explanation of his mission among them,
which is too well understood to require capitulation.
When he sat down, Chief Seattle arose with all the dignity of a
senator, who carries the responsibilities of a great nation on his
shoulders. Placing one hand on the, governor's head and slowly pointing
heavenward with the index finger of the other, he commenced his
memorable address in solemn and impressive tones.
"Yonder sky that has wept
tears of compassion on our fathers for centuries untold, and which,
to us, looks eternal, may change. Today it is fair, tomorrow it
may be overcast with clouds. My words are like stars that never
set. What Seattle says, the great chief, Washington, can rely upon,
with as much certainty as our paleface brothers can rely upon the
return of the seasons.
"The son of the white chief says his father sends us greetings
of friendship and good will. This is kind, for we know he has little
need of our friendship in return, because his people are many. They
are like the grass that covers the vast prairies, while my people
are few, and resemble the scattering trees of a storm-swept plain.
"The great, and I presume also good, white chief sends us
word that he wants to buy our lands but is willing to allow us to
reserve enough to live on comfortably. This indeed appears generous,
for the red man no longer has rights that he need respect, and the
offer may be wise, also, for we are no longer in need of a great
"There was a time when
our people covered the whole land, as the waves of a wind-ruffled
sea cover its shell-paved floor. But that time has long since passed
away with the greatness of tribes now almost forgotten. I will not
mourn over our untimely decay, nor reproach my paleface brothers
for hastening it, for we, too, may have been somewhat to blame.
"When our young men grow angry at some real or imaginary wrong,
and disfigure their faces with black paint, their hearts also are
disfigured and turn black, and then their cruelty is relentless
and knows no bounds, and our old men are not able to restrain them.
"But let us hope that hostilities between the red man and his
paleface brothers may never return. We would have everything to
lose and nothing to gain.
"True it is, that revenge, with our young braves, is considered
gain, even at the cost of their own lives. But old men who stay
at home in times of war, and old women, who have sons to lose, know
"Our great father Washington, for I presume he is now our
father as well as yours, since George has moved his boundaries to
the north; our great and good father, I say, sends us word by his
son, who, no doubt, is a great chief among his people, that if we
do as he desires, he will protect us. His brave armies will be to
us a bristling wall of strength, and his great ships of war will
fill our harbors so that our ancient enemies far to the northward,
the Simsiams and Hydas, will no longer frighten our women and old
men. Then he will be our father and we will be his children.
"But can this ever be?
Your God loves your people and hates mine; he folds his strong arms
lovingly around the white man and leads him as a father leads his
infant son, but he has forsaken his red children; he makes your
people wax strong every day, and soon they will fill the land; while
my people are ebbing away like a fast-receding tide, that will never
flow again. The white man's God cannot love his red children or
he would protect them. They seem to be orphans and can look nowhere
for help. How then can we become brothers? How can your father become
our father and bring us prosperity and awaken in us dreams of returning
"Your God seems to us to be partial. He came to the white
man. We never saw Him; never even heard His voice; He gave the white
man laws but He had no word for His red children whose teeming millions
filled this vast continent as the stars fill the firmament. No,
we are two distinct races and must ever remain so. There is little
in common between us. The ashes of our ancestors are sacred and
their final resting place is hallowed ground, while you wander away
from the tombs of your fathers seemingly without regret.
"Your religion was written
on tables of stone by the iron finger of an angry God, lest you
might forget it, The red man could never remember nor comprehend
"Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors, the dream
of our old men, given them by the great Spirit, and the visions
of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.
"Your dead cease to love you and the homes of their nativity
as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb. They wander far off
beyond the stars, are soon forgotten, and never return. Our dead
never forget the beautiful world that gave them being. They still
love its winding rivers, its great mountains and its sequestered
vales, and they ever yearn in tenderest affection over the lonely
hearted living and often return to visit and comfort them.
"Day and night cannot dwell together. The red man has ever
fled the approach of the white man, as the changing mists on the
mountainside flee before the blazing morning sun.
"However, your proposition
seems a just one, and I think my folks will accept it and will retire
to the reservation you offer them, and we will dwell apart and in
peace, for the words of the great white chief seem to be the voice
of nature speaking to my people out of the thick darkness that is
fast gathering around them like a dense fog floating inward from
a midnight sea.
"It matters but little where we pass the remainder of our
days. They are not many.
"The Indian's night promises to be dark. No bright star hovers
about the horizon. Sad-voiced winds moan in the distance. Some grim
Nemesis of our race is on the red man's trail, and wherever he goes
he will still hear the sure approaching footsteps of the fell destroyer
and prepare to meet his doom, as does the wounded doe that hears
the approaching footsteps of the hunter. A few more moons, a few
more winters, and not one of all the mighty hosts that once filled
this broad land or that now roam in fragmentary bands through these
vast solitudes will remain to weep over the tombs of a people once
as powerful and as hopeful as your own.
"But why should we repine? Why should I murmur at the fate
of my people? Tribes are made up of individuals and are no better
than they. Men come and go like the waves of the sea. A tear, a
tamanawus, a dirge, and they are gone from our longing eyes forever.
Even the white man, whose God walked and talked with him, as friend
to friend, is not exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers
after all. We shall see.
"We will ponder your proposition,
and when we have decided we will tell you. But should we accept
it, I here and now make this the first condition: That we will not
be denied the privilege, without molestation, of visiting at will
the graves of our ancestors and friends. Every part of this country
is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, ever plain
and grove has been hallowed by some fond memory or some sad experience
of my tribe,
"Even the rocks that seem to lie dumb as they swelter in the
sun along the silent seashore in solemn grandeur thrill with memories
of past events connected with the fate of my people, and the very
dust under your feet responds more lovingly to our footsteps than
to yours, because it is the ashes of our ancestors, and our bare
feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch, for the soil is rich
with the life of our kindred.
"The sable braves, and
fond mothers, and glad-hearted maidens, and the little children
who lived and rejoiced here, and whose very names are now forgotten,
still love these solitudes, and their deep fastness at eventide
grow shadowy with the presence of dusky spirits. And when the last
red man shall have perished from the earth and his memory among
white men shall have become a myth, these shores shall swarm with
the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children's children
shall think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop,
upon the highway or in the silence of the woods, they will not be
alone. In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude.
At night, when the streets of your cities and villages shall be
silent, and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning
hosts that once filled and still love this beautiful land. The white
man will never be alone. Let him be just and deal kindly with my
people, for the dead are not altogether powerless."
Other speakers followed, but I took
no notes. Governor Stevens' reply was brief. He merely promised
to meet them in general council on some future occasion to discuss
the proposed treaty. Chief Seattle's promise to adhere to the treaty,
should one be ratified, was observed to the letter, for he was ever
the unswerving and faithful friend of the white man. The above is
but a fragment of his speech, and lacks all the charm lent by the
grace and earnestness of the sable old orator, and the occasion.
- H.A. Smith.