Native Seattle

Native Seattle by Coll-Peter Thrush Read Free Book Online

Book: Native Seattle by Coll-Peter Thrush Read Free Book Online
Authors: Coll-Peter Thrush
Tags: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
dollar for each bird. These coins, along with pelts of bears and other animals, often changedhands on “whiskey boats” that plied the Sound with cargoes of flour, tobacco, beads, and liquor. 12
    Indigenous work went beyond mill labor and subsistence provision; Indians participated in almost every aspect of the Seattle economy, successful or otherwise. They packed hundreds of barrels of salmon for David “Doc” Maynard in the fall of 1852, a venture abandoned after the fish spoiled before arriving in San Francisco. They used traditional methods to render dogfish oil, the primary lubricant for sawmill equipment in Puget Sound until the 1890s. Native men cleared land and helped build homes on the slopes above Elliott Bay, and Native women did the washing within those homes. Indians paddled the canoe that carried the U.S. mail, and shoreline-hugging “Siwash buggies,” as canoes were sometimes called, were often the only way to travel from one place to another. And of course there were the women celebrated by the ditty “Seattle Illahee.” We can now only imagine the mix of limited opportunities and male coercion that led those women and girls from British Columbia or elsewhere to the Illahee, but their contributions to the economy and reputation of Seattle easily rivaled those of Yesler's mill employees. With the exceptions of banking, American-style medicine, and a handful of other settler-dominated vocations, Indians made Seattle work in the 1850s, and their efforts helped settlers distinguish “good” Indians from “bad.” Walter Graham, whose Lake Washington farm had burned during the Battle of Seattle, nonetheless recalled that the Indians he knew were “good workers” and that one had worked for him for three years. 13
    But if settlers and Indians forged everyday relationships through work, tensions between indigenous people and the newcomers could also flare into violence. Well before the attack on the town in January 1856, violence between Indians and whites had been a regular, and deeply distressing, occurrence. One such case was that of an Indian called Mesatchie (“Wicked” in Chinook Jargon) Jim, who killed his Native wife near Seattle in 1853. As punishment, Luther Collins and several other settlers lynched Jim on Front Street. That lynching precipitated the slaying of a white man named McCormick near Lake Union; in return, two more Native men were hanged in town. Suchspirals of violence took place when indigenous notions of justice, which often mandated retaliation, coincided with a powerful strain of vigilantism in settler society. That same year, preacher's wife Catherine Blaine recorded a similar cycle of killings that took the lives of two white men and as many as a dozen Indian men, inspiring settlers to organize a militia to take care of the “problem” Natives. Had cooler heads not prevailed, the militia's offensive against indigenous people would have taken place, not out in the woods or on a river somewhere, but right in the heart of town where the Indians in question were staying. “We feel considerably alarmed for ourselves,” the consistently timorous Mrs. Blaine wrote, and her anxiety reflected that of many of her neighbors, Boston and Native alike. 14
    Compared with the attempts at understanding that had taken place at Alki Point only a few years earlier, these events illustrate just how dry the tinder was as more settlers moved in on indigenous lands near Seattle. And, in fact, many settlers did connect white emigration to violence, if only to blame each other. Recalling the Mesatchie Jim case, for example, mill owner Henry Yesler described the effects of “lower class” emigrants on Indian-white relations, noting that “whenever there was trouble it was the fault of some worthless white man.” In what would become one of the most important patterns of conflict in Seattle in the coming decades, Yesler identified class as a key element of race relations. Tensions

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