“We are willing to sell our land, but we do not want to go away from our homes. Our fathers and mothers, and ancestors are buried there, and by them we wish to bury our dead and be buried ourselves. We wish, therefore, each to have a place on our own land where we can live, and you may have the rest; but we can’t go to the north among the other tribes. We are not friends, and if we went together we should fight, and soon we would all be killed.”

Chinook leader, Nakarty, at the Chehalis River Treaty negotiations, 1855

Sketch of the Chehalis River Treaty negotiations by James Swan, 1855. Image #1908268 courtesy of Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University


In February 1855 Washington Territorial Governor Isaac I. Stevens and an entourage of men formed a treaty commission and met with tribal representatives on the Chehalis River. The meeting included representatives from the Quinault, Queets, Chehalis, Chinook, and Cowlitz tribes. Many had already negotiated with Anson Dart through the unratified Tansey Point Treaties, a fact that colored Chehalis River negotiations. The Shoalwater Bay settler, James Gilchrist Swan, attended this meeting to record the event. According to his recollections, tribal representatives expressed their desire to remain where they were in exchange for the remainder of their lands. Governor Stevens refused.

Failure by the Treaty Commission to consider the Chinook desire to remain in their homelands led to a complete breakdown in negotiations. The Chinook and all other tribal representatives, except the Quinault, walked away without signing the treaty. A frustrated Stevens decided to negotiate a separate treaty with the Quinault.

[James Swan’s account of the Chehalis River Treaty negotiations]

Sources: James Swan, The Northwest Coast, or Three Years Residence in Washington Territory ( Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1972).