Chief Seattle

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The only known photograph of Seattle (c. 1864)
Suquamish & Duwamish leader
Personal details
Bornc. 1780~1786[1][2]
DiedJune 7, 1866(1866-06-07) (aged 85–86)
Port Madison Indian Reservation
Resting placeSuquamish, Washington, U.S.
  • Ladaila
  • Olahll
RelationsDoc Maynard
Children8, including Princess Angeline
  • Sholeetsa (mother)
  • Shweabe (father)[1]
Known for
  • Parents were known to call him "Se-Se"[citation needed]
  • Le Gros (Given to him by HBC fur traders)

Seattle (c. 1780~86 – June 7, 1866; Lushootseed: siʔaɬ, IPA: [ˈsiʔaːɬ]; usually styled as Chief Seattle) was a 19th-century leader of the Duwamish and Suquamish peoples. A leading figure among his people, he pursued a path of accommodation to white settlers, forming a personal relationship with "Doc" Maynard. The city of Seattle, in the U.S. state of Washington, was named after him. A widely publicized speech arguing in favor of ecological responsibility and respect of Native Americans' land rights had been attributed to him.


The name Seattle is an anglicization of his name in his native Lushootseed language, siʔaɬ.[3] According to Upper Skagit elder Vi Hilbert, his name was traditionally pronounced siʔaƛ̕. After his baptism in 1852, he gained the baptismal name of Noah Seattle.[4]

In English, his name is often also spelled Si'ahl, Sealth, Seathl or See-ahth as an attempt to be more accurate to the Lushootseed pronunciation. There is no "th" sound in the Lushootseed language.[4]


Chief Seattle's bust in the city of Seattle


Seattle was born between 1780 and 1786 to Schweabe, a Suquamish leader from dxʷsəq̓ʷəb, the main Suquamish village on Agate Pass,[5][6] and Sholeetsa,[a] a Duwamish woman.[1][2] His exact birthplace is disputed. According to the tradition of the Suquamish Tribe, Seattle was born on Blake Island (Lushootseed: tatču),[7] and his mother was from a village on the former White River.[b][6][2] Seattle himself said he was born on Blake Island.[6] According to the tradition of the Duwamish Tribe, Seattle was born at his mother's village on the Black River, near what is now the city of Kent, Washington.[1] According to one of his contemporaries, an American settler named Emily Inez Denny, he was born at the Old Man House at dxʷsəq̓ʷəb.[8]

Seattle grew up speaking both the Duwamish and Suquamish dialects of Southern Lushootseed.[1] Seattle's Suquamish family was a powerful one, and they dominated parts of Kitsap Peninsula, Vashon Island, Bainbridge Island, and Blake Island. Because power and authority in Coast Salish culture is traditionally not guaranteed through descent, Seattle had to prove his worth to his Coast Salishan society.[2]

Seattle claimed that, as a boy, he met HMS Discovery and HMS Chatham under the command of George Vancouver.[1][2] Seattle later would visit Fort Nisqually to trade with the Hudson's Bay Company, returning many times as he aged. It is possible that these events taking place in his formative years encouraged his fascination with Europeans and their culture.[4]

At some time during his youth, Seattle participated in a traditional coming-of-age ceremony called a vision quest (Lushootseed: ʔalacut). His nobility was affirmed by the reception of a powerful spirit power, the Thunderbird.[6][2] In the traditional religion of the peoples of southern Puget Sound, having a strong spirit power is a symbol of strength, purity, and prestige.[9]

Seattle married into Duwamish families from t̕uʔəlalʔtxʷ, a highly-important village at the mouth of the Duwamish River, where he took several wives, as expected from a man of his status. He would go on to have several children, the most famous being Kikisoblu, his first child, born to his first wife, Ladalia. She died after the birth of her daughter, but Seattle had three sons and four more daughters through his second wife, Olahl.[6][8]

A feared Suquamish warrior[edit]

As Seattle aged, he earned a reputation as a leader and a strong warrior. In his early 20s, Seattle participated in a coalition war against the Cowichan peoples of Vancouver Island led by his uncle Kitsap.[6] Around 1810, Seattle led an ambush against a group of raiders in five canoes coming down the Green River. Seattle's raiding party killed or enslaved the occupants of three canoes and sent the remaining two canoes back as a warning.[6][2] Seattle also led a raid against the S'Klallam people on the Olympic Peninsula, and may have also led further raids against the Snoqualmie people as well. Slavery was historically practiced by Coast Salish peoples, and, like many of his contemporaries, Seattle owned slaves whom he had captured during his raids, further increasing his prestige.[6][10]

By 1833, he had become known to the staff of Fort Nisqually as Le Gros, 'the big guy'. He was seen as an intelligent and formidable leader, owing to his strong voice and towering physique, standing nearly six feet (1.8 m) tall. Francis Herron, the Chief Trader at the fort, considered him important and dangerous, and requested him to sign a treaty forswearing murder. In 1837, however, Seattle murdered a Skykomish shaman. The new Chief Trader, William Kittson, hoped that he would be killed by the Suquamish, however they continued to value him as a leader.[6]

In 1841, Seattle led a raid on the village of ʔilalqʷuʔ, located near modern-day Auburn at the former confluence of the Green and White rivers. The raid was in retaliation for a murder committed by someone from the village, and it crippled the village. Later, in 1847, he was part of the leadership of the Suquamish war against the Chemakum, who were decimated and effectively wiped out following the war. However, one of his sons was killed in battle with the Chemakum, leading Seattle to seek baptism into the Catholic Church around 1848. Seattle was probably baptized by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Olympia, where he chose the baptismal name of Noah after the prophet of the same name.[6]

Friendship with American settlers[edit]

Statue of Chief Seattle, 1908 by James When, Tilikum Place, Seattle, Washington. The statue is on the National Register of Historic Places.

After the death of his son and his conversion to Christianity, Seattle began to seek cooperation with American settlers, retiring from fighting. He welcomed pioneers, inviting them to settle and trade with his people. Seattle began seeking out contacts with businessmen and community leaders, and gained a reputation as a "friend of the whites" among settlers.[4][6] Seattle and the Duwamish helped many early American settlers, guiding them along the Duwamish River and its tributaries, providing them with safe transportation, and helped clear forests for the cultivation of crops, and provided labor in early sawmills and farms.[1]

Seattle was eventually contacted by Isaac Stevens, the first Territorial Governor of Washington Territory, who recognized Seattle's prominence among his people. Seattle would go on to be the first signature on the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliot for the Suquamish and Duwamish peoples, authorizing the cession of roughly 2.5 million acres of land to the United States.[4][6]

The unpopular treaties caused the Duwamish to renounce Seattle's leadership. Alongside many other tribes, the Duwamish participated in the Puget Sound War, a part of the broader Yakima Indian War. Despite this, Seattle remained a firm supporter of the Americans in the conflict, providing them valuable military intelligence.[6] Seattle warned the American settlers of the impending attack, and brought as many people as he could away from the fighting to the Port Madison reservation.[4] After the war's conclusion with the defeat of Native forces, Seattle tried to help his people regain their footing and sought clemency for the Native leaders in the war, such as Leschi.[6] One reason for the war was the unratified treaty and illegal enforcement, so Seattle continuously advocated for the final ratification of the treaties.[4][6] He also tried to stop slave murder and curtail the influence of alcohol on the Port Madison Reservation, and continued to try to resolve disputes elsewhere.[6]

Seattle continued to seek relationships with American settlers, eventually gaining relationships with Doc Maynard, William De Shaw, and George Meigs, who all helped Seattle further his goals in helping the local Native and Settler populations. Despite his friendships with the Americans, Seattle was forced to leave the city which bore his name in 1865, after the Town of Seattle Ordinance No. 5 banned all Native Americans from the town unless housed and employed by a white settler. Seattle then moved to the Suquamish Reservation, but continued to visit the city often both to visit his American friends and gathering with other Native Americans in temporary waterfront campsites.[6]

The Suquamish people with whom Seattle eventually settled with continued to take care of Seattle and recognized him as their leader until his death, bringing him food and water to his house.[4] Seattle died June 7, 1866, on the Port Madison Reservation, after suffering from a brief, yet severe, fever.[4][6][11] His funeral was conducted with both Catholic and Suquamish traditions, and he was buried on the Port Madison Reservation. Although he was mourned locally on the reservation and by his friend and sawmill owner George Meigs, no other pioneers of the city of Seattle attended his funeral, and no newspaper covered the event. However, years after his death, in 1890, some early Seattle historians and pioneers visited his gravesite, adding a stone marker to the grave.[4]

Chief Seattle's speech[edit]

The speech or "letter" attributed to Chief Seattle has been widely cited as a "powerful, bittersweet plea for respect of Native American rights and environmental values".[12] But this document, which has achieved widespread fame thanks to its promotion in the environmental movement, is of doubtful authenticity. Although Chief Seattle evidently gave a speech expressing such feelings in 1854 to Isaac Stevens, the Governor of Washington Territories at the time, it was not documented until nearly a quarter century later by Dr. Henry Smith. Smith who stated in the October 29, 1887, edition of the Seattle Sunday Star that his documentation of the speech was based on notes he took at the time. The speech was delivered in Seattle's native Lushotseed language, translated into Chinook jargon, and then into English.[13]


Closeup of Chief Seattle's tombstone in Suquamish, Washington
Chief Seattle's gravesite on the Port Madison Indian Reservation in Suquamish, Washington

As Seattle was a highly famous to both early pioneers and modern residents, as well as a constant figure in the mythos of Seattle's founding, Chief Seattle's legacy has been preserved in many ways. Seattle's grave site, at the Suquamish Tribal Cemetery,[14] has been turned into a monument to him and his life. In 1890, a group of Seattle pioneers led by Arthur Denny set up the monument over his grave, with the inscription "SEATTLE Chief of the Suqampsh and Allied Tribes, Died June 7, 1866. The Firm Friend of the Whites, and for Him the City of Seattle was Named by Its Founders." On the reverse is the inscription "Baptismal name, Noah Sealth, Age probably 80 years."[8] The site was restored and a native sculpture added in 1976 and again in 2011.[citation needed]

Several of Seattle's descendants also gained fame in their own right. Kikisoblu, also known as Angeline, was his most famous child and well-known to the denizens of early Seattle, where she lived until her death in 1896. His son Jim became the leader of the Suquamish for a time, but was unpopular and was replaced in favor of a prominent leader of the Catholic Suquamish community, Jacob Wahalchu.[4] A Duwamish grandniece of his, Rebecca Lena Graham, is also notable for her successful inheritance claim following the Graham v. Matthias, 63 F. 523 (1894) case.[citation needed]

Two statues of Seattle were created in his honor by James A. Wehn. A bronze bust, located in Pioneer Square, was made in 1909, and a full statue, located in the Denny Triangle, was made in 1912.[4]

The city of Seattle, and numerous other institutions relating to the city, are named after him. Other things are named after Seattle as well, including:

Several festivals and holidays are celebrated in his honor. The Suquamish Tribe hosts a festival in the third year of August called "Chief Seattle Days."[citation needed] The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America commemorates the life of Seattle on June 7 in its Calendar of Saints. The liturgical color for the day is white.[18]

Soundgarden, a Seattle rock band, covered the Black Sabbath song, "Into the Void" replacing the lyrics with the words from what was incorrectly alleged to be Chief Seattle's speech.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ also spelled Sholitza
  2. ^ Now the Green River


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Chief Si'ahl". Duwamish Tribe. Retrieved March 17, 2024.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Chief Seattle". Suquamish Tribe. Archived from the original on July 25, 2018. Retrieved March 17, 2024.
  3. ^ Bates, Dawn; Hess, Thom; Hilbert, Vi (1994). Lushootseed Dictionary. Seattle: University of Washington Press. p. 203. ISBN 978-0-295-97323-4. OCLC 29877333.
  4. ^ Hilbert, Miller & Zahir 2001, p. 48-49, 199.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Buerge, David M. "Chief Seattle and Chief Joseph: From Indians to Icons". University of Washington. Retrieved March 17, 2024.
  6. ^ Hilbert, Vi; Miller, Jay; Zahir, Zalmai (2001). sdaʔdaʔ gʷəɬ dibəɬ ləšucid ʔacaciɬtalbixʷ - Puget Sound Geography. Original Manuscript from T.T. Waterman. Lushootseed Press. p. 232. ISBN 979-8750945764.
  7. ^ a b c Denny, Emily Inez (1899). Blazing the Way, or, True Stories, Songs, and Sketches of Puget Sound and Other Pioneers. Seattle: Rainier Printing Company (published 1909).
  8. ^ Smith, Marian W. (1940). The Puyallup-Nisqually. New York: AMS Press (published 1969). pp. 56–57. doi:10.7312/smit94070. ISBN 9780231896849. LCCN 73-82360.
  9. ^ David M. Buerge (2017) Chief Seattle and the Town That Took His Name: The Change of Worlds for the Native People and Settlers on Puget Sound page 55, 60-61 ISBN 978-1632171351
  10. ^ Gifford, Eli (2015). The Many Speeches of Chief Seattle (Seathl): The Manipulation of the Record on Behalf of Religious Political and Environmental Causes. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. pp. 38–39. ISBN 978-1-5187-4949-0.
  11. ^ "Chief Seattle's Speech". HistoryLink. 2001. Retrieved July 1, 2007.
  12. ^ Jeffers, Susan. Brother Eagle, Sister Sky. New York, NY: Dial Books (Division of Penguin); 1991 (OCLC 733769707)(ISBN 9780803709638)
  13. ^ "Suquamish Culture". Suquamish Tribe. Retrieved July 1, 2007.
  14. ^ "Chief Sealth Trail". TrailLink. Retrieved February 12, 2012.
  15. ^ Salecker, Gene E.; Salecker, E. (October 9, 2007). "Chief Seattle" and Crew. Hachette Books. ISBN 9780306817151. Retrieved December 27, 2008.
  16. ^ Gene Eric Salecker (2001). Fortress Against the Sun. Da Capo Press. 978-1580970495.
  17. ^ "The Church Year" (PDF). Renewing Worship. January 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 8, 2006. Retrieved June 2, 2022.

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