The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek: A Tragic Clash Between White and Native America

The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek: A Tragic Clash Between White and Native America

by Richard Kluger
     
 

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The riveting story of a dramatic confrontation between Native Americans and white settlers, a compelling conflict that unfolded in the newly created Washington Territory from 1853 to 1857.

When appointed Washington’s first governor, Isaac Ingalls Stevens, an ambitious military man turned politician, had one goal: to persuade (peacefully if possible) the

Overview

The riveting story of a dramatic confrontation between Native Americans and white settlers, a compelling conflict that unfolded in the newly created Washington Territory from 1853 to 1857.

When appointed Washington’s first governor, Isaac Ingalls Stevens, an ambitious military man turned politician, had one goal: to persuade (peacefully if possible) the Indians of the Puget Sound region to turn over their ancestral lands to the federal government. In return, they were to be consigned to reservations unsuitable for hunting, fishing, or grazing, their traditional means of sustaining life. The result was an outbreak of violence and rebellion, a tragic episode of frontier oppression and injustice.

With his trademark empathy and scholarly acuity, Pulitzer Prize–winner Richard Kluger recounts the impact of Stevens’s program on the Nisqually tribe, whose chief, Leschi, sparked the native resistance movement. Stevens was determined to succeed at any cost: his hasty treaty negotiations with the Indians, marked by deceit, threat, and misrepresentation, inflamed his opponents. Leschi, resolved to save more than a few patches of his people’s lush homelands, unwittingly turned his tribe—and himself most of all—into victims of the governor’s relentless wrath. The conflict between these two complicated and driven men—and their supporters—explosively and enormously at odds with each other, was to have echoes far into the future.

Closely considered and eloquently written, The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek is a bold and long-overdue clarification of the historical record of an American tragedy, presenting, through the experiences of one tribe, the history of Native American suffering and injustice.


From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

David Waldstreicher
…a worthy spinoff of [Kluger's] Seizing Destiny, which described the active and often ugly process of taking the continent…Kluger's recitation of these events can be seen as an upbeat refusal to treat a historical tragedy as irredeemable. Usually, Indians tend to disappear from histories about them—even when the blame for their suffering is placed on others. The Nisqually, as Kluger shows, have not disappeared, and The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek is an eloquent account of a massacre's legacies as well as its history.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In the mid–19th century, the rainy shores of Puget Sound were among America's last frontiers--and the site of a brief but fierce war fought in 1855–1856 between the Nisqually tribe and the territory's militia and army. With vivid detail, Kluger (Simple Justice) examines the encounter, beginning with the benchmark 1853 treaty of Medicine Creek and its ambitious architect, Gov. Isaac Stevens, who "bloodlessly wrested formal title to 100,000 square miles." Despite scant source materials, the author sketches a portrait of Leschi, the Nisqually chief, whose resistance to the treaty placed him in direct confrontation with Stevens. After Leschi's arrest for allegedly killing a militiaman, Stevens engineered the chief's 1856 prosecution--and ultimate conviction and execution. (Leschi's final statement is heartrending: "I do not know anything about your laws, I have supposed that the killing of armed men in war time was not murder. If it was, then soldiers who killed Indians were guilty of murder too.") The conclusion, the 2004 exoneration of Leschi's actions by an unofficial historical court, followed by the launch of the tribe's Red Wind casino, winds up being a redemptive postscript to an affecting chapter of regional history. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
“More than just another tragic story of the American Indian, more than a story of victory and defeat, of good and evil. . . . A powerful human story, as necessary today as ever.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“An eloquent account of a massacre’s legacies as well as its history.”
The New York Times Book Review

“By focusing on one tribe’s historic struggle, Kluger shines a light on our nation’s deplorable treatment of its native people.”
The Seattle Times
 
“Meticulously researched, elegantly written and sophisticated, the book uses this all but forgotten episode in American history to give a human face to the injustices visited on Indians in treaty-making, on the battlefield and, surprisingly, in the courtroom.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A close and fascinating look at one treaty. . . . With precision and vigor, Kluger examines the circumstances of the crime and trials.” —The Oregonian
 
“Colorful. . . . Kluger’s recitation of these events can be seen as an upbeat refusal to treat a historical tragedy as irredeemable. . . . He’s canny enough to realize what’s lost in a one-sided telling, and compassionate enough to make sense of the doings on all sides.”
The New York Times Book Review
 
“The Puget Sound used to belong to a handful of small tribes including the Nisqually, whose chief in the 1850s welcomed the arrival of whites who wanted to fish, farm, and cut timber. What happened next is the harrowing story told by Richard Kluger in The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek, named after the one-sided treaty that stole the homeland of the Indians. Kluger is a careful researcher and skilled narrator who confronts the injustice of this land-theft head-on, but ends his tale on a note that cannot be called sad.”
—Thomas Powers, author of The Killing of Crazy Horse
 
“Kluger’s aim in providing the particulars of this tragedy [is] to help readers conceive the depth of the pain visited upon American Indians by white conquest. . . . This account’s chief value is in its vivid illustration of an important but overlooked chapter in our region’s history.”
Tacoma News Tribune
 
“It’s probably politically incorrect to say so, but Richard Kluger’s exquisite recreation of this little known case of historical injustice against the Native American Nisqually tribe and their chief, Leschi, is as gripping as the bloodiest tale of cowboys and Indians. What’s more, along the way, this investigative history raises and profoundly illuminates the critical moral, political, and legal issues involved.”
—Victor Navasky, author of Kennedy Justice
 
“Kluger’s solidly sourced narrative and its tenor of indignation will captivate readers of frontier and American Indian history.”
Booklist
 
“A vivid portrait of the tragic patterns that defined white settlement and Indian resistance across the American continent. Trust betrayed, white mendacity and vainglory, brutality on both sides—all make for a deeply moving and unforgettable story.”
—Kate Buford, author of Native American Son
 
“Well-researched and beautifully written. . . . Valuable for those interested in how the final stages of the concept of Manifest Destiny played out.”
Library Journal
 
“Richard Kluger relates how the West was won—that is, the ongoing white conquest of Native America—in a book of extraordinary scholarship, insight, and sensitivity. This is a tragic narrative, replete with unfulfilled promises, forced removals (ethnic cleansing), betrayals, judicial murders, and the sham of treaty making. Vividly told, it is an engrossing read, and the voice of the losers is omnipresent and eloquent.”
—Leon Litwack, author of Trouble in Mind
 

Library Journal
Pulitzer Prize-winning (Ashes to Ashes) author Kluger (www.richardkluger.com) applies his solid research and writing skills to this compelling story of the 1853–57 conflict between expansionist America and the Native Americans of the Puget Sound region of Washington State. Kluger focuses on key personalities, in particular the first Washington State governor, Isaac Ingalls Stevens, and Leschi, chief of the small Nisqually nation. As often happened in these encounters, the Puget Sound Indians were persuaded to turn over their ancestral lands to the federal government and were relocated to reservations on poor land unsuitable for hunting, fishing, or grazing. The inevitable result was rebellion and violence, ending with Leschi's murder conviction and execution. An interesting epilog covers the 2004 retrial that posthumously exonerated Leschi. Voice actor Alan Sklar's (see Behind the Mike, LJ 3/1/09) solemn narration enhances this fascinating albeit painful reminder of the sordid, shadowy history of the U.S. government's oppression of Native Americans. Essential for history buffs and teachers. ["Well-researched and beautifully written…recommended for readers interested in the history of the Pacific Northwest," read the review of the Knopf hc, LJ 1/11.—Ed.]—Dale Farris, Groves, TX
Kirkus Reviews

Intense history of a vicious confrontation between whites and Indians in 1850s Washington Territory.

Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and journalist Kluger (Seizing Destiny: The Relentless Expansion of American Territory, 2007, etc.) writes accessible prose and turns up fascinating obscure records, but readers will quickly suspect that this story doesn't end well. A central figure, Isaac Stevens (1818–1862), became the first governor of the Washington Territory in 1853. His major task was to facilitate white settlement by removing indigenous tribes. To achieve this, he sent representatives to survey their lands and, with no tribal input, choose a reservation. After drawing up a written contract, they called tribes together to feast and listen to whites extol its benefits, including promises of schools and farm equipment. Kluger points out that the Indians were illiterate, did not understand contracts and had no concept of land ownership. Despite their unease, most—according to white observers—signed. One leader, Leschi (1808–1858), protested and organized resistance during the 1855-6 Puget Sound War but was defeated, captured and, despite appeals from some whites, hung (though obviously useless to him, Leschi was exonerated in 2004). Forced onto tiny reservations, the tribes sunk into poverty, and their number dwindled. By the end of the 20th century, most whites agreed that they had treated the tribes badly, and legalization of Indian casinos has stimulated some prosperity for the survivors. Kluger does not conceal his indignation, painting a portrait of the whites as greedy, materialistic and racist, with a few ineffectual exceptions. The tribes are portrayed as modest hunter-gatherers, devoutly in tune with nature.

An accurate narrative, but the lack of nuance makes for a painful account that will keep readers gnashing their teeth throughout.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307595348
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/01/2011
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
384
File size:
4 MB

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

“Kluger is canny enough to realize what’s lost in a one-sided telling and compassionate enough to make sense of the doings on all sides . . . His recitation of [recent events] can be seen as an upbeat refusal to treat a historical tragedy as irredeemable . . . The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek is an eloquent account of a massacre’s legacies as well as its history.”
            -David Waldstreicher, The New York Times Book Review
 
“Brilliant . . . More than just another tragic story of the American Indian, more than a story of victory and defeat, of good and evil.”
            -Greg Sarris, San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Meticulously researched, elegantly written and sophisticated, the book uses this all but forgotten episode in American history to give a human face to the injustices visited on Indians in treaty-making, on the battlefield and, surprisingly, in the courtroom.”
            -Glenn C. Altschuler, Minnesota Star Tribune
 
“A close and fascinating look at one treaty . . . With precision and vigor, Kluger examines the circumstances of the crime and trials.”
            -Jim Carmin, The Oregonian
 
“Well-researched and detailed . . . Kluger’s story shows considerable deference to the Native American point of view . . . By focusing on one tribe’s historic struggle, Kluger shines a light on our nation’s deplorable treatment of its native people.”
            -Tim McNulty, The Seattle Times
 
“It's probably politically incorrect to say so, but Richard Kluger's exquisite recreation of this little known case of historical injustice against the Native American Nisqually tribe and their chief, Leschi, is as gripping as the bloodiest tale of cowboys and Indians. What's more, along the way, this investigative history raises and profoundly illuminates the critical moral, political, and legal issues involved.”
            -Victor Navasky, author of Kennedy Justice
 
“The Puget Sound used to belong to a handful of small tribes including the Nisqually, whose chief in the 1850s welcomed the arrival of whites who wanted to fish, farm, and cut timber. What happened next is the harrowing story told by Richard Kluger in The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek, named after the one-sided treaty that stole the homeland of the Indians. Kluger is a careful researcher and skilled narrator who confronts the injustice of this land-theft head-on, but ends his tale on a note that cannot be called sad.”
            -Thomas Powers, author of The Killing of Crazy Horse
 
“A vivid portrait of the tragic patterns that defined white settlement and Indian resistance across the American continent. Trust betrayed, white mendacity and vainglory, brutality on both sides—all make for a deeply moving and unforgettable story.”
            -Kate Buford, author of Native American Son
 
"Richard Kluger relates how the West was won—that is, the ongoing white conquest of Native America—in a book of extraordinary scholarship, insight, and sensitivity. This is a tragic narrative, replete with unfulfilled promises, forced removals (ethnic cleansing), betrayals, judicial murders, and the sham of treaty making. Vividly told, it is an engrossing read, and the voice of the losers is omnipresent and eloquent."
            -Leon Litwack, author of Trouble in Mind
 
“I thought I knew something about the injustices we, as a new nation, inflicted upon Native Americans; I was wrong. The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek recreates with uncanny scholarship and deep human understanding the travails of a peaceful leader persecuted by a ruthless agent of the United States.”
            -Michael Pertschuk, Former Chairman, Federal Trade Commission
 
“With vivid detail . . . the author sketches a portrait of Leschi, the Nisqually chief . . . The conclusion . . . winds up being a redemptive postscript to an affecting chapter of regional history.”
            -Publishers Weekly
 
“Well-researched and detailed . . . Kluger’s story shows considerable deference to the Native American point of view . . . By focusing on one tribe’s historic struggle, Kluger shines a light on our nation’s deplorable treatment of its native people.”
            -Tim McNulty, The Seattle Times
 
“Kluger’s solidly sourced narrative and its tenor of indignation will captivate readers of frontier and American Indian history.”
            -Booklist
 
“Well-researched and beautifully written . . . Valuable for those interested in how the final stages of the concept of Manifest Destiny played out.”
            -Library Journal
 
“Intense . . . Kluger writes accessible prose and turns up fascinating obscure records.”
            -Kirkus

Meet the Author

Richard Kluger is the author of Ashes to Ashes: America’s Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health, and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris, which won the Pulitzer Prize. His Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality and The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune both were finalists for the National Book Award. He is the author or coauthor of eight novels as well. He lives in Northern California.

www.richardkluger.com


From the Hardcover edition.

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