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The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek: A Tragic Clash Between White and Native America Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 1, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1St Edition edition (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307268896
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307268891
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.7 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #834,360 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From 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.)
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From Booklist

Puget Sound is the venue for this historic episode in settler-Indian conflict. It attracted historian and novelist Kluger because of a 2004 mock tribunal’s conclusion that Leschi, a headman of the Nisqually tribe, should not have been put on trial for murder in 1856. Kluger delves deeply into the original case, which resulted in Leschi’s execution, and excoriates Leschi’s principal white antagonist, Washington’s first territorial governor, Issac Stevens. Casting Stevens in a villainous light, Kluger recounts his imposition of treaties dispossessing the Puget Sound tribes, which Leschi resisted. The war that then briefly flared up Stevens and his political supporters blamed on Leschi. To army officers in the territory, however, Leschi was a legitimate combatant, so the legal process that ensued was convoluted but seemingly inexorable, given Stevens’ zeal for vengeance and court decisions that all went against Leschi. Recounting the treaty council, the war, several trials, and contemporary politics of the several-hundred-member Nisqually tribe, Kluger’s solidly sourced narrative and its tenor of indignation will captivate readers of frontier and American Indian history. --Gilbert Taylor

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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This is an extremely well researched, thorough, and carefull book.
Pat Loughery
The book depeicts the situtation during the frientier times, lavishly embellished with archival photos of the participants and detailed maps.
Thomas Martin
From the very first, Major Stevens called the Native Americans those "murderous Indian tribes in the west."
Joan A. Adamak

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Joan A. Adamak VINE VOICE on April 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Pulitzer Prize Winner Richard Kluger, utilizing every known source available to him, written, documentary and even oral memories from surviving descendants of the Nisqually Native American tribes, wrote an excellent and as truthful a narrative as is possible, while attempting to remain objective and yet adequately portray the main characters of this sad and unjust epoch in American and Washington State history involving the notorious murder conviction and hanging of a Nisqually tribal leader. Although there were several White and Native Americans responsible for much of the machinations unfolding during this period leading up to 1857, the main protagonist was Isaac Stevens, a handsome man with an abnormally large head and short legs, a decidedly Napoleonic personality encompassing an active brain resulting in being an excellent student and mathematician, eventually graduating from West Point as an engineer, a veteran of the Mexican American War and thereafter becoming active in politics in 1848.

By winning that war, the U.S. acquired territory north of California to the 49th parallel, from the Pacific Ocean to western Montana, although in conflict with England's claim, especially in the Puget Sound area of the Oregon Territory, later the northern part of the Washington Territory. From the very first, Major Stevens called the Native Americans those "murderous Indian tribes in the west." He asked for and became appointed the first governor of the Washington Territory, which covered about 110,000 square miles. His intent was to transform the area from a wilderness into a governable political subdivision. Because of its location, the Natives had been spared the ravaging impact of White settlers and were further protected by the natural resources of the area, which supported them.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By alpine on January 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I was born in Seattle and have lived in the state for six decades, now residing in Olympia. Plus, my vocation has been in the salmon conservation, management, and bureaucratic realm interacting with tribal and non-tribal people. I have had contact with many of the places, recent historical events and even some of the people mentioned in the book. I was interested in the book as a means to explore my assumptions about how our Puget Sound culture evolved, and how I might better put my experiences in perspective.

I found the book especially enlightening in helping to explain some of the context and especially the trajectory of the development of relationships between non-Indians and Indians to the present. I found the details on Stevens' manner and approach to treaties particularly informative. These days tribes hold dearly to the provisions of the treaties, probably for the same reasons most opted to concede to them in the beginning... it's their best option in the face of the march of 'progress.' In contrast, the book emphasizes the extent to which the treaties themselves were a raw deal.

For the most part the book moves along apace, but does get bogged down at times (e.g., the who/what/where details of the Leschi evidence). Plus I found the ending pretty one-sided. For example, it would have been insightful to have included more perspective from the opposing view points, which come across as the stereotypical old vs new, conservative vs progressive... I felt hungry for more.

In sum, I found it a very relevant read, for helping orient me to local history, events, people and places. I can only view it as but a chapter in a very much broader story of U.S. development of the Pacific Northwest, the west, and North America writ large.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Pat Loughery on December 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is an extremely well researched, thorough, and carefull book. It explores the history of white settlement in the Puget Sound (Seattle, WA) area, through the story of Leschi, a leader of the Nisqually people. Leschi was an early friend of the British and American settlers, but was incensed by the poor treatment of the Washington territory governor's treaty demands, which gave native nations very small and horribly poor quality reservations. Leschi became a guerilla leader staging sporadic attacks on territorial troops in an effort to bring about a more fair treaty allocation for the Nisqually tribe. In the process, he became Gov. Stevens' singleminded focus, and when Leschi was eventually turned in and tried, the process was a farce of justice.

The book wraps up the Leschi tale with a "historical trial" which found that Leschi should not have been tried as a civilian and hanged; but as a combatant in wartime should have been released when the nations were at peace. Finally, the book describes the current state of Nisqually tribal affairs, and their long-awaited hope for a future less desolate than their past under the white empire.

I'm rounding up from 4.25 stars, because this story needs to be told. It's slow and plodding at times, with a dry names-and-dates feel in early chapters, but the story itself is full of twists, turns and intrigue
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By bronx book nerd VINE VOICE on August 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
When the Northwest US was settled by white Americans, a major obstacle was the presence of Native Americans. This book deals with the painful struggle for a fair apportionment of land by the leader of the Nisqualli people, Leschi. At the same time, the book presents a harsh but largely accurate portrait of the territorial governor, Isaac Stevens, and his devious and scheming ways. After the Indians in that territory were given a very unfair deal at the Treaty of Medicine Creek, Leschi led a small but initially threatening uprising. Eventually his relatively small band of followers would lose the battle against the better supplied and larger American forces. Leschi would be charged with murder by Stevens, even though the death he was accused of occured during war. The book's narrative covers the story of the settlement of the Northwest, the British presence, the lifes of Stevens and Leschi as well as those of other contemporaries. The arrest and trial are the main focus of the drama, as Leschi's first trial is stained by several acts of injustice, the biggest one being that one of the members of the grand jury indicting Leschi would be the main witness against him in the trial itself.

For the most part the book is fairly balanced, exposing the good and bad on both sides. Isaac Stevens is the one character who seems to have had no good in him, apparently out to achieve the goal of territorial domination by any means necessary. Sadly, his case against Leschi became a very personal one as he sought revenge for the stalling of his plans and the damage to his reputation caused by the Nisqually leader.
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