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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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