$3,000,000 Claim is Heard
Aged Puyallup Indians Testify They Were Tricked by Governor Stevens
Tacoma News Tribune
March 25, 1927
by Nelson R. Hong
In their fight to collect more than $3,000,000 from the federal government for violations of their rights, Indians of the Puyallup tribe, at a hearing which opened in Firwood Friday morning, unwound the traditions of their race, and retold, through documentary evidence and eyewitness testimony, the happenings at the Medicine Creek powwow which led to a treaty between them and Isaac I. Stevens, territorial governor, in December of 1854.
Three Indians, who where born so long ago that they have forgotten their ages, are on hand to tell what they remember of the proceedings at Medicine creek, about one and one half miles from the mouth of the Nisqually river, more than 72 years ago.
The three ancients are Wapato John and Tom Milroy of Nisqually and Lucy Slagham, who was born near Gig Harbor and has made her home in various sections of the Northwest.
Indians Say They Were Tricked
According to Puyallup valley Indians, these three are between 85 and 90 years old, They were reaching the age of responsibility when, with 750 other member of their tribe, they answered Gov. Stevens’ call for a conference. The conference led to a treaty, in which the Indians claim they were tricked by smooth talking and the superior intelligence of the white men.
The treaty was full of jokers which worked to deprive the natives of their land rights, it is charged. Since then the Indians, continually pushed in to the background by the advance of white men, have suffered on account of the unfair tactics of the government they charge.
Their allegations, which include bitter personal charges against the honesty and integrity of Gov. Stevens are made up of a score of counts. The main charges can be summed up as follows:
That the government failed to provide sufficient property for the Puyallup Indians.
That the government failed to live up to its promise of establishing and maintaining an industrial and agricultural school.
That the provision in the treaty, which the Indians believed gave them a permanent right to fish, contained a joker which rendered the supposed stipulation powerless.
The government, the Indians claim, should have acquired a large tract of fertile land near Everett for the use of the Puyallup tribe.
The case of the tribe is being handled by Arthur E. Richards, also of Seattle, who is commissioner of the United States Court of Claims.
Must Wait for Decision
The testimony being taken Friday from witnesses and by reference to state and national documents, will be sent to Washington, DC, for final action. It is expected that the decision on the claim will not be made for at least five years.
Indians at the hearing are particularly bitter toward Gov. Stevens. Wapato John, whose age and infirmities, make both walking and talking difficult , when asked for a statement on the Medicine Creek meet said: “Gov. Stevens no good. Him big liar.”
Tom Milroy, the oldest of the trio of survivors of the now historic “powwow,” is badly bent by age and his eyesight is so bad that he needs assistance whenever he walks. Even under the pressure of an Indian interpreter, before the hearing began, no amount of persuasion could force him to make a statement. The interpreter said that Milroy was saving his energy for the hearing.
Prominent in Indian Councils
Although neither Wapato John nor Milroy has been head of the tribe, they are and have been for more than 50 years prominent in the counsels of the council. They also are members of the Nisqually Northwest tribe.
The woman, in addition to her membership in the Puyallup tribe, belongs to the Gig Harbor Indians and other Indian organizations. She is estimated to be about 85 years old, and probably is the youngest of the trio. She was a girl of 13 or 14 when she attended the Medicine Creek meeting with her parents.
The Medicine Creek treaty, which the Indians claim was so unfair to them is held directly responsible for the bitter Indian war, led against the whites by Chief Leschi, famous Nisqually leader.
They claim that the great majority of the Indians present at the treaty making did not realize the intent of the document. They approved it, but Chief Leschi refused to make his mark opposite his name. He left the treaty ground in a rage, and died on the scaffold with intense hatred in his heart against the whites.After the treaty was put into effect, Chief Leschi opened relentless warfare against the whites. They considered his warfare nothing but murder, and, after capturing him, hanged him on the plains a short distance west of present outlet of Steilacoom lake.
It’s Indians vs. U.S. Army Again
But this time the red men’s ‘shots’ are legal documents, fired by a Seattle Attorney.