Finding Chief Kamiakin: The Life and Legacy of a Northwest Patriot

Richard D. Scheuerman, Michael O. Finley
Born to T'siyiak, a champion horse racer and Com-mus-ni, the daughter of Chief Wiya´wiikt, Kamiakin from an early age helped relatives tend his family's expanding herds. He wintered with relatives in tule mat lodges in the Kittitas and Ahtanum valleys. Other times of the year he shared in communal spring root gathering, summertime salmon fishing, and autumn berry-picking and hunting. Kamiakin adhered to ancestral tradition. Alone as an adolescent on Mount Rainier's icy heights, he dreamt of the Buffalo's power, completing his quest for a guardian spirit. Muscular and sinewy, he became a skilled horse racer and competitor in feats of agility. He married and established a camp on Ahtanum Creek, raising potatoes, squash, pumpkins, and corn in irrigated gardens. As Kamiakin matured, he rose in prominence among the Yakamas; leaders of both Sahaptin and Salish bands sought his counsel. Through personal aptitude as well as family bonds, he emerged as one of the Plateau region's most influential chiefs. He cautiously welcomed White newcomers and sought to learn beneficial aspects of their culture. His dignified manner impressed the Whites he knew--traders, missionaries, and soldiers. In the 1840s, the arrival of unprecedented numbers of Oregon Trail immigrants stirred a cataclysmic upheaval threatening his people's retention of lands and their ancient customs. On May 29, 1855, the Walla Walla Treaty Council commenced with a gathering of government officials and Plateau headmen, while some 5,000 Indians camped nearby. Two weeks later, Kamiakin signed the Yakima Treaty of 1855 with great reluctance; but he also resolved to resist threats to his people's freedoms and transgressions on their lifeways. Finding Chief Kamiakin is his saga.

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