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The nearly 400-yearconfrontation between the native peoples of the Western Hemisphere andthe white settlers from Europe was marked from first to last by thenewcomers' conviction that they were entitled - by cultural superiority, moral enlightenment, and God's grace - to displace the primitiveinhabitants and make the land their own.
Among the last places in North Americawhere this stark racial collision played itself out was the bountifulPuget Sound region in what was then known as the Washington Territory in the northwestern corner of the United States. There, thanks to moderate climate, sheltering mountain ranges, lush forests, crystal-purewaterways teeming with wildlife, and the absence of predatory neighbors, the local tribes had prospered in their remote paradise for some 10,000 years.
All that suddenly ended in the middleof the nineteenth century when a proud, retired young U.S. Army major,an engineer with high political ambitions, was appointed the firstgovernor of newly acquired, 100,000-square-mile Washington Territory.Isaac Ingalls Stevens's primary task was to persuade the natives thattheir only hope for survival was to sign treaties handing over theirancestral lands to the American government in exchange for protectionfrom oncoming whites eager to turn the wilderness into crop-land. But one tribal chief at Puget Sound, Leschi of the Nisqually nation,insisted that his people be dealt with fairly and not coerced intosurrendering virtually their entire sacred homeland without justcompensation. The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek is the emblematic story of this confrontation between the headstrongAmerican governor and the defiant leader of the Nisquallies and theirbrethren who resisted him and, in doing so, stirred up the gross abuseof power and the licensing of injustice on our last frontier.
Here is Richard Kluger's poignantrendering of the tragic relationship between the red and white races,told in graphic detail. Our social literature abounds with accounts ofhow racist degradation was visited on the far more numerous black andHispanic Americans. Yet the nation's self-righteous, methodicaldispossession of the Indians has been largely dismissed by whites as the sad but inevitable price of social and technological progress. Throughthe experience of a single tribe, The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek seeks to clarify the historical record. It also tells, in a hopefulepilogue, the latest chapter of the Nisqually tribe's struggle to endure amid the mounting pressures of twenty-first-century modernity.