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Puyallup Lands and the Medicine Creek Treaty - Part 1

Written by Katura Hagerman, 2023 Museum Intern

Edited for blog publication by Holly Stewart, Program Manager

This is the first in a four-part series about the Puyallup Land Allotments.

You can find the second post about the 1873 Puyallup Reservation Land Survey at this link.

You can find the third post about Puyallup Lands and Unlikely Alliances at this link.

You can find the fourth post about about the Puyallup Act of 1893 at this link.

Artistic image of Mt. Tacoma from the 1888 publication Tacoma and Vicinity

Artistic rendering of Mt. Tacoma and Indigenous People. From the 1888 publication Tacoma and Vicinity.

The region that is now known as Tacoma, Fife, and Puyallup has been home to the spuyaləpabš (Puyallup) from time immemorial. Members of the tribe fish in their ancestral waters, hunt on their ancestral lands, and weave baskets from materials growing in their ancestral valleys amongst many other traditions. The tribe lived in multiple villages spreading from the base of təqʷuʔmaʔ / təqʷuʔbəd (Mt. Rainier) to the Puget Sound with fishing as their primary source of food. The Puyallup are one of the many Lushootseed speaking Native Nations in the region and language continues to play a vital part in their culture today through their language revitalization program.

The arrival of European and Euro-American settlers changed these cultural traditions. While the Puyallup people continued to hunt and fish and hold potlatches, it looked different from before. Disease and violent confrontation with colonizers decimated the tribe’s numbers and disrupted traditional ways of life. As more settlers moved into the area, pressure on the Puyallup and other Native Nations increased.

Medicine Creek

Washington Territory’s first governor, Isaac Stevens, forced the Native Nations of Western Washington to sign four different treaties throughout 1854-1855. They each used the same formatting: Native Nations handed over a large amount of land to the US government in exchange for promises of money, small reservations of land, and some form of assimilationist aid. Stevens also made provisions in each treaty that allowed for the tribes to continue to fish, hunt, and work on their ancestral lands. He had knowledge of cultural aspects important to Washington Territory’s western tribes and made sure to include this within the treaty. Steven’s knowledge and the special provisions were what made Medicine Creek different from other treaties between Native Nations and the United States government.

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Portrait of Brigadier General Isaac Ingalls Stevens, first governor of Washington Territory, ca 1862. From the digital image archives of the Tacoma Public Library.

Stevens became the first governor of Washington Territory in 1853 and also acted as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs. He issued surveys of the territory to help Congress determine the route of the transcontinental railroad. The survey also began Steven’s Indian Policy west of the Cascades. He met with the leaders of Native Nations, eventually resulting in the 4 treaties detailed above. Stevens went on to serve as a territorial delegate in 1857 and joined the Union Army at the start of the Civil War. He was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and died in 1862 on Chantilly Plantation, fighting against Gen. Stonewall Jackson and his troops.

In December 1854, 63 leaders from Southern Puget Sound tribes and bands - the Puyallup, Nisqually, Steilacoom, Squaxin, Snohomish, Steh-Chass, T'Peeksin, Squi-aitl, and Sahewamish - signed the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854, the first of the four treaties. Over 2.5 million acres of Native lands were usurped by the United States government. In return, the tribes and bands were assigned to three 1,280 acre reservations and tribal members were to be paid $32,500 over 13 years. Other treaty conditions, such as an emphasis on farming and special considerations for education, embraced assimilationist ideals.

According to historians Susan M Reddick and Cary C Collins, the original site surveyed for the Puyallup reservation was near modern-day Old Town Tacoma. When the treaty was renegotiated in 1856, the reservation site was relocated to the mouth of the Puyallup River and the north side of Commencement Bay.

From the start, controversy fell over the treaty proceedings and its contents. Debate ensued about whether some of the marks made by tribal leaders, including Nisqually Chief Leschi, were forged. The Nisqually tribe in particular was justifiably angry over what they were forced to give up and the location of an inadequate reservation away from their traditional lands.

Puget Sound Treaty War

The Puget Sound Treaty War erupted in 1855 and lasted until the renegotiation of the Treaty in 1856. Dissatisfaction with the treaty terms and the assigned reservation lands led members of the tribes engage in a series of small skirmishes with the United State military and settlers. In retaliation, Governor Stevens whipped up fear among the settlers and encouraged acts of collective punishment against the Indigenous people.  

After talks broke down between the two groups, the White River Massacre was the most infamous event of the Puget Sound Treaty War. In the skirmish, Muckleshoot, Klickitat, and Nisqually fighters killed nine Euro-American settlers. In retaliation, Governor Stevens encouraged the punishment of Indigenous people who had not been involved in the event. An estimated 4,000 civilian Native peoples were rounded up and forced onto Fox Island where they were carefully monitored for signs of revolt. Many died from starvation, dehydration, and from exposure.

Additionally, members of the Upper and Lower Chehalis tribes were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated to Steilacoom. The Chinook were forced to Fort Vancouver and the Cowlitz were moved to a location on the Chehalis River. While the Puget Sound Treaty War mainly consisted of quick battles between the two sides, the reactions by the Euro-Americans to other Native Nations not involved in the conflict signals the little regard the settlers had for Native peoples’ liberties and for them as human beings. It also illustrates how many were unable to distinguish between different tribes. When one tribe would participate in a battle, they took out vengeance on a completely separate tribe.

After the War

The Puget Sound Treaty War ended with the surrender and execution of Leschi, followed by renegotiation of the Medicine Creek Treaty. Under the revised treaty, the Puyallup Reservation increased from 1,280 acres to 18,062 acres. Much of the land, however, was later subdivided and forced into sale as development pressures increased.

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1856 Puyallup Indian Reservation Map. From the U.S. National Archives Catalog.

Nearly 8 years after the Puget Sound Treaty Wars, Job Carr was the first non-Native permanent settler on Commencement Bay. After serving and being wounded twice in the Civil War, he qualified for 160 acres under the Homestead Act. Carr decided to set off on the Oregon Trail in 1864, settling in what is now Old Town because he believed that was where the Northern Pacific’s transcontinental railroad would end. The incorporation of the City of Tacoma and the arrival of the railroad quickly attracted other settlers to the area. The city had a population of 1,008 in 1880, drastically increasing to 36,006 by 1890. This population boom resulted in Puyallup land becoming extremely valuable, resulting in devastating consequences for the Puyallup Tribe.

Learn more about the Surveying of the Puyallup Reservation in our next blog post.


Castile, George P. “Edwin Eells, U.S. Indian Agent,1871-1895.” The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 72, no. 2 (1981): 61–68.

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Galacci, Caroline. “Planning the City of Destiny: An UrbanHistory of Tacoma to 1930.” Ph.D. dissertation (University of Washington, 1999).

Hirsch, Mark. “The Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854.”Smithsonian Voice, From the Smithsonian Museums, (March 23, 2017).

Hunt, Herbert. “Tacoma: Its History and Its Builders: A HalfCentury of Activity.” 3 vols. (Chicago, 1916).

Landry, Lena. “Peter C. Stanup: A Leader Among the GenerousPeople.” Interview by Daryne Reiter. (November 1998).

Schaefer, Kurt Kim. “A Bitter Pill: Indian Reform Policy,Indian Acculturation, and the Puyallup Act of 1893.” The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 102, no. 1 (2010): 14–28.

Schaefer, Kurt Kim. “ The Promise and the Price of Contact:Puyallup Indian Acculturation, Federal Indian Policy and the City of Tacoma, 1832-1909. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Washington (Seattle, 2016),

Peter C. Stanup. Woman’s Tribune, June 17, 1893, [105].Nineteenth Century Collections Online (accessed June 25, 2023)

White, M.H. “Puyallup Indian Reservation Showing AllotmentsPer US Patents.” Map. (1 centimeter is approximately 40 acres). Tacoma, 1886. (accessed 16 June 2023)

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About the Author

Katura Hagerman completed an internship with Job Carr Cabin Museum in Summer 2023. She was a senior at Illinois State University majoring in history education and minoring in Native American Studies.

Katura chose to intern with Job Carr Cabin Museum because "I like that they place a lot of focus on community outreach and make all of their events free so everyone is able to experience what they have to offer. I think it makes the cabin a really special place."

Her internship included a research project on the allotment of the Puyallup Reservation. She says that she learned a lot about that process and about the Puyallup tribe in general. She was able to compare and contrast the process with the her study of the Plains tribes.

After her internship, Katura returned to Illinois for a student teaching assignment. After graduation, she hoped to return to the Pacific Northwest.