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Chief Seattle and the Town That Took His Name: The Change of Worlds for the Native People and Settlers on Puget Sound

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This is the first thorough account of Chief Seattle and his times--the story of a half-century of tremendous flux, turmoil, and violence, during which a Native American war leader became an advocate for peace and strove to create a successful hybrid racial community.
When the British, Spanish, and then Americans arrived in the Pacific Northwest, it may have appeared to them as an untamed wilderness. In fact it was a fully settled and populated land. Chief Seattle was a powerful representative from this very ancient world. Historian David M. Buerge has been researching and writing this book about the world of Chief Seattle for the past 20 years. Buerge has threaded together disparate accounts of the time from the 1780s to the 1860s--including native oral histories, Hudson Bay Company records, pioneer diaries, French Catholic church records, and historic newspaper reporting. Chief Seattle had gained power and prominence on Puget Sound as a war leader, but the arrival of American settlers caused him to reconsider his actions. He came to embrace white settlement and, following traditional native practice, encouraged intermarriage between native people and the settlers, offering his own daughter and granddaughters as brides, in the hopes that both peoples would prosper. Included in this account are the treaty signings that would remove the natives from their historic lands, the roles of such figures as Governor Isaac Stevens and Chiefs Leschi and Patkanim, the Battle at Seattle that threatened the existence of the settlement, and the controversial Chief Seattle speech that haunts the city that bears his name to this day.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2017

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David M. Buerge

8 books8 followers

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5 stars
76 (19%)
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121 (30%)
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17 (4%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 73 reviews
Profile Image for Rach.
1,396 reviews87 followers
June 18, 2019
A frank and honest look at the history of Washington and Oregon from about 1800-1900, specifically the Puget Sound area. I wasn’t sure how biased a book written by a white man about native Americans would be, and the author acknowledges up front that he might seem like an odd choice, but there just aren’t any other books out there about our local native tribes. Buerge seems to have done a good job acknowledging the bias of the “histories” of Chief Seattle previously written and heavily influenced by the white men who told them. This line in particular made me go, “OOOOOOOOO SNAP! This guy is not holding back!”😆: “[Kitsap’s] violent personality brought him many enemies, and a grandson, William Kitsap, recalled that he was murdered, and that his body was buried in a secret location to prevent his foes from desecrating it. It was not secret enough, however, to prevent grave robbers from the Smithsonian Institution carrying off his bones in later years…”

Buerge is also straightforward and unequivocal in his analysis of racial relations as time went on, leading up to and after the death of Chief Seattle. White settlers to the area saw resources being used by natives, and decided that they had more right to them. It’s a story that can be told by native cultures around the world: “By their definition, civilized people lived in cities, and because the Indians on Puget Sound did not build cities, they were considered uncivilized and possessing none of civilization’s gifts. Americans, the builders of many cities, believed themselves to possess these gifts in abundance, and felt duty-bound to propagate them. Blessed with liberty, law, and wealth, they saw themselves as the children of God, the sons of light, and bearers of the future. Savagery was what their Northern European ancestors had emerged from a thousand years before, and they supported the notion that the delivering Indians from barbarism was part of the national project. That native people differed from Americans materially and culturally was obvious; that the stage that had been reached by settlers was intrinsically better, and in the nature of things inevitable, even necessary, was a judgement few Americans questioned.”

Native land was basically stolen via unjust “treaties” and the native populations were pushed out of their ancestral lands to make way for “progress.” And tribes that refused to sign a treaty that would move them far from the places they called home, like the Duwamish, thus became “landless” and have been fighting for federal recognition as a tribe and the protections that provides ever since. Prominent white figures vocalized their hopes that in the future, the native tribes would eventually die out. Of course, local racism wasn’t saved for just native people - in the 1880s, Chinese immigrants were also mistreated and forcibly driven out of the area, after white immigrants decided they were “taking their jobs and their land.” As if that land was theirs in the first place.

This book was definitely difficult to read at times, but it’s so important for everyone who lives on these lands to be aware of its history, honor its past, and support our native tribes as they battle to regain some of what was taken from them. While I enjoyed the audiobook, if you aren’t from the area, some of the place and native names might be confusing, so it’s definitely worth getting either a map of the area to reference, or getting the ebook or print version to see the supplemental maps.

“The life of Seattle the living man means more than the words of his ghost. Only now have we begun to appreciate his vision and understand that our city draws its greatest strength from the character, energy, and dreams of all its residents, living, loving, and working together in the house of his name. He lived with that hope, and died still believing it. If we believe that life and hope are greater than death, honoring his deeds, answering his request, and attending to his vision will be the proof.”
Profile Image for Alli.
73 reviews3 followers
May 26, 2023
I grew up in a suburb of Seattle and so I was curious to learn more about the life of Chief Seattle. I’d always known him as Chief Sealth - I listened to this on audio and my understanding is his name was difficult to pronounce so he’s called both? Regardless - one thing I liked about growing up in Seattle was there seemed to be native culture that carried over into names of cities and regions. Sadly the indigenous peoples were forced out as in other areas.

Chief Seattle’s tribe still hasn’t gotten federal recognition as an official tribe because they decided to not go to a reservation and claim land. I am not sure what year this book was written and if this has happened yet under the Biden Administration.

This was an interesting read in that Chief Seattle had a long view about the future of his lands and people and believed his people should mix with the white settlers to create a new society. In some ways he succeeded in this, with many mixed marriages occurring during his time. In the end the white settlers had a different vision.

I’ve been feeling homesick for the PNW, so it was nice to hear history behind familiar places, and although the narrator pronounced many of the places correctly there were others he did not and it made my ears hurt. As a side note, the narrator did the narration for a book with a truly despicable character in first person voice and that made the first part of listening quite difficult. The book was about a researcher that ends up destroying an indigenous people so I was mildly triggered. But thankfully I worked though it and enjoyed the book.

I think Chief Seattle was a great visionary and I’m always in awe of people with that ability. All in all an interesting and well researched read to learn more about the emerald city.
Profile Image for Ken Hunt.
167 reviews1 follower
August 25, 2018
Read late for church book club. Being a naturalized Seattleite (since 2002) I had always wondered about his story. This book certainly had interesting historical references filling in many of my knowledge gaps on local names, Denny, Bagley, Bell, Snohomish, etc...... The story of Seattle himself was not as interesting as I had hoped. He was a leader for sure, and adaptable. It struck me that Seattle is named for him in large part because he was a force in encouraging his people to live in harmony with the rapidly growing white population. Thus his name adorns the largest city on the planet named after a Native American as his people got screwed out of their land, lives, ability to self sustain for their efforts to get along. The tail end is an interesting bridge to Timothy Egan's book about Edwin Curtis who photographed an impoverished Angeline, Seattle's daughter on the streets of Pioneer Square in Seattle. The book was not written in a way that brought the story to life, but for me personally worth the read.
Profile Image for Jane Ginter.
65 reviews3 followers
April 1, 2022
This was a great biography of Chief Seattle. Good to learn more history of the area.
Profile Image for Karin.
70 reviews1 follower
December 20, 2020
This will be worth rereading. The author’s voice was not easy to listen to, but I was impressed with his speaking the Indian languages. I learned a lot more about the people who lived in the Seattle area before western civilization took over. I keep asking people my age who grew up in Seattle how much of this history they were taught in schools and the answer has been uniformly zip, nada, nothing, zero. Only a few of my students tell me they are taught about the tribes in this area. One teen told me they learned about the Trail of Tears, but that is a different part of this continent. Is it too controversial to speak of the tribes who lived and live in this area?! Kind of like why we were not taught about the War in Vietnam in the 70’s?
Profile Image for Katharine Strange.
122 reviews3 followers
August 30, 2019
A vital book thoroughly researched. The author makes a compelling case for Federal and local recognition of the Duwamish tribe.

This information is so important, but reading it was a slog. All we can hope is that someday someone will write a hiphop musical about this compelling, forward-thinking man.
Profile Image for Jim Townsend.
277 reviews13 followers
November 22, 2021
Very interesting book about the man whose name Washington State's largest city took.
Profile Image for David.
153 reviews
August 25, 2021
As a new resident in the Puget sound area, I found this an excellent introduction to the region's 19th century history. Chief Seattle's relatively scant historical record provides the author with an opportunity to describe him by focussing on his times, and, in so doing, provide a more complete overview of native life before and during the arrival of white settlers. The record suggests that Chief Seattle was a great leader who hoped to preserve native life by finding a means of coexisting with whites. Unfortunately, despite the city of Seattle's slow, wet, and muddy start, he underestimated the arrogance and greed of white settlers for an area that was little more than a raw material extraction site for San Francisco in its early days. If you've ever driven I-5 from Olympia to Bellingham and wondered why every exit seems to have a different native reservation and accompanying casino, it's because the many small tribes that lived freely in the area before the mid-19th century were granted even smaller reservations by the government as white settlers sought to capitalize on the fishing and lumber in the area.
99 reviews
March 8, 2020
There is a lot of information there, but the detail is excessive for other than an academic. So much translation into the native language was admirable at first and proved that the author could do it, but then it became cumbersome. I love the title, being a resident of Seattle, and I love history of Chief Sealth (Seattle) but I found my mind losing focus while reading. I finally gave up.
Profile Image for L.A.L..
755 reviews38 followers
April 3, 2020
I picked up this book because I love reading about history and I currently live in the greater Seattle/Tacoma area. But after a couple of weeks picking up this book, reading a paragraph or two, then putting it back down, I’m finally calling it. I cannot keep reading this book—the writing is tedious and dry, and the story fails to engage the reader.

I appreciate that a lot of time and research went into this book. But apparently there’s actually little documented or known about Chief Seattle, and so there is quite a bit of filler. As a result, the text bogs down and fails to bring the story to life. I’ve read some well done biographies (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. by Stephen Budiansky; The Wolves at the Door by Judith Pearson). This, however, is not such a biography. There are too many other books to read to waste my time trying to force myself to read it. So I’m DNF’ing it.

I gave it two stars simply for the time and effort the author put into the research.
Profile Image for Tom.
8 reviews
October 16, 2021
Interesting and informative and hard to read. I picked it up to learn more about the PNW history and who Chief Seattle was. The book was good at setting the stage for historic events and the growth of the area but the author at times seemed to have too many bits of information to share. I found it hard to read when so many names and dates were introduced and were never mentioned again. It was very interesting that native culture may have accepted assimilation with the white settlers had they been given the chance. Chief Seattle is a worthy historical figure, I'm glad I read it.
30 reviews
July 13, 2022
I was born and grew up in the city, even went to the school, named after Chief Sealth (Seattle) - but knew so little about him or why they were named after him. Now I know not only about his painstakingly researched pre-white history, but why he is worthy of such a biography. Seattle was ahead of his time: a realist with a plan based on his indigenous culture - work with the dominant culture to create a hybrid city of different races that would allow his people and their legacy to survive. As a result, Native people are still here and still a force to be reckoned with. Sadly and ironically, this seems not to have applied to his own Duwamish whom the federal government, at the behest of the city named after their leader, still refuse to recognize them as a tribe in their own right.
Profile Image for Luke McCarnan.
155 reviews1 follower
July 31, 2020
Great historical survey with helpful insight into the place I call home and the Man who helped shape it.
Profile Image for Jessica Anne.
379 reviews
October 21, 2020
TL;DR: Well-researched, wildly boring, worth it.
or, Chief Seattle was a real person and you need to know this.

Hats off to David M. Buerge for his acknowledgement that he shouldn't be the one writing this, but no one else has done it yet, and damn it, we're running out of time. There's one section where he focuses on the early 1900s and is generally pissed that no one sat down to talk to the people who were still alive to get a history of the guy they named the town after. Now it's 100 years later, and this is what we get.

And he really did research the hell out of this. There's an endnote that places him in the closet of a guy's house in in Orting, WA, trying to read a decaying manuscript that two descendants refuse to publish out of spite of the other.

But it's also to the book's fault that Buerge spent so much of his life as a research historian. There are swaths that I found almost unreadable—like when his focus encompasses years of skirmishes and wars between all of the Puget Sound tribes. Some battles concern Seattle's prowess in warfare, but a lot is filler. There are endless names of endless men—white and Native alike—which can be downright confusing. Deep research makes every small discovery monumental, but it doesn't always flow well for casual reading.

The last third of the book focuses less on Seattle and more on the titular "The Town That Took His Name". There's a lot that's cringe-worthy about the early pioneers (to put it mildly), and a lot carries over to our city today. The original peoples of this land, the Duwamish, are as yet federally unrecognized, despite a decades-long legal battle to gain rights and acknowledgement. I appreciate Buerge devoting the final pages to their fight.
Profile Image for Pamela Okano.
435 reviews3 followers
May 11, 2018
This book is billed as a biography--the first, for adults--of Chief Seattle. It isn't, at least not in the conventional sense, purely because there's not a lot of documentation out there that would allow a real biography to be written so many years after his death. Instead, this is more a book about the very early days of Seattle (the town), with a focus on the Native Americans who lived in Puget Sound, with what little is known about Chief Seattle thrown in. In that sense, it was fascinating, although I found it a somewhat difficult read because of the author's style. By the time the Denny Party arrived in Seattle, Native American society in this area was already in turmoil, since English and American ships had been visiting the area for some time, spreading alien culture as well as disease that wiped out large portions of the population. Although getting enough food was rarely a problem, wars between the tribes often broke out, ranging at least as far as what would become Central Washington and up to British Columbia.. In this backdrop, Chief Seattle eventually came to favor peace with the white settlers, promoting Native American employment in the mills and intermarriage, a tactic that tribes had previously used to bring intertribal peace. Of course, it wasn't until the Boldt decision that Native Americans were able to secure a significant part of what the Treaty of Point Elliott had promised them.
Profile Image for Julia Donald.
6 reviews
May 26, 2018
Totally recommend for some scholarly reading on who Chief Seattle was and how Seattle the city was founded. I didn’t learn this history in schools, and spent a lot of my childhood reading books like “little house on the prairie”, so obviously this was overdue.
This book taught me so much - about the PNW and native culture before Vancouver explores the coat on his boat, what the initial contact looked like (so much disease, so much death), and Seattle’s ability to lead and try to build a hybrid city. So many attempts to preserve tradition, to intermarry and regain stolen rights, to retain rights to land and fishing/hunting. So much “frontier justice” and battles. So much culture pilfered and cast out. This taught me so much, and I wish I had learned it so much sooner. This book was published in 2017 and is the first adult biography of Seattle. It is obvious in parts that the original draft was 700+ pages and it has been edited to 270 (it is DENSE and slow reading) but it is worth it. And some paragraphs (Leschi’s death high among them) are so heartbreaking it takes a while to pick the book back up. But it is worth it.
Profile Image for Michael.
587 reviews11 followers
April 22, 2018
One of the main joys of a public library is the new book area where one can peruse actual books (rather than thumbnail descriptions online) that may attract one's interest. I was surprised to find this book from a local Seattle publisher at my branch library in Arlington, Virginia, but am glad they chose to acquire it and that I serendipitously found it.

At it happens, I have a strong connection to the city of Seattle - although I grew up in the DC area, my parents were both from Seattle. And before returning to the DC area, I lived in Seattle for 15 years, from 1975 to 1990. When I saw this, I thought I might well enjoy it and was right about that.

The author has done significant research to gather the available descriptions of Chief Seattle's life as well as the tribes of the Seattle area (the Puget Sound and a bit beyond) and Seattle's contemporaries, both native American and settlers. He then lays out detailed information about the different tribes and how native American leaders, including Seattle, managed their evolving relationship with the growing number of settlers over time, from the 1850s onward.

Unfortunately few efforts were made at the time to gather good first hand information from contemporaries so that source material about Seattle is somewhat sparse, but the author makes clear when he is speculating (in effect).

There is extensive discussion of the "Chief Seattle speech" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chief_Seattle#The_speech_or_%E2%80%98letter%E2%80%99) that is perhaps the most significant legacy of Chief Seattle (other than that this large city carries his name in honor of him). The earliest version published was from notes by the author, but other versions exist and the ways the words attributed to Seattle have been used by later figures to channel whatever he may have actually said to serve their purposes makes its own statement about the legacy of Chief Seattle.

I felt I learned quite a bit reading this book and was well engaged in it, but I will admit I am not sure how readers who are not familiar with Seattle somewhat would find it. Some of what I learned almost surprised me in that I probably intuitively should have known these things but hadn't made simple connections or given certain place names much thought. I didn't know, for example, that Leschi and Kitsap are the names of people. It also amused me just how many Seattle streets are named after early settlers.

The second to last chapter looks at Seattle's legacy and surviving family members through 1887 and the final chapter rather ambitiously takes his place in history to the present day, although with suggesting that it is a sad commentary that his tribe, the Duwamish, has received reasonable or appropriate federal or other legal recognition.
Profile Image for Trevor Kew.
Author 9 books8 followers
May 15, 2023
My ol' dad (not really that ol') recommended this one after hearing that I'd read "Empire of the Summer Moon" and I'm really glad I took him up on it! Very interesting read on the Pacific Northwest, an area that gets ignored somewhat in popular non-fiction (at least in terms of popularity...I'm sure there are plenty of great books out there) about Native people of North America/pioneers/frontiers/etc. in favour of places like the Great Plains that have been made so iconic by films, etc.

Buerge's treatment of the subject is excellent here, very balanced and detailed, explaining the complex dynamics of trading, warring and coexistence not only between the new white settlers and the indigenous people, but between the many different groups of indigenous people (as well as internal politics, personal family lives of certain key "characters", etc.). I appreciated the way he represented the experience of the man (or woman) on the ground with a limited view of the big picture; for instance in the way that some Native people thought they could fight and overcome the settlers (as they were initially far more numerous) but others, such as Chief Seattle, realised the overwhelming numbers of settlers that would inevitably come and therefore advocated coexistence as the only possible option (not that this went particularly well either, unfortunately).

The bit about Seattle's famous speech was also very interesting...as to what extent it was actually what he said versus a sort of romantic retelling by the man who wrote it down. It's such a widely quoted speech that I actually recognised certain parts of it despite not being aware of it before.

I was also surprised to learn of the custom among some Natives of the time to bind their children's foreheads with a wood plank so that it would grow in flatter (thus leading the nickname "Flatheads"). There is a Flathead Lake in Montana, I believe, but I'd never thought about where the name came from before.
Profile Image for Chase Parsley.
491 reviews14 followers
November 22, 2021
Historian David Buerge does a great service for the city of Seattle and historians by writing a well-researched biography of a poorly understood yet significant figure in our history: Chief Seattle. There is no other larger city named after a Native American.

Of course, this is a sad book in many ways as it chronicles the relationship between the Native Americans in the Puget Sound area with the oncoming waves of American settlers in the mid-1800s. After a more peaceful beginning, violence explodes and mistrust reigns; and by its end it is yet another chapter in the depressing book of US/Native American relations.

What I like about this book the most is that it skillfully exposes the myths around Chief Seattle, especially in the final chapter. Seattle was not an modern environmentalist nor a pacifist. Also notable, Seattle converted to Catholicism (Noah was his Christian name), was a son of a slave and later held slaves, had multiple wives, was a brave warrior, and the tribes he led (Dumanish and Suquamish) were only about 500 people each (about 2,500 total Native Americans were in the Puget Sound region). But, like in all history, we should be careful to make modern-day moral judgements; it is abundantly clear that Chief Seattle was a product of his culture and era. As Buerge demonstrates, Seattle was a pragmatic and far-sighted man who did a lot at a pivotal time in US/Native American history by choosing to work with the incoming Americans and do what he thought was best for his people.
Profile Image for Sandie.
564 reviews
September 18, 2022
This is a straight up history book about the colonization of the Puget Sound and the subjugation of its First People. Chief Seattle was a savvy leader who encouraged local natives to integrate with the white settlers. For his cooperation, his tribe, the Duamish, were disregarded. He signed the Point Elliott Treaty on their behalf in 1855 yet the government delayed ratifying the treaty for 4 years while rebellious tribes received their payments much sooner. As further insult, the Duamish are STILL not officially recognized as a tribe by the federal government because some of these early people didn't move away from their homelands onto the reservation. Thus, they were considered "landless" and basically nonexistent. The tribe has been petitioning the feds for years to be granted tribal status, most recently in May of 2022. https://www.duwamishtribe.org/stand-w...
Learn more about their petition here: https://www.change.org/p/federal-reco...
Published in 2017, this is the first book (besides one children's book) devoted to recounting the story of Chief Seattle. The author is even-handed in his approach but I am appalled by the colonizers' actions. And it continues with the current refusal to give the Duamish their recognition. It's embarrassing.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Erin Stitch Witch Reading.
238 reviews4 followers
February 6, 2023
I live in the PNW so I felt some obligation to read this book that it as much history of western Washington territory as it was biography of Chief Seattle. It should have been absolutely fascinating, and certainly did inspire me to read some portions out loud to my husband, but I have to say the writing style left a lot to be desired. It is painfully dry and packed with so many names and details that it’s a struggle to keep track of who is who and what is actually going on which made reading it turn from curiosity into punishment. That being said I did appreciate that David Buerge laid out historical truths in what felt like an unbiased and un-judgmental manner. Obviously the behavior of white settlers in dealing with native people was awful. Buerge doesn’t belabor that, but his tone isn’t apologetic either. It isn’t until we get to the last few pages dealing with contemporary politics that we get a rightful indictment of both federal and local governments for their shameful refusal to acknowledge the Duamish tribe. Seattle capitalized on the perception that as the largest city named after a native person that must mean it treats its native population well, that it followed through on Chief Seattles wish that the Duamish be treated with justice and kindness, but that could not be further from the truth and I do ardently hope that this book helps people realize that an injustice wasn’t just perpetrated in the past but is in fact ongoing to this day.
Profile Image for Hannah Comerford.
173 reviews10 followers
June 3, 2022
Buerge did his research. I respect him for working so hard to get to the truth behind legends and claims, for immersing himself in the history so he could give as accurate a portrayal as possible.

However, he desperately needed an editor to tell him when to cut back on those details. He spent much too long describing things that were of little consequence to the main narrative (I did not need to know the life history of Henry Smith). It made the book significantly longer and more tedious than it needed to be.

Another major flaw was the lack of narrative structure and creativity. It was incredibly hard to follow because of the lack of flow, which of course was compounded by the excessive facts mentioned above. A little creativity could have gone a long way to make this more readable and overall enjoyable. I could see he tried to do this at the very beginning, when describing the seasons, but then the attempt at structure seemed to fall apart as he went from historical fact to historical fact without explaining its connection to Chief Seattle or giving transitions between stories.

I truly hope that an abridged version of this book is published someday. I believe this is an important story that gets lost in the weeds of poor editing and weak writing. Cutting the extraneous material might make it a solid historical book that I could recommend.
Profile Image for David Hirning.
89 reviews6 followers
February 5, 2021
Most people (me included) can't quite believe that this is the first biography ever written about the man for whom my home city is named. (Seattle is the largest city in the the U.S. named after a Native American.) That obviously reflects our society's complete neglect of Native American history and culture, preferring to let what happened to the people who were here before the Europeans arrived fade into nothingness. Now, in 2021, there's a bill in the Washington state legislature that is going to require the public schools here teach some of this history--something long overdue.

The book itself is a fascinating look at how the Northwest was settled. It's a complex history of how white people basically showed up in what is now Puget Sound and, gradually, displaced the people who had lived here for thousands of years. It's kind of a slow-motion tragedy (we all know how it ends). Seattle was a complicated figure, and this book finally gives his story the full treatment it deserves. Kudos to Mr. Buerge for the achievement!
Profile Image for Susan.
34 reviews
February 20, 2022
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, especially the first few chapters. The narrative the author created got a bit lost for me mid-book and emerged towards the end again. I think, as often the case with books on historical figures who don't have a lot of documentation left behind, the author reconstructs the story from material and documentation that is not representative of that person's culture or history. In some ways, it felt like the author painted around Chief Seattle with details to establish historic context and fill in gaps. All in all, this is a poignant story about a time when colonists frequently ignored native american traditions and ways of life. Even though I love Seattle (the city), I didn't know it was named after this chief despite having visited several times in the past. While some parts are difficult to read about, if you live in America, this should be required reading. The style of writing is not the easiest, but the historical facts and information I gleaned help me feel a bit less ignorant -- so for that, 5 stars.
Profile Image for David Clemens.
61 reviews
April 24, 2020
i am one of the white people who have moved on, leaving the ashes and spirits of their fathers, just as my father before me moved and left his fathers ashes behind. Americans of two hundred years ago drove my ancestors off their land, forcing them to leave the United States and move to Canada to re-settle. My cynical nature suspects that during their re-settlement, they displaced the First Nation peoples living in southern Ontario, but thats another story. the author does a good job of exploring the story of Chief Seattle, weaving a complex fabric of history, legend and myth, pointing out many seeming variations and contradictions of his various sources. There are many portions of this story that are distressing and disturbing. The author has focused on those essences of Chief Seattle that are visible in the many scraps and versions of the histories that have survived.
Profile Image for Zach.
89 reviews1 follower
January 21, 2021
It's really easy to just say "oh yeah we live on stolen land" but that glosses over both the horror and the specificity of how Seattle was founded. I appreciated that the author took the time to balance out the frank racism of settler's accounts with careful sharing of native perspectives and sources. I feel like I learned a lot and understand the city I live in a lot better. It also recontextualizes a lot of the "underground tours", even the "adult at night" ones, a whole lot better than the tours themselves do.

That said, this is a dry frickin' read. It wants to be authoritative so I'm not sure it has any other choice. I lost track of all the people, all the tribes, all the locations.
Profile Image for Aven.
226 reviews
January 18, 2023
"If we believe that life and hope are greater than death, honouring his deeds, answering his request, and attending to his vision will be the proof."

While this is an interesting and relatively important book on the history of how the most famous city in Washington state came to be, it does unfortunately suffer from an incredibly dry and dense writing style. I've read textbooks that are easier to read. About 30% of the way through I wasn't sure I was going to be able to finish it but shear stubbornness won over. (Though I will credit Buerge's effort and research into how to correctly spell and say native names, such as chief Si'ahl of the dxʷdəwʔabš, it was really cool to see native languages written out and some of the sounds explained).
Profile Image for Maggie Moore.
53 reviews1 follower
February 19, 2020
Interesting first chapter, interesting last chapter... the middle was like reading an expository essay that never ends, so I guess this would be good if you were writing an essay. As a native Seattlite currently living on the Kitsap peninsula, I think the only thing that kept me going was the familiar locations. There is a much more interesting story hiding among the tedious details, but then again, the author warns us early on that he “won’t be romanticizing anything.” He was not kidding. I don’t know that that excuse satisfies my desire for more engaging narrative though. All in all, I think a highly fact driven person would like this book, but it wasn’t for me.
27 reviews
September 4, 2020
A long, detailed history. Besides learning a little about Chief Seattle, I learned there were at least 37 different Indigenous peoples living in Washington, mostly on Puget Sound, before the Hudson Bay Company and the “Bostons” (as American settlers were called) came and ran them off their lands. One of the larger clans, the Duwamish who lived on land that is now downtown Seattle, are still trying to be be recognized as a people. US government keeps denying them their recognition, mainly because they remain “landless.” Seattle and State of Washington also ignore them. Isn’t that ironical?
Profile Image for Kimberly.
23 reviews1 follower
January 1, 2023
Necessary book on Chief Seattle and the culture of local indigenous people during the colonization of Puget Sound. The biographic elements of Seattle's life are more sparse than I'd like, but to no fault of the author who clearly did his research. To that end, the book can be challenging to read, even as someone who LOVES readying history. The style is more academic than narrative, and reads very textbook at times. For that reason alone I knock a star, not because I think it diminishes the quality of the book overall, but as a heads up for future readers to be aware of going in.
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