Not Ratified: This council failed to
produce a treaty
The Chehalis Council site. Drawing by James Swan, from his book Northwest Coast. Picture courtesy of the Washington State Historical Society.
A TREATY COUNCIL THAT FAILED
In December 1854 and January 1855, Governor Isaac I. Stevens and several other treaty commissioners negotiated treaties with most of the Indians in western Washington. Four treaties were concluded in rapid succession whereby the United States extinguished Indian title to most of the land in Washington Territory west of the Cascade Mountains.
A treaty council was scheduled for February 1855 on the Chehalis River at which Stevens expected to purchase Indian title to the rest of western Washington.
At the Chehalis River, Governor Stevens met the first concerted Indian resistance to his treaty negotiations in Washington Territory. For the first time during his whirlwind tour of treaty-making, he was not able to secure the necessary signatures from the Indian delegates.
For one week, from Saturday, February 24th through March 2nd, 1855, Governor Stevens and his treaty commission met with representatives of various Indian tribes living along the Pacific coast and in the southwestern part of Washington Territory.
At the Chehalis River treaty council there were representatives from the Quinault and Queets, from the north side of Gray's Harbor, from the Satsop, from the Lower Chehalis, Upper Chehalis, Shoalwater Bay, Chinook, and Cowlitz.
For a week, Governor Stevens and other members of the treaty commission tried to impose terms which the Indians found unacceptable.
For a week, the Indian representatives tried to persuade the Governor to negotiate those terms in order to reach a reasonable compromise.
The Indians offered to make considerable concessions.
The Governor refused to make any concessions.
Finally, the Quinault representatives and Governor Stevens signed the treaty. The rest did not.
Stevens abruptly broke up the council announcing that no treaty had been made and that none would be made.
In July, however, he sent a member of the treaty commission to the Quinault River to negotiate a separate treaty with the Quinault. Stevens signed that treaty at his office in Olympia in January 1856. It is known as the Treaty of Olympia.
Because they signed the Treaty of Olympia, the Quinault today have treaty rights. The rest of the Indians who were represented at the Chehalis River treaty council are not parties to any treaty and do not have treaty rights.
Ironically, the issues which Stevens refused to negotiate at the Chehalis River council and which caused the Cowlitz, Chinook, Chehalis and Shoalwater Bay Indians not to sign the Chehalis River treaty, were conceded in the Treaty of Olympia and by later Executive Orders.