Chief Seattle (Skokomish)born about 1790, died June 7, 1866
An article in the Seattle Sunday Star, of October 29, 1887, by Dr. Henry A. Smith describes Seattle in detail and talks about his influence over the Skokomish tribe. He describes the indians' welcoming reception for Governor Stevens (the new Appointee for the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for Washington Territory). It was held in front of Dr. Maynard's office (Seattle's friend and liason) near the waterfront on Main Street. He says: "The bay swarmed with canoes and the shore was lined with a living mass of swaying, writhing, dusky humanity, until Old Chief Seattle's trumpet-toned voice rolled over the immense multitude like the reveille of a bass drum, when silence became as instantaneous and perfect as that which follows a clap of thunder from a clear sky."
He then describes a speech made by Seattle. Parts of it are different than the speech quoted in the High Country News, August, 1971 that is posted currently in these pages. There are parts that have been left out of recent versions that are actually more moving. There are extended passages, though, that are identical. The Star article is posted in its entirety at Per-Olof's in Denmark.
Washington State Library,
Olympia, Washington letterhead (1993)
Version 1 appeared in the Seattle Sunday Star on Oct. 29, 1887, in a column by Dr. Henry A. Smith. He makes it very clear that his version is not an exact copy, but rather the best he could put together from notes taken at the time. There is an undecided historical argument on which native dialect the Chief would have used, Duwamish or Suquamish. Either way all agree the speech was translated into the Chinook Jargon on the spot, since Chief Seattle never learned to speak English.
[Version 1 begins: Yonder sky has wept tears of compassion on our fathers for centuries untold, and which, to us, looks eternal, may change. To-day it is fair, to-morrow it may be overcast with clouds. My words are like the stars that never set. ...]
Version 2 was written by poet William Arrowsmith in the late 1960s.
This was an attempt to put the text into more current speech patterns, rather than Dr.
Smith's more flowery Victorian style. Except for this modernization, it is very similar to
Version 3 is perhaps the most widely known of all. This version was
written by Texas professor Ted Perry as part of a film script. The makers of the film took
a little literary license, further changing the speech and making it into a letter to
President Franklin Pierce, which has been frequently reprinted. No such letter was ever
written by or for Chief Seattle.
Version 4 appeared in an exhibit at Expo '74 in Spokane, Washington, and is a shortened edition of Dr. Perry's script (Version 3).
[Version 4 begins: The President in Washington sends word that wishes to buy our land. Buy our land! But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. ...] ...
The best description of the saga of Chief Seattle's speech can be found in an essay by Rudolf Kaiser: "Chief Seattle's Speech(es): American Origins and European Reception" published in Recovering the Word: Essays on Native American Literature by the University of California Press, 1987. Another excellent discussion appears in David Buerge's article "Seattle's King Arthur: How Chief Seattle continues to inspire his many admirers to put words in his mouth," appearing in the July 17, 1991 Seattle Weekly.