The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek: A Tragic Clash Between White and Native America

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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.

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About the Author:

Richard Kluger is the author of Ashes to Ashes: America’s Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health, and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris, which won the Pulitzer Prize. His Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality and The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune both were finalists for the National Book Award. He is the author or coauthor of eight novels as well. He lives in Northern California.

www.richardkluger.com

Review:

"Richard Kluger has written ahalf-dozen novels, buthe's best known for telling true stories, hardstories, very well....  Of late, he appears to be drawn to the deep, the dark and the lethal inour past.  In Kluger's new book the scale issmall and the specificsunlikely to be familiar to most readers....."Kluger paints a colorfulportrait of two charismatic leaders in, atmost, partial control ofevents....  The fanatical Indian haters tend to steal the show inKluger's narrative.  Fortunately, he's canny enoughto realize what'slost in a one-sided telling, and compassionate enoughto make sense ofthe doings on all sides. "Kluger's recitation ofthese events can be seen as an upbeat refusal to treat a historicaltragedy asirredeemable.  Usually Indians tend to disappear fromhistory'snarratives about them - even when the blame for theirsuffering is placed on others.  The Nisqually, as Kluger shows, have not disappeared, and The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek is an eloquent account of a massacre's legacies as well as its history."

-- New York Times Book Review

"Upon reading Kluger's preface, I wondered why a person who wrote so wellabout the cigarette industryin Ashes to Ashes would write about asubject much of the Americanpublic would rather avoid...and I wonderedwhat Kluger could say thatwas new and insightful about a story hestumbled upon.
"...What followed,precipitated by the climate of prejudice and subsequent hostility, [is]horrifying, partly because theviolence could have been avoided.  Andhere is where Kluger's brillianceis apparent, for all along he hasshown what understanding andcommunications, absent single-minded greedand political expedience,could have accomplished: peace.  The [book]thus becomes more than justanother tragic story of the American Indian, more than a story ofvictory and defeat, of good and evil....  Hiscareful depictions createfor the reader a powerful human story, asnecessary today as ever, of the need for people to listen to oneanother, to stop and think whenconfronted, culturally and otherwise."

-- San Francisco Chronicle


"Meticulously researched, elegantly written and sophisticated, the bookuses this allbut forgotten episode in American history to give a humanface to theinjustices visited on Indians in treaty-making, on thebattlefield and,surprisingly, in the court room."

-- Minneapolis Star Tribune


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