So Sorry Chief Seattle


James Wheh’s sculpture of Cheif Seattle at Tilikum Place, 5th Ave and Denny Way (1920)

I read a story as of late about the naming of the town we call Seattle that just hurt to read.

In the 1850s there was a Suquamish Native American called Chief Sealth, who was friendly with white settlers in his area.  They called him Cheif Seattle.  His tribe traded regularly with the settlers and Chief Sealth encouraged Dr. David Maynard to open up a store at the little settlement of Duwanmps.  Dr. Maynard decided he would be really nice and name the area “Seattle” after the kind chief who helped him.

Unfortunately a tribal custom of the Suquamish forbade naming a place after someone living because it offended the guardian spirit.  Chief Sealth viewed it at as an attack.  When the settlers refused to change the name from Seattle, the chief asked them for gifts to repay him what what it was  going to cost him in the next life.  They refused to do that too.

Ultimately the tribe was driven from their homeland onto the Port Madison Indian Reservation.  So much for those friendly folks we were trading with and that we named the city after.  I’ve lived in Seattle and love the place, but admit that saying the name now gives me pause.  I doubt they would like to go back to calling the city “Duwanmps.”  Free trade for the Suquamish cost them everything.

We've even used him in our graphic design to sell apples. Is it just me or does he look more like Beethoven or a pilgrim than a Native American?


(Info from Uncle John’s Biggest Ever Bathroom Reader- a book full of interesting surprises.  I’m serious!)

About abiggerworldyet

Visual Artist Brother Sojourner College Professor Christ follower
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2 Responses to So Sorry Chief Seattle

  1. Kathy Farmer says:

    Yes…..Uncle John’s can be quite informative. So sorry to hear about the naming of Seattle….”the bluest skies you’ve ever seen are in Seattle” etc…..

    Also…saw a link to the “cake” artist Thibaud…really interesting….like his take on humor.


  2. Kaitlin says:

    Thank you for posting this. Seattle is my home town, or at least the closest thing I have to one. Human history it tainted with terrible events. However the present may not be too much better. Was this discovery brought about by exploring public sculpture? The Alison Saar exhibit continues to grow in meaning for me, especially the piece York. I had no idea what that was about before I read the memo in the magazine.

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