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1856 - Seattle Attacked by Native Americans

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On the morning of January 26, 1856, after months of raids and clashes with federal troops in southern King County, Native Americans attack Seattle. Previously warned by friendly natives, most settlers had barricaded themselves in a blockhouse. The attackers are driven off by artillery fire and by Marines from the U.S. Navy sloop-of-war Decatur, anchored in Elliott Bay. Two settlers and an unknown number of raiders perish in the all-day "Battle of Seattle."

RIGHT: Drawing of Seattle residents heading to the blockhouse for safty.

Conflicting reports credit Chief Seattle (178?-1866) and his daughter Angeline (1820-1896), among other friendly natives, for warning Seattle's 50 or so white residents that an attack was imminent. They and many refugees from previous attacks in southern King County took shelter in a blockhouse at Cherry Street and 1st Avenue. The village also teemed with hundreds of friendly natives.

Further protection was afforded by the U.S. Navy sloop-of-war Decatur, which had anchored in Elliott Bay the previous fall. In response to warnings, her commander, Capt. Guert Gansevoort, ordered Marines ashore early on the morning of January 26. They lobbed a howitzer shell at a suspected enemy position on the forested crest of First Hill at about 8:30 a.m., and raiders replied with a fusillade of rifle.

Sporadic exchanges of fire continued until noon, when both sides paused to have lunch. Desultory duels then resumed and continued until 10 p.m., when the attackers finally retreated back toward Lake Washington. Two settlers were killed, Milton G. Holgate and Robert Wilson. Although survivors estimated that 200 of 1,000 attackers had also fallen, no bodies or traces of blood were found to verify any Native American casualties.

Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens and others blamed that attack on Nisqually Chief Leschi and Klickitat /Yakima Chief Owhi, both of whom were later captured. Owhi was killed at Fort Walla Walla while trying to escape in late September 1856. Leschi eluded capture a little longer, thanks in part to the non-cooperation of settlers who felt he had been falsely accused of unrelated murders. Despite a strenuous, year-long defense to save his life (argued in part by Bing Crosby's grandfather, H. R. Crosby), Leschi was hanged at Fort Steilacoom on February 19, 1858.

Settlers in present-day King County were never again molested, but the Battle of Seattle shook the confidence of some pioneers. In 1857, Dr. David Maynard (1808-1873), who had helped put Seattle on the map and served as King County's Indian Sub-agent, exchanged his claim to present-day Pioneer Square for Charles Terry's holdings in West Seattle, and thereby traded away a potential real estate fortune for a fleeting sense of security.

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