1856 - Seattle Attacked by Native Americans
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
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.