I miss the Treaty Tree, even though the closest I ever got to it was the southbound lanes of Interstate 5 as they climb from the Nisqually Delta.
It was a snag more than a tree, killed by a cold snap in 1979. But its bare and jagged top was high enough to mark what remained of the grove where Territorial Gov. Issac Stevens and leaders of the South Puget Sound tribes met and signed the Medicine Creek Treaty in 1854.
This wasnt just any treaty. Medicine Creek was the first treaty with Western Washington tribes, establishing the reservations of the Nisqually, Squaxin Island and Puyallup tribes while transferring 2.2 million acres of land to the federal government. Unhappiness with the terms and especially the hillside location of his tribes reservation led to resistance by Nisqually Chief Leschi. The tribe lost the resulting war but did gain a revision of its reservation boundaries to include its current land on the river. Leschi was the final casualty, being unjustly tried and executed despite objections from federal soldiers.
The treaty gave the tribal members rights to fish, hunt and gather in their usual and accustomed places in common with all citizens of the territory language interpreted in the so-called Boldt court decision as reserving half the fish catch for treaty Indians.
This was a spot where history was made that affects both native and nonnative people to this day, said Lacey historian Drew Crooks. When I-5 was built, it was engineered to avoid the grove of Douglas fir on what is now called McAllister Creek, though it might have been too close for the long-term health of the trees, and just one remained.
It was great when we had visitors to be able to point and say Thats where our treaty was signed, said current Nisqually Chairman Cynthia Iyall, a descendent of Leschi.
But nearly six years ago, another storm completed what the 1979 storm set in process. Among the first to notice its absence from the tree line west of the freeway was state forester Ken Russell. He and Olympian columnist John Dodge hiked into the now-remote edge of the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge and found the shattered remains.
A short time later, a team from the state and the refuge ventured in by boat and collected what it could. The largest piece was small enough for me to pick up and put over my shoulder, said Department of Transportation landscape architect Ed Winkley.
It was sort of shocking, recalled refuge manager Jean Takekawa of the damaged remains. You wouldnt know there was a tree there.
The biggest chunk was presented to the Nisqually Tribe. At the time, Iyall said the tribe was discussing ways to use it to commemorate the tree and the treaty it came to symbolize. While the treaty had once been seen as the start of the tribes decline, it is now symbolic of its campaign to defend its treaty rights and the newfound self-sufficiency that effort has produced.
Its taken time for the tribe to be in a place to reach self-sufficiency, she said. It was a long journey.
But hopes of marking the place where the treaty was signed or using the wood for a bench or a marker have not been realized. The remains are kept in the tribes archives but are too large to fit in display cases. And the place on the creek is difficult to reach, especially as the delta returns to a natural state.
Takekawa described it as a difficult hike through off-limits sections of the refuge and blackberry patches.
At certain tides, its underwater, she said. It can be reached by boat up the creek, but that, too, would require a very high tide.
A person would have to take you there, she said. Youd have a hard time finding it.
The tribe does have one daily reminder, however. In a quiet corner outside tribal headquarters is a small Douglas fir, planted six years ago. It is one of several started from seeds of trees surrounding the Treaty Tree, trees that were themselves grown from seeds taken from the Treaty Tree in 1975.
The spirit of the tree lives, said Iyall.
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657