American Indians

How Can You Buy or Sell The Earth?

In 1854, the United States Government offered to buy two million acres of Indian land in the Northwest. Below is a tranlation of Chief Sealth's (Seattle) reply to President Franklin Pierce in December of that year. It has been described as the most beautiful and prophetic statement on the environment ever made.

The Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. The Great Chief also sends us words of friendship and good will. This is kind of him, since we know he has little need of our friendship in return. But we will consider your offer.

How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?

Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing, and every humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man. So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land, he asks much of us...

This we know: All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. But we will consider your offer to go to the reservation you have for my people. We will live apart, and in peace.

One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover - our God is the same God. You may think now that you own Him as you wish to own our land: but you cannot.

He is the God of man; and His compassion is equal for the red man and the white. This earth is precious to Him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its Creator. The whites too shall pass; perhaps sooner than all other tribes. Continue to contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.

But in your perishing you will shine brightly, fired by the strength of the God who brought you to this land and for some special purpose gave you dominion over this land and over the red man. That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses are tamed, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. Where is the thicket? Gone. Where in the eagle? Gone. And what is it to say goodbye to the swift pony and the hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival. So we will consider your offer to buy the land.

If we agree, it will be to secure the reservation you have promised. There, perhaps, we may live out our brief days as we wish. When the last red man has vanished from the earth, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, these shores and forests will still hold the spirits of my people. For they love this earth as a newborne loves its mother's heartbeat. So, if we sell our land, love it as we've loved it. Care for it as we've cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you take it. And preserve it for your children, and love God loves us all. One thing we know. Our God is the same God. This earth is precious to Him. Even the white man cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all.

We shall see...


Muddy Creek, Washington County,
July 8, 1785

Dear Sir,

The following is a just and true account of the tragical scene of my family's falling by the savages, which I related, when at your house in Philadelphia, and you requested me to forward it in writing.

On the second Sabbath in May, in the year 1782, being my appointment at one of my meeting-houses, about a mile from my dwelling-house, I sat out, with my dear wife and five children, for public worship. Not suspecting any danger, I walked behind 200 yards, with my Bible in my hand, meditating. As I was thus employed, all of a sudden, I was greatly alarmed with the frightful shrieks of my dear family before me-I immediately ran with all the speed I could, vainly hunting a club as I ran, till I got within 40 yards of them-My poor wife, seeing me, cried to me to make my escape-An Indian ran up to shoot me-I had to strip, and by so doing out-ran him. My dear wife had a sucking child in her arms; this little innocent they killed and scalped; they then struck my wife at sundry time, but not getting her down, the Indian who aimed to shoot me ran to her, shot her through the body, and scalped her--My little boy, an only son, about six years old, they sunk a hatchet into his brain, and thus dispatched him. Another daughter, besides the infant, they also killed and scalped. My eldest daughter, who is yet alive, was hid in a tree, about 20 yards from the place where the rest were killed, and saw the whole proceedings-She, seeing the Indians all go off, as she thought, got up, and deliberately crept out from the hollow trunk; but one of them, espying her, ran hastily up, knocked her down, and scalped her-also her only surviving sister, on whose head they did not leave more than one inch round either of flesh or skin, besides taking a piece out of her skull. She, and the before mentioned one, are still miraculously preserved; tho', as you must think, I have had, and still have, a great deal of trouble and expense with them, besides anxiety about them; insomuch, that I am, as to worldly circumstances, almost ruined. I am yet in hopes of seeing them cured; they still (blessed be God) retain their senses, notwithstanding the painful operations through which they have already and must yet pass.--At the time I ran round to see what was become of my family, and found my dear and affectionate wife, with five children, all scalped in less than ten minutes from the first onset-no one, my dear brother, can conceive how I felt-This, you may well suppose, was killing to me-I instantly fainted away, and was borne off by a friend, who by this time had found us out. When I came to, oh! the anguish of my soul! I cried, Would to God I had died for them-Would to God I had died with them. Oh! how dark and mysterious did this trying providence then appear to me! But-

"Why should I grieve, when grieving I must bear?"

This, dear sir, is a faithful, though short, narrative of that fatal catastrope-and my life, admidst it all, (for what purpose, Jehovah only knows) redeemed from surrounding death--Oh! may I spend it to the praise and glory of his grace, who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. The government of the world, and of the church, is in his hands. May I be taught the important lesson of acquiescing in all his dispensations.--I conclude with wishing you every blessing, and subscribe myself,

Your affectionate, though afflicted, friend, and unworthy brother in the gospel ministry, JOHN CORBLY.

- The Salem Gazette, Salem, Mass., August 23, 1785


Copy of a letter from the Hanging Maw to
His Excellency Governor Blount.

Promontory below the junction of
Tennessee and Holsten May 25, 1794

Friend and Brother,

Castreel's family were killed by a fellow from Tallassee who had his mother killed. The white people came and killed six Indians, and our people are willing to drop it. The fellow who was sent by M'Kee was one of those killed at Tallassee. He was my relation, and it is forgotten - the death of my relation is to me as if he had died a natural death. I have sent to the Valleys, and they have all one talk, and that talk is peace. I wished to have seen you on this subject. A runner came from Tellico about the woman that was killed, and two children wounded, one of whom I expect is dead. And as the two men from the Big Town, above Tallassee, had killed one man, on Pigeon, they shall be forgotten. You and myself are both Head Men, and you shall hear every thing I know. I cannot hear any bad talks from any towns in the nation. We all want to get into our towns to make corn, as there are now no bad talks.

The Spaniards have always been persuading us to go to war; but that is over as we are determined not to take their talks. We listened to the Spanish talks a good while, but we have found them to be liars; and we are now determined to take the United States by the hand. You may expect, perhaps, that Watts will give our war talks when he returns; but I assure you he will not - His talks are for peace. The Turkey and Watts talk both the same way that they want no more war. The young fellows in the lower towns were foolish at first, and took the Spanish talks, but now their minds are changed. I want my mate, Gen. Sevier, to see my talks. John M'Donnal, who has never yet sent any talks, has sent word that the lower towns are for peace, and it may be relied upon; Wattts is coming up to his town; and has sent up word for M'Kee and myself to come down, where he will see and hear every thing. Our people must have their talk first; and M'Kee must hear it; and then you can appoint a time to hold a talk with us. The upper towns have always been for peace, and we are going to hold a talk with the lower towns, and we will be all as one people. We have often told lies, but now you may depend on hearing the truth.

I am, Brother,
Your's, &c.


- The Herald; A Gazette for the Country, New - York, July 17, 1794


Little Osage Village,
Aug. 20, 1820

We are glad that you sent us a paper and a good man to tell us about your men killing three of our men. They were good men, but they were killed for the bad men's faults. You say they began the quarrel; we do not know it. You call us Americans - then, when we go among the Americans and want victuals and to smoke the pipe, your children ought not to kill us. When your children come among us we give them meat, and corn, and tobacco, and use them like brothers - our great father told us to do so, and that his children would do the same to us. We want that you should send us the 5 guns, 1 bow and arrow, and 5 powder horns, that your men took from our men when they killed them. You demand the stolen horses and you shall have them. You tell us to open our eyes & to walk in the good road. Your men have killed 3 of our men, and we cannot walk in the good road, and let your men walk in the bad road. You are very exact to demand of us all the trifling things that our bad men have taken from Americans, and you shall have them, or an equivalent therefor. You cannot think hard when we demand the lives of our good men that your bad men have taken, or an equivalent therefor. We cannot now go to see you, but when you get a good road marked out, and get into it with your men, and send for us, we will go and see you, and give up all the horses and other property, and with pleasure walk the new and pleasant road, and smoke the pipe of peace like brothers. We cannot keep our young bad men from mischief, no better than you can keep your young bad men from mischief. We have done no fault, but are willing that all things should still be right. Your men make me cry by killing our men. But our men don't make you cry by killing your men. All the young men and warriors are very mad, and we can only cry. We have hard work to govern them.

We want that you should take good care of the wounded prisoner, till we go down and see you. We and you have walked in the good road - it may be that we have both missed it - if we have, we will try to find it, and both keep in it or out of it - but we hope in it. We want to say more, but we hope this is enough, in behalf of the chief warriors and head men of the Little Osage Village.

Principal Captain of the L. O. Village.

N. B. We thank you for the tobacco you sent us - it was not enough to give us all a smoke - we want that you should send us more the next time.

- National Intelligencer, Washington, October 4, 1820


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