Who Was Chief Seattle?
Chief Seattle wrote nothing down during his life, yet his words—both real and imagined—are known throughout the world. The result is a man made up of both historical and fictional aspects, from which conflicting messages can be gleaned.
David M. Buerge, a biographer and a historian to the Duwamish Tribe, Seattle’s mother’s people, spent more than 20 years exploring the man from a variety of sources to reveal a leader of epic character. He was a warrior, an orator, a benefactor, and a visionary who helped found the city that bears his name, Seattle, the largest city in the world named after a Native American.
Chief Seattle’s vision was ambitious: a prosperous, multiracial city. But toward the end of Seattle’s life, he saw that vision become a tragedy. In the current century, is Seattle the city edging any closer to the vision of Seattle the man? Buerge explores this complex figure to uncover how one man’s story still shapes the identity of the city.
Buerge, a historian, teacher, and writer, has been researching the pre- and early history of the City of Seattle since the mid-1970s. He has published fourteen books of history and biography.
Funded project of Humanities Washington, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.