President Franklin Pierce establishes the Muckleshoot Reservation by executive order on January 20, 1857.

  • By Antonia Kelleher
  • Posted 12/21/2016
  • Essay 20261
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On January 20, 1857, United States President Franklin Pierce (1804-1869) signs an executive order that formally establishes the Muckleshoot Reservation. The reservation will be expanded when President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) signs a new executive order on April 9, 1874. Members of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe are descendants of the Duwamish and Upper Puyallup people who lived in Central Puget Sound area prior to non-Native settlement. Their  reservation is located along the White River near the city of Auburn in south King County.

Origin of the Muckleshoot Reservation

Although an executive order in 1857 formally established the Muckleshoot Reservation, the Treaty of Medicine Creek had laid the groundwork for its creation a few years earlier. In 1853 Isaac I. Stevens (1818-1862) was selected by President Franklin Pierce as Washington Territory's first governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Acting in the latter role, Stevens instituted a series of treaty negotiations with local tribes. On December 26, 1854, 62 leaders of major tribes located in Western Washington signed the Treaty of Medicine Creek with Stevens. According to the treaty:

"the Nisqually, Puyallup, Steilacoom, Squawskin, S'Homamish, Stehchass, T'Peeksin, Squi-aitl, and Sa-heh-wamish tribes and bands of Indians, occupying the lands lying round the head of Puget's Sound and the adjacent inlets, ... for the purpose of this treaty, are to be regarded as one nation, on behalf of said tribes and bands, and duly authorized by them" ("Treaty With the Nisqualli, Puyallup, ... ").

As stipulated in the treaty, the tribes gave the federal government the majority of their lands in exchange for $32,500 to be paid over the course of several years, an immediate payment of $3,250 for resettlement, land for reservations, and the permanent right to fish and hunt at traditional sites. Article 6 of the Treaty of Medicine Creek authorized the president to move the Indians from the designated reservation lands to other suitable places within Washington Territory, a provision that would prove of great importance.  

Many Become One

Hostilities erupted soon after a series of treaties had been negotiated with tribes across the state. When the conflicts in Western Washington subsided, Stevens held a meeting at Fox Island with representative of several tribes who had also been present at the Medicine Creek parlay. At this meeting, alterations to the Treaty of Medicine Creek were agreed upon based on Stevens's conclusions that, "a permanent settlement of the Indians has not yet been effected under the treaty…" and "the locations named in the first article of the treaty were not altogether suitable for the purpose of establishing Indian colonies" ("Annual Report of the Commissioner … ," 372-373).

When the Muckleshoot Reservation was formally established in 1857, a number of Coast Salish bands came together to live there. These included the Skopamish, Smulkamish, Stkamish, Tkwakwamish, and Buklshuhl. After the federal government denied a Duwamish request for a reservation on the Duwamish River, some members of that tribe also moved to the Muckleshoot Reservation.

Certain changes that had been agreed to during the Fox Island meeting were not addressed in the original, 1857 executive order. The reservation area that was defined in that order included Muckleshoot Prairie, where there was a soon-to-be-abandoned military station. This would give the name to the reservation and to the tribe composed of the various bands who were to reside there. But other vital land areas between the White and Green rivers, including traditional fisheries and a village site, were not included, even though they had been agreed upon at Fox Island. For nearly two decades, efforts were made to correct this discrepancy.

Fulfilling the Promise

The Civil War and the tumultuous politics that followed prevented any further action on the Muckleshoot's outstanding land claims. By the time the second executive order relating to the Muckleshoot Reservation was signed in April 1874 by President Grant, the railroads had already been granted odd-numbered sections of land that should have been included in the reservation under the Fox Island agreements. Thus, when Grant expanded the Muckleshoot Reservation, he could include only the five remaining even-numbered sections, which extended diagonally along the White River:

"It is hereby ordered that the following tracks of land in Washington Territory, viz: Sections 2 and 12 of township 20 north, range 5 east, and sections 20, 28, and 34, of township 21 north, range 5 east, Willamette meridian, be withdrawn from sale or other disposition, and set apart as the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation … the same being supplemental to the action of the department approved by the President January 20, 1857." ("Annual Report of the Commissioner ... ," 372).

This second executive order expanded the reservation to 3,532.72 acres, but the inclusion of only even-numbered sections resulted in it having an irregular layout, with three square-shaped blocks of land joined corner to corner and a larger, roughly L-shaped section at the south end. The White River flows through all but the northernmost section of the reservation.

The Muckleshoot Since 1874

Until the early part of the twentieth century, the entire Muckleshoot Reservation was held in trust by the federal government. Between 1903 and 1904 reservation land was allotted by the government to the families living there, giving them full ownership. Because of high levels of poverty and a lack of economic opportunities on the reservation, many members had no other option than to sell their land. During the middle of the twentieth century, a substantial number of the allotments were sold to non-Indians.

Under the authorization of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe in 1936 established a constitution and bylaws that, among other things, guaranteed a Bill of Rights, defined membership requirements, established a governing body, and delineated land rights. The constitution was intended to enhance the "economic, educational, social and moral rehabilitation of the Indians in the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, the conservation and development of their resources for their common welfare, the ultimate attainment of self-support and political independence, and the furnishing of a responsible organized body through which government subsidy and control may be exercised so long as necessary" ("Constitution and Bylaws…," 1). At the time, the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs reported 194 members of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe.

In 1974, the opinion in United States v. Washington, 384 F. Supp. 312 (W.D. Wash. 1974), more commonly known as the Boldt Decision, was handed down. In it, Federal District Court Judge George Boldt (1903-1984) reaffirmed the treaty fishing rights of Washington state Indians. With this decision in place, the economies of several local reservations, including the Muckleshoot, began to grow.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe pursued a policy of reacquiring lands within the boundaries of its reservation that had been transferred to non-Indians. Recovering lands where the tribe had the right to hunt, fish, and gather gave tribal members the opportunity to have an expanded land base and to protect their natural resources.

Since the 1990s, the Muckleshoot Reservation has expanded its economic opportunities with bingo and casino gaming, the Muckleshoot Mini Mart, Muckleshoot Seafood Products, the Salish Tree Farm, the Salish Lodge & Spa (which the tribe purchased in 2007), and the White River Amphitheatre, among other undertakings. As of February 2008, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe had approximately 2,100 members. By 2009, the number of members located on or near the reservation had grown to 3,300. 








"Medicine Creek Indian Treaty Signed: Territorial Timeline," Legacy Washington, Washington State Secretary of State website accessed November 29, 2016 (; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Treaty of Medicine Creek, 1854," and "Muckleshoot Indian Tribe" (by Alan Stein) (accessed November 29, 2016); Constitution and Bylaws for the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe of the Muckleshoot Reservation, Washington: Approved May 13, 1936 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1936); Robert H. Ruby, John A. Brown, and Cary C. Collins, A Guide to the Indian Tribes of the Pacific Northwest, Third Edition (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010), 197- 201; "Treaty with the Nisqualli, Puyallup, etc., 1854," Oklahoma State University Digital Library website accessed December 14, 2016 (; "Executive Orders Relating to Indian Reserves," in Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Year 1886 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1886), 372; "Nisqually, Puyallup, and Muckleshoot Reserves," in Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Year 1886 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1886), 372-373; Reports of the Department of the Interior for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1918, Vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1919), 120; Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, Vol. 1 ed. by Charles J. Kappler (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1904), 920.

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