Sicade, Henry (1866-1938)

  • By Miguel Douglas
  • Posted 3/08/2019
  • Essay 20735
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Puyallup Tribal member Henry Sicade successfully resided in two worlds during the tumultuous political and social era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the Pacific Northwest, which was no simple feat. Born in 1866, Sicade grew up just after the treaty negotiations between tribes and the U.S. government over ceding land had been resolved, leaving tribal communities to contend with continued assimilation and settlement efforts that affected their communities. Notwithstanding these barriers, Sicade used his intelligence to leverage political and social seats of power to bring about change for the Puyallup Tribal community while simultaneously retaining and reinforcing ties to his cultural identity.

Finding a Way Through Education

Henry Sicade was born February 12, 1866, in Lakeview in Eastern Washington, to Charles Sicade (1846-1879) and Susan Stann (1847-1882). Through his mother's side of the family, he came from a long line of tribal leaders. His mother's father was Chief Stann of the Puyallup Tribe and his great-grandfather was Smoo'-tass, chief of various tribes in northern Washington as well as parts of British Columbia. Sicade's first understanding of settlers came from his father Charles, who was a scout for American soldiers during the late nineteenth century and also worked for the Hudson's Bay Company, whose Nisqually-area cattle ranch employed tribal cowboys. He was able to transfer this knowledge to his son, who began slowly learning the ways and customs of the settlers. Henry was also taught to value supporting and giving back to the community, a concept he would carry with him for the rest of his life.

In 1869, Charles moved his family to Puyallup. Understanding the necessity for Native Americans to become educated in Western ways of thinking and doing, Charles wanted Henry to get a formal education. He saw that Native Americans needed to become educated to stay relevant in an ever-changing world and, quite simply, for survival. In 1873, Charles enrolled Henry in the Puyallup Indian School (later Cushman Indian School) located in Tacoma.

The Puyallup Indian School offered opportunities for Native Americans to learn, but it was also a center of assimilation efforts, attempting to teach Native American children the cultural ideologies of the dominant American society. And as a practical place of learning the school was highly inadequate, with classes only going up to the sixth grade and much of the school day devoted to chores instead of lessons. The poor quality of staffing, equipment, and supplies also made learning difficult. After Charles Sicade died in 1879, Henry and some other students left for Forest Grove, Oregon, to attend the Indian Training School, which later moved to Chemawa, Oregon. There he was able to complete four years of school work in less than three years.

The Cowboy Life

The death of Sicade's mother in 1882, when he was 16, forced him to return to Washington to look after family affairs. He first worked for a general contractor in Tacoma, doing small tasks and running errands to save money to further his education. During this time, he also became an accomplished carpenter and transitioned to carpentry work for more pay. He returned to Oregon in 1883 to attend Tualatin Academy (present-day Pacific University), continuing to work to support himself. In addition to academics, Sicade enrolled in the academy's military training program. He participated in the training for two years, until he was advised by a doctor to leave his studies to recover his failing health. Sicade did just that, deciding in 1886 to go live with a small group of cowboys in Pasco in Eastern Washington. He later learned that he had suffered from tuberculosis, and he believed his decision to leave his military training saved his life.

As an outsider in Pasco, Sicade had to prove himself through a series of tests in horsemanship to become a cowboy, eventually landing the position of advance scout, going forth to survey lands ahead of the arrival of livestock herds. He and a group of cowboys headed east toward South Dakota. During his travels, Sicade came into contact with many other Natives from various tribes, and he saw the poor conditions in which they lived. He would go on to travel to Nebraska, Wisconsin, New York, Michigan, Ontario, and Chicago.

Hearing word of the introduction of the Dawes Act, a federal law that essentially broke up tribal reservations into individual allotments of land that non-Natives would eventually be allowed to purchase, Sicade was aware that the 122-acre lot provided to his parents under the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854 could be in peril, and in 1886 decided to make the journey back to Tacoma from Chicago. Under the Medicine Creek Treaty, members of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians were able to hold individual or family lots, unlike in most other reservation-based systems found in Native American tribes across the United States. Sicade wanted to personally attend to any land-ownership issues that could arise from the implementation of the Dawes Act, which was passed by Congress in 1887, knowing full well of deceitful methods used in the past to steal land from Native Americans. But by the time he returned in 1887, he discovered that the claim on his parents' lot, as reinterpreted through the Dawes Act, had been misinterpreted by land-survey officials, leading to Sicade to not receiving any property at all. 

A Voice for Those Who Do Not Have One

Using the painful experience of his parents' lost allotment, Sicade became an advocate for Native Americans in the area. He championed justice for them in the courts, knowing full well the ill-treatment he and others had received due to racial prejudices and ignorance on the part of non-Native judges, attorneys, and businesses at the time. Regular practices by Native Americans, such as foraging for berries and innocently wandering into the property of a non-Native, were significant offenses in the court system, with many Native Americans on the receiving end of harsh rulings and penalties. Sicade worked tirelessly to expose these mishandlings, earning recognition both within and outside the Native community. The City of Tacoma offered him a position as a liaison to local Native Americans, which he enthusiastically took.

Upon taking the offer, Sicade began working to remedy many of the injustices he had witnessed. He had seen how government officials, politicians, and businesses had worked to steal property owned by Native Americans as well as tribal funding that should be theirs. His persistence in the pursuit of justice and exposing practices of deceit brought pushback by local government officials who tried to make up give up the position, but he remained diligent.

Sicade helped Native Americans get hired into work positions such as road and bridge construction, advocating on their behalf and making sure that they did not get mistreated on the job. He went as far as to suggest and implement measures to make Native Americans the only hired workers for a job, reasoning that they were the poorest and most in need of employment opportunities.

Sicade's position as a liaison began to affect his health, already undermined by his earlier illness. He witnessed mistreatment after mistreatment, and it was incredibly challenging to help everyone in need. After the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, Sicade decided to relinquish his position as Native liaison for a job assessing the damage done in Seattle. Upon arriving in Seattle, however, he was offered another job, this time working for Snoqualmie-area farmers to find seasonal hop pickers. He traveled to Oregon, Alaska, California, and even British Columbia. Sicade worked at the job for three years before he returned to Puyallup in 1892. He had been offered a job with the federal government, this time working as an Indian agent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Given his previous experiences with government as a worker and as a recipient of federal initiatives, he turned it down.

Returning to Education as a Tool for Communal Change

Sicade moved to Fife, in Pierce County east of Tacoma, in 1898, a place that was close to him due to his family lineage. There he met his wife, Alice Lane (1877-1965), who herself was the daughter of a chief of the Puyallup Tribe, Thomas Lane. Sicade was instrumental in founding Fife's public school system in 1899, going on to become its director. Continuing with his endeavors in education, Sicade wanted to do something that would provide a solution for the inadequacies he and others had experienced at the Puyallup Indian School. With his friend William Henry Wilton (1862-1937), Sicade opened a new public school in 1903 in Fife to serve both tribal and non-tribal students. The school was soon a huge success with many students wanting to attend, leading to its expansion from a single-room class to a two-story building in three years.

Due to its growth and the decisions by Puyallup parents to send their children there instead of to the Puyallup Indian School, by 1908 intense pressure from the Office of Indian Affairs led to the decision to close the Puyallup Indian School. Republican U.S. Representative Francis Cushman (1867-1909) of Tacoma stepped in to prevent the closure. The Puyallup Indian School was renamed in 1910 as the Cushman Indian School, honoring Cushman's role in saving it from closure. The federal government wanted the school to prioritize industrial training rather than traditional academic learning. The increasing emphasis on conventional public schooling for children made this ineffective. Due to lack of funding and periodic gaps in instruction, the Cushman Indian School closed in 1920. The Fife School District -- along with the tribal-run Chief Leschi Schools that opened in 1976 -- continues serving students.

Henry Sicade had worked hard to see that his tribe prospered, as a 46-year member of the Puyallup Tribal Council, beginning at age 17, in addition to his longtime work with the Fife public schools system. He oversaw the construction of two tribal cemeteries and tribal investments of $25,000 in United States government bonds. Building on his academic experiences, he continued his work as a lobbyist for Indian Country, traveling to Washington, D.C., on several occasions to deal with tribal issues as well as representing and being a voice for Native Americans everywhere. He understood the need to be of two worlds to help his people, using what he had learned from both to bring about positive change to his community and beyond. Sicade died on December 14, 1938, leaving behind a legacy of charity, selflessness, and determination to improve his community, and those around him, that persists to this day.


Vine Deloria Jr., Steve Pavlik, and Billy Frank Jr., Indians of the Pacific Northwest: From the Coming of the White Man to the Present Day (Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 2012); Alexandra Harmon and John Borrows, The Power of Promises: Rethinking Indian Treaties in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008); Lisa Blee, Framing Chief Leschi: Narratives and Politics of Historical Justice (North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2014); Paul Fridlund, Washington's Story: The Conquest (Puyallup: P. Fridlund, 2003); Robert Ruby and John Brown, A Guide to the Indian Tribes of the Pacific Northwest (Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986); Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Mashel (sometimes Maxon) Massacre, (March 1856)" (by Stephen B. Emerson) (accessed December 19, 2018);"Henry Sicade," Fife Public Schools website accessed October 24, 2018 (; "Hard Lessons in America: Henry Sicade's History of Puyallup Indian School, 1860 to 1920," ed. by Cary C. Collins, Columbia: The Magazine of Northwest History, Vol. 14, No. 4 (Winter 2000-2001).

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