Book Review:
Finding Chief Kamiakin: The Life and Legacy of a Northwest Patriot

  • Posted 5/28/2009
  • Essay 9015
by Richard D. Scheuerman and Michael O. Finley; photography by John Clement
WSU Press, 2008
Paperback, 248 pages
Photographs, Maps, Drawings, Notes, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-87422-297-5

This comprehensive account of the nineteenth-century Yakama leader Kamiakin is much more than the biography of one man.  Drawing on traditional Yakama knowledge and oral histories, as well as extensive archival research, historians Richard Scheuerman of Seattle Pacific University and Michael Finley of the Colville Confederated Tribes recount not only Kamiakin’s life and efforts to preserve his people and their culture, but also the story of subsequent generations who continued those efforts through the twentieth century.  

Kamiakin was born around 1800 to a Palouse father and the daughter of a prominent Yakama chief.  During his lifetime, contact with Euro-Americans brought many changes.  Kamiakin added cattle to his horse herds and raised potatoes, corn, squash, and pumpkins in irrigated gardens at his Ahtanum Creek home.  He welcomed Catholic missionaries and baptized his children in that faith (but declined to give up the tradition of having several wives). 

Indian-white relations deteriorated in the 1850s as American settlement increased.  Kamiakin reluctantly signed the Yakima Treaty of 1855, which ultimately ensured the Yakamas one of the largest reservations in Washington state, but whose immediate aftermath was war, not peace.  As white incursions into the land reserved for the Yakamas continued, Kamiakin joined other leaders of Columbia Plateau tribes in the 1855-1858 conflict with the U.S. military.   

After the Indian defeat in 1858 and several difficult years of exile in Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains, Kamiakin and his family settled in the Palouse lands of his father’s family.  Kamiakin refused to live on a reservation and never returned to the Yakama country, but he advised his children to move to the Colville Reservation to the north.  Many did, and they and their descendants became leaders in the Colville community, working to preserve and revive their heritage and to keep alive the story of Kamiakin and his people that is now ably told in this important work. 

Finding Chief Kamiakin is lavishly illustrated. In addition to John Clement’s wonderful color photographs of the diverse landscapes of Kamiakin’s homeland, it features helpful maps and scores of historic photographs and drawings.  (Indeed, the profusion of maps, drawings, and photographs is such that a list of illustrations, making them easier to locate, would be a useful addition to the book.) 

By Kit Oldham, May 28, 2009

Submitted: 5/28/2009

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You