Today he is called "Chief" Seattle, but there were no hereditary chiefs among the Puget Sound Indians. There were, however, fishing leaders, peacetime leaders, and leaders in times of crisis. Seattle was one of those.
In addition to his leadership skills and his ability to understand what the white settlers' intentions were, Seattle also was a noted orator in his native language.
Seattle's father, Schweabe, was a Suquamish leader who lived on Bainbridge Island, across Puget Sound from the present city of Seattle, Washington. However, Chief Seattle was considered to be a member of the Duwamish tribe, which lived on a river in southwest Seattle, across Puget Sound from the Suquamish tribe. His mother, Scholitza, was the daughter of a Duwamish leader, and the line of descent among the Duwamish traditionally runs through the matrilineal side.
In 1792, the young Seattle saw the first Englishmen to visit the Puget Sound area: Captain George Vancouver and his sailors, when they anchored their ships off the southeast corner of Bainbridge Island.
As a young warrior, Seattle was known for his courage, daring, and leadership in battle. He gained control of six local tribes and continued the friendly relations with local Europeans that his father began.
Seattle was intrigued by Europeans and their culture, and he became good friends with Doc Maynard, the progressive, hard-drinking entrepreneur, who more than anyone helped to establish the city of Seattle. In fact, Seattle saved Doc Maynard from an assassination attempt by another Native American.
Seattle also helped to protect the small band of European-American settlers, in what is now the city of Seattle, from attacks by other Indians. Because of his friendship and help, the settlers named their city after him, at the urging of Doc Maynard.
Following the death of one of his sons, Seattle sought and received baptism in the Roman Catholic Church, probably in 1848, near Olympia, Washington. His children were also baptized and raised in the faith, and his conversion marked his emergence as a leader seeking cooperation with incoming American settlers.
At the presentation of treaty proposals in December 1854, the aging Chief Seattle delivered a speech in downtown Seattle that is widely remembered today. When Seattle died on June 7, 1866, on the Suquamish Reservation at Port Madison, Washington, treaty protests were still going on.
The life of Chief Seattle has exerted considerable influence on worldwide impressions of American Indians. His daughter, called Princess Angeline by local European-Americans, lived out her old age in a waterfront shack in downtown Seattle.
A young portrait photographer, Edward S. Curtis, often saw Princess Angeline in downtown Seattle. He became fascinated by her, talked with her often, and photographed her.
See also Significant Native American Leaders table