Chief Kamiakin


Drawing by Gustav Sohon (1855)
Born Kamiakin: "He won't go"
near Starbuck, Washington
Died 1877
Rock Lake (Washington), Washington
Occupation Chief
Known for Leading resistance against encroaching settlers

Chief Kamiakin (1800–1877) was a leader of the Yakama, Palouse, and Klickitat.


Early years

Kamiakin was born about 1800 near present-day Starbuck, Washington.[1] His name means "He Won't Go" derived from ka ("no") - miah ("to go") - kamman ("to want").[2] His father was a member of the Palouse tribe named Ja-ya-yah-e-ha (also known as Ki-yi-yah[3] or Si-Yi[4]) and his mother was a daughter of chief We-ow-wicht of the Yakama tribe. His mother went by the name Spotted Fawn (Ka-e-mox-nith[5] also known as Kah Mash Ni[4]). Kamiakin had two brothers, one named Skloom [6] and the other Show-a-way (also known as Ice).[7] When Kamiakin's father decided to take on another wife, his mother returned to the Yakama taking him and his brother Skloom with her.[4]

Kamiakin planted one of the first gardens in the area at his home in Ahtanum. He was one of the first in the area to use irrigation. The use of irrigation can be traced to 1850 when Kamiakin met a Catholic priest in Walla Walla. Two newly ordained priests, Father Charles M. Pandosy and Father Louis Joseph d'herbomez, accepted land from Kamiakin for a mission to be established on his property, resulting in the founding of the Saint Joseph Mission at Ahtanum creek on April 3, 1852.[8] There, they taught the tribe about the Catholic faith, as well as irrigation techniques. Many of Kamiakin's people were baptized as Catholics by the two priests, including Kamiakin's children.[9]

Kamiakin had five wives. His first was Sunkhaye (Salkow), who was the daughter of the Yakama chief Teias. He also married four women from the family of chief Tenax (Tennaks) of the Klickitat, with his fifth wife being the "warrior woman" named Colestah. These subsequent marriages to members of the Tenax family defied Yakama tribal custom and caused friction among his blood relatives. By marrying thus, however, Kamiakin extended his power base among other tribes of the Northwest.[10]

Yakima War

The new Washington Territory governor, Isaac Stevens, spearheaded an ill-fated treaty process by threatening to remove the natives by force if they didn't sell their lands. Kamiakin began to organize immediately, allying himself with the chiefs Peo-peo-mox-mox (Yellow Bird) of the Walla Walla, and Allalimya Takanin (Looking Glass) of the Nez Perce. He eventually formed an alliance with a total of 14 tribes living on the Columbia plateau. The alliance was formed in order to resist American settlers and government officials in the Washington Territory. The hostilities are referred to as The Yakima Indian War of 1855.

Kamiakin convened a council with representatives from all of the tribes in the Grande Ronde Valley in Eastern Oregon in 1855 in order to discuss how best to deal with the invaders and keep their lands. Governor Stevens was tipped off about the meeting when Lawyer, a Nez Perce, informed him of the decisions made by the tribal representatives. At the subsequent Walla Walla Council, when Kamiakin arrived, he noticed the large number of Nez Perce and U.S. Government officials and realized his confidences had been betrayed. Stephens had used the information about the earlier meeting to marshal support for establishing reservations amongst the wavering tribal factions. When Oregon's Superintendent of Indian Affairs asked Kamiakin to speak, the proud Yakama refused. The other chiefs eventually pressured Kamiakin into signing the treaty "as an act of peace" that established the Yakima reservation.[11][12]

Kamiakin led a band of warriors into the first engagement of the War when on October 4 and 5, 1855, he defeated a force of 84 soldiers led by Major Haller near Simcoe Valley. Kamiakin was also instrumental in the final battle of the War. On September 5, 1858, Colonel George Wright, with a force of 700 soldiers, defeated Kamiakin and his warriors at the Battle of Four Lakes.[13] Kamiakin was wounded in the battle when he was struck by a pine tree felled by cannon fire. Colestah is reported to have saved her husband from capture by the U.S. soldiers. In the end, Kamiakin was the only chief who refused to surrender, escaping to Kootenai, British Columbia, then to Montana where he lived with the Flathead tribe.[11]

Final years

In 1860, he returned to his home on the Palouse River. Following the death of Colestah in 1864, he then moved to his father's homeland near Rock Lake (Washington) in Washington. Ranchers led by William Henderson repeatedly tried to drive Kamiakin from his ancestral lands, but superintendent of Indian Affairs, Robert Milroy, intervened and vowed (successfully) to allow Kamiakin to live out his days there. On at least two occasions Kamiakin was offered food and clothing by local Indian agents, charity which he steadfastly refused.[11]

The day before he died (sometime in 1877) he was baptized a Catholic and given the name "Matthew."[14] The year following his death, according to his people's customs, Kamiakin's grave was opened by his son (Tesh Palouse Ka-mi-akin) and his body was wrapped in a new blanket. Several years later, when he was exhumed in order to be reburied elsewhere, it was discovered that "the head and shoulders had been cut off and removed" [15] probably for "public exhibition as a curiousity." [16] Historian Clifford Trafzer states that friends of Kamiakin were able to retrieve these relics.[11] In any case, what was left of his remains were finally interred at Nespelem, Washington, a village he had originally founded.

Schools named after Kamiakin

There are at least four schools named for Chief Kamiakin:

See also


  1. ^ Ruby, p. 365.
  2. ^ Dockstader, p. 132
  3. ^ Splawn, pp. 4-5
  4. ^ a b c Ruby, p. 365
  5. ^ Splawn, p. 5
  6. ^ Splawn, p. 12
  7. ^ Splawn, p. 42
  8. ^ essay 5285.
  9. ^ essay 5288.
  10. ^ Trafzer, pp. 312-313
  11. ^ a b c d Trafzer, p. 313
  12. ^ Kamiakin, Head Chief of the Yakimas (Treaty Trail)
  13. ^ Mooney, p. 648
  14. ^ Ruby, p. 366
  15. ^ Splawn, p. 121
  16. ^ Dockstader, p. 133


  • Dockstader, Frederick J. "Kamaiakin" IN Great North American Indians: Profiles in Life and Leadership. New York : Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1977 (OCLC 3167970)
  • Mooney, James. "Kamaiakan" IN Handbook of American Indians north of Mexico Washington : G.P.O., 1907–1910, vol. 1 (OCLC 26478613)
  • Ruby, Robert H. "Kamiakin" IN American national biography New York : Oxford University Press, 1999, vol. 12 (OCLC 39182280)
  • Trafzer, Clifford. "Kamiakin" IN Encyclopedia of North American Indians, New York : Houghton Mifflin Co., 1996 (OCLC 34669430)

External links

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