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Old 01-06-2005, 11:30 PM   #1
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chief leschi's name restored

Chief Leschi's Name Restored

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Chief Leschi's Name Restored

Posted: January 04, 2005
by: Redwing Cloud

Photo by Redwing Cloud -- Sherman Leschi, posing by his ancestor's portrait
in 2001, was the last living male descendant of Chief Leschi who was hanged
for murder in 1858. Sherman Leschi initiated the court hearings that finally
exonerated him of any wrongdoing on Dec. 10, 2004.

OLYMPIA, Wash. - The dignified women stood and watched with tearful eyes as
their friend, leader and relation was hanged for a murder he did not commit.
They were brave to stand there as the massacre of 35 of their children, aunties,
grandmothers and sisters was still fresh in their memories, having occurred
less than a year before. However, they couldn't let Leschi go on his long
journey home with none of his beloved people around.

As they listened to his heartbreaking words, proclaiming his innocence and
his passionate pleas for his people to remember, they vowed in their hearts to
pass the truth down from generation to generation.

''Whatever the future holds, do not forget who you are. Teach your children,
teach your children's children, and then teach their children also. Teach them
the pride of a great people ... A time will come again when they will
celebrate together with joy. When that happens my spirit will be there with you,''
said Chief Leschi of the Nisqually Tribe.

Chief Leschi was hanged Feb. 19, 1858 for the murder of militiaman A.B.
Moses, in Steilacoom, Wash. He was the first person to be charged with murder in
the Washington Territory.

Christmas Day 1854 sparked the horrific miscarriage of justice that echoed
through time. ''Washington Territorial Governor Isaac I. Stevens was appointed
by the U.S. government to negotiate for peace and goods in exchange for the
Indian's land and resources. Stevens drew up the Medicine Creek Treaty that was
the first treaty on the west side of the Cascades. He offered the Nisquallys
1,230 acres of hillside, rocky terrain that could not sustain the lives of the
people and also added the provision that if the whites needed the land more
than the Indians, they could take it back. The exchange was for a million-plus
acres belonging to the Nisquallys, Puyallup and Squaxin Island tribes,'' said
Nisqually elder Billy Frank Jr.

Stevens had heard of the benevolence of Leschi and his brother Quiemuth. He
appointed them to deal with negotiations. Puyallup tribal member Connie McCloud
said, ''In order to stand as a chief, Leschi had to care for his own family
and his own people. The language of the Europeans speaks of him as benevolent,
which means he was able to take care of his people.''

Leschi and Quiemuth refused to sign the treaty. There is speculation that
Stevens then forged the Xs that represented their signatures. It was the first
treaty and his reputation was at stake. To Stevens this refusal was tantamount
to treason and, therefore, deserving of execution. Nisqually historian Cecilia
Carpenter stated, ''I have two written interviews with people that were at the
treaty signing that clearly state Leschi and Quiemuth did not sign the treaty
and were angry with the offer.''

Word of Steven's hatred spread through his militia volunteers. They had heard
of the wealth of Leschi and Quiemuth and were jealous. Carpenter said, ''The
white community was poor. Their best means of support was killing Indians in
the voluntary militia set up by Stevens and financed through monies that were
designated because the Medicine Creek Treaty had been ratified.''

These volunteers were wreaking havoc on the Indian communities. Indians
retaliated with an ambush and A.B. Moses was killed. Leschi and Quiemuth were
accused of the killings and indicted for murder. Quiemuth turned himself in to
Stevens at the Governor's mansion and was stabbed and shot the same night as he
lay sleeping. Leschi was caught Nov. 14, 1856, and tried three days later. The
indecisive jury caused a second trial to be held in March 1857 where he was
found guilty. ''There was only one prosecution witness, Antonio B. Rabbeson and
he was also the foreman of the jury,'' said professor of Indian Studies at the
University of Washington Alexandra Harmon.

Appeal and the U.S. Army prevented the hangings twice. Captain Eugene Ham of
the U.S. Army Judges Advocate Corps said the army never sanctioned the hanging
of Leschi and did what they could to stop it.

The army produced a survey map of Leschi's camp and the ambush site, which
showed that Leschi couldn't have been in the vicinity when the shooting took
place. It was not allowed into evidence in the second trial, nor were the first
trial's instructions given during the second trial concerning wartime.

Captain Paul Robson testified that the army always took the position that
this was a war and that you do not try legal combatants for battlefield deaths.
Professor of Law at the University of Colorado Charles Wilkerson explained,
''The Nisquallys possessed nationhood. Other Indian leaders in these
circumstances were not tried in this way. The territorial courts should have dismissed the
indictments as a matter of U.S. American Indian Law, the law of nations and
the law of war.''

Over time, the Nisqually people would try to clear Leschi's name but to no
avail until the last living male descendant of Leschi, 69-year-old Sherman
Leschi met his relative Cynthia Iyall in 2001. ''Sherman and I were sitting quietly
in his living room listening to the radio. We'd been discussing Leschi's
history and the wrongfulness of it all. He turned to me and he said simply, 'I
have a project for you. It should have been done a long time ago.' He was talking
about exonerating Leschi. People talked about pardoning Leschi but he felt a
pardon suggested Leschi was guilty and he wanted none of that.'' Iyall said.

''That is where the seed of having Leschi exonerated today began. Sherman was
the only person who could say to do this because of who he was. Sherman
carried a certain dignity and he looked like Leschi. He didn't speak much, so when
he said something you took it seriously,'' Iyall said.

Sherman died Dec. 6, 2001 and was buried Dec. 10. Three years to the day,
Chief Leschi was exonerated. It wasn't planned. It just happened that way.

The court was convened at the Washington State Historical Museum with Chief
Justice of the State Supreme Court Gerry Alexander presiding. There were nine
witnesses for the defense and one hostile witness for the prosecution. ''The
judges unanimously voted to clear the name of Chief Leschi and apologize to him,
his family, his tribe and their children, the other tribal peoples, to the
state of Washington, and ultimately to justice and all the people,'' said Frank.

The other two convening courts were held under the auspices of the federal
government and therefore Alexander said the verdict could not be legally erased.
Carpenter commented, ''The best they could do was convene a historical court
and offer an apology. I am in hopes that wounds will heal and give us a
brighter outlook for the future of our children.''

Iyall recognizes that many people played a part to bring about the
exoneration. She said, ''Lawyer and Chippewa Tina Kukkahn reminded us many times that
there is a difference between law and justice. Law is about what you can prove
and justice is about what is right.''

The healing has truly begun as you listen to the Indian people and others
express their feelings about the exoneration.

Nisqually tribal Chairman Dorian Sanchez said, ''Stories have been passed
from generation to generation of Leschi's bravery and leadership. The truth as
presented today will finally clear the record and allow our leader and his
people to rest.''

Doctor Patricia Roundy, dean of Student Academic Success at Pacific Lutheran
University said, ''The exoneration of Chief Leschi clears his name and does so
much more. The decision offers a significant apology, acknowledges a deep
injustice, honors his people, and casts a beacon of light and hope not only for
today but also for future generations. The historical court decision is only
the tip of the iceberg uncovering real wrongs for all to see.''

Former Staff Director to the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Alan
Parker said, ''The hard work now begins of deconstructing historical myths so
that the story of Leschi is of a courageous leader who died defending his tribe's
rights. The Nisqually people have set an example for all of us.''

Sherman Leschi felt that Leschi's last words were talking about today's era.
Sherman's last quoted words were: ''I want the youth to bring back the culture
and be proud of who they are. I want them to remember and to tell their
Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... just sing, sing a song.
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