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Connecting curious minds with uncommon, undeniably Northwest reads

Finding Chief Kamiakin

The Life and Legacy of a Northwest Patriot

Richard D. Scheuerman and Michael O. Finley

Photographs by John Clement


A mid-1800s surge of immigrants incited a cataclysmic upheaval that jeopardized the very existence of the Plateau’s native people. Chief Kamiakin, a prominent Yakama leader, resolved to resist threats to their lands and traditional way of life. This is his story.

“Engrossing is the best way to describe this book.”—Public Library Association

Finalist, 2009 Washington State Book Award


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Born to T’siyiak, a champion horse racer and Com-mus-ni, the daughter of Chief Wiyáwiikt, Kamiakin helped relatives tend his family’s rapidly expanding herds. He wintered in tule mat lodges in the Kittitas and Ahtanum valleys, shared in spring root gathering, went salmon fishing in the summer, and participated in fall hunting and berry picking.

The young Indian also learned ancestral traditions. Alone as an adolescent on the treacherous, icy heights of Mount Rainier, he dreamt of the Buffalo’s power and completed his quest for a spirit guide. Muscular and sinewy, he became a skilled horse racer and competitor in feats of agility. He married and established his home on Ahtanum Creek, where he raised potatoes, squash, pumpkins, and corn in large, irrigated gardens.

As Kamiakin matured, he became more prominent among the Yakamas; leaders of both Sahaptin and Salish tribes often sought his counsel. Through personal aptitude as well as family bonds, he emerged as one of the region’s most influential chiefs. He cautiously welcomed White newcomers and sought to learn beneficial aspects of their culture. His dignified manner and attire impressed both soldiers and missionaries.

In the 1850s, the arrival of unprecedented numbers of White immigrants incited a cataclysmic upheaval that would threaten the very existence of the Plateau’s native people. On May 29, 1855, the Walla Walla Council commenced with a brief meeting attended by some 5,000 Indians, including Chief Kamiakin. Two weeks later, with great reluctance, he signed the Yakima Treaty of 1855. He also resolved to fight against the destruction of his people and desecrations upon the land. Finding Chief Kamiakin is his story.

Photographs / maps / notes / bibliography / index / 248 pages (2008)


Finalist, 2009 Washington State Book Award

“Kamiakin’s legacy is meaningful for all of us.”—Columbia Magazine

“Anyone who picks up this highly readable volume will learn a lot about the history and culture of Interior Northwest Indians.”—Andrew H. Fisher, The College of William and Mary, Oregon Historical Quarterly

“Engrossing is the best way to describe this book. The images and narrative are precise, easy to read, and above all; interesting. There is no doubt that the writers of this book have a tremendous respect for their local native culture and have researched both Chief Kamiakin, his family and the surrounding tribes with diligence, forethought and pride. The history of Chief Kamiakin is interwoven with a broader western history and the authors seamlessly integrate both personal anecdotes about Kamiakin with those of other leaders.”—Public Library Association

Additional information

Weight 2.04 oz
Dimensions 10.5 x 9 in