Looking at an image of (renowned Washington governor) Isaac Stevens, two things come to mind. First, he has a striking resemblance to Brad Pitt. Second, he looks like a man that gets what he wants, come hell or high water. As the first Territorial Governor of Washington and the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Stevens did get what he (and by extension President Franklin Pierce) wanted. Charged with securing the land and cooperation of local tribes, Stevens negotiated a series of treaties, procuring the legal rights to 64 million acres of land in less than a year. Exuding the nineteenth century belief that land not dedicated to traditional farming was going to waste, Stevens’ treaties carried the underlying belief that Native Americans needed to assimilate into general—white—American culture by living and farming on designated reservations. However, Stevens also included a safety net of sorts in his treaties. Native Americans negotiated one key phrase in all of the treaties: “right of taking fish at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory.” In Stevens’ eyes, the phrasing eliminated the U.S. government’s obligation to supply food to the tribes during the transitional period from their traditional way of life to their lifestyle on reservations.[see Gabriel Chrisman, "The Fish-in Protests at Franks Landing"] His work complete, Stevens left the rain of the Pacific Northwest in 1857. However, his treaties and their phrasing would have long-standing implications.
Committed to the yeoman farming ideal, many early American settlers concerned themselves with farming, logging, and mining, while Native Americans continued to fish at their usual and accustomed areas. However, by the turn of the 20th century the bountiful salmon and trout of the Evergreen State brought the issue of native fishing rights to the forefront. A tug-of-war between native fishing rights and entrepreneurial commercial fishing endeavors further strained already tense relationships, illuminating the muddied intentions of the state of Washington and prompting legal action.More at SHRA's website.