The riveting story of a dramatic confrontation between Native Americans and white settlers, a compelling conflict that unfolded in the newly created Washington Territory from 1853 to 1857.

When appointed Washington’s first governor, Isaac Ingalls Stevens, an ambitious military man turned politician, had one goal: to persuade (peacefully if possible) the Indians of the Puget Sound region to turn over their ancestral lands to the federal government. In return, they were to be consigned to reservations unsuitable for hunting, fishing, or grazing, their traditional means of sustaining life. The result was an outbreak of violence and rebellion, a tragic episode of frontier oppression and injustice.

With his trademark empathy and scholarly acuity, Pulitzer Prize–winner Richard Kluger recounts the impact of Stevens’s program on the Nisqually tribe, whose chief, Leschi, sparked the native resistance movement. Stevens was determined to succeed at any cost: his hasty treaty negotiations with the Indians, marked by deceit, threat, and misrepresentation, inflamed his opponents. Leschi, resolved to save more than a few patches of his people’s lush homelands, unwittingly turned his tribe—and himself most of all—into victims of the governor’s relentless wrath. The conflict between these two complicated and driven men—and their supporters—explosively and enormously at odds with each other, was to have echoes far into the future.

Closely considered and eloquently written, The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek is a bold and long-overdue clarification of the historical record of an American tragedy, presenting, through the experiences of one tribe, the history of Native American suffering and injustice.

“Kluger is canny enough to realize what’s lost in a one-sided telling and compassionate enough to make sense of the doings on all sides . . . His recitation of [recent events] can be seen as an upbeat refusal to treat a historical tragedy as irredeemable . . . The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek is an eloquent account of a massacre’s legacies as well as its history.”
            -David Waldstreicher, The New York Times Book Review
“Brilliant . . . More than just another tragic story of the American Indian, more than a story of victory and defeat, of good and evil.”
            -Greg Sarris, San Francisco Chronicle
“Meticulously researched, elegantly written and sophisticated, the book uses this all but forgotten episode in American history to give a human face to the injustices visited on Indians in treaty-making, on the battlefield and, surprisingly, in the courtroom.”
            -Glenn C. Altschuler, Minnesota Star Tribune
“A close and fascinating look at one treaty . . . With precision and vigor, Kluger examines the circumstances of the crime and trials.”
            -Jim Carmin, The Oregonian
“Well-researched and detailed . . . Kluger’s story shows considerable deference to the Native American point of view . . . By focusing on one tribe’s historic struggle, Kluger shines a light on our nation’s deplorable treatment of its native people.”
            -Tim McNulty, The Seattle Times
“It's probably politically incorrect to say so, but Richard Kluger's exquisite recreation of this little known case of historical injustice against the Native American Nisqually tribe and their chief, Leschi, is as gripping as the bloodiest tale of cowboys and Indians. What's more, along the way, this investigative history raises and profoundly illuminates the critical moral, political, and legal issues involved.”
            -Victor Navasky, author of Kennedy Justice
“The Puget Sound used to belong to a handful of small tribes including the Nisqually, whose chief in the 1850s welcomed the arrival of whites who wanted to fish, farm, and cut timber. What happened next is the harrowing story told by Richard Kluger in The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek, named after the one-sided treaty that stole the homeland of the Indians. Kluger is a careful researcher and skilled narrator who confronts the injustice of this land-theft head-on, but ends his tale on a note that cannot be called sad.”
            -Thomas Powers, author of The Killing of Crazy Horse
“A vivid portrait of the tragic patterns that defined white settlement and Indian resistance across the American continent. Trust betrayed, white mendacity and vainglory, brutality on both sides—all make for a deeply moving and unforgettable story.”
            -Kate Buford, author of Native American Son
"Richard Kluger relates how the West was won—that is, the ongoing white conquest of Native America—in a book of extraordinary scholarship, insight, and sensitivity. This is a tragic narrative, replete with unfulfilled promises, forced removals (ethnic cleansing), betrayals, judicial murders, and the sham of treaty making. Vividly told, it is an engrossing read, and the voice of the losers is omnipresent and eloquent."
            -Leon Litwack, author of Trouble in Mind
“I thought I knew something about the injustices we, as a new nation, inflicted upon Native Americans; I was wrong. The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek recreates with uncanny scholarship and deep human understanding the travails of a peaceful leader persecuted by a ruthless agent of the United States.”
            -Michael Pertschuk, Former Chairman, Federal Trade Commission
“With vivid detail . . . the author sketches a portrait of Leschi, the Nisqually chief . . . The conclusion . . . winds up being a redemptive postscript to an affecting chapter of regional history.”
            -Publishers Weekly
“Well-researched and detailed . . . Kluger’s story shows considerable deference to the Native American point of view . . . By focusing on one tribe’s historic struggle, Kluger shines a light on our nation’s deplorable treatment of its native people.”
            -Tim McNulty, The Seattle Times
“Kluger’s solidly sourced narrative and its tenor of indignation will captivate readers of frontier and American Indian history.”
“Well-researched and beautifully written . . . Valuable for those interested in how the final stages of the concept of Manifest Destiny played out.”
            -Library Journal
“Intense . . . Kluger writes accessible prose and turns up fascinating obscure records.”