The Muckleshoot Indian tribe is a blend of several Coastal Salish tribes that have inhabited the region surrounding the White and Green rivers of present-day Washington State for millennia. Their original language was Wuhlshootseed. The Muckleshoots' ancestral homeland is an expansive region extending along southern and eastern Puget Sound, and the western slopes of the Cascade Range.
Their reservation is located at Muckleshoot Prairie. Northwest native peoples are typically named after their village locations. Thus, those who relocated there eventually called themselves Muckleshoot. Today's amalgamated tribe numbers in the thousands.
Abundant salmon and versatile western red cedar, along with hunting and gathering, were the principal sources and means of subsistence for pre-contact northwest coastal peoples. Spirit-rituals were regularly held to venerate such natural resources. Surplus smoked salmon and other commodities were bartered by means of an sprawling network of commerce spanning the Pacific Northwest and reaching the country beyond the Cascade Mountains.
They crafted baskets, wood carvings, blankets and clothing. Tools, utensils and dishes were fashioned from steam-bent cedar. Cedar bark served as raw material for clothing, furnishings, mats and rope.
A hereditary upper class, middle class, and war-captive slave class (and their offspring) comprised their social patterns. Affluence determined who the leaders were.
The arrival of European exploratory and trading vessels to the area began in the late 18th century. Americans would soon follow. At first, the native peoples helped them and cooperated with them. By the mid-1800s, following a few decades of thriving commerce between the native peoples and the Euro-Americans, the United States rose as the hegemon in the area and began to consolidate and institutionalize its control.
About this time, native peoples were laid bare to the imprecations of an unseen enemy. Oblivious of the fact, the newcomers had introduced diseases to which the natives had no immunity. Over roughly a generation, the native population was sharply diminished by a fatal wave of epidemics. Entire families and communities were wiped out by the plagues, and the fabric of tribal society itself was permanently torn. By the 1840s, native population numbers were only about a tenth of what they had been when the whites arrived. It was during this tragic period of native depopulation that white settlers began to claim for themselves the choicest parcels among the lands of the Puget Sound area.
When Washington Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens negotiated and signed the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854, no mention was made of the Muckleshoot tribe, for they were not named as such at the time. Tribes from the Green and White rivers were to be relocated to the Nisqually Reservation along the Nisqually River, unless a more appropriate location could be found.
At this time, many native people were convinced that they had been abused too much and had nothing to lose by retaliating. What followed is known as the Puget Sound Indian War (1855-56). Numerous forebears of today's Muckleshoots participated in the last-ditch resistance, and were among the warriors at the Battle for Seattle (1856).
On December 5, 1856, Governor Stevens lent support to the establishment of the Muckleshoot Reservation between the Green and White rivers, uphill from where the rivers met. The river tribes settled on the former military parcel. In 1874, an executive order defined the boundaries of the weirdly-shaped, 3,533-acre area. Many Muckleshoots complained about whites squatting on their reservation due to its confusing, fragmented and irregular configuration. Later on, 39 members were allotted 3,192 acres of reservation land.
Over time, the reservation was enlarged, and the Muckleshoot tribe incorporated other local tribes. By the 1930s, the tribe numbered 194, but by century's end they numbered in the thousands.
On May 13, 1936, the Muckleshoot constitution was ratified under the terms of the Indian Reorganization Act.
In the latter 1950s, the U.S. Court of Claims denied the tribe a land claim on the grounds that the U.S. had no basis on which to award judgment: There was no obligating treaty. Nevertheless, the Indian Claims Commission found that the tribe previously occupied 101,620 acres of aboriginal land valued at $86,377. The commission ordered that they be awarded that amount On March 8, 1959.