Isaac Stevens is known in the region as the architect of the 1855 treaties that created the Nez Perce, Umatilla, and Yakima reservations. He was Governor of the Washington Territory, which made him the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and, along with his Oregon counterpart, Joel Palmer, the treaty maker on both sides of the Cascades and all the way to present-day Montana.
A dynamo of a man, still only thirty-seven years old, Stevens saw all three of his jobs complementing each other toward a single grand end. As a governor who wanted to build up the population and prosperity of the territory, he was intent on winning congressional approval for the railroad route he had charted from St. Paul to Puget Sound. That meant clearing the Indian owners away from the proposed route: buying what part of their land he wanted, tucking the natives away on reservations, and ensuring the safety of the right of way for railroad builders and travelers. At the same time, the Indian cessions would increase the territory’s public domain and make land available for more settlers. Stevens bore no ill will against Indians, and even fancied that he admired and respected them. But as an instrument of advancing American civilization, he had a job to accomplish, and with a flair for publicity, he expected to win notice in the national capital for what he would achieve.