An Unbroken Line of Leadership

Since the time of the Medicine Creek Treaty, the Steilacoom Tribe has used traditional methods to face the multitude of obstacles it has encountered. The efforts of the Tribe have produced an unbroken line of leadership that has held the Tribe together even without a reservation.

Traditionally, each Steilacoom band had a headman. The position was hereditary, being passed rom father to son, but special circumstances required the ruling family to identify another successor. Whomever the family selected was subject to the approval of the band membership. Subchiefs, generally brothers or cousins of the headman, aided him in accomplishing organizational tasks. There was no overall chief of the entire tribe although the headman of the main village on Chambers Creek generally had more prestige (and thus influence) than lthe others.

The following chronology provides a glimpse at how the position of headman was filled in in historic times.

Sam Young, Steilacoom band headman, displays his political talents at an intertribal council, successfully arguing against Snoqualmie chief Patkanim’s proposal to kill all British and Americans in the Puget Sound area.

Sam Young is elected chief of the entire Tribe in an effort to centralize political authority for negotiations with the Americans. The following year, Young represents the Tribe in negotiating with Governor Stevens.

ca. 1878
Young retires as Tribal Headman at almost 80 years of age. Since none of his sons remain in the Tribe, the position is passed on to John Steilacoom, son of pretreaty headman and a relative of Young’s.

John Steilacoom dies but his eight year old son cannot assume the role. While his family waits to put forward someone else as the new Tribal leader, descendants of Betsy Latour (a cousin of Jon Steilacoom’s mother) keeps the Tribe functioning, acting as subchiefs.

ca. 1914
Joseph McKay, nephew of John Steilacoom, assumes the leadership of the Tribe.

McKay resigns to join Puyallup Tribe and share in judgment funds. Again, Latour descendants take over the main leadership positions of the Tribe.

ca. 1939
Tribal leader William Bertschy (a Latour descendant) is told by his employer, the US. Navy, that he cannot be in Tribal politics and keep his job; he chooses his ob. In 1940 Lou Andrews (Bertschy’s cousin) selects Joe Eskew, an unenrolled Lummi with administrative skills, as the family choice for successor. A year later, Eskew is ousted by the general membership after his leftist leanings are discovered. Andrews and others conduct Tribal business during the war years and beyond while seeking a replacement.

Andrews family proposes Louis Layton, an enenrolled Colville, as the new Tribal leader and he is accepted by vote of the general membership. Layton proves to be an excellent choice and is considered by some outside observers to be the “best chairman on Puget Sound.”

Layton steps down. He and the Andrews family select Lou Andrews’ niece, Joan (Edwards) Marshall, to be his successor. When the Steilacoom Tribal Museum opens in April 1988 she (now Joan Ortez) still held the position.

Danny Marshall is the current chairperson of the Steilacoom Tribe.

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