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Historic tree lost in storm

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NISQUALLY, Wash. (AP) - The last tree from the grove at the site where the first Indian treaty was signed in western Washington is the latest identified casualty of stormy weather in recent months.

Until early December 2006, the dead Douglas fir snag was visible from Interstate 5 near Nisqually along Medicine Creek, also known as McAllister Creek, between Olympia and Tacoma.

Today the tree lies in pieces, the top bobbing in a side channel of the creek and the once-regal trunk reduced to a jagged 20-foot stump.

No plaque or sign marked the tree, part of a stand at the site where leaders of the Nisqually, Squaxin Island, Puyallup and other tribes met with territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens in 1854 to sign the Treaty of Medicine Creek, ceding more than 4,000 square miles of land.

The treaty was the first in a series that relinquished tribal claims to most of what became the western part of the state.

In ''Treaty Time at Nisqually,'' Nisqually tribal historian Cecilia Svinth Carpenter recounted the scene as described by George Gibbs, who recorded the proceedings for Stevens:

''The Indians took their quarters on a forested bench a short distance away. The scene was lively. Thin temporary huts of mats with the smoke of their numerous camp fires, the prows of the canoes hauled up on the bank and protruding from among the huts, the horses grazing on the marsh, the gloom of the firs and the cedars ... and the scattered and moving groups of Indians in all kinds of odd and fantastic dresses present a curious picture.''

In the treaty, the tribes retained the right to hunt, fish and gather roots, berries and other traditional and essential foods in their traditional places outside the reservations they were allotted - rights that gained new significance with a federal court ruling on salmon fishing in 1984.

Bob Barnes, a landscape architect for the state Transportation Department and an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana, said the agency was careful to avoid the tree when the freeway was built across the Nisqually River in the 1960s.

Nonetheless, fill for the roadbed and right of way damaged the roots and the tree died in the winter of 1979. Four years earlier, though, a department worker gathered seeds from the dying tree and planted a grove of descendants in 1975; some are now about 40 feet tall.

Seedlings from those descendants are being grown for distribution to tribes in the area ''to continue to keep the history alive,'' Barnes said.

Despite the lack of formal recognition for what became known as Treaty Tree, it was a widely revered landmark, said Billy Frank Jr., a Nisqually tribal member who gained international prominence for his activism on behalf of Indian treaty rights and later for his work in fisheries management.

''People love this tree, not only the Indian people, but the people who know the history,'' Frank told The Seattle Times. ''You can feel the spirit of the tree, the spark of life in this tree.

''It was a symbol of a place, and of that treaty. You close your eyes, you can still see the canoes right here.''

Since the storm there has been considerable discussion about what to do with the pieces of the Treaty Tree, Nisqually Tribal Chairman Cynthia Iyall said. Ideas include putting the wood into a museum and carving some of it into a bench or plaque for the tribal center.

In any event, she said, tribal leaders want to mark the site, perhaps with a permanent monument or totem pole that could be seen from I-5.