The writings of  Richard Kluger

The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek

A Tragic Clash Between White and Native America



The Critical Response



The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek


“Richard Kluger relates the ongoing white conquest of Native America in a book of extraordinary scholarship, insight, and sensitivity. A vividly told tragic narrative, replete with unfulfilled promises, ethnic cleansing, betrayals, judicial murders, and the sham of treaty making, this is an engrossing read – and the voice of the losers is omnipresent and eloquent.”

   –  LEON LITWACK, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Been in the Storm Too Long and Trouble in Mind: Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow


“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: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe


“It’s probably politically incorrect to say so, but Kluger’s exquisite recreation of this little known case of of historical injustice against the Nisqually tribe and their chief, Leschi, is as gripping as the bloodiest tale of cowboys and Indians. Along the way, his investigative history raises – and profoundly illuminates – the critical moral, political, and legal issues involved.”

   –  VICTOR NAVASKY, editor and publisher emeritus of The Nation and author of Kennedy Justice and Naming Names


“Kluger’s riveting, well-crafted history is especially notable for its portrait of Washington Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens, a man whose ambition was overbearing, vainglorious, and startlingly insensitive – in short, all the worst attributes of that westward-booming, imperial ideology that went by the name of Manifest Destiny.”

  –  S.C. GWYNNE, executive editor of The Texas Monthly and author of Empire of the Summer Moon: The Rise and Fall of the Comanches


“A harrowing story…. Kluger is a skilled narrator and careful researcher who confronts the injustice of this land-theft head on, but ends his tale on a note that cannot be called sad.”

   –  TOM POWERS, author of The Killing of Crazy Horse and Intelligence Wars


“Kluger deftly places his drama within a vast, complex canvas of White condescension, overt racism, and contempt for the law – leavened by knowing outposts of decency, humanity, and mutual respect. The narrative is riveting. The word portraits bring to life both individuals and communities so vividly that one cannot escape recognition of the very forces of ignorance, greed, and manufactured fear that plague this nation today.”

   –  MICHAEL PERTSCHUK, author of Giant Killers, co-founder and co-director of the Advocacy Institute and former chairman of the FTC





NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW: “Richard Kluger has written a half-dozen novels, but he’s best known for telling true stories, hard stories, very well....  Of late, he appears to be drawn to the deep, the dark and the lethal in our past.  In Kluger’s new book the scale is small and the specifics unlikely to be familiar to most readers..... “Kluger paints a colorful portrait of two charismatic leaders in, at most, partial control of events....  The fanatical Indian haters tend to steal the show in Kluger’s narrative.  Fortunately, he’s canny enough to realize what’s lost in a one-sided telling, and compassionate enough to make sense of the doings on all sides.

“Kluger’s recitation of these events can be seen as an upbeat refusal to treat a historical tragedy as irredeemable.  Usually Indians tend to disappear from history’s narratives about them – even when the blame for their suffering is placed on others.  The Nisqually, as Kluger shows, have not disappeared, and The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek is an eloquent account of a massacre’s legacies as well as its history.”

An Editor’s Choice selection by the Times Book Review


SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: “Upon reading Kluger’s preface, I wondered why a person who wrote so well about the cigarette industry in Ashes to Ashes would write about a subject much of the American public would rather avoid...and I wondered what Kluger could say that was new and insightful about a story he stumbled upon.

“...What followed, precipitated by the climate of prejudice and subsequent hostility, [is] horrifying, partly because the violence could have been avoided.  And here is where Kluger’s brilliance is apparent, for all along he has shown what understanding and communications, absent single-minded greed and political expedience, could have accomplished: peace.  The [book] thus becomes more than just another tragic story of the American Indian, more than a story of victory and defeat, of good and evil....  His careful depictions create for the reader a powerful human story, as necessary today as ever, of the need for people to listen to one another, to stop and think when confronted, culturally and otherwise.”


MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE: “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 court room.”


THE PORTLAND OREGONIAN: “Few of us know the details of the treaties intended to cease fighting between Native peoples who inhabited the Northwest for millennia and the white settlers who began inhabiting these lands in the first half of the 19th century.... Richard Kluger gives us a close and fascinating look at one treaty, but one that resulted in violence on both sides largely because of its inadequacies, its inequities and perhaps its fraud....  The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek is a painful reminder that our prosperous present is built on a shadowy past.”



TACOMA (WA.) NEWS TRIBUNE: “The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek focuses on the impetus and tactics of Isaac Ingalls Stevens, the first governor of Washington Territory, in persuading the Indians of the Puget Sound region to give over their homelands to the federal government....  The injustice of the story stings 150 years later.  Kluger’s aim in providing the particulars of this tragedy [is] to help readers conceive the depth of the pain visited upon American Indians by white conquest....  This account’s chief value is in its vivid illustration of an important but overlooked chapter in our region’s history.”


BOOKLIST:  “Kluger’s solidly sourced narrative and its tenor of indignation will captivate readers of frontier and American Indian history.”


LIBRARY JOURNAL:  “Kluger’s well researched and beautifully written work is recommended for readers interested in the history of the Pacific Northwest.  It is also valuable for those interested in how the final stages of the concept of Manifest Destiny played out in western North America.”


SEATTLE TIMES: “[In] this well-researched and detailed account... Kluger exhausts the historic record....  By focusing on one tribe’s historic struggle, [he] shines a light on our nation’s deplorable treatment of its native people.”


THE HISTORY BOOK CLUB: “...[The book] tells the riveting story of the brutal confrontation between Native Americans and white settlers that ultimately led to [Nisqually tribal Chief] Leschi’s execution.  Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Kluger chronicles the harrowing drama that unfolded in the new idyllic Washington Territory [starting] in 1853....  Closely considered and eloquently written, The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek is a long overdue clarification of an American tragedy that presents, through the experience of one tribe, the history of Native American suffering and injustice.”


©2017 Richard Kluger