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U.S. Army Colonel George Wright hangs Yakama and Palouse prisoners at the Ned-Whauld River beginning on September 25, 1858.
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Beginning on September 25, 1858, Colonel George Wright (1803-1865), U.S. Army, hangs Yakama and Palouse prisoners he suspects of killing whites. Wright is engaged in a punitive military expedition against the Yakama, Palouse, Spokane, and Coeur d'Alene tribes after their defeat of a force under Lieutenant Colonel Edward Steptoe in May. Yakama warrior Qualchan is hanged 15 minutes after he surrenders to Wright carrying a white flag. The following day, six Palouse warriors are hanged after surrendering. Ned-Whauld River, called by the tribes Sin-too-too-olley (river of small fish) Creek, is thereafter called Hangman's Creek.
Wright's campaign stemmed from the defeat of Lieutenant Colonel Edward J. Steptoe (1816-1865) and a small force of mounted soldiers on May 17 and 18, 1858, near what would become Rosalia. Steptoe was attempting to punish the Palouse tribe for the killing of white miners and to calm the nerves of settlers near Fort Colville. From his base at Walla Walla, Wright launched a campaign against the tribes north of the Snake River. He prevailed at small engagements at Four Lakes (September 1, 1858) and Spokane Plains (September 5, 1858) and destroyed 800 Indian horses and Indian foodstuffs. He then established a camp on the Ned-Whauld River and from this headquarters demanded that the tribes surrender or face "extermination" (Stimson, 16).
On September 24, 1858, Chief Owhi of the Yakima arrived at the camp to treat with Wright. Wright considered Owhi and Owhi's son Qualchan (alternatively spelled Quaichan, Qualchew, Qualchen, or Quaichien) to be ringleaders in resistance against the government and he sent word to Qualchan that if he did not surrender, Wright would hang his father. The next day Qualchan appeared carrying a white flag. He wore Yakama finery of beaded buckskin and he rode his best horse. His wife carried his rifle and his brother Lo-kout accompanied them.
Before the campaign, Wright had written of Qualchan, "His history for three years past is too well known to need recapitulation. He has been actively engaged in all the murders, robberies and attacks upon the white people since 1855, both east and west of the Cascade Range" (Splawn, 117).
Wright spoke to Qualchan for a short time then penciled a message to his soldiers. A detail of soldiers appeared and forcibly took Qualchan into custody. The warrior's young wife fought back with a sword she took from a soldier. The soldiers draped a noose around the warrior's neck, dragged him to a tree, and hanged him.
Wright related in his official report, "Qual-chew came to me at 9 this morning. At 9 1/4 he was hung" (Splawn, 118). Army officers justified the summary execution by blaming Qualchan for the death of Indian Agent Andrew J. Bolon in 1855, but Qualchan had no involvement in this event.
On September 25, 1858, 10 Palouse warriors reported to Wright. Wright ordered six of them hanged for "murder and theft of stock." On September 30, he killed four more Palouse for their supposed crimes against whites.
Owhi was kept prisoner and taken south to Fort Walla Walla, his legs bound beneath a horse. While the column stopped for water in a stream, Owhi made a break for freedom by whipping Lieutenant Michael R. Morgan. Morgan ran down the chief and shot him several times with a pistol. Once cornered, Morgan ordered Sergeant Edward Ball to shoot the chief and Ball, a veteran of the Steptoe defeat, obeyed by placing his pistol to the warrior's head and pulling the trigger.
After that, resistance by the tribes collapsed.
William Stimson, A View of the Falls: An Illustrated History of Spokane (Northridge, CA: Windson Publications, 1985), 14-19; Jay J. Kalez, This Town Of Ours ... Spokane: 1804-1974 (Spokane: Lawton Printing Co., 1974), 9-14; Lancaster Pollard, A History of The State of Washington, Vol. I (New York: The American Historical Society, 1937), 302-305; Carl Waldman, Who Was Who In Native American History (New York: Facts on File, 1990), p. 26; George W. Fuller, A History of the Pacific Northwest, with Special Emphasis on the Inland Empire (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948), 257; A. J. Splawn, Ka-Mi-Akin: Last Hero of the Yakimas (Yakima: The Caxton Printers, 1917, 1944, 1958), 117-119; Clifford E. Trafzer and Richard D. Sheuerman, Renegade Tribe: The Palouse Indians and the Invasion of the Pacific Northwest (Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1986), 91-91.
Note: This essay was revised on October 26, 2005, and again on June 9, 2007.
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George Wright (1803-1865), Colonel, U.S. Army
Courtesy U.S. Military Academy Archives