1858 - Colonel George Wright - Indian Wars - Hangman Creek

Colonel Steptoe - May 1858


On May 6, 1858, Colonel Steptoe left Fort Walla Walla with a few men expecting a friendly visit with the Colville area tribes. He was being followed. He had a 10 hour fight which took place near Rosalia. A most horrible defeat for the army. When the Indians beat Colonel Steptoe, his men went home angry and furious.

Colonel George Wright - September 1858

Colonel George Wright came back for revenge on September 1, 1858, with one hundred ninety dragoons or cavalry men, ninety riflery men, four hundred artillery men of whom two hundred had new rifles that could shoot 1000 feet. He also had 400 pack animals, and 30 NezPerce Scouts. They came back for revenge on the Coeur d'Alene, Palouse, and Spokan Indians. The Indians were too confident in their winning. They wondered why their warriors in the back kept getting shot. As they got closer and closer they found out that the soldiers had new rifles. The Indians retreated. This took place September 1 at Four Lakes. After the battle, Wright rested his men for three days. On September 5, they battled the Indians again on the Spokane Plains (near Fairchild AFB), a victory this time for the army.

Horse Slaughter at Spokane Bridge - September 9, 1858


Horse Slaughter

After resting his men a few days at the later- to- be Fort George Wright location west of the falls, Colonel Wright continued in ruthless pursuit of the Indians up the Spokane Valley. Whenever they found Indians' supplies and stuff, they would burn whatever there was (wheat, oats, vegetables, camas roots, dried berries). On September 9, 1858 Colonel Wright and his group found a pack of 800 hundred horses near Liberty Lake. They kept 100 horses and shot the rest. The bleached bones were seen on the river shores for many years. After Colonel Wright killed all the horses, he continued on to the old Mission at Cataldo and had a settlement treaty with the Coeur d'Alene Indians. Wright sent word for the tribes to meet him at Smyth's Ford on Latah Creek on September 24, 1858. 107 chiefs from the Spokans, Colville, Palouse, Pend d'Oreilles were present.

Latah Creek becomes Hangman Creek - September 25,

Hangman Creek

On the morning of September 25, 1858, the Indians sent one of their bravest warriors named Qualchan to test if Colonel Wright was in a peaceful mood or a hostile mood. He rode right into the enemy camp on horseback and showed no fear. What Qualchan didn’t know was that Colonel Wright had his father, Owhi,  held captive and had sent messengers out to find Qualchan and tell him that if he didn’t come Wright would execute his father. Unaware, Qualchan came into the camp on his own terms. The visitors in regalia were announced in Colonel Wright's tent. As soon as he found out who the visitor was, Colonel Wright remembered that Qualchan and his father had been instigators in a skirmish during which some miners were killed  several years earlier. On his order, Qualchan was seized and was hung soon afterward, within 15 minutes, some accounts say. Some accounts say that an additional 6 warriors were hung as well.

Qualchan's wife, Whist-alks, accompanied him on the ride into the camp. This is her account of what happened. 

We were waiting to progress in making peace with our enemy when two soldiers grabbed my husband about the head and shoulder area and binding his hands with a cord. I slashed at them with my small knife but one of the soldiers kicked it out of my hand. Then a great number of soldiers crowded and overpowered us. I thought that the worst thing they could do was throw us in prison for a few months, but it appeared that they had other plans for my husband. At first I thought it was all just a huge trick, but then I saw the preparations they were making and I felt terrified. They hung him, but I managed to get away. As I left I threw down my medicine staff.

Hangman creek is now called Latah creek. An act changing the name of Hangman creek was issued in the year 1899,in the month of February on the 17th day the Senate approved the law. In the month of March on the 9th day the House approved the law. In the native tongue Latah means fish, so the name now means “fish creek”.

Hangman Creek SiteHangman Monument

 

Photos with permission from NW Museum of Arts & Culture Archives
Hangman Creek Camp Site - L2003-14.841
Hangman Creek Monument - L2003-14.964

Thanks to Nona Hengen, painter of the series of paintings on the Steptoe/Wright campaigns against the native american tribes of the Inland Northwest. These 3' by 5' paintings are located in the Endicott, WA School library. We have photographs of:
Battle of Steptoe
Horse Slaughter Camp
Peace Treaty at Coeur d"Alene Mission
Hanging of Qualchan

Resources:
Historylink article about Colonel Wright Campaign
Article about Hangman Creek and Qualchan from Spokane Outdoors

copyright (c)2003;2009, Discovery School
All rights reserved.
Report: May, 2003; May 2009
Revised: March 26, 2004; September 28, 2009
Last updated: July 27, 2011