Qualchan Hanging Site

Waypoints in the Palouse Tour - Story 4

This is the site of a murder.

The 1850s were a violent time in northwest history as a growing tide of American immigrants encroached upon Indian land. In 1855 the first governor of Washington Territory, Isaac Stevens, forced the tribes to sign treaties giving up nearly their entire domain. Most Indians refused to recognize the dubious legality of the treaties and nursed bitter resentments. In 1858 violence broke out as the Spokane and Yakamas waged guerilla warfare on the invaders. Early that year Indians nearly wiped out a 150-man unit under Colonel Steptoe, who was lucky to escape back to Fort Walla Walla with his life. In response, the Army dispatched 600 troops under the command of Colonel George Wright to subdue the Indian tribes of eastern Washington by any means necessary.

Marching north from Fort Walla Walla, Wright met and defeated an allied force of Yakama, Spokan, and Coeur d' Alene tribes at Four Lakes and Spokane Plains. He then turned west along the Spokane River near the area of present-day Liberty Lake where on September 8 he ordered the slaughter of nearly 1,000 horses belonging to the Palus tribe.

Yakama Sub-Chief Qualchan and others had been accused of attacking white settlers in the area, including the murder of US Indian Agent A.J. Bolon. This status made him a wanted fugitive by territorial authorities. On September 23, 1858 Qualchan's father, Chief Owhi, entered Wright's camp under a white flag, in an attempt to negotiate peace with US officials. Owhi was immediately placed in shackles as Wright intended on holding him hostage to lure Qualchan to the camp. Unaware that his father had been taken captive, Qualchan arrived at Wright's camp on September 24 with his wife Whist-alks, his son, and two other warriors (including his brother Lo-kout) on his own mission to negotiate peace. Col. Wright was in no mood for diplomacy. Rather, he wished to make an example of Qualchan and ordered him hung.

Upon his arrest, Qualchan noticed his imprisoned father and wept. As soldiers attempted to hang Qualchan it was said by his companion Seven Mountains that "Qualchan twice summoned the power of the mist and twice the rope broke". Qualchan's executioners bound his arms and legs and he was slowly strangled to death. With his words almost as cold as his actions, Wright's only mention of the event in his journal read: "Qualchan came to see me at 9 o'clock, at 9:15 he was hung." One day after helplessly witnessing his son's murder, Chief Owhi was shot dead as he attempted an escape. Over three days another dozen of so Indians were hanged as well, all without a trial.

Qualchan's death was only the beginning of what could be considered a hanging spree by Wright. Only one day after the killings, Wright had six members of the Palus tribe hanged, including a chief. Similar to Qualchan, they were hanged after approaching Wright's camp with a white flag attempting to negotiate peace. Wright was a busy man for the month of September as he had almost 1,000 horses and at least seven men murdered for the cause of westward expansion.

September 24, 1858:
"There was no timber close to where they camped, but they planted a large stick in the ground and nailed a cross stick on it; tied my husband's legs together, his hands behind his back, put a rope around his neck and strangled him to death...they must have seen from the expression of my face that I anguished, but they heeded not". These are the words of Whist-alks, wife of Yakama leader Qualchan who witnessed her husband's death under orders of Col. George Wright.

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