Who Was George Wright?

Fort George Wright Tour

The Fort George Wright monument tells the story of the fort from its creation in 1895 to its acquisition by the Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute in 1990. The Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute has started many initiatives to maintain the historic buildings of the fort. The monument serves as a reminder of the base's past. However one important element of the story is left out, namely, who was George Wright?

Born in Vermont in 1803, Wright joined the US Army in 1822 and fought in the Battle of Veracruz and Molino del Rey during the Mexican-American War. In 1858 he was stationed at Fort Walla Walla in Washington Territory during the outbreak of hostilities between US Government forces and the native Yakima, Palouse, Coeur d'Alene, and Spokane tribes. The tribes had been faced with increasingly aggressive lists of demands for land and resettlement by government officials. Continued encroachment of white settlers on native territory eventually brought tensions to a boiling point, leading to the defeat of Col. Edward Steptoe at the Battle of Tohotonimme near present day Rosalia. Steptoe's small unit of soldiers equipped with outdated rifles was battered by native attacks, forcing a hasty retreat to Fort Walla Walla.

The Army response was immediate and extreme. Col. George Wright was sent on a merciless punitive expedition throughout eastern Washington and into northern Idaho. He routed native forces at The Battle of Four Lakes near present-day Medical Lake, and slaughtered over 600 captured horses near the Idaho border, destroying the tribe's economy and causing food shortages and even starvation. Wright fought the four day long Battle of Spokane Plains, which ended with his victory on the site of the future Fort George Wright.

All along his path, Wright burned native crops and food stores. He hanged any Indian he suspected of having fought against him, after a mock "trial" that consisted of Wright asking a few questions. Under military law, Wright had no authority to conduct such trials.

At a camp on Latah Creek, Wright allowed some of his conquered enemies to come into camp to make peace. Wright arrested and summarily executed at least 16 of these natives without even the usual pretense of a trial. Wright's brutal tactics would earn him the ire of the natives and the appreciation of white settlers, who came to call this tributary of the Spokane River by a new name, Hangman's Creek.

Fort George Wright was named for the Colonel as a reminder of the "pacification" of the Inland Empire. In the 1990s an unsuccessful effort was made to re-name Fort George Wright Drive, the road the fort sits upon, to a more culturally sensitive Native American name. The fort itself has escaped these efforts.



Col. Wright addressing the native tribes
In 1858, Col. George Wright had just defeated the allied native tribes at the battles of Four Lakes and Spokane Plains. He laid out a harsh set of demands. This is a dramatic reading of those demands. Text from NW Durham, "History of the...
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