The Murder of Officer Robert J. Rusk

In 1886 Washington was still in territorial status, and Spokane was known as Spokane Falls. Similar to most burgeoning towns in the American West, law and order was a major concern of area residents, so when police officers were murdered it sent shock waves throughout the community. Such was the case in April, 1886 when, at this very location, the body of Officer R.J. Rusk was discovered with a fatal gunshot wound to the temple. Rusk was the second law enforcement officer to be murdered in the Spokane area.

Although he was killed in April, 1886, the story of his murder began in June, 1885 when an Indian man named Crow Foot was found trying to chop his way in to the wood-framed Spokane Falls jail with an ax in order to free his incarcerated friend, Chimikin. Rusk, who was on guard duty that night, arrested the intoxicated Crow Foot. After a sobering night in jail, the two men were released the next morning. The incident was considered closed and was all but forgotten by Spokane Falls police, but Crow Foot thought differently and harbored an intense grudge against Officer Rusk.

On April 22, 1886 Robert J. Rusk left on horseback for Chewelah to do some prospecting. He was last seen alive as he crossed the Third Street Bridge on his way north of Spokane Falls to the old Colville Road. The next day the horses he purchased only days prior to his trip showed up at their previous owner’s property, unsaddled and unattended. Still it was April 30, after eight-days without word from Rusk, when a search party was finally formed.

Fellow officers and concerned citizens canvassed a large swath of land about 12-miles north of the city limits. One of the party members, A.R. Junken, discovered Rusk’s body lying face down in the aptly named Deadman’s Creek at a well-known watering hole (the area is underneath Highway 2 about one-mile south of Mt. Spokane Road where the road dips down into the creek dale).

Friends of Rusk described him as “a powerful man and one possessed with more than ordinary bravery, and that it was hardly possible that he could meet with danger he was not capable of surmounting.” His murder was a mystery for several days until a local Indian named Curly Jim arranged to meet with law enforcement officials and the case was blown wide open. Curly Jim claimed to know who killed Rusk, as well as where his personal effects were buried by his killers. Shortly after the murder, two men bragged to him about the murder and even said where they stashed Rusk's belongings. Those men were Crow Foot and Chimikin, the same men arrested by Rusk a year earlier. After being paid fifty-dollars, Curly Jim brought Spokane Falls Marshal James Gillispin to Williams Lake, where Crow Foot was apprehended, and several days later Chimikin was arrested by a former sheriff near Chewelah.

Both suspects were tried and convicted of manslaughter at the courthouse in Cheney, which was then the Spokane County seat. Crow Foot and Chimikin were both sentenced to 20 years in the territorial prison at Walla Walla. Police Captain Joel Warren was charged with transporting the convicts and was forced to rush to the Burlington Northern station in Sprague in order to evade a lynch mob. Both men died in prison.