Bill Jackson: The Story of a Mixed-Race Indian in Early Spokane

Part 1: From the Prairie to the Prison

Abandoned by his white father, Bill Jackson struggled to navigate Spokane frontier society in the late 19th century. Hardships and trauma pushed him towards a treacherous crime.

Sometime around 1860, Billy Jackson was born on the southeastern portion of Moran Prairie (near 57th Street on the modern-day South Hill). His father was a French-Canadian who had come west in the fur trade, his mother was Indian. The father abandoned his family when Bill and his brothers were still small, leaving Mrs. Jackson to raise the boys alone.

From all accounts, Mother Jackson was ambitious and hardworking. The Jackson boys, however, were quite a handful, and became notorious desperados in Spokane County. At constant odds with local whites, law enforcement, and other Indians, all three brothers would meet violent deaths.

One of Bill’s older brothers reportedly had got drunk one day and went to the nearby town of Cheney, where he rode through town firing his weapon in every direction until town vigilantes gathered to put down the disturbance. The editor of the Cheney Sentinel took up position behind a tree, and when Billy’s brother was in range he shot him dead in the street.

Young Bill Jackson, who now had lost his father and at least one of his older brothers, continued down a destructive path, culminating with his murder of Spokane Chief William Three Mountains in 1883. Three Mountains had been rebuking young Jackson for a wrongdoing at the Deep Creek Settlement outside of Spokane where Bill was living. Angered by the Chief, Billy shot and killed him and was sentenced to one year in prison.

Billy proved a difficult man to track down, so local authorities offered a reward for anyone who could secure his arrest. Twenty-year-old Joel Warren, who was living in the vicinity of Deep Creek, was inspired to bring Jackson to justice and was deputized by Sheriff Dillon. In 1884, Warren became a local celebrity for bringing Jackson to justice. Curly Jim, a local Indian, tipped off Warren that Jackson had been hiding in the teepees of the Indian settlement near what is now Gonzaga University. When Jackson returned to the camp at sundown, Warren successfully arrested him after an intense struggle.

Now Read: Bill Jackson: The Killing of a Mixed-Race Indian in Early Spokane
Part 2: Police Brutality or Rough Justice?