Whistalks Way

Fort George Wright Drive Renamed Whistalks Way

After Colonel Edward Steptoe's defeat by local Native tribes, Colonel George Wright was sent to avenge the U.S. military. Wright's murderous rampage resulted in a street sign memorial in his name. Prof. Margo Hill contributed to a protest that resulted in renaming the street in 2020 as Whistalks Way.

In 1858, tensions between the white settlers and the native population grew in the Palouse. In May of 1858, Col. Edward Steptoe led an expedition meant to end at Fort Colvile. His plan was to suppress Indian resistance. Steptoe and his men were ill equipped for battle, though, being small in number and carrying outdated weapons. He and his soldiers encountered an overwhelming force of warriors from local tribes, which ended in his retreat to Fort Walla Walla, Washington. After his defeat at the Tohotonimmee battlefield, at the present-day Steptoe Butte, Colonel Wright was sent to restore order.

Colonel Wright's invasion of the Spokane Valley was so forceful and extreme that the Native resistance was immediately overwhelmed. On September 8, 1858, Wright slaughtered hundreds of Indian horses and demolished the tribe's food supply and economy. During his crusade, Wright also destroyed crops and food stores. He pronounced judgment
upon and hung many Indians whom he considered to be insurgents. Wright's battles against the Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Palouse, and Yakama tribes culminated in a final victory at the new Fort Spokane, which was formally renamed Fort George Wright in 1899.

In Spokane, Washington, a street running alongside present-day Spokane Falls Community College was named Fort George Wright Drive in commemoration of Wright's military accomplishments. Margo Hill, a lawyer, Eastern Washington University Urban Planning professor, and member of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, became a spokesperson and contributed efforts to change the street name. In 2020, Hill united with African Americans, Asians, Muslims, Natives, and whites to conduct a protest march. On December 14th, 2020, the Spokane City Council unanimously approved the change and the street was officially renamed.

The name accepted by all of those concerned was Whistalks Way. The name honored the daughter of Chief Polatkin and the wife of Qualchan. Whis-talks was a Native American warrior that fought in combat in 1858. She "rode alongside her husband into battle and carried the medicine eagle feather staff into the U.S. military post to parley," Margo Hill wrote later. After Qualchan was hanged, Whis-talks and Lokout, Qualchan's half-brother, escaped Wright's grasp. They lived out their lives as domestic partners near the Spokane and Columbia rivers . Not only was the name change meant to honor the Native American warrior, but to honor Native American women in general.

After the successful change of the street name, Margo Hill wrote the article that exhibits her belief that the actions of George Wright in 1858, were hate crimes against Native American people. She explains, in her article
that the city resolution pronounced Wright's name a "continual stain" because of his acts of terrorism and genocide. In her opinion, Wright went beyond his duties as a general by murdering Indigenous peoples and destroying supplies that led to the disruption of their economy. Hill believes Wright intentionally engaged in terrorist acts against the Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Palouse, and Yakama tribes.

Because of the successful efforts of the Spokane Tribe of Indians and other protestors, the city of Spokane now “honors the history of the original inhabitants, the Sp̓oq̓ínš, and their relationship to their sacred place. With ‘Whistalks Way,’ we honor women warriors and tell their story; we sing the songs of our ancestors and work to empower the next generation of Indigenous people,” Hill wrote. If you are driving near Spokane Falls Community College and see the street sign, remember the history and the struggles for change that resulted in Whistalks Way.