Unveiling History

The Truth AboutThe Battle of Four Lakes Marker

How did Eastern Washington's most inaccurate historical marker come to be?

The Columbia Plateau was torn by warfare in the late 1850s. One of the significant battles that took place was the Battle of Four Lakes, where Native American tribes including the Yakama, Palouse, Spokane, and Coeur d'Alene fought against the United States. Kamiakin, a chief of the Yakima tribe, was the most prominent of the Native leaders. A total force of around 500-700 Natives fought, Colonel George Wright commanded approximately 500 United States soldiers.

Wright sought to avenge Colonel Steptoe, who earlier that summer was defeated in a battle by the Indians and narrowly escaped with his life.

The battle unfolded on September 1, 1858, Colonel Wright, upon reaching the battlefield, observed a few Native American troops positioned on a hill. Friendly Nez Perce scouts informed him that the main force awaited on the other side, attempting to lure his troops into an ambush. Wright still decided to push up the hill. Then, instead of charging closer as the natives planned, Wright used the superior range of his new weapons, most notably the Springfield Model 1855 rifle-muskets, to shoot from atop the hill. With a final charge from his dragoons, the Native force scattered and Wright won the battle with not a single man lost.

Following the Battle of Four Lakes, Colonel Wright and his troops rested at the site before encountering the Native force once again in the Battle of the Spokane Plains. Despite facing a larger Native American force, Wright's advanced weapons ensured another devastating defeat for the tribes, with no casualties on the side of the U.S. Although the war was effectively over, Wright felt that his mission was far from complete. His men continued to march along the Spokane River, taking sometimes murdering Native prisoners and destroying farms and dwellings. During their march, they encountered a large herd of animals being led by a group of Natives, this included around 1,000 horses. Wright decided to keep only 130 horses and ordered the slaughter of the rest, in an event known as the Horse Massacre.

On October 20, 1935, the Battle of Four Lakes Marker was dedicated in Four Lakes. The dedication involved the Four Lakes Grange, Spokane County Pioneer Society, and the Medical Lake Commercial Club, who all played a part in its creation. The monument received a ceremonial christening with water from all four lakes, and the governor at the time, Clarence D. Martin was scheduled to give a speech titled “The State of Washington Encourages and is Committed to Mark and Perpetuate Washington’s Historical Spots.” While the dedication ceremony was significant, it appears that no one verified the accuracy of the facts engraved on the monument, or possibly even willingly left it incorrect.

The major discrepancy is how the monument states that Wright's men of 700 soldiers routed 5,000 Native forces, which was wildly incorrect. Furthermore, the wording on the monument incorrectly labels the Native Americans as "hostile," despite it being the U.S. forces that were invading their lands. These inaccuracies perpetuate a narrative of white heroism overcoming overwhelming odds and can be seen as racially biased. However, despite the inaccuracies, the monument remains unchanged. As there has been no substantial movement to reimagine or correct the monument as it echoes the ideals of the past.



13219 W. 1st Avenue, Four Lakes, WA 99014