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""Hang Them All": George Wright and the Plateau Indian War" Topic

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19th Century

468 hits since 21 Mar 2018
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP22 Mar 2018 11:56 a.m. PST

"Col. George Wright's campaign against the Yakima, Spokane, Coeur d'Alene, Palouse, and other Indian peoples of eastern Washington Territory was intended to punish them for a recent attack on another U.S. Army force. Wright had once appeared to respect the Indians of the Upper Columbia Plateau, but in 1858 he led a brief war noted for its violence, bloodshed, and summary trials and executions. Today, many critics view his actions as war crimes, but among white settlers and politicians of the time, Wright was a patriotic hero who helped open the Inland Northwest to settlement. "Hang Them All" offers a comprehensive account of Wright's campaigns and explores the controversy surrounding his legacy.

Over thirty days, Wright's forces defeated a confederation of Plateau warriors in two battles, destroyed their food supplies, slaughtered animals, burned villages, took hostages, and ordered the hanging of sixteen prisoners. Seeking the reasons for Wright's turn toward mercilessness, Cutler asks hard questions: If Wright believed he was limiting further bloodshed, why were his executions so gruesomely theatrical and cruel? How did he justify destroying food supplies and villages and killing hundreds of horses? Was Wright more violent than his contemporaries, or did his actions reflect a broader policy of taking Indian lands and destroying Native cultures?

Stripped of most of their territory, the Plateau tribes nonetheless survived and preserved their cultures. With Wright's reputation called into doubt, some northwesterners question whether an army fort and other places in the region should be named for him. Do historically based names honor an undeserving murderer, or prompt a valuable history lesson? In examining contemporary and present-day treatments of Wright and the incident, "Hang Them All" adds an important, informed voice to this continuing debate"
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John Leahy22 Mar 2018 12:11 p.m. PST

This applies to combat on the plains. You could not capture pony herds. The Indians would just take them from the Army again. Killing them stopped that. Capturing prisoners, destroying villages and food supplies were standard practices, especially during the winter when Indians were restricted on their movements.



Stephen Miller22 Mar 2018 1:52 p.m. PST

As to the "recent attack on another U.S. Army force" mentioned in your post, that fighting was the basis for the 1950's movie "Pillars in the Sky" starring Jeff Chandler and Dorothy Malone. The name of the Army commander, Steptoe was changed in the movie to "Steadloe" I believe.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP22 Mar 2018 2:07 p.m. PST

I wasn't sure but thanks for your confirmation my friend!! (smile)


charared Supporting Member of TMP22 Mar 2018 6:08 p.m. PST

Destroying/taking "Indian" crops and food storage areas, burning native villages etc., had been part of a strategic plan of retaliation from time immemorial. European settlers also followed this pattern. One has to look no further back than Jamestown in 1607 to see this stratagem enforced in North America.

Survival's a real…

old fart

attilathepun47 Inactive Member22 Mar 2018 9:04 p.m. PST

I think Wright's seeming ruthlessness was really just good policy, which probably saved further destruction of human life for the Indians as well as the Whites. By dealing out an overwhelming defeat coupled with stern punishment, he effectively prevented any further serious trouble from the tribes involved in his campaign; it was not the last Indian War in the Pacific Northwest, but it was the last war for them. I think it reflects a clear understanding of Indian psychology on Wright's part. It was vacillation between punitive campaigns and conciliation that led to prolonged troubles with certain tribes.

For those who may wonder why more is not heard of Wright, he was kept in the Far West during the Civil War (perhaps a victim of his own success), and then was drowned in a shipwreck a couple years after the Civil War.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP23 Mar 2018 9:52 a.m. PST

Sad ending as many of the most famous Wild West famous characters….


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