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County To Decide: Latah Or Hangman

Sat., March 29, 1997

Politicians are entering the debate over the name of a creek in southern Spokane County.

On Tuesday, county commissioners will vote on a resolution requiring use of the name “Latah,” rather than “Hangman,” in county documents referring to the Spokane River tributary that starts in Idaho.

Commissioner John Roskelley said he requested the resolution after reading a recent Spokesman-Review article about confusion over the creek’s twin names.

Some county documents read Latah, while others read Hangman, Roskelley said. The written summary of one recent land-use decision referred to “Latah (Hangman) Creek.”

“We need to be consistent,” Roskelley said.

Historians say the Native American word “Latah” referred to food or fish, a reference to the salmon that spawned in the river before they were blocked by dams on the Columbia and Spokane rivers.

The confusion started after 1858, when Col. George Wright’s men hanged Yakama Chief Qualchan and several Palouse Indians from a tree along the creek. White visitors started calling the creek Hangman, and the name stuck.

The U.S. Board of Geographic Names named the creek Latah in 1904 at the urging of the Washington Legislature.

The board reversed itself in 1959 because nearly everyone called the creek Hangman. That name is used on government maps, and by many people who live along the stream.

In recent years, some county residents have objected to the name Hangman and its bloody origins.

“To legitimize a cowardly act is improper,” Roskelley said, referring to the hangings that came after Wright offered peace to the Indians.

“Latah Creek is a pretty-sounding name, and it has significant history.”

Roskelley’s resolution asks the Board of Geographic Names to restore the original name. The change wouldn’t affect Hangman Valley Golf Course or the Hangman Hills subdivision.

“I’m not trying to change all the Hangmans,” he said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map of area

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