Then and Now

Col. Wright’s horse slaughter camp

In 1858, Eastern Washington was still officially closed to white settlement, but hardy trappers, prospectors and traders traversed the region. After Indians killed two prospectors, Lt. Col. Edward Steptoe was sent to investigate, sparking a running 10-hour battle with Indians near modern-day Rosalia. Steptoe and the remnants of his unit survived only by retreating under cover of darkness. In retaliation for the humiliation, Col. George Wright took revenge against the Indians, including the Coeur d’Alene, Spokane and the Palouse Indians, who kept a large herd of horses, numbering 800 head or more, along the river east of Spokane. Wright sent two companies of soldiers to slaughter the animals and destroy the shelters and feed stored for the animals, which took two full days in September.


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Image one
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Image One Photo by Frank Palmer Courtesy the Northwest Room, Spokane Public Library Image Two Jesse Tinsley The Spokesman-Review

The pastoral scene in the historical photo was the site of inexplicable brutality 60 years earlier. In 1858, Eastern Washington was still officially closed to white settlement, but hardy trappers, prospectors and traders traversed the region. After Indians killed two prospectors, Lt. Col. Edward Steptoe was sent to investigate, sparking a running 10-hour battle with Indians near modern-day Rosalia. Steptoe and the remnants of his unit survived only by retreating under cover of darkness. In retaliation for the humiliation, Col. George Wright took revenge against the Indians, including the Coeur d’Alene, Spokane and the Palouse Indians, who kept a large herd of horses, numbering 800 head or more, along the river east of Spokane. Wright sent two companies of soldiers to slaughter the animals and destroy the shelters and feed stored for the animals, which took two full days in September. The Army considered the stock to be unbroken and not useable, nevertheless the herd represented military potential and a source of food in an emergency. The move effectively disarmed the tribes and led to some instances of winter starvation. The bleached bones are still buried under the grassy banks of the Spokane River. A stone monument was erected in 1946 to mark the site of Horse Slaughter Camp. Today, the Centennial Trail winds through the area where the horses were killed.


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