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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gene Warnick: Latah Creek rebranding a slow-going affair for Spokane County

Hangman Valley wasn’t rebranded in a day.

In fact, if you head out to the Spokane County golf course, there are no signs – literally – that the course’s name has changed.

The large boulder at the entrance still has etched on it a barren tree with a lone branch next to a river, with the cursive “g” in Hangman Valley looking suspiciously like a noose. (One of the course’s previous logos did have a noose hanging off a tree, but the rope was later removed.)

The scorecards and pencils still have Hangman Valley on them, as well as the bulletin board outside the clubhouse.

But call the pro shop and someone will answer, “Latah Creek Golf Course.” Or go to the county’s website to make a tee time and you’ll find the course’s new logo.

“I know it’s not pleasant to say, ‘Oh, I’m going to make my golfing reservations at the Hangman,’ Margo Hill, an Eastern Washington University urban planning professor and member of the Spokane Tribe, told The Spokesman-Review last year when a name change for the course was approved by Spokane County Commissioners. “Yeah, that’s a brutal name, because brutal things happened there.”

• • •

Built in 1969, the course took the common name of the creek that runs through it and the street that it’s on.

But that area of Spokane hasn’t always been known as Hangman Valley.

According to Spokane Historical, a project led by EWU, Lewis and Clark learned about the creek from Native Americans and listed it on their map as the “Lau-taw River,” derived from the Nez Perce word that roughly means “place to fish.”

In 1858, Army Col. George Wright recorded the creek’s name as Ned-Whauld or Lahtoo.

But it was that same year that Wright committed an atrocity that led the creek to be known as something else.

On Sept. 24, 1858, Yakama Sub-Chief Qualchan, who had been accused of attacking white settlers in the area, and his wife, Whist-alks, went to Wright’s camp with a few others to negotiate peace.

Wright had other ideas, as noted in his journal: “Qualchan came to see me at 9 o’clock, at 9:15 he was hung.”

Over the next few days, more than a dozen other Native Americans met the same fate at that site – all without a trial.

That led locals to call the creek and the surrounding area Hangman Valley.

The name was changed back to Latah Creek in 1899 by a Federal Act, although it continued to be listed by both names for another century. The county commissioners declared in 1997 that all maps should list the area as Latah, but the U.S. Board of Geographic Names rejected the name change, with some – including tribal members – arguing it was an attempt to whitewash history.

Last December, nearly 25 years after declaring the name of the creek should be changed, county commissioners renamed Fort George Wright to Whistalks Way and approved the golf course’s switch to Latah Creek.

“It’s all overdue, if you will,” Spokane County Parks Director Doug Chase said.

But the announcement didn’t come without further controversy. The Spokane Tribe apparently wasn’t consulted about the name change, although county commissioners said attempts had been made to contact the tribe.

Carol Evans, Chair of the Spokane Tribe, told The Spokesman-Review at the time that she would have liked to have addressed the matter with the tribe’s elders.

“(The elders) are the ones that told them in the past they were not in favor (of a name change),” Evans said. “The current elders maybe would be.”

Why would the tribe oppose a change?

“We don’t want that to be forgotten, that our ancestors were forcibly removed from our land,” Evans said. “A colonel came in to eliminate us from this earth … and we don’t want that history forgotten.”

• • •

There’s a lot more that goes into the rebranding of a golf course than a new shingle in front of the clubhouse.

While golfers might have been looking for some signs when they began play this spring, the county parks department hopes to have work completed by the end of the golf season.

“We wanted to take our time and do it right as opposed to getting everything done by the time the doors opened (this spring),” Chase said.

The county has been working with the Spokane advertising agency Klundt Hosmer, which had previously created the logo for The Highlands in Post Falls and The Creek at Qualchan, as well as redesigned the look for the other City of Spokane courses.

Not only is the county rebranding Hangman Valley, but it’s also updating the logos for Liberty Lake and MeadowWood.

“We were seeking a look of harmony and connection, so when you’re on a county course, you know it’s a county course,” said Darrin Klundt, the advertising agency’s president and chief creative officer.

Klundt said his agency came up with three brand attributes to be reflected in the county courses: quality, fun and value-based.

“Latah Creek is a little different, because we’re trying to make a hard shift in name and reputation,” Klundt said. “We’re also trying to build on the legacy with a completely new name. The creek is the creek. That hasn’t changed.”

The new logos only recently received final approval from the golf committee, course superintendents and finally the county commissioners, and were posted on the county’s website earlier this month.

Chase said the immediate focus will be on the signage around the facility, including new scorecards and tee markers with the Latah Creek name.

Soon there will be logo golf balls, ball markers and other Latah Creek merchandise in the pro shop, such as golf shirts and hats.

“There are a lot of opportunities to utilize the new logo and new look,” Chase said.

Chase admitted he sometimes still calls the course Hangman Valley.

“I’m getting better, not so much recently,” he said. “Latah Creek has a phenomenal ring to it. It hasn’t been nearly as difficult as one might think. I’m happy to report we’ve had a lot of positive feedback from the community.”

He’s right, of course. Latah Creek sounds just fine and, let’s face it, is a lot more marketable than Hangman Valley.

Just never forget what happened next to that creek, no matter what the course is called.

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