Battle of Spokane Plains

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Battle of Spokane Plains
Part of the Coeur d'Alene War, Yakima War
Battle of Four Lakes and Battle of Spokane Plains.jpg
Map showing the Battle of Four Lakes and the Battle of Spokane Plains
Date September 5, 1858
Location near modern-day Fort George Wright near Spokane, Washington
47°40′40″N 117°28′33″W / 47.677867°N 117.475915°W / 47.677867; -117.475915Coordinates: 47°40′40″N 117°28′33″W / 47.677867°N 117.475915°W / 47.677867; -117.475915
Result Native American defeat, United States Army victory
 United States Kalispel
Schitsu'umsh (Coeur d'Alene)
Commanders and leaders
George Wright Kamiakin
(including 200 civilian drovers)
~500 to 700
Casualties and losses
1 (wounded) 6 (dead)
unknown wounded

The Battle of Spokane Plains was a battle during the Coeur d'Alene War of 1858 in the Washington Territory (now the states of Washington and Idaho) in the United States. The Coeur d'Alene War was part of the Yakima War, which began in 1855. The battle was fought west of Fort George Wright near Spokane, Washington, between elements of the United States Army and a coalition of Native American tribes consisting of Kalispel (Pend Oreille), Palus, Schitsu'umsh (Coeur d'Alene), Spokan, and Yakama warriors.

About the battle[edit]

Although their lands were protected by treaty, the Schitsu'umsh were outraged by miners and illegal white settlers invading their territory. They also perceived the Mullan Road, whose construction had just begun near Fort Dalles, as a precursor to a land-grab by the United States.[1] Two white miners were killed, and the U.S. Army decided to retaliate. The Coeur d'Alene War (the last part of the larger Yakima War)[2] began with the Battle of Pine Creek (near present-day Rosalia, Washington) on May 17, 1858, during which a column of 164 U.S. Army infantry and cavalry under the command of brevet Lieutenant Colonel Edward Steptoe was routed by a group composed primarily of Cayuse, Schitsu'umsh, Spokan, and Yakama warriors.[3]

Following Steptoe's defeat, Colonel George Wright, commander of Fort Dalles, led a much larger unit of 500 Army soldiers, 200 civilian drovers, and 30 Niimíipu (or Nez Perce) scouts to nearby Fort Walla Walla and then north to the Spokane Plains (near modern-day Spokane, Washington).[4][5] On September 1, 1858, Wright's men defeated the Yakama chief Kamiakin and a force of about 500 Schitsu'umsh, Palus, Spokan, and Yakama warriors in the Battle of Four Lakes.[6] Wright rested for three days, and at 6:30 A.M. on September 5 moved out again to the north.[7]

Wright's column had moved about 5 miles (8.0 km) north[8] and emerged onto the Spokane Plains when the reformed group of 500 to 700[8][9] Kalispel, Palus, Schitsu'umsh, Spokan, and Yakama warriors began attacking again.[8] The Indians harassed the troop by racing toward the column, firing, and speeding away before the soldiers could respond.[10] Wright headed for a small forest about 9 miles (14 km) further to the north.[8] As the Army troop reached the forest (about the modern-day intersection of W. Deno Road and N. Craig Road), the Native Americans set fire to the prairie all around them. As thick smoke surrounded the soldiers, the Native Americans attempted to drive off the Army pack train. The infantry fired and drove them into the woods,[11] where Wright fired his two 12-pounder howitzers and two 6-pounder guns[4][12] at them.[11] Although Wright's infantry were armed with the new Springfield Model 1855 rifle-musket[13] (which had a range of 1,000 yards (910 m)).[14] Native American horsemen used the smoke to cover their approach, effectively negating the guns' longer range.[10]

Wright now turned east-northeast to the Spokane River where, with the water at his back, he could more effectively concentrate his fire and protect his men. After moving about 2.5 miles (4.0 km), Wright temporarily halted his column to allow the pack train to close up.[8] The troop moved out again. To clear the way, Wright ordered his 30 Niimíipu (or Nez Perce) scouts, led by 1st Lt. John Mullan, to race slightly ahead and scout out the land to ensure the column was moving in the right direction.[10] Then three companies of Wright's best marksmen moved forward in a skirmish line to the front and right, breaking up the Indian attacks.[8] They were followed by Wright's cavalry, which charged into the enemy lines and scattered the warriors.[10] Whenever Native Americans attempted to regroup in the forest to Wright's left, the howitzers and cannon would rake the trees.[15] Kamiakin himself was wounded when a shattered tree limb fell on him.[11]

By nightfall, the Army column had reached the river, and the Native American combatants had scattered. Only a single soldier had been slightly injured, even though the column had come 25 miles (40 km) through a near-constant barrage of gunfire.[11] At least six Native Americans were confirmed dead, and three wounded (although the number of wounded was undoubtedly much higher).[16]

Kamiakin had twice assembled a large coalition of warriors from disparate tribes, a feat, historian Keith Petersen has noted, which has gone underappreciated for more than a century. He did so the second time despite having suffered a terrible defeat just three days earlier. Moreover, until Wright began using his skirmish line and sending out cavalry charges, Kamiakin's forces had come exceedingly close to defeating the professional soldiers through the use of prairie fire, confusion, and hit-and-run tactics.[10] Nevertheless, the Army victory at Spokane Plains shattered Kamiakin's alliance, effectively ending the Coeur d'Alene War. On September 17, the Schitsu'umsh chiefs signed a document of surrender.[17]


  1. ^ Frey 2001, pp. 79-81.
  2. ^ Glassley 1953, p. 143.
  3. ^ Manring 1912, pp. 137-138.
  4. ^ a b Manring 1912, p. 174.
  5. ^ Josephy 1997, p. 382.
  6. ^ Petersen 2014, pp. 86-87.
  7. ^ Manring 1912, pp. 201-202.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Manring 1912, p. 202.
  9. ^ McDonald & Bullard 2016, p. 77.
  10. ^ a b c d e Petersen 2014, p. 88.
  11. ^ a b c d Berhow 2012, p. 40.
  12. ^ McFarland 2016, p. 175.
  13. ^ McFarland 2016, p. 155.
  14. ^ Petersen 2014, pp. 74, 84.
  15. ^ Manring 1912, p. 203.
  16. ^ Manring 1912, p. 204-207.
  17. ^ Berhow 2012, p. 42.