1858: Qualchan

1 comment September 24th, 2010 Headsman

“Qualchan came to see me at 9 o’clock, and at 9:15 he was hung.”

George Wright

It was this morning in 1858 that the gaily dressed Yakama Indian guerrilla Qualchan turned himself in to his Anglo hunter, and was promptly put to death.

Wright was prosecuting the Yakima War in the Pacific Northwest — another characteristic Indian conflict featuring a formerly remote tribe suddenly cursed with valuable land by the discovery of gold.

Qualchan (sometimes “Qualchen”, “Qual-Chen”, or “Qualchien”) was among the Yakima chieftains resisting “encouragement” to give up that part of their territory most desirable to white settlers, and eventually, Qualchan killed encroaching white miners and made himself an outlaw.

For more than two years, the army hunted Qualchan in vain as he harried white settlers around Washington — or, as Wright put it,

Qual-Chen … has been actively engaged in all the murders, robberies, and attacks upon the white people since 1855, both east and west of the Cascade Mountains … committing assaults on our people whenever the opportunity offered.

Late in the game, the American military had been reduced to a Bushian with-us-or-against-us posture:

Kamiakin and Qualchan, cannot longer be permitted to remain at large or in the country, they must be surrendered or driven away, and no accommodation should be made with any who will harbor them; let all know that asylum given to either of these troublesome Indians, will be considered in future as evidence of a hostile intention on the part of the tribe.

The expedient that induced this potent commando to throw his own life away was the capture of Qualchan’s father, Owhi, rather dishonorably effected on an invitation to parley, then parlayed into a threat to execute the hostage lest the wanted Yakima produce himself.

“I thought then the worst that could happen would be a few months’ imprisonment,” remembered Qualchan’s wife (who was also present). “You may imagine my terror and consternation when I saw that they were making preparations to hang my husband. I first thought it was a huge joke, but when I saw the deliberateness of their preparations, the fullness of their treachery and cowardice became apparent.”

And since the U.S. was maintaining that draconian view of Qualchan’s collaborators, Wright followed up his triumph with summary hangings over the next several days of several more Palouse. By the month’s end, he was prepared to declare the Indians “entirely subdued.”

Wright’s rough peace caused the nearby creek in eastern Washington to be christened “Hangman’s Creek”, though there’s been a tendency to steer away from that frightful name in recent times. But what better way to honor an indigenous foe of colonial land conquest than by naming a golf course for him?

The unfolding fate of the Yakimas is further explored in the public-domain book Ka-mi-akin, the last hero of the Yakimas, whose title character was Qualchan’s uncle.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Murder,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Outlaws,Pelf,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Terrorists,USA,Wartime Executions,Washington

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1858: Chief Leschi

2 comments February 19th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1858, Chief Leschi of the Nisqually tribe was controversially hanged at Fort Steilacoom (present-day Lakewood) in the Washington Territory.

Yankee officer Isaac Stevens only spent four years in the Washington Territory as Franklin Pierce’s appointed governor, but he left his stamp on the state.

And no project defined the tenure of this authoritarian executive like putting the screws to the native peoples. Growing white settlement in the Pacific Northwest was creating conflict with the Indians who already inhabited it. In time, that conflict would claim Leschi.

Late in 1854, Stevens summoned the chiefs of several tribes in the newly-minted Washington Territory for an offer they couldn’t refuse: pack up and move to reservations of a few square miles’ undesirable territory, ceding 2.5 million acres to white settlers.

Chief Leschi — and it was Stevens’ men who had designated him a “chief”, the operation upon an alien culture of a bureaucracy that required official spokesmen — allegedly refused to sign the Treaty of Medicine Creek, although the evidence is unclear. Whatever the truth of that matter, sufficient signatures were cajoled for the government to ratify an agreement for massive dispossession, and Leschi became a prominent voice in the growing Indian dissatisfaction once the extent of the hustle became clear.

An attempt to arrest Leschi, who increasingly feared white assassination, touched off the Puget Sound War in 1855, and with an analogous conflict brewing on the other side of the Cascade Mountains, all Washington was soon a conflict zone.

That story’s end is predictable enough, but Leschi’s fate was protested by both native and white contemporaries. Leschi was condemned for “murdering” a militiaman during hostilities, a charge whose logic flowed from the rights asserted by American authorities but whose fundamental injustice (even leaving aside the very doubtful factual evidence) seems manifest, as it did to the defendant.

I have supposed that the killing of armed men in wartime was not murder; if it was, the soldiers who killed Indians are guilty of murder too.

George W. Bush would’ve called him an illegal combatant. That was hardly common sentiment.

So much good will did Leschi enjoy among whites — with whom he had years of amicable relations prior to Gov. Stevens’ arrival — that a scheduled January 22 hanging was deviously put off by the sheriff charged with the task: he arranged to have himself arrested on a liquor charge while in possession of the death warrant shortly before Leschi was to have been hung, and the two-hour window allotted for the execution of the sentence elapsed before matters could be put right.

They carried the sentence out four weeks later — “I felt then I was hanging an innocent man,” executioner Charles Grainger would say, “and I believe it yet” — but that hardly put an end to Chief Leschi’s story. The Nisqually have pushed hard for Leschi’s official exoneration, and won a Washington Senate resolution to that effect and an “acquittal” (of no legal force) from a panel of state jurists. But even though it attached to a convicted murderer, Leschi’s was never a black name in the state; it adorns a Seattle neighborhood and a number of schools and other public places. (“Stevens” is similarly prominent.)

There’s an excellent summary of the Leschi case from Oregon Historical Quarterly, a Washington State Historical Society website, and a 1905 public domain book published to make the case for Leschi.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,Heads of State,History,Martyrs,Murder,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,USA,Washington,Wrongful Executions

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