Environmental History 
of the Spokane River

Hangman Creek

Hanging at Hangman

Image of Yakima Chief Owhi

This creek gained its name from a gruesome event in history that dates back to the settling of the native inhabited West Coast by white settlers and American military forces in the 1840s and 1850s. Tensions between white settlers and Indians had started to rise as the settlers trickled into traditional lands ultimately resulting in violent conflict between Indians and U.S. military forces.

A Lt. Col. George Wright in charge of an infantry regiment was dispatched to handle the conflict. This led to the Battle of Four Lakes and a subsequent battle; both resulted in the defeat of the Spokane and Coeur D’alene warriors.

Two weeks later, while Wright and his troops were camped near Latah Creek, Yakama Chief Owhi approached the encampment with the intent to discuss peace. However, Wright, proceeded to detain Owhi as ransom, sending a messenger to find his son, Qualchan, to tell him that if he did not meet Wright within four days, that he would hang Owhi. Qualchan was accused of killing nine white men and of several assaults on settlements. He would later arrive, unaware of his father’s detainment and Wright’s trap, only to be disarmed and hung by the creek within fifteen minutes of meeting. Owhi would later be fatally shot after attempting to escape from one of Wright’s soldiers during transport. The creek would be named Hangman Creek as a reminder of the hanging of the Yakama Qualchan.

Hangman Vs. Latah

As Spokane began to industrialize more through the 1930s and 1940s, Hangman creek continued to see changes to its use as well as its flow. A local park and campground at what is now High Bridge Park borders Hangman Creek near its confluence with the Spokane River. The campground was shut down in the 1920s due to the Great Depression. Following the Great Depression, a local man named C.B. Durant gained control of the land on the terms that the city would not have to support it financially. This park became a prominent car campground from 1934 to 1955 and was featured in a camping magazine in 1946 that praised the campground as having fair rates. The campground fell out of use in 1955 and began to collect trash. This trash was left in its place until 1974 when the city prepared for the World's Fair. 

During WWII, there was an increased need for food to feed both the soldiers and citizens in the United States. Because of this, most of the fertile land in the U.S. was utilized beyond its full potential. This is no different for the land along Hangman Creek. During WWII, 20,000 acres of the creeks headwaters were converted to farmland for the war effort. This was considered at the time to be the right thing to do because of the circumstances. This land was not reverted back to its natural state following the end of the war, but it has been under continued use as farmland for over seventy years. 

Starting in the 1970s, the city of Spokane began to recognize the state of both the Spokane River and Hangman Creek. Along with the cleaning of the shoreline in High Bridge Park, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did an inventory and status survey of the fish in Hangman Creek as well as the water quality as a means to understand the status and needs of the creek. 

Path Overview

Latah Creek begins in Benewah County, Idaho east of the town Sanders. Hangman Creek can be divided into three geological regions consisting of its upper headwaters (a tributary stream of a river close to or forming part of its source), a valley, and channeled scablands.

In its headwaters, the creek flows through the base of the Rocky Mountains and the foothills of the Clearwater Mountains. After passing through the mountains, the creek reaches the Palouse Hills. The creek then receives its first tributary, South Fork Latah Creek, at the confluence, flowing north passing by the town of Sanders.

Part of the creek’s 20 mile upstream trek passes through an arid valley until it reaches the Channeled Scablands. These scablands “were formed by the Missoula Floods that inundated the area after an ice dam on the Clark Fork Pend Oreille River, during the last Ice Age, was breached. The floods have deposited "terraces", otherwise known as ‘backflood deposits’, which the creek has eroded through, creating steep and unstable gravel slopes topped by sheer cliffs” (Spokane Subbasin Overview)(maybe link to info on Mammoth findings).

After the scablands, as the creek nears spokane it begins to flow northwest, eventually crossing the Washington-Idaho border and through the town of Tekoa. Here the creek receives its 2nd tributary, Little Latah Creek. Continuing north, it receives its 3rd tributary, Cove Creek,

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