Monday, March 9, 2015

A Lynching in Cheney

[Edit: After writing this post, I discovered another source, which throws a different light on the whole incident.]

On the evening of September 7th, 1884, a group of men rode their horses from the pioneer village of Spokane Falls to even-more-rude hamlet of Cheney, in the Washington Territory. They had come to murder a man. In Cheney the men broke down the door of the county jail. They dragged out an unnamed Spokane Indian who was accused of having raped a white woman earlier that day. The rope broke on the first attempt, so they tried again. This time the Indian man was hoisted into the air. He probably thrashed about a few minutes, but was soon still. The men left the body where it hung and rode home "by separate routes."

This image of the old jail was captured by EWU professor J. Orin Oliphant
in 1923. Courtesy of the EWU Archives and Special Collections.
They murdered the wrong man. Within a few days the federal Indian Agent to the Spokane Tribe, Sydney D. Waters, stated as much (see below). An 1896 Spokesman-Review article compellingly identified a different man as the rapist. Mistaken lynchings were actually quite common in nineteenth-century America, and so was the excuse that was quickly made in Spokane--though the victim might have been innocent of the specific crime, he was probably guilty of something, and deserved his fate.

There are no official records of the arrest and lynching that I can find--just a handful of contemporary newspaper stories and a few lines in a memoir. Even the name of the victim is unknown. The two paragraphs above are most of what we know, and probably ever will know, about this terrible episode. Below are links to all of the significant primary sources I have been able to find, in order of their publication:

"The Lynching of An Indian Causes the Braves to Don Their War Paint..." Los Angeles Herald, September 9, 1884, p. 1 col. 3.
Pieces very similar to this one appeared in many western newspaper after the events. The Indians are described as "very sullen and are putting on war paint."

"Telegraph Notes." Omaha Daily Bee, September 10, 1884, p. 1 col. 3.
This very short notice reads in its entirety: "An Indian confined at Jail in Cheney, Washington territory, for raping a white girl recently, was lynched Monday night. His fellows claim he was innocent and threaten trouble."

"Spokane Outrage" The Northwest Tribune, September 12, 1884. A more detailed account.

"Neck-Tie Party: A Fable" The Northwest Tribune, Sept. 12, 1884, p. 5, col. 3. [PDF]
This article, published in the Cheney newspaper almost a week after the event, describes the murder in comic terms as "a neck-tie party given by one Joe Warren an Indian of Spokane Falls to the elite of Cheney." The identification of the Indian as Joe Warren is certainly a typo--Joel Warren was the name of the deputy who arrested the accused. The link above is to a typescript of the original, compiled by J. Orin Oliphant and included in his collection Readings in the Early History of Cheney, Washington, available at the JFK Library Archives and Special Collections at EWU.

"To the Settlers" Spokane Falls Review, September 27, 1884, p. 1, cols. 6, 7.
Indian agent Sydney D. Waters reassures area whites "need not fear that any trouble will result with the Indians on account of of the lynching of one of their number at Cheney." Waters also notes that he has been "positively assured" that the killers lynched the wrong Indian, but that he "no doubt deserved his fate." He blames the whole incident on "these devils" who were selling whiskey to the Indians.

"Twelve Years a Secret" Spokane Daily Chronicle - Feb 21, 1896, p. 3, col. 1.
This article, published nearly 12 years after the events, seems to very strongly confirm the innocence of the murdered Indian and includes the most detailed (if sensational) description of the events. The article notes that the rape victim "has always been in doubt" that the lynchers hanged the right man, and that "If the names of that mob should be published it would be found that a large number of them could be readily found in the city directory of today."

Detail from the 1884 birds-eye map,
with jail and courthouse visible.
"Indian Lynched by Citizens at Cheney" by Nelson Wayne Durham. from History of the City of Spokane and Spokane Country, Washington, Volume 1 (S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, Spokane, WA., 1912) p. 593. In this very brief account, told to Durham by former sheriff Joel Warren, some facts seem confused by time. Warren includes the information that some Indians "blamed me for the lynching, and for two or three years I was warned that these Indians were watching for a chance to kill me."

Bird's eye view of Cheney, Wash. Ter., county seat of Spokane County, 1884
This map of Cheney, made the same year as the lynching, is helpful for placing events. Can you find the jail, pictured above, on the map?

...and there the trail goes cold. I can find no other records of the arrest of the murdered Indian in 1884 or of any attempt to find his killers. Oddly, Que-to-Quin, the native man identified (and who knows if the claim was true) as the actual rapist in the 1896 article also drops from sight. Though Indians in the region were angered by the action and there were rumors of an uprising, none took place.

If the lynching had failed in its stated purpose of punishing a rapist, it succeeded in what was always an unspoken purpose of such proceedings--to inform the targeted ethnic group that they had no rights that white society respected, and their lives could be forfeit at any time. The 1884 lynching was part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing that accompanied the growth of Spokane and was designed to force Indians out of the immediate environs of the city and onto the reservations that had been set aside for them.The years after 1884 saw an increasing campaign to drive Indians from the region, and particularly from within the Spokane city limits. Indians were allowed to come into Spokane to shop and spend their money, but were expected not to stay. It was a western "sundown town" in some ways.

[Spcial thanks to EWU Archivist Dr. Charlie Mutschler and Spokane Public Library Northwest Room Libraria Riva Dean in finding the material for this post. Forthcoming Post: Remembering the Cheney Lynchings Today.]

1 comment:

Clayton Hanson said...

Spokane Falls was already a small city in 1884 (by Western North American standards) with probably 5,000 people. Cheney was probably 350 or so.

Like most lynchings, this one seems to have served several purposes. Foremost is what you've identified: enforced racial separation and supremacy through terror. Second - and this is why the lynching party rode a half-day from Spokane Falls instead of stringing up another Indian man in the city as "the second culprit" - "justice" was in the hands of white residents of Spokane Falls, not the sheriff and county courthouse in Cheney (territory/county) nor the Indian agency (federal government). In other words, it also seems like part of the Cheney-Spokane violence over regional supremacy.