* Isaac Stevens
* Yelm Jim
* General John Wool
* Col. Silas Casey
* Lt. Augustus Kautz
* Lt. William Slaughter
* Col. George Wright
Colonel George Wright |
Commander of US Army East of the Cascades
1803 - July 30, 1865
George Wright was born in 1803 in Norwich, Vermont to a family with a strong West Point tradition. At the age of fifteen, George was admitted as a cadet to West Point. During his time at the Academy, far-reaching changes were underway as the curriculum became increasingly technical in nature. Cadet Wright graduated from the institution in 1822, the 309th cadet to do so.
Promoted to first lieutenant in September, 1827, Wright married Margaret Wallace Foster shortly thereafter. The couple had three children-a daughter, and two sons. The Wrights were posted to Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis.
First Lieutenant Wright had a reputation of intelligence and reliability, which led to his being selected for risky duty. The Pawnee Indians, just 150 miles distant, had begun to threaten the white settlers. Wright led a modest force of men to the Pawnee villages to take the temperature of the situation. The mission was completed without incident, and upon his return he filed a report on the grievances of the Indians.
Wright built on his well-earned reputation over the years that followed. He was promoted to Captain in 1836. He worked to squelch an insurrectionist group called "The Patriots," who planned a revolution intended to establish an independent Republic of Canada. He spent two years attempting to control the Seminole Indians in Florida, leading a force of 108 men in canoes for 2 days with no casualties. These efforts won him a brevet to major for "meritorious conduct, zeal, energy and perseverance."
In 1845, he fought in the Mexican War, engaging in battles at Churubusco and Molino del Rey. He sustained a wound to his shoulder in the fight to take Molino del Rey, and was helped off the battlefield by Isaac I. Stevens, who would later become the first governor of Washington Territory. After 26 years with the Army, Wright was promoted to major.
Major Wright was stationed to the Pacific Division Headquarters in 1852, and assigned command of the Northern California District. For two and a half years, Wright tried to keep the peace between settlers and Indians, only to find himself criticized in the press for favoring the Indians.
Wright was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1855 and to full colonel just one month later to command the Ninth Infantry, soon to be stationed in the Pacific Northwest. He met his regiment in Virginia, then regiment and dependents boarded the steamship St. Louis for Panama. They crossed the isthmus via train in four hours, completing the trip in two ships. The regiment arrived at Fort Vancouver on January 21 and 22, 1856, less than a month after the signing of the Medicine Creek treaty.
Once more, Colonel Wright found himself caught in the conflict between settlers and Indians, but this time he was faced with a political challenge as well. Isaac Stevens had been appointed both Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Territory. Determined to confine the Indians to reservations, he was actively engaged in making treaties with Indians as far east as Montana. The native discontent was directly related to the unfavorable terms of the treaties. The Indians believed they had been forced into signing away their homelands.
Colonel Wright's immediate superior, General John E. Wool, Commander of the Pacific, was prone to publicly chastising both Territorial Governors and Volunteer Militia for their treatment of the Indians. With Governor Stevens on one side, and General Wool on the other, Wright was placed in a very difficult position.
General Wool ordered Wright to establish new military posts in Yakima country and in Walla Walla. Wool wanted the posts to be built simultaneously, but Wright chose not to divide his forces. Wright decided to build the Walla Walla post first, then move into Yakima country. His actions caused Wool to accuse him of being overly influenced by Governor Stevens.
Wright was moving his troops and supplies up the Columbia by steamer when, on March 26, 1856, he heard news of an Indian attack on Fort Cascades. Taking 250 men, Wright joined forces with other nearby troops, and cleared the area of hostile Yakima, Klickitat and Cascade Indians. The battle resulted in the deaths of fourteen civilians and three soldiers, and twelve other civilians were wounded. When the perpetrators of the attack were found and tried, Colonel Wright approved the sentences for nine Indians to be hanged. Four more Indians were sent to be jailed at Fort Vancouver for what came to be known as the "Cascades Massacre."
Following the massacre, General Wool ordered Wright to move directly against the Yakimas, hoping to force them into submission. Wright's forces were unopposed as they moved into Yakima country, to the Naches River. They set up Fort Naches as their headquarters, and waited until the spring flooding had ceased and they could safely cross the river.
As summer approached, the Yakimas began preparing for battle. Army reinforcements from Fort Dalles and the Puget Sound District were moved to Fort Naches. As these troops began amassing, two chiefs of the Yakima, Owhi and Teias, but not Kamiakin, who was the main instigator, came to Fort Naches to talk. The two chiefs claimed that although they were angry about the treaties, they would fight no more. Colonel Wright told them that they must become peaceful. The Indians promised to return in five days with all their stolen goods, but instead, they disappeared. Kamiakin reportedly had taken his followers to the Spokane tribe.
On June 17, Wright set out with 450 men into Yakima country. He learned that the Indians were busy fishing to lay up an adequate supply of salmon before leaving the area. He received assurances that once the salmon runs were over, the Indians would comply with Colonel Wright's orders. To insure their compliance, Wright took Chief Teias and his family hostage. Many men, women, children and their livestock followed Wright back to Fort Naches. Some stolen animals were returned to the Army, and Wright was pleased that his orders were obeyed. His force had traveled 300 miles into wild country previously unexplored by white men.
Bearing in mind General Wool's orders, Wright directed his subordinate Major Garnett to establish Fort Simcoe in the Kittitas Valley, and abandoned Fort Naches. He also sent Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Edward Steptoe to Walla Walla to begin building the second fort at that location.
As commander of federal forces east of the Cascades, Wright for a time had offered his protection to Nisqually leader Leschi. Following Leschi's capture in November 1856, Wright wrote:
The assurances I gave to all the chiefs who submitted, including Leschi, were full and complete, so far as the military authorities were concerned, as to their personal safety ... Under all the circumstances of the case, I sincerely hope that Leschi will not be made to suffer death. I most earnestly pray that the pardoning power may be interposed, and Leschi saved from the gallows.
Wright's advocacy on his behalf did not set Leschi free. Leschi was held pending appeal, and finally sentenced to death. On February 19, 1858, Leschi was hanged from the gallows until dead. Wright's position on the matter, however, may have won him a measure of respect from the Indians.
Meanwhile Governor Stevens was traveling to Walla Walla to hold another council. The tribes were angry about the slaughter of women and children by the Volunteer Militia, and few major chiefs would attend the council. General Wool denied him a military escort, and the governor and his party were attacked by Indians from many different tribes. Colonel Steptoe came to his rescue, but Wright was once again placed squarely between the Governor and his commanding officer.
Colonel Steptoe would play an even larger role in Wright's career when he was sent to investigate the death of two miners in the Colville area. Leaving Fort Walla Walla on May 6th, 1858 with a force of 158 soldiers, four days out they met an overwhelming force of Indians blocking their advance. Steptoe was inclined to avoid battle, and began to withdraw. The Indians attacked, and five soldiers, one civilian, and two Nez Perce scouts were killed. Under cover of night, the force was led to the Snake River and safety by Nez Perce Chief, Timothy.
The news of Steptoe's defeat raced east to the government in Washington, D.C. Former Governor Stevens, now a congressional delegate, pointed to the incident as a failure of the Army's Indian policies. Although the Commander-in-Chief of the army, Major General Winfield Scott, had promoted Wright to colonel, he did not offer Wright any further promotions for many years.
Colonel Wright remained in the Army, and continued to maintain a fragile peace between the Indians and settlers. When Civil War broke out in 1861, many officers and enlisted men were shifted east. Wright was appointed Commander, Department of the Pacific in San Francisco. Although appointed Brigadier General of Volunteers, the level of responsibility Wright was handling would ordinarily have called for a promotion to major general.
Wright was an excellent commander who became highly respected in California. Nevertheless, in 1863 he was replaced by a less experienced officer and moved to a subordinate command, the District of California.
When the Civil War ended in 1865, Wright was reassigned to the Pacific Northwest as commander of the Department of the Columbia, based at Fort Vancouver. On July 28, 1865 in San Francisco, he and his wife boarded a steamship to carry them north. They never arrived. On July 30, the ship hit a reef and sank. Both Wright and his wife perished.