~900 Horses Slaughtered by US Calvary 157 Years Ago Still Remembered Today~

The 900 Horses mural on display at the Spokane Tribal Gathering Place outside of City Hall - ERIN ROBINSON

Here is a equine art project in Spokane, Washington, USA that was made in June (2015).  This a memorial to 900 horses that were shot to death by the US Cavalry in 1857.

On Sept. 8 and 9 (some sources also state the 10th) in 1858, approximately 900 horses that belonged to the Indian tribes of Spokane were slaughtered needlessly  by the soldiers of U.S. Army Col. George Wright along the banks of the Spokane River near what would one day become the border between Washington and Idaho. It was an act designed to make it difficult for tribal members to harvest game animals needed to survive the winter.

Lt. Col. Edward J. Steptoe was ordered to  punish the tribes, but he suffered defeat at their hands in mid-May of 1858 near what would become the town of Rosalia. Wright then set out from his base at Walla Walla to bring the military’s wrath down upon the Indians, which he did at the battles at Four Lakes (Sept. 1, 1858) and Spokane Plains (Sept. 5, 1858).

Not long after, Indian herders were discovered attempting to drive their horses out of U.S. Army Col. George Wright’s reach, and his soldiers overpowered them, capturing the horses and set up a camp near Spokane River. The camp became known as” Horse Slaughter Camp”.


“This work of slaughter has been going on since 10 o’clock a.m. yesterday and will not be completed before this evening,”  George Wright wrote in a report to the secretary of war about his punitive campaign to defeat the combined forces of several Plateau Culture tribes.

Wright wrote: “I deeply regretted killing these poor creatures, but a dire necessity drove me to it.” He also wrote: “The chastisement which these Indians have received has been severe but well merited and absolutely necessary to impress them with our power. … A blow has been struck which they will never forget.”

On that last count, Wright was correct. But how the horses were remembered 157 years later might have surprised him.

Historians who argue that it was the cruelest and most needless of actions said that the horse slaughter was unnecessary because the end of the Indian wars was clearly in sight.

“The slaughter of the horses was an application of shock and awe, and it worked,” said local historian William Stimson, author of “A View of the Falls: An Illustrated History of Spokane.”

By the end of September 1858, Wright declared the Indian wars over.

According to an account of an officer present at the Camp, the horses  were taken to the banks of the river and shot one by one, young colts were knocked in the head and mares were heard crying for their foals. In addition, this: “On the following day, to avoid the slow process of killing them separately, the companies were ordered to fire volleys into the corral.

More than 50 years later, the bleached bones of the horses that were murdered all those years ago could still be seen along the river. Some were washed away in floods and other bones gathered up and processed into lime for sugar refining, according to Edmund T. Becher in his book “Spokane Corona: Eras & Empires.”

The physical evidence may be gone now, but a memorial stands in that area along the banks of the river so the memory of these horse won’t be forgotten.

The stone memorial erected along the Spokane River honoring the horses that died here. (Jack McNeel)
The stone memorial erected along the Spokane River honoring the horses that died here. (Jack McNeel)


~The Unique Way The Horses Are Remembered In Art~

It would take native american artist Ryan Feddersen nine days under a scorching hot sun using different shades of blues, greens and white chalk on a sizzling concrete plaza, to color a background for a mural that would become known as “900 Horses,” filling the downtown plaza in Spokane with a beautiful flowing river of horses in all colors painted by hundreds of visitors and and townspeople that come and live in Spokane.

Feddersen grew up on the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and now lives in Seattle with her husband, Brock Johnson and cats ( what artist doesn’t have cats?:) . Feddersen was thinking about ideas for a new public art piece that would be sponsored by Spokane Arts when she heard about Wright’s horse slaughter.

“When the conversation with Spokane arts began this spring, there was a lot of openness to what the project could be. Their Executive Director, Laura Becker, was interested in a temporary community art activity to take place during this time when Spokane is so active- with hoopfest bringing in over 200k visitors. She was familiar with my artistic practice, where I have created several projects that utilize community participation- using not only imagery and materiality, but interactivity as a tool to create content.  I had been looking to pursue a project that could be a form of collaboration with my husband, Brock Johnson who has a Masters of History. So as I was brainstorming types of interaction and themes, we discussed historical events from the region. I had not heard what had happened with the horses and that particular interaction with the tribes I was both surprised and disappointed that it as not a more prominent part of the narrative, further when researching the standing monument, it seemed to excuse the incident rather than acknowledge the atrocity or pay respect to the loss of life and the damage to the tribes. I began thinking about the difference between a monument and a memorial and wanted to create a memorial as a contrasting statement to the monument. It is my belief that the callousness that society can take on in regards violence in acts of war is disrupted by events that break traditional rules of engagement. In this way this event is extremely important to remember, not solely for historical value, but as a lens through which to view the Indian wars”.  Ryan Feddersen stated.

“Monuments are symbols of power. They celebrate and reinforce the primacy of a political or historical viewpoint,” she said.

By making a memorial, “we create a focus for our remembrance to honor the deceased. This event is so important to remember, not just to recognize the history of place but as a lens through which to view violence and warfare.”

To read more about Ryan Feddersen and see her art, click here

Do you own or ride horses?
I have never owned a horse, but have always had a quick affinity when I have occasionally ridden horses over the years. Perhaps that runs in the family, my grandmother on on my mothers side was an expert rider and was crowned rodeo princess in the 1940’s and invited back 50 years later, in her late seventies to preside as Rodeo Queen.
Are you planning on doing anything equine art related in the future?
 I try to approach every project as a new investigation- so I can’t say if equine art is in my future or not. 
College girls painting their horses from Ryan Feddersen’s “900 Horses” public art piece

Community members paint their own horses as part of the mural.

Also,  to see more photos of “900 Horses” go to her Instagram page!

Thank you, Ryan, for making people more aware about this heart breaking event that most people do not know about and for  letting me feature your project. Is is said the the horses are slowly fading away, but are still visible.

The Nez Perce Horse is a new cross breed of an Appaloosa and the Akhal-Teke breeds that has it’s own registry. Is is thought that this combination is the lost breed of the Nez Perce Indians of the plans.


Huh? What? Well, I will believe that when I see flying Shetlands !


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s