The first steamboat to reach Lewiston was the sternwheeler Colonel Wright in 1859, captained by Leonard White. As the first of what would be countless vessels to ply the Columbia and Snake Rivers to that inland port, the Colonel Wright deserves its fame.
The infamy comes in when one explores the provenance of the boat’s name. It was named after Colonel George Wright who was known as an Indian fighter in Washington and Oregon territories at the time the steamer was built. He is probably best-known today as the military officer who ordered the horse slaughter.
A monument at mile marker 2 on the Washington side of the Centennial Trail that runs from Spokane to Coeur d’Alene tells the story of Horse Slaughter Camp. It’s within walking distance of the Idaho border, though in 1858 there was no border and no Idaho. The northern part of today’s Gem State was part of Washington Territory.
The monument tells the story: “In 1858 Col. George Wright with 700 soldiers was sent from Walla Walla to suppress an Indian outbreak. After defeating the Indians in two battles he captured 800 Indian horses. To prevent the Indians from waging further warfare he killed the horses on the bank of the river directly north of this monument.”
The date of the slaughter was September 8, 1858. The animals belonged to the Palouse Tribe.
Col. Wright kept back 150 horses for use by his soldiers. They proved intractable and were later destroyed.