Inland Northwest History and Culture  >  Indian-White Encounters  >  Spokane: 1877-1890

Masters of the Universe:

How Reports Transformed 1885-86 Ordinary White Men into Swashbuckling Gods

            In 1885-86, the white men of the Spokane area had an opportunity to become local legends whenever an encounter with an Indian took place. This was not because the white man was stronger or smarter. It was due to the fact that the Spokane Falls Review during this period slanted its reporting to vilify Indians while at the same time trumpeting white men as the superior race of mind, body and justice.

            One example is the case of 18-year-old Chas. Allen, a soldier for a Fort Spokane ferry boat in 1886. The newspaper reported that Allen attempted to stop two Indians from stealing the boat. “Young Allen told the Indians to let the ferry boat alone. Supposing the boy to be running a bluff, one of the Indians said 'He only meant to frighten us,' whereupon they proceeded to take possession of the boat, when young Allen fired twice, shooting one of the Indians through the heart and again through the shoulder as he was in the act of falling. The other Indian fled.” Though Allen was obviously a new recruit at the age of 18, he somehow managed to kill an Indian with two nearly impossible shots.[1]

            If this were somehow an abnormality, perhaps the reporting could be excused. However, the impossible shots made by white men who murder Indians appear often in 1885-86 news reports. In April 1886, “Baldy” Huff claimed to have battled off three Indians who invaded his cabin looking for whiskey. The newspaper reported that Huff “drew a revolver and shot the Indian that had him by the throat directly in the mouth, the ball passed through the back of the neck killing him almost instantly. The concussion of the explosion put out the lamp. Quick as thought “Baldy” lit a match and by that momentary light fired again, shooting the Indian confronting him in the neck. He then reached down to the one who had him by the legs and fired. The shot in the dark struck the assailant in the heart killing him.”[2]

Aside from the impossibility of lighting a match, firing and shooting three men at such close range with such accuracy, the reporting suggests a superhuman quality Huff shares with soldier Charles Allen. Regardless of the number of Indians facing them, both Huff and Allen manage to survive, unmolested, and murder one or more of the Indians with pinpoint accuracy.

However, Indians did not enjoy the same luxury. In June 1885, a Calispel Indian named Sam “drew a pistol and fired three or four shots at [Charles] Geiger. One of the balls struck the unfortunate man in the side and passed through the body, and another striking the horse in the neck.”[3] Instead of firing one shot and killing Geiger, who was white, the Indian needed at least four shots in order to hit Geiger at all. It creates an almost superhuman quality about Geiger, that he managed to nearly escape the attack but was unlucky only after three tries by the Indian.

Even in the murder of Geiger, white men still had the upper hand when it came to newspaper reporting. When Kootenai County Sheriff Wm. Martin arrested Geiger’s alleged murder, the newspaper reported that he “shoved a formidable revolver right in the face of the Indian and in a voice that the fellow could not mistake told him if he moved off would go the top of his head. Accepting the situation with the most indifferent nonchalance the Indian never moved nor changed countenance. He [Sam] was trapped.”[4] Notice that it was a “formidable” revolver that Sheriff Martin used to arrest the Indian with. It is hard to determine what revolver Sheriff Martin used at all, and it did not matter. Either way, Sheriff Martin had a more formidable ally behind him. The newspaper.

 

Written by: Troy Kirby, Graduate Candidate, Department of Physical Education, Eastern Washington University, December 2005.


[1] The Morning Spokane Falls Review, “A Fatal Affray,” Jan. 12, 1886, page 4.

[2] The Morning Spokane Falls Review, “Lively Skirmish,” April 13, 1886, page 3.

[3] Spokane Falls Evening Review, “Killed: An Indian Shoots An Inoffensive White Man.” June 22, 1885, Vol. III, No. 10. p. 3.

[4] Spokane Falls Evening Review, “After Many Days,” Jan. 10, 1886. Vol. IV, No. 29. p. 3.