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Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington announced that it is renaming parts of the base named after Col. George Wright, a decorated U.S. Army veteran accused of brutality against Native Americans.
“We are renaming Ft Wright Village and Ft Wright Oval in base housing to Lilac Village and Willow Loop,” Fairchild Air Force Base announced in a Facebook post Monday. “This change is the result of long consideration by Fairchild leadership, in accordance with an Air Force directive to evaluate historically divisive names on installations.”
The announcement comes as the military has expanded its effort to rename bases and units that are historically controversial, most notably the names of bases named after leaders of the Confederate Army. But Wright, who served in the Union Army during the Civil War, has found himself in the crosshairs because of his actions during battles with Native American tribes earlier in his career.
Wright was highly decorated for his actions throughout his career. In 1844, he was promoted for meritorious service in battle against the Seminole tribe in Florida. He was later wounded in the Mexican-American war at the Battle of Molino del Rey, eventually earning another promotion for his service.
US ARMY DIVISION TO KEEP PATCH REFERENCING THE CONFEDERATE ARMY
The Army officer became most well-known for his service on the West Coast, gaining notoriety for his 1858 campaign to avenge an American defeat at the Battle of Tohotonimme at the hands of a coalition of native tribes. Wright’s troops routed native tribes at the Battle of Four Lakes and the Battle of Spokane Plains in response, earning him a legendary status that led to bases and streets being named in his honor.
But his tactics in those battles have also generated controversy. According to Spokane Historical, Wright ordered the slaughter of 600 Native American horses after the Battle of Four Lakes in an attempt to prevent their troops from being able to use them in combat. He also burned native crops and food stores and reportedly hung native forces he suspected of having fought against him after short interrogations.
Some historians have argued that Wright’s tactics were a product of his era. Former Spokane Falls Community College history professor Rudy Alexander defended his actions during a 1994 effort to rename Fort George Wright Drive in Spokane.
“Wright was a superior military officer and a product of his time,” Alexander said at the time, according to the Spokesman-Review. “He and the fort are two separate issues and neither should be diminished in an attempt to sanitize history.”
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Fort George Wright Drive was finally renamed to Whistalks Way in 2020 after a long battle, setting the stage for the renaming of other landmarks honoring the Army officer.
“We considered the significant historical impact Col. George Wright, a 19th century Army officer, had within our local community,” Fairchild Air Force Base said of its decision to remove Wright’s name from the installation. “His brutal acts have a lasting effect that are still felt today by our friends and neighbors, the tribes of Spokane and Eastern Washington.”