How did Battle Ground, WA Get its Name?

Battle Ground, WA
Battle Ground, WA

Battle Ground, Washington was named for a battle… that never happened.

In the 1850’s, significant tension arose between American Indians and settlers in the Oregon Territory. Driven by the quest for Manifest Destiny, the U.S. government sought to acquire land for settlers, often at the expense of the American Indians. This pursuit led to the widespread displacement of native populations, fostering deep mistrust and fear between the settlers and the indigenous people.

In 1855, a group of Klickitat Indians, led by Chief Umtuch, were interned near Fort Vancouver. It was common for the US government to forcibly remove indigenous people from their lands, interning them near forts or moving them to reservations.  Growing restless, the Klickitat Indians decided to leave the fort without permission and return to their village in the north.

Captain William Strong and a group of soldiers from Fort Vancouver pursued the Klickitat Indians. Many settlers, fearful of the Indians, anticipated a bloody battle.

Check out what Fort Vancouver looked like in 1854.

Captain Strong and his men caught up with the Klickitat Indians in a meadow near what is now downtown Battle Ground. There was a tense standoff, but no fighting. Instead, Captain Strong peacefully negotiated with Chief Umtuch for the return of the Klickitat Indians to Fort Vancouver.

In a bizarre turn of events following the negotiations, Chief Umtuch was shot and killed, with both sides denying responsibility for the act. Some historians speculate that it was one of the Indians, discontented with the prospect of returning to Fort Vancouver, who shot Chief Umtuch.

Much to the dismay of local settlers, Captain Strong returned to the fort empty-handed.  He had agreed to let the Klickitat people honor their fallen chief according to their customs if they promised to return to the fort the next day.  Although the Klickitat people did return the next day, and there was a peaceful outcome to the event, Captain Strong was ridiculed for his actions.  The location of the peaceful standoff was mockingly referred to as Strong’s Battle Ground.  Soon after that, “Battle Ground” began to show up on local maps.

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