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History of Kootenai County

The history of the County is equally as important as the cultural treasures it now entrusts us to protect. Kootenai County, as currently configured, contains a significant portion of the center of the Coeur d'Alene Tribal Homeland as well as the primary east-west trail system for interior Salishan peoples traveling in both directions through the Bitterroot Mountains to the Great Plains and, ultimately, the Yellowstone area. The original inhabitants called themselves the Schitsu'umsh ("the ones who were discovered here") and were traditionally made up of three generally recognized bands, each of which was associated with a particular winter village region. The Coeur d'Alene Lake band comprised some sixteen villages consisting of families located on Hayden Lake, at the current cities of Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls, along the Spokane River near Green Acres, and on the shores of Liberty Lake. The Coeur d'Alene River band dwelled in at least 11 Lake Coeur d'Alene villages located along the Coeur d'Alene River, including sites near what would become the city of Harrison and the Cataldo Mission. The St. Joe River band made up the third grouping and inhabited at least six villages along the lower St. Joe River and at the site of what became St. Maries, with another village in the upper reaches of Hangman Creek. The larger winter villages usually comprised around 300 individuals. Each of the bands were made up of interrelated families who would typically winter in their band's general area, though families may not have wintered in the same village from year to year. During spring, summer, and fall, the families dispersed to their favored resource areas throughout the Homeland and beyond for hunting, fishing, gathering, and ceremonial activities. The aboriginal landscape of the Schitsu'umsh encompassed much of what would become the Panhandle region of Idaho, extending into parts of eastern Washington and western Montana. Lake Pend Orielle marked the northern boundary, with the country beyond the home of the Kalispel and Pend Orielle peoples. With mountain passes up to 5,200 feet in elevation, the Bitterroot Range of Montana marked the easterly area of the Schitsu'umsh. The western reaches of the Schitsu'umsh landscape began just east of Spokane Falls (Plante's Ferry) along the Spokane River, extending south along the Hangman (Latah) and Pine creek drainages. The heart of the Schitsu'umsh landscape was Lake Coeur d'Alene. Its waters sprang from the slopes of the Bitterroot and Clearwater Mountains, gathered into the Coeur d'Alene and St. Joe rivers, fed into the lake itself, and then drained into the Spokane and eventually Columbia rivers. It was a landscape of nearly 5 million acres of white pine-, fir-, ponderosa-, and cedar-forested mountains, as well as freshwater rivers, lakes, marshlands, and rolling hills and prairies covered with perennial bunchgrass and fescues.

The Lewis and Clark expedition through central Idaho in 1805 was the first recorded exploration by people of European descent. By 1809 David Thompson established the Kullyspell House trading post on Lake Pend Oreille. The hunters, trappers, traders, and Iroquois guides who frequented the Kullyspell trading post reported that there were places in the far north and the east where people were teaching Christianity. In 1740, years before Lewis and Clark's arrival, Coeur d'Alene tribal leader Circling Raven had a vision and prophesied the coming of the Black Robes (priests). In 1842, Circling Raven's prophecy was fulfilled when Father DeSmet arrived. The first Jesuit mission was founded in near St. Maries and then moved a short time later to its present Cataldo location. The Mission of the Sacred Heart (Cataldo Mission), located on the Coeur d'Alene River, was completed in 1853 and is the oldest standing building in Idaho today. Shortly after the Cataldo Mission was established, the military arrived. Between 1858 and 1862 the Mullan Military Road was built, connecting Fort Benton, Montana, and Fort Walla Walla, Washington. Camp Coeur d'Alene (later changed to Fort Sherman) was established in 1878 at the point where Lake Coeur d'Alene flows into the Spokane River. The purpose of the Fort was to keep the Mullan Road open (built between 1858 and 1862 and connecting Fort Benton, Montana and Fort Walla Walla, Washington) and to keep peace between settlers and Native Americans. When the Fort was abandoned in 1901 there were 52 buildings, including a sawmill, hospital, blacksmith shop, carpentry shop, and chapel. The chapel, powder magazine, and one officer's quarters remain standing. A community developed around the Fort, but it was not until the discovery of gold in 1883-1884 on Prichard Creek, on the North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River, that many settlers arrived. Mining activity created an economic basis for future developments in timber, transportation, and trade in Kootenai, Benewah, and Shoshone Counties. The lasting wealth was not in gold but in lead, silver, and zinc, all of which required a large capital investment to process and mine. In 1883 the Northern Pacific Transcontinental Railroad crossed North Idaho. Rathdrum developed as an agricultural center and supply point for the mining district and remained a railhead until 1886, when D.C. Corbin built a spur line from the Northern Pacific mainline, at Hauser Junction, connecting to Coeur d'Alene. From Coeur d'Alene, passengers traveled by steamboat up the Coeur d'Alene River to the Cataldo Mission, where they boarded the narrowgauge railroad that carried them to the mining districts.

1889 marked the beginning of the steamboat era on Lake Coeur d'Alene when troops at Camp Coeur d'Alene built and launched the Amelia Wheaton. By the turn of the century the Inland Empire Railroad electric line train made several trips a day from downtown Spokane to Coeur d'Alene, where passengers boarded such steamers as the Boneta, Flyer, Georgie Oakes, Spokane, Colfax, and Idaho for St. Joe City, Harrison, and St. Maries. Sunday excursions on the shadowy St. Joe River were popular as were other recreational activities associated with the many lakes Amelia Wheaton (UW Libraries, Special Collections Division, TRA0331) and rivers of the area. After 1900 large lumber companies discovered the region's great stands of white pine. The waterways provided cheap and effective transportation for the logs. In the spring logs were floated down swollen streams and rivers into sorting gaps on the lake and then on to the sawmills. Harrison, St. Maries, Rose Lake, Spirit Lake, Twin Lakes, Post Falls, and Coeur d'Alene each boasted a large milling industry. By the mid 1920s the lumber industry began to slow down and many of the smaller mill towns disappeared. World War II saw improvement in the lumber industry; but the days of accessible timber and cheap transportation were over. The 1970s saw surges in growth and development in Kootenai County. In the early 1980s an economic decline affected both the forestry and mining economies. Today the County's economy is more diversified and has seen much growth and prosperity. The steady influx of the settlers impacted the indigenous population in many ways, most notably in the steady decrease in the land they had once occupied. In 1873, the government, by executive order of President Ulysses S. Grant, created a 590,000 acre reservation for the Schitsu'ums. In 1891 another executive order reduced this reservation by 190,000 acres, placing the upper third of the reservation into the public domain. This agreement was ratified by the U.S. Congress and formally established the Coeur d'Alene Reservation. Soon after the establishment of the Reservation, settlers established the community of Harrison at the mouth of the Coeur d'Alene River. Instead of removing the settlers, the federal government acquired the land from the Tribe in 1894 for $15,000. This land cession moved the boundary of the reservation south by one mile. In 1910 the Dawes Act allotted the Reservation tribal ownership of approximately 104,000 acres. The remaining land-over 240,000 acres-was placed into the public dominion. Shortly thereafter, American settlers obtained ownership of this property, without compensation to the Tribe or its members. Heyburn State Park was established between 1908 and 1911. The Schitsu'umsh residents in this area were evicted, and the $11,000 compensation for the land was used by the state to develop the park. Today the reservation is composed of some 90,000 acres actually owned by the Tribe and tribal members within the reservation boundary of some 345,000 acres.



No history of the area is complete without describing the many historic town, places, and landmarks that are a part of this County's story. Athol First known as Colton, the town was renamed Athol by a settler who came from Athol, Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Athol was named after a town in Scotland named for the Duke of Atholl. A Northern Pacific Railroad station was built in Athol in 1882, and settlers hoped for a vast agricultural paradise. The jack pine forest first attracted early settlers to Athol, and logging, milling, and agriculture created prosperity. By 1903 there were many businesses opened, including the Pacific Hotel, a drugstore, a smithy, a jewelry store, restaurants, a mercantile company, and a saloon. The depression reduced Athol's importance, and the community declined until the 1940s when Farragut Naval Training Station opened.


This logging, fishing, and limestone- mining community was first known as Squaw Bay. After 1900 the name was changed to Bayview. In 1910 a group of Spokane entrepreneurs formed the Prairie Development Company and platted the town site, hoping that the new town would attract tourist and residents. Bayview was laid out with 27 blocks of streets and avenues. The Spokane International Railway (SI) provided transportation from Spokane. The Navy took over the hotel during WWII. After the war the hotel became a private home and was later demolished in the mid-1960s. Bayview is known for its extensive fishing, boating, and recreation. About 200 float homes are also located in Scenic Bay.


Cataldo Mission

The Coeur d'Alene Indians had a village here known as sq'wt'u. The town is named for Father Joseph Cataldo, SJ, who served at the Old Mission from 1865 to 1870. Patrick J. Whalen, the first homesteader in this area, platted the town of Cataldo. Whalen built a log cabin and operated a ferry across the Coeur d'Alene River connecting to the Mullan Road. When the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company came through in 1889, Whalen discontinued his ferry. The Cataldo Mission remains as one of the oldest and most treasured buildings in Kootenai County.

Coeur d'Alene

The French name Coeur d'Alene can be traced back to the early 1800s when David Thompson, of the North West Trading Company (a fur-trading concern), encountered French speaking Iroquois Indians already living Fort Sherman Chapel: 1880 here. Since the Iroquois were familiar with the area, he hired them as guides and scouts. The words Coeur d'Alene ("heart of an awl") may have been the Iroquois' attempt to describe the sharp trading practices of the local Schitsu'umsh people (an awl is a pointed tool used to pierce leather). Kootenai County's original boundaries were established on December 22, 1884. The first county seat was Sin-na-ac-qua-teen, a trading post located on the Clark Fork River (it was subsequently relocated to Rathdrum and later, in 1907, to Coeur d'Alene, where it remains today). Fort Coeur d'Alene (later renamed to Fort Sherman) was established in 1878; Coeur d'Alene City developed near the edge of the fort and within a few years had become a supply point and navigation hub for the mining and timber industry. Coeur d'Alene's importance as Kootenai County's center was reinforced when voters moved the county seat to Coeur d'Alene in 1908. By 1910 the population was 8,000. Six large lumber mills were located in or near Coeur d'Alene, and the city boasted 4 banks, 5 hotels, 9 churches, 4 grade schools and a high school, a movie theater, and 2 telephone systems. Four railroads served the city: the Northern Pacific, the Inland Empire Railroad electric line, the Milwaukee Road, and the Spokane International. Coeur d'Alene's major industries were timber, tourism and agriculture. By the early 1930s, Coeur d'Alene was Kootenai County's economic and social center. The City served 4 major rail lines and boasted 6 major lumber mills. Harrison was also a popular lumber center for the mining district. Bayview claimed four lime quarries and five lime processing kilns.

Dalton Gardens

The City of Dalton Gardens was incorporated in 1960 and includes the area from Prairie Avenue south to Dalton Avenue and from Government Way to 17th Street. However, the name and settlement date back to the time of Fort Sherman, when Oscar F. Canfield settled in the area in 1878. The origin of the name Dalton is unknown. Dalton Gardens and Hayden Lake were known for orchards and produce. In the 1920s, a large packing plant was built and the electric line railroad provided freight and passenger service. A severe freeze beginning October 31, 1935, killed all the cherry and many of the apple and pear trees (tons of apples were frozen on the trees). Only a few farmers managed to survive. In 1907 the Spokane & Inland Empire Railroad (the electric line) built a small depot at 4th Street and Hanley Avenue. Passenger service was discontinued in 1929-1930; freight service was discontinued in 1937.


The Crane family first settled here in 1890. Incorporated in 1899, Harrison is located on a one-mile strip carved out of the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation by a bill signed by President Harrison on the night of March 4, 1891. Passengers arrived on the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company Railroad and by steamboat. Harrison prospered as a gateway to the Coeur d'Alene mining district and the development of timber and farming interests up the St. Joe and St. Maries rivers. The 1911 city directory reports a population of 1,250; names lumber, farming, and mining as the main industries; and lists four churches, numerous fraternal organizations, two hotels, a weekly newspaper, and a high school and grade school. Numerous sawmills turning out lumber, shingles, and material for boxes lined the waterfront. Sparks drifting uphill from the mills were common. Early Saturday morning on July 24, 1917, a fire broke out at the Grant Lumber Company. The fire, driven by high winds, burned for two days and destroyed about 30 residences, sawmills, and the business district. Much of the town was never rebuilt.

Hayden and Hayden Lake

Rich with game, fish, and berries, Hayden Lake was a favorite gathering place for the Coeur d'Alene Tribe. According to tribal legend, there came a time when the land stopped providing, and the medicine man advised them to leave, but no one wanted to go. One day a great whirlpool engulfed the chief as he fished from his canoe. Another version of this story tells of an Indian couple swept up by a whirlpool and drowning in the lake. Because of this, the tribe moved away from the lake. In 1846, Father DeSmet was among the first white men to visit Hayden Lake. But it was not until the late 1870s that the first homesteaders, a Mr. Strahorn (first name unrecorded) and three soldiers from Fort Sherman (Matt Hayden, John Hager, and John Hickey) settled in the area. Legend has it that Hayden and Hager, whose homestead was on the site of the present-day Hayden Lake Country Club, played a game of seven-up to determine who should name the lake. Hayden won the card game. Hayden Lake's early economy was based on agriculture, lumber, and recreation. In 1906, a branch of the Inland Empire Railroad electric line extended to the Bozanta Tavern. Hayden Lake attempted to establish an agricultural economy specializing in fruit trees-an endeavor that was thwarted by severe frosts that decimated many of its orchards in the1930s. The post office was established at Hayden Lake in 1907, and businesses developed at the south end of the lake. The town shifted from this area to Government Way as automobiles replaced rail transportation. In 1959, the post office moved to Hayden Village. The area around Government Way is now incorporated as Hayden. The area from the west shore of the lake to a short distance west of Strahorn Road is incorporated as Hayden Lake.

Post Falls

Once the site of the Coeur d'Alene Indian village Q emiln ("throat of the river"), the town of Post Falls grew from the early commercial lumbering efforts of German immigrant, Frederick Post. Post came to the area from Illinois in 1871 and set up businesses in Rathdrum, Spokane, and Post Falls, building the area's first gristmill at Spokane Falls in 1876. He returned to the "Little Falls" (Post Falls) of the Spokane River and used the falls to power the area's first commercial lumber mill. Several lumber mills operated in Post Falls over the years. Logs arrived by horse, water, and later by rail and highway. Agricultural activities were also important to Post Falls' economy. Grass seed replaced earlier crops such as beans in the 1950s.

Rose Lake

Rose Creek and Rose Lake were named by a family who homesteaded on Cougar Creek, for their daughter Rose Brown. The Rose Lake Post Office was established in 1905, and by 1916 the population was 500. The town was primarily a company town for the Rose Lake Lumber Company, which was then known as the Winton Lumber Company. Along the Coeur d'Alene River, which flows into Lake Coeur d'Alene, there are 11 small lakes (in order: Rose, Porter, Bull Run, Killarney, Hidden, Medicine, Cave, Black, Anderson, Thompson, and Blue). Most of the present camping sites along this river system were used since time immemorial by the Coeur d'Alene Tribe for winter village sites or seasonal camps.


Fredrick Post's son-in-law, Charles Wesley Wood, gave the town its first name of Westwood. In 1881 when the postmaster applied for a post office, the U.S. Government would not accept the name. M. M. Crowley gave Postmaster Zach Lewis a list of potential names. Lewis chose Rathdrum, which was Crowley's native home in Ireland. In 1881 Rathdrum became the first organized county seat of Kootenai County and remained so until the county seat was moved to Coeur d'Alene in 1908. Rathdrum was a supply and jumping-off point for the Coeur d'Alene Mining District. Miners would leave the Northern Pacific train at Rathdrum, take a stage to Coeur d'Alene and then a steamboat up the Coeur d'Alene River to the Old Mission, continuing on the Mullan Road to the mines. In 1886 D. C. Corbin built a branch line from the Northern Pacific main line at the Hauser Junction to Coeur d'Alene, lessening Rathdrum's importance as a supply point. In October 1884, a fire consumed 55 buildings and six city blocks, destroying the business district. Losses were reported at $85,000 with only one business carrying insurance. The town was soon rebuilt, but on August 29 and 30, 1924, another fire broke out. The water reservoirs were undergoing repairs at the time, and were nearly empty. Half an hour after the fire was discovered, it was out of control, and ultimately leveled two solid blocks, destroying 30 stores and residences in the business section. Several of the buildings date from the town's establishment and when it prospered as the county seat. Many downtown buildings reflect the effects of the disastrous fire of 1924.

Spirit Lake

The name for the Spirit Lake community was derived from a Native American legend that explains the Salish name tesemini ("Lake of the Spirits"). It is said that an Indian chief's daughter eloped with a young brave. The father pursued them and out of fear of being separated, the brave took the girl into his arms and jumped into the lake. Their bodies were never found. The tribe believed that tesemini carried them away. Another version is that seven Indian braves were in a canoe that tipped. The bodies were never recovered and the accident was attributed to an evil spirit. The development of the Panhandle Lumber Company by Frederick Blackwell and Associates was the origin of the town of Spirit Lake. In 1907 the Spirit Lake Land Company formed to sell lots. Within two years the town had a business district, a grade school, a high school, organized sports, churches, and fraternal organizations. It also had electric lights, concrete walks, and telephones.


In 1909 a million acres of farm and timberland in the Spokane, Coeur d'Alene, and Flathead Indian Reservations were opened up for homesteading as a result of the Dawes Act, which allotted tribal members only limited acreage. The town sites of Plummer and Worley were established on former reservation lands. Worley, platted in 1908, was named after Charles Worley, the first Indian Agent.

Historic Sites

Clark House

When Spokane millionaire F. Lewis Clark built his mansion in Hayden Lake in 1909, it was one of the largest and most expensive homes in Idaho. The mansion included 29 rooms, nine fireplaces, seven bathrooms, a billiard room, smoking rooms, a library, and servant's quarters-all surrounded by a 1,400-acre estate. In 1914 the 51-year-old Clark took a trip to Santa Barbara, California, and mysteriously disappeared, along with his wealth. Mrs. Clark sold the estate at auction in 1917. The house passed through many owners and was used as a hotel, a convalescent center during World War II, a youth home, and a restaurant. When Monty Danner purchased the residence in 1989, it was in disrepair. Through his efforts, the house was massively renovated into a restaurant and hotel.

Farragut State Park

Highway 54 is the shortest state highway in Idaho at 15.5 miles long. In the mid-1960 it as widened to four lanes between Athol and Farragut State Park to accommodate the large National and International Scout Jamborees, the largest of which attracted 42,000 Boy Scouts. The Depression wreaked havoc on the region's economy. Timber and mineral products-the staples of the area-were virtually paralyzed by the economy until the military buildup during World War II fostered renewed economic growth and vitality. A major economic boost came from the establishment of the Farragut Naval Training Base in 1942. A workforce of approximately 22,000 created the base, which eventually housed up to 55,000 service personnel. The base was decommissioned four years after its completion and was subsequently converted to Farragut State Park. In the late 1940s, the Navy commenced using the former training base on Lake Pend Oreille as an acoustic training and testing site. It remains in operation today.

Mullan Road

The Mullan Road is the first engineered road connecting the Great Plains with the Northwest. Captain John Mullan and his crew built the 624-mile road linking Fort Benton, Montana, with Fort Walla Walla, Washington, between 1859 and 1862. This is believed to be the site of the first 4th of July celebration in Idaho. John Mullan's crew completed the work on this segment of the military road during the week of July 4, 1861, and carved "MR July 4, 1861" on a tree here. The tree was blown down and the section of the tree with the blaze is on exhibit at the Museum of North Idaho in Coeur d'Alene. In the 1860s travelers and pack strings-including one camel caravan going to and from the Montana gold fields-used the road, but sometime after 1865 maintenance ceased and use declined. After an inspection tour of the West in 1877, General William T. Sherman ordered the construction of Fort Missoula and Fort Coeur d'Alene (later named Fort Sherman) and the repair of the Mullan Road, which was accomplished in 1879. Travel on the road increased immediately. The first automobile trip from Wallace to Coeur d'Alene on the Mullan Road, over Fourth of July Pass, was made in July of 1911 and took five hours. From 1914 to 1916, much of the Mullan Road was improved or bypassed and became known as the Yellowstone Trail (see below).

Tubbs Hill

Tubbs Hill

Tubbs hill was named in the late 19th century after Tony Tubbs, who was granted a homestead in 1884. He owned a hotel at the base of the hill and planned to build homes on the hill. The topography of Tubbs Hill made it unattractive for building, and the land remained undeveloped. In the 1960s preservationists successfully made Tubbs Hill part of the City of Coeur d'Alene's park system. The 2-mile track around the hill provides spectacular views of the lake.

Yellowstone Trail

Cut into the hillside above I-90 is the Yellowstone Trail, prehistorically established by Plateau groups traveling to the Great Plains. This was the first highway through North Idaho and was built between 1914 and 1916. It followed much of the same route as the Mullan Road, In 1926 the Yellowstone Trail was renamed U.S. Highway 10 and then in the 1960s and 1970s was redesignated in various sections as I-90.

* Kootenai County thanks both the County Historic Preservation Commission and Dorothy Dahlgren and Simone Kincaid, authors of Roads Less Traveled Through the Coeur d'Alenes (2007) for allowing use of their materials in writing the historical section of this chapter. Much of the information contained herein is taken from these two sources.

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Physical Address: 451 Government Way, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho 83814 Mailing Address: PO Box 9000, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho 83816-9000
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