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.
St. Joe River Band
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 drainage.
Lake Coeur d'Alene
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.
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.