Inland Northwest History and Culture:  >  Indian-White Encounters

At the beginning of the Nez Percé War, in 1877, the early settlers of Spokane feared that Chief Joseph might come their way.  Instead Joseph turned east through Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.  But a party of Nez Percé, separated from the main body, came toward the frontier town beside Spokane Falls and camped nerby.  Every night for two weeks these warriors beat a drum and danced by firelight until dawn. Growing nervous, James Glover, the “father” of Spokane, would sit on the stoop of his store all night, looking for signs of trouble.  The other citizens of the tiny community took to sleeping together in Glover’s house for protection. Finally, they built a raft to ferry themselves across the river to Havermale Island, where they built fortifications.  The attack never came, but the great fear of 1877 is one measure of Spokane’s fragility as a tiny frontier community exposed to Indian attack.

Only thirteen years later, in 1890, Spokane had grown into a city of about 20,000. It boasted saw mills and grist mills and was connected by railroads to the outside world.  That year the citizens celebrated their rapid growth with a huge fair called the “Northwest Industrial Exposition.” By that time local Indians had been marginalized on nearby reservations or idealized as relics of a romantic past.  When Chief Moses came to the fair from his home on the Colville Reservation, he visited an exhibition of the paintings of Frederic Remington, and commented on Remington’s “Last Lull in the Fight.” “That is good,” he said, “That is War.” But by then the Indian Wars were over, memorialized in paintings and in memories of the past. 

Reflecting on Spokane’s rapid growth from frontier community to urban center, a reporter from Harper’s Weekly, visiting the fair, remarked, “The history of Spokane is in many respects as remarkable as that of any city of the American continent.”

This web site provides glimpses of Indian-White relations during this time of transformation.  By examining the document-essay collections that follow, the site visitor can explore the topics of crime and alcohol in early Spokane; learn about a crisis in Indian-White relations in 1885; study the place of (and misconceptions about) Indians in the story of crime in early Spokane; and study the life of a particular Indian, Chief Peone, and his experience on the border of two cultures.


Table of Contents

“Indians, Whites, and Alcohol” — By the mid 1880s the issue of alcohol had become a central topic of discussion for the citizens of Spokane.  While there were numerous incidents that involved intoxicated Indians, overindulging by whites also captured the public interest.

“Fear Factors: Indian-White Unrest in 1885”

“Between Two Cultures: The Story of Chief Peone”

Suspects and Scapegoats: Indians and Crime in Early Spokane” — Indians were often described in negative by newspapers, local authorities, and the Spokane white population when a crime was committed. Often, Indians were considered prime suspects regardless of evidence to the contrary. This section examines several instances in which Indians were considered malicious suspects with little or no proof to sustain their indictment.