J. William T. Youngs
The Fair and the Falls: Spokane's Expo '74, Transforming an American Environment (Cheney, Washington, 1996)
Background: In the previous chapter James Glover had come to Spokane Falls in 1873 looking for a place to try to build a town. He bought rights to land by the falls and returned home to Oregon, which was already settled, to buy supplies. The chapter that follows tells the story of the native American background in the Spokane region and the early years of white contact. When Capt. John Mullan began building his road the Coeur d'Alene was had just been fought and Col. George Wright had slaughtered hundreds of Indian horses beside the Spokane River....
Father drove all of us to the falls by team and wagon over the old Indian trail on the north side of the river to attend the celebration. We crossed the Spokane River in a log dugout canoe paddled by an Indian.
Back in Oregon, James Glover went to work gathering materials to make a town. If he had been seeking gold or silver, he would have purchased a pack mule, pickax, and mining pan. Wanting to make his fortune in town building, he began with a wheel to drive a sawmill and trade goods to start a store. Glover agreed to take along Cyrus F. Yeaton of Salem because "he had some experience in the mercantile business" and could run the store.
In mid-July, 1873, only a few weeks after "discovering" Spokane, Glover sent his colleagues back to the falls with his supplies, some household goods, and one luxury item-an organ. By special arrangement, the steamship company agreed to take the party to the mouth of the Palouse River, where they hired men with horses and wagons to take them on to Spokane. For several days, all of the promise of Spokane was embodied in a few freight wagons-specks of civilization wandering among the hills of eastern Washington.
Soon afterwards Glover finished his preparations in Oregon and headed back to the interior. From Wallula, on the Columbia, he drove to Spokane in a lumber wagon. "It was a very hot and dusty drive," he recalled, "and I was pretty well worn out." He reached the falls on August 19. Shortly afterwards the noise of a saw echoed beside the river. During a twenty-day period, the new mill cut 140,000 board feet of lumber. Since that was more than enough to build the store and housing for Glover, Yeaton, and Matheny, the operation was then shut down.
Although Glover had purchased James Downing's land on his previous trip, he still needed to buy out the other squatter at the falls, Seth Scranton. At this time, according to another pioneer, Scranton was "rather solicitously avoiding an interview with the sheriff." While Glover was helping unhitch the horses from the wagon that had brought him to Spokane Falls, a stranger named Charlie May came alongside and whispered,
"Would you like to see Scranton?"
"Not especially," Glover first replied, "I have no business with Scranton."
Then, when he was sure no one else was near, Glover asked the man, "Do you know where Scranton is?"
"I'll take you to him if you want to see him," May said.
The next day Charlie May took Glover across the Spokane River in "a little log canoe." They went to a small lake "surrounded by a very thick growth of blackthorn so dense that May and I had to crawl in on our hands and knees." There they found Scranton "lying on a buffalo robe with his weapons alongside of him." After a short conversation, Scranton agreed to meet Glover in a cabin in town at eleven that night to sign papers transferring his squatter's rights. The fugitive appeared as arranged, signed the papers, took his money, and disappeared. Scranton was later sighted by Indians heading south with Charlie May and several dozen horses. They were next reported to be in Oregon, then Idaho, then Nevada.
Autumn, 1873, found the town builders clustered in two houses and a store near the falls. Glover and Matheny occupied houses, while Yeaton and his family took up quarters in the rear of the store. With his experience in the mercantile business, Yeaton must have been accustomed to selling all manner of dry goods to customers in Salem, Oregon. He and Glover realized, however, that they would have to run a different sort of enterprise in Spokane Falls. For white customers, they accumulated a few staples, such as coffee, tea, sugar, and chewing tobacco, along with nails and other hardware items. But there were few homesteaders in the environs of Spokane Falls-hardly enough to support a store. So for the bulk of their trade, they would have to rely on the Indians.
On their first visit to Spokane, Glover and Matheny made inquiries about "what articles the Indians used mostly." They chose their goods carefully:
Our stock consisted largely of cheap blankets, shawls and dress goods such as the Indians would buy. The latter was mostly calico, which was used principally by the Indian women, and by the white women, too, for that matter. We laid in a good supply of paints, to be mixed with water and used by the Indians on their faces and heads. You hardly ever saw a squaw, or a buck either, who wasn't painted up. Cheaper qualities of beads comprised a good part of our stock, also. The Indians all wore moccasins, and they were generally finely beaded. The pouches in which the women carried their young ones also were decorated in this way.
With the store built and stocked, the milling done for the season, and winter coming on, the town planners hunkered down in their cabins beside the falls and waited for the Indians-a common occurrence in frontier trade. Waiting in Spokane Falls, Glover had no way of attracting customers with newspaper advertisements. He and his companions announced their presence in the only way possible, by word of mouth. Traveling among the local tribes, particularly the Spokane and the Coeur d'Alene, mail carrier Harvey Brown undoubtedly mentioned the new store by the falls. Then, too, the Indians themselves were constantly on the move throughout the region. They were accustomed to trading with whites and would be curious about the new store. A "few had come in to look around and price various articles." But winter drew closer, and still no Indians had come to trade.
Christmas was approaching, and elsewhere in the United States merchants were tempting customers with holiday advertisements. While James Glover was waiting for his first Indian traders, the Portland Oregonian carried ads for "Elegant Gift Books," "Opera Glasses," "Rosewood Writing Desks," "Christmas Tree Ornaments," "French Candies," and "Billiard Tables." In the East, the New York Times advertised such items as Steinway pianos, music boxes, "Scotch wool hosiery, undershirts, and drawers." As the pace of economic life was quickening in the more settled parts of the country, however, life in Spokane Falls was limited to a store without customers, a few ambitious town builders, one organ, and thousands of square miles of surrounding wilderness.
In mid-December snow began to fall on the tiny settlement. Snow lay a foot thick on the pine boughs and on the islands in the Spokane River. Then, as Glover recalled, on about December 20 at "seven or eight o'clock....we were informed that there were a number of Indians in front of the store, waiting to be admitted." The pioneers hurried to make the store ready for customers, lighting a fire in the stove. The Indians-men, women, and children of the Coeur d'Alene tribe-arranged themselves carefully on the floor, "with their legs drawn up under them." Seated comfortably, they smoked a pipe of kinnikinnick, a local plant, passing it in a circle. No photograph of these first customers exists, but their image can be reconstructed from other records. At this time the natives of the region would have worn some trade goods: blankets, colored beads, body paints, and possibly wool shirts. Most would have carried guns and shot pouches. The faces of some would have been scarred by a white man's disease, smallpox.
The very day that the Indians appeared at Glover's store, the New York Times published an article headlined, "The Western Fur Trade," describing fur merchandising among the Sioux in Montana and the Dakotas, a few hundred miles east of Spokane. The author noted the Indian skill in dressing hides: "Many whites have attempted it, but failed, and the Indians seem to be the only people who are possessed of the knowledge which enables them to impart a softness and pleasant surface to the buffalo robe which is not found on any other skins." The Indians painted these and other hides "with the very finest quality of Chinese vermilion"-suggesting the wide network of trade in which the Indians took part. In exchange for the skins of otter, buffalo, wolf, elk, bear, fox, deer, and raccoon, the Sioux received coffee, sugar, paints, blankets, cloth, and saddles.
While New Yorkers were reading about the fur trade in the exotic West, James Glover in Spokane Falls was on the brink of entering into that commerce. The Indians-each with a supply of furs-approached the trade in the new store thoughtfully. As the hours wore on past midnight, they asked the prices of various items, but still made no purchases. "An Indian is slow to make up his mind," Glover noted years later. Finally "in the wee small hours of the morning" the trading began in earnest. By noon the next day, James Glover and his associates held roughly $1,200 worth of furs, mainly marten, which Glover described as "a beautiful little fur, about half again as large as an ordinary mink." The brisk trade that December night may well have saved the cash-strapped James Glover from bankruptcy.
The Indians liked Glover's approach to trade, although they would not have appreciated his way of describing it. Years later he wrote "it has been my policy all during life to treat ignorant, illiterate people the same as the most enlightened." That winter more Indians came to trade their furs. During the succeeding years, they also brought in buffalo robes, skinned by the Sioux beyond the Rockies and traded from tribe to tribe across the mountains. Glover sent the furs on to Portland, Vancouver, and Victoria.
Children of the Refracted Light
For Glover and his colleagues, to be settled beside Spokane Falls during 1873-74 was to be a pioneer in a new land. Everything about it-the unaltered landscape, the abundant timber, the roaring falls, the numerous Indians-all suggested a virgin wilderness. But the Indians they encountered had already mingled with whites for more than half a century. The early contacts beside the falls were intermittent, but they were formative and often mutually beneficial-except for one astonishingly brutal episode. In waiting for the Indians during the fall of 1873, James Glover was engaged in an activity common to the first white settlers of the West. Eventually the immigrants would overwhelm the natives with their guns, roads, farms, cities, institutions, and laws. But for a period (ranging, in different parts of the West, from a few years to many decades) whites often depended on Indians. The indigenous peoples knew their way around the countryside; they understood how to acquire food; they carried messages from one region to another; and they explained and celebrated the land in vivid tales.
Long before the whites arrived, the Spokane Indians fashioned stories to explain the most impressive feature of their country, Spokane Falls. In the distant past, they said, a giant dragon had appeared in the region, eaten a huge meal, and fallen asleep on the banks of the Columbia River. Discovering the brute, the frightened Indians tied him with cords to nearby trees and rocks. Then they tried to kill him, but he revived and lumbered off toward Lake Coeur d'Alene carrying along the trees and rocks to which he was bound. Along the way he plowed a trench that came to be known as the Spokane River.
Other stories explained the river's sudden drop at Spokane Falls and the basalt columns that stand in the roaring water. The daughter of a great chief was married to a man named Moxnoose, but her heart strayed to another man, Stinging Bee. Furtively, the lovers met on a hillside south of the falls, although each had been warned by spirits not to come. To rid themselves of troublesome apparitions, the couple decided to poison Moxnoose. The woman administered the poison, and her husband died in agony. Unfortunately for the lovers, when next they met, they were confronted by a figure worse than the spirits, the angry ghost of Moxnoose himself. He turned Stinging Bee into a pile of rocks, over which the river tumbled. Then he cast his unfaithful wife into the waters at the base of the falls so that she would bear their weight through eternity. The vengeful ghost next turned himself into a nearby mass of rocks so that he could gloat over the watery fate of the doomed lovers.
In native life, the Spokane River occupied a place difficult to imagine today when the falls are surrounded by an urban park and a city. One must walk in the forested countryside outside of Spokane to encounter the essential ingredient of the earlier scene, silence. In such a setting, one can imagine the impression the falls must have had on Indians traveling through the wilderness by horseback or on foot. Mile after mile, the only sound was the chirp of birds and the wind in the trees. Then far in the distance came a new sound, first no more discernible than a gentle breeze, but growing louder and more insistent until at last the falls appeared. Now eyes and ears witnessed the most impressive site in all that vast region, a tumult of water dropping down, smashing past rocks and islands, sending spray high into the air.
For untold generations the Spokane Indians were beguiled by the falls. Those turbulent waters, threatening death to anyone unfortunate enough to be swept into their current, were also a source of life. Each year thousands of salmon, headed inland from the Pacific Ocean, swam up the Columbia River, then into the Spokane River and on toward the falls. There they could go no further; and there the Spokane Indians reaped an annual harvest. Beneath the falls, they stood with spears, thrusting at the salmon, and bringing them ashore by the thousands. An early traveler in the region left this account:
The salmon-fishery commences about the middle of July, and ceases in October. This is a busy period for the natives; for upon their industry in saving a sufficiency of salmon for the winter depends their chief support....A certain part of the river is enclosed by a number of stakes about twelve feet high, and extending about thirty feet from the shore. A netting of rods is attached to the stakes, to prevent the salmon running through....This contrivance is admirably calculated to catch fish; and when salmon is abundant, the natives take from eight to nine hundred daily.
In various ways, the Spokane Indians identified themselves with their life-giving falls. In legend the falls were their kinfolk: the rocks were the unfortunate Stinging Bee, his lover, and her jealous husband. In daily life the river was a source of food. The Spokanes were so closely associated with their falls and its salmon that they imitated the movement of the fish to indicate their tribal identity: "The right hand was brought in front of the body, the fingers and thumb extended and meeting. The hand was then moved in a manner to suggest the movement of the tail of a salmon in the act of spawning. The hand was then brought to the mouth, and downward to the stomach, which was patted complacently to indicate the proper final disposition of the fish."
Much has been written about the original meaning of the name Spokane. In various early accounts it was spelled Spokan, Spokane, Spukcane, Spukkane, Spukanee, and Spokein. Historians Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown note that when the first whites reached Spokane country, the natives called themselves Spukanee, meaning "Sun People," or "Children of the Sun." The name of the tribe first appeared in written records in 1811, when Gabriel Franchere, on an expedition sponsored by fur-trader John Jacob Astor, encountered two members of the tribe at the mouth of the Columbia River. They told interpreters that they came from a river "called the Spokane." Samuel Parker, who traveled through the Spokane country in 1835, reported: "The name of this nation is generally written Spokan, sometimes Spokane. I called them Spokans, but they corrected my pronunciation, and said Spokein, and this they repeated several times, until I was convinced that to give their name a correct pronunciation it should be written Spokein."
Disagreements about how to spell the name continued into the early years of white settlement beside the falls. In Glover's community, citizens argued about whether to write "Spokan" or "Spokane" and whether to include the word "Falls" with the name. Spokanites today agree that the last syllable in their town's name should be pronounced "can," but in other parts of the country, as often as not, it is pronounced "cane."
The question of Spokane's pronunciation is less important than the underlying question of meaning. Did the Indians think of themselves as "Children of the Sun" or, as others argue, "Children of the Rainbow"? Another possibility comes from linguist Grant Smith, who argues that the word Spokane is best translated as "Belonging to the Refracted Light" or "Children of the Refracted Light." The central feature in the Spokane region was the falls, and the Indians' paramount experience was standing at the base of the falls amid the water and the salmon. In the river, near the resting place of Moxnoose's bride, the Spokanes were touched by the refracted light of the sun, radiating through the spray of their falls.
The Middle Ground
When whites first entered the Spokane region at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Spokane Indians had already been influenced by European contact. As early as the sixteenth century, diseases brought to the New World by Europeans had passed across the continent from tribe to tribe. The first horses reached the Spokane country during the eighteenth century. The Spokanes may even have encountered firearms, traded to neighboring tribes for furs, before frontiersmen fired their first rifle balls near the falls.
By the time white trappers and traders arrived, the natives were eager to acquire their own guns and welcomed the chance to trade with the newcomers. In 1810 agents of the Hudson's Bay Company established a post called Spokane House, a few miles below the falls at the confluence of the Spokane and Little Spokane Rivers. Their relationship with the Indians was cooperative, by some accounts even idyllic. One band of Spokane Indians moved from nearby Latah Creek and set up a village by the fort. A brisk trade soon developed. Two of the most popular items were guns, for which the Indians paid twenty beaver skins each, and cloth, for which they traded three or four beaver pelts per yard. These trade goods cost the whites only about six cents for every dollar's worth of beaver they received.
A fur trapper, Alexander Ross, wrote a glowing description of the trading post in 1825:
There was a ballroom, and no females in the land so fair to look upon as the nymphs of Spokane. No damsels could dance so gracefully as they; none were so attractive. But Spokane House was not celebrated for fine women only, there were fine horses also. The race ground was admired, and the pleasures of the race. Altogether, Spokane House was a delightful place, and time had confirmed its celebrity.
The earliest contacts between whites and Indians in the Spokane region were often described as friendly-so much so that the gates to the fort were normally left open, and the Indians came and went at will. The two peoples existed for several decades in a condition that could be described as a "middle ground," a phrase historian Richard White uses to describe the cooperative relationship between Indians and whites in the Great Lakes region during the eighteenth century. Noting that Indian-white contact is not simply a story of conquest and assimilation, White argues that in some instances, "members of the two cultures established an alliance that they both thought furthered interests generated within their own societies."
Interviewed in 1896, an elderly pioneer declared that "life in those early days was safer and more peaceable than it has ever been since. When I was about the only white man in the country, I could travel from one end of it to the other without a weapon for protection." In a similar fashion, whites and Indians at Fort Spokane lived peacefully. A single exception to their mutual trust underscores the prevailing disposition to cooperate.
A young clerk at Spokane House, in the delicate phrasing of trader Ross Cox, "having become tired of celibacy, resolved to take a wife." He asked an interpreter to "ascertain" among the Indians "whether any unappropriated comely young woman was willing to become the partner of a juvenile chief." Soon "a pretty-looking damsel" of about seventeen was identified; her mother and brother negotiated marriage terms, including the payment of blankets, kettles, beads, and bells to the bride's family.
At about nine o'clock on an agreed-upon evening the young woman was escorted to the fort gate, where she was consigned to the care of one of the white men's wives, who cleaned from the Indian's hair and body "all the Indian paint and grease with which she had been saturated." Next a dressmaker discarded the teen-ager's "leathern chemise" and replaced it with "more appropriate clothing." Thus transformed, she appeared the next morning as "one of the most engaging females" ever seen at the fort. The couple were married, and during the next few days "matters rolled on pleasantly enough." The clerk and his bride "appeared mutually enamored of each other." To all appearances the marriage was another thread in the fabric of cooperation and friendship between whites and Indians in the Spokane region.
But a few days later, a strange thing happened. One afternoon, Ross Cox remembered, a party of Spokane warriors, "well mounted," galloped into the fort, "armed at all points." Terrified, the Spokane bride fled into a storehouse. The lead warrior demanded to speak to the "principal white chief" and insisted that the other white leaders appear as well. He and the other Indians had dismounted, relieving the tension somewhat, but the warrior was clearly outraged. In his address to the whites, he explained why he was so angry:
My relations and myself left our village some days ago for the purpose of hunting. We returned home this morning. Their wives and their children leaped with joy to meet them, and all their hearts were glad but mine. I went to my hut, and called on my wife to come forth; but she did not appear. I was sorrowful and hungry, and went into my brother's hut, where I was told that she had gone away, and had become the wife of a white chief. She is now in your house. I come, therefore, white men, to demand justice. I first require that my wife be delivered up to me. She has acted like a dog, and I shall live no more with her; but I shall punish her as she deserves. And in the next place, I expect, as you have been the cause of my losing her, that you will give me ample compensation for her loss.
The traders responded quickly. They refused to give up the young woman, fearing that she would be killed, but they offered instead to pay restitution. At first the wronged husband demanded the opportunity to punish his wife. But an old chief persuaded the aggrieved husband to accept the compensation offered by the whites: a gun, a hundred rounds of ammunition, three blankets, two kettles, a spear, a dagger, and tobacco. The goods were delivered, Indians and whites smoked a pipe, and peace was restored.
Throughout most of the nineteenth century, relations between whites and Indians in the Spokane country were usually friendly, and whites often depended on Indians for help. During the mid-nineteenth century, the white presence in the Spokane country diminished, making Indian assistance all the more important. As the local supply of fur was depleted, the Hudson's Bay Company withdrew, allowing the old fort to fall into ruins. Fewer whites lived in the Spokane region in 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was elected president, than dwelt there during the presidency of James Madison some fifty years before. Whites who passed by Spokane Falls often depended on Indians for food, shelter, and direction.
In 1835, for example, Samuel Parker, scouting the Northwest for missionary opportunities, entered the Spokane country. He came upon a Spokane Indian at some distance from the falls and engaged him to be a guide. The native set off at a fast pace until they reached a lake, where he pointed to the opposite shore, telling Parker that he would find there a trail into a Spokane village. Parker offered him more money to continue, but the Indian refused, saying that "he had done all that was needed, and why should he perform any unnecessary labor for us and take pay." Parker rode on, found the trail as promised, and continued to the village.
On another occasion, Parker was seeking to cross the Spokane River. "We hallooed a long time for the Indian who keeps a canoe ferry." The fact that he and his party knew where to look for the ferry is suggestive. Throughout the Inland Northwest, a grid of trails and crossings was maintained by Indians, and the maps were in the minds of Indian guides.
After "hallooing" for a time, the travelers aroused two women who came to the river bank and shouted across that the "ferryman" was gone on a short hunt. He would be back that night and would bring the boat over the next day. "I never heard voices more expressive of kindness," Parker reported.
The next morning, as promised, the ferryman conducted the visitors across the river to his village. Parker noted with pleasure that one of the Indians was planting potatoes, peas, beans, and other vegetables-a skill which they may have learned from the traders at Spokane House. The presence among the Spokanes of a leader who spoke good English was another sign of the earlier white presence in the Spokane country. In 1825 the Hudson's Bay Company had adopted a policy of sending the sons of Spokane tribal chiefs to an Anglican school at Fort Garry on the Red River in far-away Manitoba. One of the young men who made that long journey was the son of Illim-Spokanee, a chief among the Indians who lived near the fort. His son was named Garry in honor of one of the company directors and was known to James Glover and other settlers a half century later as "Spokane Garry."
After leaving the Spokane village, Parker and his companions traveled east into mountains, where they could look back over the Spokane Valley. "As we wound our way up the mountain," Parker wrote, "I looked down into the valley we had crossed, and which stretches along the winding river, and drew in my imagination a picture of what it will be, when this people are brought under the influence of Christianity and civilization."
In Spokane today there are men and women who remember their first view of an airplane-perhaps a solitary biplane high over the Spokane River. A generation or two ago, older citizens could recall the shrill whistle of the first train to steam into Spokane Falls. In the days of Fort Spokane, traders met Indians who recalled another remarkable sight, the arrival of the first horses in the Inland Northwest. Old Indians told the early trappers of their astonishment at their initial encounter with a horse-probably late in the eighteenth century. Xavier Finlay, an Indian living in the Colville Valley, recounted seeing the first horse brought north of the Snake River. Word came of a strange animal "fleet as the wind, as large as an elk, but without horns, and docile as a deer." Eager to see for themselves, a number of Indians, including the boy's grandparents, set out to view it. After a long journey they beheld the beast. The child Finlay was lifted "upon the back of the strange and beautiful creature, and shivered with fear when the sleek coat touched his little bare legs."
During the next few years Indians of the Northwest grew accustomed to the touch of horse hair against their legs. Among the Spokanes the horse quickly became essential. "Their chief riches are their horses," wrote Ross Cox. He noted that horse racing was popular among the Spokanes: "There were some capital heats, and betting ran high. The horses were ridden by their respective owners, and I have sometimes seen upwards of thirty running a five-mile heat. The course was a perfect plain, with a light gravelly bottom, and some of the rearward jockeys were occasionally severely peppered in the face from the small pebbles thrown up by the hooves of the racers in front." The Spokanes were so fond of their horses that they were commonly buried with them. Cox recounts: "When a man dies, several horses are killed, and the skins attached to the ends of long poles, which are planted in the graves; the number of the horses sacrificed is proportioned to the wealth of the individual."
A few years later, in 1854, Isaac Stevens was sent to Washington to survey the region. One of his party observed the Spokane camp "surrounded with its thousand horses." During the mid-1850s, as territorial governor, Stevens negotiated treaties with a number of tribes. He wanted to include the Spokanes in negotiations at Walla Walla in 1855, where he brought many of the interior tribes into treaty arrangements, but Spokane Garry, now the leader of his people, refused.
Three years afterwards two miners were killed by Indians near Colfax, Washington. In response, Col. Edward J. Steptoe was dispatched from Fort Walla Walla to punish the natives, including the Spokanes. But the local tribes fought a bloody battle near a place that came to be known as Steptoe Butte; the soldiers barely avoided being annihilated and fled for their lives. Better armed and better led, a second expedition was sent out under the command of Col. George Wright. He won two battles against the Spokanes and other tribes at Four Lakes and Spokane Plains. His rifles had a longer range than those of the Indians, so Wright was able to inflict casualties from a distance while keeping his command safe.
After the second victory, the troops marched to Spokane Falls, where the soldiers rested and enjoyed the scenery. One of them, Lawrence Kip, wrote an account of the site:
Most of our way lay through the wood skirting the river, the scenery around being very beautiful. Just before reaching our camping ground, we passed the great Spokane Falls. It is a high, narrow, basaltic canyon, where the whole river passes over an inclined ledge of rocks, with a fall of between 40 and 50 feet. The view from every point is exceedingly picturesque. As high up as the falls, salmon are found in great abundance, while above them trout are very plenty[ful].
The army's respite was brief. Eager to teach the Indians a lesson, Wright pursued a scorched-earth policy, burning caches of Indian food in the Spokane Valley: camas, dried berries, and wheat. Then the soldiers encountered another form of booty. In his account, Capt. Erasmus D. Keyes, one of Wright's officers, reported, in the distance "[we saw] many moving specks, which were horses, mares, and colts." The army pursued the herd, managed to capture roughly seven hundred of the animals, then considered what to do with them.
Keyes advised Wright to slaughter them, telling him, "I should not sleep so long as they remained alive, as I regarded them the main dependence and most prized of all the possessions of the Indians." The colonel then passed the decision on to a board of officers with Keyes as president. The officers decided to allow the "friendly Indians" in their company to each keep one or two of the horses. Then the soldiers built a high enclosure. "The poor animals [were] driven in, and the work of shooting commenced. The soldiers soon learned that by planting a bullet just behind the ears the animals would drop dead at once."
The killing went on for two days, until 690 horses lay dead. Keyes, who had been so adamant for the slaughter, was affected. "It was a cruel sight," he wrote, "to see so many noble beasts shot down. They were all sleek, glossy, and fat, and as I love a horse, I fancied I saw in their beautiful faces an appeal for mercy." The executioners, however, seemed to have no regrets: "Towards the last the soldiers appeared to exult in their bloody task; and such is the ferocious character of men." Colonel Wright, whose name would forever be linked to the horse killings, said in his official report, "I deeply regretted killing those poor animals, but a dire necessity drove me to it."
Soon afterwards the soldiers crossed the Spokane River and entered "a rich agricultural country, where we found many rude huts and numerous stacks of wheat. The dragoons all fed their horses with wheat, and each carried away one or two sheaves. The large balance we burned, so that desolation marked our tracks." Without conscious irony, Keyes wrote of the Spokane crossing, "Ours was the first civilized army that ever passed that stream."
The Indians and the Village
James Glover came to Spokane fifteen years after the bloody business of the horses. Among the Indians, memories of Wright's expedition were fresh. The remains of the horses still glistened in the sun a few miles from the falls-the place was known as "Wright's Boneyard." Another local name, Hangman Creek, south of Spokane, marks the place where Colonel Wright executed several Indians when they came in to discuss peace terms. Erasmus Keyes called the place "the Camp of Death."
During the 1870s, however, the Spokane region conformed more closely to the "middle ground" of a half century before than to the model of a predominantly white, Christian community of farmers, artisans, and merchants. There were really two Spokanes during the 1870s: the tiny community of a few whites with their dreams of becoming a real town, even a real city, and the traditional Spokane Falls of the Indians, where some natives still lived and many others visited, especially when the salmon were running. For the first four years of Glover's settlement, Indians remained his primary customers, trading furs for his goods. Regional news was often carried to town by Indians, and in an emergency-as when a doctor had to be summoned from far away-an Indian would likely carry the message. In autumn the Indians would come in "from miles around" to fish. The salmon were so abundant in the river that "on the bottom the rocks would not be visible." After the fish were brought in, women were consigned to cleaning and drying them while the men would play cards and race their horses. The race course ran through the center of Spokane along a track that came to be known as Riverside Avenue, where teenagers would later cruise their cars on Friday nights.
The affinity of whites and Indians in early Spokane was apparent in the pioneer career of Henry T. Cowley, who became one of the city's leading citizens. He arrived in Spokane in June, 1874, with several young Nez Percé, who accompanied him "as helpers and guides." On the way into town they "halted for a few moments on the bluff south of the falls, to admire the indescribable quiet and beauty of the groves of pine which interspersed to the dreamy murmur of the cataract. Descending, they pitched their camp opposite the upper rapids and laved their dust-begrimed faces in the limpid river." Cowley then went on to visit Glover's "embryo hamlet," which consisted then of a mill, a store, several simple houses, and "a few lumbermen's rude shanties." Despite the humble circumstances of the village, Cowley was optimistic about the future: "Here," he wrote, "seemed to be the setting of the elements of an ideal city-even a corner of Paradise." Soon after arriving in Spokane, Cowley went to work establishing a school for the Indians. The natives were eager for training:
The young men carried the lumber on their backs all the way from the sawmill down on the river bank, and the building was not completed until March. A stove was brought from Walla Walla. When it was completed, old and young gathered in and filled the place to its capacity....I never saw a people so eager to learn the ways of civilization. I first taught them letters and figures. I had a blackboard and some crayons and drew pictures of animals and familiar articles. Point[ing] to one of these, I would get the Indian word for it and write it down, and then the corresponding English word. Considering the difficulties we had to contend with, they made very rapid progress. They wanted to start lessons at daylight and keep up the instruction until dark.
Pioneer celebrations provide another window on Indian-white relations in early Spokane. At a Fourth of July gathering after Glover's arrival, homesteaders came to Spokane Falls from miles around, bringing their own bedding and camping beside the falls for "the three or four days the celebration lasted." From materials at the store, they made an American flag, "the first that ever floated in Spokane." They put up a pine floor in front of the store for dancing. James Glover recalled, "The white people would dance in the afternoon and evening until a late hour, while the Indians peeped through the evergreen and watched them. Then when we quit, they would take possession of the floor, and go through their performances until morning." David Masterson, whose family moved to Spokane Falls in 1875, recalled a July Fourth celebration that year:
Father drove all of us to the falls by team and wagon over the old Indian trail on the north side of the river to attend the celebration. We crossed the Spokane River in a log dugout canoe paddled by an Indian. People drove in with covered wagons to attend this celebration from distances of 50 to 75 miles. There was a big crowd-all of fifty white people. A long table was erected in the bunch grass under the pine trees at what is now known as the corner of Howard and Trent streets. This table was piled full of good things to eat, and when the white people were through, a potlatch was declared for the Indians, who were invited in to eat what was left. They surely licked it up, for they outnumbered the white people, two to one.
A miner, Peter Lefevre, recalled Spokane's Fourth of July celebration in the centennial year, 1876: "We had people come from Colfax, Spangle, Hangman Creek, and from a radius of 75 to 100 miles. We had a parade of about a dozen people and enough dancers to form two sets of square dancers." That year, "Babe" Downing, whose parents had sold Glover their claim on Spokane Falls, was "the only unmarried young lady available as a partner for bachelors to dance with." The Indians contributed to the celebration of the country's one hundredth birthday by performing a war dance.
For the whites such celebrations had a utilitarian purpose as well as providing entertainment. Henry Cowley noted that the 1876 July Fourth gathering helped promote Spokane and its environs. Participants, he said, came from "all the region between the Snake River and the British line [Canada]. The gathering was an inspiration to all eastern Washington, as it revealed to the participants the larger number and superior character of the pioneers than had been looked for. The celebration was a most happy success, and all returned more contentedly and hopefully to their scattered homes."
The Indians had less to be hopeful about as the number of whites increased in their midst and they were relegated to a separate status. This segregation was apparent when Indians followed whites on the dance floor, and when whites ate first during a community feast. And yet in many ways Indians did mingle freely with whites during those early years of the settlement. Within the limits imposed by cultural differences and white prejudice, the lives of the two peoples often came together.
In the Shadow of the Nez Percé War
One serious exception to the atmosphere of mutual trust in Spokane Falls came during the Nez Percé War in 1877, the last Indian war in the Northwest. News of the uprising was carried to Spokane by Indians, "who kept runners going back and forth over the country and to and from the battlefields." For a time it looked like the Nez Percé, who were being pursued by the United States Army, might pass through the Spokane region. Instead-to Glover's great relief-they turned east and crossed the Rockies. But a party of Nez Percé came to Spokane Falls and camped close to Glover's store. "They had a skin stretched over a hoop, and they would hold this over the fire and then beat on it in time with their dancing, at the same time yelling in a kind of singsong, although it was not a war cry." For two weeks they sang every night until dawn, when the fire died and they fell asleep.
By now every white nerve in the settlement must have been frayed. Indian relations had been so good that the whites were not heavily armed. Glover says, "We had no firearms, and during the time I have been here, I have never had anything of the sort except a double-barreled shotgun, which I always loaned to the Indians when they wanted to hunt with it." Growing nervous, Glover took to sitting up all night on the stoop of his store watching "the red devils" around the campfire. The other Spokanites, equally concerned, had taken to sleeping together in his house.
One night at three, Glover sensed that the Indians were about to attack. The fire had burned low, and there was no noise from the encampment. Glover sent a friend, Ed Bradbury, to tell the lodgers in his house to be ready for the worst. Some began weeping, others prayed. In the distance Glover saw a figure on horseback drawing near. As he was preparing to defend his store, he discovered that the rider was a white man, followed by other homesteaders on foot and in wagons. They were settlers from neighboring homesteads. Fearing the Indians, they had gathered a few household belongings and come to Spokane Falls for protection.
The next morning Glover and others built a raft to ferry the refugees to Havermale Island, in the middle of the river, where they built fortifications. A number of Spokane Indians, most of whom must have been as nervous about the situation as the whites, were ferried over to help with the defenses. Glover was now determined to do something to break the stalemate:
I had made up my mind to stand my ground, but after two nights of sitting up, I had determined on the course that I would pursue-call a few of the old Indians into my store and have a heart-to-heart talk with them as I had often done before. Many times the old fellows had told me of the Wright campaign, and the tears would run down their cheeks like rain.
I called them in and closed the door. I asked them if they remembered the time when they were a happy and prosperous people. They said they did. I asked them if they remembered when Colonel Wright came and destroyed their wealth and made them a poor people. They said they did.
I then asked them if they knew what this squad of Nez Percé Indians were here for, dancing the war dance night after night. They said they did.
"My friends, [Glover said] I know where Uncle Sam's soldiers are. They are very near here, and I can call them here at any hour. Do you want to have the last remnants of your people wiped from the face of the earth? If you do not, see that these Indians leave here and leave here for good before noon."
They promised me, went directly to the camp, and before noon there was not a sign of an Indian to be seen there.
In James Glover's Spokane, the Indians might live nearby, or share a
dance floor, or even borrow a shotgun, but Glover left no doubt as to who
was in charge at the falls.