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Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation

The Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation, located south of the resort town of Coeur d'Alene in Idaho's panhandle, occupies a fraction of the tribe's original territories. An arrowhead-shaped piece of land, the reservation includes the edge of the western Rockies, half of Lake Coeur d'Alene, and portions of the fertile Palouse country. French fur traders named the tribe Coeur d'Alene--"heart of an awl"--saying they were the finest traders in the world. The tribe's trade involved year-long trips to the Pacific coast as well as to the Great Plains to exchange goods. They called themselves Schee chu'umsch, which, in their native Salish language, means "those who are found here."

The Coeur d'Alene Indians lived in large permanent villages along the Spokane and St. Joe Rivers, near Lake Coeur d'Alene and Hayden Lake and on parts of the large prairie known today as the Palouse country, an area of about 5 million acres. They enjoyed a close relationship with the inland tribes of Canada and the Northwest, sharing a common language and fishing grounds, intermarrying, and attending big trade gatherings and celebrations. Silver was discovered in the Idaho panhandle in the 1870s, setting off a frenzy of mining activity. The Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation, established in 1873, originally included all of Lake Coeur d'Alene. By a series of treaty agreements, the reservation was reduced to its present size.
 
One of the first Catholic missions in the West, the Cataldo Mission was established on the St. Joe River in the early 1840s. Because of flooding, it was moved to a bluff overlooking the Coeur d'Alene River in 1848. A new church and parish house were erected there and still stand today, both part of Old Mission State Park. Every August 15, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe sets up tepees on the mission grounds to celebrate the annual Feast of the Assumption.

In 1850, the church was taken over by Antonio Ravalli, who began designing the new mission building. He made sure that the building was

constructed by the Indians themselves, so that they could feel part of the church. It was built using the wattle and daub method, and was finished some three years later, without using a single nail.

In time, the mission became an important stop for traders, settlers, and miners taking on the role as a hospitality and supply station. It was also a working port for boats heading up the Coeur d'Alene River.

Adjacent to the Reservation is Steptoe Butte, the highest point in the Palouse (towering more than 1,000 feet above the valley floor) and one of the most important sacred sites of the Coeur d'Alene. Its peak was a site of meditation, prayer, and ceremony for centuries. The butte, covered with downy grass, is solid rock, 500 million years old.

*History taken from Native Peoples of the Northwest, J. Halliday and G. Chehak.

The Coeur d'Alene reservation is in Idaho, and consists of 598,500 acres. The agency is at Colville, Washington. The number of Indians by the special census just taken is 422, males 206, females 216; number of children of school age, 54; number of mixed bloods, 39. Number of white employees, 2; salaries amounting to $2,100. No Indians employed. Deaths during the year, 28; births, 29. Their religion is Catholic. They have one church on the reservation. These Indians: generally attend church, and are self-sustaining; the only issues made by the government are garden seeds. They nearly all live in frame houses, which are painted and tolerably well furnished, and generally they dress like the whites. The number of acres under cultivation is 7,500; under fence, 20,000. Number who can speak English, 39. The morals of these Indians are fairly good.

Coeur d'Alene School, This school is situated on the Coeur d'Alene reservation, 8 miles from the town of Farmington, and on the railroad from Spokane Falls to Huntington. It is under the auspices of the Catholic Church, and is a contract school. The buildings were erected at the expense of the Catholic church, Their cost, including stables and outhouses, was $30,000, which is about the present value. The capacity of the school is 225, with separate apartments for the boys and girls. The pupils are from the Coeur d'Alene, Nez PercÚ, and Umatilla reservations. The trades taught the boys are shoemaking and carpentering. There are 640 acres of fertile land belonging to the school, and all necessary supplies are raised in the greatest abundance. Ten thousand bushels of grain, 2,000 bushels of potatoes, and all the vegetables used by the pupils were raised during the past year. The diet of the pupils is meat three times a clay, except Fridays, and all the vegetables, milk, and fruit they want All the boys are taught to labor on the farm and in the garden. The girls are taught sewing, washing, cooking, and general housework. The school was not full October 21, but the children were coming in. Order, neatness, and care prevail. The average number of children attending the school during the fiscal year ended June 30, 1800, was about 85.*

*From Idaho Indians in the 1890 Census

Through a series of Executive Orders of 1873, 1887 and 1889, the Coeur d'Alene Reservation was established and the land base of its people significantly reduced. Much of their former territory was acquired without remuneration for ceded lands. The 1887 agreement also resettled many Spokane families onto the Coeur d'Alene Reservation. In 1909, the Allotment Act was implemented on the Coeur d'Alene Reservation, resulting in a reduction in size of individual land holdings, rendering most agricultural practices infeasible, and an opening up of "unused" reservation lands to white ownership. Once successful farmers, by 1921 only four Coeur d'Alene families were able to productively continue farming their allotments.*

*Digital Collections, Washington University Libraries

Idaho Indian Tribes Project

 

 

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