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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on place-based stewardship education. Since 2001, a partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department (KNRD) has supported this newsletter and allowed us to expand class offerings through EPA funding. Further staff support comes through Renewable Resources Extension Act (RREA). Our newest partner, sponsor of the Rain Garden Challenge, is the Pend Oreille Conservation District. Many thanks to our partners and to you, our readers, for your continued enthusiasm for "digging" into the natural history and culture ofthis part of the world.

The Old Kalispel Road & Rocky Gorge


by Faith McClenny, Pend Oreille County Historical Society

Early Indians used a network of waterways, portages and overland trails to reach fishing and hunting sites, and to trade with other tribes. Historically, the Old Kalispel Trail connected with the Lolo Trail of Central Idaho, the Old Buffalo Road of Western Montana and to the fishing sites at Kettle Falls along the Columbia River. There were many side branches of the main trail. The trails were described as wide enough for a pack animal and hard as cement. In the 1970’s a few traces of the Old Kalispel Trail were still visible.

In the early days, Kalispel men, women and children, bag and baggage, would plod along the trails from summer hunting and gathering sites to winter camps. At Kettle Falls, the men used various methods to catch thousands of salmon. Women and older girls gutted the fish and cut and hung strips of fish to dry or smoke. When it was time to break camp, everything was bundled up and Indians would once again set out along the trails.

No doubt scores of unknown fur traders, trappers and wanderers used the trails, but it wasn’t until 1809, with David Thompson, explorer, map maker and fur trader, that we have a written record of the Kalispel Indians and “the Kullyspel Road.” In the mid-1880’s the Hudson Bay Company traders used the east-west branch of the trail to connect with the trading post at Colville with Spokane House. Father DeSmet and the Jesuits also used the trail during the period of the St. Ignatius Mission, from 1844 until 1854. In April 1888, Stevens County Surveyor, J.M. Bewley surveyed 8 1/4 miles of the trail.

In the 1970’s, Stevens County and Pend Oreille County Historical Societies held joint meetings to research the location and history of the Old Kalispel Trail. One committee studied the northern portion of the trail and a second committee studied the southern branch. (For more information on the northern route, see “Crossing a Small Divide” by Jack Nisbet in Diggings, January, 2004, http://www.diggings.org/crossing.html )

The short southern portion of the trail started south of present day Cusick, skirted Sacheen and Eloika Lakes, and went on to Spokane Falls, connecting with other Indian trails. Allen Piper traced and mapped this trail in the 1970’s. When settlers started struggling into the Calispel Valley in the late 1880’s, they followed this route. George Hutchins wrote about his folk’s memories of the trail in the Pend Oreille County Historical Society’s publication Big Smoke:

The trail came from the Tum-Tum area through Williams Valley, past Deer Park and dropped down into the WestBranch Canyon between Eloika and Fan Lake.It went around the east side of Fan Lake and over to the river where the Indians had a camping spot. They built weirs in the river and caught fish…after smoking enough fish the Indians would take the trail past Trout and Sacheen Lakes into the Calispell Valley.


Joe Zigler described the struggles his parents had going over the road in 1891:

It was very difficult in those days to move into an area where there were no roads. It was especially rough going over the Rocky Gorge trail (Calispel Trail) which was the only route into the homestead at that time. The track was too narrow for the wagon so it was necessary to take it apart and make several trips to get everything moved.

Over the years the Rocky gorge portion of the trail was improved. Settlers used it to do their trading in Spokane. Today parts of the old trail in the Rocky Gorge area remain as a narrow unimproved gravel road.

Sources of information:

Big Smoke articles 1981 & 1987
Pend Oreille County Historical Society Museum resource files
Nisbet, Jack. http://www.diggings.org/crossing.html


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