Diggings logo

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). Many thanks to our partners and to you, our readers, for your continued enthusiasm for "digging" into the natural history and culture of this part of the world.

A Kalispel tour of the Pend Oreille River Water Trail


by Donna Molvik

As a transplant to Pend Oreille County, I realize that I have much to learn about nature's elegant master design for the Pend Oreille River Valley. I moved to the area in 2000, and my perspective of the river was immediately shaped by well-known, interesting facts that make it unique. Always attracted to things out of the ordinary, I admire its rebel spirit to flow northward, unlike more typical rivers, and stand in awe of its Ice-Age genesis from glacially-formed Lake Pend Oreille, one of our Nation's deepest lakes. Although I am now an Inlander, my natural attraction to the sea can be temporarily placated knowing that there is a connection to the Pacific, albeit a lengthy one. When I paddle the river and think about its course through north Idaho, northeastern Washington, up to southeastern British Columbia, and its eventual offering of water to the Columbia River, I can appreciate its determination to ultimately empty into the Pacific.

As my curiosity piqued about the river's origins and the human element behind it, I realized I might have been just glancing at the river a little too quickly as I drove along its banks to some other destination. While I was curious about how its hydroelectric dams generate electricity for homes and businesses, near and far, I recognized there was a deeper, longer history prior to this relatively modern convenience. What was the river's true nature before the dams and highways, and who were its original paddlers? To answer this question, I listened to what Kalispel Tribal Elder and Cultural Director, Francis Cullooyah, had to share, as well as what Kalispel Archaeologist Kevin Lyons shared with me.

Francis remembers the Pend Oreille River before the dams altered its more turbulent and free-flowing nature, and he reminisces about the antics that he and a group of ten other Kalispel boys would get into as they fished, hunted, and played about its banks. The boys would offer that day's catch of ducks, fish, or geese in exchange for a meal when visiting friends and family in their humble homes along the river.

A 70 mile stretch of the river, from Oldtown, Idaho, to Boundary Dam, just south of the Canadian Border, is now officially recognized as the Pend Oreille River Water Trail, a modern-day, recreational and wildlife wonderland for outdoor and paddling enthusiasts. Within this designated water trail area, Francis explained that the Kalispel people generally paddled from Albeni Falls to Le Clerc Creek, where the water became too fast to safely paddle. Paddlers of the Pend Oreille River Water Trail today no longer have this same concern as the dams have slowed the river's flow.

At the south end of the water trail near Albeni Falls, there were Indian villages on both sides of the river. Along the east bank, near what is now recognized as the Old Diamond Mill (near RM 89), the village's name is translated into English as Red Tree. Tribal members from the Spokane, Coeur d'Alene, and Colville tribes frequently camped on the western bank of the river, and everyone considered this to be a good meeting place.

The City of Newport, located along the west bank, was once a winter village for the Kalispel people, and Kelly Island, which was once known as Willow Bark Island, served as a reliable source of textile material for many a Kalispel subsistence industry. Near RM 87, close to Ashenfelter Bay, Kalispel Chief Masselow had an encampment, and its name when translated into English means "pouch." Descriptive names indicating the shape of the landscape or the resources that were associated with it is a common feature of Kalispel place names. Furport on the east bank, near RM 80. Kalispel maintained provisions here for visitors who were continuing their journey north to what is now the current Kalispel reservation. Also near this area, the Kalispel resided in a principle winter village, usually with more than 250 people, near what is now known as Indian Creek. On the west bank near RM 77, the Kalispel would set nets amongst the rocks to catch suckers and white fish. The Kalispel engineered these nets using floating tule buoys strung across the top line made of Indian Hemp, which shrinks and tightens when it is wet. The net's curtain line, ground line, and framework were made of cedar bark and cedar root. The Kalispel used chip stone to anchor the nets down to the riverbed and were quite successful in netting fish. Near this location, the river became shallow enough at certain times of the year to allow a horse and rider to cross.

The Kalispel found abundant beaver near Everett Island and the Skookum Creek area between RM 77 and 73. This latter place name from the old trade language of Chinook Jargon is commonly associated with highly productive fur-bearing habitats. Paddlers may observe the south end of the Kalispel Indian Reservation beginning on the east bank of the river between RM 73 and 72. At RM 72 looking along the west bank near Usk, which Kalispel referred to as "Opening in the Woods" when translated into English, paddlers can see a slough where they trapped fish. Just north of RM 70, and what is now identified as the Kalispel Pow Wow Grounds, is what used to be referred to as the Old Village where Chief Masselow resided in c. 1870.

Francis recalls seeing raised areas of land, which are small mounds of earth about 18" high. Kevin Lyons describes these mounds as remnants of the Kalispel fish entrapment systems that were associated with high flow regimes and served as an indiscriminate fishing methodology. In certain conditions, water trail paddlers may be able to observe these mounds as they approach the Usk Bridge, on the west bank near RM 72, and again on the east bank between RM 68 and 67. This is at the north end of a peninsula that the Kalispel refer to as Frog Island, a place where people gathered. Historical Edward Curtis photos display images of the Old Village.

Inland a bit from the west bank of the river near RM 67, just south of Trimble Creek, is a place the Kalispel referred to as "Place of Cooked Camas." Not far from there, the Kalispel used a weir system each August to capture bull trout in what is now the Tacoma Creek Wildlife Area, just south of RM 66, on the west bank. First tier hunting grounds for winter deer hunts are located on the east bank, where Cee Cee Ah Creek (named after the last of the Kalispel canoe wrights) joins the Pend Oreille River. This is near the location of Manressa Grotto and Chief Victor's Village c. 1840s. Lieutenant Abercrombie's 1909 Army Map identifies a Kalispel encampment on the east bank near RM 65. Kalispel would find Indian carrot growing on the islands located at RM 63. At RM 59, near Babbitz Lake, the Kalispel once resided in another old village whose name translates into English as "Where the Mountain Touches the River."

At the outer reach of their traditional paddling area, just south of RM 56, on the east bank where Le Clerc Creek flows into the river, is a bull trout fishery that Chief Victor and his brother used each July. This location served as an occasional winter encampment, as it was a second-tier hunting location during the winter months. Because this location is where the river's flow became rapid, Kalispel used this area as a camp base in June and July for when they hiked into the mountains to gather huckleberries. On the east bank, just north of RM 54 where Dry Canyon Ridge drains into the Pend Oreille, the Kalispel fished for bull trout.

Francis recalls that the river connected the entire community. For the young boys, the river represented their environment in which they swam, fished, and explored creeks. Adults didn't worry about the kids like we do today. For the Kalispel people, the Pend Oreille River was substantially more to them than what we may see simply as a beautiful, recreational outlet. This was their livelihood, providing food, medicine, a means for commerce and transportation, as well as a way to maintain social connections with family and friends from sister tribes. The Kalispel people hope that as you explore the Pend Oreille River Water Trail, you will continue to learn its history, its connections with the past, present, and future, and that you will enjoy the experience as they have from time immemorial.

<----previous article...Diggings Summer 2012...next article---->