Touring Indian Country

by Ann M. Colford

The history of the original Americans is not some-thing separate but is integrally woven into the story of this place we call the Inland Northwest. People from other continents did not begin making a mark on this land until about two centuries ago; all human history here before then belongs to those who have always been here. Still, those stories become part of who we are as soon as we claim this place for our home.

Just northwest of Spokane lie the high rolling hills of Four Mound Prairie. Part of the traditional lands of the Spokane people, this area also hosts the earliest permanent white settlement in what is now the state of Washington. The North West Company's representatives established a trading post, the Spokane House, in 1810 at the confluence of the Spokane and Little Spokane rivers. Several existing Indian trails passed nearby already, including the Devil's Road that linked the upland areas of the Spokanes' territory with the great falls of the Spokane River through a narrow pass called Devil's Gap. As fur trappers and later settlers moved in, they made wagon roads that closely paralleled the earlier trails.

To highlight the history around the Devil's Road, the Spokane Tribe and the Spokane City-County Office of Historic Preservation jointly developed a historic driving tour brochure last year. Adorned with art work by Spokane tribal member George Flett, the brochure shares a brief history of the Spokane Tribe and explains the significance of six locations on the prairie: the Colville-Walla Walla Road (an early pioneer trail), Devil's Gap and the Devil's Road, LaPray Bridge (an early crossing of the Spokane River), Four Mounds (conical stone cairns that predate white settlement of the area), Camp Washington (the first seat of government in the state) and the Deep Creek Colony.

By the 1870s, government policy favored assimilation of Indian people into white society. The Indian Homestead Act of 1875 (also known as the Dawes Act) encouraged Indian people to claim individual ownership of land and take up farming as a step toward assimilation. In 1878, several families of Spokane Indians founded the Deep Creek Colony, an agricultural community affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. The community grew, but eventually the families moved back to the reservation, displaced by the railroad and growing non-Indian settlement close by. The new settlers took possession of the colonists' buildings and improvements and incorporated them into their own.

The Spokane House Interpretive Center, off Highway 291 near Nine Mile Falls, now displays materials on loan from the MAC's People of the Rivers exhibition. Other artifacts, recovered during the archaeological digs at the Spokane House site in the 1950s and '60s, illustrate trade between the fur trappers and the local Indian people.

Other chapters in local Indian history are readily visible on the land as well. Monuments mark a series of battles in 1858 that changed forever the balance of power between local Indian people and the American government. In May of that year, Colonel Edward Steptoe and his troops crossed the Snake River heading north, violating the terms of a treaty made three years earlier. Near present-day Rosalia, they met a force from the Spokane, Coeur d'Alene, Yakima, Cayuse and Palouse tribes and engaged in battle. After a day and a half, Steptoe and his crew retreated under cover of darkness. (A granite obelisk commemorating the battle sits in a field just south of downtown Rosalia.)

Following Steptoe's defeat, Colonel George Wright set out from Fort Dalles near Walla Walla to seek revenge. After battles near Four Lakes and the current site of Fairchild Air Force Base, Wright captured and slaughtered hundreds of Palouse horses on the banks of the Spokane River just west of the present state line. Later, Wright met with Chief Garry and others along Latah Creek, east of present-day Spangle, but rather than talking peace, Wright hung several Indians including Garry's son, Qualchan. A stone monument between Spangle and Waverly commemorates the site of the hangings, as does the creek's other name, Hangman Creek.

Further afield, the Nez Perce tribe's cultural center and driving tour give a good overview of the lifeways of the people who aided Lewis and Clark 200 years ago. A recreated Indian village marks the site of Celilo Falls, the great tumultuous rapids of the Columbia that were silenced by the Dalles dam in 1957; exit off Interstate 84, about 12 miles east of The Dalles, Ore. In Joseph, Ore., a monument commemorates the life of Chief Joseph, the Nez Perce leader driven from his homeland near Wallowa Lake; the chief is buried near Nespelem, on the Colville Reservation, where he lived out his days.

Of course, the story of Indian people isn't just told in the past tense. A great way to see, hear and taste contemporary Native American culture is to attend a powwow. The Northwest Indian Encampment and Powwow in Riverfront Park, held the last weekend in August, welcomes everyone to celebrate with drumming, dancing, crafts and food. Local reservations host smaller powwows throughout the summer; check with tribal Web sites for more details. (The Colville Tribe Powwow is set for the weekend of July 4 in Nespelem; the Spokane Tribal Powwow is Labor Day weekend in Wellpinit.) n

Four Mound Loop: From Spokane, go west on Francis and follow Highway 291 out of the city. Turn left onto Seven Mile Road and go across the Spokane River. The road will become Four Mound Road and here begins to parallel one of many wagon trails. After a couple of miles, turn right on Dover Road, then go left onto Charles Road. Turn right onto Lake Spokane Road; this will take you down a long grade through Devil's Gap. Turn right (north) on State Hwy. 231, cross the Spokane River again, and turn right onto State Hwy. 291 to return to Spokane via Tum Tum, Suncrest and Nine Mile Falls.

Publication date: 06/10/04