Coeur d'Alene Indian History

Coeur d'Alene Tribe History

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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.

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.


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*This is only meant to be a sampling of the literature available.


Comments and questions: David Comer
Revised 26 Nov 2002