History of Sandpoint, North Idaho,
& Bonner County
Click here for a North
Idaho History Timeline
To understand the history of Sandpoint, and Bonner County, North Idaho, one must
first take into account our geography. While our area is dominated by mountains,
the most prominent feature is Lake Pend Oreille, with an area of 148 square
miles, and 111 miles of coastline.
Flathead Lake in Montana and some man-made lakes are larger.
It is 65 miles long, and 1,150 feet deep in some regions (5th in the
US). Fed by
Clark Fork River and drained by the
Pend Oreille River. It is surrounded by national
forests and many small towns, including Bayview, Hope, and Sandpoint. All but
the southern tip of the lake is in
Bonner County, the southern tip which is home to
Farragut State Park, the original home of the
Farragut Naval Training Station,
and the home of the NAVSEA's Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division's
Acoustic Research Detachment (ARD) is in
The lake is home
to many species of fish including: rainbow trout, lake trout, perch, crappie,
bass, walleye, whitefish and kamloops. The forests are known to have various
pines, such as ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, poplar and western larch. Whitetail
deer, squirrels, black bears, coyotes, elk, cougar, and bobcats are known to
reside in these forests. Bald Eagles, osprey, owls, hummingbirds, hawks,
woodpeckers, ducks and the mountain bluebird are seen in the skies around the
It is also believed that the eastern side of the lake was
in the path of the ancient
Missoula Flood. This is the great event that shaped
much of the Inland Empire of the Pacific Northwest. The Missoula Flood is an Ice
Age event that has been featured on NOVA, and refer to the catastrophic
floods that swept periodically across eastern
Washington, Idaho, and Montana, and down the
Columbia River Gorge at the end of the last ice
State Park is located where the Lake Missoula Floods broke out from the
end of Lake Pend Oreille.
The floods were the result of the periodic sudden rupture
of the ice dam on the
Clark Fork River that created
Glacial Lake Missoula. After each rupture of the ice
dam, the waters of the lake would rush down the Clark Fork and the
Columbia River, inundating much of eastern Washington
and the Willamette Valley in western Oregon.
After the rupture, the ice would
Glacial Lake Missoula once again.
estimate that the cycle of flooding and reformation of the lake lasted on
average of 55 years and that the floods occurred approximately 40 times over the
2,000 year period between 15,000 and 13,000 years ago.
The other great
shaping feature was the area’s glaciers. The rugged mountainous beauty of this
area of North Idaho was formed by these two components.
For thousands of years, these two forces of nature were
actively moving the landscape of North Idaho. The glacial ice sheets moved land, mountain, and water over
centuries. The floods occurred over relatively shorter periods. The areas of the
Lake Pend Oreille and the Clark Fork River held a dam of ice that towered over
two thousand feet today’s lake level. When this dam failed many times over the
millennia a deluge of water was released in unimaginable proportions at speeds
of 60 miles per hour and hundreds of feet deep, creating forces great enough to
shape the landscape we know today from here to Portland, Oregon.
The Kalispel tribe was the first to inhabit Sandpoint. With a
moderate climate and bountiful game and food, they prospered from Montana to Eastern Washington.
White man reintroduced the horse to North America in the 16th
century and by the 1700s the Kalispel tribe began to utilize the horse, taking
them east of the Rocky Mountains, bringing contact with Plains Indians. The
Kalispel adopted some of the habits and culture of these tribes, including
hide-covered tipis and buffalo meat.
Despite their growing dependence on buffalo, the Kalispel
remained adept at utilizing local resources. They caught fish and hunted a wide
variety of game and birds. Women dug camas bulbs, baking them in large
underground pits to render them suitable for winter storage. They also picked
berries and wild fruits, drying large quantities for use during the cold months.
Another group that lived on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille were the
Flathead Indians and several Salish, Kootenai and Pend O'Reilles bands lived in
western Montana, northern Idaho, and eastern Washington in the early 1800s.
Flathead Indians of Montana
built encampments on the shore of
Lake Pend Oreille every summer, fished, made baskets
of cedar, and collected huckleberries before returning to Montana in the fall.
The encampments ended before 1930.
Traditionally Kalispel territory encompassed Lake Pend Oreille along the
Pend Oreille River into eastern Washington, and east along the Clark Fork River
into Montana. They established year-round settlements near present-day Laclede,
on both sides of the river, and at the mouth of the Clark Fork River,
where 300-400 Kalispel lived. There were additional permanent villages in
eastern Washington, as well as numerous seasonal camps, including one near
Long before white explorers came to the Pend d'Oreille
country, an old Indian trail from Spokane River ran through Rathdrum prairie and
crossed the Pend d'Oreille at Sineacateen (a name which comes from the Kalispell
or Pend d'Oreille word for crossing-of-the-waters), located close to the present
site of Laclede. Then the trail continued northward across the Kootenai at
Idaho was the last state to be
explored by European and American explorers. Lewis and Clark crossed into Idaho
in August 1805 on their journey of exploration for the United States government.
Their route took them far south of present-day Bonner County, over Lolo Pass and
down the Clearwater River.
While many explorers gained great fame, including Lewis and
Clark, our area was first exploited by David Thompson: the determined and
intrepid Canadian trading expedition leader who led the first white men to the
shores of Lake Pend Oreille
in the fall of 1809.
His contemporary, the great explorer
Alexander Mackenzie, remarked that Thompson did more
in ten months than he would have thought possible in two years.
Thompson served as explorer, map maker, and trader for the
Canadian North West Company, a rival in the fur trade with Hudson's Bay Company. Although
he was in Idaho for a total of only sixty-eight days over
years, Thompson's impact was tremendous. He not only expanded the fur trade into
the Inland Northwest and established the first trading post on Lake Pend Oreille, Kullyspell House, but he also located all the practical
routes of travel. Kullyspell House still stands on the Hope Peninsula, and longevity
of the building is a testament to the
fortitude of the man. Soon after Thompson set up Salish House in Montana later
in 1810, a year after David Thompson established a North West Company fur trade
post on Lake Pend d'Oreille, and some of his trappers came down this trail to
found Spokane House west of Spokane Falls where the later city of Spokane was
built. Thompson's Pend d'Oreille post (Kullyspell, or Kalispell House) proved to
be an unfortunate location: on November 14, 1811, Thompson decided to abandon it
because the Kalispell (or Pend d'Oreille) Indians did "not hunt, but only gamble
& keep the men starving. . . ." So he sent his trappers back to Spokane House.
But Finnan MacDonald (who had a Pend
d'Oreille wife) continued to work with the Pend d'Oreille band, which often
camped at Sineacateen. By the
spring of 1813, rival Astorian fur traders were on hand at MacDonald's Pend
d'Oreille camp at Sineacateen. In an effort to rush in a stock of tobacco for
more effective competition for furs in the Pend d'Oreille camp, the Astorian
gained a temporary advantage. But MacDonald, who regularly helped his Pend
d'Oreille associates fight the Blackfeet, came out ahead in the long run. The
North West Company emerged in control of the Spokane-Pend d'Oreille country, and
MacDonald spent many years enjoying "the fascinating pleasures of the far-famed
Spokane House." Whenever he took his wife to see their Pend d'Oreille relatives,
he still traveled over the old Indian trail past Sineacateen.
Trappers and traders continued to sporadically make their way
to the region throughout the first half of the century, along with many
missionaries, mainly Jesuits, called “Kaniksu” (Black Robes in Indian). In the
years after the fur trade, the Indians continued to camp on their travels at
Sineacateen. The North West Company was not alone in trying to harvest furs in
the Pacific Northwest.
Hudson's Bay Company maintained a chain of posts throughout the region and absorbed its
opponent in 1821. The fur trade continued into the 1840s, but
its importance declined as the years went on.
As more Europeans and Americans arrived, they displaced the
Indian tribes that originally lived in the region.
However, efforts to establish a reservation for the Kalispel
failed, and tensions between the two cultures increased. Michael, leader of the
upper Kalispel, signed a treaty with the government in Sandpoint in 1887, but
Masselow, leader of the Lower Kalispel, refused to agree to its terms. As a result, Congress
never ratified the treaty.
In 1914, the Kalispel finally received more than 4,500 acres
of land for a reservation in eastern Washington. Members of the
tribe continued to travel in and out of Bonner
County into the 1930s, following some of their traditional seasonal activities.
Father DeSmet arrived in 1846. He marked a lake in the Selkirk Mountain range as
“Roothan” honoring his superior in Italy.
Captain John Mullan, builder of the Army’s Mullan road, likewise saw the
mountain gem and named it “Lake Kaniksu” on his map in 1865. This
mountain-ringed body of water later became known as Priest Lake.
Two major survey projects introduced more newcomers to
northern Idaho. Isaac Stevens directed a transcontinental railroad survey in the early
1850s, exploring several possible routes across Idaho. One
along the northern shore of Lake Pend Oreille later became the route chosen by
the Northern Pacific
British and American surveyors camped in what is now Bonner County in 1860-1861 as
they worked their way north to mark the international boundary. Survey crews
established a supply depot at Sineacateen in 1860, and another one farther north
at Chelemta, near present-day Bonners Ferry. From there crews moved north to the
border, which they marked with a wide swath cut through the forest.
Artist James Alden
team, recording their activities much as a photographer would today.
The decade of the 1860s brought a flurry of activity to
northern Idaho. Gold was discovered in 1863 on Wild Horse Creek in British Columbia and the next
year near Helena, Montana. Thousands of miners swarmed through Idaho on their way to the new diggings. While those heading for
Wild Horse followed the old Indian trail that David Thompson had used, miners
going to Montana had the option of taking the recently completed Mullan military
road (the route of Interstate 90) or the trail around Lake Pend Oreille. A
steady stream of pack trains passed over both routes, taking supplies to the new
The naming of Bonner County is a memorial to
an outstanding pioneer of the north area - Edwin L. Bonner, who came here in
1863 and purchased the right to build and operate a ferry on the Kootenai river
from old Chief Abraham of the Kootenai tribe at the ferry site less than 30
miles from Canada.
Idaho Legislature also granted ferry privileges to Charles H. Campfield and associates whose ferry was a part of the Wild Horse Trail to the
booming mining country of the Kootenays in Canada, in 1863 and 1864. This
led to the opening of pack train trails from
Fort Walla Walla in Washington
territory and in 1864, with the
Kootenay gold rush, miners and supply trains
came from Walla Walla up the old Indian trail past Sineacateen. A wagon road
went as far as Sineacateen, where a ferry was installed to accommodate traffic.
Miles Moore, later governor of Washington,
had one of the trading posts there during the gold rush. From Sineacateen ferry,
a pack trail (known thereafter as the Wild Horse Trail) followed the old Indian
to Bonner's Ferry (also established on the Kootenai in 1864) and on to the Wild
Horse mines near later Fort Steele, British Columbia. By 1866, Sineacateen had
two saloons, two stores, and a hotel. Traffic from the Pacific Northwest to the
Montana mines at Helena came
by Sineacateen in 1866, since the Mullan road (actually only a pack trail across
Idaho) had fallen into poor condition.
Mail pouches traveled by pony express to government steamers
at Steamboat Landing at the head of Lake Pend Oreille for delivery
to waiting riders
at Hope, for Fort Missoula.
Idaho Territory was still in
its swaddling clothes when a visitor to Bonner county of today found “Pend
d’Oreille City (now Sandpoint) a charming little place, where he enjoyed the
society of the enterprising and hospitable gentlemen who have made it their
This visitor, Col. Cornelius O’Keefe, “late of the Irish
Brigade,” told of this visit in an article published in the August, 1867 issue
of a monthly magazine.
O’Keefe was en route to Montana at the time, making the trip,
according to his article; “From New York to San Francisco, via Nicaragua –
thence by sea to Portland, Oregon – thence up the Columbia to Walla Walla –
thence on mule or horse back to Lake Pend d’Oreille, in the Territory of Idaho.”
Compiled from various sources
History try this page at
Continued on page 2