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  Idaho History
About the Coeur D'Alene Indians

Information provide by Stan Haggart

For thousands of years the Coeur d'Alene Indians have lived in the Northern Idaho and Eastern Washington along the Spokane River Basin.  Unlike the tribes of the plains, the Coeur d' Alenes and their neighbors, the Spokanes, the Kootenai, the Kalispell, the bands of the Colville Confederated Tribes and the Kootenai-Salish, or Flatheads, were not nomadic.

Morris Antelope an Coeur D'Alene Indian Chief.

Coeur d' Alene Indian villages were established along the Coeur d' Alene, St. Joe, Clark Fork and Spokane Rivers. 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.

Ancient trade routes connected the Coeur d' Alenes with the Nez Perce, the Shoshones and the Bannocks to the south and southeast. To the east were the tribes of the Great Plains and the vast herds of buffalo. With the coming of horses, young Coeur d' Alene men journeyed east to hunt buffalo. These journeys, however were not necessary for survival. The Saint Joe River was plentiful for whitefish in the late fall and the Spokane River in the summer provided large amounts salmon. The jpourneys were viewed as adventures, with rites of passage, for youth who would step into manhood and then on to leadership roles.

The first white people to encounter the Coeur d' Alenes were French trappers and traders. It was one of these Frenchmen who found the tribe to be vastly experienced and skilled at trading, thus the name "Coeur d' Alene, "meaning "heart of the awl." The nickname stuck. One Frenchman described the tribe as "the greatest traders in the world."

The Coeur D' Alene area is also home to one of the first Catholic missions to be established in the West.  Cataldo Mission was originally established on the St. Joe River in the early 1840s. Because of flooding the mission  was moved to a bluff overlooking the Coeur d'Alene River in 1848. Today the mission remains Idaho's oldest building.  Both the mission and the parish are part of Old Mission State Park.

The Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation is located south of the resort town of Coeur d'Alene in Idaho's panhandle and only occupies a fraction of the tribe's original 5,000,000 acres. The arrowhead-shaped reservation includes the edge of the western Rockies, half of Lake Coeur d'Alene, and portions of the fertile Palouse country.

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.  


Articles of Interest

About the Nez Perce Indian
Shoshone Bannock Tribes and Fort Hall

Cataldo Mission



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