American Historic Towns
Historic Towns of The Western States

Edited by Lyman P. Powell
G. P. Putnam' Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press


SCULPTORS have not yet chiselled the glory of the founders of Spokane, for most of the pioneers of that city, heedless of remote epitaphs, still hurry over its now “populous pavements,” multiplying their wealth. Boys born in the first year of the city’s incorporation have not yet reached the age of suffrage. Less than thirty years ago the settlement began with three citizens and a sawmill. It has developed into a brick and granite city of nearly fifty thousand.

A century ago a few brave men blazed perilous trails through the wilderness of the far Northwest but their picturesque adventures gave no hint of the city of wealth, industry, and architectural beauty that was to rise on both banks of the Spokane cataract. Though Jefferson's renowned secretary, Meriwether Lewis, and his comrade Clark, brother of George Rogers Clark, heralded the day when the Oregon and its affluents should hear sounds more significant than their own dashings, their pilgrimage had become as dim as a tradition to the men of the present generation who first floated Cceur d' Alene tamarack and cedar down the swift Spokane to their sawmill at the falls.

On the Spokane River not far from its confluence with the Columbia the Northwest Fur Company built a post more than ninety years ago, and thence reckless voyageurs found their way through the solitudes, pausing to trade at the villages of the Spokanes, the Flatheads, the Umatillas, the Walla Wallas, the Nez Perces, and others, taking red women cheerfully in marriage and as cheerfully deserting them when occasion called. In this remote frontier, beyond the utmost reach of ethics or law, in a region with a cloud upon its national title, the pioneers fulfilled their semi savage destiny. Nelson Durham, a writer of Spokane, has patriotically designated the Spokane Plains as the site of the annual horse racing and saturnalia of these skin clad trappers and traders, but they left no landmarks and the noise of their revelry had long since died away when the first Anglo Saxon, lured by the roar of the falls, came to harness those tumultuous waters to his wheel.

There is a tradition that the Spokane Indians shunned this now famed succession of wild cascades, for in the foaming maelstrom at the foot of the falls dwelt a malign goddess, her long hair streaming in the cataract, her shimmering figure half revealed in the enveloping mists of spray. While the waters danced about her she sang merrily and the sound of her singing was like the warbling of a thousand birds. With her outstretched arms she lured Indian fishermen and devoured them. Her flowing hair was a trammel, that enmeshed her victims. None had ever returned. Shaman after shaman, under his totem pole, had unavailingly invoked his tomañowash incantations to destroy her power. Then Speelyai or Coyote, the great Indian god, transforming himself into a feather, floated over the falls and was speedily engulfed by the evil goddess. Assuming the form of a strong warrior he began his campaign. Around him were the wrecks of skin and bark canoes, the forms of unnumbered members of his tribes, and a bedraggled eagle which proved to be Whaiama, god of the upper air. With a stone axe Speelyai hewed his way through the monster's side and Whäiama bore the resurrected company to the high banks of the Spokane River. Now Speelyai pronounced a curse upon his groaning enemy. Her career as a destroyer was at an end. Henceforth she might entice some helpless wanderers from distant tribes, but the chosen ones she should destroy no more. And the god prophesied in conclusion that a better race would come some day, a strange people, whom she could not conquer, and who would bind and enslave her forever.

These falls, whose total volume equals the power of forty thousand horses, turn the wheels of factories the value of whose exports to China, Japan, and other lands is expressed in millions. The water power speeds electric street cars over ninety miles of track, and conducts electricity through two hundred and fifty miles of arc mains. All the elevators and printing presses of the city are operated by power from the falls, and to this all supplying current are attached many sewing machines, typewriters, phonographs, graphophones, churns, electric, fans, music boxes, door bells, burglar alarms, clocks, and hundreds of other contrivances calling for constant or occasional motive power. Spokane is credited with being the most modern and best equipped city in the world, and this is due, first, to the falls whose power brings many utilities, considered luxuries in other communities, within reach of the lowliest consumer; and secondly, to the singular fact that the city is newer than the telephone, the electric light, and other latter day inventions and discoveries. There were no ancient institutions and prejudices to supplant. To children reared in Spokane, other cities seem archaic, their streets sloven, and their homes grotesquely behind the times. A girl from Spokane visiting in New York is known to have written home about the bizarre appearance of "electric cars drawn by horses."

London gropes by night through dismal glimmerings of gas and it would require millions of reluctant pounds sterling to substitute more modern light. In the new city of Spokane it was the most natural procedure to instal the latest conveniences of modern life. When the little, settlement was but a cluster of ambitious cabins every abode had its telephone and its electric lights. The Spokane workman does not stumble up the steps of a dim tenement. Lumber is cheap and in variety, and even Spokane granite is within his means. He dwells in a good home. A click of a button at the door floods the dwelling with light. Sputtering wicks have no place in his economy. He can afford, too, to order his groceries by telephone or use the same medium to discuss politics with a friend in a distant part of the city. All members of polite society in Spokane have telephones. A lady planning an impromptu tea or lawn party gets out her calling list, reaches for the telephone, and issues her amiable summons. A great amount of local business is transacted over, the wires in the city. The power of the falls likewise enables the telephones of Spokane to talk and trade with a thousand towns, the distant city of San Francisco coming within the Spokane circuit.

Thus, in the employment of water power to serve the city in manifold ways, the Indians say, has been fulfilled the prophecy of Speelyai that a race would come which should yoke the goddess of the cataract in perpetual servitude.

In further fulfilment of the prediction that the demoniacal siren of the falls should no longer have dominion over his people, the Spokanes and kindred tribes shunned the river, and from a race of fishers, paddling bent and kneeling in their crude canoes, they became an intrepid race of horsemen. On horseback they rode to war or hunted the moose and antelope, and horses became the sign of wealth and the medium of exchange. For their obedience in carrying out the details of his malediction upon the water demon, Speelyai prospered them. Their wealth increased and their numbers multiplied. Their tepees were warm with many furs and picturesque with the trophies of battle and the chase. Their larders abounded with dried meat, meal, wapatoo, and camas root. They became the most valiant warriors between the Bitter Root Mountains and the sea. The power of the allied tribes of Eastern Washington became so formidable that the American Government was compelled to send its most skilful military leaders to effect their pacification, and it was not until Phil Sheridan eclipsed them in daring and General Miles forced Chief Joseph to capitulation that the scattered settlers in the Spokane country ceased to tremble at the impending descent of mounted savages.

By repeated violation of treaty stipulations, by burnings and massacres and thefts, they had asserted their dominion. In 1858 the Spokanes gave tragic demonstration of their determination to enforce the native declaration that the armies of the whites should never traverse their domain. In that year Colonel Steptoe, seeking to lead a detachmentto garrison the post of the Hudson Bay Company at Colville, near the British border, was defeated with great slaughter by the Spokanes. With an unscalped remnant of his force he crawled at night from the scene of his disaster and, abandoning his guns, rushed in confusion back to Walla Walla. The god of Indian battles still reigned and the Government at Washington was alarmed. Then Colonel George Wright was chosen to command, a man whose merciless determination and sanguinary triumphs gave to his notable campaign a distinction not paralleled. until the Sirdar of Egypt just forty years later led his expedition to Khartoum, silenced the dervishes near Omdurman, and hurled the severed head of the Khalifa into the Nile. The Spokanes did not attribute their defeat to the superior strategy of their pale faced foe. Their fatal mistake, they said, was in making their last stand oh the Spokane Plains, within sound of the exultant shrieking and sinister roaring of their ancient enemy, the evil spirit of the Spokane cataract, and it was she, not their white conqueror, who herded and stampeded them into terrified surrender. They had fought with abandoned daring, and had employed all their arts of strategy, but were forced back toward the abode of the water monster until her roaring mockery thundered in their ears. Now they set the tall prairie grass afire, and over the site of the coming city there blazed on that parched day of September 5, 1858, a conflagration no less formidable than war. It enveloped, but could not stay the pursuing column. Destiny was striding through flame and blood that day to open a way for civilized occupation of the Pacific Northwest. Hundreds of painted warriors, including the leader of the Palouses, a chief of the Pend d' Oreilles, one of the chiefs of the Coeur d' Alenes, and two brothers of Spokane Gary, the commander of the savage army, lay dead.

As if by a miracle, not one of Colonel Wright's soldiers fell, a further proof to the Indians that their evil goddess had presided over the conflict. In token of their subjection they brought their wives, children, horses, and all portable belongings and made complete offering at the feet of their conqueror. Thus the site of the present city of Spokane became the scene of one of the most striking and significant triumphs of civilized man over the aborigines of the American continent. What William Henry Harrison did at Tippecanoe for the old Northwest in scattering the allied natives under Tecumseh, Colonel Wright accomplished at Spokane Plains for the Northwest in demolishing the league of tribes under the Spokanes. It is true that Chief Joseph later, emulating the ambitions of Black Hawk, sought to reunite the tribes in rebellion against the whites, but though he succeeded in stirring the Federal Government to vigilant campaigns, he failed in his great object, just as did the successor of Tecumseh. Wright's sway was undisputed. Indians convicted of crimes he ordered hanged. Superfluous horses were shot. He spread terror as he moved, and peace followed in his footsteps.

But the Civil War and financial panic delayed the Western movement. In 1863 there were but ninety registered citizens in the Spokane country. And when the first sawmill came, in 1873, its wheels revolved slowly, for the failure of Jay Cooke delayed the transcontinental railway, that was to connect the city with the East. Eight years later, just twenty years ago, the first locomotive rumbled into the new settlement. Now there was to be a city. On September 1st of that year came the first lawyer, J. Kennedy Stout, and it is characteristic of the spirit that has ever continued to quicken the activities of the community that four days after his arrival he had drafted a charter for the city, taken the necessary legal steps toward its incorporation, and had been chosen its attorney.

In 1885, the city, numbering two thousand people, was an alert and distributing centre. Grain was pouring in from the fertile acres of the Palouse to be ground into flour, and the time was at hand when a remarkable discovery in the neighboring mountains of Idaho was to turn the tide of travel toward Spokane, and in less than a decade develop it into the greatest railroad centre west of Chicago. It was in that year that three men and an ass, in the Cceur d' Alenes, a few miles from Spokane, camped toward night in a desolate cañon. Their provisions were nearly exhausted. They held forlorn council, and decided to abandon their search for mines in those gloomy and precipitous solitudes. Toward sundown the animal strayed from its tether. They found it gazing across the ravine at a reflected gleam of the setting sun. A marvellous series of ore seams had mirrored the light. The dumb beast had discovered the greatest deposits of galena on the globe. The whole mountain was a mine.

Within an hour after the arrival of the sensational news at Spokane, that city's unparalleled boom began. Prospectors, engineers, and capitalists from the four corners of the Republic hurried to the new city. A railway magnate rode out on horseback to view the mountain, and within four months from the day of his visit ore was being shipped by rail to Spokane. North and south, for three hundred miles, mines were found on every mountainside, and every additional discovery hastened Spokane's growth and quickened the fever of its speculation. As a local historian said, "Men went to sleep at night on straw mattresses, and woke to find themselves on velvet couches stuffed with greenbacks." Wealth waited for men at every corner. The delirium of speculation whirled the sanest minds. Of the many clergymen, for example, who arrived to advocate the perfecting of titles to homes not made with hands, eleven abdicated the pulpit and, indifferent to the menace of moth and rust, laid up substantial treasure.

Five years from the discovery of the mines in the Coeur d' Alenes the city numbered twenty thousand inhabitants. Fire swept over it and laid twenty two solid squares in ashes. Before the ruins cooled, the city was being rebuilt, this time in steel and brick and stone. The Spokesman Review, which began its editorial career in a small, discarded chapel, soon moved into a ten story structure, and that evolution was, in epitome, the story of the city. Architects of some renown designed palaces and chateaux for the wealthy. Every citizen hoped to outdazzle his neighbor in the beauty of his home, and this has resulted in giving Spokane unique distinction in architectural impressiveness.

Though Spokane has had abundant share of that rampant Western virility, the story of whose unrestraint would constitute a daring contribution to profane history, the city from the start displayed a dominating purpose that made for civic righteousness. It is true that during its earlier years there were many murders in Spokane, for citizens, in the midst of its hurrying events, were impatient of prolix complaints and the tardy judgments of the law. Nor did this reckless code much concern the hangman, for the legal execution of a citizen in Spokane would have been regarded much as the world would now look upon the shuddering crime of burning a Christian at the stake; yet in its blood shedding there was little, if any, of the wanton element of anarchy, and upon few occasions in the history of the Northwest has crime. stooped to assassinate from ambush. Outwardly calm, but with desperation in his mood, the insulted approached the object of his wrath and warned him to "heel" himself. Inevitable shooting marked their next meeting, and their funerals were not infrequently held simultaneously.

The bad man of melodrama is an execrable creation of fiction, whose counterpart was not long tolerated in Spokane's career, and who does not seem to have made his presence felt in other sections of the West. A desperado of the early days sent word from a neighboring town that, because of some dispute, he would kill a certain Spokane citizen on sight. The community could not afford to lose an influential pioneer, and the city fathers met to consider the outlaw's menace. They decided that, inasmuch as they would be called upon to execute him ultimately, they would better hang him before he had opportunity to pull his criminal trigger, and to this programme they pledged their official honor and forwarded notice of their grim deliberation to the desperado, who thereupon deemed it expedient to strike the Lolo trail that led to less discriminating frontiers. Spokane has outlived its lawless days. For several years it enjoyed the police protection of a noted bandit catcher, whose nerve was unfailing and whose aim was sure. The ensuing hegira of criminal classes was a spectacle for other cities to contemplate with awe. During his stern régime, a riotous stranger, mistaking the temper of the community, flourished weapons and for a few agonizing moments made pedestrians his targets. The clamor brought the cool chief of police. "Did you subdue the stranger?" he was afterward asked. " We buried him the next day," was the reply.

In the few years that have ensued since the country's occupation by the whites, the once masterful Spokane tribe has degenerated, the Indians around Spokane today shambling about under the generic epithet of "siwash"; and a writer visiting this region in recent days came to the etymological conclusion that the first syllable in their unhappy title stood for "never."

Though Spokane is famous, its precise locality is not generally known. When it became ambitious and first held expositions, it ordered lithographic posters from Chicago. They came representing steamboats plying placidly in a river whose falls are as deadly as Niagara's. Spokane is twenty four hours' ride from the cities of Puget Sound. It is three days' journey from San Francisco, and to go from Spokane to Helena or Butte is like travelling from Chicago to Denver. Its future must be great. It has no rival. Eight railroads, three of them transcontinental, assert its supremacy. Southward stretches the most prolific grain empire in the world. Almost boundless forests of valuable timber cover surrounding mountains to the north and east, whose mineral wealth is beyond compute.

A typical Westerner, in an interesting autobiography, states that the ass that discovered the mines of the Cceur d'Alene, and thus caused a stampede of civilization to Spokane, was buried with the ceremonial honors due a: potentate. It takes conspicuous place in distinguished company. On the heights of Peor an altar was reared to canonize the ass that saw the Light the prophet Baiaam all but passed. An ass by its braying wrought the salvation of Vesta, and the animal's coronation was an event in the festival of that goddess. For ages the Procession of the Ass was a solemn rite in religious observances. In Spokane, a favorite canvas pictures the Cceur d'Alene immortal gazing .enraptured across a mountain chasm at shining ledges of galena. When explaining the various causes of the matchless development of Spokane and its tributary region, the resident, in merry mood, does not forget to pilot the visitor to this quaint memorial. Afterward there was litigation over the mineral wealth now valued at $4,000,000 located by this animal, the outcome of which was the following decision handed down by Judge Norman Buck of the District Court of Idaho:

"From the evidence of the witnesses, this Court is Of the opinion that the Bunker Hill mine was discovered by the jackass, Phil O'Rourke, and N. S. Kellogg; and as the jackass is the property of the plaintiffs, Cooper & Peck, they are entitled to a half interest in the Bunker Hilt, and a quarter interest in the Sullivan claims."

Spokane has a rare climate of cloudless days. The Indians say that once it shared the fogs and copious rains of the seacoast, but that their tutelary god, ascending to the heavens, slew the Thunderer, and that thenceforth they dwelt under radiant skies, and were called Spokanes, or Sons of the Sun.

A college of artists could not have devised a more beautiful, location for a city. It is set in a gigantic amphitheatre two thousand feet above sea level. High walls of basalt, picturesque with spruce and cedar and pine, form the city's rim. Against this background have been built mansions that would adorn Fifth Avenue or the Circles of the national capital. Forming the city's southern border winds an abysmal gorge, and along its brink has been built one of the city's fashionable boulevards. The cataracts of the Spokane some day must inspire poets. In some parts of the city, affording adornments for numberless gardens, are volcanic, pyramidal rocks. The Indians say that these columns are the petrified forms of amazons who, issuing from the woods, were about to plunge into the river for a bath, ignorant of the water demon, when Speelyai to save them turned them into stone.

It is significant of the lure of Spokane that men who have accumulated millions and sold their mines still make it their place of permanent residence. Though the city as it is today has been built in the dozen years that have elapsed since its great fire, there is. no hint of hasty development within its boundaries. . Singular fertility in its soil has so fostered its shade trees and its gardens that a sense is conveyed of years of affluent ease and attention to aesthetic detail. Spokane is in many respects the most consummate embodiment on the continent of that typical American genius that has redeemed the wilderness of the frontier.

Historic towns of the Western States

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