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#31 The Coeur d’Alene Mission


General Report Plate # 35, Coeur d’Alene Mission St. Ignatius River by Stanley Del.


Reading Isaac Stevens's reports are engaging because his information is interesting, and his writing style is rich with imagery. Your mind's eye can usually visualize along with his narrative quite easily. For that reason, I like to quote him as often as possible so that you, too, can imagine what he saw and observed. For those just beginning to read about this journey, when the word "train" is used it is in reference to the mule and horse teams of those performing the surveys and explorations, not a railroad train.


We ended the last posting (#30) on the events of August 12, 1853, when the guide Antoine accompanies Stevens to the Mission.


Stevens was at the Mission and his train of teams was about 12 miles distant, making their way toward the site. He described the Mission as sitting "beautifully" upon a hill and overlooking the extensive prairies that extended eastward and westward toward the Coeur d’Alene Mountains and the Columbia river. Stevens described the thirty to forty Indian men, women and children working the fields. He described the men plowing as skilled and admired the sowing of wheat and digging of potatoes being done by the women and children. His reception by the priests was generous even though they also were working in the fields. The evening of the 12th, he observed the burial of an Indian Chief. He wrote:


The funeral ceremonies were conducted after the Catholic form and I was struck by the harmonious voices of the Indian choristers, and with their solemn observances of the ceremonies. [1]


When reading such passages, one has to remember that there are several lenses with which to view them. The "Indian", church, government, and Stevens's. We are only reading what Isaac Stevens wrote. One has to consider "how" did the Indians become part of the Mission? Had they been converted to Catholicism voluntarily or coerced - and how long ago? How did these people feel about having given up their ceremonial traditions, such as burying a Chief? Unfortunately, these questions will not be answered in Stevens's narrative.


October 13, 1853. Stevens was still awaiting his train. While he waited, he became familiar with the workings of the Mission/farm and described a payment for services/labor that reminded me of the early 20th century coal mining life in our country.


Brother Charles......and pays the Indians for their work, which payment is made in tickets bearing a certain value, 'good for so many potatoes or so much wheat,' &c. By this management the Indians are able to procure their subsistence in the summer by hunting and fishing, and have tickets in store for living during the winter." He continued They are well contented and I was pleased to observe habits of industry growing upon them. [2]


By utilizing tickets for goods, the Mission would not have to expend cash for the labor and services of the Indians in their charge; much like the early coal mining system. If the Indians were "well contented" we will not know how accurate a statement that was. Survival in the natural world, as the Indigenous peoples of North America had done for centuries before Anglo colonization, they had to be resourceful and industrious. Perhaps the comment that they had to develop "habits of industry" referred to industrial practices, not developing a work ethic.


Stevens's narrative went into detail about animal care, tools, cow milking practices and other farm activities before he recorded that his train had arrived in the early afternoon. It was during that afternoon that Stevens learned of the deer hunting ingenuity of the Indian hunters.


When the Coeur d’Alene's, Pend d'Oreilles, Spokanes, and Nez Perces meet together to fish and hunt, they form a large circle, and upon the trees around its circumference attach pieces of cloth made to resemble the human figure as much as possible. Then the hunters enter the area and start up the deer. Each cloth having the effect of a man, the deer being afraid to pass them are kept within the circle and easily killed. [3] He noted further that the prior year the Pend d'Oreillies killed 800 deer and the Coeur d’Alene more than 400.


Stevens and his teams stayed at the Mission through the next day and departed the morning of the 15th of October. Prior to their departure Stevens gave Brother Charles "as many lariats for raising the timbers of the church as" they could spare.


Over the course of their 18 1/2 mile journey that day, Stevens wrote that they encountered various Indian hunting groups on their way to hunt buffalo. At the end of that day's journey the set-up camp in a "beautiful prairie called the wolf's Lodge, with good grass." In that same area they encountered about 100 Spokane and their 300 horses on their way to the hunt. That evening, Stevens wrote:


...I was greatly interested in observing our friends, the Spokanes, at their devotions. A bell rang, and the whole band gathered in and around a large lodge for evening prayers. There was something solemn and pathetic in the evening psalm resounding through the forests around me. This shows what good results can flow from the labor of devoted missionaries; for the Spokanes had had no religious instruction for about five years.[4]


The evening was spent like many other Stevens had described with a congenial meeting around the campfire.


October 16, 1853. The left their camp in the early morning and traveled through wooded prairie lands and about eleven miles before their anticipated camp came upon a body of water. Stevens wrote:


It was a beautiful sheet of water, surrounded by picturesque hills mostly covered with wood. Its shape [the lake] its shape is irregular, unlike that given it, upon the maps. [5]


They did not tarry beside the lake but continued onward alongside the river, through woodlands, and back onto prairie land. They met with various small hunting parties and observed Spokane horses that roamed freely on the prairie before reaching their camp site that evening.


Next posting will be about the "Falls of the Spokane."



[1 ] "REPORTS, EXPLORATIONS AND SURVEYS, TO ASCERTAIN THE MOST PRACTICABLE AND ECONOMICAL ROUTE FOR A RAILROAD FROM THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER TO THE PACIFIC OCEAN, Made under the Direction o The Secretary of War in 1853-5," Vol. XII, Book 1. Page 133

[2, 3, 4, 5] Ibid.


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