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History for Kootenai County Idaho

Among the acts of the first territorial legislature affecting county organizations and boundaries was one approved February 4, 1864, which set aside within stated boundaries the section in northern Idaho was known as Latah, Kootenai and Bonner Counties. At the time no name was given to this section, which was attached to Nez Perce county for judicial purposes. The first part of this unnamed territory to be organized was Latah county, which was created in 1880. The remainder of this region was known as Kootenai, its county government becoming effective in 1881.

This section is closely connected with some of the earliest events in Idaho's history. It was on the site now covered by the city of Coeur d'Alene that Father DeSmet, in 1842, met the Indians and introduced among them the Catholic religion. Here, also, eleven years afterward General Isaac I. Stevens, governor of Washington territory, in which Idaho was the included, spent several weeks while on his transcontinental expedition. During the General's sojourn he made extensive explorations of the surrounding country and held frequent consultation with the Indian chiefs. So impressed was he with the beauty of the lake and its surroundings that, in his report to congress, he gave an exhaustive description of the country based on his observations during his stay.

Following the visit of General Stevens came that of Captain Mullan, the well-known military road builder. The historic Mullan road was the first built from Walla Walla, in Washington, to Fort Benton, on the Missouri river, along the south side of Lake Coeur d'Alene to the old mission, but in the summer of 1861 a new route was selected which leads around the north part of the lake and a portion of which is now occupied by Sherman street in the city of Coeur d'Alene.

General W. T. Sherman, while on a tour of inspection of the military forts of the Northwest, visited this place in 1877. The General was very favorably impressed with the country and recommended to congress the establishment of a military reservation and a fort, and the following year the reservation was platted. It bordered on the lake and the Spokane river and included about one thousand acres. In the spring of 1879 the fort was regularly established and garrisoned. Lieutenant-Colonel H. C. Merriam was made commander and five companies of the Second Regiment, United States Infantry, placed under him. The fort was originally known as Coeur d'Alene, but was subsequently named for General Sherman.

For several years after the establishing of the fort the place was merely a trading post, but during the years 1882-3, when the mines in Shoshone county began to be known, it became a thriving village and an outfitting point for the mines.

It is claimed that the first county seat of Kootenai was at Seneaquoteen on the Pend d'Oreille river, now known as Laclede. Seneaquoteen was, at the time it was named the county seat, a trading post and a stopping place for the Canadian mail. It possessed three or four buildings, of the typical frontier character, and had three inhabitants—Dick Fry, in charge of the post, and a half-breed Indian and his squaw. While Seneaquoteen was the county seat, it existed as such in name only, as no county business was ever transacted there.

Provision was made that whenever fifty citizens petitioned for a county organization, the governor should appoint a board of county commissioners, the members of which were empowered to name the other officers. It was not until 1881 that the county possessed enough settlers to furnish the required number of signatures and in this way secure for themselves a county organization.

In July, 1881, M. D. Wright, later a prominent business man of Coeur d'Alene, and George B. Wonnacoit issued a call to the citizens to meet at the latter's store, two miles west of Fort Sherman, for the purpose of signing the petition as the first step toward county government. The first meeting failed, as did the second, but at the third, after a thorough canvass of the county, the requisite number of signatures was secured. The petition was forwarded to the governor, who appointed as a board of county commissioners O. F. Canfield, J, T. Rankin arid William Martin. The board, in its turn, after considerable difficulty in finding men who would serve, named the other officers, and the following have the distinction of having served as the first officials of Kootenai county: Sheriff, Fred Haines; auditor and recorder, George B. Wonnacott; assessor, M. D. Wright; treasurer, Max Weil, and probate judge, Charles Chilburg.

The last named failed to qualify for the office and A. L. Bradbury was appointed in his place.

The county organization was completed in the month of July, 1881, and in August George B. Wonnacott, auditor and recorder, moved his store to Rathdrum, which had the effect of also moving the county seat to that point. The records do not disclose that any official action authorized the removal, but it is said there was a tacit agreement among the county commissioners. Coeur d'Alene did not become aroused to the fact of her despoliation until 1885, when she endeavored, through the board of commissioners, to again lay hands on the county seat, on the plea that it had never been legally established at Rathdrum.

During the interval Rathdrum, because of the building of the Northern Pacific Railroad and the rush of people into the Coeur d'Alene mining district, had become the leading town in the county, both in point of numbers and business interests, and it had no intention of relinquishing its position of political center. So determined were the people of Coeur d'Alene, however, that for three months the Rathdrumites guarded the county records, fearing their forcible removal. The towns in" the northern part of the county were on the Rathdrum side of the controversy, and Coeur d'Alene was forced to abandon her quest, but only temporarily.

She then commenced a long and determined fight in the legislature for a division of the county, having in view ultimately the establishing of the county seat at Coeur d'Alene either by legislative act or by an election after the passing of a measure dividing the county.

The battle was again, and this time successfully, renewed in the legislative session of 1907. A bill was introduced by Representative Taylor for a division of the county, the northern part to be known as Bonner, with its county seat at Sandpoint. The southern part of the county was to continue under the name of Kootenai, with Rathdrum as the capital esque, and many summer homes are located near it. Hayden lake is one of the favorite summer playgrounds. It has no visible outlet, but has a subterranean connection with the Spokane river. Spirit and Fish lakes are in the northwestern part of the county and lay just claim to their full share of beauty. At the former Chautauqua grounds have been opened and assemblies are held there each summer.

The hills, the towering evergreens, the lakes and rivers combine to produce one of nature's glorious panoramas. The color and outline of sky and cloud, mountains and trees, are caught and held in the clear depths of the waters which so greatly enhance their beauty. St. Joe river is unrivaled in the delicacy and exquisiteness of its shadow effects.

Kootenai county is first and foremost, so far as its natural resources are concerned, a timbered country. A large acreage lies within the national forests of Coeur d'Alene, Nez Perce and Pend d'Orcille, but there are privately owned tracts which contain billions of feet. The streams afford the means of conveying the giant logs from their forest home to the mills on the lake. The white pine of this region commands the highest price on the market. But the white pine no longer monopolizes the demand, and the yellow pine, cedar and fir find ready sale.

Agriculture has been confined to the valleys and only in the last few years has this industry been emphasized. Although Kootenai county lies in the humid belt, the precipitation being about twenty-five inches during the year, much of this land only attains its highest productiveness after irrigation, and the acreage farmed by this method will doubtless steadily increase. The fertility of the soil is evidenced by its average yields of grain, which show thirty bushels of wheat, forty-two bushels of oats, thirty-eight bushels of barley and twenty-eight bushels of corn to the acre. Much interest is now being taken in horticulture and many orchards are being planted. Gradually, as the valleys and slopes are denuded of their magnificent trees, the husbandman will extend his domain, and where now stand the mighty monarchs of the forest, future years will see the commodious ranch home, surrounded by its fields of grain and trees bending under their burden of fruit.

Agriculture was given an impetus by the opening to settlement of the Coeur d'Alene Indian reservation in 1909-10. An article from the Coeur d'Alene Evening Press, telling of the reservation and which also gives interesting facts about the Indians themselves, reads as follows: "In connection with the passing of the Coeur d'Alene Indian reservation, which is to be thrown open to settlement the coming summer, a brief history of the aborigines will not be out of place. Charles O. Worley, Indian agent at DeSmet mission, furnishes most of the statistics for this article.

"The reservation, which is situated wholly in Kootenai county, contains approximately 625 square miles, or four hundred thousand acres. At least two-fifths of the land embraced in the reservation is cultivable and of great fertility. The remaining three-fifths, or nearly a quarter of a million acres, contain a heavy growth of timber, consisting of fir, tamarack, white and yellow pine and cedar. A large' portion of the timber land, when cleared, will make desirable farms. The land already under cultivation ranks among the best for agriculture in northern Idaho.

"The principal crops thus far produced have been wheat, oats and hay, but the soil has also proven to be admirably adapted to the growing of sugar beets.

"The census taken last year shows the number of stock to be as follows: Horses, 2,500; cattle, 1,200; hogs, 600; sheep, 175.

"Of Coeur d'Alene Indians there were males 255, females 245. Besides these there were ninety-seven Spokane Indians, nearly evenly divided in regard to sex.

"Statistics show very little change as to the number of Indians in the tribe since the mission was established at DeSmet in 1880. There were then approximately five hundred of all ages on the reservation, and the census recently completed shows practically the same number. The birth and the death rate practically counterbalance.

"Notwithstanding the longevity of many of the Indians, the mortality rate is high, being exceeded by only a very few cities in the United States. A visit to their cemetery furnishes convincing proof that a large proportion of the deaths are those of infants and children and that, having passed maturity, the chances are excellent for arriving at a ripe old age.

"The great age reached by a number of these people is a subject of common remark, the causes of which might make an interesting physiological study. Father Caruana, of DeSmet mission, states that old Charles, who died there a few years ago, was at the time of his death not less than one hundred and twenty years old. He was totally blind for many years before his death, and was waited on by his daughter, who died later, deaf and blind, over ninety years of age. Many other instances could be cited.

"With the majority of these people their longevity is the only remarkable feature of their lives. Some of the men in their prime were looked upon as 'medicine men,' endowed with supernatural power, and consequently of great influence among their fellows. When the 'black gowns' or priests began their work, they condemned that sort of superstition, and the medicine men gradually lost their power and influence. Little, then, remains to be told of these old men or women, unless it be their conversion to Christianity.

"At the present time all, both old and young, are devout adherents of the Roman Catholic religion. Their devotion is something really noteworthy. All those living within a reasonable distance of the mission attend every church service with great punctuality. On special occasions, such as Easter, the Feast of the Ascension, or Christmas, both sexes and all ages turn out en masse to participate in the ceremonies. On those days they assemble at the mission from all parts of the reservation, many coming from a distance.

"In the intervals between religious observance, they take part in various athletic games and exercises, such as running, jumping, horse racing and baseball. They are especially fond of the latter, and many of the young men are experts at the great national game."

Since the opening of the reservation, the lands in Kootenai county that are available for agricultural purposes have been estimated at eight hundred thousand acres.

Live stock, owing to the limited extent of its grazing lands as compared with other parts of the state, has not been an important factor in the county's development. The last statistics show that there are over one thousand range cattle within its limits. Swine and sheep are as yet negligible quantities, but in its horses, which number over three thousand, and in its more than sixteen hundred dairy cows, Kootenai compares favorably with many other counties of Idaho.

The boundaries of Kootenai county include an area of 2,043 square miles. The population is about twenty-three thousand. There are something over seventy thousand acres of inappropriate land, classed as agricultural and timber.

Minerals have been found in this county at different times and at different places, but the great mines of its neighbor, Shoshone, so overshadow everything in this line that little development has been attempted in Kootenai. In recent years the principal mining activity has been on Tyson creek, a tributary of the St. Maries river, where both placer and quartz ground has been opened.

In railroads Kootenai is among the most favored sections of the entire state. The building of the Northern Pacific, from 1880 to 1883, and the discovery of the rich mines of the Coeur d'Alene district during the same period caused Kootenai county to begin its development. There quickly came a population of two thousand or more,, but it was largely brought in by the railroad construction and was, therefore, of a floating nature. In 1882, the valuation of the property within the county is given at $305,741, while the number of taxable residents numbered only eighty nine. Kootenai county has now the benefit of the following railway connections: Northern Pacific, Chicago, Milwaukee & Puget Sound; Oregon-Washington Railroad & Navigation Company; Spokane & International; Idaho Washington Northern; Spokane & Inland Empire.

Kootenai boasts of many thriving communities to several of which, in addition to Coeur d'Alene, the chief city of the county and one of the important ones in the state, more than passing notice could well be given.

Rathdrum, the former county seat, was at one time the largest and most prosperous town in the panhandle of Idaho. When the Northern Pacific was built, it became an important distributing center, and the supply and outfitting point for the stampeders to the Coeur d'Alene mines. In 1884 it was in its prime and had commodious hotels and substantial business buildings. Water was piped into the town and a paper, the Kootenai Courier, edited by M. W. Musgrove, made its weekly appearance. Rathdrum still holds a leading place, is situated on the Idaho-Washington Railroad as well as the Northern Pacific, and is surrounded by splendid farm lands.

Harrison is identified with the large lumber interests of the section. It is located at the mouth of the Coeur d'Alene river, and here the great mills convert into usable form the logs that are floated to their doors. Here, also, the lake steamers connect with the Oregon-Washington Railroad and Navigation Company and, by way of this line, with the Northern Pacific at Wallace.

Spirit Lake is one of the newest towns in the county, it being but a few years since the site it now occupies was covered by a virgin forest. The growth of Spirit Lake has been rapid and substantial. The town has water, sewer and electric light systems, good public and business buildings, and several miles of cement sidewalks. Located on Spirit lake, its scenic surroundings are all that could be desired. Its population, as well as of Rathdrum and Harrison, is about one thousand.

St. Maries is, in point of numbers, the second city of the county. It lies at the junction of the St. Maries river with the St. Joseph and is the outlet for the largest body of white pine timber in the Northwest. The transportation facilities of St. Maries are supplied by the line of steamers on the lake and by the Chicago, Milwaukee & Puget Sound Railway.

Post Falls, although it has lagged behind some of its neighbors in population, is one of the oldest locations in the county. In 1871 Frederic Post took up a mill site at this place and installed a saw and planning mill. The canyon and the waterfall make Post Falls worthy of note because of its scenic attractions. The tremendous energy of the water is utilized in the generation of the electric current for the railway and for the great Coeur d'Alene mines.

Kootenai has the rare combination of affording business opportunities of high order and most attractive surroundings for ideal homes. Here one may pursue his commercial activities and at the same time enjoy the natural beauties of a Lake Como or Geneva.

School statistics emphasize the desirability of Kootenai as a place for homes. In the number of its school children this county ranks fourth in the state, while the valuation of its school property, which is almost three quarters of a million dollars, is only exceeded by Ada County, in which is situated Boise, the capital and largest city in Idaho.

To the sportsman this section is a land of delight. Coeur d’Alene lake itself, as well as all of the smaller lakes and streams, teem with fine and gamy fish. Black bass and trout are found in abundance and will readily rise to a fly or minnow. From time to time the game warden of the state has transplanted in the lakes and rivers bass and trout, and by reason of the great amount of food in these waters, their increase has been phenomenal. The species of trout are the native cut-throat, the mountain brook and the steel head, and they weigh from a half pound to four or five pounds. The bass weigh from one to eight pounds.

Probably no section of equal area in the world provides a greater number and variety of birds than does this. Here are found the partridge, the prairie chicken, the blue grouse and ducks of every variety. The mallard, the wood duck, and the buffalo head make this region their home and breeding place. The birds of a migratory nature, which can be found here in the spring and fall, are the blue and green winged teal, the widgeon or ball pate, the pintail, the spoon bill or shoveler, the red head and the canvas back.

For the more adventuresome, the mountains furnish larger game. There are still to be found black and cinnamon bear, and the mountain lion, the cougar, the wild cat, lynx, coyote and occasionally a gray wolf. Not far from the lake may be encountered black tail, white tail and mule deer. If one cares for a longer and harder trip, he may penetrate the mountains sixty miles or more and be rewarded by moose and elk. There, too, are the Rocky mountain goat, the bighorn and mountain sheep, which are, by long odds, the most difficult game to secure, as they make their homes in the highest peaks.

[HISTORY OF IDAHO VOLUME I; BY HIRAM T. FRENCH, M. S.; Publ. 1914; Transcribed and submitted to Genealogy Trails by Andrea Stawski Pack.]





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