Kettle Falls

Taming the Mighty Columbia - Stop 6

Beneath the placid waters of Lake Roosevelt at this location lies what was once on of the most important native sites on the Columbia plateau - Kettle Falls. For thousands of years, Indians from across the region would gather here each year to harvest some of the millions of salmon that ascended the Columbia River. In the summer months, when salmon fight the current of the Columbia for over 700 miles to their breading grounds in the small tributaries of the river, they can been seen flying through the air, jumping rapids along their route. Indian tribes from miles around would travel to the falls to harvest enough salmon to last the entire year. Around a thousand people would attend every year.

The falls were considered sacred ground, and tribes would fish side by side, even those who were at war with each other. Standing on planks over the falls, particularly strong men would stab at fish in the water, or as they were jumping over the rocks with long poles. The moving target could bring even the strongest man plunging into the water, but with careful balance, Indians were able to bring in the 15-20 pound catch without a splash. J-shaped baskets made out of willow were also attached to rocks so the tall end of the basket blocked the salmon as they leaped over the rapids, and falling into the basin. At the end of every day, the Salmon Chief would divide the catch among the tribes.

Other than catching fish, the tribes would socialize, share news, trade, and gamble. Family member and friends would reunite every year. Young men would have the opportunity to meet young women and begin a budding romance. But these traditions would end with the building of the Grand Coulee Dam. The last gathering, before the waters inundated the site, was in 1940. Known as the Ceremony of Tears, tribes celebrated and mourned a way of life that was ending after thousands of generations. Some people claim 3-5,000 people in attendance with 2-300 lodges on site others say it was closer to 8-10,000.

In 1969 and 1974, the water was drawn down for dam construction and the falls emerged for a few short weeks. Now only a few days a year, the reservoir is low enough for the tallest rocks to break the surface, providing a faint reminder of what lies beneath.

Images

Fisherman at Kettle Falls with a recently caught salmon and fishing poles. Courtesy of Spokane Public Library Northwest Room. View File Details Page

The crowd watching the fisherman spear salmon from a plank over the falls. Courtesy of the Spokane Public Library Northwest Room. View File Details Page

Salmon jumping over the rocks at Kettle Falls. Courtesy of the Spokane Library Northwest Room. View File Details Page

Tourists viewing the fall in 1887. Courtesy of the Spokane Public Library Northwest Room. View File Details Page

Salmon Drying on tree branches at a camp during the salmon run. Courtesy of the Spokane Library Northwest Room. View File Details Page

Sightseeing at Kettle Falls. Courtesy of Spokane Public Library Northwest Room. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Erin Pulley, “Kettle Falls,” Spokane Historical, accessed April 29, 2017, http://spokanehistorical.org/items/show/433.
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