Starting in 1902, the Indian children at the Fort Spokane boarding school tended this orchard. As part of “civilizing” the natives, the school taught native children to farm. The children, some as young as six years old, had to grow potatoes, wash laundry, and do all the chores of keeping up the grounds. Living at the school also introduced them to a western diet, like the fruit from the orchard. In his 1902 report, school superintendent Frank Avery called the school “ideally located for fruit culture,” and proudly reported that the orchard had been planted with 620 fruit trees, almost all of which were “living and in fine condition.”
After the boarding school closed in 1909, it became a tuberculosis hospital for American Indians afflicted with the disease. The trees continued to bear fruit. Fresh air was thought to slow the progress of tuberculosis, so some Indian boarding schools set up tents in their orchards to house students with the disease. Patients at Fort Spokane may have camped among these trees in the summer season.
Today, only a handful of apple trees remain. We can only guess what the orchard represented to the children who lived and worked at the boarding school, or to the patients who were treated at the hospital. But, like the local tribes, the trees remaining today have outlived the long years of the boarding school and the hospital. Their roots have held, and whatever the region’s future holds, they will be part of it.