The Creation of the Falls: The Indian Falls

You are now looking at the Lower Falls of the Spokane River. This site was important in both the legends and daily lives of the Spokane, the Coeur d'Alene and others in this region.

In one story, the Spokane River and its gorge were formed when an imprisoned monster broke free of its bonds near the Columbia River and cut a scar in the earth as it fled to Lake Coeur d'Alene. In another, a Coeur d'Alene woman rejected the romantic interest of Coyote. Unable to get help from the Spokane or the Kalispel in seducing or kidnapping the woman, the trickster used magic to build a barrier between the salmon and the Coeur d'Alene people.

The last legend reveals a little of the importance of the falls as a gathering place for fish and people during salmon runs. Blocked by the falls, salmon congregated in the gravel beds of the Spokane River to spawn. For thousands of years, this mass of fish drew people to catch them. Once speared, fish could be laid out onto frames and smoked or skewered and then roasted close to a fire.

Like Kettle Falls and Celilo Falls, these falls drew people from such a long distance that a regular route existed between here and the upper stretches of the Pend d'Oreille River. This "Skeetshoo Road," as the first white visitors dubbed it, connected the Kalispel to the Spokane and the Coeur d'Alene, the three peoples mentioned in the Coeur d'Alene legend.

But it wasn't Coyote who finally blocked all of the salmon runs on the Spokane River, but Long Lake Dam. Built in 1915, this dam cut off fish from the falls, ending utterly a way of life and leaving only the memory of salmon.

Images

Falls of the Spokane

Falls of the Spokane

A Pacific Railroad Survey illustration of the falls of the Spokane River. During the Pacific Railroad Survey, artists and surveyors captured images of Native American life and natural landscapes prior to significant white settlement in the Inland Northwest. Source: Eastern Washington University, Archives and Special Collections View File Details Page

Spokane Falls, Washington Territory

Spokane Falls, Washington Territory

This composite lithograph combines several photographic scenes of life on the Spokane River. To an illustration of the Lower Falls in 1878, an Indian fisherman has been added about to spear a salmon as has an inset of the Upper Falls. Source: Winser, Henry J. The great Northwest ; a guide-book and itinerary for the use of tourists and travellers over the lines of the Northern Pacific railroad, the Oregon railway and navigation company and the Oregon and California railroad, 1883. View File Details Page

Drying Salmon

Drying Salmon

Paul Kane's illustration of a Lakes Indian camp near Kettle Falls. This camp shows the methods used by Salishan peoples of the Upper Plateau to preserve salmon. Reproduced from Wanderings of an Artist. Source: Spokane Public Library, Northwest Room View File Details Page

Fish Drying

Fish Drying

This photograph illustrates salmon being smoked sometime around the turn of the 20th century. The salmon meat is placed moderately close to a low, smoky fire. Source: Spokane Public Library, Northwest Room View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Clayton Hanson, “The Creation of the Falls: The Indian Falls,” Spokane Historical, accessed June 23, 2017, http://spokanehistorical.org/items/show/94.
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