Risky Fun

Deadly Waters

While there was "never a shot fired in anger" at Fort Spokane, life on the fort was not without danger.

Mired in strict routine and with little chance of combat, soldiers at Fort Spokane looked forward to their free time away from the base. The young men stationed at the fort were lucky to have the small town of Miles just across the river. There they could blow off steam, drink, and escape the boredom of life at the fort. Miles was the quintessential military town, with gambling, prostitution, and other shenanigans on offer.

The waters of the river flowed free, and without a dam to hold them back, the currents were much stronger than they are today. The soldiers at Ft. Spokane used a small cable ferry to make the river crossing at a narrow spot. The ferry was little more than a raft, which an operator pulled across the river using a steel cable attached to trees on either side. While the crossing was at a relatively calm point in the river, the water was still fast, cold, and deep.

With drink in their bellies and an impaired ability to walk, let alone swim, more than one soldier drowned in ferry accidents. And on at least one occasion, the ferry cable broke and the water washed the ferry down the river. The wreckage of one such accident was recovered downstream, and the soldiers were buried in the Ft. Spokane cemetery.



A Fatal Ferry Accident
Ferry crossings at Fort Spokane were dangerous and sometimes resulted in death. ~ Source: Reading from “A Fatal Ferry Accident,” Semi-Weekly Miner, Butte, Montana, Saturday, May 23, 1885, vol 7, no. 641. ~ Creator: Angel Rios
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