I especially enjoyed hearing the drummers. There were easily a half dozen groups of Indians gathered around large drums, beating them in unison, and singing. In many cases, as in the picture below, several generations beat on one drum.
THE INDIANS AND THE VILLAGE
(from The Fair and the Falls, Chapter Two, “Waiting for the Indians”)
There were really two Spokanes during the 1870s: the tiny community of a few whites with their dreams of becoming a real town, even a real city, and the traditional Spokane Falls of the Indians, where some natives still lived and many others visited, especially when the salmon were running. For the first four years of James Glover's settlement, Indians remained his primary customers, trading furs for his goods. Regional news was often carried to town by Indians, and in an emergency-as when a doctor had to be summoned from far away - an Indian would likely carry the message. In autumn the Indians would come in "from miles around" to fish. The salmon were so abundant in the river that "on the bottom the rocks would not be visible." After the fish were brought in, women were consigned to cleaning and drying them while the men would play cards and race their horses. The race course ran through the center of Spokane along a track that came to be known as Riverside Avenue, where teenagers would later cruise their cars on Friday nights. (45)
The affinity of whites and Indians in early Spokane was apparent in the pioneer career of Henry T. Cowley, who became one of the city's leading citizens. He arrived in Spokane in June, 1874, with several young Nez Perce, who accompanied him "as helpers and guides." On the way into town they "halted for a few moments on the bluff south of the falls, to admire the indescribable quiet and beauty of the groves of pine which interspersed to the dreamy murmur of the cataract. Descending, they pitched their camp opposite the upper rapids and laved their dust-begrimed faces in the limpid river.” (46) Cowley then went on to visit Glover's "embryo hamlet," which consisted then of a mill, a store, several simple houses, and "a few lumbermen's rude shanties." (47) Despite the humble circumstances of the village, Cowley was optimistic about the future: "Here," he wrote, "seemed to be the setting of the elements of an ideal city-even a corner of Paradise." (48) Soon after arriving in Spokane, Cowley went to work establishing a school for the Indians. The natives were eager for training:
The young men carried the lumber on their backs all the way from the sawmill down on the river bank, and the building was not completed until March. A stove was brought from Walla Walla. When it was completed, old and young gathered in and filled the place to its capacity .... I never saw a people so eager to learn the ways of civilization. I first taught them letters and figures. I had a blackboard and some crayons and drew pictures of animals and familiar articles. Point[ing] to one of these, I would get the Indian word for it and write it down, and then the corresponding English word. Considering the difficulties we had to contend with, they made very rapid progress. They wanted to start lessons at daylight and keep up the instruction until dark. (49)
"The white people would dance in the afternoon and evening until a late hour, while the Indians peeped through the evergreen and watched them. Then when we quit, they would take possession of the floor, and go through their performances until morning."
Father drove all of us to the falls by team and wagon over the old Indian trail on the north side of the river to attend the celebration. We crossed the Spokane River in a log dugout canoe paddled by an Indian. People drove in with covered wagons to attend this celebration from distances of 50 to 75 miles. There was a big crowd-all of fifty white people. A long table was erected in the bunch grass under the pine trees at what is now known as the corner of Howard and Trent streets. This table was piled full of good things to eat, and when the white people were through, a potlatch was declared for the Indians, who were invited in to eat what was left. They surely licked it up, for they outnumbered the white people, two to one. (51)
A miner, Peter Lefevre, recalled Spokane's Fourth of July celebration in the centennial year, 1876: "We had people come from Colfax, Spangle, Hangman Creek, and from a radius of 75 to 100 miles. We had a parade of about a dozen people and enough dancers to form two sets of square dancers." That year, "Babe" Downing, whose parents had sold Glover their claim on Spokane Falls, was "the only unmarried young lady available as a partner for bachelors to dance with." The Indians contributed to the celebration of the country's one-hundredth birthday by performing a war dance. (52)
For the whites such celebrations had a utilitarian purpose as well as providing entertainment. Henry Cowley noted that the 1876 Fourth of July gathering helped promote Spokane and its environs. Participants, he said, came from "all the region between the Snake River and the British line [Canada]. The gathering was an inspiration to all eastern Washington, as it revealed to the participants the larger number and superior character of the pioneers than had been looked for. The celebration was a most happy success, and all returned more contentedly and hopefully to their scattered homes." (53)
The Indians had less to be hopeful about as the number of whites increased in their midst and they were relegated to a separate status. This segregation was apparent when Indians followed whites on the dance floor, and when whites ate first during a community feast. And yet in many ways Indians did mingle freely with whites during those early years of the settlement. Within the limits imposed by cultural differences and white prejudice, the lives of the two peoples often came together.
(In my next post, I will describe another time of Indian drumming near Spokane, an ominous moment in 1877 during the Nez Perce War.)
(You know you want to!)