History: CDA Reservation resulted from decades of paper battles
Former Liberty Lake neighbor, Coeur d'Alene Indian Chief Andrew Seltice, once passed along to his son, "The majority of the Coeur d'Alenes were living in a paradise in a land of their own with no greed, no uncertainty, no depressions, no divorce and no government bureaus." He prefaced it with, "This was the plan and purpose of nature before the coming of the white man."
The cultural changeover began with the arrival of the long anticipated Black Robes (Jesuit missionaries) whom most of the Indians trusted and followed. The Jesuits warned tribal leaders that in order to secure their land "from time immemorial," it should be legally titled as U. S. law required. Over the following decades, the Indians sought to do just that.
It was once said that the Coeur d'Alenes were such loyal and honorable men of integrity that they often became the victim of lesser men. The story of this Indian tribe's efforts to pursue a land title for their approximately 4 million acres leaves a revealing paper trail from paper battles over rights to the land the Coeur d'Alenes called home.
On the other side of the Washington Territory mountains, Gov. Isaac Stevens, who was also the director of Indian Affairs in Washington, declared, "The Indian title to land east of the Cascade Mountains should at once be extinguished."
The following year, he surveyed Coeur d'Alene land for the federal government's northern transcontinental railroad. The Tribe responded by officially filing for the establishment of a reservation in 1855. Unfortunately, Stevens couldn't meet with them because he was making treaties with other tribes for the proposed railroad.
The next year their scheduled meeting with Stevens was cancelled due to the Yakima Indian War, which obviously took precedence over land title problems. The ensuing Indian Wars of 1858 resulted in a peace treaty between the U. S. government via Colonel George Wright, and the Tribe who loyally promised to remain peaceful with the U. S., with Indian neighbors and with non-Indian's passage through their territory. Meanwhile, the non-Indians pressured the government to remove the Indians for the sake of development.
Finally, the governor of Idaho Territory recommended the Coeur d'Alenes be given title to their land as a reservation. President Andrew Johnson granted it in 1867, but its boundaries were limited to about 250,000 acres of the initial four million. The Coeur d'Alenes refused.
Six long years later, President Ulysses S. Grant created the reservation by Executive Order, calling for "original" boundaries. But Congress took no action and it was never finalized.
After the Nez Perce uprisings of 1877, over 100 white freeholders signed a petition praising the Coeur d'Alenes for sending their own men to protect the settlers' farms and livestock during the uprisings: "In return for your kindness we, the undersigned citizens, are willing to assist you in petitioning Government to grant you a good title to your land that you may lead a quiet and peaceful life, and we are willing to do anything in our power to promote the peace and happiness of you, Coeur d'Alenes."
Many of these same settlers sent a second petition to Congress nine years later, this time stating that the Coeur d'Alenes didn't need all their communal land and asked that the Indians be granted "lands in severalty" (individual titles of limited acreage) opening the remaining land "for public entry." Although the Tribe won a temporary reprieve, the 1887 Congress passed the Dawes Severalty Act which affected Coeur d'Alene land as well as others.
In the 1880s, precious metals found in north Idaho spawned five small towns (including Kellogg and Wallace) on reservation lands, emboldening new fortune seekers to cut timbers and settle freely. By this time, white people already owned two-thirds of the original Coeur d'Alene-occupied land, often "bought" at gunpoint or for a pittance because the tribe believed they would otherwise end up with nothing (as had happened to neighboring tribes).
Seltice continued to petition the President, and the Jesuits hired John Mullan, builder of the Mullan Road, to lobby in Washington on their behalf. Although a congressionally created Indian Commission determined the Tribe was entitled to keep the original boundary area (Grant's) promising "that no part of the reservation shall ever be sold, occupied, opened to white settlement or otherwise disposed of without the consent of the Indians residing on said reservation," Congress wouldn't approve. Encroaching settlers interpreted that the government condoned their unrestrained taking of Indians' land.
Through the years, the Coeur d'Alene leaders signed agreements that significantly reduced their 4 million acres (today's Reservation is less than 350,000 acres). The Jesuits encouraged their Indian friends to move to the fertile part of the reservation. Chief Seltice relocated from his family home in Spokane Valley to the reservations' farmland near Tekoa, Wash., and De Smet, Idaho, along with many other Coeur d'Alene families. He also invited four white families to join them, including Joe Peavy and Steven Liberty, his neighbors at Liberty Lake. All four families accepted the invitation. Liberty was well educated, a good linguist (he'd learned their language) and had some knowledge of the law. He made many trips to Washington, D.C., on behalf of the Tribe during the boundary issues, and his involvement was said to have been instrumental. He had become their confidant, helper, legal adviser and interpreter, and the Tribal leaders embraced him as an adopted "Indian head man," equal with every right possessed by any member of the tribe.
Not all of the tribe was in agreement with Seltice throughout the long negotiation years. The government classified them as "non-Coeur d'Alenes," and they subsequently disappeared from official, federal, provision-giving documents. Thus, it appears, the making of the Reservation reshaped social and cultural boundaries as well as geographic ones.
Karen Johnson is a member of the board of the Liberty Lake Historical Society. She has lived in Liberty Lake most of her life.