Native Americans

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First inhabitation

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Spokane Falls in 1888

The Spokane Falls and its surroundings were a gathering place and focus for settlement for the area’s indigenous people due to the fertile hunting grounds and abundance of salmon in the Spokane River. The first humans to arrive in the Spokane area arrived between twelve thousand and eight thousand years ago and were hunter-gatherer societies that lived off the plentiful game in the area. Initially, the settlers hunted predominantly bison and antelope, but after the game migrated out of the region, the native people became dependent on gathering roots, berries, and fish.[1] The Spokane tribe, after which the city is named, are believed to be either direct descendants of the original hunter-gatherers that settled in the region, or descendants of tribes from the Great Plains.[1] When asked, by early white explorers, the tribe said their ancestors came from “Up North”.[1] The Spokane Falls were the tribe’s center of trade and fishing. The Spokane consisted of three bands that lived along the Spokane River.[2] The Spokane people shared their culture and Salishan language with several other tribes, including the Coeur d’ Alenes, Kalispels, Pend Oreilles, Flatheads, Kootenays, and Colvilles among others.[2]

Early in the 19th century, the Northwest Fur Company sent two white fur trappers west of the Rocky Mountains to search for fur.[3] They were friendly with the native people they encountered.[4] The trappers became the first two white men met by the Spokane tribe, who believed them to be Sama, or sacred, and set the trappers up in the Colville River valley for the winter.[5] The tribe discovered the men brought no “big magic” to the tribe as their members had continued to die from small pox, which had first struck the tribe in an epidemic in 1782 and wiped out as much as half the tribes pre-epidemic numbers.[5][6]

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