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Kalispel Indians

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Popularly known under the French name of Pend d'Oreilles, "ear pendants", an important tribe of Salishan stock originally residing about Pend d Oreille lake and river, in northern Idaho and northeast Washington, and now gathered chiefly upon Flathead reservation, Montana, and Colville reservation, Washington. They are commonly distinguished as Upper Kalispel, on the lake, and Lower Kalispel, on the river. They are mentioned under the name of Coospellar by the explorers Lewis and Clark, in 1805, at which time they were in the habit of crossing the mountains annually to hunt buffalo on the Missouri. Somewhat later they became acquainted with the Hudson's Bay traders.

In 1844 the work of Christianization was begun by the Jesuit Father Adrian Hoecken, who, four years after the famous Father de Smet had undertaken to carry the Gospel among the Flathead Indians, established St. Ignatius Mission on the east side of Clark's fork, near the Idaho line in the present Stevens county, Washington. When the Mission of St. Mary, on Bitter Root River, was abandoned in 1850, in consequence of the inroads of the Blackfeet, the St. Ignatius Mission grew in importance. In his official report of the commission to the northwestern tribes in 1853, Governor Isaac Stevens gives an extended account of Saint Ignatius, of which he says: "It would be difficult to find a more beautiful example of successful missionary labours." The mission was discontinued in 1855, but in the meantime other Jesuit missions had sprung up, and not only the Kalispel, but also the kindred Colvilles, Lakes, Okanagan, and Flatheads were completely Christianized. In 1855 the Upper band joined with the Flatheads and part of the Kutenai in a treaty with the government by which they were settled on the Flathead reservation in Montana, where some of the Lower band joined them in 1887. In 1872 a part of the Lower band was gathered upon the Colville reservation in Washington. Still others are scattered in various parts of Washington and Idaho. Lewis and Clark estimated the tribe at 1600 souls in 1805. In 1908 there were officially reported 670 "Pend d Oreilles" (Upper band) and 192 "Kalispel" (Lower band) on the Flathead reservation, Montana, and 98 "Kalispel" on Colville reservation, Washington, making, with a few not accounted for, a total of about 1000 souls.

The mission work on both reservations is still in charge of the Jesuits, and is recognized by all observers as in the highest degree successful as regards religious observance, general morality, and self-supporting industry. The fathers are assisted at the Flathead mission (St. Ignatius) by Sisters of Providence, Ursulines, and Lamennais Brothers, and the Colville mission (St. Francis Regis; Ward P. O.) by Sisters of Charity of Providence. The principal industries now are farming and stock raising, with fishing and the gathering of edible roots. The earlier more primitive habit of life is thus summarized in an official report of 1870 upon the non-treaty tribes of northeastern Washington, now gathered on Colville reservation:

The habits and manner of living of the tribes in this district are nearly similar. They live mostly in lodges and move from place to place where they can most easily procure subsistence. In the spring, after they put in their crops, they go to the Spokane country to dig couse, bitter-root and wild onion. The first two they dry in the sun: the wild onion they mix with the black moss and bake under hot stones. About the middle of May they collect at the several camas grounds, which root (resembling an onion, is sweet and insipid) they dig and prepare as follows: They make a bed six or eight feet in diameter, of smooth stones, on which they build a fire; when the stones are red hot they remove the fire and cover them with green grass two or three inches deep on which they place the camas six to twelve inches deep, and over which they spread green grass; then cover all with earth about six inches deep, on which they build a fire and keep it up from twenty-four to forty-eight hours, according to the amount in the kiln; after being baked it is taken out and dried in the sun. Being thus prepared it will keep for years, and is both nutritious and palatable. Before baking it is white; after black. There are several camas prairies in this district, but the largest is Kalispel on the Pend d Oreille river, at which place hundreds of bushels are dug and prepared for winter's use every year. About 1 July the Indians collect from far and near at Kettle Falls, where they catch their annual supply of salmon which they dry in the shade. They also gather and dry service berries and choke cherries, all of which they store for the winter. While at the falls they attend religious services at the mission three times a day. After they harvest their crops they go into the mountains, hunting and trapping, where they remain until a week before Christmas, when they go to the traders and exchange their furs for supplies. After attending to their religious devotions they return to the mountains about the middle of January, where they remain until spring, when they return to put in their crops. (Winans)


LEWIS AND CLARK, Original Journals, VI (New York, 1905); RONAN, Flathead Nation (Helena, 1890); SHEA, Catholic Missions (New York, 1854); DE SMET, Oregon Missions (New York, 1847); IDEM, Western Missions and Missionaries (New York, 1863); IDEM, New Indian Sketches (New York, 1895); STEVENS in Rept. Comr. Ind. Affairs (Washington, 1854); WINANS in Rept. Comr. Ind. Affairs (Washington, 1870); also other Repts. Comr. Ind. Affs. and Director of Bureau of Catholic Ind. Missions (Washington).

About this page

APA citation. Mooney, J. (1910). Kalispel Indians. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Mooney, James. "Kalispel Indians." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Czeglédi Erzsébet.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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