On July 8, 2002, the Institute’s students made visits to four local sites to obtain information on local history:
- Ft. Spokane/Spokane House – The locations of not only the first fur trading facilities in the Pacific Northwest, but as the area’s first permanent buildings
- A1850s structure of unknown origins – This building has been determined as the oldest standing log structure in Spokane County. But, who built it?
- A scenic overview of the Spokane River Valley – This location offers an excellent view of the topology of the Ft. Spokane/Spokane House locations and these facilities relation to the Spokane River and the Little Spokane River system
- The Bowel and Pitcher basaltic rock site at Riverside Washington State Park – This geological formation represents the natural environment of Spokane Falls (present day city of Spokane), that greeted James N. Glover (the father of Spokane) on his arrival in 1873. This site afford the students the chance of a close-up inspection of such geology then would be otherwise possible at the falls in downtown Spokane (in other words, the students don’t have the risk of being swept down the river)
After the visit of the Ft. Spokane/Spokane House, a lunch was cooked (during a unforeseen rain storm), over a campfire. This lunch, thank-goodness, did not include the cuisine of the time (deer meat and beaver tail); instead it was a meat and vegetable (hamburger, peas, corn, onion, and just about any other vegetable that was laying around) concoction called “hobo stew” that originated with the transients of the Depression. After the visit of the Bowel and Pitcher, the field trip concluded.
Note: To help the first time visitor, please read the next section before continuing on to details of the field trip.
To most modern ears, Fort Spokane and Spokane House are one and the same location, not to two separate locations. This confusion is understandable because there were actually two Spokane Houses and two Fort Spokanes. The Houses and one of the forts were within the confluence of the Spokane River and the Little Spokane River, all established between 1810-1813 and located 10 miles north of present day Spokane, Washington. The other fort was a US Army facility located on the junction of the mouth of the Spokane River and the Columbia River. This fort was approximately 45 miles northwest of the other facilities and established in 1880 and abandoned by 1898. For the the students of the Institute of Living History for Teachers, it is the facilities located near the city of Spokane that are of interest.
The first facility, the original Spokane House was built in 1810 by Jacques (Jaco) Finlay and Finan McDonald, both employees of David Thompson’s British/Canadian North West Company. This company was in direct competition with the Hudson Bay Company in acquiring beaver furs from the local Native American tribes. This trade consisted of the trade of European manufactured goods for beaver pelts, whereupon the pelts were transported to Europe for use by the clothing industry, mostly for the manufacture of hats. It was for this trade that the first Spokane House was built. At first the North West Company had no competition, but two years later a second company appeared in the local area, Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company.
The Pacific Fur Company built a facility approximately 1/2 mile northeast of the Spokane House, and named it Fort Spokan (original spelling). This fort was large for the area and its time; the facility housed 32 clerks and traders, and numerous storage areas. Both companies were amiable in their relations to each other (unlike the murderous competition that occurred in other areas of the Western fur trade) and both agreed not to sell liquor to the Native Americans (which probably helped to maintain peaceful relations to all parties concerned). The Pacific Fur Company enjoyed success for at least a year until news of the War of 1812 reached this area.
When the managers of Fort Spokane heard of the war in 1813 and of the fact that the British Royal Navy was planning on capturing Ft. Astoria, the company’s only outlet to the Pacific Ocean, they decided to sell the fort and its supplies to the neighboring North West Company. Upon this purchase, the new owners abandoned the original Spokane House, and moved into Fort Spokane, renaming it also as Spokane House. In 1825 the North West Company abandoned the Spokane River/Little Spokane River area (although Jaco Finely stayed), whereupon this facility quickly deteriorated such that there was little evidence of the original and the later Spokane House (Old Fort Spokane) by 1843. With these name changes being thrown around between the two facilities, (and including the US Army Ft. Spokane), it is understandable why the modern public may be confused on connecting a facility to its proper location.