Museum exhibit covers native traditions, white settlement

Herman Meier, left, gets a helping hand from Larry Lenz as they install the new exhibit, “Under One Sky,” Sept. 9 at the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum.  (Dan Pelle)
Herman Meier, left, gets a helping hand from Larry Lenz as they install the new exhibit, “Under One Sky,” Sept. 9 at the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum. (Dan Pelle)

The Spokane Valley Heritage Museum, 12114 E. Sprague Ave., is unveiling a new exhibit today highlighting the history of Spokane Valley from 1800 to1899.

”Under One Sky” features bits of history from the earliest days of Spokane Valley – Antoine Plante was the first settler in the area. He came from the Hudson Bay Fur Trading Company and decided the Valley seemed like a nice place to stay. He built a ferry to transport travelers across the Spokane River. Today, we remember him by Plantes Ferry Park.

The exhibit also features a section on a controversial time in the area’s history.

After the Battle of the Spokane Plains in 1858, Col. George Wright was making his way toward Cataldo Mission. When he passed by the area that is now Liberty Lake, he spotted 800 or more horses belonging to the native tribes. He and his soldiers slaughtered the horses to send a message to the tribes.

“It’s still an open wound,” said Jayne Singleton, the museum’s director. Many of the bones of those horses remained in the same spot until Interstate 90 was built there in the 1960s.

The museum is displaying many aspects of life in the Valley during that time. There are beaver, river otter and raccoon pelts on the walls to signify the booming fur trade of the time – two beaver pelts were enough to buy a horse then. There is a dugout canoe from the Nez Perce Tribe that dates back to before explorers Lewis and Clark came through the area; the museum borrowed it from Gonzaga University. There are tools that native tribes used to grind camas, a food source, fishing tools and bows and arrows.

“We wanted to tell the story of who was here and what was happening,” Singleton said. “We wanted to do it in a respectful way.”

Singleton said the museum has been blessed with many dedicated volunteers, who design and build every exhibit. She also said that she is fortunate that so many people in the community lend them artifacts to contribute to each exhibit.

“We have daily miracles here at the museum,” she said.

The exhibit also features the story of Chief Seltice of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, who kept members out of many battles with the white settlers.

“He was very peaceful,” Singleton said. Seltice went on to farm in the east end of the Valley.

“We felt the story needed to be told,” she said.

The story in this exhibit is about the time mainly before European-born settlers arrived in the area. The exhibit covers traditions of the native people that once populated the area and includes Native American music.

“It’s our mission to inform, influence and inspire,” Singleton said.

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