The first white man approached the site of present-day Spokane around 1807, but natives had been gathering at the thundering falls of the river for centuries. The ancestors of our region’s Native American tribes fished, dug roots and picked berries here. The Washington Territory was created in 1853 and the Homestead Act of 1862 led more white settlers to encroach on Indian country. Riding through the area in 1873, businessman James Glover was struck by the falls’ beauty, and he had a vision of a city on the river’s banks. He bought the surrounding land and built a trading post and a sawmill on the river’s edge. Some Spokane Indians wanted to take up arms to reclaim their land. Others, like Chief Spokane Garry, wanted to compromise for the sake of peace. But after years of tension, the U.S. Army enforced order and put down most rebellions. In 1881, President Rutherford B. Hayes signed an executive order creating the Spokane Reservation, removing the tribe’s right to the falls. Glover laid out a street plan and began selling land, while Spokane Garry died penniless in a tepee by the river. Over many years, man has reshaped the river channel and the banks, while dams have reduced water levels to a fraction of their original flows.
– Jesse Tinsley
1881: In this early photo of the Spokane Falls, a few shacks stand along the banks of a free-flowing river as it splashes through what would become downtown Spokane.
Present day: The river flows around Havermale Island (the main portion of Riverfront Park) and Canada Island.