“The following was published by the Coeur d’Alene Press, Centennial Edition,
Section Three, page 6, 1963″
By: Frances Sleep
Bonner County is among the latest of the state’s 44 counties, having been cut off from Kootenai County by an act of the Legislature on February 2, 1907.
One of the most significant aspects of the county’s history is the fact that the county was “formed” twice and “divided” once in political maneuvering.
As early as 1905 the turmoil began. Senator Herman H. Taylor introduced the Spaulding bill which created the counties of “Lewis” and “Clark” out of the original Kootenai county. After a legal hassle, the Supreme Court declared the new counties invalid because Kootenai County had lost its identity. Considerable competition generated within the illegal county of Clark to locate the new county seat at Bonners Ferry.
However, it was finally agreed in “behind the scenes” politicking that in return for support to change the name of Clark to Bonner, the northern town would lend its support to Sandpoint for the county seat. Quietly at the 1907 Legislature, Clark and Lewis Counties went out of the record in favor of Bonner and Kootenai.
Bonner County became a memorial to an outstanding pioneer of the north area… Edwin L. Bonner, who came here in 1863, purchased the right to build and operate a ferry on the Kootenai river from old Chief Abraham of the Kootenai tribe at the ferry site less than 30 miles from Canada.
A settlement was established under another name in the early 1880’s on the sandy shore of Lake Pend Oreille. An old railroad map designates the village as “Pend Oreille.” The first postoffice was at Venton across the lake, but when the Northern Pacific railroad completed its long trestle over the mouth of the lake, the postoffice was moved to Pend Oreille and Venton died out. In 1886, the second community became known officially as Sandpoint. So named for the nearby landmark … a long bar of silvery sand stretching into the lake.
Sandpoint was platted as a townsite in 1898 when the Great Northern Railroad telegrapher, L. D. Farmin, subdivided his family homestead along Sand Creek. The village was incorporated in 1900.
In the early 1800’s history was in the making here. On the northeast shore of the lake, David Thompson established a trading post in September of 1809. Known as the “Kullyspell House” this was the first business venture by white men in Idaho. An intrepid Englishman, Thompson was an unusually [material missing]. He meticulously kept a diary that became a valuable source of historical information. The Thompson party came to the northern wilderness on behalf of the Northwest Trading Company.
Early-day travel was possible by Indian trail, but difficult as natives did not clear or blaze the way. Jesuit missionaries, called “Kaniksu” (Black Robes in Indian) followed the fur traders into North Idaho.
Father DeSmet arrived in 1846. He marked a lake in the Selkirk Mountain range as “Roothan” honoring his superior in Italy. Captain John Mullan, builder of the Army’s Mullan road, likewise saw the mountain gem and named it “Lake Kaniksu” on his map in 1865. This mountain-ringed body of water later became known as Priest Lake.
First permanent establishments included Seneacquoteen (crossing-of-the-waters) on the Pend Oreille River, which was first begun as a Hudson’s Bay trading post. Idaho Legislature later granted ferry privileges to Charles H. Campfield and associates whose ferry was a part of the Wild Horse Trail to the booming mining country of the Kootenays in Canada, in 1863 and 1864. This led to the opening of pack train trails from Fort Walla Walla in Washington territory to the Seneacquoteen crossing and on through Bonners Ferry country.
Mail pouches traveled by pony express to government steamers at Steamboat Landing at the head of Lake Pend Oreille for delivery to waiting riders at Hope, for Fort Missoula.
The spring of 1894 is still remembered as “high water year.” Streams throughout the entire panhandle were overlowing with a heavy snow pack melting rapidly under a sudden hot spell.
Water inundated the Northern Pacific Railroad trestle at Sandpoint. Flat cars, loaded with rock for ballast were run out on the bridge to keep it from floating away. Later the railroad raised its tracks well above the high water level creating a problem for Sandpoint.
The village, strung along either side of the tracks, found itself divided by the railroad’s 10-foot high fill and cut off from expanding. Left with but one recourse, the villagers moved west of the tracks and across Sand Creek into “the sticks” (logged over land).
The main settlements underwent their baptism of fire. Three times the Sandpoint business district was burned out with several lives lost.
In the winter of 1886-87 prom… [material missing]. Prospectors came by the hundreds. By early 1900, Lakeview Landing had become a prosperous village.
Several mills were built and one was transported by barge from otherwise inaccessible points around the lake. Copper mining was in full swing in the Priest Lake region, as well as silver bearing ores.
Timber has always been a great natural resource in the county. Great consternation reigned in the Priest Lake area when, on February 27, 1897, President Grover Cleveland issued a proclamation creating the Priest River Forest Reserve. With this 650,000 acre reserve closed to settlers, and the loggers’ axes prophets of doom darkly declared “The economy of North Idaho is scuttled.”
However, the impetus of logging activity brought sudden mushrooming of building and business to the county, bringing in many settlers and causing a period of growth that has not since been equaled. By 1902 North Idaho had more miles of railroad than any other part of the state.
Not until the Great Northern was built in 1891 did Priest River have official status. Charles Jackson platted the 87-acre townsite in 1901.
Hope began to grow in 1882 when the Northern Pacific came through and in 1900 set its Rock Mountain division point in the hillside village. Incorporated in 1903, the village was named in honor of the veterinarian who tended the construction horses. A wise and kindly man, Dr. Hope was widely respected.
Written as “Clarks Fork” in early days, Clark Fork had a population of 200 in 1884, and was a mail-call port on the river by the same name.
Sagle in 1891, had a one-room log schoolhouse where the term was three months in summer. The Turnbull brothers—Oliver, Tom, Fred and Lou Summer were the first students to take eighth grade examinations in the county.
Many settlers came hopefully to Bonner County around 1910 to buy cut-over land stump ranches at bargain prices on long term contracts from the Humbird Lumber Company. Some quickly gave up the hard life. Others determinedly stayed, eventually developing prosperous farm lands.