Kettle Falls: A Gathering Place


     Kettle Falls has always been an important site to Native Americans. Their travels have long taken them to Kettle Falls to fish salmon. At least seven local tribes depended on the fish that struggled up the roaring falls of the wild Columbia River. The Collvilles, Spokanes, San Poils, Okanagons, and Kootenais are some of the tribes that gathered at the falls to harvest the plentiful salmon. The women wove fish traps out of green hazel branches and men and boys speared salmon or used the basket traps. The salmon was not only crucial to their survival, but a very significant part of their culture as well.

     The Natives called the waters "Shwan-ate-koo", meaning "deep-sounding waters". The falls were magnificent to look at, plummeting 40 feet into the mouths of huge stone caldrons. Some of the "kettles" were "three squaws deep". The Hudson Bay Company established a trading post called Fort Colville, three miles above the falls. For years things were balanced between the fur traders and the people of the falls. However, the life of Kettle Falls soon changed to meet the demands of the newly arrived prospectors and settlers in the years 1860 to 1880. In 1888 Marcy H. Randall built his cabin on a flat three miles below the falls. Other settlers followed him and soon a town was formed. The town site was platted on August 14th, 1889. Forty acres were platted, "Judging from the vast acreage platted, the promoters evidently had visions of the largest city in the state of Washington being located here." (Lewis Nullet, Statesman-Examiner.)

     John W. Goss, a Spokane banker and hardware merchant, was excited about the possibilities that Kettle Falls held. He wrote glowing descriptions of the new town to W.B. Aris of Rochester. ‘He pictured almost unlimited waterpower to turn the wheels of industries; to grind flour and to pulverize gold-bearing ore from adjacent mines; to weave into cloth many thousands of fleeces from local shearing sheds; to pump its own waters into irrigation canals and reservoirs." (Donald Clark, Spokesman Review March 13, 1949. Excerpt from Clark’s book "Ghost Towns of the Great Northwest.")  When a Rochester capitalist came to visit, Goss showed him the flourishing towns in that area and the Rochester man headed home and started the Rochester and Kettle Falls Land Company. Aris sold stock and circulated flamboyant literature and pamphlets that "…did Kettle Falls somewhat more than justice." (Donald Clark, Spokesman Review March 13, 1949.)  Stock sold quickly and the investors paid for many improvements to their city of Kettle Falls. A weekly newspaper was born, the Kettle Falls Pioneer, and they bragged about the new Hotel Rochester and the twelve foot plank sidewalk. A library, fine houses, churches and schools were built—but even more impressive than that were the up-to-date water system and the electric lighting. The population grew to one thousand and the train and stagecoach were constantly bringing in more people.

     In 1891 the New York investors decided to see how their money was being put to use. They rode across the country in a cramped train and were unaccustomed to the " crude and boisterous" West. When they finally reached Kettle Falls, "…they failed to recognize the Garden of Eden portrayed in the company’s promotional literature." (Donald Clark, Spokesman Review March 13, 1949.) They decided to stop investing in Kettle Falls and quickly fled back to New York. The withdrawal of the investor’s money had an immediate and drastic effect. Land was sold for half as much, the elaborate Hotel Rochester shut down, residences were vacated and entire houses were moved to new locations. In 1900 the census reported that the population had dwindled to 404 residents. Sawmills and ranches kept the town alive until the news hit that the Grand Coulee dam would force them to relocate their entire town. Kettle Falls was the largest town in Stevens County to be relocated.

     Houses were bought and relocated by the government. Structures were dismantled or destroyed and Kettle Falls annexed itself a 60-foot strip of land leading to and including part of the town of Meyers Falls. The town moved to its new location and they voted to change the name of Meyers Falls to Kettle Falls. The new location was built around the railroad and soon became successful in its new location. Many people of the area welcomed electricity and irrigation provided by the new dam. But losing the 45-year-old town could be viewed as minor compared to losing the actual Kettle Falls and the beautiful Columbia River valley.

     Before the rising waters flooded the falls, "…five Native tribes gathered in a last encampment to mourn the loss of their ancient fishing grounds. Tribesmen in somber mourning garb performed the dance of the dead and chanted native funeral dirges for ‘Schwan-ate-Koo."