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An important tribe of Salishan linguistic stock, closely cognate with the Colville, Coeur d'Aléne, Kalispel, and Flathead, and formerly holding the country upon Spokane River in Eastern Washington and the adjacent portion of Idaho. They were first noted, under the name of Lartielo, by the American explorers, Lewis and Clarke, in 1805. At a later period they came into communication with the traders of the Hudson Bay Company and American Fur Company. In 1839 a Presbyterian mission was established among the Lower Spokan at Chemakane, Washington, and continued until 1849, when it was abandoned in consequence of the massacre of Rev. Marcus Whitman and his companions of the Presbyterian mission of Waiilatpu amoung the Cayuse. The Spokan chief, Garry, however, gave protection to those at Chemakane until the danger was past. A Spokan primer, published by the missionaries in charge in 1842, was one of the earliest books printed on the Pacific coast.
The Upper Spokan came under the influence of the Jesuit Fathers De Smet, Point, and their successors, about 1841, whith the result that that portion of the tribe is Catholic. Throughout the Yakimá war of 1856-8 the Spokan remained quiet, chiefly through the effort of the Catholic missionaries. In 1872 those of Washington, consituting the larger body, were gathered with other cognate tribes upon the Colville reservation, North-eastern Washington, where they now reside. Those in Idaho are associated with the Coeur d'Aléne and are all Catholic. At Colville the Lower band is Protestant, while the Upper band, somewhat smaller in numbers, is Catholic. From perhaps 1200 souls a century ago they have declined (1911) to 600, of whom 96 are on the Coeur d'Aléne reservation. The religious centre for those of Colville is the mission of St. Francis Regis, at Ward, Washington, under Jesuit management. The centre for Coeur d'Aléne is the Jesuit mission of the Sacred Heart, at De Smet, Idaho. In language, primitive custom, and characteristics the Spokan are virtually identical with the Coeur d'Aléne and Kalispel Indians.
BANCROFT, Hist. of Oregon (San Francisco, 1886-88); IDEM, Hist. Washington, Idaho and Montana (San Francisco, 1890); DE SMET, Oregon Missions (New York, 1847); Bur. Cath. Ind. Missions: Annual Reports of Director (Washington); Commissioner of Ind. Affairs; Annual Reports, especially STEVENS (Washington, 1854) and WINANS (Washington, 1870); MOONEY, Ghost Dance Religion in Fourteenth Ann. Rept. Bur. Amer. Ethnology, pt. II (Washington, 1896).