July 19, 1926: Bonners Ferry

After passing by Glacier Park without stopping, the Columbia River Expedition arrived in Bonners Ferry, Idaho on the morning of July 19th to dedicate a monument to the explorers who first crossed Idaho. On one side, the monument reads, “Down the Kootenai [River] thence to the Pend O’Oreille [Lake & River] and Spokane the railroad follows the way taken by explorer trader and missionary, a route which from time immemorial had been the highway of the Indian.”

The dedication of a monument at Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Click image for a larger view.

The other side of the monument reads, “1808 1926 – To commemorate the first route of travel and trade across what is now the state of Idaho” and lists “David Thompson – Finnan MacDonald – James McMillanWilliam KittsonSir George Simpson – Red River Emigrants – Peter Skene Ogden – Warre and Vavasour – Father De Smet.” The year 1808 is apparently supposed to be the year Thompson first crossed this way, and the others are listed in the order in which they came. Finnan MacDonald should be Finan McDonald.

The Red River emigrants included about 200 French-Canadians who lived on the Red River in Manitoba and who migrated to Oregon in 1839-1841, partly with the goal of securing the Oregon territory for Britain. Warre and Vavasour are an even stranger choice, as they were essentially British spies searching for the best ways to invade the Northwest and capture the Oregon country from the United States. Note that Lewis & Clark are missing even though they crossed Idaho before anyone on this list, probably because their route was a bit further south.

This image of the monument at Bonners Ferry is from a GN travel brochure that will be presented here soon. Click image for a larger view.

While in Bonners Ferry, the group heard lectures about David Thompson from Walla Walla historian T.C. Elliott and Canadian geologist Joseph Tyrrell. Tyrrell happened to discover Thompson’s journals in 1894, which he published in 1916. Elliott–the T.C. stood for Thompson Coit–was an investment banker whose research on the history of early Columbia River resulted in books and papers on many of the explorers whose names are on this monument.

Click image to download an 11.3-MB PDF of this 32-page booklet.

Grace Flandrau probably relied heavily on Elliott’s work when she wrote this paper on Koo-koo-sint, an Indian name for David Thompson that means “person who watches the stars,” referring to the instruments he used to determine his geographic location. This particular copy of the booklet includes a picture of the Bonners Ferry monument on page 27, which suggests that it varies slightly from the edition of the booklet given to expedition members.

Leaving Bonners Ferry by around noon, the group proceeded to Spokane where they took a trip to Mount Spokane and heard lectures about missionaries and fur traders and enjoyed a picnic supper.

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