Spokan Indians

Spokan Indians. Phonetically Spōkē‘.n or Spō.qē‘in; said by some to signify “Sun (people,” though this origin is doubtful. Also called:

  • LêcLê‘cuks, Wasco name probably intended for this tribe.
  • Lar-ti-e-lo, by Lewis and Clerk in 1806.
  • SEnoxamī‘naEx, by the Okanagon, from their principal division.
  • SEntutū‘ or SEnoxma’n, by the Upper Kutenai from the Salish names for the Middle and Little Spokan respectively.

Spokan Connections. The Spokan belonged to the inland division of the Salishan linguistic stock, and were most closely connected with the Kalispel, Pend d’Oreilles, Sematuse, and Salish.

Spokan Location. On the Spokane and Little Spokane Rivers, southward to, and perhaps including, Cow Creek, and northward to include all of the northern feeders of the Spokane.

Spokan Subdivisions. The Lower Spokan (about the mouth and on the lower part of Spokane River, including the present Spokane Indian reserve), the Upper Spokan or Little Spokan (occupying the valley of the Little Spokane River and all the country east of the lower Spokane to within the borders of Idaho), the South or Middle Spokan (occupying at least the lower part of Hangmans Creek, extending south along the borders of the Skitswish).

Spokan History. Like so many other tribes of the Columbia region, the Spokan enter the arena of history with the appearance of Lewis and Clark in their territory in 1805. Teit (1930) thinks it possible that the several bands were once so many distinct tribes which have become fused in course of time, but of this there is no certainty. The Lower and most of the Middle Spokan, and part of the Upper Spokan, were finally placed under the Colville Agency; the rest are on the Flathead Reservation in Montana.

Spokan Population. Mooney (1928) estimated that about 1780 there might have been 1,400 Spokan, but Teit’s figures would raise this to something like 2,500. In 1806 Lewis and Clark thought there were 600 but they may have included only one of the three divisions. In 1905 the United States Indian Office gave 277 Lower Spokan and 177 Middle and Upper Spokan under the Colville Agency and 135 on the Flathead Reservation; in 1909 it gave 509 all together under the Colville Agency and 138 on the Flathead Reservation. The United States Census of 1910 returned 643 all told; the Indian Office Report for 1923, 669; and the Indian Office Report for 1937, 847.

Connection in which the Spokan Indians have become noted. The fame of the Spokan will rest in the future mainly upon the importance of the Washington city of Spokane. Their name is also attached to a river in Idaho and Washington, and to the county of which Spokane is the metropolis. It has also been applied to post hamlets in Custer County, S. Dak.; in Christian County, Mo.; and in Trumbull County, Ohio; also to Spokane Bridge, Spokane County, Wash.


Swanton, John R. The Indian Tribes of North America. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 145. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office. 1953.

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