Fur agent, cartographer, and master canoe builder David Thompson was one of the first Europeans to see Bonner County’s highest mountain, Scotchman Peak, and paddle the waters of the Clark Fork River and Pend Oreille Lake and River. When he entered this area in 1809, he found the indigenous peoples paddling local lakes and rivers in a somewhat strange-looking bark canoe. Rather than sporting the classic rounded prow and stern Thompson was familiar with further east, the local boats had a distinctive nose and tail with a point that rode under the water and resembled a sturgeon’s bottle nose. And they were made of completely different materials than birch bark, with which he and his voyageurs were expert.
On Saturday, March 31, at the Beardmore Building in Priest River, Spokane-based historian, teacher and naturalist Jack Nisbet will give a slide presentation about the traffic that plied Pend Oreille Lake and River and Priest Lake during the early 1800s. Nisbet traced the several routes of Thompson’s explorations while writing his books Sources of the River and The Mapmaker’s Eye. He will discuss the local bark and dugout canoes, trace the influence of the fur trade and Eastern Woodland culture on local transportation, and try to explain what Thompson was thinking when he designed his own cedar-planked bateaux.
Nisbet’s article on Thompson’s Spokane House trading post is included in the new anthology The Spokane River, available this month from the University of Washington Press. His next book, The Dreamer and the Doctor, will appear in October 2018 and follows the adventures of Dr. Carrie Leiberg and her husband John around Lake Pend Oreille in the 1880s and ’90s. Dr. Leiberg was that rare individual, a female doctor in the pioneer age.
Nisbet’s presentation is free and sponsored by Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness and the Bonner County Historical Society. The doors open at 6:30 and Nisbet’s slide show and talk begin at 7:15. The Beardmore Bistro will provide a no-host bar, and FSPW will provide free light appetizers. Nisbet will also have a number of his books for sale.