Friday, February 19, 2010

The Military Connection to North Idaho

Last night was Part 6 of the 12 part Connections to the Past history series presented by Robert Singletary at the CdA Library and focused on our military connection.  Here's a few interesting bits of information.

General William T. Sherman, the Union Civil War hero and Confederate scoundrel who marched through Georgia, was on an inspedtion tour and followed the Mullan Road.  Impressed with the location where the Spokane River flows out of Coeur d'Alene Lake he recommended it as a site for a fort. On April 16, 1878, a military post known as Camp Coeur d’Alene was established. The name was changed to Fort Coeur d’Alene on April 5, 1879, and finally to Fort Sherman, April 6, 1887.

The Army's 2nd Infantry Unit was the first to man Fort Coeur d'Alene and grudgingly helped build the encampment.  The last regular unit to be stationed was the 16th Infantry between 1894 and 1898.

Post Civil War, soldiers quit the military and tried to resume their regular lives.  The Army was hard pressed to recruit and many immigrants were accepted to build back the forces.  Many soldier couldn't even speak English and, like many forts, Fort Coeur d'Alene had English classes for the troops.

The Fort CdA/Sherman hospital was one of the finest in the Inland Northwest and many military personnel were sent there for treatment.  The hospital was also required to keep weather records, that's why local weather can be tracked back that far.

A town was built around the fort as non-military people were required to provide goods and services, from construction to food to local women who washed uniforms.  Soldiers referred to the area we now call City Beach as Sudstown because that's where clothes were washed on rocks in the lake.

Oscar Canfield was a friend of Sherman's and got the first contract to supply beef to the fort.  Visiting the ranch, Sherman asked what the name of the mountain behind them was called.  Previously unnamed, Sherman declared it to be Canfield.

Other place names also originated from these times.  One commanding officer was Col. William P. Carlin, another Civil War hero who led the troops in the mining revolt of 1890.  He wasn't very fond of the post but did end up buying property on the east side of the lake, now known as Carlin Bay.  Some of the soldiers who mustered out of the Army stayed and homesteaded the area, one was a Col. Stanley, hence Stanley Hill.

Over time, Fort Sherman was pinched in as a town had grown around it and due to the fact it was susceptible to spring flooding, it was decommissioned and troops were moved to Ft. George Wright in Spokane in April of 1901.  The area was turned over to the Department of the Interior and was sold at public auction in 1905.

This history series is entertaining and enlightening, as are a number of other presentations at North Idaho libraries.  To see what's coming up, visit FYI North Idaho and check the calendar of events.

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