Chief Andrew Seltice led Coeur d'Alene Indians into the modern age

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The Coeur d'Alene Indians say that Chief Circling Raven lived to be 150 years old, ruling his people from 1660 to 1760. With the gift of prophecy, he warned of grave dangers ahead. He also said one day the Black Robes will come.

Andrew Seltice was born about 1810, not long after his Schitsu'umsh people saw their first white men when Lewis and Clark passed through. He was not like the more famous warrior chiefs Geronimo, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. He preferred diplomacy to battle.

He was there at the time of the Whitman Massacre, the Steptoe fight and Colonel Wright hangings, and the slaughter of 800 Indian horses by Army soldiers. He watched with great sorrow the invasion by the whites and the rape of tribal lands and properties, and the trampling of Indian rights by the U.S. government.

Time and again, treaties with Indian tribes were broken or ignored by both government and settlers. Seltice knew that there would be no way to stop it.

The early fur trappers and the arrival of Christianity were among the major forces that brought cataclysmic changes to the Indian culture. In the early 1800s Ignace LaMouse, an Iroquois Indian, may have been the first to bring a basic Christian message to the Inland Northwest when he and a band of his tribe settled in the Bitterroot Valley.

He was followed by Methodists, Presbyterians and Dutch Reformed Church missionaries - all before the Black Robes prophesized by Circling Raven.

In 1842, Chief Seltice, asked Jesuit Priest Pierre-Jean DeSmet, working amongst the Flathead Indians, to send him a "black robe" teacher.

Fr. DeSmet sent Fr. Nicholas Point from St. Louis and he arrived on Nov. 4. He immediately began construction of a mission on the St. Joe River dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Four years later, the mission was relocated to Cataldo, where it stands today.

When Fr. DeSmet arrived, Circling Raven's son Chief Twisted Earth told the Jesuit priest, "I thank the Great Spirit in prayers that I will say the rest of my life, not just in words, but from my heart, as I embrace this fulfillment of my devoted 80-year search."

Tribal chieftains in the years that followed would need more prayers, as white men encroached on the ancestral lands, reducing five million acres the Coeur d'Alenes enjoyed for centuries to just 345,000 acres today. It was not a proud time in American history.

The original Coeur d'Alene tribal area extended from Lake Pend Oreille in the north to the Clearwater River in the south, and from the Palouse River, Washington, in the west to St. Regis, Montana, in the east.

Washington Territorial Governor and Indian Affairs Commissioner Isaac I. Stevens was asked to establish legal boundaries for the tribe, but the request was never acted upon and the erosion continued. Stevens did have a high regard for the Coeur d'Alenes however, even visiting Cataldo when Fr. Joseph Joset was in charge, and personally tutored the Indians in gardening and farming.

Andrew Seltice lived at the time of the great measles epidemic of 1847, when half the Cayuse Indians died. Survivors blamed it on Presbyterian missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. Dr. Whitman could not help the Indians who had no immunity against white man diseases.

Some renegade Cayuse perpetrated the Whitman Massacre, killing the missionaries and eleven others. This started the eight-year Cayuse War, followed in 1855 by the Yakima Indian War after the murder of Bureau of Indian Affairs agent Andrew J. Bolon.

The Coeur d'Alenes tried their best to stay out of conflicts though parts of the tribe did participate in several skirmishes.

At a tribal gathering at Liberty Lake on July 1, 1857, Andrew Seltice urged making peace with the whites: "A peaceful settlement will bear more fruit than immediately taking up arms without coming to some understanding."

Tribal Chief Vincent disagreed: "I will not allow soldiers to trespass on our land! They are not carrying rifles for any good reason other than to overwhelm their foes ... As your Chief, I tell you to stand guard over what belongs to you."

In 1858, Lieutenant Colonel Edward J. Steptoe with 158 soldiers, Nez Perce scouts and civilian packers traveled to Fort Colville, Washington, to investigate complaints by whites against Coeur d'Alene, Spokane, and Palouse Indians. Chief Vincent, with 100 more men than Steptoe had and accompanied by Fr. Joset as interpreter, met them to discuss the situation. Andrew Seltice was there as peacemaker.

Outnumbered, Steptoe wisely decided to return and departed, only to be attacked from behind by treacherous Yakima and Palouse. There was no recourse but to fight.

Steptoe's troops were surrounded on top of a hill, with no hope of avoiding annihilation. Seven of his men were killed. In a gesture of humanity, the Coeur d'Alenes helped them escape and return to Walla Walla, according to tribal accounts. (Other sources make no mention of this gesture.)

That humane action earned no favor with Steptoe's boss, Colonel George Wright. He promptly organized a retaliatory party of 600 men, and in September defeated the Coeur d'Alene, Spokane and Palouse Indians at the Battle of Four Lakes and the Battle of Spokane Plain. Indian muskets were no match against the long-range army rifles.

On Sept. 9, Wright's force captured 900 Palouse horses and during the next two days slaughtered 800 of them just west of Post Falls. Not a glorious chapter in U.S. military history.

Within days, Wright dictated surrender terms to the Indians, destroyed their food storage, killed cattle and even ponies belonging to Indian children. On Sept. 17, he met with Coeur d'Alene tribal chieftains - including Andrew Seltice - at the Cataldo Mission to forge a peace treaty. Mercifully, the meeting was amicable and the treaty signed.

Afterwards, according to Andrew's son Joseph - who became Chief in 1932 - Wright "selected for execution certain other Indians that he claimed had been especially guilty. Some of these were hanged without even a trial."

Andrew Seltice served as a sub-chief during those troubled times, and was highly respected.

Tribal Chief Vincent saw Andrew's potential and in 1865 turned the reins of power over to him, knowing that they would be in good hands.

Seltice understood that the only hope was to make peace with the whites. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called Sons of God," he learned from the Black Robe Jesuits.

In his lifetime, he witnessed all the hardships and horrors, and the huge change in the culture of his own people.

Christian author Douglas McMurray wrote, "Crossing into another culture is truly an earthquake to the soul, then come the deep misunderstandings that arise in relationships as two people groups come together and try to live together. Then the anger and outbreaks of violence that happen because of those misunderstandings."

The Coeur d'Alenes made the transition well and became accomplished farmers, while abandoning some cultural practices in favor of the church teachings brought by the Black Robes.

Andrew Seltice spent the rest if his life dealing with the Government on behalf of the tribe, his efforts supported by his Jesuit friends.

The Coeur d'Alenes repeatedly refused to sign treaties they considered unjust, but on Oct. 1, 1866, President Ulysses S. Grant issued an Executive Order establishing the Coeur d'Alene Reservation in North Idaho. It was but a fraction of their ancestral lands.

As the 19th century came to a close, most of the nation's Indians were settled on reservations. The Coeur d'Alenes made the painful transition in relative peace, while other tribes fought to the bitter end, with much suffering and loss of life.

Andrew Seltice served as chief for 37 years, was married twice and fathered 25 children.

In 1900, he began losing his eyesight and became depressed at the death of relatives and longtime friends. Exhausted physically and emotionally, he developed pneumonia and died on April 29, 1902. He was buried at a private 4 a.m. service attended only by invited family and friends - the location of his gravesite not publicly known.

Circling Raven would certainly have thanked the Black Robes for helping make Andrew Seltice one of America's greatest Indian leaders.

Syd Albright is a writer/journalist/biographer living in Post Falls. He is chairman of the Kootenai County Historic Preservation Commission. Contact him at silverflix@roadrunner.com.

Chief Seltice's authority

"The chief's orders were law, and everyone followed them. He was the officer of the law and went about his work without worrying about any salary. He worked for the betterment of the tribe, and for everyone else as well as for himself. Everyone respected law and order; crime barely existed, and jail was unknown."

- Chief Joseph Seltice

Seltice at the birth of Post Falls

Andrew Seltice and German entrepreneur Frederick Post met at Treaty Rock in Post Falls on June 1, 1871, to sign an agreement allowing Post to obtain more than 200 acres of Spokane River land to start a mill. Later a dam was added. That was the birth of the City of Post Falls.

Chief Seltice becomes a Christian

Andrew Seltice converted to Christianity in 1844 at the St. Joseph Mission, and married Julia Rosalia Tsjumskunnagwei at the same mission.

When Congress doesn't act

After President Ulysses S. Grant created the Coeur d'Alene Reservation by Executive Order in 1866, calling for "original" boundaries, Congress took no action to finalize it. That made encroaching settlers feel free to take Indian lands without restraint.

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