Lake Pend Oreille: Booming Industries and Depleting Resources

The last domesticated region in Idaho, known as Lake Pend Oreille, contains a long history of human activity. Pend Oreille’s first inhabitants include indigenous peoples followed by fur traders, explorers, miners, and loggers. The lake received its name from Canadian fur trapper and mapmaker David Thompson. The words “Pend Oreille” are French for “an ear pendant” or “hangs from ears”, possibly referring to the lakes shape or the jewelry worn by the Kalispel Indians who resided there.

In the fall of 1809, a fur agent with the North-West Company named David Thompson found Lake Pend Oreille. Thompson recognized the environmental value the area held. Years after making the discovery, he wrote in his memoir, “The impression of my mind is, from the formation of the country and its climate, its extensive Meadows and fine forests, watered by countless brooks and Rills of pure water, that it will become the abode of civilized Man, whether Natives or other people.” Soon after his arrival, Thompson established a fur-trading outpost called the Kullyspell House. It was the first permanent wooden structure in Idaho next to Lake Pend Oreille and was named after the Kalispel Indians who guided Thompson around the Columbia River Basin. Once Thompson succeeded with his trading house, he moved on to other adventures, leaving Finan McDonald in charge. The location was forgotten until 1928 when a group of Idaho historians were guided by a blind Kalispel man to the remains of the trading outpost on the lake.

Lake Pend Oreille’s history did not end with Thompson and the Kullyspell House; the area grew over the next two hundred years. With the beginning of the gold rush era in 1866, the lake served as a passage for miners traveling from the Columbia River to Helena, Montana. With the ending of one boom comes the beginning of another. The demand for timber reached North Idaho, one of the largest areas of timber in the United States. The industry began in 1880 when Robert Weeks opened a general store dealing furs in the lake’s largest community, Sandpoint, in the panhandle of Idaho. As the town expanded so did the timber industry, along with the establishment of several sawmills, including the world-class Humbird Mill. The mill sparked modernization in the little lake town. By 1920, Sandpoint became the largest shipper of cedar poles and pilings in the Northwest.

The towns’ populations grew as the industries surrounding the lake attracted people from all over the country. Today, the location is featured in the media as one of the last, best places to live, but with its discovery came the chopping of its meadows and forests. This was followed cultivation and logging, which caused pesticides and other chemicals to drain into the lake. Just as David Thompson stated in his memoir, Lake Pend Oreille did become an abode for man and suffered from the exploitation of its abundant resources along with pollution from its inhabitants.


Pend d'Oreille Lake
Pend d'Oreille Lake Source: Detroit Publishing Co., from the Library of Congress. “Pend d'Oreille Lake,” available at
David Thompson (explorer)
David Thompson (explorer) Source: National Parks Service, from Wikimedia Commons. "David Thompson (explorer)," available at
Sandpoint, Bonner County, Idaho. Abandoned storage shed of the Humbird Lumber Company
Sandpoint, Bonner County, Idaho. Abandoned storage shed of the Humbird Lumber Company Source: Lange, Dorothea, from the Library of Congress. “Sandpoint, Bonner County, Idaho. Abandoned storage shed of the Humbird Lumber Company,” available at


Private Property


Madison Huck, University of Idaho, “Lake Pend Oreille: Booming Industries and Depleting Resources,” Intermountain Histories, accessed July 20, 2024,