The city of Spokane is the economic and cultural hub of Eastern Washington, known for its dazzling downtown, proximity to outdoor recreation and myriad things to do for residents and visitors alike. The area is home to numerous natural wonders, such as the amazing ski slopes of Mt Spokane in the winter months, or the stunning beauty of the Spokane Falls. While Spokane is known as the city that gave birth to Father’s Day and home of the world’s largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament the true meaning of ‘Spokane’ is often overlooked. What is the true meaning of Spokane, and how did the city get its name? Well, first, we need to dive into the city’s history.
The History of Spokane
The history of Spokane begins when Native American tribes occupied the area, utilizing the rivers and protective mountains of the region to flourish. It is thought that the first Native American settlers came to the area around 8,000-10,000 years ago. Historians believe the first tribes documented in the area are direct descendants of those first settlers, living off the fertile land and game of Spokane for thousands of years. Spokane Falls, surrounding mountains and lush plains were a hotspot for Native American tribes, as the salmon-filled rivers and plentiful hunting grounds provided a livelihood for the region’s people.
However, the origin story of Spokane can sometimes start in the early 1800s when European settlers first came seeking new beginnings, or during the 1880s when crews finished the Northern Pacific Railway and an explosion of settlers arrived in the area.
In 1810, the first European settlers came to Spokane, setting up fur trading posts with the Native Americans. The settlers referred to the surrounding tribes as The Spokane tribe and the trading post set up in the area became the first lasting point of trade in Washington.
Officially the city of Spokane was founded by James Glover in 1873 and at the time was referred to as Spokan Falls. Years later, the city dropped the ‘e’ and ‘falls.
How Spokane Got Its Name
While the literal translation of Spokane is convoluted, the widely accepted meaning of Spokane translates to “Children of the Sun” from the Salish language. The Native American tribes of the area were known as The Spokane Tribe since other tribes of the area would have to look towards the sun when referring to the Native Spokane residents. The Spokane tribe lived on the banks of the Spokane River and when other tribes would travel towards their land, they would walk in the direction of the sun. Although there is some speculation among historians, this is believed to be how the name ‘Spokane’ came about.
What Spokane Means to Residents Today
A lot has changed since the origination of the city of Spokane, but it remains an economic and urban hub of Eastern Washington. The area has seen profound growth, becoming a manufacturing and natural resource powerhouse of the state, with the proximity of farming providing a breeding ground for economic expansion in the city.
Despite immense growth, Spokane pays homage to its roots today with an annual Labor Day Tribal Powwow, honoring the tribes that first occupied the region. Throughout the city, the local tribes are represented in local sports teams, public art, and viewing areas around the Spokane Falls.
During the birthplace of the city, 350 residents called Spokane their home. Today, over 220,000 residents live in Spokane making it the second-largest city in Washington. Spokane means many things to different people, but to all, Spokane is a place of vibrant arts culture, outdoorsy lifestyles, and a genuinely friendly local community. This urban landscape is close to nature so, all who visit Spokane find something to love.