Monday, October 19, 2009

1909 Land Rush

This is the last of a 32 page pamphlet put out by the Coeur d'Alene Commercial Club titled The Panhandle of Idaho. There is no date but this advertises the great land lotto of 1909 so I'd guess late 1908 or early 1909. I'll scan and post more of my tattered copy of this 100 year old publication later, but this one page always fascinated me most. I learned more about this amazing era in the book Steamboats in the Timber by Ruby El Hult, published 1952.

The U.S. Government decided they had given the Tribes too good of a deal and wanting to expand development in this part of America rich in natural resources, opened 700,000 acres of Flathead, Spokane and Coeur d'Alene Reservation lands. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over America spent 3 million dollars on railroad tickets to travel here and take a chance in this great land lottery. The odds were as high as 500 to 1 in Spokane and 100 to 1 in Coeur d'Alene.

At midnight on July 14th, sixteen Notaries opened the doors in Coeur d'Alene to register people, 500 names were taken in the first hour. In four days that jumped to 34,730 and by the time of the drawing, 264,883 names had been registered for the three blocks of reservation lands.

Every inbound train was full and the lake steamers were filled to capacity and then some. Coeur d'Alene was packed with people and not all were land speculators, bunco artists, thieves and pickpockets were also on hand to profit where they could. In two weeks the post office sold over $4,000 worth of stamps to send cards home from the land seekers. Notaries had over two tons of completed registrations.

While people had to register in Spokane for the Spokane land, Kalispell for Flathead and Coeur d'Alene for Coeur d'Alene, it was Coeur d'Alene where James W. Whitten conducted the drawings for all. At noon on August 9th, Miss Helen Hamilton stood on a platform in front of the Hotel Idaho (Desert Hotel) and drew the first envelope from the 105,000 Coeur d'Alene entries strewn over the stage.

Isador Selig was number one and had the first pick of land in the Coeur d'Alenes, choosing a spot along the St. Joe River. A power company claimed to have a prior rights to the land and by the time Mr. Selig got to pick a 2nd choice there was little good land left.

In the end, most of the land was too dense with timber to farm and too hard to clear. Settlers found the deer ate most of their gardens and most weren't farmers anyway. Some of the winners sold out to timber companies. Few of the thousands who came west with the dream of carving out a happy life found anything but sorrows.

Pick up Steamboats in the Timber to read more about the wild times of early Coeur d'Alene country.


  1. My great-grandfather, Herman Laumeister, was #149 in the Coeur d'Alene lottery. He owned a shingle mill in Harrison, Idaho, and chose to homestead a plot of land directly across the lake from the town. My grandma would tell stories about rowing a boat back and forth across the lake so she could go to school. My great-grandpa tried farming the land, but ultimately the effort was futile; however, being a timber man, he and later my grandma selectively harvested the timber, always ensuring it was never over-harvested. When my dad was growing up in the '30s and '40s, he would scour the beach for arrowheads. Later in the '70s when I was child, I found two arrowheads he'd missed. The old family homestead, located on what's now known as Laumeister Bay, remained in my family for five generations until the mid-1990s when increasing property taxes finally forced my dad to sell it. I sure do miss that place.

  2. PS...Here's a link to the 9 Aug 1909 front-page article in the Coeur d'Alene Evening Press listing the lottery winners. When I worked at The Press in the early '90s, a giant picture of this front page hung on the wall of the advertising room.