Draft: the orchard at ft. spokane

Today, most of Fort Spokane is bare foundations. But in the shade of the ponderosas on the western edge of the site, a few of the orchard’s original apple trees have held their ground for more than a century.

The orchard was planted in 1902, in the early days of the boarding school. One of the school’s purposes was to make farmers out of the children of the local tribes. Tending to the orchard was part of the children’s daily chores, and the fruit was also part of the western diet they were introduced to. In his 1902 report, school superintendent Frank Avery called the school “ideally located for fruit culture,” 1 and proudly reported that the orchard had been planted with 620 fruit trees, almost all of which were “living and in fine condition.”

The orchard remained on site through the years of the tuberculosis hospital, though it wasn’t kept up to the same standard. An Indian boarding school in Oregon placed tents in their orchard to separate students with tuberculosis from the rest of the population. 2 The fresh air might have helped slow the disease, and the idea caught on in boarding schools throughout the region in the 1900s.

We can only guess what the orchard represented to the children who lived and worked at the boarding school, or to the patients who were treated at the hospital. As part of a plan to strip local Indians of their culture and their way of life, the orchard was a grim presence. But, like the local tribes, the trees remaining today have outlived the long years of the boarding school and the hospital. Their roots have held, and whatever the fort’s future holds, they will be part of it.

  1. 1902 Annual report of the superintendent. http://digitalcollections.lib.washington.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/lctext/id/1295/rec/1
  2. Elizabeth James, Tuberculosis, Health Care, and Assimilation on the Nez Perce Reservation