Ghosts of Coeur d’Alene & the Silver Valley

by Deborah Cuyle

Coeur d’Alene—even the sound of the name rolls off the tongue in a magical and beautiful way, which fits the city perfectly. For the region of northern Idaho, not many places can compete in beauty, cleanliness, friendliness, great food, art and music—all of the things people love. And to make it even more inviting, surrounding the city is gorgeous, deep blue water and picturesque mountains. It is no wonder that by 1909, Coeur d’Alene had earned the namesake of the “City of Beautiful Homes” because many people were moving there for its ideal climate and breathtaking scenery. The population quickly grew to more than 9,000 residents. Its splendor drew some of the wealthiest people in the United States to its 135 miles of lake shores, and it soon earned another nickname from the elites, the “Scenic City by an Unsalted Sea.”

Yet the actual name “Coeur d’Alene” originated with the French fur traders and trappers, as they considered the native tribespeople to have extremely sharp minds when it came to conducting business. The translation is “Heart of Awl.” (An awl is a sharp leather punch tool.) In the 1800s, fur traders and explorers were drawn to the lakeside area of Coeur d’Alene not just because it was so beautiful and inviting but also because its waters were plentiful with fish and the soil was fertile for growing. In 1883, a few permanent buildings finally popped up: a general store, a brewery, the Coeur d’Alene Inn, the Fashion Saloon, Fatty Carrol’s Dance Hall and the Hotel d’Landing. That same year, Coeur d’Alene somehow became home to more than 20 saloons—more than its share of bars needed to entertain locals and tourists. One of the earliest known settlers of the area was a man name McAndrews, who always carried a revolver. When McAndrews began drinking and swinging his gun around, most people headed to the safety of their homes. One day though, mouthy McAndrews was not so lucky, and another man shot him and ended his life right then and there.

Founded in 1887, the small town was comprised of just a mere 40 residents. (Now, Coeur d’Alene is home to almost 54,000 lucky people.) The first of several positions in town were quickly developed: postmaster was V.W. Sander, drugstore owner was Jack Couvaland, blacksmith was James Tracy and the first carpenter was Sam Smith. It is documented that during the first year of excavations for the small town, many skeletons were found while digging. Where did these skeletons come from? Who were the people buried? Many unanswered questions still exist. Many tales and legends surround local stories, but clues and evidence rarely exist. Any of these unclaimed bodies could be some of the spirits that still roam the streets of Coeur d’Alene today.

But newspapers echo tales of desperate gamblers and prospectors who risked everything in search of nearby treasures found deep in the mountains of the Silver Valley. Today, if the walls could talk in the buildings that still stand in small towns that make up the Silver Valley, they would whisper dark tales of hushed murders, devastating fires and unfortunate mining disasters. The Roosevelt Inn is haunted by two ghosts; a mischievous boy and a former teacher who committed suicide. North Idaho College was once part of Fort Sherman, and full body apparitions of a man in war-type attire walks the halls and grounds. At the 4,000-acre Farragut State Park (a former World War II naval training center), it is rumored that a German prisoner of war throws rocks and pushes visitors. In a real place called Bates Motel (once used for barracks for officers of war), rooms 1 and 3 are reportedly haunted.

The long stretch called the Silver Valley has many ghostly places among the small towns. In Kellogg, a grumpy saloon owner killed a man in 1906, and his victim still seeks revenge. In the same town in the year 1972, 91 men lost their lives in the devastating Sunshine Mine disaster. In Cataldo, some claim the spirit of a young girl named Abigail lingers by her grave in a nearby cemetery. The historic mining town of Wallace is the home to many ghosts. “Maggie” in the Jameson Hotel fusses about the rooms, the spirit of Miss Montgomery roams the halls in the Ryan Hotel, and it is possible that the ghost of an old barkeep dislikes the way the current bartender at a local pub mixes his drinks. There are many tales of skulls falling from chimneys, dusty ledgers with century-old secrets, expensive gems hidden behind walls in mansions, silver and gold bars being found in rafters during remodels and much more. 

These and many other ghosts want their stories told as their restless spirits linger—twitchy for revenge and hopeful for acknowledgment or still searching for their long-anticipated mother lode of silver and gold.

Follow these stories from Coeur d’Alene all the way east through the Silver Valley region, where many ghosts still linger more than a century after they left this world.

Reprinted from Ghosts of Coeur d’Alene and the Silver Valley by Deborah Cuyle (History Press 2020).

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