When gold was discovered in British Columbia in 1863, thousands of prospectors from all over the West surged northward over a route that became known as the Wildhorse Trail. Edwin Bonner, a merchant from the State of Washington established a ferry in 1864 where the trail crossed the expansive Kootenai (Koot knee) River. In 1875, Richard Fry, and his Indian wife, Justine Su-steel Fry, leased the business, but the location retained the name of the original founder and later became the town of Bonners Ferry.
Before the gold rush, few visitors had come to the region; one of the first was explorer David Thompson (April 1770 – 10 February 1857) a British-Canadian fur trader, map maker and surveyor was known to some native peoples as Koo-Koo-Sint or "the Stargazer." Over Thompson's career, he traveled some 90,000 kilometers (56,000 mi) across North America, mapping 4.9 million square kilometers (1.9 million square miles) of North America along the way. Thompson has been described as the "greatest land geographer who ever lived." –(Wikipedia)
Thompson and four fellow fur- traders arrived in 1808 to trade with the Lower Kootenais. Exhausted and famished, the local natives gave Thompson's party dried fish and moss bread. Thompson returned the next year and established a trading post on Lake Pend Oreille.
Bonners Ferry was formally established in 1893, along with the south bank of the Kootenai River. Scattered along the valley and benchland were a few ranches and homesteads. Numerous mines were developed in the nearby mountains, including the Continental Mine in the Selkirks. The lumber industry also grew rapidly. Bonners Ferry, perched on stilts to avoid the inevitable spring floods, appeared to be a boom town.
Moving into the 20th century, the town became the center of a lumbering and farming community. The valley land was drained, levees were constructed and farms were cleared on the benches. The rich Kootenai Valley became known as the "Nile of the North", while the Bonners Ferry Lumber Company grew to be one of the world's largest lumber Mills. The downtown took shape as brick buildings were constructed, replacing those on stilts. Completion of the Libby Dam in 1975 lessened the threat of serious flooding. Today, much of Main Street dates from this initial period of solid, permanent construction.
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