The Life and Death of Seneacquoteen
By Mike Turnlund
It’s grand to live in Idaho, but to quote Abraham Lincoln (who himself was quoting another), “This too shall pass.” Life ends. Death is a fact of life. As I grow older, I’m increasingly confronted with this reality—thus, my need for a cemetery plot. I’m shopping.
And the choices I have here in beautiful Bonner County, in Idaho’s panhandle! There’s Westmond Cemetery, which provides easy access from Highway 95. Whispering Pines is pretty, but a bit off the beaten path. Of course, there’s the popular and beautiful Pinecrest Memorial Park in Sandpoint. But what caught my attention was the unusually named Seneacquoteen [Sin-yak-wa-teen] Cemetery, perched along the southern shore of the Pend Oreille River.
Seneacquoteen is an obscure place in Bonner County. Few can locate it on a map, let alone having heard of it. Anyone who is successful in identifying it as a place name probably will associate it with the cemetery, or with a minor county road there. But in its heyday, Seneacquoteen was the place to be, a place to go to in Idaho. It was the destination for thousands of Indians, pioneers, miners, and explorers. And for some, it was home.
I was among the unknowing until I exchanged my small-town life in Sandpoint for country living in nearby Sagle. That made it more convenient to shop in Priest River than in Sandpoint, and during these trips to Priest River, I encountered Seneacquoteen Cemetery. I assumed, correctly, that the word was Indian, but that was all I knew. It took a couple visits to local libraries to discover the secrets of this place.
Seneacquoteen lies on the southern bank of the Pend Oreille River, equidistant from Sandpoint and the Washington state border and south of Laclede on the river’s opposite side. Here, the river is wide and slow and shallow—or more accurately, it was before the construction of the Albeni Falls Dam, a few miles downriver. Its shallowness was the attraction: Seneacquoteen was a ford. If pioneers or a government surveyor or miners heading to or from the goldfields of British Columbia wanted to go north or south, they passed through Seneacquoteen. Otherwise, the river was almost impossible to cross.