From Plummer to Mullan

Water Mysteries and Other Curiosities

By Mary Terra-Berns

Coeur d’Alene Lake, which is twenty-five miles long and has a maximum depth of about 220 feet, is inhabited by large and small fish, along with a few “water mysteries.” According to a legend of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, people who witness a water mystery rising out of the lake die shortly after the experience—but if a small gift is placed where the mystery is witnessed, you may be able to pass without harm.

I came across this legend while investigating the history along the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. It’s a rail-trail corridor stretching seventy-three miles from Plummer, in the Palouse Prairie just south of Coeur d’Alene Lake, to Mullan in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The water mystery legend was in a 1930 ethnographic report to the Smithsonian Institution by Franz Boas and James Teit. It was one of many intriguing and humorous stories I amassed for a trail guidebook I published with my friend and photographer Judi Cronin. For six months, I buried myself in books, reports, and old newspaper articles that described the world at another time in this part of the Idaho Panhandle.

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