“Wild Place: A History of Priest Lake Idaho,” is one of the first comprehensive histories of a northern Idaho vacation spot that remains a relatively wild area. The land spawned many adventures for moonshiners, trappers, loggers, cabin owners and tourists.Generations of Kalispell Indians were the first to occupy the land. A flood of homesteaders, prospectors, speculators and loggers with eyes on the region’s rich natural resources came in the 1890s. The book explains the many reasons, including federal protection and extreme winters, that the land was spared major development.
In a notable incident in the 1920s, silent movie star and would-be Hollywood producer Nell Shipman established a studio at a lodge on the lake and relocated her private zoo there. It included 40 bears, dozens of dogs, bobcats, eagles and other animals. Feeding the animals in the winter was an unforeseen obstacle. Shipman went bankrupt and U.S. Forest Service personnel and lake residents organized to ship them to the San Diego Zoo.
Wildfires and logging companies changed the land, which slowly became a patchwork of federal, state and private holdings that resulted in an array of tensions.
Published by Washington State University Press, the book was written by Kris Runberg Smith, a professor of history at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., whose great-great-grandfather came to the lake in 1897 as a timber cruiser; and Tom Weitz, president of the Priest Lake Museum Society since 2011. It costs $24.95 and is available through bookstores or WSU Press.