A Slice of Idaho History

I just returned from my first trip to the West in four years – two weeks of mountains, lakes, seeing friends and family, and experiencing a bit of local history. Today I’d like to share with you a bit of that history.

On one of the days of my trip, my nieces and I visited the oldest building in Idaho, the Mission of the Sacred Heart, also known as the Cataldo Mission, located in Old Mission State Park located 28 miles east of the city of Couer d’Alene. The mission, located on a picturesque hill overlooking the Couer d’Alene River, was built between 1850 and 1853 by Catholic missionaries and members of the Couer d’Alene tribe. Next door to the mission is the restored parish house where the Jesuit missionaries lived. Also located on the park property are a cemetery and a visitor center where you can visit an exhibit titled Sacred Encounters: Father De Smet and the Indians of the Rocky Mountain West. The exhibit details the history of the Jesuits’ interactions with the Couer d’Alene and Salish tribes of the area. The site’s historical significance led to it being designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1961.

The establishment of the mission came about in a different way than many such structures. It was actually the Nez Perce and Flathead people, who had heard about the white man’s “Book of Heaven,” who sent representatives to St. Louis to find out more. Eleven years later, Father Pierre Jean De Smet responded by traveling to the area. Other brothers and friars picked an original location for the mission, but it was later moved due to the first’s tendency to flood. In 1850, the mission was taken over by Italian Jesuit missionary Antonio Ravalli, who oversaw the building of the current building. He had the local tribes build the structure so they would feel a part of the church. Not a single nail was used in the construction. Visitors today can see some of the exposed wattle and daub that was used instead.

Because of the mission’s remote location, decoration of the structure required some creativity. Newspapers were painted and put on the walls. Tin cans were fashioned into chandeliers. And local huckleberries were used to create the blue used to stain the interior wood.

It’s a lovely, peaceful place to just sit and admire the surrounding landscape as well. If you’re ever in Northern Idaho, it’s well worth a visit.

Trish Milburn
Trish Milburn is the author of nearly 40 romance, suspense, paranormal, women's fiction and young adult titles. She's a two-time winner of the Golden Heart Award and the recipient of Romance Writers of America's top award for service, the Emma Merritt Award. She's a big sci-fi geek girl, loves seeing new places, and has been known to cosplay on occasion. She's always loved westerns, so considering her other love is sci-fi it's no wonder her all-time favorite TV show is Firefly, which blends the two genres. Check out her books, links to various social media and sign up for her newsletter at http://www.trishmilburn.com/
Updated: July 28, 2018 — 2:17 pm


  1. I loved visiting through the blog. Amazing how creative you can be using what you have available. If I am ever in the area I will be sure to find this and visit. thanks

    1. It really is amazing. You feel the history as you walk over the creaky floor boards and see the handiwork from more than a century ago.

  2. This sounds like an interesting place to visit. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

    1. It was. And it was amazing to think about how very remote it was at the time.

  3. Did not know of this mission. Thanks for the info.

    1. You’re welcome. I think I remember seeing it from the interstate years ago, but I didn’t have time to stop then. Glad I got to visit this time.

  4. Sounds lovely. Thanks for telling us about it.

    1. I love sharing the things I discover while traveling, the sites that might be overlooked because they’re not as famous or out of the way.

  5. Thanks for allowing me to arm-chair travel!

    1. Arm chair travel is like window shopping — it doesn’t cost anything! 🙂

  6. Trish, Thank you for sharing your adventure! 🙂

    1. Happy to share. I like hearing about other people’s travels, too.

  7. I’d love to see the church, Trish. The photo looks lovely and it must be quite unique. Thanks for sharing your photos and the history.

    1. It really was. Simple, rustic and yet beautiful.

  8. sounds wonderful! how cool they used huckleberries to stain the wood.

  9. What a lovely spot. What is most special is that the Indians requested the priests to come in and establish the mission. I like that it is different from all the spanish missions you see further south.The Jesuits were and are a special order. They are kind of the Liberals of the church.
    If we ever get back to Idaho I will make sure we go there to see it. It is the type of thing I always look for when traveling.

    1. I think if I were Catholic, I’d be drawn to the Jesuits. I follow the current Pope on Twitter and like a great deal of what he says there.

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