In the eighteenth century, the Kalispels lived around Pend d'Oreille Lake and River. Today, most live on their reservation in Pend Oreille County, Washington. Kalispels also live on the Colville and Flathead Reservations.
Like other Salish peoples, the Kalispels probably came from British Columbia. The upper division may have moved east and south onto the plains of Montana before the Blackfeet pushed them back, in the eighteenth century, to the Pend d'Oreille Lake region. After the introduction of the horse, they joined with other Plateau groups to hunt buffalo and to organize war and raiding parties.
In the eighteenth century there were two geographical divisions: Upper Pend d'Oreilles and Lower Pend d'Oreilles, or Kalispelems. The latter were further divided into Lower Kalispel (Kalispels proper), Upper Kalispels, and Chewelahs (perhaps a separate tribe). Each division was composed of related families and was led by a chief selected on the basis of merit. Later, a tribal chief presided over a council made up of the band chiefs.
The Kalispels were masters of their white pine canoes. The lower division had distinctive low-riding canoes to meet the winds on Pend d'Oreille Lake. Although they were excellent horsemen, they had relatively few horses, even in the midnineteenth century. Most clothes were made from rabbit skins or deerskins. Men wore breechclouts and shirts, and women wore dresses. Both wore moccasins, caps, robes, leggings, and shell earrings.
The North West Trading Company opened a trading post in Kalispel country in 1809. The first Catholic mission opened in 1846 and relocated in 1854 with the upper Kalispels to the Lake Flathead area. Kalispels were forced into a major land cession in 1855, and the upper division was assigned to the Flathead Reservation in Montana, but the lower division refused to relocate, asking instead for a reservation of their own. They remained relatively isolated until 1863, when the British Columbia gold rush brought many miners through their territory.
In 1887, one of the two Lower Kalispel bands moved to the Flathead Reservation. The other, under Marcella, remained in the Pend d'Oreille Valley. Their reservation was created by executive order in 1914: It consisted of 4,629 acres, of which only 150 acres of tribal land remained after individual allotments and white encroachments. The tribe was awarded $3 million in land claims settlements in 1960, and another $114,000 in 1981.