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Stephen “Steve” Liberty: Friend of the Coeur d’Alene’s

Stephen “Steve” Liberty

Etienne Eduard Laliberte

1843 – 1911

Respected Friend and Advocate of the Coeur d’Alene’s

Etienne Eduard Laliberte was born November 15, 1843, at St. Francois-du-lac, Province of Quebec, Canada, to Joseph Etienne and Emilie Saloe Laliberte.

He attended the seminary in Quebec in preparation for the priesthood. Although he decided to remain a layman, he left the seminary with a good education, knowledge of law, and language.

Laliberte immigrated to the United States in 1862. Eventually arriving in New Ulm, Minnesota, he was engaged by Captain Louis Robier as a fur trader dealing with the Indians on the St. Pierre River (now officially named Minnesota River).

His name appears on the 1878 Spokane Prairie Census as Stephen Liberty. History does not clearly indicate when Laliberte made the decision to be known as Liberty.

In the summer of 1866, he joined the wagon train of Captain James Liberty Fisk, serving as assistant wagon master and officer of the guard. The train consisted of 160 wagons and 500 people headed for the goldfields of Montana. Among these westward pioneers were Colonel Isaac N. Peyton, Judge W. E. Cullen, and Joseph Peavy. Liberty and Peavy left the train at Fort Benton, Montana, and went on the Cabinet Landing on the Pend Oreille River where they purchased a station house. Here the men contracted for carrying the U.S. Mail from Cabinet Landing to Connors, near Rathdrum in Idaho Territory. During this time, Liberty learned the Indian language.

Stephen Liberty married Christine Barnaby, daughter of Joseph Barnaby, at Rathdrum on September 2, 1868. Christine was one-quarter Colville Indian. She was described as fair skinned, blue eyed, and very handsome. Educated at the catholic school at Walla Walla, it was said the Barnaby sisters were much sought after by the well-to-do settlers at that time. Christine had made numerous trips to Boston and other eastern cities before her marriage. Christine’s sister, Elizabeth, married William Newman who came west in 1860 as an escort to the boundary surveyors. Newman settled on the lake that bears his name. Christine’s other sister, Mary, married Daniel Courchaine, the first settler in the Saltese Lake area of the Spokane valley.

The first home for the Liberty newlyweds was south of Spokane where they established a settlement and planted a large orchard. The property was later sold to Joseph Moran and became known as Moran Prairie. Moving back to Rathdrum, Liberty again engaged in carrying the U.S. mail. The family moved in 1871 to the west side of Lake Grier. Stephen Liberty was the first white settler in the area, and the name of the lake was changed to Liberty. It was at Liberty Lake that Stephen Liberty and the Coeur d’Alene’s Chief Andrew Seltice became close friends, with Liberty taking up their cause as confidant, helper, legal adviser, and interpreter. Chief Seltice had great confidence in Liberty.

In 1886, Stephen Liberty became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He made many trips to Washington, D.C., on behalf of the Coeur d’ Alene Tribe in the attempt to establish the legal reservation boundaries. He was instrumental in furthering the welfare, education, and living conditions of the Indians.

When Chief Seltice said; “These are my children, you shall respect them and treat them as such,” it was all that was necessary for the tribe to consider one a member under their law. It was in this way that the chief granted Stephen Liberty every right possessed by any member of the tribe and considered him as one of the leaders of the tribe.

In 1896, Liberty became a member of the Spokane society of Pioneers. He died from pneumonia in Sacred Heart Hospital at age 68 on January 18, 1911.


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