People, places shine in 'Legendary' book

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SANDPOINT — It started out as a guidebook, but like the lake that inspired the project, “Legendary Lake Pend Oreille: Idaho’s Wilderness of Water” soon proved to have a mythology too circuitous, a history too broad and subject matter far too deep to be confined by such a limited boundary.

What the title eventually became, according to publisher Chris Bessler, is what American environmental author and essayist Edward Abbey once referred to as a “fat masterpiece.”

“Given this is the fattest book we’ve published so far, and we labored so long on it, maybe it’s our ‘fat masterpiece,’ ” said Bessler, founder of Keokee Co. Publishing, a Sandpoint-based specialty publisher of books, magazines and Web content.

The company’s catalog includes hiking and outdoor guides that cover the Pacific Northwest region. For almost 20 years, its founder held onto the image of a title devoted to the lake that laps to shore, almost literally, just outside his front door.

“Chris had the vision to write a book about Lake Pend Oreille from the time that he founded Keokee in 1990,” said Billie Jean Plaster, who edited “Legendary Lake Pend Oreille.” 

“This book exists because of his vision and his commitment to the lake and its surroundings.”

The search for an equally committed lead writer led to local journalist and oral historian Jane Fritz, who spent the past 30 years working on lake protection issues and gathering stories of the people who have lived along its shores — Native people, pioneers and modern-day residents alike.

“I learned early on as a professional writer that all good stories — those that take a minute to read or those that take days — are about people,” Fritz said. “So although I pushed the envelope a lot with the original vision of the book, I succeeded with the help of a handful of other writers in making it a book not only about our glorious lake, but about the people inextricably linked to it.”

The book’s byline lists “Jane Fritz and Friends” as the writers, acknowledging contributions from area wordsmiths Kevin Davis, Gary Hassler, Cate Huisman, Marianne Love, Heather McElwain, Patrick McManus, Jim Mellen and the late Dennis Nicholls.

As a tireless gatherer of tales from tribal elders and storytellers throughout the region, Fritz had a ready storehouse of recorded material never before seen in print. In his introduction to the book, Francis Cullooyah of the Kalispell Tribe of Indians shares the creation story in which the lake was the cradle of life.

“Lake Pend Oreille holds many tribal legends,” the elder wrote. “Some of them tell of the origin of our life in this beautiful land when the Earth was very young and evolving and all of its creatures were submerged and lived underwater.”

After the Creator had chosen creatures to emerge from the lake, he continued, the Kalispell people were placed on the land to act as caretakers of all creation. Including such sacred stories was one of the things that lifted “Legendary Lake Pend Oreille” out of guidebook status and into a category that defies description.

“My love of storytelling was what took me there,” Fritz said. “There is such a variety of subjects, from tugboats to fish stories to mysterious events to growing up on the lake. And since I have worked as

See BOOK, Page 3

an oral historian with Native peoples, it was important to me that their stories be told, as well.”

“It transcends the genre of ‘guidebook,’ I’d agree,” Bessler said. “But Jane’s a journalist and oral historian and she added a lot of original writing, too. So maybe you could call it an almanac or Bible of information about the lake.”

At more than 400 pages — edited down from an original manuscript of more than 120,000 words — the new book represents the largest literary undertaking ever for Keokee. Along with the text, hundreds of photographic submissions were narrowed down to a field of about 80 potential images, which were further winnowed to arrive at the 16 color-plate photos included in the final version. Those are joined by an equal number of classic black-and-white photos from the Ross Hall Collection.

 Almost every page in “Legendary Lake Pend Oreille” bears a photo, map, or graphic artwork of some kind. Crack it open at almost any point and the layout makes it easy for the reader to dive deep into a piece on the lake’s history or skim like a thrown rock across a section about a new hike or secret fishing hole.

Writing and compiling a book about a body of water nearly 45 miles long with more than 110 miles of shoreline and a depth reaching 1,100 feet was a huge task. Fritz chose to tackle it by falling back on her greatest strength — a talent for recognizing and spinning a good yarn. In doing so, she managed to breathe life into what could easily have ended up as a cumbersome tome filled with facts but lacking color. The author chose to move the project along with tales of the people who lived along the shores and plied the waters of Lake Pend Oreille, just as she did for the creatures that swim below its surface.

“It’s a living thing, this lake,” Fritz said. “And it demanded stories.”

Fritz expressed ambivalence, at first, about working on a guidebook, since there was a possibility that such a title “would only draw a lot more people to the area and perhaps many of those would not have respect for the lake and this place.”

Bessler, meanwhile, walks a tightrope that spans his desire to protect the lake and the verities of putting out a flagship publication such as Sandpoint Magazine — a glossy periodical funded primarily through full-page real estate ads for high-end properties, many of which tout expensive homes on, or overlooking, the lake and its network of tributaries. He views the new book as a chance to educate, inform and entertain readers.

“I think communities and people are shaped in great extent by their physical location and the natural assets around them,” Bessler said. “Lake Pend Oreille is the dominant natural feature here and shapes all of our lives in some way, even if you never interact with the lake any more than just driving across the Long Bridge.

“What I’d like people to get out of this book is an appreciation for what an amazing natural resource the lake is — hopefully inspiring them to take care of it.”

Local book-signings with author Jane Fritz are scheduled for:

• Today at 2 p.m. during the Idaho Mythweaver 20th Anniversary Party at the Memorial Community Center in Hope.

•  Dec. 11 at 3p.m. at Common Knowledge Bookstore, 823 Main St. in Sandpoint.

• Dec. 12 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Great Stuff, 313 N. First Ave. in Sandpoint.

• Dec. 19 from noon to 2 p.m. at Vanderford’s Books, 201 Cedar St. in Sandpoint.

In addition, cover artist Karen Robinson has offered her original watercolor “Reflections on Lake Pend Oreille” for bid to benefit the Tri State Water Quality Council. Bids may be submitted online at, or at the Keokee Co. offices, 405 Church St. in Sandpoint, through Dec. 22 at 5 p.m.

Information: (208) 263-3573

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