During the first half of the 19th century, there were scattered white settlements and missionaries in this area of eastern Washington Territory, but the main population was the native people who had long established seasonal hunting, fishing, Camus beds, and camping sites throughout the district.
In 1847, after the Whitman Incident, those white settlers and missionaries were asked to leave and eastern Washington Territory was closed to new white settlement until 1858. In that year there were a number of military clashes. In our district, the most famous was the September 1, 1858 Battle of Four Lakes. General George Wright defeated a confederation of Spokane, Palouse, and Coeur d’Alene fighters north of Willow Lake.
In 1862 Captain John Mullan completed the military road from Walla Walla Washington to Fort Benton Montana. The Mullan road passed by the area that would become Amber just south of the lake and continued through the southern part of our district past Chapman Lake, connecting with other area trails.
One early settler was Thomas Philleo, who in 1869 homesteaded near the lake south of Cheney which bears his name. His descendants still live in the district. Early homesteaders raised cattle, horses, and timber which they could sell to the military. Then they began raising wheat, barley, oats, and hay. For a time there was also a burgeoning fruit orchard business in the area along with a number of saw mills, dairies and creameries.