Salish-speaking Indians originally lived near the Pacific Coast, where most Salish-speakers still reside. Legend has it that an argument developed as to whether flying ducks quacked with their wings or with their bills. The ones who voted for the wings ended up moving to the Bitterroot Valley  and eventually became known as the Flathead Salish. When they arrived in the Bitterroot Valley, the Pend d’Oreille who were living there moved north, apparently as a gesture of friendliness, to the area around present-day Paradise and Plains.
Until the Blackfeet moved onto the Montana plains in the mid-1700s, the Flathead Salish spent a great deal of time on the eastern plains hunting buffalo. Travel to the west was more limited, generally just far enough to fish for salmon west of Lolo Pass. Camas, bitterroot, and serviceberries were other dietary staples that the Flathead still gather.
Lewis and Clark and early white settlers found the Flathead to be friendly and helpful. The Flathead continued good relations with white settlers, with much intermarriage.
The 1855 Hell Gate Treaty formed the Flathead Reservation , but Victor, head chief of the Salish, refused to move his people from their home in the Bitterroot Valley.
By the 1870s the influx of white settlers into the valley made the government attempt to foist a new treaty onto the Flathead. Charlo, Victor’s son and the new head chief of the tribe, held firm against moving to the reservation in the Jocko-Mission Valley, but he and his people did what they could to accommodate the white homesteaders.
Maintaining a good relationship with whites was important enough to Chief Charlo that he refused to help his friend Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé  on his flight east. He told Joseph that if the Nez Percé caused any harm to the settlers in the Bitterroot Valley, the Nez Percé could expect the Flathead to defend the whites.
Charlo never signed the reservation treaty. However, in 1872, Arlee, a Flathead war chief, did sign it, and he thus won recognition from the U.S. government as head chief of the Flathead tribe. Charlo stayed behind in the Bitterroots until 1891, when he told the government agents who were pressuring him to move, “I will go—I and my children. My young men are becoming bad; they have no place to hunt. I do not want the land you promise. I do not believe your promises. All I want is enough ground for my grave.”
During the early years of the Flathead Reservation, Indians lived in both log cabins and, weather permitting, in tepees. Many took up farming, with several successful farms eventually dotting the valley.
The 1887 Dawes Act allotted parcels of reservation land to individual Indians in an effort to make them understand the concept of owning the land. Unallotted land was often dealt to the U.S. government and then thrown open to white homesteaders. The Dawes Act was repealed in 1934, when tribal rather than individual identity was emphasized in the Tribal Reorganization Act.
Under these provisions, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes were incorporated. By that time, much of the land within the confines of the Flathead Reservation was owned by non-Indians, as it remains today.