(Editor’s Note: These excerpts are from the book Idaho Chronology, Nomenclature and Bibliography by John E. Rees, published in 1918. In the Nomenclature section, Rees offers his best information and beliefs regarding the origins, meanings and history behind Idaho place names and prominent figures. Born in 1868, Rees grew up in Lemhi County, taught literature and history in Salmon City for 15 years where he served as a prosecuting attorney the same year this book was published. He died in 1928 of heart failure.)

Stagecoaches of the type operated by the Gilmer & Salisbury line in the 1870s.

GILMORE, Lemhi County. –Named for John T., familiarly called “Jack Gilmer,” of the Gilmer and Salisbury Stage Company, who was a pioneer in the stage coach business in the West. He commenced staging in 1859, under Russell and Waddell, the first stage coach men of the West, continuing to work for Ben Holliday, who bought out that firm in 1861, who in turn sold to Wells, Fargo and Company in 1866, which latter company afterwards sold to Gilmer and Salisbury. A clerk in the postoffice [sic] department in Washington copied the name wrong when the postoffice at Gilmore was established in 1903.

GLADE CREEK, Selway County. –This is the name which Captains Lewis and Clark gave to a small stream which they first encountered when they re-crossed into Idaho from the Bitterroot Valley over the Lolo trail on September 13, 1805. It was named from the fact of containing so many beautiful mountain glades and still bears this name and flows into the Lochsa River.

GODDIN RIVER, Butte County. –This river was named for Thyery Goddin, an old Hudson Bay trapper, who discovered the stream in 1820 and was also murdered thereon by the Blackfeet Indians in 1830. In the early ‘70s, when the settlers came onto this stream, they called it Big Lost River, as its flow would sink and rise, then sink and become lost from view, whence the waters flowed underground by various channels into the Snake River.

Miners using riffle box near Elk City, ID in 1861. Photo: Library of Congress.

GOLD DISCOVERIES. –Gold was first discovered on the Pacific slope in 1845, somewhere on the headwaters of Malheur River, Oregon, by a party of lost emigrants who were wandering through that country. This discovery was called the “lost mine,” and the “mine of the lost emigrants,” and the “blue bucket mine,” as the emigrants stated that a blue bucket, which they had of two gallons capacity, could have been filled with nuggets. After the discovery of gold in California, in 1849, diligent search was made for these mines, but it is supposed that they were never found; however, it is quite probable that the numerous rich pockets of gold found in the Canyon City mines, situated in the vicinity of the “lost mines” were those seen in 1845. In 1852, some French-Canadians made the first discovery of gold in Idaho on the Pend Oreille River, but it was not of sufficient importance to attract attention. In 1854 Gen. F. W. Lander discovered gold along the Snake River while making a railroad reconnaissance from Walla Walla to South Pass. In 1858 some desultory placer mining was done along the Mullan wagon road, on some branches of the Coeur d’Alene River. In 1860, a Nez Perce Indian informed Capt. E. D. Pierce that while himself and two companions were camping at night among the defiles of his native mountains an apparition in the shape of a brilliant star suddenly burst forth from among the cliffs. They believed it to be the eye of the Great Spirit, and when daylight had given them sufficient courage they sought the spot and found a glittering ball that looked like glass embedded in the solid rock.  The Indians believed it to be “great medicine,” but could not get it from its resting place. With his ardent imagination fired by such a tale, Captain Pierce organized a company which, being piloted by a Nez Perce squaw, found the famous Oro Fino* mines. While working in the Salmon River mines Moses Splawn was visited by a Bannack Indian who took an interest in looking at the gold which was being taken from the ground. One night, at camp, while smoking and talking, the Indian told Splawn that in a basin of the mountains far to the south he, as a boy, had picked up chunks of yellow metal such as he had seen worked out of the gravel and so described the place that Splawn, with a party of prospectors, discovered the Boise basin diggings in 1862. In 1863 a party of prospectors, headed by Michael Jordan and A. J. Reynolds, started to find the “lost mines” on Sinker Creek, so called because it was reported that emigrants, in fishing along this creek, used gold nuggets, picked up on the creek, for sinkers, discovered the famous gold and silver mines of Jordan Creek. {*The Oro Fino mines were in Owyhee County. Oro fino means “fine gold” or ore in Spanish. Not to be confused with Orofino the town, located in Clearwater County.}

GOOSE CREEK, Cassia County. –This stream was named by members of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company under Milton Sublette in 1832, because of the vast numbers of geese which congregated upon and fed along its course.

GRIMES CREEK, Boise County. –This creek was named for George Grimes of Oregon City, who was the leader of the prospecting party that discovered gold in the Boise basin in August, 1862. He was shot and killed by their Indian guide at the pass between the south fork of the Payette River and the stream which bears his name. The guide was killed in the summer of 1863, by the party l ed by Capt. J. J. Standifer which was hunting Indians that had murdered other miners.

HENRY’S FORK AND LAKE, Fremont County. –These were named for Andrew Henry, who was a partner in the Missouri Fur Company and who, with a party and supplies attempted to establish a post at the three forks of the Missouri River in 1809, but was driven out by Blackfeet Indians, after which he moved south over the Continental Divide and established Fort Henry.

Washington and Oregon Territories, 1854.

HISTORICAL. –Until 1848 what is now Idaho was a part of the Northwest coast. From 1848 to 1853 it was a part of Oregon territory. From 1853 to 1859 all Idaho north of 46˚ was attached to Washington Territory, while all south of that line remained in Oregon. From 1859 to 1863 all Idaho was a part of Washington. The name Idaho was first applied in 1863 when it was formed into a territory. In 1864 Montana and in 1868 Wyoming were created out of Idaho, and in 1890 it was admitted as the forty-third state of the American Union. Oregon is Idaho’s grandmother; Washington her mother; and Montana and Wyoming her daughters.

HOLE. –This is a Rocky Mountain pioneer term meaning a level, grassy area surrounded by mountains. Later people designated such places as “basins” or “parks.” Many of the narrow valleys of the Rocky Mountains were called “holes” in the early fur trading and trapping days. The name seems to have originated from the fact that the trapper, in passing up and down the main streams, would pass the narrow opening or outlet of the tributary, in the bank or bluff along the main river. These narrow openings in the hills appeared so much like holes that they received this name, and where a trapper was known to frequent one particular stream, the valley was usually named after him.

HUDSON BAY COMPANY. –This company was organized in England in 1670, with a charter to trade in Hudson Bay, Canada, and all other countries not possessed by other powers, its only obligation being to give to the King of England two elk and two beaver, should he ever visit their territory, which he never did. It exercised supreme civil and criminal jurisdiction over all countries and people that came under its sway. It had powers to pass laws, grant lands, and make war and peace. It owned in the Northwest country thirty trading posts, of which Fort Hall and Fort Boise were included. Idaho belonged to the Columbia district, with Fort Vancouver, Washington, its emporium and John McLoughlin the master in charge. Its business was solely trading and trapping, and it absorbed all other English companies and enjoyed its monopoly for two hundred years, but in 1870 its territory was brought under the Dominion of Canada.

HUNGRY CREEK, Selway County. –This creek was so named by Captain Clark on September 18, 1805, because here they had nothing to eat and had to go hungry. It is a small stream flowing into the Lochsa River.

Hyndman Peak. Photo: Fredlyfish, CC BY-SA 3.0.

HUNT-ASTORIA PARTY. –The Pacific Fur Company was organized by John Jacob Astor for the purpose of monopolizing the fur business in the United States, by erecting trading posts from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with Astoria the principal depot. Two expeditions were sent to the mouth of the Columbia River in 1811. One by water and the other an overland expedition under the command of Wilson P. Hunt with sixty men. The party came into Idaho thru the Teton Pass and at Fort Henry erected fifteen boats with which to float down the Snake River, but it proved so dangerous that they abandoned the boats and divided their party into two sections; one of eighteen men and guides under Hunt traveled the right bank of the river, and the other, with the remainder of the party under Ramsay Crooks, traveled the left bank. Out on the Snake River plains and desert they experienced great suffering, losing fourteen men, and so great were their privations that the expedition was characterized as one of unparalleled hardships in which was endured the greatest suffering ever known to American mountaineering. This was the first expedition across southern Idaho as the Lewis and Clark was the first across northern Idaho.

HYNDMAN PEAK. –This is the highest elevation in Idaho, being 12, 078 feet above sea level, and is located on the Lost River range of mountains, which forms the county boundary between Custer and Blaine counties. It was named for Major William Hyndman, a veteran of the Civil War and a prominent lawyer and mining man of Wood River in the early ‘80s. {Editor’s Note: Today Hyndman Peak’s elevation is stated as 12, 009. It is part of the Pioneer Mountains in Sawtooth National Forest.}

You can find the earlier Idaho Nomenclature installments under the Natural World – History tab on the home page.


Cover photo is a portion of this 1844 cloth map of Oregon Territory, Library of Congress.

About the author

Rebecca Wallick

Rebecca is a freelance writer and publisher living near McCall, Idaho. A Seattle native and recovering attorney, she much prefers the quiet, slow pace, and distinct seasons of the West Central Mountains, enjoying the skiing, hiking and running opportunities provided by the nearby Payette National Forest. Rebecca is a Contributing Editor with Bark magazine, and the author of Growing Up Boeing: The Early Jet Age Through the Eyes of a Test Pilot’s Daughter (Feb 2014).

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