(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.)

Palouse River Canyon, 2007. Photo: David Dugan, CC 3.0.

PAHSIMAROI, Lemhi County. –This is a Shoshoni Indian word meaning “Pah,” “water,” “sima,” “one” and “roi,” “grove,” or in English “a grove by a stream.” There is a grove of evergreen trees growing on the south side of this river making a natural phenomenon in that it occupies an isolated and detached position, miles away from other trees. It is an almost invariable rule that where evergreens grow along the bottoms there will be found single and straggling trees extending from the grove back to the main forest on the mountain side. But not so with this one and this solitary position is the main idea suggested by this name.

PALOUSE RIVER, Latah County. –This stream was named by Captains Lewis and Clark on October 13, 1805, for George Drewyer, one of their party. Later the Canadian French called it “Pavion,” then “Pavilion,” because the Indians camped upon it temporarily only and in tents, the name finally changing to the French “Palouse” meaning “lawn” or “grass spot” as the river flowed thru a rolling, bunch-grass country. Those families of the Nez Perce tribe that eventually settled and made their homes on this river became known as the Palouse Indians. Lewis and Clark called the “Palleotepellows” and in 1860 they were located on the reservation with their kinsmen, the Nez Perces.

PANHANDLE. –The northern portion of Idaho is so called because of the long, narrow strip of country projecting from the state like the handle of a frying-pan. The early geographers who attempted the mapping of the country west of the Mississippi River left a very vague and erroneous outline of the Rocky Mountain formation. The dividing ridge of the rocky range was nearly always presented as a right line trending from the northwest to southeast from the Canadian boundary to the Mexican border. The right line has, however, disappeared from maps as explorations have brought, from year to year, the results of their researches. Unfortunately, however, the results of such researched were not understood by Congress when the bills creating Montana and Wyoming were enacted, whence they followed the Bitterroot Range instead of the main range of the Rocky Mountains, producing the panhandle shape to the north and the arm chair shape to the Wyoming front.

Cayuse Territory 1841, courtesy National Park Service, Whitman Mission.

PARKER’S ITINERARY. –Rev. Samuel Parker was a Presbyterian missionary who came West in 1835 with Dr. Marcus Whitman to Green River, Wyoming, where they met so many Indians desiring their services that Doctor Whitman returned East for more workers while Reverend Parker traveled with a company of Nez Perces to the Walla Walla River. They left Green River August 21, 1835, crossed Teton Pass into Teton basin and toward the Snake River which they crossed at the mouth of Fall River on September 1st; thence across Camas and Beaver creeks to Medicine Lodge Creek and into Sheep Creek basin, Montana; thence on to the Lemhi River September 11th; thence passing down the Lemhi and Salmon rivers, arriving at Bonneville’s Fort on the Salmon River September 15th. They followed the Lewis and Clark trail until it intersected the Nez Perce trail which latter trail they followed to the Clearwater River and thence down to Snake River and on to Walla Walla where Reverend Parker selected Waiilatpu as the site for Doctor Whitman’s mission.

(Editor’s Note: “Waiilatpu” means “place of rye grass” and refers generally to Walla Walla County in Washington State.)

Payette Lake from Ponderosa State Park. Photo: McCall Digest

PAYETTE LAKE. –This is the name given to a geologic fresh water lake thus called because its formation is so well exposed along the Payette River. The earth was built up in the Formative eon after which the Gradational eon, that of erosion and sedimentation, began, which occupied about 200,000,000 years. Up to 15,000,000 years ago the Snake River had eroded the surface of its basin to a low gradient. The valley of the main stream, the ancient representative of Snake River, became broad and had many important tributary valleys opening from it and extending far into the bordering mountains. Its topography had come to maturity, but in the Cretaceous period there was an upward movement of rocks resulting in the upheaval of the mother lode, which was thrown athwart the course of the Snake River in western Idaho and eastern Oregon forming a lake which covered the Snake River plains now called Payette Lake. It was of Miocene age and stood about 4000 feet above sea level, being about 2500 feet at its deepest point. Some 5,000,000 years ago this lake received the outpour of one of the greatest lava flows known in geology, the Tertiary lava of the Columbia River basin, since which time the streams of the Snake River plains have worn and cut their way to their present conditions.

(Editor’s Note: According to Idaho Fish and Game, Payette Lake in Valley County is 4,986.7 acres at an elevation of 4,986 feet above sea level. Other sources say that the lake is 392 feet at its deepest.)

PAYETTE RIVER, Payette County. –This river was named for Francis Payette who in 1818 led a small party of Hudson Bay trappers along this stream to catch beaver. He was afterwards the trader in charge at Fort Boise for the Hudson Bay Company.

Beaver pelt, mid-1800s. National Museum of American History.

Finished beaver pelt hat.

(Editor’s Aside: So much of Idaho’s history in the early 1800s involves trappers working for the Hudson’s Bay Company or other commercial fur companies. Beaver pelts were most in demand. Why, I wondered, was there such demand, and why did trappers risk so much to obtain the pelts? How much was a beaver pelt worth to them? The answer isn’t simple. A brief history: from the late 1500s and particularly into the 1600s, hats were a necessary part of one’s wardrobe across Europe, and felt hats made from various animal pelts – particularly beaver – were the most popular. This led to over-hunting and the extinction of Russian and Baltic beaver, so eyes turned toward North American beaver pelts to meet demand. This was a main focus of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s efforts in Canada and what would become western America. Beaver pelts became a currency of their own, not just between trappers and Hudson’s Bay Company, but also between trappers, missionaries, emigrants and Native Americans, who traded pelts for food, tools, knives, guns and other items they didn’t otherwise have access to. William A. Slacum, a purser in the U.S. Navy, was sent to the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest by President Andrew Jackson. He was there in December 1836 – February 1837. In his written report, he noted, “The price of a beaver skin in the ‘Columbia district’ is ten shillings, $2, payable in goods at 50 per cent on the invoice cost. Each skin averages one and a half pound, and is worth in New York or London $5 per pound; value $7.50. The beaver skin is the circulating medium of the country.” What would that value be today? From a piece written in 2012 for Fur Fort Fun Facts, “Long story short, the $2 value of a beaver pelt of 1837 would be something like $48 today. And the $7.50 that HBC might have received in London works out to about $176 in today’s money.” To provide some context, in 1836, $2.00 is more than a skilled craftsman earned in a day. The Hudson’s Bay Company, the North West Company, and the American Fur Company got rich buying pelts and reselling them. When in 1850 the Prince Consort, Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, began wearing a silk top hat rather than one made of beaver pelt, the demand for the latter died out, much to the relief of the beavers.

Additional resources include McGill University’s digital library article about the history of beaver pelts and an article on the Economic History Association’s website about the fur trade. )

Cover photo: Pahsimaroi River, 1975; photo courtesy of NOAA.

Previous installments of Idaho Nomenclature can be found under the History tab, Natural World category, in the menu.

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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