(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.

Context is important in reading his entries. Many of Rees’ descriptions, especially of Indians and other racial or ethnic groups, are tinged with the biases and prejudices of most whites of that era. He sometimes uses language that was common then but is offensive today; an honest recounting from this historic text is presented – sometimes with reservations – in a desire to be accurate.)

Lake Pend Oreille from Pend Orielle River. Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

CLARKS FORK RIVER, Bonner County. –The name “Clark River” was given to the Bitterroot by Captain Lewis on September 6, 1805, as Captain Clark was the first white man who had visited its waters. The stream to which Clark’s name is attached is now the Clarks Fork of the Columbia, and this is a continuation of the Bitterroot River. This stream in its entirety might well be dubbed “the river of many names,” for Clark’s is but one of them. The stream really rises just south and east of Butte, Montana, where the creek is known as the Silverbow. Then in succession follow the names Deer Lodge, Hellgate, Missoula and Clarks Fork. The river is a beautiful one, and Clark’s name should apply to the whole stream, or at least to that part of it from the junction of the Bitterroot and Hellgate to the Columbia. At Pend Oreille Lake the river expands into a very large lake, one of the finest in the West, and surrounded by high, timbered mountains.

(Editor’s Note: This river is now known as Clark Fork River – without the “s” that Rees used in referring to it – and is not to be confused with the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River.)

CLEARWATER RIVER, Clearwater County. –This stream is named for its chief characteristic, that of being brilliantly clear and transparent, which name was first applied by the Nez Perce Indians, the whites using the translated word “Clearwater.” It has three principal branches, the North, Middle and South Forks. It was formerly called by its Nez Perce Indian name, “Koos-koos-kia.”

COEUR D’ALENE INDIANS. –This is a tribe of the Salish family, which inhabited the country surrounding and adjoining the lake which bears their name. They call themselves “Skitswish,” which they claim means “Camas People.” Lewis and Clark called them “Skeetsomish.” The name is of French origin and means “Awl-heart.” One tradition of their name is that these Indians were so sharp at bargaining the fur traders named them “Awl-hearts,” or “Pointed-hearts,” while another is that among the first traders was a Canadian of so close and niggardly a disposition that the Indians applied an epithet to him which the interpreter translated “Coeur d’Alenes,” and the name became fixed upon the Indians.

(From Wikipedia: The Coeur d’Alene (Schitsu’umsh or Skitswish in their Coeur d’Alene language, meaning “The Discovered People” or “Those Who Are Found Here”) are a Native American nation and one of five federally recognized tribes in the state of Idaho. The Coeur d’Alene have sovereign control of their Coeur d’Alene Reservation, which includes a significant portion of Lake Coeur d’Alene and its submerged lands. …Historically the Coeur d’Alene occupied a territory of 3.5 million acres in present-day northern Idaho, eastern Washington, and western Montana. They lived in villages along the Coeur d’Alene, St. Joe, Clark Fork, and Spokane Rivers; as well as sites on the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene, Lake Pend Oreille, and Hayden Lake. …French Canadian fur traders in the late 18th or early 19th century referred to these people as the Cœur d’Alène, meaning “heart of an awl,” in reference to their savvy in trading. British traders and later colonists adopted the French term for the people.)

Graphic courtesty Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

COEUR D’ALENE INDIAN RESERVATION, Kootenai County. –These Indians claimed approximately all the lands lying in the Shoshone and Kootenai counties, Idaho, and Whitman, Spokane, Lincoln and Adams counties, Washington. No treaty was ever concluded with these Indians for the cession of their title. A reserve was set apart for them in 1867, which they refused to accept. An agreement was made with them in 1873, but Congress failed to approve it. By executive order, in 1873, President Grant set apart the following reserve: Beginning at a point on the top of the dividing ridge between Pine and Latah or Hangman’s Creek, directly south of a point on said last mentioned creek six miles above the point where the trail from Lewiston to Spokane bridge crosses said creek; thence in a northeasterly direction in a direct line to the Coeur d’Alene Mission on Coeur d’Alene River, but not to include the lands of said mission; thence in a westerly direction in a direct line to the point where the Spokane River heads in or leaves the Coeur d’Alene lakes; thence down the center of the channel of said Spokane River to the dividing line between Washington and Idaho; thence south along said dividing line to the top of the dividing ridge between Pine and Latah or Hangman’s creeks; thence along the top of said ridge to the place of beginning. It was set apart for the Coeur d’Alenes and southern Spokanes and other fragmentary bands. The United States assumed that when they accepted this reserve the Indians had relinquished their title to the country they claimed, but in order to do this a formal extinguishment of their title was made by treaty of 1891. At other times small cessions were made of their reserve for railroad, townsite and settlement purposes, and in 1906 their reservation, by treaty, was allotted to the Indians in severalty of 160 acres to each man, woman and child, and the surplus, except lands for school and agency purposes, was sold for their benefit.

Lake Coeur d’Alene.

COEUR D’ALENE LAKE AND RIVER, Kootenai County. –This lake was named from the tribe of Indians that inhabited its shores and is the source of the Spokane River. Father De Smet, in 1842, called the southern stream flowing into this lake St. Joseph River and the northern stream St. Ignatius, which was changed to Coeur d’Alene River, thru whose valley runs the Northern Pacific Railroad. The geologic feature of this lake is that of a drowned valley which is backed up and held on the west by gravel dams.

(From Wikipedia: In Idaho v. United States (2001), the United States Supreme Court ruled against [Idaho’s] claim of the submerged lands of the lower third of Lake Coeur d’Alene and related waters of the St. Joe River. It said that the Coeur d’Alene were the traditional owners and that the Executive Branch and Congress had clearly included this area in their reservation, with compensation for ceded territory.)

Colt Killed Creek campsite. Photo: National Park Service.

COLLINS CREEK, Clearwater County. –This is the name given by Captain Clark to what is now called Lolo Creek, and was named for Private John Collins, a member of the Lewis and Clark party.

COLTER CREEK, Nez Perce County. –This is the name given by Captains Lewis and Clark to what is now called Potlatch Creek, and was named for Private John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark party and the person who later made the famous Colter run in Montana.

COLTKILLED CREEK, Selway County. –This is the name given by Captain Clark on September 14, 1805, to what is now called White Sand Creek, which flows into the Lochsa Fork of the Clearwater. Here it was that the Lewis and Clark party exhausted their animal food and killed a colt for meat.

(Editor’s Note: The creek’s name was officially restored, to Colt Killed Creek, in 1988.)

Map: Kmusser, CC 3.0

COLUMBIA RIVER BASIN. –While no part of the Columbia River is in Idaho, yet all drainage of the State, except Bear River, flows into it and nearly all of Idaho lies within its basin. This stream was named for the ship, Columbia Rediviva, of which Captain Robert Gray was in command when the river was discovered, in 1792. This vessel was the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe during the years 1787-90, and the word Rediviva means “to live again.” A suspected “River of the West” had been imagined for years and Spanish and English explorers had searched for it persistently, but the Americans were the first to identify its geographical position, which event gave them their claim to Northwest Territory.

COMMEARP, Lewis County. –This is the name which Captains Lewis and Clark gave to what is now called Lawyer’s Canyon Creek on May 10, 1806. What the name means is uncertain, but it is probable that it is a “pretty valley,” which expresses but faintly the scenic beauty at this point.

Painting of Plains Indian council by George Caitlin (1796-1872).

COUNCIL, Adams County. –This town is built near a butte in the center of a valley in which Indians gathered for council. The valley was near the line dividing the territory of the Shahaptans and the Shoshonis. Any matter affecting the Indian’s welfare had to be talked over in council. No important undertaking was entered upon without deliberation in a solemn council at which the pipe was smoked. Whatever was agreed to thereat was held most sacred. Propositions of peace and treaty terms were considered, and when agreed to were held inviolate. History proves that of the hundreds of treaties made by the United States with the Indian tribes, the Government was almost invariably the first to break them. The Indian word for council means “talk circle,” as it was a circle formed by Indians seated upon the ground. The pipe was passed from left to right and the stem pointed to the force of nature which it was desired to propitiate; if to the earth, that it may hold them good and strong; if to the four winds, that no harshness may blow against them as troubles or distress; if to the sun, that they may have light to see their way clearly and to guide them, etc., etc.

(Cover photo: A 1920 postcard of the Clearwater River, courtesy waterarchives.org)

Lawyer’s Canyon Bridge, postcard, from National Archives. Photo by Lillian M. Bell, sometime between 1910-1919.

In case you missed them, you can catch up with earlier Idaho Nomenclature installments – first, second, third and fourth – as well and the introductory article about the book.

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).

1 Comment

  • Do not apologise for history. Knowing the words used and the attitudes of the people at that time IS history. From there we hopefully can become better people.

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