(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.)

Salmon River Mountains – National Park Service photo.

SALMON LAKE, Lemhi County. –This was a geologic fresh water lake of the Miocene age, resulting from the upheaval of the Mother lode. It occupied the Salmon River Valley from Northfork southward; the Pahsimaroi Valley and the Lemhi Valley, with its outlet over the Lemhi-Birch Creek Divide, whence it drained down Birch Creek into Payette Lake. It was about 5,000 feet at its deepest place. About 5,000,000 years ago the water from this lake began carving its way through the upheaved mass, resulting in the Salmon River Canyon and rapids, one of the most magnificent and wonderful gorges ever produced by nature. Since then the drainage has been to the northwest toward the Columbia River.

SALMON RIVER MOUNTAINS. –These mountains extend from the Bitterroot Mountains westwardly to and beyond Snake River, which has cut its way thru them in one of the most imposing canyons in the world. To the west of Snake River these mountains continue into Oregon, where they are known as the Blue Mountains, so called by the Canadian French trappers because of their blue color when seen afar off. The trappers usually called the entire range, including both the Blue and Salmon River Mountains, the Blue Mountains. The Salmon River Mountains divide the state into a northern portion, where the normal annual precipitation of twenty-five inches is sufficient for growing most crops without irrigation, and a southern portion, in which the annual rainfall is seventeen inches, which amount is not sufficient and irrigation becomes necessary to produce profitable crops.

(Editor’s Note: From Wikipedia: The Salmon River Mountains are a major mountain range covering most of the central part of the U.S. state of Idaho. The range is over 120 miles long and its boundaries are usually defined by the Salmon River and its large tributary forks. Part of the central Rocky Mountains, the entire range lies west of the Continental Divide of the Americas and drains to the Snake River. The highest peak is White Mountain, at 10,442 feet above sea level. There are five peaks over 10,000 feet high, and there are three major subranges defined by other forks of the Salmon River: the West, Central and East Salmon River Mountains. …The West Salmon River Mountains lie between the Little and South Forks of the Salmon, the Central range is between the South and Middle Forks, and the East range is defined by the mountains east of the Middle Fork of the Salmon. Although the northwestern corner of the range is only about 30 miles southeast of the river port of Lewiston, the Salmon River Mountains are often said to be one of the remotest areas in the contiguous United States. The total area is nearly 8,900 square miles, and the southwestern boundaries are formed by the forks of the Payette.

Also from Wikipedia: The West Mountains are a mountain range in the U.S. state of Idaho, spanning part of Boise and Payette national forests. The highest point in the range is Snowbank Mountain at an elevation of 8,320 feet above sea level. The range is bordered to the east by the Payette River and the North Fork Payette River, which separate the range from the Boise Mountains. There’s an older geological survey (1950s) that mentions the West-Council mountains; all online references to “West Central Mountains” are quite recent and appear to be cemented by our area’s submission to the America’s Best Communities contest in 2015, promoting the name: “Valley County/Meadows Valley” is now termed “The West Central Mountains – Idaho’s Adventure Corridor”. For what it’s worth, your editor prefers Salmon River Mountains.)

SALE LAKE-DALLES STAGE ROUTE. –This stage route was organized to carry the United States Mail from the Dalles, Oregon, to Salt Lake City, Utah, and began operations in 1867. It passed from the Dalles along the Columbia River to Wallula and from thence to Baker City, Oregon, crossing the Snake River and Olds Ferry; thence thru Weiser, Falk’s Store, Boise City, old Mountain Home, Malad station at the mouth of the Malade River; then across  Snake River at Salmon or Fishing Falls; thence to Rock Creek and up that stream to City of Rocks; thence to Curlew station in Utah; passing from thence to Bear River, Ogden and Salt Lake City, a distance of 785 miles, 330 of which was in Oregon, 335 in Idaho, and 120 in Utah.

Sawtooth Mountains panorama. Photo: Fredlyfish4, CC BY-SA 4.0

SAW TOOTH MOUNTAINS. –These mountains were named by the immigrants during the ‘60s and were so called because of the jagged peaks along the range, which, when observed along the sky line, resembled a huge saw blade lying on its back. (Editor’s Note: Rees used two words – Saw Tooth – rather than the single word seen today.)

The shape of Idaho.

SHAHAPTAN. –This is a linguistic family of North American Indians that occupied north central Idaho, southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon, and at the last census numbered 5,000. Their earliest home was upon the Columbia River and when they were pushed southward the Salish called them Shahaptans,” meaning “strangers from up the river.” There were several tribes, but the principal ones were the Chopunnish, whose principal habitat was on the Clearwater; Palouses and Yakimas in southeastern Washington, and the Umatillas and Walla Wallas in northeastern Oregon.

SHAPE. –The shape of Idaho is that of a straight back chair, the back being 500 miles along the west, bordering Washington and Oregon; the top 48 miles along the north, bordering British Columbia; the upper portion of front about 500 miles along the east, bordering Montana; the lower portion of front about 180 miles along the east, bordering Wyoming, and the bottom 305 miles along the south, bordering Utah and Nevada. Its greatest length from north to south is 490 miles; its greatest width from east to west is 305 miles. The northern portion is called the Panhandle.

SHOSHONE COVE. –This is the name given by Lewis and Clark to what was afterward called “Horse Prairie,” in Montana. They called it thus from the tribe of Indians with whom they were dealing, but the latter name was given because it was the prairie where Lewis and Clark traded with the Shoshonis for horses. The Indians called this prairie “To-erh-ro-ne,” meaning “The place of trading horses.”

Shoshone Falls, 1898. Creative Commons BY 2.0.

SHOSHONE FALLS, Lincoln County. –The three great falls of America, Niagara, Shoshone and Yosemite, being as characteristically different as possible, all bear Indian names. The Shoshone is one of the finest and most magnificent falls in the world, with a plunge of nearly 200 feet. “It is a strange, savage scene – a monotony of pale blue sky, olive and gray stretches of desert, frowning walls of jetty lava, deep beryl-green river stretches, reflecting here and there the intense solemnity of the cliffs, and in the center a dazzling sheet of foam. In the early morning light the shadows of the cliffs were cast over half the basin, defining themselves in sharp outline here and there on the river. Upon the foam of the cataract one point of the rock cast a cobalt-blue shadow. Where the river flowed around the western promontory it was wholly in shadow and of a deep sea-green. A scanty growth of coniferous trees fringed the brink of the lower cliffs overhanging the river. Dead barrenness in the whole sentiment of the scene. The mere suggestion of trees, clinging here and there along the walls, serves rather to heighten than to relieve the forbidding gloom of the place. Nor does the flashing whiteness where the river tears itself among the rocky island, or rolls in spray down the cliff, brighten the aspect. In contrast with its brilliancy the rocks seem darker and more wild.” (King, Geological Survey.)

Shoshone Lake. Photo: National Park Service Archives.

SHOSHONE LAKE. –This body of water is the head and source of the Snake River and was first mapped in 1863 by engineer Walter W. De Lacy, from which incident the United States Surveyor General, of Helena, Montana, gave it the official name “De Lacy’s Lake.” In 1872 Prof. F. V. Hayden, of the United States Geological Survey, visited the lake and thru professional jealousy renamed it “Shoshone Lake.” The Snake fork of the Columbia and the Madison fork of the Missouri rise in the Yellowstone National Park only a few miles apart and only a few miles from the Green fork of the Colorado.

(Editor’s Note: From Wikipedia: Shoshone Lake is a U.S. backcountry lake with the area of 8,050 acres elevated at 7,795 feet in the southwest section of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. It lies at the headwaters of the Lewis River, a tributary of the Snake River. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes that Shoshone Lake is the largest backcountry lake in the lower 48 states that cannot be reached by a road. Maximum depth: 205 feet….Shoshone Lake has had many names since it was first viewed by fur trappers in the early 19th century. Jim Bridger may have visited the lake in 1833, but certainly visited it in 1846. Trapper Osborne Russell visited the lake in 1839. During this period the lake was called Snake Lake. A map created by Father Pierre-Jean De Smet in 1851 showed the lake as DeSmet’s Lake. Walter DeLacy, the Montana map maker named the lake DeLacy’s Lake when he passed through the area in 1863. During the Hayden Geologic Survey of 1872, Frank Bradley, a member of the survey confirmed the lake was in the Snake River drainage and named the lake Shoshone Lake based on the Indian name of the Snake River.Located at the southwest end of the lake, The Shoshone Geyser Basin contains one of the highest concentrations of geysers in the world – more than 80 in an area 1,600 feet by 800 feet.)

SHOSHONEAN FAMILY. –Approximately this family occupied the western part of the United States, lying between north latitude 35˚ and 45˚ and west longitude 105˚ to 120˚, being the third family in the extent of country occupied and at last census numbered 24,000. It included some of the most virile as well as some of the most degraded tribes upon the continent. There were a very great number of tribes, but the following includes them all, together with their principal habitats: Bannacks, on the Portneuf River; Comanches, on the plains; Moquis, in the pueblos of Arizona; Pahutes, in Nevada, Utah and Arizona; Shoshonis, in Idaho, Nevada and Utah; Tukuarikas, in the Salmon River Mountains; Tobikhars, in California, and Utes, in Utah and Colorado. This family took its name from the Shoshoni tribe. The Shoshonis, Comanches and Tukuarikas are recent derivants [sic] from a single tribe whilst the Utes, Pahutes and Bannacks are derivatives from another but related tribe of the Shoshonean family.

Shoshoni encampment, Wind River Mountains, Wyoming, 1890. Photo: W H Jackson.

SHOSHONI. –This was the most northerly tribe of the Shoshonean family. They occupied all aboriginal Idaho south of the Salmon River, and while the Snake River region was their chief seat and stronghold, yet they roamed over and occupied western Wyoming, northwestern Colorado, northern Utah and Nevada, southeastern Oregon and northeastern California. For treaty purposes the Government divided them into eastern Shoshonis, who were eventually settled upon the Wind River and Fort Hall reservations, and the western Shoshonis, who were eventually settled on the Malheur, Duck Valley and Lemhi reservations. The tribe numbers about 2,000. Fort Hall and Fort Boise were Hudson Bay Company trading posts among these Indians. The name comes from two Indian words, “Shawnt,” meaning “abundance,” and “shaw-nip,” “grass,” which was etymologically changed to the euphonious name “Shoshoni” and in English conveys the thot [sic] of “abundance of grass.” They were thus called because they camped where there was plenty of grass from which they constructed their dwelling. Being great weavers they made grass lodges and were known among Indians as “grass house people.” They originally inhabited the plains extending thru Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, just east of the Rocky Mountains. Thru their relatives, the Moquis, who first came in contact with the Spaniards of Mexico, from whom the Moquis purchased horses, the Shoshonis became the first western tribe to have ponies, which gave them considerable superiority over their surrounding neighbors. But gradually the Blackfeet, Crows and Cheyennes, who lived east of them, acquired firearms from the Hudson Bay and other fur companies, which enabled them to eventually drive the Shoshonis from the plains into the mountains and to fleece and rob them of their ponies, so that many families of this tribe were brought to a low standard of life and at the time the white people came in contact with them were in a miserable condition. From this circumstance many of the tribe names ended in “ricka” or “ticka,” meaning “eater,” referring to their principal source of living. They were a low, heavy built people, very dark, with small feet and hands, but large chests and shoulders. While usually at peace with the whites, especially after a few years’ acquaintance, yet, when aroused, were a brave people and when wronged became very treacherous. They were quite amenable to civilized ways and in dealing with the whites, shrewd but always suspicious. They were excellent horsemen and the best dispositioned of western tribes, their women being the best looking of all mountain tribes.

(Cover photo: Sawtooth Mountains from Stanley, by Uncle Alf, Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0)

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

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).

Leave a Comment

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This