[These are excerpts 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, are tinged with the biases and prejudices of most whites of that era, although to his credit, Rees also touched on the mistreatment of Indians with what at the time was undoubtedly a progressive viewpoint.]

Soda Springs controlled geyser.

BEER SPRINGS, Bannock County. –The place in which they are situated is a basin of mineral waters enclosed by the mountains, which sweep around in a circular bend of Bear River at its most northern point. A pretty little stream of clear water enters the upper part of the basin from an open valley in the mountains, passing thru the bottom, discharges into the Bear River. On account of their effervescing gas and acid taste, these springs received their name from the voyageurs and trappers of the country, who, in the midst of their rude and hard lives, were fond of finding some fancied resemblance to the luxuries they rarely had the good fortune to enjoy. They are now called Soda Springs.


Albert Bierstadt painting of Shoshone encampment, possibly along the Boise River, 1860.

BOISE RIVER, Ada County. –Owing to the many whirlpools in this river, the Shoshonis called it the “Wihinast,” meaning “boiling rapidly.” In 1813, John Reed of the American Fur Company was murdered by the Indians while trapping along this stream, from which incident it was called Reed’s River. In 1819, Donald Mackenzie started to erect an establishment at the mouth of this stream, which river he called the Skamnaugh, for a tribe of the Nez Perce Indians of that name which then inhabited it, and it was always so called afterwards by the Hudson Bay Company and trappers. In 1834, some French-Canadian explorers, part of Captain Bonneville’s expedition, pitched camp on the mesa overlooking the site where Boise now stands, and looked down upon the valley thru which rippled a river of surpassing loveliness thru ranks of nodding poplars. They had traveled for many days thru the dust and sage-brush in the heat of summer; they had not seen a tree for hundreds of miles. When they saw the trees along the river they exclaimed, “Les bois, les bois! Voyez les bois!” meaning “The woods, the woods! See the woods!” This river was sometimes called the “wooded stream.” The above circumstances occurred during Bonneville’s itinerary.

BONNEVILLE’S ITINERARY. –Washington Irving’s “Adventures of Captain Bonneville” is one of the most pleasing romances extant. The captain left St. Louis, Missouri, in May, 1832, with a part of 110 men, traveled up the Platte River, crossed thru South Pass to Green River, Wyoming. His party entered Idaho by the way of Teton Pass on September 3, 1832, passed thru Teton Basin, then called Pierre’s Hole, thence down Pierre River, across Snake River, and from thence by Mud Lake and Birch Creek, then called John Day’s Defile, to the headwaters of Lemhi River, which he reached September 19. He passed down the Lemhi River until he came to the Lew and Clark trail, which he followed, going down the Salmon River until he came, on September 26th, to Salmon Creek, now called Carmen Creek, at the place where the trail crosses, which was near the mouth of the creek. Here he erected a temporary fortification, built some horse corrals and log cabins, slight evidences of which are still to be seen. At this place, called Bonneville’s Fort on the Salmon River, he was in the full enjoyment of his wishes, leading a hunter’s life in the hear of the wilderness. He left this fort November 20th, passed along Lemhi River and Timber Creek, a fork of the Lemhi, until he came to the deep gorge, at present a reclamation dam site, on Timber Creek, thru Swan Basin on said creek. He then proceeded down Birch Creek to its “sinks,” which is in the vicinity of the “sinks” of Big Lost River, where he struck the trail going to the Snake River, arriving on that stream just south of Blackfoot, which place he reached on January 12, 1833. On March 13th he arrived at his fort on Salmon River, having returned over the route he had traveled in going. From his fort he proceeded up or south along Salmon River, thence up the Pahsimaroi, thru Double Spring Pass to Thousand Spring Valley on Big Lost or Goddin River, where he trapped for muskrats. Thence he passed down this stream, skirted the mountains, and on April 26th was on Little Wood River. After trapping awhile he returned to the caches he had made at the fort on Salmon River, arriving there June 15th, and from thence back to Snake River and Horse Creek, Wyoming. After trapping in the Bighorn Mountains he returned to Idaho at Bear River on November 1st, and thence to Soda Springs, after which he went into winter quarters at Batise Springs on the Portneuf River in November, 1833. He left this camp on Christmas Day, going down the south bank of the Snake River and passing American Falls, Cassia Creek, Fishing Falls and Bruneau River, thru the Blue Mountains, arriving at Fort Walla Walla, March 4, 1834, returning to the Portneuf, over the same route, by May 21st, thence to Bear River, which place he left July 3rd with a considerable party, going to the Columbia River, reaching his destination in September, but retraced his steps at once, and in October was back on the Portneuf, thence to Bear River, where he wintered, leaving there April 1, 1835, and going east by way of Green River, he finally returned to the United States army, from whence he had come.

Albert Bierstadt’s “Lander’s Peak” with Shoshone encampment, Wyoming, 1863.

Editor’s Notes: Albert Bierstadt (January 7, 1830 – February 18, 1902) was an American painter and adventurer known for his lavish, sweeping landscapes of the American West. Bierstadt joined several journeys expeditions to capture his scenes. The Boise River Mobile Interpretive Trail provides this description of Bierstadt’s “Indian Encampment, Shoshone Village” painting: For possibly thousands of years—beginning as much as 8,000-15,000 years ago—the Northern Shoshone people visited the Boise Valley, calling it Suhu Woki’ (ih), meaning “willows in multiple rows.” They camped in riparian forests—dominated by cottonwoods and willows—along the Boise River and Cottonwood Creek. This Alfred Bierstadt painting entitled “Indian Encampment, Shoshone Village, 1860” could easily depict a camp under the cottonwoods along the Boise River.

Benjamin Bonneville (Wikipedia)

Captain Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonneville (1796-1878) was quite the traveler! He was a French-born officer in the U.S. Army and a fur trapper. When an Army-funded expedition to explore the American west fell through, Bonneville asked for and received a leave of absence to pursue his dream. From Wikipedia: To pursue his desire to explore the west, [Bonneville] petitioned General Alexander Macomb for a leave of absence from the military, arguing that he would be able to perform valuable reconnaissance among the Native Americans in the Oregon Country, which at the time was under a precarious joint occupation of the U.S. and Britain. It was largely controlled by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Macomb granted his request, a 26-month leave running from August 1831 to October 1833, and instructed him to gather all information that might be useful to the government. In particular, he was to pose as a fur trader and find out the natural history of the region, its climates, soils, geography, topography, mineral production, geology, and the character of the local tribes.

Wyethia flowers at Hard Lake, Payette National Forest. Photo: McCall Digest.

One of the members of Bonneville’s original 110-man expedition was Nathanial Jarvis Wyeth (1802-1856), a Boston inventor and businessman who led expeditions, going to Fort Vancouver in 1832 and founding Fort Hall in Idaho in 1834. The wyethia wildflower – a member of the sunflower family commonly known as mules’ ear – was named for him.]

If you missed earlier installments: read the initial article about the book and Rees’ thoughts about the history and meaning of the name “Idaho” here and Idaho Nomenclature – First Installment here.

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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