(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.)

Priest Lake, 1919, from the book, What to See in America.

PRIEST LAKE, Bonner County. –This lake was named for Father Roothaan, who was a priest of the Jesuit order doing missionary work in Washington and Idaho along with Father De Smet in 1845. He died in 1853 and was buried in the lake. The Indians called him Kaniksu and this lake was called Kaniksu Lake until the construction of the Great Northern Railroad in 1890 when the name was changed to Priest Lake.

PRITCHARD, Shoshone County. –This place was named for A. J. Pritchard, who first discovered gold in paying quantities in the Coeur d’Alene country in 1880. While these diggings were not as rich as some Idaho placers yet considerable gold was washed from the gravel and, in connection with the placer mining, prospecting for quartz and the opening of rich lead-silver lodes, developed a mining district in the heart of the Bitterroot and Coeur d’Alene mountains that has produced millions of wealth.

Quaking aspen (populos tremuloidus). Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

QUAKING ASP. –The superstitious voyageurs thot [sic] that this was the wood of which the cross was made and that ever since the crucifixion its leaves have exhibited that constant tremulous appearance, which has given rise to the name “quaking” meaning “tremble” in the French. The genus populus, consisting of the poplar, cottonwood and aspen, were important trees in the settlement of the west.

RAFT RIVER, Cassia County. –This stream was so called because the beavers had so clogged the channel with their dams that it was necessary for the early settlers traveling over the Oregon trail to cross the mouth of the river in rafts. The Hudson Bay trappers called it “Cajeux” meaning “Ca,” “to and fro” and “jeux,” “play,” for some fanciful notion about the stream’s behavior.

Redrock Pass, Idaho, 2010.

REDROCK PASS, Bannock County. –This place is named for the red limestone cliffs which appear on both sides of the pass and was the old outlet of Lake Bonneville. During the Tertiary period, from five to ten million years ago, a fresh water lake existed in the Great Salt Lake basin, which was eleven times larger than the present lake and comparable in size and depth to Lake Michigan. Its water surface was 1,100 feet above the present level, making a great water expanse, the outlet to which was thru this pass down the Portneuf to Snake River and into Payette Lake. A time came when the evaporation from this fresh water lake was greater than the precipitation and supply of moisture after which event it dwindled to its present condition and is still decreasing, resulting in strongly saline aqueous contents. As Captain Bonneville’s party was the first to explore this basin to any extent geologists named the geologic fresh water lake for this explorer. Another pass of this name is in northeastern Idaho, which receives its appellation from the Redrock lakes of Montana.

REED’S RIVER, Ada County. –In 1813 John Reed, of the Pacific Fur Company, with a party of ten trappers wintered on this stream, but were all killed in the spring by the Indians, since which time and from which incident it was called Reed’s River. Donald Mackenzie lost two men, who were murdered by the Indians along this stream in 1819, and four in 1820. This river has been called Wood and Timber River from the number of poplar and cottonwood trees that grew along its course, but is now known as the Boise River.

Snake Indians arriving at a rendezvous, watercolor by Alfred Jacob Miller, 1858-1860.

RENDEZVOUS. –Instead of maintaining central forts, as did the British companies, the American dealer appointed a rendezvous for each summer at the time when beaver fur is least valuable to catch. To this rendezvous came the employees of the companies and the free or independent trapper with their pelts, and with them congregated Indians and half-breeds, with an interspersing of Canadians from the north and Spaniards from the south.

ROCKY BAR, Elmore County. –The mines of Alturas County were discovered in the early ‘60s by goldhunters on their way to some far-off El Dorado. The first discovery was made in the extreme northwestern end of the county in an aggregation of granite boulders, since known as “Rocky bar,” and in 1864 the placer mines of Atlanta, named from the battle of Atlanta, were discovered and a town was founded.

ROCKDAM RIVER, Clearwater County. –This is the name which Captain Clark gave to a stream on September 25, 1805, from the rocks that obstructed its passage. It is now called Oro Fino River.

Bighorn rams at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Photo: National Park Service.

ROCKY MOUNTAINS. –The first knowledge by the whites of the Rocky Mountains was gained thru the Spaniards of Mexico, who had explored a considerable part of the southwestern United States, and the name first applied to them was the “Mexican Mountains.” La Verendrye in 1748 was the first European to discover these mountains north of the Spanish line of 42˚, and because their snowy ridges gleamed brightly when the sun shone upon them, he called the range the “Shining Mountains.” In 1793 the Canadian French, under Alexander Mackenzie, which was the first white party to cross these mountains, called them from their rough and rocky nature and the tremendous efforts they had to put forth in crossing them, the “Montagnes Rocheuses,” from which has come the modern word “Rocky Mountains.” Lewis and Clark called them, generally, the “Rockies,” however, at times they designated them “Snowy” and “Stony” mountains. The term has come to mean the mountains between the Mississippi and Pacific, just as the “Alleghany” applies in a general way to the mountains between the Mississippi and the Atlantic. Every separate range of these mountains is now mapped with its local name, so that the name “Rocky Mountains” scarcely appear on modern maps, and while it is a natural geographical line it forms a state boundary in only one place for about one hundred miles between Idaho and Montana. The English geographers designated the range extending thru Canada and the United States in the west the “Chipewyan” system for the great Indian tribe of Alberta, which name should survive, being in marked contrast with the “Apalachian” system extending thru Canada and the United States in the east and named for a tribe of Indians in Florida.

Cover photo: Albert Bierstadt, A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie, 1866.

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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