(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.)

CRAIG, Lewis County. –Named for William Craig who was in that section of country as early as 1829, where he married a Nez Perce Indian woman and was afterwards allowed one section of land upon the Nez Perce reservation. He belonged to that class of persons known as “mountain men,” who pursued hazardous occupations where they developed that hardy and self-reliant spirit that enabled them to accomplish things by their enthusiasm. He was the comrade, in the mountains, of Kit Carson, Joseph L. Meek, Robert Newell, Courtney Walker, all mountain men, and hosts of other brave men whose names are linked with the history of the country.

Father De Smet with Flathead Indians in Montana, 1845-46.

DESMET, Benewah County. –This place was named for Father De Smet, a Belgian Jesuit, who came into Idaho as a Catholic missionary among the Indians, in 1842, and was instrumental in founding a mission, under the patronage of Saint Joseph, on the St. Joe River, and also the Coeur d’Alene mission, now known as Caltaldo, where, in 1853, the first Catholic church in Idaho was founded. Father De Smet’s labors were with the Flatheads, Coeur d’Alenes, Pend Oreilles and Kutenais.

DEVIL’S SCUTTLE HOLE, Twin Falls County. –This was the name given to the Snake River gorge just above the Shoshone Falls by the Hunt-Astoria party, in 1811, after the loss of several boats at the place.

Duck Valley Indian Reservation on map.

DUCK VALLEY INDIAN RESERVATION, Owyhee County. –The Duck Valley lies between the forks of the Owyhee River, and was so called by reason of so many duck therein by members of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company led by Milton Sublette, in 1832. The western Shoshonis claimed approximately all Idaho south of the Salmon River and west of 113˚ west longitude; Utah, west of Salt Lake and north of 41˚; Nevada, north of 37˚; parts of Modoc, Siskiyou and Lassen counties, California; and Oregon, south of the Blue Mountains and east of 119˚. The United States recognized their claim to this territory in the treaty of 1863, made at Ruby Valley, Nevada, between Gen. P. E. Conner and Gov. J. D. Doty for the government, and the chiefs, warriors and principal men of the tribe, in which their boundaries were described as follows: On the north by Wong-goga-da Mountains (a Shoshoni word meaning “heavily timbered mountains” and was applied to the Blue and Salmon River Mountains and Shoshonee River Valley (Snake River Valley); on the west by the Su-non-to-yah Mountains (a Shoshoni word meaning “quaking asp mountain) or Smith Creek Mountains (named for Jedediah Smith in 1828, now called Siskiyou Mountains); on the south to Wico-bah (a Shoshoni word meaning a “barren country without water,” referring to southern Nevada) and the Colorado Desert (southern Nevada named from the Colorado River); on the east by Po-ho-no-be Valley (a Shoshoni word meaning “sagebrush valley” in eastern Nevada) or Steptoe Valley (a valley in White Pine Country, Nevada, named for Col. E. J. Steptoe in 1854), and Great Salt Lake Valley. A great many Bannack Indians ranged in large measure and with equal freedom over some of this vast extent of territory, but they were eventually placed on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. No formal purchase of the territorial claim of these tribes or bands was made, but the United States took possession of the same, assuming the right of satisfying their claims by assigning them such reservations as might seem essential for their occupancy, and supplying them in such degree as might seem proper with necessities of life. In 1872, President Grant set apart the Malheur Indian Reservation in Oregon for the Pahute Indians, upon which was also placed many of the western Shoshonis. In 1877, President Hayes, by executive order, set side the Duck Valley Indian Reservation for the western Shoshonis as follows: Commencing at the one hundredth mile post of the survey of the north boundary of Nevada; thence due north to the intersection of the north boundary of township 16 south of Boise base line in Idaho; thence due west to a point due north of the one hundred and twentieth mile post of said survey of the north boundary of Nevada, thence due south to the ninth standard parallel north of the Mount Diablo base line in Nevada; thence due east to a point due south of the place of beginning; thence north to the place of beginning. In 1886, all unclaimed lands in township 15 south, ranges 1, 2 and 3 east of the Boise meridian, Idaho, was added to the reserve.

Taylor’s Bridge, 1870. Wikipedia.

EAGLE ROCK, Bonneville County. –This place is now called Idaho Falls, the name having been changed in 1890. Snake River here falls over the edge of a lava flow, and the incessant wear of the running water has cut the falls back into the lava sheet fully half a mile, and they are now at the head of a narrow canyon, the walls of which are at one point barely fifty feet apart. In 1864, a ferry was established near this place to accommodate the miners that were rushing to the Montana placer fields, and in 1866 J. M. Taylor built a toll bridge known as “Taylor’s bridge.” The bridge paid so well that a store and town were soon started by Robert Anderson. Just above the bridge, in the middle of the stream, with the waters swirling on either side as they rushed through the narrow channel, was a massive rock. Here, safe from harm and molestation, an American eagle for many years built its nest and reared its young. This suggested a name, and the little community was christened “Eagle Rock.”

Elk City, Idaho postcard, date unknown.

ELK CITY, Idaho County. –Prospectors following the Nez Perce trail in quest of gold discovered placer, in 1861, in a small mountain valley about seven miles in length by a half mile in width which, owing to the great number of elk abounding therein, was called Elk Valley. Elk City was located at the lower end of the valley. On every side, in this locality, rose ledges of pale red or rose quartz. Between the mountains were intervals of beautiful grassy prairies; on the mountains heavy pine forests, a very different country from the California miner’s preconceived ideas of a gold country.

FISH CREEK, Lemhi County. –This is the name which Captains Lewis and Clark gave to the north fork of the Salmon River on September 1, 1805, which stream they followed to its source where they crossed the divide of the Bitterroot Mountains into Bitterroot Valley near Ross’ hole.

FISHING FALLS, Twin Falls County. –They are now called Salmon Falls and are situated in Snake River six miles below the mouth of Salmon Falls River. They consist of a series of cataracts with sharply inclined planes, forming a barrier to the ascent of the salmon fish, and thus a fishing resort is created where Indians in great numbers used to collect to catch the fish.

FLORENCE, Idaho County. –Next came the discoveries of the Salmon River, since known as the Florence Mines. This last discovery placed the capsheaf on the series of rich discoveries made during the year of 1861. Florence was named after a stepdaughter of Furber, formerly of Siskiyou County, California.

FORTS. –The first settlements made by white people in the western parts of the United States were by men who followed the fur trading business. At every point, where the fur trade was carried on, the white people erected forts for their own safety and protection, this being the reason for the many forts established thruout [sic] the West. They were usually built at the most central points and at places which were surrounded with plenty of grass, game, fuel, water and in proximity to all other natural resources of the region. After the Louisiana purchase, in 1803, and the adjustment of the northwest boundary, in 1846, all of these forts came into the possession of the United States and were, at times, garrisoned with soldiers by the Government, making military posts of them.

FORT BOISE, Canyon County. –In 1834, Thomas McKay erected a log fort for the Hudson Bay Company on the Boise River eight miles above its mouth to compete with the American trading post at Fort Hall. But in 1837 it was changed, by Francis Payette, and placed on the east side of Snake River, one mile below the mouth of the Boise River. The walls of the latter fort were built of mud, the fort being simply a trading post. The remarkably high water of the Snake River in 1853 washed the greater part of it away and it was finally abandoned in 1855. In 1863, Boise barracks was erected as a military post by the Government at Boise City, which is sometimes called, although erroneously, “Fort Boise.”

FORT HALL, Bingham County. –The Columbia Fishing and Trading Company was formed in 1834, by several individuals in New York and Boston. Nathaniel Wyeth having an interest in the enterprise, collected a party of men to cross the continent to the Pacific, with the purpose chiefly of establishing trading posts beyond the Rocky Mountains and on the coast. The site selected for the first fort was on the east bank of the Snake River, nine miles above the mouth of the Portneuf River. It was named for Henry Hall, senior member of the firm furnishing Wyeth financial backing. Competition in trade soon forced Wyeth to sell this fort, which he did in 1836, to the Hudson Bay Company. It was abandoned by the latter company in 1856, since which time the erosive power of the Snake River has washed it away. In 1870, the Government erected a post on Lincoln Creek, a tributary of the Blackfoot River, garrisoned it with soldiers, and called it Fort Hall; however, it was forty miles northeast of the old fort. This latter post is also entirely abandoned. A post office by this name is on Ross Creek, about midway between the two former forts.

Map of Fort Hall.

FORT HALL INDIAN RESERVATION, Bingham and Bannock Counties. –The eastern Shoshonis claimed approximately all Idaho east of 113˚; Wyoming, west of the Wind River Mountains and North Platte River; Colorado, north of Yampa River; and Utah, north of the Uinta Mountains and east of Salt Lake. The United States recognized their claim to this territory in the treaty of 1863, made at Fort Bridger, Utah, between Gen. P. E. Connor and Gov. J. D. Doty for the Government and the chiefs, warriors and principal men for the tribe, in which their boundaries were defined as follows: On the north by the mountains on the north side of Shoshonee or Snake River; on the east by the Wind River Mountains, Pee-na-pah River (a Shoshoni word meaning “Sweetwater”), the north fork of the Platte or Koo-chin-agah (a Shoshoni word meaning “Buffalo River” which they applied to the Platte River), and the North Park, or Buffalo House; and on the south by Yampah River and the Uinta Mountains; and on the west by Salt Lake. In 1868, another treaty was made with the eastern Shoshonis in which the Wind River Indian Reservation, Wyoming, was set apart for them and it was agreed that whenever the Bannacks desired a reservation to be set apart for their use, the President would do so by executive order. In 1869, President Grant, by executive order, set aside the Fort Hall Indian Reservation for the Bannacks, Shoshonis and other Indians of southern Idaho. Its boundaries were as follows: Commencing on the south bank of the Snake River at the junction of the Portneuf River with Snake River; thence south 25 miles to the summit of the mountains dividing the waters of Bear River from those of Snake River; thence easterly along the summit of said range of mountains 70 miles to a point where Sublette Road crosses said divide; thence north about 50 miles to Blackfoot River; thence down said stream to its junction with Snake River; thence down Snake River to the place of beginning, embracing about 1,800,000 acres and including Fort Hall in its limits. In 1880, part of this reservation was set aside for the use of the Lemhis. In 1881, a right of way of one hundred feet in width, with sufficient ground for depot and station, consisting in the aggregate of 772 acres, was ceded to the Utah Northern Railroad, and in 1888, 1,840 acres were relinquished to the United States out of township 6 south of range 34 east of the Boise meridian. In 1898, the lands of this reservation were allotted in severalty of 160 acres each of farming and grazing lands to the head of each family, and 80 acres each of farming and grazing lands to the other not the head of families and the tribe was paid by the United States $600,000 for the surplus.

Fort Lapwai, late 1800s.

FORT HENRY, Fremont County. –This was the first American trading post erected in the Columbia River basin, and consisted of a log cabin built on the north fork of the Snake River in the fall of 1810 by Andrew Henry for the Missouri Fur Company as a place to carry on a traffic with the Indians. From this incident the stream is sometimes called Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. The fort was isolated and the trappers were unable to obtain supplies and the winter proved quite severe, causing the party to abandon this post in 1811. It was situated where the town of Egin now stands.

FORT LAPWAI, Nez Perce County. –The irritability of the Indians becoming more manifest, General Alvord determined upon the establishment of a permanent post at Lapwai, in the autumn of 1862. It was built under the superintendence of D. W. Porter and the First Oregon Cavalry and was situated upon the right bank of Lapwai Creek, three miles from its confluence with the Clearwater. The reservation was once mile square, but is now abandoned. It was named for the mission established near there by the Rev. Henry H. Spalding.

FORT LEMHI, Lemhi County. –This fort was named for Limhi, a character in the Book of Mormon. It was never a military post, but a fortification erected to protect the Mormon people who had settled there. It was constructed of mud and built on the river bottom near a creek bank. The walls were moulded [sic] in successive forms, made of twelve inch boards, placed one above the other, giving them the appearance of being made in layers. It was nine feet high, two feet wide and more than sixteen rods* square with a bastion on the northeast corner. Adjoining the wall on the north was a stockade ten rods square made of ten inch round timbers twelve feet long, set on end three feet in the ground. Within the stockade were erected about twenty-five log cabins and perhaps one hundred people lived about the premises. Stock and machinery were placed in the mud fort while the cabins were shelter and living quarters for the families. They cultivated considerable ground, raising wheat and other farm products, being the first to apply irrigation to the lands in this State. In 1857 Brigham Young, with a considerable retinue, visited this settlement. The Bannack Indians killed two members of this settlement, stole their stock and succeeded in driving them back to Utah. This fort was established in June, 1855, and abandoned in March, 1858.

FORT SHERMAN, Kootenai County. –When this post was first established it was called Camp Coeur d’Alene, as it was situated on the north side of the lake of that name. It was subsequently named for Gen. William T. Sherman, who, while on a tour of inspection of the military forts of the Northwest, in 1877, visited this place and was very favorably impressed with the country, and recommended to Congress the establishment of a military reservation and a fort. It bordered the lake and the Spokane River, and included about one thousand acres. It proved of value during the mining days and the Coeur d’Alene mining trouble of the ‘90s, after which it was abandoned.

(Editor’s Note: article cover photo of Fort Sherman entrance courtesy Wikimedia.)

*Rod (unit): The rod or perch or pole is a surveyor’s tool and unit of length exactly equal to ​5 12 yards, 16​12 feet, ​1320 of a statute mile or one-fourth of a surveyor’s chain (approximately 5.0292 meters). The rod is useful as a unit of length because whole number multiples of it can form one acre of square measure. –Wikipedia.

Utah & Northern Bridge at Eagle Rock (Idaho Falls), circa 1880, with Taylor’s Bridge upstream. Photo: Wikipedia.

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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