(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, are tinged with the biases and prejudices of most whites of that era, although to his credit, Rees also touched on government mistreatment of Indians with what at the time was undoubtedly a progressive viewpoint.
Searching online for photos to illustrate these posts, I learn even more about the places and events mentioned and encourage readers to do their own follow-up research. If you missed them, catch up by reading Idaho Nomenclature First Installment and Second Installment.)
BONNER’S FERRY, Boundary County. –“That E. L. Bonner, R. A. Edding and John W. Walton, their heirs and assigns, be and they are hereby authorized to establish a ferry across the Kootenai River, at a point known as Bonner’s Ferry, or Chulimtah.” –Laws of the Territory of Idaho, Second Session, 1864.
BORAH, Power County. –Named for Hon. William E. Borah, who was born in Wayne County, Illinois, June 20, 1865; graduated at the Kansas State University, 1890; moved to Idaho and entered upon the practice of law, 1891; United States senator for Idaho, 1907-18.
BOUNDARY. –This county was so named because it joined the boundary line between the United States and Canada. When Captain Robert Gray discovered the Columbia River the United States claimed all the country which it drained and as far north as 54˚ 40’, while England claimed this same country and as far south as the Columbia and Snake rivers. The British endeavored to discourage and prevent settlement and colonization, and always antagonized the agricultural and mining interests, allowing the Hudson Bay Company to exercise absolute monopoly over this territory. They infested it with fur traders and trappers, and wanted it to remain forever in a primeval condition as a hunting and trapping ground, inhabited only by Indians, halfbreeds [sic] and fur-bearing animals. The people of the United States wanted to settle the country and make homes therein, and when the undaunted American pioneer settled down and began his home-building it brought the subject of the boundary forward at once, which was finally settled by making 49˚ north latitude that line, and thus the fur regime was ended.
BRUNEAU RIVER, Owyhee County. –This word is of French origin and was applied to this stream in 1818 by the French Canadians of Donald Mackenzie’s trapping party of Hudson Bay men, and means “Brun,” “dark,” or “gloomy,” and “eau,” “water.” Many of the tributary streams of the Snake River rivaled it in wildness and picturesqueness of their scenery, and the Bruneau was one of them. It runs thru a tremendous chasm, rather than a valley, extending upward of one hundred and fifty miles. Basaltic rocks rise perpendicular everywhere, and the country appears an indescribable chaos. Thru the deep cracks and chasms the river makes its way.
BUFFALO. –The American specie of this animal was the bison which formed an immense herd extending over the plains from the Rio Grande to the Saskatchewan. Those that inhabited the western slope of the Rocky Mountains differed slightly from the plains bison in that they were generally smaller, more active and shyer, with finer and silkier robes. In habits they resembled the moose. The Union Pacific Railroad divided the plains herd into a southern or Texas and a northern or Yellowstone herd, all of which were exterminated as wild animals in the closing years of the nineteenth century. Captain Fremont writes that our knowledge does not go further back than the spring of 1824, at which time the buffalo were spread in immense numbers over the Green and Bear River valleys, and thru all the country lying between the Colorado and Lewis’ Fork of the Columbia River; the meridian of Fort Hall then forming the western limit of their range. The buffalo remained for many years in that country, and frequently moved down the valley of the Columbia, on both sides of the river, as far as Fishing Falls. Below this point they never descended in any numbers. About the year 1834 they began to diminish very rapidly and continued to decrease until 1840, when, with the country we have just described, they entirely abandoned all the waters of the Pacific north of Lewis’ Fork of the Columbia. Either severe winters or disease caused this decline and abandonment. At that time the Flathead Indians were in the habit of finding their buffalo on the heads of the Salmon River and other streams of the Columbia; but now they never meet with them farther west than the three forks of the Missouri on the plains of the Yellowstone.
(Editor’s Note: Rees seems to ignore the intentional slaughter of buffalo that is the true cause of their rapidly diminishing numbers, from 40 million in 1830 to a few hundred by 1890. Some perspective from Wikipedia: Buffalo hunting (hunting of the American bison) was an activity fundamental to the Midwestern Native Americans, which was later adopted by American professional hunters as well as by the U.S. government to sabotage a central foodstuff of local tribes and force them into reservations, leading to the near-extinction of the species around 1890.
|1944–47||5,000 (U.S.)||15,000 (Canada)|
American settlers slaughtered an estimated 50 million bison during the 19th century. Railroads were advertising “hunting by rail”, where trains encountered large herds alongside or crossing the tracks. Men aboard fired from the trains roof or windows, leaving countless animals to rot where they died. The over-hunting of the bison reduced their population to hundreds.)
BUFFALO HORN. –This chief was of royal Indian blood, his grandfather on his father’s side being a Bannack, Chief Teehee, and his grandfather on his mother’s side being a Pahute, Chief Winnimucca. His name originated from the circumstance of the death of his grandfather, Teehee, the grandson partaking of the charmed life in that from a bit of buffalo horn, which had laid low the old chief, would come a more propitious chief better fortified to defy death. The Indian expression from which the word Buffalo Horn is derived, conveys a thought meaning a weird and charmed life. As a young man he soon became a warrior in his tribe and served as scout under Generals Miles and Custer against the Sioux in Montana. In 1877, a company of young Bannack warriors, led by Buffalo Horn, rendered considerable service to Gen. O. O. Howard by acting as scouts against the Nez Perces. He soon became the war chief of the Bannacks, and his cousin Egan was war chief of the Pahutes of Oregon. The encroachments of the whites and the persistent failure of Congress and the Government to carry out the treaties made with the Indians created a great wave of unrest among them during the later ‘70s. With the ambition that went with the chieftainship, Buffalo Horn conceived a confederacy of red men with the purpose of wiping out the white man entirely, and while it was the last attempt at a great confederacy on this continent, yet it had the makeup of one of the most successful. Mrs. C. A. Straborn writes: “The Bannack war of 1878 was a final attempt to unite all warlike Indians and to totally annihilate every man, woman and child of the white race on the Overland route thru to the coast. It was only by strategic and united work of the whites and some friendly Indians that the worst massacre of the age was averted.” The confederacy existed among most of he tribes of Idaho, eastern Oregon and Washington, and even the old peace chief, Winnimucca of Nevada, was for a time persuaded and did join them. The army was caught unawares by reason of Buffalo Horn’s pretended friendship. The confederacy planned in 1855 by Kamiakin in the only one in the West that came near equaling this. Playing upon the mutual jealousies of the tribes saved the unarmed and defenseless settlers. Some volunteers persuaded Pahute Joe, who held a grudge against Buffalo Horn, to entice the chief to one side, which he did at the battle of South Mountain, Idaho, where he was shot and killed. The result of this war would have been very different had not Chief Buffalo Horn been killed at the inception of hostilities. This act proved disastrous to the Indian cause and put an early end to the war. The leadership then fell upon Chief Egan, who was not equal to the occasion, and the Cayuse allies, realizing that failure was inevitable, turned on their associates and sent their leader, U-mah-pie, who was notorious as an atrocious and brutal Indian, to treacherously murder Chief Egan, which he did while in the Blue Mountains, after which the hostile tribes broke up into small squads and either returned to their reservations or surrendered.
(Editor’s Note: Rees insisted that the correct spelling for this tribe was Bannack and so uses that spelling throughout his book (see Idaho Nomenclature – First Installment) but all modern references use the spelling Bannock. For a description of the war and what caused it, read this April 2015 article published in the Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Press, Bannock War of Shattered Dreams and Broken Promises.)
Cover photo: Wild and Scenic Bruneau River, courtesy of BLM.