(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.)

MISSION AND MISSIONARIES. –Captains Lewis and Clark endeavored to explain to the Indian tribes whom they visited some of the fundamentals of religion. The Flatheads and Nez Perces were the most religiously inclined of all western Indians, and in 1816 and 1820 Iroquois trappers of the Jesuit faith were teaching their tenets to them, they being quite eager to learn. These Indians became interested in the Scriptures and anxious for teachers to instruct them. Some time about 1832 a deputation, consisting of four chiefs from both tribes, was sent to St. Louis, Missouri, to consult with Capt. William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark expedition, who was then agent of all western tribes. They asked him for “Black Robes” to teach them the precepts of the Bible. The chiefs met with considerable experience, but one only ever returned home; however, the object of their visit soon spread and it became known that missionaries were wanted in the West. In 1834 the Methodists sent Rev. Jason Lee to the Willamette Valley; in 1836 the Presbyterians sent Dr. Marcus Whitman and Rev. Henry H. Spalding to the Columbia River; in 1840 the Catholics sent Father P. J. De Smet to the Bitterroot Valley; and in 1855 the Mormons sent Elder Thomas S. Smith to the Lemhi Valley.

Idaho batholith.

MOTHER LODE. –Since the discovery of paying gold in Idaho in 1860 the opinion had been expressed, repeatedly, that somewhere in the state a rich central deposit existed. This was the stimulus that led to many discoveries. The source of the state’s metallic mineral deposit is the great central granite mass that occupies three-fourths of the state. During the Cretaceous period, some 15,000,000 years ago, the convective forces of the earth erupted a granite batholith in central Idaho resulting in the forming of Payette Lake and Salmon Lake. The mean elevation of this upheaval was 10,000 feet higher than the present surface, which elevation has since been denuded and the vast erosion of this rock formation with its contained ore deposits has resulted in the prominent source of placer gold, while the lateral metamorphosed sediments and intrusive lavas of this granite formation has resulted in extensive ore veins and deposits.

(Editor’s Note: From Idaho State University website on geology: The Idaho Batholith is composed of Cretaceous granite and granodiorite and covers approximately 35,000 km2 in central Idaho; it is roughly 320 kilometers long by 120 kilometers wide, and 8 kilometers thick. […] The Idaho batholith forms a barrier to travel between northern and southern Idaho. Except for US 95, which follows the Salmon River suture zone through McCall and Riggins, there are no paved roads that cross the Idaho batholith from north to south. Graphic Idaho Batholith courtesy this website.)

MOUNTAIN HOME, Elmore County. –This is the name given, in early days, to a stage station on the Boise-Salt Lake Stage Route, which contained a hotel, stopping place and postoffice [sic]. From its snug and cosy [sic] situation near the mountains it was called the “Mountain Home.” When the Oregon Short Line Railroad was completed in 1883 the station and postoffice were moved eight miles southwest to the railroad where a town retaining the same name now flourishes.

Map of Mullan Military Road, War Department, 1863.

MULLAN MILITARY ROAD. –This road extended from Fort Benton, Montana, at the head of the steamboat navigation on the Missouri to Fort Walla Walla, Washington, then the head of steamboat navigation on the Columbia River, a distance of 624 miles. The object was to build a northern and more direct route for immigration into the Northwest and a northern transcontinental route free from the slave power of the south and was built by the Government at an expense of $230,000. It was begun in 1855 by Gov. Isaac I. Stevens and completed in 1860 by Captain John Mullan, the principal actor in its location and construction. The first route passed south of Coeur d’Alene Lake, but in 1861 this section was changed to the north shore. A portion of it now occupies Sherman Street in the city of Coeur d’Alene. The Northern Pacific Railroad follows this old military road. (Editor’s note: in today’s dollars the project, the project cost $6,995,289.)

Nampa panoramic, 1907. Photo: Wikipedia.

NAMPA, Canyon County. –This is a Shoshoni word meaning “Namp,” “foot” and “puh” an expression denoting a “bigness,” and refers to Chief Bigfoot who was war chief Nampah of the Wihinast which was that branch of the Shoshonis that lived along the Boise River. These Indians were known for their large chiefs. Donald Mackenzie states that in 1822 these Indians were governed by Chief Pee-eye-em and a sub-chief, who were brothers, and both fine looking men; the former was six feet two inches high, the latter about six feet, and both stout in proportion. Mackenzie himself, the stoutest of the whites, was a corpulent, heavy man, weighing 312 pounds; yet he was nothing to be compared, either in size or weight, to this Indian chief. His waistcoat was too narrow by fourteen inches to button around Pee-eye-em. Alexander Ross in 1824 said this chief was the great sachem, so frequently and favorably mentioned by his friends on former expeditions. Both himself and his escort were as fine a set of athletic men as he had ever seen in the country. Chief Nampuh was descended from this race of chieftains. He was reputed to have a foot seventeen and one-half inches long and six inches wide and was the hereditary chief of the Wihinast. He was a bold and skillful leader, but given to thievery, horse stealing and murder, which embroiled him and his tribe in the Indian War of 1863. He was killed by the highwayman Wheeler in 1868 during a personal encounter. Pee-eye-em is a Shoshoni word meaning “Pee-ah,” “large” and “nim,” “Indian” or “Big Indian.” The Wihinast were put upon the Fort Hall Indian Reservation at the time it was formed in 1869.

Leesburg townsite, Napias Creek, Salmon, Lemhi County. Photo: Library of Congress.

NAPIAS CREEK, Lemhi County. –This is a Shoshoni Indian word which the discoverers gave to the creek on which they discovered placer gold in 1866 at Leesburg and means “money.” The way it came to be applied is related by Frank B. Sharkey, the leader of the discovery party. The next day after the strike thirty-eight buck Indians came to his camp, having followed the trail traveled by his party from the find in Leesburg basin to the Salmon River. The chief asked Sharkey if their party had found any “napias.” Sharkey answered “no.” The chief said “ish-ump” (you lie). He then told Sharkey how he had taken some of the dirt from one of the prospect holes and washing it in the creek had found “napias.” Knowing how alluring gold is to a prospector, the chief told Sharkey that this country was no good for white men and for him to get right away and be sure and stay out, but in a day or so the rush was on and the Indian’s protest was of no avail.

Nez Perce Indians with Appaloosa horse, 1895. Photo: Library of Congress.

NEZ PERCE INDIANS. –This name is a misnomer and has been tortured from its original application. “Nez perce” is the French for “Pierced nose,” but this tribe, so far as known, either by actual observation or by tradition, never practiced the custom of piercing the nose for any purpose. The Nez Perce Indians had, by nature, a flattened or compressed nose, and the old French Canadian trapper, in the early days, called them “Nez presse” which means a “pressed” or “squeezed nose,” having reference to this flattened condition. The primitive sign for this tribe is, “with the thumb and index finger of the right hand seize the cartilage of the nose,” which also referred to the “compressed nose.” The Indian sign for “pierced nose” is applied alike, not only to the Nez Perces, but to the Caddos and Shawnees as well. These Indians belonged to the Shahaptan family and called themselves Chopunnish. They maintained peaceful relations with the whites from their first discovery until 1877. Lewis and Clark were kindly received by them in 1805 and Captain Bonneville was cordially welcomed in 1833. In 1855 Governor Stevens concluded a liberal treaty with these people, giving them an immense tract of country for a reservation. In 1863 the encroachments of the whites made it necessary to throw open a portion of this country to settlement. This action created a division among the Indians; those who would not agree to this new treaty were called Non-treaty Indians and these led by Chief Joseph made the outbreak in 1877. The Nez Perce men were generally find looking, robust men, with aquiline features and came nearer representing the “noble red man” of fiction than any other Indians, while their women were often masculine in disposition and generally “wore the breeches.”

NEZ PERCE INDIAN RESERVATION, Nez Perce County. –The Nez Perces claimed approximately all Idaho now contained in Idaho, Selway, Clearwater, Lewis, Nez Perce and Latah counties; Oregon, in Wallowa, Union and Baker counties; Washington, in Whitman, Garfield and Asotin counties. In 1855 Gov. Isaac I. Stevens and Supt. Joel Palmer for the Government and the chiefs and head-men for the tribe made a treaty at Camp Stevens, Washington Territory, creating a reservation as follows: Commencing where the Moh-ha-na-she or southern tributary of the Palouse River flows from the spurs of the Bitterroot Mountains; thence down said tributary to the Ti-nat-pan-up Creek; thence southerly to the crossing of Snake River then miles below the mouth of Al-po-wa-wi River; thence to the source of Alpwawi River in the Blue Mountains; thence along the crest of the Blue Mountains; thence to the crossing of the Grande Ronde River, midway between Grande Ronde and the mouth of Woll-low-how River; thence along the divide between the water of Woll-low-how and Powder River; thence to the crossing of Snake River, fifteen miles below the mouth of Powder River; thence to Salmon River above the crossing; thence by the spurs of the Bitterroot Mountains to the place of beginning. In 1863 a new treaty was made relinquishing the above reserve and at Council Grounds in the Lapwai Valley the following tract was made their reservation: Commencing at the northeast corner of Lake Wa-ha; thence northerly to a point on the north bank of Clearwater River, three miles below the mouth of Lapwai; thence down the north bank of Clearwater to the mouth of Hatwai Creek; thence due north to a point seven miles distant; thence easterly to a point on the north fork of the Clearwater, seven miles from its mouth; thence to a point on Oro Fino Creek, five miles above its mouth; thence to a point on the north fork of the south fork of Clearwater, give miles above its mouth; thence to a point on south fork of Clearwater, one mile above the bridge on the road leading to Elk City (so as to include all the Indian farms now within the forks); thence in a straight line westwardly to the place of beginning. In 1894 they ceded, sold, relinquished and conveyed all their unallotted lands to the United States, reserving numerous sections which are held in severalty by the Indians the surplus being sold for settlement by the Government, paying the Nez Perces the sum of $1, 626,222.00, thus abolishing the reservation.

Nez Perce National Historic Trail map, USDA-Forest Service.

NEZ PERCE TRAIL AND PASS, Idaho County. –This is an old Indian trail which has been used by the Nez Perces from “time out of mind” as they crossed the mountains to hunt buffalo on the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers. It passed up the south fork of the Clearwater to its source whence it followed the divide between the Salmon and Clearwater rivers until it crossed the summit of the Bitterroot Mountains at Nez Perce pass; thence across the Bitterroot River, thru Gibbon’s pass, one part going east to the buffalo country and the other crossing the Rocky Mountains to the west on to Salmon River at the north fork of the Salmon; thence south along the Lemhi River and Birch Creek to the Snake River plains and country.

Nez Perce Pass sign.

(Editor’s Note: From the Widipedia entry for Nez Perce Pass, in part: Nez Perce Pass is a mountain pass in the Bitterroot Mountains on the border between the U.S. states of Idaho and Montana. The pass is at an elevation of 6,587 feet (2,008 m) above sea level. The Nez Perce Pass Trailhead offers access to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and the Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness. The pass is located between Wildernesses nearly twice as large as the combined states of Delaware and Rhode Island on what is probably one of the wildest roads in the United States. Forest Road 468, Nez Perce Road, also known as Magruder Corridor Road, crosses the pass. It is unpaved, and has no services for 117 miles. The road has changed little since its construction by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930s. It has been known by several names, such as The Southern Nez Perce Trail, The Elk City to Darby Road, The Montana Road, and The Parker Trail. The landscape is much the same as when the Nez Perce and early travelers crossed the area.)

Cover photo: Portion of Mullan Military Road as it appears today in Washtucna, WA as it crosses SR 26.

Find previous installments of Idaho Nomenclature under the Natural World – History tab.

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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