The Mad (Snake) River. Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Bob Wick, BLM.

(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.)

MAD RIVER, Bonneville County. –One branch of the Snake River is called the North Fork or Henry’s Fork, rising in Henry’s Lake and the other branch is called the South Fork of Snake River, rising in Shoshone Lake. The Hunt-Astoria party reached the South Fork near the Grand Canyon of the Snake, a very broken country with rocky promontories, deep defiles and wild rushing waters below, which becoming impatient of restraint would seem to dash the very mountains asunder in spasms of wrath, and was therefore called by them the “mad river.”

MAGRUDER MOUNT AND CREEK, Idaho County. –These were named for Lloyd Magruder who with his party, consisting of Charles Allen, William Phillips, Horace and Robert Chalmers, were murdered near these points by David Howard, Christopher Lowrey, James P. Romain and William Page, road agents, on October 16, 1863. The party was traveling from Bannack, Montana, to Lewiston, Idaho, with a pack train over the Nez Perce trail carrying some $30,000 of gold dust. They camped near a spring which has since dried up, that was in Nez Perce pass on the Idaho side and drained into Magruder Creek. This was one of the most dastardly and foul murders ever committed. The trial and hanging of the perpetrators being the first of the kind within Idaho Territory. The name is spelled McGruder on most maps, which is wrong.

Malad River Gorge. Photo: Creative Commons 3.0 Photophat

MALADE RIVER, Gooding County. –This river was named by Donald Mackenzie in 1819 because his men were made sick on this stream by eating beaver, “malade” in French meaning “sick.” Alexander Ross reported a similar experience in 1824 when all those who had breakfasted on the fresh beaver taken out of the river were affected and they supposed the animals must have lived on some root of a poisonous quality. From that incident he named the stream Riviere aux Malades. In 1830 John Work related the same experience with his party of trappers and said that the beaver fed on roots which he thot [sic] was hemlock, poisoning the flesh, and he called the stream “Sickly” River. A reed called water hemlock of the parsley family grows in moist ground in many places in Idaho, the root of which is very poisonous, especially to cattle. The emigrants of 1862, from the immense growth of poplar trees along their banks, called the streams Big and Little Wood rivers, which unite near Gooding, from whence the river still maintains its name Malade, until it flows into Snake River. (Editor’s Note: Today, the spelling is Malad.)

MARKET LAKE, Jefferson County. –It would seem that in years past the bed of this lake was an immense prairie bottom or basin and a favorite resort for game of all kinds; even, indeed, the buffalo have been killed in and near it in large numbers, the evidence of which was shown by the skulls of the animals found near the present border of the lake. So abundant, indeed, was the game here that the trappers and mountain men of that day who in squads and bands trapped and hunted int eh wilderness of mountains, always said to each other when their supply of subsistence grew scanty, “Let’s go to the market,” referring to this resort of the herds of game, and they never visited it in vain until, by one of those strange freaks of nature in this valley of the Snake River, which is fed at many points thruout [sic] its length by subterranean streams, this market was converted into an immense sheet of water. It is only accounted for by supposing that the streams making down from the Snake River Mountains and losing themselves in the sand or sage desert of the valley break forth or near the latter, which is thus fed from year to year by the meltings of the snows and the rains from these mountains. In order, therefore, to retain and hand down the name of this once favorable resort, and the legend connected with it, Lieut. John Mullan, of the Mullan Military Road, named this sheet of water the “Market Lake.” It is now entirely dry and its bed is being cultivated. A town nearby was called Market Lake but is now changed to Roberts, named for a division superintendent of the Oregon Short Line Railroad.

Two Siksika (Blackfeet) men in medicine lodge, January 22, 1912.

MEDICINE LODGE CREEK, Fremont County. –This name is derived from the Indian sweat-house, called the “medicine lodge,” and was applied to this stream by the early settlers because of some sweat-houses found thereon. In 1820 it was called “Cote’s Defile” for a Canadian Frenchman of Donald Mackenzie’s party of Hudson Bay trappers. The Shoshoni word “Nat-soo,” meaning “medicine,” conveys the thot [sic] of the supernatural and with the Indian might relate to a mystery, luck, spirit, vision, dream or prophecy or to the obscure forces of nature that work either for good or evil. At first some shrewd Indian took advantage of this prevailing idea of the tribe and laid claim to visions, then to prophecies and the power of propitiating natural forces and at last to recognizing and removing the causes of diseases. This latter claim gave him the appellation of “Medicine-man” and his practice that of “medicine,” but the Indian thot [sic] referred not only to curative but to supernatural and mysterious powers as well. The Indian lived close to nature and was inspired and awed by her wonders and mysteries and anything which was beyond his comprehension was “nat-soo,” or “medicine.” Originally the medicine-man was a self-constituted physician and prophet or “Nat-soo gant” and as no man gave him his authority, no man could take it away. His influence depended upon himself and if he made a serious mistake he was considered a sorcerer, the penalty for which was death. The regular medicine-man, however, that practiced the healing art only, had some very good roots, herbs and methods which he used and did not rely entirely upon jugglery and superstition. Among their most efficacious remedies was the sweat-house or “medicine-lodge” which was a universal Indian practice and the small oval lodge near the creek bank was a fixture in all Indian camps.

Lemhi Pass, Medicine Lodge Canyon. Photo: Courtesy BLM

MISNOMERS. –In the early ‘30s W. A. Ferris wrote: Several tribes of mountain Indians have names that are supposed to be descriptive of some national peculiarity. Among these are the Siksika (Blackfeet), Tete Plats (Flatheads), Nez Perces (Pierced Nose), Pend Oreilles (Ear Bobs), Coeur d’Alenes (Pointed Hearts) and Grosventres (Big Bellies). It is a fact that of these the Blackfeet have the whitest feet; there is not among the Flatheads a deformed head; there is not among the Nez Perces an individual having any part of the nose perforated; nor do any of the Pend Oreilles wear ornaments in their ears; nothing is unusual with the heart of the Coeur d’Alenes; and, finally, the Grosventres are as slim as any other Indians, and corpulency among them is rare. These are fanciful names given by French Canadian trappers for some isolated peculiarity. (Ferris, Life in the Rocky Mountains.)

(Final Editor’s Note for this entry: I confess, these entries in particular have piqued my interest regarding certain aspects of Idaho’s history and those who endeavored to record it during the latter part of the 19th century. I’ve ordered some books, hoping they provide similarly intriguing tidbits for future articles. Stay tuned.)

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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