(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.)

SIGN LANGUAGE. –While there were fifty-five distinct linguistic families among the Indians of the United States and hundreds of different dialects, yet there was among them a single gesture speech, which was practiced by all the aborigines of North America and many in South America. It was an intertribal means of communication and all Indians used it, but with different degrees of expertness, making of it a universal sign language with which they could readily converse with each other, however distant they lived apart or however different their spoken language. It originated by evolution the same as human speech developed, from the necessity of conveying intelligence, and is made with one or both hands and when used by experts in conversation its fluent graces of movement is the very poetry of motion. The signs are founded on some symbolic characteristic by which ideas are conveyed with lightning-like gestures, meaning, at times, whole sentences and is usually a quicker, more satisfactory and effective way of expressing thots [sic] than by many Indian languages. There are 48,000

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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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