How Lewiston Idaho Got Its Name

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On the thirty-fourth anniversary of the founding and naming of the settlement and landing site of Lewiston, Idaho,…an article was written and published in the local newspaper, the Lewiston Teller, on June 6, 1895.  The article was written by a reliable source, an Idaho pioneer, who signs himself “One Who Was There.”  Eyewitness accounts are always the most reliable and relevant as relates to the truth.

This is the gentleman’s story:

“On the first day of June, 1861, the new steamer (steam-powered paddle wheel riverboat) “Okanagon” was tied up at the junction of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers.  It was suggested at this time that the new landing site be preserved and named.  From among the local residents observing the activities of a steamboat arriving and being moored for unloading of its cargo, many fine and different names for the new settlement were suggested or offered for acceptance.  None of the proposed names could be decided upon until Major Vic Trevitt suggested “Lewiston” as a name in honor of the 1805 explorers, Lewis & Clark.  These two men and the other members of the Corps of Discovery just happened to be the first white men that ever embarked from that very point upon the waters of the Snake River.  Everyone in attendance delightedly accepted the name, and “Lewiston” was baptized.  

The captain of the steamer was Len White, the pilot was Eph Baughman; mate Jim Boyd; first engineer, John Girty; second mate, John Gates; purser, Charles Frush; steward, Jim McGrane; chief cook, John Bell; fireman, Charlie Nichols; Bill Watson and John Anderson, deck hands.

I know of none who were present who can now speak for themselves, except Captain Eph Baughman of the steamer Lewiston and John Anderson, engineer somewhere below; J. McGrane, senior, Charles Frush (supposedly), and Major Blake of Washington, D.C”

“While speaking of those who were present at the baptism, I thought I would mention how Charley Nichols (one of the firemen known as Heenan) was one of the unfortunate Jagger party which attempted to go from this point to The Dalles, Oregon Territory after all navigation had closed in 1861.  I think there were six of them in all.  They all froze badly–three of them to death, I believe.  Jagger and Riddle I know froze to death.  Nichols got through without any trouble, not even freezing a finger, though the heaviest outer garment he had on was a blue soldier’s jacket.  He had neither gloves or overshoes.  His endurance was the topic of conversation for years and he may still be alive.  I saw him here many years ago, and I heard of him at Bodie later.  Captain White died at Portland long ago.  So did John Gates.  John Girty died at Deschutes, Oregon.  John Torrence died in an insane asylum in the East long ago.  Slater died here while he was head of the United States Land Office.  Old-timers will remember him.  He edited two papers here.  One I know as the Journal.”

Things happened for good reason in the early days of the settlement of our western United States. Places, events, people, and activities all carried names that were given to them as a result of something significant or important taking place at any given geographic location.

Later on, across the Snake River to the west of the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers a second town was baptized and christened.  As you might guess, the name of the second or sister-town was called Clarkston.  

Prior to the Lewis & Clark Expedition crossing the continental divide, the Clark Fork River was named in honor of Captain William Clark.  In Idaho Territory after settlement and population began increasing and the knowledge of the actual geography became more acute, the Lewis River (named in honor of Captain Meriwether Lewis) came to be synonymous with the Snake River and the Salmon River.  However as time went on and knowledge grew, the Lewis River designation was dropped from any mention or affiliation with the Snake or Salmon Rivers.  Several special other places, sites, and things were also named after the two leaders of the great Corps of Discovery.

Pay close attention as you travel the highways and by ways of the great Northwest.  Watch for signs indicating something noteworthy dealing with the early settlement of this part of our nation that actually occurred at a given site.  When you find such a place, stop,…take some time to explore the area.  Remember what you have learned from these Pioneer Tales Articles.  I am told (and I have personally tried it) that if you listen carefully,…very carefully…at places on or around the Lewis & Clark Trail,… places like Powell Junction, or Colt-killed Creek, or Indian Post Office, or Weippe Prairie and such similar places, on or around the Lolo Trail, that crosses Central Idaho…you can actually hear the voices out of the past talking or barking orders, or telling stories, or expressing happy jubilation and laughter when safety from the daily dangers was achieved….You might even see a shadow or two slipping through the underbrush or nearby forests.  Is it an animal, an Indian, or maybe even one of the explorers in search for the safety of the campfire?

History comes alive once you physically walk through the areas you have read or learned about….What was that???  A steamboat whistle???  How can it possibly be,…this far inland???

Peace and Love to All of You………………..Poppa Bear      

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