Idaho History Sept 9, 2018

William Craig “Father of Idaho”

“Father of Idaho” William Craig (1807–1869) and friend of the Nez Perce

William Craig Killed a Man, Ran Away, Became a Mountain Man and ‘father of Idaho’

By Syd Albright Special to The CdA Press August 09, 2015

William Craig had a rocky start in life in Greenbrier County, Va.

Around 1825, when Craig was 17, he had a quarrel with a neighbor and killed him. Even though it was self-defense, he feared the worst and took off for the West, spending the rest of his life as a trapper, mountain man, explorer, Army officer, interpreter, treaty negotiator, Indian agent and pioneer – making his mark in Western history.

He was also the first settler in Idaho – sometimes called the “Father of Idaho.”

He married and lived among the Nez Perce Indians, built a hotel and ferry service, carved a farm from the wilderness and befriended Native Americans at a time when they were ill-treated by the newly arrived white population and U.S. Army troops attempted to keep the peace – though not always with an even hand.

William Craig was an extraordinary man of his times. He was tough, resourceful, fair-minded and respected by whites and Indians.

According to Glen Jones of Portland, Craig’s great-great-grandson, Craig was attending a military school in Lewisburg, Va., when the fight broke out. He says there are two versions of the story: “One was that he beat up a classmate at the military school. The other was that he killed a guy much older than him. Both times it was over a woman.”

Fleeing to St. Louis after the fatal altercation, he then headed up the Missouri River with a party of French-Canadians. At Fort Benton, Mont., he joined a party of trappers heading for the Rockies. The teenage runaway was on his way to becoming a mountain man of the western frontier.

In the fall of 1829, Craig was at Fort Bridger in Wyoming, a rendezvous point for trappers. There he first met the Nez Perce Indians, a meeting that would change his life. They told him about the plentiful beaver and other fur animals in Idaho’s Clearwater and Salmon areas, so that’s where he headed – trapping there for about two years.

In 1832, he fought at the Battle of Pierre’s Hole against a band of Gros Ventre Indians. Then he joined an expedition to Mexican-held California organized by Capt. Benjamin L.E. Bonneville and commanded by fellow mountain man Joe Walker. Their mission was to look for a new route to California, trap beaver and rustle Spanish horses. They came back with no beaver but with 500 horses, and they did pioneer Walker’s Pass over the Sierra Nevada Range.

Four years later, Craig and two partners built Fort Davy Crockett trading post in Colorado. Then he married Pahtissah (Isabel), daughter of Nez Perce Lapwai Valley Chief Big Thunder (or Thunder Eyes). He learned their language and earned their respect. During conflicts with the Indians, he became a valuable interpreter in negotiating the multiple Indian treaties that followed years later.

By 1840, the fur trade was collapsing – beaver top hats giving way to the new silk top hats – and trapper-mountain men sought new pastures. Craig and Isabel settled in Lapwai Valley, earning him the title of Idaho’s first non-missionary settler. Two years later daughter Martha was born.

At Lapwai, he met the Rev. Henry Harmon Spalding who was not too happy to see him. “I have seen enough of these mountain men already!” Spalding wrote in his diary. They didn’t get along but managed to work together nevertheless. Spalding was trying to convert the Nez Perce to white man ways, while Craig favored preserving Indian traditions.

Then in 1847, a series of grim events took place in the Northwest that occupied William Craig’s attention for the next dozen years.

On Nov. 29, while Spalding’s fellow missionary Marcus Whitman was away from his mission at Waiilatpu near Walla Walla, his wife Narcissa and 11 others were murdered by a band of renegade Cayuse and Umatilla Indians, triggering the Cayuse War.

Craig sheltered Spalding’s wife Eliza and children at his home in Lapwai.

Oregon volunteer regimental Col. Cornelius Gilliam led more than 500 white settlers in retaliatory attacks against Oregon’s Cayuse Indians for the Whitman Massacre. The war ended only when five Cayuse were captured, tried, convicted and executed for the Whitman murders. But troubles were far from over.

In 1853, Washington Territory was established and Isaac I. Stevens was appointed superintendent of Indian affairs and territorial governor. He did his best to bring peace to the region but ended up pleasing neither the whites nor Indians.

In the years that followed, Craig settled in with the Nez Perce, developing a farm on 640 acres of land that they gave him in appreciation of his support. Meanwhile all around them tension was building between Indians and the white settlers taking over the region. The former mountain man would soon be thrust right into the middle of it.

In 1848, he was appointed as the first Indian Agent to the Nez Perce, holding the post at Fort Boise for 10 years.

Over the years, Craig and Spalding managed to work together despite their prickly relationship. Spalding praised his neighbor’s strong work ethic and appreciated his help in compiling a dictionary of the Nez Perce language, which was needed to help teach the Indians to read and write.

In 1855, Indian discontent erupted in the Yakima War. The situation was made worse by the discovery of gold on the Yakima Reservation, followed by eager miners swooping in and running roughshod over Indian rights.

Craig had volunteered to help the Army maintain law and order, and Gov. Stevens enlisted him as an aide, eventually attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. His main job was keeping the Nez Perce peaceful and act as interpreter during treaty negotiations with the Indians. His fair-mindedness earned him the trust and respect of the Indians.

During the ensuing violence, the Army’s commander in the region, Col. George Wright, ordered the slaughter of 800 Palouse Indian horses between Spokane and today’s Idaho border (on the north side of the truck inspection station on Interstate 90). The Indians were no match for the U.S. Army and were eventually worn down and forced to negotiate peace treaties. Craig did not take part in the slaughter.

Five separate treaties were formed with tribes of the Plateau (Inland Northwest) at the Walla Walla, Flathead, and Blackfoot councils. It was a tough job for Gov. Stevens. The Indians were far from united and the white settlers – also entitled to protection of their rights – had little sympathy for their plight.

Craig participated in the Walla Walla, Nez Perce, Hell Gate and Blackfeet treaty talks. His Indian language and negotiating skills proved invaluable to both sides, but in the end, he was dismayed at the results.

The Nez Perce came to terms with the federal government, while other regional tribes continued hostilities into the late 1870s. Before the Nez Perce signed the treaty of 1855, they insisted on Article 10:

“The Nez Perce Indians having expressed in council a desire that William Craig should continue to live with them, he having uniformly shown himself their friend, it is further agreed that the tract of land now occupied by him and described in his notice to the register and receiver of the land-office of the Territory of Washington, on the fourth day of June last, shall not be considered a part of the reservation provided for in this treaty…”

About the time of the horse slaughter in 1858, Craig moved to Walla Walla to become its postmaster for a short time before returning to his farm at Lapwai – his homestead often used as a meeting place for Nez Perce councils, sometimes attended by as many as 2,000 people.

He spent the rest of his life running the farm, hotel, and a ferry service he built on the Snake River in 1861. He sold the ferry service three years later and it continued operating until 1913.

William Craig died in Lapwai of a paralytic stroke in 1869 at age 62.

In his book “History of the State of Idaho,” Cornelius James Brosnan wrote, “But for his liberality he would have been rich, but he has given away enough to make several fortunes.”

In return, William Craig is remembered as the Father of Idaho.

Kind words when William Craig died…

“The deceased was a man of nerve, kind heart and generous impulses and will be regretted by all who respect the toil and suffering endured by the early pioneers.”

– Walla Walla Statesman (1869)

Founder of Walla Walla…

“Due to unrest among the Nez Perce in 1857, Craig was directed to establish the agency in the Walla Walla valley under the protection of the U.S. Army’s new camp. His residency there was the beginning of the town of Walla Walla.”

– Idaho State Historical Society

Nez Perce camp, Lapwai, Idaho (1800s)

Drawing by Gustav Sohon of arrival of Nez Perce Indians to Walla Walla Treaty council in May 1855 where William Craig was interpreter.

Syd Albright is a writer and journalist living in Post Falls.

source: Syd Albright Special to The CdA Press August 09, 2015
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1918 Recollections of William Craig

Recollections of Wm. Craig

Lewiston Morning Tribune, Sunday, March 3, 1918, page 8

He came to the Lewiston Country in 1829 – Craig Mountain Named in His Honor

By Thomas J. Beall.

To the Tribune — Will you please grant the space in your columns that I may inform your readers as to my early recollections of William Craig the trapper of the Rocky mountains, frontiersman and after whom Craig mountain was named. I first met Craig in the latter part of September, 1857. He was at The Dalles, Oregon, for the purpose of purchasing his winter supplies accompanied by several Nez Perce Indians, among them Chief Lawyer and Reuben. As I wanted to see the Walla Walla country, my cousin, Lloyd Brooke, of Vancouver, thought I would have an opportunity in so doing by joining Craig’s party on his return trip to that country, so he gave me a letter of introduction to Craig which I tendered on my arrival at The Dalles.

Craig was the sub-Indian agent for the Nez Perces at that time and the agency was at Walla Walla. I was at The Dalles two days visiting the army officers stationed at the garrison. I was soon informed that Craig would not be able to return to the agency for several days and as I was anxious to proceed on my journey, I joined a party of Hudson Bay people who were on their way to Fort Colville and traveled with them as far as old Fort Walla Walla, now Wallula. I there severed my connection with the Hudson Bay people and proceeded to Cantonments Stevens in the Walla Walla valley, Occupied by two companies of the First Dragoons and two of the Ninth Infantry, U.S. army, under the command of Col. E. J. Steptoe. I was there nearly two months and saw a great deal of Craig nearly every day during my stay, and our intercourse with each other soon ripened into an ever lasting friendship.

In the fall of 1858 Craig was superseded by A.J. Cain as Indian agent for the Nez Perce Indians and the agency was at Cantonment Stevens, it being abandoned, and the U.S. troops were removed to the garrison built for them and now called Fort Walla Walla.

In the latter part of December, 1858, Mr. Cain received orders to move the agency on to the Nez Perce reservation, but it was not accomplished until the early spring of 1860. Craig then concluded that he would move to his old home on the Lapwal and I accompanied him also Jake Schultz. Nearly all of the old timers knew Jake, and that reminds me of a little incident that occurred in which Jake took a part. Craig had some hogs running up what is now called Mission creek. One evening Jake returned to the house and in a very excited manner accosted Craig, who was reading, and told him there was a cougar up the creek eating his hogs. Craig says: “Jake you ride back and tell that cougar I’ll mess with him.” The next morning the old man saddled his horse took his gun and dogs and went for Mr. Cougar, and it was not long until he returned with the hide of the cougar.

Craig was rather reticent as to his past life and not very communicative on that subject unless he was out in camp and then by the camp fire in the evening he became reminiscent and his stories and accounts of his exploits and travels in the mountains and on the plains were very interesting. There was no egotism in his recounting his exploits. He would invariably say, in speaking of his travels, “we” did so or “he” never “I.”

It was in the fore part of the month of May, 1867, that Craig and a man by the name of Mike Mayer and myself took a trip to the headwaters of Potlatch creek for the purpose of hunting and prospecting. We departed from his old home at what is now called Jacques Spur on the Camas Prairie Railway and we intercepted the Clearwater river at Big Eddy, twenty-five miles above Lewiston, thence up the river to a point four miles above the present railway station at Lenore. It is not necessary to give any details as to our trip from there on; suffice to say we crossed the river and traveled in a northerly direction to the head-waters of the Potlatch, remained there several days, passing the time in prospecting, hunting and fishing. It was on this trip that I learned a great deal of Craig’s past life.

He was born in the Old Dominion, as he loved to call his native state (Virginia) in Green Brier county about the year 1799 or 1800. At the age of eighteen he became involved in an altercation or quarrel with one much older than he was and was forced to kill him in self-defense. Being quite young and somewhat alarmed at his act he made his “getaway” and he found himself in time in the city of St. Louis. This city at that time was the emporium for the fur traders, trappers and frontiersmen of the northwest. Craig soon joined a party of French Canadians who were on the eve of starting up the Missouri river on a trading expedition and their mode of transportation was with bateaus which made it a long tedious journey. When near Fort Benton they encountered a party of trappers, their destination being the Rocky mountains. Craig severed his connections with the Canadians, joined the trappers, and in time became a full-fledged trapper and plainsman.

The main rendezvous for the trappers, and Indians also, was at Fort Bridger on Green River, now Wyoming. It was there that Craig first met the Nez Perces who told him of the quantities of beaver and other fur animals there were in the waters of their country.

In the fall of the year 1829, William Craig, Joe Meek and Rob’t Newell accompanied a party of Nez Perces from the rendezvous to their country to engage in trapping on the waters of the Clearwater and Salmon. I never knew how long they remained in their new field of operations, probably not more than two seasons.

It was here among the Nez Perces that they got their Indian wives and accompanied by them they returned to their old haunts east of the Rocky mountains.

At one time Craig in his reminiscent mood told me that in the year 1832 or 1833 a party of mountaineers were organized on Green river, now in Wyoming, for the purpose ostensibly of trapping for furs on the waters flowing from the Sierra Nevada mountains into the Pacific ocean. In fact the object was to steal horses from the Spaniards residing in California. In this party was Joe Walker, the headman; Joe Meek, Joe Gale, Bill Williams, Mark Head, Bob Mitchel, Alex Godey, Antoine Janise, William Craig and some others.

When they camped on a stream where the water would admit they usually stripped at their tepees or lodges and proceeded to the stream to take a plunge.

Now Craig tells this story: “The waters of the Humbolt river are of a milky cast, not clear, so one afternoon while camped on the said stream and being the first to strip, I started for the swimming hole and was just about to plunge in when I got a hunch that things were not as they should be and I had better investigate before taking a dive. I did so and found the water was about a foot and a half deep and the mud four, this condition being in the eddy. So I waded to where there was a current and found the water a little more than waist deep, no mud and good smooth bottom. In looking towards the camp I espied Joe Walker coming and he was jumping like a buck deer, and when he arrived at the brink he says to me: ‘How is it?’ ‘Joe,’ I replied ‘it is just splendid.’ With that he plunged head-first into that four and a half feet of blue mud.

Fearing trouble and not being interested in the subsequent proceedings, I made myself scarce by hiding in the brush on the opposite side and in so doing I ran into some rose brier bushes and scratched myself some, but I was so full of laughter I did not mind that. I peeped through the bushes just in time to see him extricate himself from the mud. He then washed the mud off as well as he could, returned to the tepee, put on his clothes, shot his rifle off, cleaned it, then reloaded it and hollered at me and said: ‘Now show yourself and I’ll drop a piece of lead into you,’ which I failed to do as I did not want to be encumbered with any extra weight especially at that time. I was compelled to remain in hiding nearly the whole afternoon. Before sundown I was told to come into camp and get my supper and leave, that I could not travel any further with that party.

I was very glad of the permit for it was rather monotonous out there in the brush with nothing but a blanket around me and nobody to talk to and my pipe in camp. I soon dressed myself and then it was time to chew. Our company was divided into messes and each mess was provided with a dressed buffalo hide. It was spread on the ground and the grub placed upon it. When supper was announced we sat down. I sat opposite to Walker and in looking at him I discovered some of that blue mud of the Humbolt on each side of his nose and just below his eyelids and I could not help laughing. He addressed me in an abrupt manner and said: ‘What the h–l are you laughing at.’ I told him that gentlemen generally washed before eating. With that the others observed the mud and they too roared with laughter in which Walker joined, but he threatened if ever I played another such trick on him he would kill me as sure as my name was Craig.”

This place on the Humbolt river was ever afterward called by the mountain men. “Walker’s Plunge,” or “Hole.” Craig says in this raid, Walker’s party got away with five or six hundred head of the Spaniards horses and they drove them through what is now known as Walker’s basin and Walker’s pass of the Sierra Nevada mountains, which is south of the Truckee pass where the Central Pacific railway now traverses. The most of these horses were traded to the different tribes of Indians they encountered for furs, buffalo robes and such other things as they wished to barter, especially the mares and colts. I think that this was the only means by which the Indians east of the Rocky mountains acquired their ponies. They evidently came from California and New Mexico, either stolen from or traded by the Spaniards. The tribes on the west side of the Rockies secured their horses from the Pacific coast by trading or raiding.

I once questioned Craig as to the bravest of the frontiersmen. He told me that actually Bill Williams was the bravest and the most fearless mountaineer of all: that the tribes from the Mexican border to the Canadian know him and feared him thinking perhaps he was some supernatural being. He never trapped in company with anyone else, always alone. His furs were the best dressed and he received more for them. He could speak the dialects of several tribes, especially the Osages and was proficient in what is termed the sign talk among the Indians, that is with the hands, hence he could go among any of the tribes and make himself understood.

Craig told me at one time that a missionary preacher came among the Osages to preach the gospel and Williams was to do the interpreting for him. It seems that Williams at one time was a minister of the gospel previous to his becoming a trapper and he asked the missionary from what part of the bible he’d select his text. He was told it would be from the book of Jonah. Than said Williams, “I will advise you not to mention that fish story for you will not get one of these Indians to believe you, but if you insist in telling about the big fish do so and I’ll interpret for you.” The missionary got no further in his discourse than reading the text, for one old chief arose and pointing his finger at the preacher said: “We have heard several of the white people talk and lie, we know they will lie, but, that is the biggest lie we ever heard.” Then he gathered his blanket around him and proceeded to his tepee followed by the others to their respective places of abode, leaving the missionary meditating on their conduct as predicted by Bill Williams. I am digressing from my subject, but the aforesaid story was told to me by Craig, hence I insert the same in writing my recollections of him.

The land on the Lapwai creek known as the Craig donation claim, was not donated by the government but by the Nez Perces. In the treaty of 1855 at Walla Walla between Governor J.J. Stevens of Washington territory on the part of the government on one side and the Nez Perces on the other, there was a stipulation in the said treaty that Craig or his heirs should have so much land (one section) on the reservation. I think this is on record in the department at Washington D.C. and Craig had the privilege of selecting it.

In 1862 I visited Craig who was then living on Mission creek, a half a mile from its junction with the Lapwai. After I had put up my horse he said to me: “See here Thomas, I am glad you came I have got some barley to deliver to Weingerber and Gamble at the brewery in Lewiston tomorrow and it will require two wagons to hold it all and I want someone to drive one of the teams.” I told him I would assist him. He then proposed to load the wagons that evening so as to get an early start in the morning. He had two teams, one being mules. He asked me which I preferred. I told him either would be satisfactory. He then said: “I’ll drive the mules.” The next morning we had an early start and in due time arrived, delivered the barley, then put our teams up at the White Front stable. Craig went to the different stores to make his purchases, not forgetting Blue John (an appellation put on a one gallon blue keg) to have it replenished.

After dinner we went to the stable to hitch up and return home. While waiting for our teams to be harnessed he said to me: “See here, Thomas, I don’t like this way of traveling.” I knew what he meant so I told him I would hitch his mules to my wagon, it being the heaviest, put my horses in the lead and tie his wagon behind, then he could ride with me. This proposition was agreed on. I then hitched the mules to my wagon and drove to the different places where he had made his purchases. After collecting them I drove back to the stable hitched the other team in the lead and tied the other wagon behind mine and then started for home with Craig sitting beside me on my left.

We were traveling along very nicely until we arrived at Mulkey’s orchard, since called Lindsay’s orchard. Mulkey had constructed an irrigating ditch, the waters of which were taken out of what is now known as Lindsay creek and the road was on the edge of this ditch for some distance. I was driving along telling some story and not paying much attention to the team when suddenly one of the fore wheels went into the ditch and Craig and I parted company – he fell on his back into that ditch. He got out of it, pulled off his coat, shook the mud off of it, then made the remark that: “if that was the way I drove a team he’d be — if he would ride with me.” I told him it was optional. He got into the trail wagon and laid down on the empty barley sacks. I drove along whistling and singing and I never thought to look behind till I was half way down Soldier canyon; then I observed that I had a wagon missing and I didn’t know how far back it was to where I lost it. I tied my team to some trees dropped the tugs and went back in search of the lost one. Just at the head of the canyon I discovered the wagon silently approaching. I placed my optics on the form of my friend Craig in the arms of Morpheous I did not wish to disturb his peaceful slumbers so I picked up the tongue and started down the canyon. A short distance beyond was a rather steep piece of road and on approaching it I stopped and put on the brake, but I could not move the vehicle with the brake on and it would move too fast with it off. I took another peek at my sleeping friend and he seemed so comfortable: therefore, I did not feel inclined to wake him up, so I grasped the tongue once more and proceeded on. This particular piece of road was about thirty feet long and steep, but I thought I could manage to get along. I soon discovered that the wagon wanted to go in advance and not wishing to be run over I jumped aside to let it proceed on but it did not do so, it ran off of the road and upset. I could hear Craig’s muffled voice, he being covered with grain sacks, saying. “What the h–l does all this mean.” It was an extremely ridiculous situation and I being in a hilarious mood I could not reply, but I approached the wagon, raised the body and let him crawl out. That being done he stood up, rubbed his eyes and took a reconnaissance of the situation, and in a solemn manner said: “Well I’ll be d–m:” then exploded with laughter from which the canyon replied in echo.

In getting our wagon back on the road we were assisted by a young man passing by. We were now ready to move on and I asked Craig on which side he wished to work, off or nigh. He said he’d push. I told him I thought he had better work by my side, that we were well matched and made a good team hitched up together. He complied. We soon had our two wagons attached together and was ready to move on when Craig asked me if I did not think the incident just occurring demanded a sentiment. I told him it absolutely did. He then went to my wagon, resurrected Blue John and giving the usual salutation, “how,” then passed John to my embrace and I followed suit by moistening my lips with John’s tears.

In the year 1863 a portion of the territory of Washington was cut off and the territory of Idaho was created from it. A republican convention was held at Mt. Idaho to nominate a delegate to congress. Rob’t Newell, a frontiersman, a companion of Craig, aspired to get the nomination, so he started for Mt. Idaho, accompanied by Craig. The first day they got as far as Durkeeville on Craig mountain.

This place was a road house established by a man named Durkee, afterwards called Masons, in fact he sold out to Harry Mason. There was quite a crowd at this place that evening whose destination was Mt. Idaho. Newell being tired, and not wishing to sit up, retired early. Some were reading, some conversing and others engaged in playing cards, in which pastime Craig participated. He soon became tired of card playing and concluded to retire. He and Newell were to sleep together, so when Craig came into the room he saw the prepared speech of Newell sticking out of his coat pocket. Craig took the speech and returned to the lower room and read to those there assembled and perhaps added some to it, for when Newell made his appearance next morning he was hailed as a good fellow, a brick and a fine old man. He was invited to have a drink and a cigar both of which he refused. They had their breakfast and by that time their team was ready to convey them on.

They had not proceeded very far when Newell says to Craig: “Bill, if I am the nominee at the convention as the delegate to congress, I’ll go to congress and all h–l won’t stop me.” Says Craig: “See here, Bob, I’ll tell you what I think.” “Well what is that.” “I think you’ll go to h–l and all congress won’t stop you.” Newell made his speech but he was told in the convention that they had heard it before. In that convention Governor Wallace was the nominee.

In 1868 Craig received a paralytic stroke from which he never entirely recovered. I was contemplating on going to Moose creek and I paid him a visit before doing so and we sat up nearly the whole night talking of the pleasant hours spent together and when I bid him good bye, he said: “Thomas I’ll never see you again on this earth.” He invariably addressed me as Thomas.

I had been to Moose creek and on my return at Weippe I received a letter from Sam Phinney, his son-in-law, informing me of his death which was in the latter part of September 1868. The Nez Perces always called him William; did not know him as Craig. He is buried at what is now known as Jacques Spur; also his wife, two sons and two daughters. He has one daughter living; her age is about seventy-five, and she lives at Theon, Umatilla county, Oregon.

Thos. J. Beall

source: © PBC Idaho County GenWeb – Miscellaneous Published Articles and Newspaper Items From Idaho County and the Vicinity, compiled by Penny Bennett Casey
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Nez Perce Tipis, Montana, 1871

source: William Craig – Frontiersman and Trapper, Legends of America
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Mountain man William Craig, ‘Father of Idaho,’ almost stayed in Oregon

By John Terry, Special to The Oregonian March 20, 2010

Had William Craig stuck with brothers-in-law Robert “Doc” Newell and Joe Meek, his name might well be emblazoned on the Capitol walls in Salem along with theirs and those of other early Oregon luminaries.

However, Craig apparently didn’t like soggy western Oregon and backtracked to his Native American wife’s homeland.

His membership in the rough-and-tumble fraternity known as mountain men probably would have been enough to assure him passing reference in the history books. But he didn’t stop there.

“Throughout his life, William Craig wore many hats — trader, farmer, interpreter, agent, colonel, guide, politician and ferryman — and his actions left an indelible impact on the land and people he came in contact with,” Benjamin Baughman wrote in the spring/summer 2005 issue of Idaho Yesterdays magazine.

Indeed, Craig has been called the “Father of Idaho” and in some quarters credited with giving the state its name.

He was born in Greenbrier County, Va., circa 1807 and attended a military school in Lewisburg, W.Va.

“There are two stories on why he came west,” says Glen Jones of Portland, Craig’s great-great-grandson. “One was that he beat up a classmate at the military school. The other was that he killed a guy much older than him. Both times it was over a woman.”

Just age 18, Craig fled to St. Louis in 1825 and hooked up with a group of French Canadian trappers. Somewhere on the upper Missouri River he joined an American outfit whose members included Meek and Newell, who became lifelong friends. By 1829 he was in what’s now southeastern Idaho.

He fought in the 1832 battle of Pierre’s Hole between the mountain men and a band of Gros Ventres and worked a while with explorer and soldier of fortune Benjamin L.E. Bonneville. Then he joined Joseph R. Walker’s expedition to California, which garnered few beavers but made off with 500 or more Spanish horses and proved overland travel to that region was practical.

In 1836 he and two partners established Fort Davy Crockett, a trading post in Colorado. In 1838, following Newell’s and Meek’s lead, he took a Nez Perce wife — Isabel (nee Pah-Tis-Sah), a daughter of Nez Perce Chief James (Big Thunder).

When the declining fur trade doomed his trading post around 1840, Craig might have come to the Willamette Valley and spent some time with Meek on Tuality Plains, Jones says, but not long.

In September that year he and his family arrived in Lapwai on the Nez Perce Reservation, where the Rev. Henry Harmon Spalding was trying to proselytize natives.

Craig’s arrival did not please Spalding. “I have seen enough of these mountain men already!” Spalding grumbled in his diary.

Craig would be a constant thorn in Spalding’s side. While the minister worked fervently to strip the Nez Perce of their ways, Craig led them in ignoring Spalding’s dogmatic onslaughts.

Still, Spalding found Craig useful. He praised him as a hard worker, and Craig’s home provided refuge for Spalding’s wife and children in the panic after the 1847 Whitman Massacre.

Craig served as Indian agent at Fort Boise and on the Nez Perce Reservation, ran a ferry across the Snake River at (today’s) Lewiston, Idaho; was the first postmaster at Walla Walla; and helped both sides in negotiations during various disputes over Native American rights and land.

“Throughout his life in the Lapwai Valley, Craig served as a peacemaker and as an ameliorating influence in the friction and difficulties that were bound to arise between the Nez Perce and the settlers,” Marcus J. Ware wrote in the spring 1981 issue of the Nez Perce County Historical Society Journal.

The Nez Perce, in their 1848 treaty, paid him unique honor by granting him 640 acres inside their reservation, making him the first official homesteader in what’s now Idaho.

The poet Joaquin Miller in 1861 credited Craig as the source of the state’s name, supposedly from an Indian term, “E-dah-hoe,” meaning “the light or diadem on the line of the mountains.” That, like the origin of “Oregon,” is widely disputed.

Craig died in 1869.

source: Oregon Live
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Col William Craig

Birth: 1807, Virginia
Death: 16 Oct 1869 (aged 61–62) Lapwai, Nez Perce County, Idaho
Burial: Jacques Spur Cemetery, Jacques, Nez Perce County, Idaho

Added by Dick Jones on 5 Sep 2012

Family Members


Isabel James Craig (Pah-Tis-Sah) 1813–1886


Annie Craig Fairfield unknown–1906
Martha Craig Vaughan 1842–1930
Adeline Craig Phinney 1845–1886
Joseph Craig 1869–1934

source: Find a Grave
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William Craig’s Homestead History

William Craig was born in Virginia in 1807. At the age of 18, around 1825, he joined a group of fur trappers of the American Fur Company. At a trapper rendezvous in 1838, a Nez Perce headman known as Thunder Eyes met Craig. Craig fell in love with his daughter, who the trappers called Isabel, and married her. When the American Fur Company went out of business in 1840, Craig came to Nez Perce country to settle in the Lapwai Valley in the fall of 1840.

Thunder Eyes, now Craig’s father-in-law, in 1836 had allowed Henry Spalding to establish his first mission close to his village. By the time Craig arrived, Spalding’s relationship with the Nez Perce had deteriorated. Craig sided with the Nez Perce in their disputes that led, in turn, to the decision in 1842 by the American Missionary Board to close down Spalding’s mission. Due to the timely intervention of Marcus Whitman, the crisis was averted and the relationship between Craig and Spalding gradually improved.

While not all of the Nez Perce liked Craig, they respected his opinion and his dedication to his Nez Perce wife and family and, likewise, Craig respected the culture of the Nez Perce. In the aftermath of the killing of Marcus Whitman in 1847, Craig sheltered the Eliza and Henry Spalding when it was feared that the same thing might happen at Lapwai. Craig’s relationship with the Nez Perce was further cemented with his role as an interpreter in the negotiations that led to the 1855 treaty that established the Nez Perce reservation. As a reward for his services, Article Ten of the 1855 treaty allowed Craig to keep his homestead on the new reservation.

In the aftermath of the treaty, the Yakama nation went to war and Governor Isaac Stevens appointed Craig a Colonel in the territorial militia. Craig also briefly worked as a subagent for the Nez Perce. He remained in Nez Perce country and died in 1869.

source: NPS

William Craig’s Homestead no longer stands. The land is now privately owned and is not accessible to the public. On the highway pullout off of U.S. Highway 95, there is a historical marker that remembers William Craig, a mountain man, interpreter, and friend of the Nez Perce.
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The name ‘Idaho’…

The poet Joaquin Miller in 1861 credited Craig as the source of the state’s name, supposedly from an Indian term, “E-dah-hoe,” meaning “the light or diadem on the line of the mountains.” Origin of the Idaho name is still debated.

source: Syd Albright Special to The CdA Press August 09, 2015
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Idaho, Its’ Meaning and Application

Bancroft Library Reprinted from Oregon Historical Quarterly VOL. XVIII. No. 2, 1917

Portland. Oregon The Ivy Press 1917 By John E. Rees

Considerable speculation has been indulged and much thought expended regarding the word “IDAHO”; its origin, meaning and the manner in which it came to be applied. Other writers have expressed opinions and published their knowledge concerning this word or name, creating rather an extensive literature on the subject; while both the wise and the otherwise have guessed at its meaning. My object in this article is an endeavor to assemble this information and offer an explanation of the word from the light of other facts perhaps not yet known and at any rate not yet published. These, it seems to me, will give a fairly good interpretation of the word.

“Idaho” has been so nicely explained and elaborated so profusely by the poetical and idealist, that Idahoans feel proud of a name which signifies such a noble and expressive thought as the “Gem of the Mountains” ; and whatever the word may have originally meant, this is its meaning to us now, and one not to be now molested. It is not my wish or purpose in this article to disturb this meaning nor to detract one iota from its inspiring sentiment, but simply to offer a version of the matter, for history’s sake, from my knowledge of the Shoshoni Indian language, gained by forty years’ residence near the Lemhis, one division of the Shoshoni tribe and among whom I was Indian trader for fifteen years.

“Idaho” is a Shoshoni Indian exclamation. The expression from which the word is derived is heard repeated as often, perhaps, in a Shoshoni Indian camp, in the early part of the morning, as is heard the English expression, “It’s sun up,” repeated in the home following the early dawn. The word is contracted from a meaning which requires much writing to correctly express it in English. Those who are used to translating languages readily understand the difficulties of this labor, which at times becomes almost an impossible task. The word “Idaho” consists of three component parts, each of which must be analyzed to correctly understand its derivation and the idea thereby conveyed. The first is “Ee,” which in English conveys the idea of “coming down.” This syllable is the basis of such Shoshoni words as mean “raining,” “snowing,” etc., which words when properly translated would be, “water coming down,” “snow coming down,” etc. The second syllable is “Dah,” which is the Shoshoni stem or root for both “sun” and “mountain,” the one being as eternal and everlasting to the Indian mind as is the other. The third syllable, “How,” denotes the exclamation and stands for just the same thing in Indian as the exclamation mark ( !) does in the English language. The Shoshoni word is “Ee-dah-how,” and the Indian thought thus conveyed when literally translated into English means, “Behold! the sun coming down the mountain.”

The mere word does not indicate much, for it is composed of simple syllables, the significance of which requires pages of written English to correctly convey the idea which this exclamation suggests to the aboriginal mind. Every one who has lived in a mountainous country has observed at sunrise the rim of sunlight coming down the mountainside, as the sun was rising in the opposite direction. This is the Shoshoni “Ee-dah-how.” It can only occur in and among the mountains which is represented by the English thought, “the lofty mountains upon which the morning breaks.” Also it can occur only at those times when the atmosphere is still, clear and bright, elements producing that invigorating and exhilarating feeling which only high mountainous countries possess.

In the imagination this sunlight on the mountainside can be interpreted to mean “Sunshine Mountain,” or “Shining Moun- tain,” and the rim of sunlight can also represent the “Diadem on the Mountain,” while a peculiar sunlit peak could be imagined a “Sun-Crowned Peak,” or a brilliant display of sunlight upon a snow-capped mountain where the rays of sunshine are refracted into their natural colors may convey to us the thought or image of the “Gem of the Mountains” ; but when the word is uttered in a Shoshoni camp, at early dawn, the hearer knows that a rim of sunlight is coming down the mountainside as the sun is rising in the opposite direction, and that it is time for him to be up and at the labors of the day ; just as much so as a person hearing the English expression, “It’s sun up,” knows that the sun has risen in the sky and he should be up and at work.

The idea conveyed by “Ee-dah-how” may be a kind of sun worship as contended by some, but it appears to me to be no more so than is the English expression, “It’s sun up.” This exclamation expresses to the primeval mind a confidence in the continuance of nature, for the sun has returned to replenish all things, and this display on the mountainside is the evidence; and to the Indian mind this exhibition of an eternal sun making its first appearance upon an everlasting mountain denotes a stableness worthy of his attention and is his signal to arise, as he habitually does at the first appearance of “Ee-dah-how.”

The effect which day and night might have” had upon the habits of primitive man is a subject within the province of the anthropologist. However, we are informed that civilized man is ofttimes influenced by custom survivals and will, long after the necessary fact for a certain action has ceased, continue to act as if it were still in existence. Whatever might have been the reason, in times past, we know and realize that the expression, “It’s sun up,” has a meaning to the majority of mankind of an influence which the rising sun has upon his actions. The emphasis in this expression, “Ee-dah-how,” is placed upon the “Dah” syllable, as it is the keynote to the utterance, for the eternal sun arrayed upon the everlasting mountain is the splendor which the speaker wishes to especially impress upon his hearer. The Indian has a name for sunrise, sunset, morning and evening, but “Ee-dah-how” conveys the idea of a beginning or renewal of natural phenomena and the sunrise is the symbol, while other parts of the day follow in sequence only and do not attract the same attention, sentiment or acknowledgment.

The Shoshonean Indians were the third family, in the extent of territory occupied, of the fifty-five that formerly inhabited the United States. The Shoshoni are one tribe of this great Shoshonean family of which the Comanche are another. The two tribes speak almost the same language, varying only in dialect ; their traditions are very similar and they readily converse with and understand each other. Ethnologists consider the Comanche an offshoot of the Shoshoni. It was not many years ago, geologically considered, when they lived adjacent to each other in Southern Wyoming, from which place the Shoshoni were gradually beaten back by other Indians into the mountains, while the Comanche were forced southward. So that the first rush of miners to Pike’s Peak in 1858 and what afterwards became known as Colorado, found this tribe within this territory and located especially along the Arkansas river. The country was at that time a part of Kansas. Here, also, they came in contact with the “lofty mountains upon which the morning breaks,” which were quite numerous and in commanding evidence. As all the elements were present, it was no wonder that they found the expression, “Ee-dah-how,” a familiar one in this new Eldorado, and the word “Idaho” was known to almost every one and was said by all who had any knowledge of it, to mean “Gem of the Mountains.” The first permanent settlement made by those hardy pioneers in this new territory in 1859 was named for this Shoshoni word and called “Idaho Springs.” In 1861, when Congress organized this new territory, “Idaho” was proposed as its name which should have been applied to it, but the Spanish word “Colorado,” which referred to a river and country foreign to this new country and which had no application whatever, was selected instead. This selection was suggested by Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, who was afterwards Vice- President associated with General Grant in the Presidency, and who was chiefly responsible for the naming of Colorado, Idaho and Montana.

The next heard of this word was when “Idahoe” was applied to a steamboat launched at Victoria, B. C, in the fall of 1860. It was built for the Yale Steamboat company to run upon the Fraser river, and was so called by one of the owners for his former home in Colorado, “Idaho Springs,” which was an Indian word signifying “Gem of the Mountains,” but the name of the steamboat was soon changed to “Fort Yale,” and it was afterwards blown up by a boiler explosion.

The permanent settlement of Idaho territory began with the discovery of gold at Pierce City, on Oro Fino creek, in 1860. It was then a part of Washington Territory and the name “Idaho” was not known or applied at that time. The rush to these mines was made principally by the Columbia river route and so extensive did the traffic, carried on by river boats, become that a company was formed called the Oregon Steam Navigation company, of which Colonel J. S. Ruckel was a stockholder. One of the steamboats constructed by this company, lying on the Columbia river, was called the “Idaho,” and launched in 1860. Mr. George H. Himes, curator of the Oregon Historical Society, informs me that he heard Col. Ruckel tell Mr. D. C. Ireland, who was the local news gatherer of the “Oregonian,” in answer to the question as to the origin and meaning of the name “Idaho,” which he had applied to this steamboat, “That it was an Indian word meaning ‘Gem of the Mountains,’ and that he got it from a Colorado friend who was interested with him in mining operations in that state, and he thought the name very appropriate for a steamboat that ran on a river like the Columbia which penetrated a range of mountains like the Cascades.” Thus the name became transferred to the great Northwest, and as Joaquin Miller said, “The name was familiar in 5,000 men’s mouths as they wallowed through the snow in ’61 on their way to the Oro Fino mines.”

However, the word became corrupted by these miners into “Idaho,” but happily through the writings of the poet, Joaquin Miller, the bard of the Sierras, the proper orthography was restored and for the first time in history an attempt was made to give the origin and meaning of this name and to publish it to the public. Mr. Miller said, “I was riding pony express at the time rumors reached us through the Nez Perce Indians that gold was to be found on the headwaters and tributaries of the Salmon river. I had lived with the Indians and Col. Craig, who had spent most of his life with them, often talked with me about possible discoveries in the mountains to the right, as we rode to Oro Fino, and of what the Indians said of the then unknown region. Gallop your horse, as I have a hundred times, against the rising sun. As you climb the Sweetwater mountains, far away to your right, you will see the name Idaho written on the mountain top, at least, you will see a peculiar and beautiful light at sunrise, a sort of diadem on two grand clusters of mountains that bear away under the clouds fifty miles distant. I called Col. Craig’s attention to this peculiar and beautiful light. ‘That/ said he, ‘is what the Indians call E-dah-hoe, which means the light or diadem on the line of the mountains.’ That was the first time I ever heard the name. Later, in September, ’61, when I rode into the newly discovered camp to establish an express office, I took with me an Indian from Lapwai. We followed an Indian trail, crossed Craig mountain, then Camas Prairie, and had all the time E-dah-hoe Mount for our objective point. On my return to Lewiston I wrote a letter containing a brief account of our trip and of the mines, and it was published in one of the Oregon papers, which- one I have now forgotten. In that account I often mentioned E-dah-hoe, but spelt it Idaho, leaving the pronunciation unmarked by any diacritical signs. So that perhaps I may have been the first to give it its present spelling, but I certainly did not originate the word.”

In 1858 the territorial legislature of Washington created a county within this territory which contained all lands north of the Clearwater, east of the Columbia and west of the Rocky mountains. It was named Shoshone for the largest tribe of Indians in this section of the country, and in 1861, when the population in the mines demanded it, another county was formed including all lands lying south and west of the Clearwater and named Nez Perce for the next largest tribe of Idaho Indians. The rest of the Idaho territory was formed, in 1862, into the largest county ever created within the state, embracing all lands lying south of Nez Perce and east of Snake river and called Idaho county in recognition of this word. In 1863, Boise county was created, so that Idaho had four counties in existence, formed by the Washington legislature, when the territory was organized.

Hon. John Hailey, Idaho’s state historian, in his “History of Idaho,” says, “The organic act passed by Congress and approved by the President March 3, 1863, creating and organizing a territorial government for the people residing within and those who might come hereafter, in certain limits and boundary lines of territorial lands, gave to that territory the name Idaho. Various reasons are given for the origin of the name Idaho. By some it is claimed that it is an Indian name. One story is that some miners had camped within sight of what is now Mount Idaho. In the morning they were awakened by the Indians calling ‘I-da-ho* and pointing to the rising sun just coming over the mountain, hence the term ‘The Rising Sun.’ Another is that the name was taken from a steamboat built by the late Col. J. S. Ruckel to run on the Columbia river in the early days. This boat was named The Idaho. W. A. Goulder, one of the oldest living (now dead) pioneers of Idaho, saw this steamer on the Columbia in 1860 and noticing the name asked the meaning and was informed that it was an Indian word, ‘E-dah-hoe,’ and stood for ‘The Gem of the Mountains.’ Frederick Campbell, one of the pioneers of the Pike’s Peak excitement, says that the word Idaho is an Arapaho Indian word and that in Colorado a spring was named Idaho before the word was known in the Northwest, and that it was even suggested for the name of Colorado.”

Col. William H. Wallace was delegate in Congress from Washington territory when the bill was passed in 1863, organizing, from the eastern portion of Washington, a new territory, which was named Idaho. Mrs. Wallace was in Washington, D. C., at the time and her account of the episode, which was afterwards published in the Tacoma Ledger, is as follows: “I may refer with pride to my connection with the establishment of the territory of Idaho, at the expiring days of the session of Congress, 1862-3. Quite a delegation was present at Washington city who favored the division of Washington territory, which then included all of Idaho and Montana west of the Rocky mountains, extending as far south as the northern line of California and Nevada. It was an immense region and contained South Pass, the great entrance of Oregon, Washington and California, by the great immigrant route. The Colonel was overjoyed at the assured passage of the bill, which he had in charge and his friends who had assembled at his rooms joined with him in conferring upon me the high privilege of naming the new territory. I answered, ‘Well, if I am to name it, the territory shall be called Idaho, for my little niece, who was born near Colorado Springs, whose name is Idaho, from an Indian chief’s daughter of that name, so called for her beauty, meaning the ‘Gem of the Mountains.’ Dr. Anson G. Henry, the surveyor-general of Washington territory, then on a visit to Washington City, was in the room. He clapped his hands upon his knees and said to me, ‘Mrs. Wallace, Idaho it shall be.’ The evening of the day upon which the bill was passed my husband came home and said, “Well, Lue, you’ve got your territory, and I’m to be governor of it.’ A short time after the bill was signed my husband was appointed its first governor, and at the first election held in the newly organized territory, he was selected delegate to Congress.”

There were others beside Mrs. Wallace who claimed the honor of naming Idaho territory, and while their contributory suggestions may have had some influence in designating it, yet the true history of the application of the word to this particular geographical territory for political administration discloses the fact that it occurred in an ordinary way and that instead of any sentiment influencing the act, it was simply a result of legislative enactment. In the fall of 1861, Wallace, Garfield and Lander were candidates for Congressional delegate from Washington territory and while stumping the country during the campaign met at Pierce city. The people in- habiting this section of the country were so far from Olympia, the capital, and had for some time agitated a division of the eastern part of Washington territory ; so through the solicitation and request of these people each of these candidates agreed that whoever was elected would favor this division and every one agreed that “Idaho” should be the name of the new territory. That this agreement was carried out is proven by the fact that Mr. Wallace, the successful candidate, at once had introduced in Congress a bill creating the new territory of Idaho.

The Congressional history of this act shows that in the committee to which the bill had been referred three names were suggested, namely, Shoshone, Montana and Idaho, and that in the bill as it passed the House of Representatives the name of “Montana” was applied to this new territory. When the matter came before the Senate for consideration, the bill was modified very materially, for while it scarcely included what is now Idaho, the modified bill included all of the present states of Montana and Wyoming, in which form it was approved and became the law. Later these states were created out of Idaho. Senator Wilson moved to strike out the word “Montana” and insert “Idaho” in its stead. To this Senator Harding of Oregon agreed, saying, “Idaho in English means ‘Gem of the Mountains’.” Senator Wilson’s amendment was agreed to and when the bill went back to the House it was concurred in and the new territory was henceforth designated Idaho.

Thus Senator Wilson selected the name Idaho, whilst Senator Harding was instrumental in continuing its meaning.

How the Shoshoni Indian word “Ee-dah-how” was eventually transformed into the English word “Idaho” is a task for the etymologist; but, whatever may be its etymology, the word “Idaho” and its meaning, “Gem of the Mountains,” are forever fixed as correlated terms in the vocabulary of the people of Idaho.

source: © PBC Idaho County GenWeb – Miscellaneous Published Articles and Newspaper Items From Idaho County and the Vicinity, compiled by Penny Bennett Casey

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page updated July 23, 2020