AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Peck
Friday, April 7, 2017
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
Peck Community Library
Peck is located in narrow valley a mile and a half south of the Clearwater River. Forested hills, canyons and mountains surround most of the city and valley.
A high percentage of the surrounding land is part of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. Orofino lies 11 miles east and Lewiston is 35 miles west.
Until 1805 when the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery came into the area, the nomadic Nez Perce American Indians were the principal inhabitants of the region. Lewis and Clark first encountered the Nez Perce as their expedition emerged cold and starving from their terrible ordeal crossing the deep snows of the rugged Bitterroot Mountains. The Nez Perce were gathering camas bulbs on the Weippe Prairie 25 miles southeast of what is now Peck.
Lewis and Clark stayed with the Nez Perce for several days to recuperate and complete construction of the canoes they made at their "Canoe Camp" on the banks of the Clearwater River, now a National Historic Site between Peck and Orofino. They also stayed with the Nez Perce the following year on their return trip to St. Louis, Missouri, and Washington, D.C.
In 1811 European trappers/explorers began coming into the area. In 1836 Henry and Eliza Spaulding opened their mission to the Nez Perce near what is now Lapwai about 20 miles west of Peck.
In 1860 Elias Davidson Pierce and a small party of prospectors discovered gold on Nez Perce Reservation land 33 miles due east of what is now Peck. By 1861 about 3,000 prospectors converged on the area. Most of these fortune seekers passed near what is now Peck as they came into Lewiston and traveled east to the gold fields.
In 1877 the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs ordered the Nez Perce—many of whom were at that time in the Wallowa Valley in Washington and friendly to the whites—to move to the Lapwai Reservation in Idaho. Several young Nez Perce warriors were incensed and went against the direction of their chiefs, attacking nearby white settlements and killing many settlers.
General O.O. Howard interpreted this action as a general revolt and ordered his military to attack the Nez Perce Tribes. What ensued was a running battle where the U.S. Army chased the Nez Perce bands of Chiefs Joseph and White Bird to Montana near the Canadian border. White Bird’s band escaped across the border but the army captured Joseph’s band before they could follow. Several years later, the federal government allowed the remaining Nez Perce to return to their reservation.
On February 8, 1887, Congress passed the Dawes Severalty Act in an attempt to mainstream Indians into American society. The Act authorized the survey of Native American Reservation lands and allotting of specific acreages, generally 160 acres per head of household, to tribal members. The Act deemed land not so allocated as surplus and available for homesteading by non-Indians. Under this Act, a large part of former reservation lands came under cultivation. Congress repealed the Act in 1935.
On November 18, 1895, former Nez Perce Reservation land became open for settlement. At that time, an estimated 5,000 settlers were poised to participate in the land rush allowed by the Dawes Act.
In 1896 two brothers, Ike and Marion Radcliffe, homesteaded on a flat area in the valley created by Canyon Creek about a mile above the creek’s confluence with the Clearwater River. The settlers built a wagon road through the canyon that connected the Camas Prairie farmland to the south with the roads bordering the Clearwater River.
John Herres built a ferry across the Clearwater River near the confluence of the two streams and opened a small general store. Tom Kirby, a merchant from Kendrick, Idaho, opted to purchase a parcel of land from the Radcliffe brothers to build his store.
In 1898 the Northern Pacific Railroad completed its rail line from Lewiston to Orofino. Jacob Peck, the railroad’s engineer, conducted a survey of Big Canyon for a possible railroad branch line through the village and south to the new homesteaded farms developing on the Camas Prairie.
In 1899 the Radcliffe brothers platted the balance of the land near Kirby’s store and named the new town Peck in honor of Jacob Peck. The town soon began to grow; however, a railroad line through town never materialized.
On January 14, 1905, the Nez Perce County Commissioners approved incorporating Peck as a village.
The Radcliff brothers’ decision to establish Peck near the intersection of the roads from Lewiston to Orofino and to the Camas Prairie was critical to the continued existence of the village.
In 1905 the wagon road west to Lewiston was over 50 miles of steep, winding grades; dropping down into canyons and climbing out again; and crossing through farmland and forests. It took a strong team of horses and a good reason and buggy to make the journey from Peck to Lewiston in a day. The road to Orofino on the east climbed over Bobbitt Bench and took three hours.
Peck was a natural stopping-off point and trading center for a large geographical area. Farmers sold their produce in Peck and purchased "store bought" necessities. Often they stayed to join in the town’s activities and entertainment. Peck had a reputation as a "wild little town."
By 1910 the town’s population was 236; however, on any given day, the population swelled with travelers and people coming to do business. At that time, the village had a post office, bank, three hotels, a livery stable, a blacksmith shop, several general stores, a newspaper, a furniture store and undertaker’s parlor, a drug store, a doctor’s office, a barber shop, a butcher shop, a creamery and several small sawmills which produced lumber for the growing community. By 1918 the town’s population was estimated at 400.
The town itself had wooden sidewalks lining both sides of Main Street. Four flights of stairs went to the homes built on the upper benches of the canyon.
Orchards grew on Peck’s sun-warmed benches. Many of these fruit farmers shipped their produce to markets outside the area.
Amenities and Attractions Today
The Peck City Park has picnic and children’s play areas, a covered shelter and an athletic field. The Peck Post Office and Library serve residents of the city, as well as those living on the ranchettes and farms that surround the city.
The Peck Community Club—founded in 1927 by a group of women promoting the social, spiritual and financial interests of the community—sponsors several fund-raising and cultural events throughout the year.
The 850-acre Dworshak State Park in the Clearwater National Forest is about 14 miles northeast on the shores of Dworshak Reservoir. The reservoir is a 16,000-acre body of water in the Clearwater National Forest that is 53 miles long. The hydroelectric Dworshak Dam, completed in 1973, is 717 feet high and 3,300 feet wide.
The 418-acre Winchester Lake State Park with its 103-acre lake lies 25 miles southwest of the city.
Hells Gate State Park is located 40 miles away just south of Lewiston. This 960-acre park is part of the 652,488-acre Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. The Area includes North America’s deepest river gorge. This Snake River gorge lies more than a mile below Oregon’s west rim and, on the Idaho side, more than 8,000 feet below He Devil Peak of the Seven Devils Mountains.
The Nez Perce National Historic Park, managed by the National Parks Service and partially staffed by tribal members, is 25 miles west in Spaulding.
The Idaho Transportation Department’s Northwest Passage Scenic Byway— Highway 12—passes near the city.
The nearby national forest, lakes and streams are an outdoor paradise. Boating, fishing, hunting, hiking, cross-country skiing and other outdoor activities are popular.