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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Craigmont

Friday, August 11, 2017  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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View of Craigmont in the 1960s

Craigmont is a farming and tourist community that lies in the upper Camas Prairie. Fields of wheat, barley and peas growing on gentle rolling hills form a patchwork of color and texture around the city.

Most of the land around the city belongs to the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. The city of Cottonwood is 15 miles south.

Historical Tidbits

Following the treaty of 1846 with England establishing the boundary between the United States and Canada at the 49th Parallel, the federal government created territories and took control of the land. The U.S. Army compelled American Indians to follow the dictates of Congress. The nomadic Nez Perce was the principal tribe of Indians that frequented the area of what is now Craigmont.

In 1855 the federal government entered into a treaty with the Nez Perce establishing a reservation that covered a large part of Northern Idaho and Western Washington. However, around 1860 numerous gold prospectors and settlers began moving onto reservation land.

In 1860 prospectors found gold at Pierce. A gold rush ensued with thousands coming into the region. Almost overnight, Lewiston became a tent city on reservation land as miners, traveling by boat up the Columbia and Snake Rivers to Lewiston, geared up before making their trek to the gold fields at Pierce and beyond.

In 1867 Congress, seeking to promote settlement and appease the demands of prospectors and settlers, ratified a new treaty crafted in 1863. As part of this treaty, Native Americans ceded significant portions of 1855 treaty reservation land, including land around Lewiston and the gold mining areas around Pierce, to the federal government.

Many of the Nez Perce never signed the treaty and were angry about the loss of reservation land. A military conflict ensued, resulting in the Nez Perce fully complying with congressional and military directives.

On February 8, 1887, the U.S. Congress passed the Dawes Severalty Act. The Act authorized Native American tribal lands to be surveyed and specific acreages allotted to tribal members. Congress deemed land not so allocated as surplus and available for settlement. In 1935 Congress repealed the law; however, by that time ownership of most former reservation lands was in the hands of non-Indians.

On November 18, 1895, Nez Perce Reservation land became open for settlement by non-Indians. An estimated 5,000 people participated in the land rush.

Many of the settlers who claimed homesteads near what is now Craigmont came at that time. In 1898 a group of settlers established a community about a mile west of what is now Craigmont which they named Chicago.

Postal authorities approved the post office. However, even though there was only one Chicago in Idaho, the settlers experienced many problems with mail deliveries sent to the more famous city in Illinois. In 1902 the settlers renamed their community Ilo, the name of a local leader’s daughter.

In the early 1900s railroad interests began planning service from Lewiston to Grangeville. John Vollmer, an officer of the Northern Pacific Railroad, planned to personally profit from the railroad by directing the position of the railroad slightly away from existing communities, purchasing land and platting towns next to the planned stops where the railroad would build depots. His apparent strategy was to get the local businesses and residents to buy his lots next to the railroad tracks.

One of the train stops was a mile east of Ilo. Vollmer named the new community after himself and placed it on the northeast side of the tracks.

Vollmer used a similar business strategy of using his influence and insider information to establish or try to establish other Northern Idaho cities.

In 1908 the difficult-to-build Camas Prairie Railroad with high trestles, tunnels and bridges—a joint venture between the Northern Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads—was completed.

Most of the Ilo residents were angry with Vollmer and refused to buy lots in his new town. Instead, they moved their businesses and homes to a newly platted Ilo location on the southwest side of the railroad tracks.

As both communities grew, the railroad track and the antagonism created by John Vollmer’s early self-serving actions kept the communities apart. The acrimony between the two towns’ citizens became so sharp that residents of one community refused to cross the railroad tracks into the other town.

This conflict played a role in the March 3, 1911, selection of a county seat. At the time, the combined population of Ilo and Vollmer was by far the largest in the newly created Lewis County. However, largely influenced by the acrimony between the two communities, the town of Nezperce received the majority of the vote.

When Ilo and Vollmer merged, they named their consolidated town Craigmont in honor of Colonel William Craig who was born in Virginia in 1807, later came west, married a Nez Perce woman and in 1841 settled on Lapwai Creek—eight miles from the failed mission started five years earlier by Henry Spalding. Craig was one of the first white men to settle in Idaho and was a respected mediator between the Nez Perce, white settlers and federal representatives.

On June 17, 1920, Craigmont became an incorporated village.

For the Good of the Children...

The antagonism created by John Vollmer seemed insurmountable. However, few years after Nezperce won the vote for county seat, the desire of the residents of both Ilo and Vollmer to fulfill the needs of their children brought the two communities together.

School patrons in both communities voted to consolidate the two school systems. In 1920 largely influenced by the consolidation of the schools, the two towns agreed to merge. The consolidation of the Ilo and Vollmer school systems was the catalyst causing the residents of the two communities to merge into the town they agreed to name Craigmont.

Amenities and Attractions Today

Winchester Lake State Park in Winchester is eight miles west of Craigmont. The park offers campsites, yurts, canoeing, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fishing on the lake as well as nearby streams.

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