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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Lewiston

Tuesday, December 17, 2019  
Posted by: Payton Grover
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City of Lewiston

Lewiston lies at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers on the Washington/Idaho Border. The city is an inland seaport to the Pacific Ocean. In 1861 steamers brought prospectors up the Columbia and Snake Rivers to Lewiston where they disembarked and made their way west for 60 miles to the goldfields at Pierce. Today, barges carry commodities of agricultural and wood products 465 miles from the Port of Lewiston to docks on the Pacific Coast. To the north of the city are the high cliffs of the Palouse plateau and broad stretches of fertile farm land. To the east are farms, the Nez Perce Indian Reservation and the canyons and mountains through which the Clearwater River flows. To the south are the deep gorges of Hells Canyon cut by the Snake River. Across the Snake River to the west is Clarkston, Washington, and vast tracts of farm and public lands.

Historical Tidbits

Years For millennia, Nez Perce American Indian tribes migrated seasonally throughout the Inland Northwest. In September 1805 Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and their Corps of Discovery emerged onto the Weippe Prairie, 50 miles west of what is now Lewiston, hungry and weak from crossing the rugged Bitterroot Mountains. There they met villages of Nez Perce Indians harvesting camas lily bulbs. The Nez Perce provided the Corps with food, directions and assistance in making dugout canoes. On October 10, 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition rode their newly built canoes down the Clearwater River to what is now Lewiston. There they traded with the Nez Perce for food and camped for the night. During the next five decades, explorers/trappers and Christian missionaries came into the area to establish trading posts and missions among the Nez Perce. The most notable two missions in the Lewiston area were those begun in 1836 by the Presbyterian Church and led by Henry H. and Eliza Spalding and Dr. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. The Whitman mission was with the Cayuse Indians about 60 miles southwest of what is now Lewiston and near Walla Walla, Washington. Dr. Whitman provided medical care for both Indian and white patients alike. The whites generally recovered; however, many Indians died. In the winter of 1846 to 1847, the Cayuse attacked the mission, killing the Whitman’s and many others. The Spalding mission to the Nez Perce was located about 12 miles east of what is now Lewiston at Lapwai. One of Spalding’s converts was Old Joseph—father to Chief Joseph, who was born in 1840 and became one of Idaho’s famous Indian leaders. Spalding successfully taught the Nez Perce how to farm and raise livestock. However, the Whitman massacre sent shockwaves through the area. Henry and Eliza abandoned their mission, leaving it in the hands of their Nez Perce converts. In late 1860 Captain E.D. Pierce, who had previously scouted the area, led a band of gold prospectors onto the Nez Perce Reservation without permission. Pierce’s party discovered large quantities of placer gold near what is now Pierce. A major gold rush ensued with further discoveries at Elk City and Florence. At one time, over 10,000 fortune seekers were working in the mountains to the east and southeast of Lewiston. Except for their 1855 Treaty with the U.S. government that had practical enforcement limitations, the 2,000 Nez Perce were at a distinct disadvantage in terms of numbers. Steamships began bringing prospectors and supplies up the Columbia and Snake Rivers to the confluence of the two rivers. The steam ships dropped off their cargo on Nez Perce Reservation land at what is now Lewiston. In order to avert potential armed conflict, the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs negotiated a modification to the 1855 Treaty. The modification allowed miners and prospectors the temporary use of reservation land, provided the U.S. troops stationed at Fort Lapwai would keep peace and order. The agreement excluded from mining activity specified areas used by the Nez Perce to camp and gather food. Further, when the mines played out, the visitors were to leave the reservation. As the fortune hunters came through, they were astonished to see how many of the Nez Perce, under the former tutelage of the Spaldings, had adapted to cultivating the land. In 1861 Dr. G.A. Nobel reported to the Oregon City Argus that, “These Indians have some fine crops here, well-fenced and apparently well-cultivated … both chickens and eggs [were for sale].”

In May 1861 the Oregon Steamship and Navigation Company established a settlement at the drop-off site named Lewiston after Meriwether Lewis. In October 1861 they contracted with Dr. J.B. Buker to plat the Lewiston townsite. Under the agreement with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the settlers could not construct permanent structures on reservation land. Therefore, Lewiston soon became a community of canvas tents nicknamed “Ragtown.” By 1862 around 2,000 people lived in the town. Lewiston had a reputation as a wild, lawless town, with considerable gambling, robbery, prostitution, violence and murder. A marker at the foot of 13th Street Grade illustrates the criminal element that existed at the time. The marker describes the events surrounding the first trial by an Idaho court. It began in 1863 and culminated with the March 1864 hanging of the three robbers and murderers of Lloyd Magruder, a prominent Northern Idaho packer and trader, and his four traveling companions. This intriguing story combines criminal conspiracy with the alert and persistent work of Hill Beachy, a Lewiston hotelier and Magruder’s friend. Beachy became a deputized sheriff, received gubernatorial cooperation between jurisdictions, led a criminal pursuit and capture of the murderers in San Francisco, returned them to Lewiston for trial and execution and retrieved stolen gold for return to the widow and children. The story ends with the Idaho Territorial Legislature appropriating $6,244 to defray the costs incurred by Beachy in solving the case, pursuing the felons and bringing them to justice. Even though Lewiston residents lived on land owned by the Nez Perce, they bought and sold lots as though they had legal ownership—essentially forcing the Nez Perce off the land. Seeking to avoid armed conflict, town residents negotiated a lease with the Nez Perce for townsite land. On March 4, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Organic Act creating Idaho Territory. As sovereign nations, American Indian Reservation lands were not part of the territory.

On June 9, 1863, the Bureau of Indian Affairs reached agreement with about half of the Nez Perce Nation to reduce the size of the reservation. The Nez Perce Tribes—led by Old Joseph and, later, Chief Joseph—refused to sign the 1863 treaty. This was one of the factors contributing to the Nez Perce War of 1877. The new boundaries of the 1863 treaty removed Lewiston from the reservation. However, Congress did not ratify the treaty until April 20, 1867, thus delaying the effective date of the treaty. Most non-Indians disregarded the legal timing of events and proceeded as though the 1863 treaty was immediately in effect. Under the Organic Act, the territorial governor could designate the territory’s temporary capital; however, establishing the permanent site required legislation. Idaho’s first territorial governor, William H. Wallace, called the Legislature to convene its first session on December 7, 1863, in the more accessible town of Lewiston. However, before the legislative session started, Wallace resigned as governor and left for Washington, D.C., as the territorial delegate to Congress, leaving the territorial secretary as acting governor. President Lincoln appointed Caleb Lyon as Wallace’s successor. Lyon arrived in Lewiston in August 1864 in time to be present for the second legislative session in December. Before Lyon arrived, the goldfields to the east of Lewiston were playing out. The population in the region had fallen by 90 percent. Lewiston’s 1862 population had declined to 365. By 1863 gold discoveries in the Boise Basin had attracted over 16,000 prospectors, miners and settlers. By the end of that year, the Boise Basin population was second only to Portland as the most populous area in the Northwest. On December 7, 1864, the Second Territorial Legislature passed landmark legislation, signed by Governor Lyon, making Boise the state’s first chartered city, creating Ada County and establishing Boise as the permanent territorial capital. Citizens of Lewiston and Northern Idaho were outraged and filed suit alleging the law was invalid because the Legislature met six weeks before their official term of office began. Lewiston Probate Judge John G. Berry sided with the plaintiffs. He issued an injunction against removal of the Territorial Seal and artifacts from Lewiston and summoned Governor Lyon to appear in court and answer the charges. Under the guise of a duck hunting trip, Lyon crossed the river into Washington Territory. Unable to arrest Lyon, the sheriff carried out the balance of the court order by locking the Great Territorial Seal of Idaho and the territorial archives

in the Lewiston jail. In Lyon’s absence, the Territorial Secretary, Clinton DeWitt Smith, became acting governor with authority over federal personnel in the territory. On March 2, 1865, Smith dispatched federal troops to Lewiston to retrieve the Seal and artifacts from the jail and rendezvous with him outside the city. On April 14, 1865, Smith entered Boise with the Seal and artifacts. However, that did not end the dispute. Lewiston officials appealed the matter to the territorial district judge who sustained the ruling of the lower court. Smith appealed the case to the newly created Idaho Territorial Supreme Court in Boise. On June 14, 1866, the Supreme Court overturned the district court, thus establishing Boise as the legal capital of Idaho Territory. With the mining traffic through Lewiston gone, agriculture and timber became Lewiston’s economic base. During the 1870s farmers and ranchers began staking homestead claims and moving into the surrounding area. Wheat was the major crop. In 1874 E.B. True prepared a plat of Lewiston and filed it with the County. A year later the city completed the Lewiston Ditch, that for over 15 years, flowed through the city providing water for lawns, gardens, flowers and domestic use. In 1880 the Territorial Legislature made the Lewiston Independent School District Idaho’s first chartered school district. In 1881 the Territorial Legislature made Lewiston a chartered city. It was the second of Idaho’s three chartered cities— Boise being first and Bellevue third. In 1893 the Legislature amended the charter to allow the city to levy additional taxes and incur indebtedness for public works projects. In 1969 in order to allow the city to annex the “Orchards” area, Lewiston had to give up its historic charter. The annexation doubled Lewiston’s population.

Amenities and Attractions Today

 Lewiston is home to Lewis-Clark State College. The school has 3,500 students and is located on a 46-acre campus in a residential part of Lewiston. This four-year public institution is one of the city’s prominent focal points. It is not only a major employer, but it is a workforce training center and a major contributor to the city’s culture and way of life. Lewiston has 368 acres dedicated to parks, cemetery, golf course and open spaces at 35 locations throughout the city. Pioneer Park is the oldest park. It includes a band shell and statues of Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea. Kiwanis Park is located on the Snake River, with plenty of space for picnics. Sunset Park includes playground equipment, tennis courts and a softball field. Other park amenities include two swimming pools; 17 baseball/softball diamonds; 19 tennis courts; two basketball courts; a birling pond, a lumberjack competition consisting of walking on floating logs; a kids fishing pond; and a skateboard park. Locomotive Park is located at the southeast approach to Memorial Bridge. The park’s primary exhibit is the last steam-powered logging locomotive used by Potlatch Corporation. The locomotive started service in June 1924 and retired in 1953. There are four year-round 18-hole golf courses. Two are country clubs. Bryden Canyon and Quail Ridge are public links. The levee system provides 27 miles of National Recreation Trail for walkers, runners and bikers. Prominent annual events include the Dogwood Festival that takes place each April. The weeklong event takes place under the blossoms of the dogwood trees found throughout the valley. Activities include garden tours; sporting events; concerts; plays and “Art under the Elms,” an arts and crafts fair on the LCSC campus. Entertainment and opportunities for self-expression are available through the Lewiston Civic Theatre, chamber orchestras and the Washington Idaho Symphony. The Center for the Arts in downtown Lewiston sponsors events and exhibitions showcasing local and regional artists and authors. Each September, The Lewiston Roundup Association sponsors a signature rodeo, parade and other attractions. The event, which started in 1935, is the longest running community event in the Lewiston-Clarkston area. During each Thanksgiving week, the Lewiston Chamber of Commerce sponsors the Snake Clearwater Steelhead Derby. Boating and fishing enthusiasts enjoy the close proximity to the Snake and Clearwater Rivers. Numerous boat launches in Lewiston and nearby Clarkston provide easy access to the rivers. One popular sport is fishing from rafts, drift boats and jet boats for Steelhead, bass, white sturgeon, trout, Kokanee and Chinook salmon. Other anglers fish from the riverbanks. The 652,488-acre Hells Canyon National Recreation Area (HCNRA), including the 960-acre Hells Gate State Park, is located three miles south of Lewiston. The HCNRA includes North America’s deepest river gorge. The Snake River gorge forms the Idaho/Oregon border. On the Oregon side, the gorge lies more than a mile below the rim. On the Idaho side, the gorge is more than 8,000 feet below He Devil Peak of the Seven Devils Mountains. The HCNRA provides opportunities for hiking, camping, swimming, boating, horseback riding, hunting and fishing. The Nez Perce Indian Reservation is located at Lapwai, 14 miles southeast of Lewiston. Descendants of Chief Joseph’s band live on the Reservation. The Spaulding Museum and Memorial Park are located on the Clearwater River 11 miles east of Lewiston on the Nez Perce Reservation in Spalding. The museum includes artifacts and exhibits of the historic Spalding mission and Port of Lewiston— Idaho’s Only Seaport the Nez Perce Tribe. The Nez Perce National Historic Park is comprised of 38 sites scattered across Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana. One of these sites is at Spalding. Clarkston, Washington, which is about half the size of Lewiston, lies immediately across the Snake River. From a practical standpoint, the legal boundary between the two cities is transparent. Residents of each city often patronize businesses and attractions of the other. One of Clarkston’s prominent attractions is the Asotin County Aquatic Center, a family water park. 


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