She Named Idaho

Not long ago, this magazine received a missive from John Mock, president of the nonprofit First Territorial Capitol of Idaho Revitalization Project, whose volunteers reconstructed Idaho’s first territorial capitol building in Lewiston as a walk-through museum, using 155-year-old timber. John’s email included a 1986 article from the The Steilacoom Historical Museum Quarterly on Puget Sound in Washington, which told the story of the woman who claimed to have given Idaho its name.

The story, details of which have been debated, came from a first-person account written in 1892 by Luzena B. Wallace, whose husband, William H. Wallace, was the territory’s first governor. In 1855, Luzena journeyed by ship from the East Coast to join her husband in Washington, where they were early settlers and William became a delegate to Washington’s Territorial Legislature. Luzena’s story continues with extracts starting in the 1860s:

“By this time the population had increased, the settlements were fast settling down to the routine of social life, and incidents or adventurous acts of life ceased to be worthy of mention. My husband was appointed governor of Washington in 1861 [and] the same year elected delegate to Congress. I accompanied him to the national capital. In 1863 Idaho Territory was established, and he was appointed its first governor, and at the first election elected delegate to Congress from that Territory.

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Luzena B. Wallace. Courtesy of Steilacoom Historical Museum.
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“I may refer with pride to my connection with the establishment of the Territory of Idaho. Quite a delegation was present in 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. The colonel was overjoyed at the assured passage of the bill, which he had in charge, and his friends who were assembled at his rooms joined with him in conferring upon me the high privilege of nominating 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 Mountain.’ The evening of the day upon which the bill passed, my husband came home and said, ‘Well, Lue, you’ve got your territory, and I’m governor of it.’”

As John Mock noted in his email to us, a framed picture of Luzena B. Wallace can be seen on the reconstructed desk of Idaho’s first Territorial Governor, William H. Wallace, in the reconstructed capitol memorial building at 12th and Main Streets in Lewiston. — The Editors

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