The Lapwai Valley is historically connected to the Nez Perce people, who have utilized the area for as long as can be remembered. The name Lapwai actually comes from the Nez Perce word “Thlap-Thlap,” which refers to a butterfly and the sound that its wings make. As a result of the abundance of butterflies in times past, the area has been referred to as the “Valley of Butterflies” and “Land or Place of the Butterfly.”
The rich history continued in 1805, when Captain Meriwether Lewis and William Clark passed through the area on their way to the Pacific with the Corps of Discovery.
In 1836, Presbyterian minister, Reverend Henry Harmon Spalding founded the Nez Perce Indian Mission at Lapwai Valley. It was the state’s first white settlement and where he established Idaho’s first school, developed its first irrigation system, and grew the state’s first potatoes.
In 1839, Rev. Spalding printed the Northwest’s first books, portions of the Bible, on the earliest printing press in the Pacific Northwest.
The area became apart of the Oregon Territory in 1848 and a part of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation in 1855. Less than ten years later, the area became part of the Idaho Territory in 1863. This was also at the time when troops were assigned to the Lapwai Valley and Fort Lapwai was established as a response to the 1860 gold rush happening on Nez Perce lands.
Fort Lapwai was in use from 1862 to 1885. It was here that General Oliver O. Howard met with the leaders of Nez Perce non-treaty bands on May 3, 1877, as they made one last attempt to remain on their land.
After 1885, when old Fort Lapwai ceased to function as a military fort, it was converted into a government Indian school, then a tuberculosis sanatorium with a hospital, then a boys and girls dormitory, and finally into a school under the direction of the Lapwai School District. It was called the Fort Lapwai Training School from 1891-1899.
Fort Lapwai became part of the State of Idaho when Idaho was admitted to the Union as the 43rd state in 1890.
The Northern Idaho Indian Agency, originally located at Spalding, was relocated to Fort Lapwai in 1904.
On January 11, 1911, the Nez Perce County Commissioners ratified the petition of Roy C. Lane for the Incorporation of the Village of Lapwai. There were over two hundred (200) residents residing within the boundaries of the proposed village at that time. William Siegrist, William J. Fenderson, A.J. Lucas, John C. Carlson and Roy C. Lane were appointed to act as Trustees for the Village of Lapwai until their successors were elected.
Lapwai remains as the seat of government for the Nez Perce Indian Nation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Northern Idaho Indian Agency.
Lapwai Valley Timeline
1805 – Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery pass through the area.
1836 – Reverend Henry Harmon and Eliza Hart Spalding arrive and establish State’s first settlement.
1837 – First crop of potatoes planted in Idaho by Henry Spalding and Nez Perce.
1838 – Nez Perce Indian Mission and school, founded by Presbyterian minister Reverend Henry Harmon Spalding.
1839 – Reverend Spalding published portions of the Bible on the first printing press in the Pacific Northwest.
1848 – Lapwai Valley became apart of the Oregon Territory.
1855 – Nez Perce persuaded to sign Walla Walla Treaty, Lapwai Valley becomes a part of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. Indian Agency established in Spalding.
1860 – Gold rush in Nez Perce lands.
1862 – Camp Lapwai established in response to gold rush.
1863 – Fort Lapwai constructed and becomes part of the new Idaho Territory. following the Treaty of 1863 that reduced Nez Perce lands that were also referred to as the Lapwai Reservation.
1866 – Regulars replace volunteers at Fort Lapwai.
1877 –General Oliver O. Howard meets with Nez Perce leaders, which later results in the Nez Perce War of 1877, because of the forced relocation of Nez Perce to the Lapwai Reservation.
1884 – Fort Lapwai abandoned by the Army; decommissioned on June 5th and turned over to Indian Services
1885 – Fort Lapwai converted into a government Indian boarding school.
1887 – Dawes Act also known as the General Allotment Act passed authorizing the federal government to regulate land rights and subdivide tribal communal landholdings into allotments for private ownership. This resulted in the loss of land, application of blood quantum and the break-up of traditional leadership of tribes.
1890 – Fort Lapwai became part of the State of Idaho, the Union’s 43rd state.
1891 – Fort Lapwai renamed Fort Lapwai Training School.
1895 – Un-alloted lands reservation wide were opened up to white settlers.
1899 – Lillian Marie Bounds, wife of Walt Disney, is born in Lapwai Valley.
1904 – Northern Idaho Indian Agency relocated to Fort Lapwai from Spalding.
1907 – A tuberculosis sanatorium and preventorium established at the fort site.
1909 – Consolidation of local elementary school districts into one high school district is passed and forms the Rural High No. 1, the first rural High school in Idaho. Lapwai Valley is also home to the first integrated school system of its kind, Indian and Non-Indian students, in the U.S.
1911 – Incorporation of the Village of Lapwai. First Rural High school Board of Trustees is appointed by Board of County Commissioners
1912 – Indian Boarding school is closed. Government uses it as a Tuberculous Sanatorium for NW Indians. New School district moves to new building.
1917 – The school became known as the Smith-Hughes School.
1933 – Administration of the school transferred to Coeur d’Alene Agency.
1942 – A fire proof concrete wing was added to the school.
1945 – Tuberculous Sanatorium is closed. Fire gutted the original wing of the school and destroys all the records.
1953 – School district obtains congressional approval to use the former government sanatorium building for k-7 classes.
1959 – New addition to the high school, built on the grounds where the original school stood is completed.
1987 – Beginning of Idaho’s longest basketball winning streak at 81 games and three consecutive A-3 state championships under Coach Bruce Crossfield.
2011 – City of Lapwai celebrates its centennial year by re-establishing Lapwai Days. Click here to read LMT Article