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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Culdesac

Friday, September 9, 2016  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Culdesac nestled in the valley. 

Cudesac is located on the northern Camas Prairie within the Nez Perce Indian Reservation about 20 miles east of Lewiston.

The foothills of the Craig Mountains interspersed with fields of wheat, barley and peas surround the city. Lapwai Creek flows through town.

Historical Tidbits 

In 1855 the federal government entered into a treaty with the Nez Perce Indians establishing a reservation that covered a large part of Northern Idaho and Western Washington. However, beginning 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 of fortune hunters 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 Pierce gold fields and beyond.

Around 1863 what is now Culdesac was an Outlaw Headquarters named "Shebeen," an Irish name often meaning an illicit bar or club selling alcoholic beverages. Legend has it that the infamous road agent and turncoat California sheriff, Henry Plummer, and his gang stayed there during the time that they were robbing miners working the Elk City and Florence goldfields.

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 In 1935 Congress repealed the law.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 land 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.

One of those participating was John McKenzie. He filed his 160-acre homestead claim on land that, in part, would become the site of what is now Culdesac.

Most of the Camas Prairie settlements began around this time. Railroad interests, anticipating heavy freight demand from thousands of farms developing on the prairie, began planning rail service from Lewiston to Grangeville. Mr. Mellon, president of the Northern Pacific Railroad, toured the planned rail route. In 1889 when his party reached what is now Culdesac, he declared the place "a veritable culdesac."

In the fall of that year, the railroad built a train depot at that location and named it Culdesac.

On January 1, 1903, Culdesac became an incorporated village. At that time, the community tapped the water from a large spring and installed a domestic water system.

The Difficulty of Naming a Post Office

In most new towns started by the railroad, incoming mail generally bore the name of the train depot. However, in the case of Culdesac, town residents were not pleased with the name and tried to get it changed. In 1900 hoping postal authorities would see it their way, they applied for a post office named Mellon.

In rejecting their application, postal authorities apparently told them that the name of the train depot that received the mail and the name of the post office needed to be the same, because a year later community leaders made another application. However, this time, they showed their displeasure by keeping the pronunciation of the name but spelling it "Cul-de-sac."

Postal authorities apparently enjoying the "ping pong" game rejected the use of hyphenated words but granted the post office with the name of "Magnolia." In July 1902 community leaders, realizing they were not going to win the battle, made a successful application for a post office named "Culdesac," the same spelling used for the railroad station.

Amenities and Attractions Today

Culdesac City Park is adjacent to Culdesac School. The park has old-growth trees, children playgrounds, benches and picnic areas, basketball and tennis courts and a walking path that crosses Lapwai Creek. The park has a monument to local men and women who served in the military and a historic fire hose.

Separate from the park on the west side of town is a baseball field and the Culdesac Gun Club and Shooting Range that is often the location for local shooting contests.

Shebang Days, the two-day event named after Culdesac’s history as an outlaw headquarters named "Shebeen," starts each year on the first Saturday of June. The event features a parade, breakfast, yard sale, food and craft vendors, games, auctions and street dancing after sundown.

Winchester Lake State Park in Winchester is 12 miles south of the city. The park offers campsites, yurts, canoeing, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fishing on the lake as well as nearby streams.

The northeast border of the Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA) begins about 15 miles southwest of Culdesac. This WMA comprises about 140,000 acres under the ownership of several state and federal agencies, the Nez Perce Tribe and the Nature Conservancy. Most of the WMA is open to the public for specified uses and provides habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. Much of the WMA is extremely rugged. The lower portion of the WMA includes the Hells Canyon Gorge on the Snake River, the deepest gorge in the United States.

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