A Worthwhile Study

Page 14 of 14

How can a place have a name? A man,
a woman may have a name, but they die.
We are a story until we die.
Then our names are dangerous.
A place is a story happening many times.1
      — Kim Robert Stafford

The contents of the preceding pages have served to illustrate what Donald Jackson meant when he wrote that it is "the flux, the fragility, the role of happenstance, and the waywardness of human nature in the handing-down of place names that make their study so worthy a subject."2 Even though it is highly unlikely that any of the expedition's journalists ever heard the name, much less met anyone called Lolo, and notwithstanding the coincidental bastardization of it into "Lou-Lou" and all its variants, plus the many tales appended thereto, Lolo is among the most familiar and useful of all the place names in the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Gary E. Moulton, editor of the University of Nebraska Press's 13-volume Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1983–2001), indexed Travelers' Rest under 6 cross-references: "Lolo (Collin's) Creek (Idaho), "Lolo (Travelers' Rest) Creek," "Lolo Hot Springs," "Lolo Mountains," "Lolo Pass," "Lolo Trail," and "Travelers' Rest (Idaho)"—a total of 241 entries and subentries. Thus shorn of all its misbegotten folklore, that Lolo is our Lolo. To summarize what we have learned about him, let us briefly retrace our steps to a succinct conclusion.

1. Place-names: Lewis and Clark's name "Travelers Rest" was suitable for their campsite, but it was too site-specific to simultaneously function equitably with the creek, the peak, the hot springs, the pass, and all the rest. Perhaps that was reason that by the time settlers began moving into the region in the 1840s and 50s, the old name was basically meaningless.

2. Recollection: Lewis and Clark and their men camped on 9-10 September 1805 and again on 30 June, 1-2 July 1806 beside a stream they called "Travelers Rest Creek." Meriwether Lewis may have seen or sensed a comparison between it and the Travelers Rest in South Carolina where he and his parents had paused on his travels between the Lewis plantation in Virginia's Albemarle County and his new boyhood home in Georgia's Ogelthorpe County. However, the rigors of the Indian trail across the Bitterroot Mountains far exceeded those that Meriwether had experienced in crossing the Blue Ridge Escarpment. Similarly, most travelers who came after the Expedition learned that the description of it in Nicholas Biddle's paraphrase of the captains' journals was not exaggerated. The trail, the creek, the pass, the hot springs, the peak–all needed a new name.

3. David Thompson & William Ashley: The first time that the name Lolo appeared in any traveler's journal was in 1810. He was an engagé of no particular distinction hired once or twice by David Thompson. Thompson visited the Hell Gate Ronde in 1812, and was introduced from a distance to the trail Lewis and Clark trod through it, but he didn't consider calling it anything but a generic defile. Secondly, at the first Green River Rendezvous in 1825, William Henry Ashley twice traded supplies for furs with a trapper he apparently knew only as "Mr. Lolo."

4. John Work and Father De Smet: The Hudson's Bay Company's fur trader John Work used the Nez Perce trail through the Bitterroot Mountains in 1831. He called the stream–if his handwriting has been deciphered correctly–by the obscure name, "Saloas River." He didn't mention meeting anyone called Lolo. Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, a Jesuit missionary, knew that Lewis and Clark had named the stream in 1805-06, but apparently didn't know what the explorers called it, so he named it the "River of St. Francis Borgia." Neither his nor Work's name took hold. The mission Fr. De Smet established in the heart of the Bitterroot Valley in 1841 was highly promising for several years, but the parish's support waned, and it was forced to close in 1850. Among the most faithful of the missionaries' converts to Catholicism was a half-breed trapper named Lolo who was killed by a grizzly bear in November of 1850, but the mission's sacramental ledgers were irretrievably lost soon after the priests left with them, so we cannot determine whether he had a Christian baptismal name or not.

5. Lieutenant Mullan's Lolo: Lt. John Mullan surveyed the Northern Nez Perce road across the Bitterroot Range in 1853-54 to assess its suitability as a railroad route. He never met anyone named Lolo, but was told by an Iroquois guide and interpreter that the creek was called the "Lo Lo Fork," or "Lo Lo's Fork" of the river Father De Smet had recently named "St. Mary's," previously known as "Clark's River," and subsequently as the Bitterroot River

6. Putting Lolo on the Map: Whereas Lt. Mullan consistently referred to the creek as Lolo's Fork, Isaac Stevens, in the published Reports and Surveys, and in all of the related maps, embellished Lo Lo with a supplementary u, making it "Lou Lou," which led to the logical conclusion that the name was pronounced "Loo Loo." Various explanations were offered for that shift in phonetics, but all were purely speculative. Nevertheless, cartographers persisted in copying the precedents, especially "Lou-Lou," until the end of the century, when the U.S Board on Geographic Names enjoined the publication of all but "Lolo" (Figure 16), which was widely acknowledged to be a Salish contraction of the baptismal name Lawrence.

7. Owen's Lolos: Intermittently, from 1810 until the 1860s, traders continued to encounter and hire men named Lolo, chiefly as common laborers or "carriers," herders, wranglers or trail-hands. All that we know of those Lolos is the precious little that is found in the traders' journals. They were evidently unaffiliated with any particular Native tribe or nation. Apparently they were illiterate, marginally skilled, and seldom experienced or talented in any particular livelihood. They were just engagés–hired hands like those Lewis and Clark recruited at St. Charles in May of 1804. They were undistingished and indistinguishable, yet indispensable. For example, John Owen counted no Lolos among the customers he dealt with at Fort Owen, but he occasionally hired one as a trail-hand.

8. St. Mary's Rediviva: The closing of the first St. Mary's Mission on 5 November 1850 was punctuated by the sudden death of "Lolo, the only Indian who still remained well disposed and really attached to religion." A Nez Perce historian recounted the tragic event as it was told to him, including the report that Lolo's remains were buried near the creek. If this Lolo had a baptismal name, whether Lawrence or a different one, the priest who recorded the Indian's death did not mention it. St. Mary's mission was revived and rebuilt in 1866 a few miles from the site of the first one. Its sacramental records, which have survived and have been translated and published, contain four references to "Lawrence (Lo-LÛ)" in the baptismal, marriage, and burial records. The first appeared in 1868, the last in 1888. Between 1888 and 1891 five Salish men named Lawrence and two named Laurence are mentioned in the sacramental registers, but none of them, apparently, were also known as Lolo.

9. Old-Timers' Insights: Around 1900, Olin D. Wheeler, a press agent for the recently completed Northern Pacific Railroad, initiated an inquiry into the source and meaning of the name Lolo. He secured the aid of Judge Frank Woody of Missoula, who in turn discussed the matter with some other "old-timers," including Fathers D'Aste and Palladino, and Duncan McDonald, a highly respected half-breed businessman. Their conclusion, supported by several other "experts," was that "Lolo" was a Salish Indian corruption of the Christian baptismal name Lawrence. That etymology has been upheld so firmly as a self-evident truth that no one has questioned what the name meant before Wheeler's book was published. Nor has anyone questioned the tacit assumption that there was only one Lolo and no more. We have encountered some 25 19th-century Lolos in this study, but only one that we know of was ever called Lawrence. Wheeler's "old-timers" all came to Montana after 1850, and therefore could not have known him personally, so their testimony was hearsay that could not be verified by any means.

Fr. Palladino, whose forename was Lawrence, acknowledged that Flathead Indians usually called him "Lolo," and Fr. D'Aste ministered to an Indian named Lolo in 1894. Five years later, Judge Woody sentenced an Indian named Lolo–whom he did not refer to as Lawrence– to 18 months in the state penitentiary for murder.

At long last, in November of 1916, Duncan McDonald corrected the long-held conclusion that Lou-Lou was actually the man's Indian name. On the authority of his mother-in-law's recollection, McDonald stated that Lolo was a Salish contraction of the French Christian name Laurent. Also, he spoke briefly of an interesting new biographical detail concerning Lolo's personality.

10. Endless Possibilities: Throughout the 20th century nearly all information about Lolo pertained to the meaning of the word, rather than to the identity or character of the legendary man. One amateur historian averred that it was "a corruption of the French name Le Louis, given to the stream and pass by early French trappers" in honor of Meriwether Lewis. Another claimed that the mystery man was named after "Lolo [i.e., Lola] Montez, a noted Spanish beauty." A third authority subscribed to the Wheeler-Woody-Palladino-D'Aste-McDonald explanation, but preferred to believe that "Lou-Lou" was the man's real name. Another story-teller asserted that Lolo's full name was "Lau Rence," and that absurd theory as well as the previous one have been perpetuated by the engraving of both "Lou-Lou" and "Lawrence Rence" on the headstone recently erected at the purported site of Lolo's burial. Finally, Duncan McDonald recounted his wife's mother's story of Lolo's death, and the time and place it happened, which, in the unlikely event that her story was true, would raise another question: Who's really buried in Lolo's grave?

11. Lolos in the GNIS: In the publication of its first official decisions in 1898, the U.S. Board on Geographic names declared that "Lou-Lou" and "Loo-Loo," as well as the sometimes hyphenated "Lo-Lo," were not to be used on maps in the future, and that the official place-name from that time forward was to be Lolo. Currently the Geographic Names Information System lists 62 places named Lolo in the states of Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, plus a few more elsewhere in the U.S. Also, the BCGNIS lists one feature named Lolo in the province of British Columbia. Each GNIS entry includes a Decision Card containing details of the name's etymology or history; only one of the 63 Decision Cards on geographic features named Lolo contains any reference to the Wheeler-Woody-Palladino-D'Aste-McDonald theory positing Lawrence as the basis of the name.

12. Lolo in the Trade Jargon: There is one historical, etymological source and meaning of Lolo that may explain its use. Originally it was a Chinookan verb meaning "to carry" or "to load." Chinook Trade Jargon, also known as the Trade Language of Oregon (territory), evolved along with the growth of the international fur trade in the Northwest. It was a rudimentary lingo that that grew out of necessity in the dealings between fur traders of various nationalities and Native Americans speaking any of the numerous dialects of Salishan and other Native languages, along the northwest Pacific Coast, from Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island southward to the Columbia River estuary. By 1850 the verb had acquired somewhat broader connotations: "to carry, load, bear, bring, fetch, transfer, lug, or pack." Verbs in the trade language could also serve as nouns. Thus a "lolo" was a "carrier." The use of that noun to denote a hired hand or engagé may explain its appearance in the journals of explorers and traders from David Thompson in 1810 to John Mullan and John Owen in the 1850s.

There are two possible exceptions to this proposition. First, beginning in the 1780s many young Hawaiian men were hired by American and Canadian fur-trading companies on three-year contracts. One of them, known as Coriakan, worked as a guard, guide and wrangler for the Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Connah in the Flathead Valley. He was killed in the line of duty by Blackfeet raiders in the 1840s, and was briefly memorialized in the name of the defile near Missoula in which the encounter took place. Figure 4). There is no evidence that Coriakan was ever known as Lolo, although the word "lolo" carries 7 separate meanings in the Hawaiian language, and functions as a prefix and suffix to a great many other words. None of them, however, come anywhere close to those found in the published dictionaries of Chinook Trade Jargon.

13. One Corporeal Lolo: So far as we know, there was only one Lolo who gained enough responsibility, along with a commensurately widespread reputation, to deserve a firm place in the history of the Northwest. We even have a photograph of him with his wife and two of his five children (Figure 17). He spent most of his 70 years (1798-1868) at Fort Kamloops on the Thompson River in British Columbia. He is not known to have travelled as far south as today's Lolo, Montana. He accumulated many names–"Mister-Captain-Jean-Baptiste-Saint-Paul-Chief Lolo–but apparently no one ever called him Lawrence.

Our Lolo

Taken together, the two dozen or so Lolos that we have met in this study probably were only third-class citizens on the northwestern frontier. It seems likely that most were Iroquois immigrants, judging from the fact that most of them appear either to have been solitary figures, or to have worked with other men of similar background. With only one exception that we know of–St. Paul Lolo of Fort Kamloops, British Columbia–they were unskilled laborers. They laid no claims to any rights, responsibilities or traditions as colorful as those of, for instance, the voyageurs.

Nevertheless, as hired hands–porters, packers, herdsmen, wranglers, trappers or hunters in a pinch–the Lolos were essential to the frontier economy, ready to do the simplest, the dirtiest work. That is perhaps the best reason for supposing that their common name, "carrier," was spontaneously drawn from the Chinook Trade Jargon. It gave its bearer at least a unique, if narrow, measure of identity. Anyone who knew a little of the lingo would have recognized that. We have encountered those men as individuals, yet there was not enough individuality in most of them to inspire even anecdotal biographies. Only one or two of them are known to have worked at fur-trapping, and we have not read of any of them having the initiative to try prospecting or hard-rock mining, nor any other calling.

The idea that Lou-Lou was ever the correct spelling–and the pronunciation–of Lolo's name is hard to let go of. However, in the course of this study we have observed that more than a dozen prominent, literate frontiersmen, spread across the decades between 1810 and 1904, consistently spelled it L-o-l-o in their personal or otherwise privileged records and communications, as well as in published books and articles written by them. None ever spelled it L-o-u L-o-u.3 That alone would have been sufficient reason for the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to officially declare that Lou-Lou was the anomalous and thenceforth unacceptable form of Lolo, not the other way around.

Indeed, there was practically nothing as memorable about most of the men called Lolo as the name itself–the deep mellow sonority of it, the sharp rhythm and ring of it, the roll of it off the tongue-tip. Only two of the Lolos transcended the name as individuals. One was St. Paul Lolo of Fort Kamloops, British Columbia; the other was the Lolo who was briefly remembered for his loyalty to the Catholic Church and its priests at the first St. Mary's Mission in the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana. That faith was his epitaph. The only other people who knew anything about him were the Nez Perce historian Harry Wheeler, and Duncan McDonald's Salish mother-in-law whose memory appears to have been flawed. But even the most credible stories are somehow incomplete, or at least open to question.

Otherwise, that Lolo was almost as shadowy a figure as most of the other men who came and went on the fringes of the fur trades and the gold rushes. His greatest monument was the permanence with which his name became a keyword in the historiography of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The diverse array of landmarks along the ancient Indian road across the Bitterroot Mountain barrier, that eventually melded into the story of the Corps's travels upon it, demanded an attributive expression, a simpler, less loaded name than "Traveler's Rest." One that could be prefixed comfortably to any noun on a map of K'useyneiskit. Lolo was a perfect fit. That is what makes one of them our Lolo. His stories are those places.

1. From "There are No Names but Stories," in Places and Stories (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1987). Used by permission.

2. Donald Jackson, "Lewis and Clark Place-Names in Montana," in Among the Sleeping Giants: Occasional Pieces on Lewis and Clark (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 89.

3. David Thompson, William Ashley, John Mullan, John Owen, Oliver Otis Howard, Duncan McDonald, Olin Wheeler, Frank Woody, Ralph Space, Nez Perce historian Harry Wheeler, Fr. Lawrence Palladino, and all of the Jesuits at St. Mary's Mission in the Bitterroot Valley.