Stealing the seal was a capital move

Lecture highlights the early Lewiston/Boise rivalry

While the Civil War was raging thousands of miles away, another war was brewing in the Idaho Territory.

Historian John A. Mock discussed the bitter battle between Lewiston and Boise for the title of capital of the new territory in his lecture "Lewiston and the Great Seal: The Territorial Capital is Moved to Boise" Thursday night on the Lewis-Clark State College Campus. The lecture was part of a series of talks commemorating Lewiston's sesquicentennial.

"It was one of the most exciting periods of Idaho history," he said. "There's a continuing rivalry between north and south Idaho today."

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Organic Act, which created the Idaho Territory out of a 325,000-square-mile area that is now Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Lincoln named William H. Wallace as the first governor of the territory, and Wallace chose Lewiston as the new capital. The Seal of the Territory of Idaho was also designed in Lewiston in 1863, Mock said. It included the words "The Union" to indicate where the territory stood in the war between the states.

"In 1862, Lewiston had more people than Portland, Olympia and Seattle combined," Mock said.

The first territorial capitol building of Idaho was a rough-hewn timber structure on the northwest side of Third Street. According to Mock, the building was still standing in 1913. The historic Luna House was located across the street, and legislators often stayed there, Mock said.

In 1864, the president appointed Caleb Lyon of New York - whom Mock considers a "scoundrel" - as second governor of the territory.

"It's a story of heroes and villains," Mock said.

A bill to change the location of the capital was introduced and fast tracked through the Legislature by Lyon, but Probate Judge John G. Berry issued an injunction against removal of the territorial seal and archives from Lewiston, Mock said. Lyon soon left the area, presumably back to the East Coast.

Meanwhile, the seal and archives were protected by six armed citizens, thwarting the first Boise attempt to steal them on Dec. 31, 1864.

However, in 1865, acting governor and territorial secretary Clinton DeWitt Smith and a military guard from Fort Lapwai successfully stole the great seal and archives and brought them to Boise.

In 1864, First Judicial District Judge Thomas M. Pomeroy and Territorial Judge Alleck C. Smith both ruled that the territory's capital would remain Lewiston, but on June 14, 1866, the newly formed Idaho Territorial Supreme Court reversed the action, making Boise the capital in law and fact, Mock said. The decision, however, was recorded only in court minutes, and an official opinion was never written.

"These people went against not only a probate judge, but also a District Court judge," Mock said.

The great territorial seal also subsequently disappeared and has not been found since, Mock said.

Mock is also part of the First Territorial Capitol of Idaho Revitalization Project. The group's objective is to construct a replica of the first territorial capitol and learning center next to the Nez Perce County Museum on Third Street in Lewiston. For more information, visit their website at www.lewistonschools.net/staff/sbranting/capitol/cap1.htm.

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Gaboury may be contacted at kgaboury@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2275.