----Lewiston lost its status as Idaho's capital thanks to a bogus duck-hunting trip and a leisurely horseback ride that turned into an armed raid.

The men who engineered the shift to Boise still are vilified in Idaho histories as drunks, thieves and generally no good. The main focus of criticism is Caleb Lyon of Lyonsdale, N.Y., who was appointed governor of Idaho Territory by President Abraham Lincoln, even though Lyon originally had applied to be minister to Bolivia.

However, the person who actually removed the territorial seal and archives from Lewiston was Clinton DeWitt Smith, who served as territorial secretary and acting governor for a time.

Still, history leaves no doubt it was Lyon described as ''a pompous Easterner with larceny in his heart'' in ''Frontier Lewiston: 1861-1890,'' by Michael C. Moore who originally helped further southern Idaho interests seeking the capital.

Lyon was educated at Montreal and graduated in civil engineering from Norwich University in Vermont in 1841 at age 18. In 1847, he obtained an appointment as U.S. consul at Shanghai, but he didn't bother to go to China.

Instead he joined the California gold rush and was employed as one of the secretaries at California's 1849 constitutional convention. When the artist who executed the California state seal ''proved to be bashful about the matter, Lyon cheerfully assumed credit for the design,'' according to an article in ''Idaho Yesterdays,'' published by the Idaho Historical Society.

With the credit came $1,000 in gold bestowed by California officials.

Lyon later returned to New York, where he served as a state assemblyman and senator before being elected in 1852 to a term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was a Republican.

Lyon was known ''by always appearing with a flaming neck-tie and curiously grotesque clothes.'' He also had ''a persuasive and a flattering tongue, which at times served him in the absence of sincerity and ability,'' according to James Haddock's ''History of Jefferson County, New York, 1793 to 1894.''

An art collector of some reputation, Lyon confiscated Robert E. Lee's group of art treasures at Arlington, Va., at the beginning of the Civil War.

Before the Civil War ended, he applied to be minister of Bolivia but wound up as governor of Idaho Territory instead.

Lyon arrived Aug. 8, 1864, at Boise and almost immediately was approached by Boise delegation members who wanted their city designated as the territorial capital instead of Lewiston.

On Dec. 7, the Boise delegation pushed through a bill designating Boise as the capital and Lyon signed it ''without hesitation,'' according to Moore.

But the Lewiston delegation retaliated by obtaining a court order prohibiting removal of the territorial seal and archives. Lyon was placed under a form of house arrest at Lewiston.

On Dec. 27, Lyon and a companion, Solomon Hasbrouck, said they were going duck hunting. Instead, they fled by canoe to a waiting carriage and rode to Walla Walla.

Lyon never returned to Lewiston.

He later sent retired U.S. Army Maj. Sewall Truax to Lewiston to fetch the seal and records, but territorial Secretary Silas D. Cochran acting as governor in Lyon's absence ''absolutely refused.'' Truax lost a subsequent court battle, according to Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Vol. XXIX, July 1938.

However, another friend of Boise soon arrived to complete the capital switch.

In early 1865, after Lyon left, Clinton DeWitt Smith became territorial secretary and second acting governor. Smith was first seen as ''jovial (and) hard-drinking'' by Lewiston residents, according to ''History of Idaho,'' Vol. 1, by Merrill D. Beal and Merle W. Wells.

Smith formerly worked as acting chief clerk in the office of U.S. Attorney General Edward Bates. He also had captained a large ship involved in trade with China.

But Lewiston's favor for Smith soon turned sour when it became known he supported moving the capital to southern Idaho. Citizens and the North Idaho Register newspaper made frequent references (true or not) about his overindulgence in alcohol, according to Pacific Northwest Quarterly.

Meanwhile, Smith schemed with the aid of future acting governor Horace C. Gilson and former Lewiston newspaper publisher Frank Kenyon. On March 29, 1865, Smith mounted a horse for his daily ride for his health and headed to Fort Lapwai.

He returned the next day with an armed escort and seized the territorial seal and as much of the archives he could manage, according to published accounts.

He arrived at Boise April 14, 1865, the day of President Lincoln's assassination at Washington, D.C.

All Lewiston residents could do is denounce Smith as a ''buffoon and drunkard,'' according to the ''History of Idaho.'' The capital was gone.

Smith died Aug. 18 at Rocky Bar in Alturas County, although accounts of the reason vary. Some say he died of alcoholism, while others say he was stricken with intestinal trouble and died after a game of chess.

Smith's co-conspirator, Gilson, took over as acting governor. He served in that position until the absent Caleb Lyon of New York finally returned to Idaho in November 1865.

Gilson left the following year, but stopped at the U.S. Depository at Oregon City, Ore. There he picked up $41,000 in Idaho territorial funds and departed for Hong Kong.

When Lyon returned he pushed legislators to call for Idaho's immediate admission as a state, so he could seek election as a U.S. senator. But radical Republicans in control of the territorial party balked because they were upset at Lyon's attempts to get along with Democrats.

Lyon also made white residents angry by attempting to negotiate treaties with the tribes and opposing massacres of Indians.

He resigned as governor in April 1866 and followed Gilson's example when leaving Boise: He took with him $46,418.40, the entire undisbursed Idaho Indian fund, according to an article in the Idaho Historical Society journal, ''Idaho Yesterdays.''

Recommended for you