City Cast

3 Questions About the Lewiston Capital Heist

Blake Hunter
Blake Hunter
Posted on July 27   |   Updated on July 28
Modern-day Lewiston, which was the capital until a heist 150 years ago. (Anna Gorin / Getty)

Modern-day Lewiston, which was the capital until a heist 150 years ago. (Anna Gorin / Getty)

Q: How did Lewiston become Idaho’s first territorial capital in the first place?

A: White settlers came onto Nez Perce land (in north-central Idaho), mostly to get gold. [Lewiston] became a central location where you had steamboats running up and down trying to move crops and other things. You have to keep in mind this is still territorial days, so Idaho was not a state. Originally, that Lewiston area was part of the Washington territory [until Congress carved out the final Idaho Territory in 1863].

Q: But by 1864, Boise became the capital, because it was moved, right?

A: It was moved — I say it was stolen, because it literally was stolen. But with the gold rush up near Lewiston [dying down] and finding more gold and other things to mine in the Idaho City and Treasure Valley areas, that’s where all the people went. The people in Boise were like “we have more people now, why aren’t we the capital?”

Q: How did this actually go down?

A: There was a territorial seal and some papers designating Lewiston as the capital, and Lewiston saw what was coming, and put those documents into the Lewiston city jail and locked it in a safe. Then, Clinton DeWitt Smith, who was the territorial secretary, named himself acting governor, and brought federal troops with him to seize all of that. He broke into the jail, he broke the lock, grabbed all the papers, and then whipped out of town on a ferry back to Boise to install the capital there.

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