New book reveals Lewiston is the site for many of Idaho's 'firsts'

“Historic Firsts of Lewiston, Idaho: Unintended Greatness” by Steven Branting The History Press 176 pgs., $12.99

Like many Western towns, guns helped shape the history of Lewiston, which has the distinction of having the first vigilante association in Idaho. Around 250 residents belonged to the Lewiston Protective Association at one time or another. The group was started in 1862 because outlaws like Henry Plummer and his gang were robbing miners coming from the gold fields.

“Lewiston policemen often had to defend themselves from the association,” Lewiston historian Steven Branting writes in his newest book “Historic Firsts of Lewiston, Idaho: Unintended Greatness.”

Like the Montana vigilante group that eventually hung Plummer, the association took justice into its own hands.

In November of 1862 its members overpowered guards at Lewiston’s city jail and removed three men accused of robbery.

They were found the next day lynched in a barn. By spring of 1863, association leaders claimed to have rid Lewiston of “200 thieves and gamblers.”

Lewiston was the site for many Idaho “firsts,” according to Branting’s research, including the state’s first newspaper, brewery, photo, female photographer, dentist, fruit orchard, public library, all female jury, municipal park, and independent film — 1922’s “Miss Lewiston,” no copies survive.

The first telephone call on the Pacific Coast was made by John P. Vollmer (Idaho’s first millionaire) from his former home on Snake River Avenue.

The book lists more than 100 firsts and includes documentation of their primary sources that Branting gleaned from archives nationwide.

“I’m writing this for someone 10 years from now. This won’t be the end of the work on this topic,” says Branting, 65, a retired educator who won the Idaho State Historical Society’s Esto Perpetua Award in 2011 for  significant preservation and interpretation projects in Idaho.

He will speak and sign copies of his new book from 2-4 p.m. Saturday at And Books Too, 918 Sixth St., Clarkston.

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