Idaho’s first territorial governor, William Wallace, arrived in the newly named capital city of Lewiston in July of 1863.There wasn’t much competition among cities for the title. There were hardly any towns in the vast territory. Lewiston was 2 years old and had already lost a large portion of its population to promising gold strikes in the Boise Basin.
Wallace took up residence at Lewiston’s most lavish hotel, the Hotel De France, run by Madame Melanie Bonhore. There was velvet carpet and a Parisian chef who specialized in delicacies such as frog’s legs, pigeon pie and wine-simmered rabbit, according to research by Idaho State Historian Keith Petersen. There would have been music too, fiddle tunes transported from the old country by Europeans and songs about the Civil War, which was raging on the East Coast.
The music of the era will come to life Wednesday when a replica of Idaho’s first capitol building is dedicated in Lewiston as the First Territorial Capital of Idaho Interpretive Center.
The Lewiston Historical Fiddlers
The Lewiston Historical Fiddlers formed two years ago for Lewiston’s sesquicentennial. It’s led by Sharon Wolfe, 67, of Clarkston, whose musical family roots stretch back to German ancestors who brought their instruments to the new country.
“The old-timers they learned by ear, they learned from their family,” says Wolfe, whose father, George Wolfe, grew up playing barn dances with his brother and taught music in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley until he was 80.
“In those days sometimes all they had was a fiddle player,” she says. “People went to a grange. There was a fiddle player and a guitar player, maybe, and the whole countryside came together, had a potluck, and danced all night. They went home when the sun went up.”
The “old fiddle style” has a unique sound, says Wolfe, who has taught music in the valley for more than 30 years. Since most people today learn from a teacher the influence of classical violin is strong and the regional sounds are fading.
“It’s kind of up to us to continue with this kind of music,” says Wolfe, who will be joined by two of her students — Katy Mason, 42, who learned from Wolfe as a child; and Mason’s daughter, Juliana, age 9.
They’ll play music by Stephen Foster, who has been called America’s first great songwriter. Foster composed some 200 songs, including “Oh! Susanna,” “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” and “Camptown Races” before he died at the age of 37 in 1864.
The fiddlers will perform from 10:15 to 10:40 a.m. Wednesday before the dedication. Wolfe also performs from 2-3 p.m. today with the Banana Belt Fiddlers at the Old Fashioned Fourth of July Family Fun Day at Pioneer Park in Lewiston.
The Lewis-Clark Community Concert Band
If you’ve seen the recent movie “Lincoln” you’ve heard “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” composed in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 call for volunteers for the waning Union Army. While the song’s lyrics by George F. Root advocated for the Union it was equally popular in the South, says Garry Walker, director of the Lewis-Clark Community Concert Band. People wrote lyrics for Southern soldiers and both sides used it as a rallying point.
Another song from the era the band will play at the dedication is “Dixie,” a minstrel tune performed in blackface that was a hit across the country in the early 1860s. It was adopted by the South as a Confederate anthem, says Walker, director of the 45-member band for the last seven years.
The state song “Here We Have Idaho” will also be performed. It was composed in 1915 and two years later a University of Idaho student wrote the verse that became the chorus. The song became the alma matter of UI. More verses came later and the Idaho Legislature designated it the state song in 1931.
The band performs at 10:40 a.m. Wednesday and at a patriotic concert at 4:30 p.m. today at Pioneer Park.
Cabin Fever Trio
“We like to consider ourselves unique in that we all sing, we all harmonize,” says Barbara-Lee Jordan, 59, of Lenore. Other members are Denise Hedrick and Peggy Jezwinski, both of Orofino.
Jordan is a classically trained musician who played in the 25th Army Band as a percussionist and singer. After retiring from the military in 2000 she took an interest in the dulcimer and old mountain music — the songs European immigrants brought to America that morphed into Appalachian music. These are usually story songs without a chorus but with numerous verses, she explains.
Other band members contribute interests in western music. All together their instruments include baritone and soprano dulcimers, fiddle, mandolin, penny whistle, percussion and the guitjo — an instrument that looks like a banjo but is strung like a guitar.
The group will focus on music from 1863 or before at the reception for the interpretive center from 2:15 to 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Lewiston City Library.
Bauer can be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2263.
if you go
What: Dedication of the First Territorial Capital of Idaho Interpretive Center
Where: At the corner of 12th and Main streets in Lewiston
When: Music starts at 10:15 a.m. Wednesday with the Lewiston Historical Fiddlers, followed by the Lewis Clark Community Concert Band at 10:40 a.m. The dedication ceremony is at 11.
A reception is from 2 to 4 p.m. at the new Lewiston City Library and will feature the Cabin Fever Trio at 2:15 p.m.