In October 1863, packer Lloyd Magruder was brutally murdered with an ax along the Nez Perce Trail in what is now Idaho County. The tale of how his friend, Lewiston hotel owner Hill Beachey, brought the perpetrators to justice is a famous chapter in Pacific Northwest history, but that’s a small part of a larger story.In an online play Jan. 21 (details at bottom) set in 1874, Beachey and Madame Melanie Bonhore LeFrancois, owner of the elegant Hotel DeFrance in Lewiston, will discuss the infamous event and the circumstances surrounding it.
Beachey will be portrayed by David Walk, of Clarkston, and LeFrancois by Mary Minton, a Clarkston historian who has spent years studying the woman and locating artifacts to document her role in early Lewiston history. Minton’s efforts included purchasing a headstone to mark LeFrancois’ final resting place in Lewiston’s Normal Hill Cemetery.
In the play, Minton said, she will share a significant amount of new information uncovered during her research, which continues with a search for items she believes may still be in the area.
Lewiston’s Hotel DeFrance
The Hotel DeFrance stood at the corner of Second and Capital streets, near today’s Nez Perce County Historical Society Museum. In the same area was Beachey’s Luna House hotel and the Territorial Capitol building. The Hotel DeFrance was completed in 1862, the year Lewiston was established. LeFrancois owned a large amount of property downtown, Minton said. She died in 1897, and the building remained an active hotel into the 1920s. Almost everything inside was imported from France.
“Most of the time, it was talked about as being so grand it was the only place in this whole area that was fit for a wedding,” she said.
Historical records provide descriptions for several items Minton is looking for. The largest is the hotel’s safe. Because of its size and the difficulty required in moving it, she suspects it is still in the area.
“It was said to weigh 500 pounds, but I think it weighed much more than that,” she said.
A 1967 Tribune story with a photo provided this description:
“The safe has a painting of the old Hotel DeFrance on the outside and an inner door has delicate rosebud decorations. An inner door, which opens into the strong box and storage compartments, has a painting of Lewiston as it was first seen from the deck of a passenger steamer coming around the last bend in the Snake River.”
Minton has traced the safe’s location through 1982. For a time it was used in the Highland Grocery IGA in Clarkston, when the store was owned by Dale Prine. He later moved it to Lewiston for his Plastic Laminations business, she said. She knows that it was sold or given away by Prine around ’82, when he relocated that business.
“It required hiring a crane to get it out of the basement,” Minton said.
She would like to talk to the people who acquired the safe and get photographs of it or any other items from the hotel.
“I’m sure they don’t know what they have,” she said. “I can fill them in.”
The finest decor
Minton also is seeking any other items that may have come from the establishment. When the hotel was torn down in 1945, its contents were given away or sold, she said. Historic records refer to a piano, bedding, dishes and glassware.
A 1945 Lewiston Tribune article contained some specific descriptions:
“Madame returned to Paris in 1870 and brought with her the complete, beautiful and elaborate imported furnishings for which the hotel was famous. Besides hand-carved furniture, divans with sets of 60 springs, tons of three-ply, ingram velvet carpet, there were more than a hundred seven-point double blankets, white and gray, and furnishings for nearly all of the rooms … .”
At the turn of the century, blanket sizes were described by using a point system. The word point comes from the French “empointer,” meaning to make threaded stitches on cloth. Stripes or black thread woven into the blanket designated the bed size it would fit. A seven-point blanket would have been for a larger-sized bed, according to a system used by the Hudson Bay Company and other manufacturers from the era.
Minton has located some items from the hotel, including two fireplaces, a buffet and some dishes. She arranged for the donation of a fireplace mantle to the Lewiston museum and has researched another mantle located in a house on Snake River Avenue, she said.
Photos of the interior
While there are written descriptions of the hotel and some photos of its exterior, there are no known photographs of the interior, which is another piece of history Minton is seeking.
“All there is is wide praise of how gorgeous it was inside; that’s why people came from everywhere to be married in the hotel. So we know there are family photos out in the community somewhere,” she said.
She also would like to find photos taken by Eugene Bonhore, LeFrancois’ son, who owned a portrait studio and took some pictures of well-known families. These would have been taken between the 1880s to 1910 and would be mostly portraits, she said. One of these portraits that showed up at the historical society has a fancy script “EB” on the photo folder.
“I’m sure there are some more of these in the area.”
If people aren’t sure if they possess an item from the hotel, Minton said she can help them identify whether or not it could be. She can be emailed at mlminton(AT)cableone.net.
IF YOU WATCH
WHAT: A historical conversation between Hill Beachey and Madame LeFrancois.
WHEN: 7-8 p.m. Jan. 21.
WHERE: Via Zoom, register at www.bit.ly/360conversation. Registration will end at 5 p.m. the day of the talk, and invitations will be sent out at 5:05 p.m.
OF NOTE: The event is presented by the North-Central Idaho Speakers Bureau and the lecture series is a program of the Nez Perce County Museum in partnership with the Lewiston City Library.