Pend d’Oreille, Sand Point, or Both?

Can a town have two names at the same time? In the case of Sandpoint, the answer is, “Yes . . . but it’s complicated.”

Several sources – quoted often – say that the town’s name at one time was Pend d’Oreille. Ella M. Farmin noted in her memoir that her husband’s land claim (where downtown Sandpoint is today) was across the creek from the Northern Pacific station and “the village of Pend d’Oreille.” The Farmins had lived in town barely a year when the name officially changed to Sandpoint, but she later remembered that some people, including herself, greeted the change with “disgust.”

The trusty 1903 History of North Idaho also tells us that both the town and the railroad station were known as “Pend Oreille.”

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History of North Idaho, page 792.

The Northern Pacific Railroad may have called the station Pend d’Oreille at some point since that is the name shown on the General Land Office map, surveyed in the fall of 1892.

GLO T57N R2W 1894

Map of Township No. 57 North, Range No. 2 West, Boise Meridian, Idaho (surveyed 1892, approved 1894)

The surveyors who made the above map noted both of the town’s names in their field notes, casting some doubt on any claim that Pend d’Oreille was the accepted name.

Field notes p. 430

Excerpt from surveyor’s field notes, 1892

Indeed, this doubt was well founded. From all of the sources I have seen, I can say with some confidence that the Pend d’Oreille name applied only to the post office. It was officially known by this name from 1882 through the end of 1893 when the name changed to Sandpoint (all one word). I have been unable to find anything else to suggest that town of Sandpoint was commonly known as Pend d’Oreille. On the other hand, there is abundant evidence that the name was always some version of Sandpoint (Sandy Point, Sand Point, or Sandpoint).

This name comes from the prominent point of sand formed where Sand Creek runs into the lake. It was a traditional camp for Kalispel people who called it qapqape’ or “sand.” Early travelers noted this landmark when passing through the area, and we continue to enjoy the “sandy point,” now better known as the Sandpoint city beach.

During the peak of construction on the Northern Pacific Railroad, there was a camp for workers at Sandpoint. Letters from engineers stationed there in 1881 bore the place name of either Sand Point or Sandy Point.

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Letter written from Sand Point, October 20, 1881.

A year later, a map of mineral lands along the new railroad line showed Sand Point, just across the lake from Ventnor.

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Portion of 1882 map showing Northern Pacific Railroad (red line) and Sand Point

In August 1883, a traveler wrote about his trip on the newly completed Northern Pacific Railroad. They ate breakfast “at Sand Point, a station on the north shore of Pend d’Oreille lake . . . . This place has about 50 people and half as many houses.” A travel book, published that same year, noted that Sand Point “was a place of importance during the time of construction, and probably will retain its advantage to some extent, as it connects with the country on the north. It is also a good point to lie over for a day’s hunting, or for catching some of the trout with which the lake abounds.”

In 1887, a group of young Englishmen, with a taste for adventure as well as a good sense of humor, ended their “ramble” in British Columbia and came south to pick up the train in Sandpoint. They described the small community below:

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From B.C. 1887: A Ramble in British Columbia, page 362.

I’ll end with an ad from the Pend d’Oreille News,  a short lived newspaper that was published from February 1892 to April 1893. The masthead listed the place of publication as “Sand Point (Pend d’Oreille P.O.) Idaho.” The news articles always called the town Sand Point, and ads listed Sand Point as the place of business.


Pend d’Oreille New, 13 February 1892, 4:4-5.

All of the ads, that is, except one from J. L. Prichard who owned a small store in what he called Pend d’Oreille . . .


Pend d’Oreille News, 13 February 1892, 4:5.

. . . and just happened to be the town’s postmaster. Like I said, it’s complicated!

[Apologies for the poor quality of the newspaper photos, taken from a microfilm reader screen.]


John M. Henderson, William S. Shiach, and Harry B. Averill, An Illustrated History of North Idaho, Embracing Nez Perces, Idaho, Latah, Kootenai and Shoshone Counties, State of Idaho (Spokane: Western Historical Publishing Company, 1903), 792;  Ella M. Farmin, “The Days of a Woman, written by Herself,” no date, 61, File: Farmin, Ella, Bonner County Historical Museum; Map of Township No. 57 North, Range No. 2 West of the Boise Meridian (Boise: Surveyor General’s Office, 1894); Amos D. Robinson and Jas. E. Dike, Field Notes of the Survey of Subdivisions and Meanders of Fractional Township 57 North, Range 2 West of the Boise Meridian, Idaho, 1892, 35/430,; “Sandpoint Post Office, Bonner County, Idaho,” on Postmaster Finder,, accessed 12 October 2015; “To Be Known as Sandpoint,”Spokane Review, 3 January 1894, 4:1; Verne F. Ray, “Native Villages and Groupings of the Columbia Basin,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly 27 (1936): 129; John D. Latour, Sand Point, to H. M. McCartney, Spokane Falls, 20 October 1881, Records Box 134.L.14.2F, Engineer Department MT ID, Northern Pacific Railway Collection, Minnesota Historical Society; J. M. Tiernan, “Map showing Geological Formations and Mineral Lands near the Northern Pacific Railroad in Northern Idaho & Washington Territories,” 1882, Archives and Special Collections, University of Idaho; Columbia Chronicle, 4 August 1883, 1:5; Henry J. Winser, The Great Northwest: A Guide-Book and Itinerary for the Use of Tourists and Travellers [sic] over the Lines of the Northern Pacific Railroad, the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company and the Oregon and California Railroads (New York: G.P. Putnam;s Sons, 1883), 209; J. A. Lees and W. J. Clutterbuck, B.C. 1887: A Ramble in British Columbia (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1892), 362; Pend d’Oreille News, 13 February 1892, 4:4-5.

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