Born in Virginia in 1807, Craig was about 18 when he joined a group of trappers associated with the American Fur Company. In 1836 he and two other trappers established the Fort Davy Crockett trading post in what is now Colorado. When the fur trade there started to wane, he went west with his frontiersmen friends Joe Meek and Robert Newell. Those men ended up in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, but Craig, who had fallen in love with a Nez Perce woman, decided to settle in her homeland near present-day Lapwai.
Her family called his Nimiipuu wife Pahtissah, but Craig called her Isabel. The mission of Henry and Eliza Spalding was not far away. The Spaldings had established their mission in 1836, so theirs counts as the first white home in Idaho, but they left in 1847 after their missionary friends, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were killed by Cayuse Indians at their mission near Walla Walla.
Spalding didn’t care much for Craig, but did value his ability to communicate with the Nez Perce. The Spaldings found the Craig home a handy refuge when they decided to abandon their mission.
Craig’s reputation for good relations with the natives served him well. He was an Indian agent to the Nez Perce and served the same role for a time at Fort Boise.
When the Nez Perce negotiated the treaty of 1848, they honored their friend by giving him 640 acres inside their new reservation.
Craig was not only the first permanent settler, but he was credited with coming up with the name of what would become Idaho. A lot of people have been credited with that, and it is widely disputed. In this case, it was frontiersman, poet, and newspaper editor Joaquin Miller who claimed William Craig knew it as the Indian word “E-dah-Hoe,” meaning “the light on the line of the mountains” In 1861. Click here for a more accepted etymology.
William Craig died in 1869 and is buried near his home in the Jacques Spur Cemetery, also called the Craig Cemetery. Craig Mountain Plateau, between the Snake, Salmon, and Clearwater rivers is named in his honor.