It wasn’t named “Snake” because of any reptile. Historians think it might have been named that because in describing it, Native Americans would make an S-shaped movement with their hands, probably in an attempt to portray its meanders.
By 1905 people had largely settled on calling it the Snake River and it appeared as such on maps. Along came a legislator from Kootenai County, Representative William Ashley, Jr., who wanted to change the name of the river to Shosho-Nee. The proper spelling of the word was a subsection of the debate with some saying it should be spelled Shoshon-e, or Shoshone as it is commonly spelled today.
But why change it at all? Some thought it evoked the shivering thought of snakes. Mercy.
Newspapers all over the state editorialized against the name change. The editor of The Idaho Republican in Blackfoot, where the citizens took up a petition against the name change, wrote “Our uncles in Boston or our aunts in Philadelphia may shudder at the name of Snake or Blackfoot, the college girl may laugh at such names as Bay Horse and Root Hog, and the lady from Maine may not like Buffalo Hump nor the Seven Devils, but she is accustomed to such names as Chemquasabamticook and Piscataquis, and our plain blunt names will do for a while yet.”
The Silver City Nugget opined, “The names that are repulsive will be changed by the people as the state becomes populated, but such names as ‘Snake River’ will never be changed in common use, even should the legislature pass such an act.”
In Parma, the editor of The Herald said, “While ‘Snake’ may not be as euphonious as ‘Shoshonee,’ it is easier to pronounce, and a blamed sight easier to write.”
An Ada County legislator came up with a counter proposal to name—perhaps better said, rename—the stream Lewis River.
In the end the name change was defeated, and we were all left to shudder or shrug at the squirmy image it might provoke.