The Lapwai Valley is historically connected to the Nez Perce people, who have utilized the area for as long as can be remembered. The name Lapwai actually comes from the Nez Perce word “Thlap-Thlap,” which refers to a butterfly and the sound that its wings make. As a result of the abundance of butterflies in times past, the area has been referred to as the “Valley of Butterflies” and “Land or Place of the Butterfly.”
The area became a part of the Oregon Territory in 1848 and a part of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation in 1855. Less than ten years later, the area became part of the Idaho Territory in 1863. This was also at the time when troops were assigned to the Lapwai Valley and Fort Lapwai was established as a response to the 1860 gold rush happening on Nez Perce lands.
Fort Lapwai was in use from 1862 to 1885. It was here that General Oliver O. Howard met with the leaders of Nez Perce non-treaty bands on May 3, 1877, as they made one last attempt to remain on their land. By that year of 1877, Fort Lapwai was a substantial compound of 300 cavalrymen. Their quarters included a laundry, blacksmith, school buildings, bakery, and other miscellaneous buildings.
After 1885, when old Fort Lapwai ceased to function as a military fort, it was converted into a government Indian school, then a tuberculosis sanatorium with a hospital, then a boys and girls dormitory,
and finally into a school under the direction of the Lapwai School District. It was called the Fort Lapwai Training School from 1891-1899. Fort Lapwai became part of the State of Idaho when Idaho was admitted to the Union as the 43rd state in 1890. The Northern Idaho Indian Agency, originally located at Spalding, was relocated to Fort Lapwai in 1904. Lapwai remains as the seat of government for the Nez Perce Indian Nation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Northern Idaho Indian Agency.
On January 11, 1911, the Nez Perce County Commissioners ratified the petition of Roy C. Lane for the Incorporation of the Village of Lapwai. There were over two hundred residents residing within the boundaries of the proposed village at that time. William Siegrist, William J. Fenderson, A.J. Lucas, John C. Carlson and Roy C. Lane were appointed to act as Trustees for the Village of Lapwai until their successors were elected.
Second image shown of Lapwai was taken from the northwest near the base of Soldiers Canyon. The tepee on top of the building at center right shows the location of Fort Lapwai State Bank. A major fire, circa 1915, destroyed several business buildings. Agency buildings are visible at the right.
The population of Lapwai as of December 2014 is 1,137. Elevation is 970' T35N R4W sec 2.