Montana Geographic Names Advisor

Geographic Name Change Request

Change Saint Regis Pass to Sohon Pass
Shoshone County, Idaho and Mineral County, Montana

Status = Denied

Description gap, elevation 1,506 m (4,940 ft), in Coeur d’Alene National Forest and Lolo National Forest, within the Bitterroot Mountains, 1.3 km (0.8 mi) WSW of Runt Mountain, 6.4 km (4 mi) ESE of the community of Mullan; named for Gustavas Sohon (1825-1903), an artist and interpreter on several Western expeditions who was involved in the building of the Mullan Road
Location 47°26’59”N, 115°43’15”W
PLSS Location Sec 31,T20N,R32W
Proposal change a name to restore the historical name of the feature
Proponent Paul McDermott; Gaithersburg, MD
Not Saint Regis Pass, Sohons Pass, Sohon’s Pass
Administrative area Coeur d’Alene National Forest, Lolo National Forest
Previous BGN Action None
See also
GNIS ID 399010
Local Usage Saint Regis Pass (Lookout Pass Ski Area; area residents)
Published St Regis Pass (USGS 1903, 1905, 1956, 1988; USFS 1911, 1912, 1989; GLO 1897, 1898; Shoshone County highway map, 1973; Century Atlas, 1897), Sohon Pass (Sohon map, 1859-60; GLO map 1888; John Bartholomew & Company map of Idaho, 18??; Across the Northern Plains, 1952), Sohons Pass (GLO 1891, 1897)
This proposal is to change officially the name of Saint Regis Pass, located in the Bitterroot Mountains on the Idaho-Montana boundary, to Sohon Pass. The proposal was submitted by a retired professor of historical geography and cartography at Maryland’s Montgomery College, who reports that during the latter half of the nineteenth century, the gap was known as either Sohon Pass or Sohons Pass, but by 1897, the name Saint Regis Pass had come into use.

The name Sohon Pass first appeared on a sketch map produced in 1859-60 by Gustavus Sohon, who from 1852 to 1863 was employed by the U.S. government as a cartographer, illustrator, and barometrical observer on many explorations of the Rockies and Pacific Northwest (American Treasures of the Library of Congress website, 2003). He was also involved in the expedition to build the Mullan Road, the 624-mile long military wagon road that connected Fort Benton and Fort Walla Walla. Sohon, a German immigrant, was a gifted linguist, who in addition to speaking English, French, and German, learned the Salishan languages of the Flathead and Pend D'Oreille Indians, and became valuable on the expeditions as an interpreter. The proponent reports that Sohon created two dictionaries of Native American languages and is considered one of the first to explore the wilderness of the Bitterroot Mountains.

Lieutenant John Mullan, in his 1861 report to Congress, stated, “After a long and careful examination of the range and its different gaps and depressions, we have found a pass, which probably is the lowest in the Coeur d’Alene range, and which, in honor of Mr. Sohon, who made the first topographical map of it in our expedition, I have termed “Sohon’s Pass”.” The name Sohon Pass was applied to the General Land Office (GLO) map of Idaho of 1888, but the same map published three years later added an “s” to Sohon’s name. The GLO maps of Idaho and Montana of 1898 both showed the pass to be named St. Regis Pass. The first U.S. Geological Survey topographic map of the area, published in 1903, applied the name Saint Regis Pass, as did U.S. Forest Service maps of the same area published in 1911 and 1912. The latter name has continued to appear on Federal maps ever since.

The pass, as well as approximately one dozen other local features, mostly administrative, are named “Saint Regis”; the name was first applied to the Saint Regis River in 1842 by Father DeSmet, in honor of his fellow Jesuit brother St. Regis de Borgia. The pass in question overlooks the Saint Regis River. An article published in 1964 and entitled “The Mullan Road in Idaho” describes Mullan’s route “up the south fork of the Coeur d’Alene toward Sohon’s Pass [modern St. Regis Pass]…” (Idaho State Historical Society Reference Series). There was at one time a small community approximately 3.2 km (2 mi) to the southeast of the pass that was named Sohon.

The Mineral County Historical Society is in support of the proposal, as is the Vice-President of the Shoshone County Mining and Smelting Museum. A great-grandson of Gustav Sohon [sic] has also submitted a letter of support.

In the course of researching the proposal to change officially the name of Saint Regis Pass, on the boundary between Idaho and Montana, to Sohon Pass, the staff contacted the Coeur d’Alene Tribe for an opinion. The Director of the Tribe’s Place Names Project responded that he did not support the change, citing long term usage of the current name, and also indicated that extensive work is being done to restore many Coeur d’Alene names to that area. Since this effort involves a grant from the National Park Service, Fagan offered to investigate this further.

Montana Geographic Names Advisor Recommendation - Oppose (Monday, August 9, 2004)

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