The Many Names of Cheney, Washington

What were the many names of Cheney throughout the years?

Both whites and Indians had many names for Cheney, but the opportunity for patronage from a powerful railroad executive finally settled the matter.

Cheney has been a gathering place for thousands of years, and people have come up with different names for this spot. Spokane and Coeur d’Alene Native Americans called this place "Yts'piyits'p", which means “worn out, worn out” in the native language of Salish. They also called it "Sile'" which means “maternal grandfather.”

When surveyors laid out the route of the Northern Pacific Railroad they marked this area as “Section 13” in 1870. To potential white settlers, the railroad promised prosperity to a new settlement. As people moved onto and populated the land they started to refer to the area as Depot Springs both because of the train depot and because of the spring waters that had once drawn Native Americans to the area. At the same time, it was less commonly called Willow Springs by some residents.

The area that would become Cheney was also briefly called Billings, named after the president of the Northern Pacific Railroad, Frederick Billings. All three of these names, Depot Springs, Willow Springs, and Billings, existed in the span of a single year, between June and September of 1880.

It was common in this era that an ambitious new railroad town would name itself after an owner or prominent officer of the railroad, hoping to secure patronage and support. Perhaps discovering that the name of Billings had already been adopted by a Montana town, the residents of this place changed their name one more time in the fall of 1880. General John W. Sprague announced that the town would be called Cheney after director of the railroad, Benjamin Pierce Cheney. This final name would stick and from 1883, when the city was officially established, until now and into the foreseeable future, Cheney, Washington would be the name of the city that lies just a few miles to the southwest of Spokane.