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Establishment of Forts and Towns

In 1834 Nathaniel J. Wyeth established a settlement at Fort Hall, the first permanent white settlement in Idaho. The first location was on the south side of the Portneuf River not far from the Snake, but was soon changed to the east bank of the Snake, just above the mouth of the Portneuf. This was the location of the famous old Fort Hall of early Idaho history. Many years later the location was again changed to the one ten miles east of Blackfoot, which was in turn abandoned only four or five years ago for the present site at Rossfork. Located at the crossing of the Oregon Trail and the later route from Utah to Montana, and being also the point of divergence from the Oregon Trail of the early route to California, Fort Hall assumed great importance, becoming one of the most prominent posts in all the inter-mountain region. For more than a generation it was a haven of rest and a port of safety for the weary traveler, emigrant and hunter, jaded and worn with the hardships of desert or mountain travel, or perhaps suffering from hunger, or despoiled and threatened by savage foes. On this trip Wyeth's party twice met that of the picturesque Bonneville, the "Bald Chief," as he was called by the Indians once in Bannock County near where Soda Springs now is, and later in the Grand Ronde valley, in eastern Oregon.

In 1836 Rev. H. H. Spaulding, a Presbyterian missionary, established, under the auspices of the Presbyterian Board of Missions, a mission post and school at Lapwai in the beautiful valley of a tributary of the Clearwater, about twelve miles east of where Lewis-ton now stands. This was the first mission in the State, and here was set up and used the first printing press in Idaho. In the same year the Hudson Bay Company established Fort Boise on the west bank of the Snake, just above the mouth of the Boise River. Fort Boise was located on neutral ground, and was for ten years an important post, being the annual meeting place of the Indians for 500 miles in every direction for the purpose of trading and indulging in the horse-racing and athletic contests of which they were passionately fond. This fort was abandoned in 1847.

For eighteen years following the expedition of Fremont through the State in 1843 thousands of emigrants, gold-seekers and adventurers passed through the State over the Oregon and California trails, but few of them settled in it. In fact, the country now embraced within the State was practically without population until 1860, when placer gold was discovered on the Clearwater by a party of prospectors consisting of Hiram Pierce and five companions. That the State was slow in settling is not to be wondered at when the conditions then existing are considered. The impression of Idaho that was obtained by the traveler at this period over the old Oregon emigrant road must have been a good deal like that forced upon the passenger on an Oregon Short Line train between Pocatello and the western limits of the State in the first fifteen years of the operation of that road. Both saw for the most part, as a foreground, a dreary waste of sand and sagebrush, with here and there jagged outcrops of basaltic rock and an occasional curiously split lava island, while the background consisted of the distant rim of enclosing mountains, sometimes so far away as to be scarcely discernible above the horizon. It was not an alluring prospect, not such as to invite the emigrant to plant himself there to rear a home. It is true, that was not the real Idaho, but the fact that the main roads and later the principal railroads across the State traversed the treeless and almost waterless sage plain of the Snake delayed the agricultural development of the State a generation. The man, for instance, in Fremont's time or for twenty-five years after, for that matter who would have suggested that the great Snake River would one day be diverted from the bottom of its 600-foot canyon and spread upon the plain, and that the vast desolate wastes of sand would be covered with fields of waving grass and grain, with smiling gardens and bending orchards, and dotted with thriving cities, would doubtless have been considered a fit subject for an insane asylum.

What may be called the modern history of Idaho begins with the gold discovery on the Clearwater heretofore mentioned. The following account covering the gold rush and the organization of the Territory is from an Idaho official publication by the State Bureau of Immigration, Labor and Statistics:

"From this time (1860) until 1868, when Idaho was carved into its present form by the Federal Government, historic events came so thick and fast that the minds of the historians have become somewhat confused, and scarcely two of them can be found who agree. The principal features, however, are matters of record that cannot be destroyed, and they provide some very interesting reading. The great rush of miners, prospectors, traders, gamblers, and fortune-seekers of all classes and from all countries that followed the discovery of gold in 1860 has but few comparisons in the world's history of mineral discoveries. The overflow from the gold diggings of California, which were discovered ten years previous, and where a horde of people had congregated from all parts of the world, all flocked to the Idaho diggings. Many had been unfortunate in their California venture; some had become homesick and left as a sort of relief; others followed the throng simply through the spirit of adventure, while others were out strictly for gain; and it is not to be wondered at, when one considers the exciting conditions under which this crowded mass was drawn together, the manner in which they lived, the nervous strain that was constantly over them, that more or less tragedy crept into the events, and many accounts of tragic bravery and hardships have been recorded. The country was in the hands of this population when, on March 3, 1863, the Federal Government organized a Territory comprising all that is now embraced in the States of Idaho and Montana, and including most of Wyoming, and named it Idaho. It had an area of more than 300,000 square miles, and was born into the world surrounded by most exciting conditions, and embracing a country that was filling the minds of the world with wonder and amazement. Important events quickly followed the organization of the Territory. The mining industry had become permanently fixed in this region and was yielding millions in gold. Settlements sprang up at favorable points in the valleys along the streams. Trading points were established, great stocks of merchandise of all kinds were shipped into the country, and the foundations of what are now prosperous cities and towns were laid. New gold fields were being discovered on all sides and the population was shifting from one point to another, following the richest diggings. The great gravel bars, with their rich deposits, that were being worked in the Boise basin were yielding up millions in gold, and were attracting the greatest population of any point in the State. The vote in Idaho City at the presidential election in the fall of 1864 exceeded 16,000. A great, eager, wandering crowd of miners, prospectors and adventurers had come into the country from every section of the Union."

Lewiston was designated the capital until the Territorial legislature should determine otherwise, and the first legislature, consisting of but twenty members, met there in November, 1863. As the Boise basin section of the Territory was already the most populous, the fight for the removal of the capital to Boise was begun at the first session of the legislature. It failed at that time, but was renewed on the convening of the legislature a year later, passed and signed by the governor. Lewiston resorted to litigation, some of which developed some humorous features, to prevent the removal, but it was finally accomplished. The feeling between the northern and southern sections of the State, growing out of this contest, and others over matters that arose later, was acute for many years, but happily it has now practically disappeared.

 

Index

Source: Sketches of the Inter-Mountain States, Utah, Idaho and Nevada, Published by The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1909 

 

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