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Growth and Progress of Idaho

In obedience to natural laws the growth and progress of irrigation in this arid section has been along the lines of least resistance. The earliest settlers, having the whole region from which to select, established themselves mainly along the smaller streams where the water could be diverted to fertile lands near at hand with the least labor and expense. In that way the narrow valley and scattered spots of fertile soil at the base of the mountains, marking the emergence of the smaller streams from the canyons, were settled, and with them favored spots along the larger streams, including the upper courses of the Snake itself. As settlement progressed opportunities for individual accomplishment in this line became fewer, and for it was substituted community or company effort, many persons uniting in the construction and maintenance of a canal, and sharing the waters it conveyed. In this way lands aggregating hundreds of thousands of acres were brought under water. These operations entirely exhausted the natural flow of many of the smaller streams, while the problem of making available the still abundant waters of some of the larger streams, and especially the Snake, was such a stupendous one that it seemed impossible of solution. Then out of the needs of the situation came the Carey act, and later the national irrigation law, or reclamation act, under which the Government undertakes the irrigation of the land and allows the settler ten years in which to repay the cost.

Until after these laws were enacted the only really large and compact irrigated areas in Idaho were those in the upper Snake River valley, from a few miles above St. Anthony to a short distance below Blackfoot, and those along the Boise, Payette and Weiser Rivers in western Idaho. Now, however, additional hundreds of thousands of acres of the parched and thirsty desert lands along 500 miles of the winding course of the mighty Snake have yielded up their somber covering of greenish brown sagebrush and substituted for it smiling fields of grass, grain and vegetables, dotted here and there with thriving towns, and the groves, orchards, country homes, schools and churches of a prosperous and happy people. The near future will see wrought on other hundreds of thousands of acres the same transformation, for irrigation in Idaho is yet in its early stages.

The Twin Falls, North and South sides, Minidoka, American Falls, Marsh Creek, Glenn'a Ferry and Clover Creek projects, which have been practically completed and settled since the passage of the Carey and reclamation acts, cover 700,000 acres. Then the Payette-Boise, Big Wood River, Richfield and Salmon River tracts, all approaching completion, cover 500,009 acres more, while projects on which work has begun or will begin soon are the Big Lost River, Twin Falls-Bruneau, West End Twin Falls, Owyhee, Goose Creek, Raft River, and many others, aggregating probably 1,000,000 acres. If the record of what has already been done in this line is almost beyond belief, the future indeed staggers the imagination, for, reckless as the statement may seem, irrigation in Idaho is yet in its early stages. When its full fruition has been reached the Gem State will have under irrigation an area rivaling that of the Nile valley, where to the portion irrigated by the natural overflow of that great river has been added 5,000,000 acres of former desert land, the watering of which was made possible by the gigantic dam at Assuan and the lesser one at Assuit.

Beginning in Fremont County, at the extreme northeastern corner of the State, is a belt of volcanic country that stretches southwest across Idaho and Nevada and into California. It is 1000 miles long and in some places exceeds 100 miles in width. All over it are scattered unnumbered craters, or vents, from which at intervals through a period covering perhaps tens of thousands of years streams of molten lava were sent, the remains of which are still found over most of its area. Over most of the belt in Idaho these lava flows are very ancient, most of them occurring before or during the geologic period when the most of what is now the Snake River valley was a vast lake or succession of lakes. In some places the lava is not found, due in some instances probably to the lava flow never having reached those spots and in others to its having been removed by erosion. In the ages that have passed this lava has, by the action of the elements, become to a large degree decomposed and disintegrated on the surface and at all exposed points, and this matter, by commingling with the material brought down from the mountains and the later decaying vegetation of centuries, has formed the fine, ashy, sandy soil whose fertility is the marvel of the present day. One of the wonders of this Snake River soil is the exceeding fineness of its particles and the remarkable uniformity of its distribution over great areas of the underlying lava. This is explained by the fact that it is largely a wind-blown soil, neither more nor less than the deposits of centuries of dust laden winds. Over the lava, sometimes between successive flows, and covering much of the plain, are the ancient lake deposits of sand, gravel, clay, etc. These are in some places 100 feet thick, usually much less, and mostly underlie or are mingled with the dust deposit. Such a soil without water is a desert. Give it water, and not even the soil of the valley of the Nile in the time of the Pharoahs was richer in the essentials of plant growth.

The five chief industries of Idaho in order of their importance as to value of product are mining, agriculture, stock-growing, lumbering and horticulture. The lands of the State have not been fully surveyed, but the State authorities have approximately classified the acreage as follows:

Agricultural lands 11,000,000
Grazing lands 20,000,000
Timbered lands 20,000,000
Mineral lands 6,000,000

The mines yield about $25,000,000 annually, more than two-thirds of which is produced in Shoshone County. The mineral resources of the State are enormous, and that the mining industry will assume much greater proportions in the near future seems certain. The State has produced $250,000,000 in gold from its placers alone. Lead is now the most important product, but the State is also rich in gold, silver, copper and coal. Coal has not been mined, except in a few localities for local consumption, but recent discoveries have proved its existence in large quantities in several places.

The value of agricultural products of the State approximates $20,000,000 annually, and this amount is increasing by leaps and bounds, not only in the newly irrigated sections, but also in the rich agricultural valleys and plains of the Clearwater and other streams in the northern part of the State. On account of the great stock industry, hay, principally alfalfa, is the leading product, followed in order of value by wheat, oats, barley, potatoes and flax. Statistics show the average yield of cereals per acre in Idaho to be nearly double the average yield for the United States. The agricultural conditions in the humid and irrigated sections of the State are, of course, entirely different, but both are equally flourishing and prosperous. About half the agricultural land of the State is in the irrigated section and half in the humid northern section. The "Man with the Hoe" is an important individual in Idaho, and he will carve his name large and high on the rock typical of her future greatness.

Idaho's earliest industry was placer mining and her first population miners. Then she became a great horse and cattle range, but with the coming of the railroads in the early eighties came the sheep man, and he flourished so exceedingly that now the sheep outnumber all other domestic animals and exceed either the cattle or the horses in value. The value of the livestock of the State now approaches thirty millions of dollars, the sheep being valued at about one- third of the amount. The conditions for stock-raising in the State are ideal, and the industry has been and continues to be exceedingly prosperous and profitable. This industry and that of general farming are now much more closely allied than they were even ten years ago, and the bond of union and interdependence will doubtless continue to grow stronger as the State becomes more closely settled.

The lumber industry in Idaho is yet in its infancy, but it is one that in the near future promises to attain considerable proportions. The annual product of the mills is now close to three millions of dollars, two-thirds of which is in the two counties of Kootenai and Bonner, in the extreme north end of the State. There is comparatively little timber in the southern section of the State, the forest growth occurring mainly in scattered patches on the north slopes of the various mountain ranges, although there is considerable good timber in the mountains along the Wyoming border of the State. The magnificent white pine forests, as well as the millions of acres of fir, cedar, tamarack and hemlock its the counties of Shoshone, Nez Perce and Idaho are without railroads and practically untouched. They will, when the march of development reaches them and puts their product on the market, make Idaho famous as a lumber State.

In spite of the wonderfully rapid advance of all Idaho industries in recent years that of horticulture has doubtless relatively outstripped them all. This industry was late in getting a start for the reason that few of the early population, miners and stock men, ever planted a tree except for shade, so that it was twenty years after the settlement of the State before it was realized that Idaho was well adapted to horticulture and fruit raising. It is now known that Idaho is certainly destined to become one of the foremost fruit raising States in the Union. The moderate altitude, the fertile soil, the genial climate, and, more than all, the almost constant sunshine throughout the growing and ripening season, produce a perfection in texture, flavor and coloring that makes Idaho fruit in great demand in all the best markets of the country. One of the distinguishing features of Idaho fruit that have commanded attention is its soundness and remarkable freedom from insect pests. This is especially true of the arid southern half of the State. Apples, pears and most berries thrive and yield abundantly in all the agricultural parts of the State, and peaches, plums, prunes, apricots, cherries and grapes are equally successful where the elevation is not too great. Idaho is a State of young orchards, probably not more than half the trees in the State having yet reached bearing age, and thousands of acres are being set out every year. Latah, Nez Perce, Washington, Canyon, Ada, Cassia and Bingham have heretofore been the largest fruit growing counties, but the recent irrigation activity in Twin Falls, Lincoln, Canyon and Ada counties, and the perfect adaptation of these new lands to fruit-raising on a commercial scale, have stimulated orchard-planting to a degree hitherto unknown. The result of all this will be that in the very near future the extent and importance of the horticultural industry in Idaho will far exceed even the wildest dreams of the intelligent and enthusiastic men who laid its foundations.

The climate and healthfulness of Idaho are one of her chiefest joys. If not strictly a cash asset, the comfort and pleasure they afford her inhabitants and the sojourner within her gates, certainly render them an asset of no mean value. With an altitude varying from 750 feet to 12,000 feet above the sea level almost any temperature desired can be found. On the plains and in the lower valleys the winters are not severe and the summers, though warm, are not enervating because of the cool nights. Destructive storms are unknown. In the higher altitudes among the mountains the winters are long and cold and the snowfall very heavy, often from seven to ten feet. Here the summers are short and pleasant. Everywhere the air is remarkably dry, pure, clear and invigorating, and in the arid region the high percentage of sunshine invites to an outdoor life, all of which is highly conducive to continued good health and longevity.

Idaho is also favored in the matter of magnificent scenery. Her beauties of mountain, lake, stream and forest are not surpassed anywhere, even in storied Switzerland and Italy. Her far famed Shoshone Falls exceed Niagara in height and have a weird grandeur all their own, while her canyons, dark, deep, and of vast extent, are second on this continent only to those awful abysses along whose bottom plunges the Colorado.



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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