Map of Boise and Payette Valleys

County Development and Education in Idaho

Map of Boise and Payette Valleys
Map of Boise and Payette Valleys

I will now take up the progress and condition of Idaho. Ada County was created out of Boise in December 1864, with Boise City as the county seat. The location of Fort Boise on the 5th of July 1863 was the immediate cause of the location of the town, which followed on the 7th. But before either of these were founded, on the 3d of February of the same year, Thomas and Frank Davis and Sherlock Bristol took up a land claim and built a cabin on a part of the town site as subsequently located, where they had a vegetable garden. The town was laid off by C. Jacobs and H. C. Riggs, and incorporated by a company of seventeen men, including several officers of the fort, 1 who had it surveyed and a plan lithographed, as I have mentioned in another place, for the use of the legislature, to induce that body to make it the capital of the territory, as it did. 2 It prospered notwithstanding some contention as to ownership, which was settled by the government issuing a patent to the mayor, in 1870, of the town site, to be held in trust him until the territorial legislature should prescribe the mode of the execution of the trust, and the disposal of the proceeds. 3 It had 300 inhabitants when it became the metropolis of Idaho, and a population in 1885 of 2,000. 4

Among the first to take up farms in Ada County were Thompson and McClellan, who also kept a ferry on Boise River at Boise City. They located their claim May 28, 1863. S. A. Snyder, T. McGrue, L. F. McHenry, Samuel Stewart, the Purvine brothers, and Mooney took up claims the same year. Little was expected from farming by the pioneers; but land that in 1877 was a wilderness of artemisia was soon covered with fields of golden grain; and some of the finest orchards on the Pacific coast sprang up in Ada County. The agent which wrought this change was water. 5

During the period between 1876 and 1886 extensive orchards were planted in the Boise Valley, some of which produced from 25,000 to 40,000 bushels of fruit annually, few failures occurring in twelve years. L. F. Cartee at Boise City had a vineyard in which grew forty varieties of grapes. 6

Stock-raising was carried on to a considerable extent in Ada County. Fine breeds of Cattle were imported, and from 500 to 2,000 grazed upon the grassy uplands. 7
I have been thus particular in the description of one county in order to show of what other counties are capable, according to their altitude, extent of valley land, and facilities for irrigating benchland.

Search Military Records - Fold3

With this in view, a brief mention of the others will convey all the information requisite to an understanding of the early condition of the territory.

Alturas County, named by some admirer of the Spanish word, signifying heights, or mountains, 8 had little valley land, and that was upon the margins of its numerous mountain streams. 9

Bear Lake County, the small southeast corner of the territory, previous to 1872 was supposed to belong to Utah. It was first settled by a colony of Mormons under C. C. Rich, and was called Rich County. The establishment of the boundary of Idaho by survey threw the greater and better portion of Rich County into Idaho, together with its industrious and thrifty population, and it was considered as a part of Oneida County until its separate organization in January 1875. The first settlers were, like most of the Mormons, agriculturists. But their earlier efforts at farming were failures, owing to frost and grasshoppers, which together took the greater part of their crops for several years. The altitude of Bear Lake Valley is 6,666 feet, from which elevation came the frosts. The grasshoppers were a periodical plague. But by making hay and raising stock the settlers prospered, and little by little overcame the worst of their difficulties. 10

The early history of Boise County has already been given in a previous chapter. Its principal wealth long continued to be mines. 11 The upper Payette Valley proved the choicest farming region in Boise county. 12

In Cassia County were found a good soil and climate, but the valleys were small and elevated. Upper Goose Creek had the choicest body of farming land in the county. Raft River Valley, thirty miles long by ten wide, contains fine meadowlands. A settlement was made at the head of the valley, called the Cove. With irrigation the sage lands produce well. Like Bear Lake County, Cassia raised wheat, oats, barley, and potatoes for market, in abundance, and grazed large herds. It had mines, though not much prospected; also one gristmill and three sawmills. 13

Map of Southeastern Idaho
Map of Southeastern Idaho

Custer County, named after General Custer, cut off from Alturas and Lemhi in 1881, proved inconsiderable as an agricultural region. There was a fine valley, forty miles long by from five to fifteen miles wide on the upper Salmon River, furnished with wood, water, and grass in abundance, and numerous small tracts of agricultural land along the streams, but the county was preeminently a mining country. In 1866 or 1867 a party of prospectors from Montana, headed by one Richardson, penetrated to that branch of the Salmon, which they named Yankee Fork, because the party consisted of New Englanders. They did not remain long in the country, which was at the best inhospitably strange and remote. In 1873 D. V. Varney and Sylvester Jordan found their way to Yankee Fork and located some placer mining claims, naming Jordan Creek branch of that stream. Four years later the great discoveries were made in quartz, of the Charles Dickens, Charles Wayne, Custer, and Unknown, which led to the hasty populating of this rich mining region, among the most famous districts of which are the Kinnikinick, Bay Horse, and Custer. Bonanza City was laid off in 1877. 14

Idaho County, organized under the government of Washington in 1862, began its career as a mining district through the discovery of the Florence and Warren diggings. The placers at Warren were among the most lasting and best paying in Idaho. 15
Kootenai County had almost no white population until the building of the Northern Pacific railroad brought people there to perform the labor of its construction, between 1880 and 1883. The Coeur d’Alene Indian reservation occupied most of the southern portion, extending as far north as the Spokane River, and the head of Coeur d’Alene Lake. 16

Nez Percé County, an agricultural rather than a mining district, early became settled by farmers.

Lemhi County was set off from Idaho County January 9, 1869, assuming $700 of the parent county’s indebtedness. A change was made in the boundary in January 1873, the western line, south of Salmon River, commencing at the mouth of the Middle Fork, thence southwest along the divide between the Middle and South forks to the line of Boise County. The published maps do not give the actual boundaries, the county lines very generally being unsurveyed. The early history of Lemhi County has been given. 17

North of the Clearwater are rolling table-lands having an altitude of 2,500 feet, with a deep, black, alluvial soil, well watered, and exceedingly fertile. This is a great wheat-producing region. On the south side of the Clearwater, between the Snake River and the Nez Percé Indian reservation, and south of it, is a tract of lower lying and warmer land of superior quality. One township south of the Clearwater, with two fractional ones, raised, in 1883, 30,000 tons of wheat. Fruit also does well. The winters are short and mild. At Lewiston, along the river bottoms, and in low and sheltered localities, grapes, peaches, and apricots of a large size and fine flavor are easily raised. The staple productions of Nez Percé County are wheat, barley, flax, hay, and vegetables. 18

Oneida County, the southeast corner of Idaho, was early settled by Mormons, being organized by the legislature of 1865. It occupied a large extent of territory, about one quarter of which was taken up by the Fort Hall Indian reservation. The resources of Oneida County are varied. It has two agricultural districts of great fertility and considerable extent, the Malade and Cache valleys, aside from the fertile lands adjacent to Snake River, which extends for 100 miles along the northern and western boundary of the county, and gathers its many head waters into the main stream within these limits. 19

Owyhee County, organized by the first legislature of Idaho, and once regarded as the chief silver-producing region of the country, long retained its eminence as a mining region. Though never an agricultural county, it had much good land on Jordan, Reynolds, Sinker, Catherine, and other creeks, and in the valley of the Bruneau, where some fine farms were made. But the chief business has been stock-raising. 20

Shoshone County was the first part of Idaho mined and settled. It was soon abandoned by its mercurial population, attracted by gold discoveries elsewhere. The whole region is elevated and broken, except on the plains near the junction of the North Fork with the Clearwater, where there is a body of fine agricultural land, which was rapidly settled. There were extensive forests of fir, pine, cedar, spruce, and hemlock on the mountains and the bottoms of the streams, to be rafted down the Clearwater to mills and market. 21

Washington County was laid off along the Snake River for a hundred miles, commencing at no great distance south of the mouth of Salmon River. The country is much broken, the valley of the Weiser being the largest body of farming land in this district. Lower Weiser Valley had 25,000 acres of fertile bottoms. 22

Surveys of the public lands in Idaho began in 1866, when L. F. Cartee was appointed surveyor-general, with his office at Boise City. The initial point of survey was fixed on the summit of a rocky Butte, standing isolated in the plain between the Boise and Snake Rivers, on the parallel of 43° 36′ of north latitude, distant nineteen miles from Boise City, in the direction of south 29½° west. Congress, in 1864, had appropriated $10,000, under which the contracts were let for establishing the standard lines. 23

Of the social condition of Idaho, it is indicative of the character of its permanent residents that they have been from the first a reading community and that more books of the better class may be found in the homes and camps throughout the territory, than in many towns of a like population in the older states, east and west. Lemhi County are as intelligent and refined a class as can be found anywhere; and similar statements are made concerning other counties. Twenty newspapers were published in Idaho in 1884. Owing to the fact that the 16th and 36th sections granted by congress to each state for common-school purposes cannot be sold until the territory has become a state, Idaho, like every other territory, has been compelled to support its schools as best it has been able. The annual revenue for schools, derived from the interest on escheated estates, grants or bequests made for the support of the schools, and from a tax on all taxable property of not less than two mills or more than eight on the dollar, has amounted to $25,000. The tax collectors and county treasurers received no fees for their services. The territorial comptroller was ex-officio superintendent of public instruction, serving also without salary. 24

Little had been done in 1886 by the government for the improvement of Idaho. Its public buildings were yet to be erected, its military roads to be constructed, and its rivers made fit for navigation. Petitions have been repeatedly offered by the legislature for these objects. In due course of events they must be granted. That so much has been done by so small a population against great natural obstacles in the building of wagon-roads is an illustration of the energy of the inhabitants. Stages were running to all the mining towns almost as soon as they were located. Railroads were early advocated. 25

Such was Idaho twenty years after settlement. Without markets or manufactures or transportation, it had to pay out the riches dug from its mines for the necessaries of life brought to its doors at enormous expense in the “prairie schooner,” the old-fashioned Pennsylvania freight-wagon.

The Northern Pacific railroad, which so suddenly populated and developed eastern Washington, and helped to develop eastern Oregon, performed no such service for Idaho, merely crossing the Panhandle as far north as Pend d’Oreille Lake. That it assisted in bringing to notice the mines of Coeur d’Alene district was true, and that later it sent off branches to these mines and to other parts of the Panhandle was also true. But the road which relieved central and southern Idaho of the state of lethargy into which its business was falling, and which brought population and mining capital to the territory, was the Oregon Short Line railroad, constructed by the Union Pacific Company. Traversing the territory from east to west, through its most inhabited belt of counties, it communicated to the dormant nerves of these isolated communities a shock from the thought batteries of the great world, rousing to action the brain and muscle lying idle. The taxable property of the territory, which in 1884 was $15,497,598, was three years later $20,441,192, mining property, in which the greater amount of capital was invested, being nonassessable. The population, which in 1884 was 75,000, was in 1887 over 97,000.

The forward impulse given to the prosperity of Washington revived in the northern counties of Idaho the project of annexation to that commonwealth, which, it was believed, would soon arrive at statehood, and whose constitution, adopted in 1878 by a vote of the people of the Idaho Panhandle as well as of Washington, included the counties north of the Salmon River range of mountains. In this form the Washington delegate, Mr Brents, advocated in congress the admission of Washington, and its legislature in 1881- 82 passed a memorial for an enabling act, including this portion of Idaho.

The politicians about this time saw in this subject opportunity for a party issue, and seized upon it, making it the point on which the election of 1882 was lost and won, George Ainslee, democratic candidate for congress, opposing, and T. F. Singiser, republican, advocating it, Singiser being elected by a majority of nearly 3,000. In 1884, however, the democrats having put an annexation plank in their platform, returned to power, and Singiser was defeated, while John Hailey was elected to congress, and secured the passage of a bill for annexation, which passed both houses, and only failed to become a law by the failure of the president to sign it. 26

In 1886, the parties returned to their former relative positions in Idaho, 27 although Hailey, democrat, was supported by the Panhandle republicans on his record as an annexationist, he receiving a majority of 536 in the northern counties; and the people of Nez Percé county, by a vote of 1,679 to 26, expressed themselves in favor of being joined to Washington; but Frederick T. Dubois, republican, who gave a pledge not to oppose annexation, and to use his influence for the suppression of polygamy among the Mormon population, was elected by a majority 28 of 426. But the interest in annexation began to decline with the increase of population and the revival of industries, giving hope of statehood for Idaho at no distant day, and that for which a majority had more than once voted began to be denounced as a scheme “born in local jealousy and petty spite, fostered by political hatred and party spleen, and advocated by many political jobbers and tricksters,” and as “thoroughly distasteful to a majority of the people of Idaho, and repugnant to the best interests of the territory.” 29

It was in harmony with the restrictive acts affecting territories, passed about this time, that congress should say that no law of any territorial legislature shall be made or enforced by which the governor or secretary of a territory, or the members or officers of any territorial legislature, are paid any compensation other than that provided by the laws of the United States. This law, the result of the recklessness of long past territorial legislatures, came at a period in the affairs of Idaho when the duties of the governor were truly onerous, and the practices of legislatures had so much improved that the people were willing to make the pay of the executive commensurate with his services, and consistent with the dignity and requirements of his position. The salaries of judges of the Supreme Court were also beneath the value of the services performed with the expenses attached to them. Besides, the business of the courts demanded the establishment of another district, and the appointment of another judge. Idaho had collected and paid into the national treasury an amount largely in excess of the sums appropriated by the government to pay the federal expenses, covering also the many defalcations of federal appointees during twenty-two years. Governor Edward A. Stevenson, appointed in 1885, mentioned this fact in his report to the Secretary of the Interior, together with the further one, that no officer appointed from the people of the territory to a federal office had ever defaulted. 30

About 1884-5 there was reached a distinctly forward tendency in territorial affairs. In 1872 the indebtedness of Idaho amounted to $132,217.71; in 1885 there was a surplus in the treasury over its bonded debt of $5,546.30. After years of dissension concerning the capital, the legislature of 1884-5 had established it permanently at Boise City, and appropriated, with the consent of the people, eighty thousand dollars to erect a capital edifice, the city devoting a whole square to a site, the building, of brick, being constructed with every modern appliance, combining elegance with convenience, furnishing not only legislative halls, but offices for the territorial and federal officials, a supreme court room, library, and judges’ chambers. An appropriation was made by the same legislature of $20,000 for the erection of an insane asylum at Blackfoot, 31 which was subsequently enlarged at a considerable additional cost. The expense of maintaining the institution was about $17,000 per annum.

In the matter of a penitentiary, the territory still paid annually about $18,000 to the United States for keeping its prisoners in a federal building which was located two miles east of Boise City, and which Governor Stevenson pronounced a “disgrace to great, rich, proud, and humane government”; and where the prisoners were “clothed, fed, and crowded into cells without any employment, and only kept there by the shot-guns of the- guards,” the wall surrounding the penitentiary being built of inch boards set up on end. This, too, while there was a quarry of excellent stone immediately adjoining the premises, where the prisoners could have been profitably employed in getting out material for a prison, combining security with some regard to sanitary conditions. The governor proposed that the United States should furnish $20,000 to pay for extra guards, and purchase the necessary iron, lumber, and tools, when the territory would put the convicts to quarrying stone and building a penitentiary which should be a credit to Idaho and the general government. 32

Other government buildings in Idaho there were none, if I except the United States assay-office at Boise City, which cost about $100,000. For many years it was of little use. It cost the government so much to send out its bullion – the producers having to pay the fee – that the office received only a small proportion of the gold dust and bullion produced in the territory. In 1886 an arrangement was made with the Pacific express company, by which they were sent to the mints either at San Francisco or Philadelphia free of express charges. The business of the office for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1886, was 7,910 ounces, valued at $122,046.61; but in 1887 it was 32,954 ounces, valued at $446,641.66; and for the year ending June 30, 1888, it was estimated the business would reach $1,000,000.

Boise City had a court-house, erected at a cost of $60,000, which occupied a square; and another square was devoted to the use of the Independent school district of Boise City – a district organized under a special charter granted by the territorial legislature, and which was independent of school officers, either territorial or county. It had a board of trustees, with power to examine and employ teachers, disburse moneys, and transact all business necessary for the maintenance of the schools in the district. In addition to the county apportionment, a revenue was collected from escheated estates, and from a special tax. This was a graded school system consisting of primary, intermediate, grammar, academic, and high school departments, and from its text-books seems to have been of a high order of public school. Lewiston, also, had its independent school district and system in four grades. The territorial condition handicapped the cause of public instruction by withholding the school lands from sale until the attainment of statehood, the school money having to be drawn from the people by taxation, for which reason no great advance could be expected before the territory became a state. Idaho will have much and valuable land for school purposes. In anticipation of soon coming into possession of these lands, the legislature, in January 1889, passed an act locating the university of Idaho at Moscow, in Latah County, and appropriating $15,000 with which to commence its foundation. 33

Turning to the condition of the mining interests of Idaho in 1889, it appears that there has been an important increase in the yield of the mines from 1884 to 1889, the product in 1885 being $5,486,000; in 1886, $5,755,602; in 1887, $8,905,136; in 1888, $9,245,589; these figures being from conservative sources. 34 Other authorities 35 claim ten millions in gold, silver, and lead for 1888. The actual amount reported for 1889 of gold and silver was $10,769,000; of lead, $6,490,000; of copper, $85,000 – making a total of $17,344,600 as the product of the mines for this year, while $120,000,000 is claimed as the amount of the precious metals which Idaho has given to the world since mining began within its borders. The territory in 1889 stood fifth in the list of bullion-producing commonwealths. Besides the precious metals, the abundance of iron, copper, salt, sulphur, mica, sandstone, limestone, granite, and marble distributed throughout the territory offered a profitable field to capital and industry.

About 16,000,000 acres is the estimated amount of agricultural lands in Idaho, 600,000 acres of which in 1889 had been brought under cultivation, by an expenditure of $2,000,000 in irrigating canals. Experience had proved that when irrigated the soil of Idaho produced all kinds of cereals and vegetables and all the fruits of the temperate zone in almost unexampled abundance and unrivalled excellence. Farmers had come to prefer the irrigable lands, for, water being brought upon them, they were more constant in their productiveness than lands depending upon rainfall. Irrigation thereby became a subject of vast importance to agriculturists, who eagerly studied the various plans from time to time proposed by government agents and commissioners for some generally practicable solution of the question which thus far has been little illumined by their observations. 36

There were 2,000 miles of irrigation ditches in the territory, and schemes on foot for constructing canals which would cost several millions, for reclamation purposes, and to bring arid lands into market, either as agricultural or grazing farms. Even stock raising, which is a leading industry in Idaho, will be greatly promoted by the reclamation of waste lands. Much has already been done to improve the stock of the breeding ranchos, the total value of animals of all kinds on farms being set down at $11,882,196.

A movement looking to the closing out of Indian reservations by allotting land in severalty to Indians had been begun, and promised good results. The Fort Hall and Bannack reservation, comprising 1,202,330 acres, contained 525,000 acres of first class, easily irrigable land, the remainder being good grazing land, with some portions rich in mineral. The Indians, for whom all was reserved, numbered 1,700 men, women, and children. If every individual should receive 160 acres, there would still be left over a million acres. The Indians on the Fort Hall reservation had made some progress in agriculture, 380 of them cultivating small tracts, on which they raised a variety of farm products. 37 The Lemhi reservation contained 105,960 acres, which was held for 548 Indians, who cultivated 258 acres. 38 The Nez Percé reservation embraced 746,651 acres of the best agricultural land west of the Rocky Mountains, and not excelled by any portion of the union for soil, water, timber, and all natural advantages. It was held for 1,227 Indians – men, women, and children. About 300 families cultivated small farms, raising grains, fruit, and vegetables. 39 This tribe had been taught almost continuously for fifty years, and were, when first known, superior to all the other tribes west of the Rocky Mountains. Indian Agent George W. Norris, in his report to the governor of Idaho in 1888, remarked concerning this people that they took little interest in education beyond a desire that their children should learn to speak the English language; and that their ambition was bounded by a demand for the fires, beds, clothing, and subsistence furnished during the winter by the government. In his opinion, land should be allotted to them individually, and secured by patent, and they be compelled to labor, instead of being dependent upon the bounty of the United States, whose creatures have taken from them about all that they once possessed. Their increasing wants would lead them to dispose of their superfluous lands, and thus the reservation question be amicably settled; but to open reservations to settlement before the allotments were made would alarm the Indians and lead to trouble.

The fourth Indian reservation in Idaho was the Coeur d’Alene, in which was contained 598,500 acres, held for the benefit of about 500 individuals. A portion of this territory was rich in minerals, and was in actual possession by a mining population. Steps were being taken to secure its relinquishment by the Indians, who jealously guarded their rights under their treaty with the United States. The Coeur d’Alenes were Catholics, and were far behind the Nez Percé in intelligence.

Still another reservation was that of the western Shoshones, comprising 131,300 acres at the head of the Owyhee River, and occupied by about 400 Indians. These were wild Indians who cultivated no farms.

Thus there were within the boundaries of Idaho 2,884,731 acres of the most valuable, agricultural, timbered, and mineral lands, held for 4,375 persons, not more than one fifth of whom were heads of families. Aside from the desire to have these lands productive and taxable was the apprehension that any misunderstanding might involve the territory in an other war such as had desolated certain portions only as recently as 1877 and 1878. This conjunction of circumstances led Governor Stevenson to point out to the general government that while Idaho had between 4,000 and 5,000 Indians within her borders, she had but one company of cavalry and one of infantry for defense, at Boise Barracks. 40 Fort Sherman, also a two-company post, was, to be sure, in Idaho, but almost at its extreme northern boundary, and so nearly in Washington that its influence was not felt. The governor called attention to this want of consideration for Idaho, and demanded “one good permanent, at least, four-company post,” to check the roaming habits of the Indians, “whose presence ex-cites the fears and evil passions of our people. 41

Previous to 1885, when the Oregon Short Line railroad was completed from its junction with the Union Pacific in Wyoming to its connection with the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company’s railroad at Huntington, on Snake River, 418 miles, Idaho could not be said to have any commerce, or at best to have a very one-sided commerce with the world on any side. The opening of railroad transportation marked a new era, encouraging every existing industry, and developing new ones. The exports of livestock in 1885 aggregated 36,000 head of cattle and horses, or 1,800 carloads; and the imports of improved stock for breeding purposes reached 200 carloads, or about 4,000 head. 42 The railroad was a great relief to miners, also, in the transportation of ores and bullion; and to merchants and farmers. For the year ending June 30, 1888, the total tonnage of Idaho carried on the Oregon Short Line and Utah and Northern divisions of the Union Pacific was 44,809 tons, 8,386 of which was grain, 11,874 ores, 6,913 livestock, 6,678 bullion and lead, and 4,766 merchandise; the remainder being miscellaneous freight.

The total outward tonnage of all the railroad and steamboat lines in Idaho in the year ending July 30, 1889, was 184,015, of which 50,000 tons was of wheat, oats, barley, flax-seed, and other farm products; while the freight received for consumption amounted to 119,600 tons. The value of farm products and building material marketed was $9,520,176 – a statement which shows the importance of rapid transit in increasing commerce.

The legislature of 1886-7 enacted a law constituting the governor, controller, and treasurer of the territory a board of equalization, whose duty it was to place a valuation per mile on each line of road passing through more than one county. In 1889 there were eleven railways traversing various parts of Idaho, so sudden was the transportation system by rail developed in this inter-montane commonwealth. 43 The assessed valuation of 888.73 miles of railway was fixed by the commissioners at $4,719,786 – a moderate valuation, especially when it is considered that the railroads fixed their own tariffs, which the people had to pay. The Northern Pacific claimed exemption from taxation for its franchise and road-bed by act of congress, and only its rolling stock was valued for taxation by the county authorities. 44

The fifteenth legislative assembly of Idaho convened December 10, 1888. 45 The session, which held until the 7th of February 1889, had under consideration as subjects of more than usual interest the division of Alturas County and the creation of the county of Elmore out of its western territory, the exclusion from the house of two members from the Mormon districts of Bingham and Bear Lake on account of illegal voting and the question of statehood. In the case of Elmore County, after much display of legislative tactics, including the bolting of the speaker of the house, who abruptly left his chair during the reading of the journal on the last day of the session, 46 the bill was passed and approved by the governor. Logan County was organized at the same time, and the county of Custer also created at this term.

With regard to the contested elections, notwithstanding a well argued minority report in their favor by the member from Nez Percé County, the Mormon members were unseated. This bitterness towards a portion of the population of the territory, however much it may have had to justify it, is a painful spectacle in a republic. Congress was memorialized to refuse Utah admission into the union, and also to require of homestead and preemption settlers an oath touching polygamous practices. 47 A perusal of the proceedings of the legislature would impress the reader with the conviction that the main point to be gained in all their legislation was security against the growth of Mormon principles in the territory.

A bill establishing a board of immigration to encourage the movement of population to Idaho was passed. “It is a well-known fact,” said the report of the committee on territorial affairs, while recommending the passage of this bill, “that the advantages and resources of Idaho are the least known of all the territories. We believe the time has come when Idaho should take that rank among the territories which her mines, her soil, her climate, and her resources justly entitle her to. 48

It is worthy of mention that the legislature appropriated $50,000 for the construction of a road, long needed, between Mount Idaho, in Idaho County, and Little Salmon Meadows, in Washington county, more closely connecting the Panhandle to the main body of the future state. Congress was memorialized for an amendment to the alien act, so as to except mines from its prohibitions. A bill was passed establishing a board of immigration. The ‘University of Idaho’ was established. Congress was asked to pay the Indian war claims of 1877-8-9, and a badge or button asked of congress as a distinguishing mark for the men who served in those wars, with local legislation of ordinary importance.

On the 14th of January a bill was introduced in the house by Bruner of Boise providing for a constitutional convention preparatory to the admission of Idaho into the union, and on the 17th councilman Perkins of Alturas gave notice of a joint memorial praying congress for an act enabling Idaho to form a state government. In the mean time the citizens of Lewiston, having held a mass meeting, sent their resolutions to the legislature, in which they “insisted upon, and respectfully demanded of congress, admission as a state into the federal union,” and indorsed the efforts of delegate Dubois and others to secure this end, and calling upon the legislature and the towns and counties of Idaho to unite in urging immediate action. On the 29th of January the council approved a house joint memorial for the admission of Idaho without a dissenting voice; and on the 4th of February a select committee appointed to examine a house bill providing for the calling of a constitutional convention made a favorable report. The desire of the people was declared to be, while not doubting the national will and power to legislate for the interests of the territory, that the government affairs of Idaho be placed in their hands. They had the wealth and population, and believed that further delay would postpone the enlistment of capital in the development of their resources. 49

Nothing more was needed to impel the governor to issue a proclamation calling for a state constitutional convention.

The general condition of Idaho was much improved in 1889. Mining and agriculture were both making long strides forward by means of transportation facilities and irrigation. 50 Land was advancing in value, population increasing, and various enterprises being projected. All, or nearly all, the old political acrimony had died out. Even the scheme so long entertained in northern Idaho of being annexed to Washington was no longer heard of, except to be denounced. The legislature of 1886-7 passed a resolution protesting against any proposition to segregate any portion of Idaho with a view to attach it to another state or territory by a vote 9 to 3 in the council and 20 to 4 in the house. A similar resolution was incorporated in the platform adopted by the democratic territorial convention held at Boise City in June 1888; and the measure was strongly denounced by the republican convention of the same year.

The republican convention of 1888 also declared in favor of statehood “for the whole territory.” The movement for statehood, it was alleged, was based upon the desire of the people to have a voice in presidential elections, the need to become possessed of a state’s landed dowery, and the wish to do away with the alien act of congress, prohibiting the investment of foreign capital in the territories, which was detrimental to mining interests. Of the opposition to statehood, which proceeded chiefly from the farming population, it was said that a state government sufficient in all its departments for the needs of a growing commonwealth, affording means for the prompt administration of justice in the courts, providing a teacher for every child of school age, and an asylum for every helpless, blind, dumb, or idiotic dependent, would certainly cost more than a government which delayed justice, turned out the feeble to the charities of the world, and reared the young in ignorance; but that every good thing was worth its cost, and no people ever bore just burdens with greater patience than the people of Idaho. 51 The general government paid only $28,000 per annum for the support of the territory, while the tax-payers paid $75,000, and by economy the state, with its greater advantages, would be able to meet all the increased obligations necessary to be assumed. These arguments, as we shall see, proved convincing to the majority.

The changes in the judiciary of Idaho had always been frequent. James B. Hays was appointed chief justice in 1886 in place of John I. Morgan; Norman Buck and Case Broderick, appointed in 1884, being his associates, and James H. Hawley United States attorney. In 1888, Hugh W. Weir was chief justice, and John Lee Logan and Charles H. Berry associates, with Hawley still United States attorney. In 1889, Weir was superseded by James H. Beatty of Hailey; and Logan, who was removed on account of ill health, 52 was followed by Willis Sweet of Moscow, who had a few months previously been appointed United States attorney. E. S. Whittier, district attorney of Bingham County, was mentioned as successor to Judge Berry, and Fremont Wood of Boise was appointed United States attorney, and John P. Wilson marshal. Thus at last Idaho secured courts from among her own citizens. With a change of administration and the election of 1888 in Idaho came a quite general change of federal 53 and territorial officials. Frederick T. Dubois, however, was again chosen delegate to congress. George L. Shoup was appointed Governor, E. J. Curtis remained Secretary, Joseph C. Straughn was appointed Surveyor General, Richard Z. Johnson was elected Attorney General of the territory, James H. Wickersham Comptroller, Charles Himrod Treasurer, and Charles C. Stevenson Superintendent of Public Instruction. 54

Before Governor Stevenson was relieved of the executive office, he issued a proclamation April 2, 1889, recommending that the people elect delegates to a constitutional convention, to meet at Boise City, July 4th of that year, to frame a constitution for the state of Idaho, although no enabling act had been passed by congress. On the 30th of April Shoup took the oath of office, and assumed the duties of governor on the 1st of May. On the 11th he supplemented Stevenson’s proclamation with another, approving the holding of a constitutional convention. Seventy-two delegates were elected, and the convention was in session for thirty-four days. The instrument as framed by them declared the constitution of the United States the supreme law of the land, and aimed to protect and foster the industries and interests of the territory. It forever prohibited bigamy and polygamy. The government of the state was in three departments, legislative, executive, and judicial. The legislature was to consist of 18 senators and 36 assemblymen, and should not be increased to exceed 24 and 60 respectively. It should meet biennially, except in special instances. The executive department was to consist of a Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Auditor, Treasurer, Attorney General, and Superintendent of Public Instruction, each to hold office for two years. The governor, secretary of state, and attorney general were to constitute a board of pardons.

The Supreme Court should consist of three justices, to be elected at large. Five judicial districts were provided, the judges to reside in and be chosen by the electors of their respective districts; and a district attorney should be elected for each district.

Absolute secrecy of the ballot was guaranteed. Six months’ residence was required to become a qualified elector. Religious freedom was guaranteed. Taxes for state purposes should never exceed ten mills on the dollar; when the assessed valuation should have reached $50,000,000, five mills; or $100,000,000, not more than three mills, with greater reduction, as the wealth of the state should increase.

The capital was located at Boise City for 20 years. The insane, blind, deaf, and dumb were provided for. All railroads and express companies were declared common carriers, subject to legislative regulations. Provision was made to prevent inconvenience in changing the business of the territorial to the state courts. In all these matters the Idaho constitution resembled other modern state organic laws, the only thing in which it was singular being in the prohibition of bigamy and polygamy, and in truth this question had become one of the deepest interest in Idaho.

Governor Shoup gave it as his belief that the population of Idaho in 1889 was 113,777, and that of this number 25,000 were adherents of the Mormon faith and practices, and although public sentiment to a considerable extent suppressed the visible fact of polygamous relations, it was known that plural marriages were contracted, and that the doctrine was taught by the Mormon church leaders. It was not so much, he said, that examples of plural marriages could be pointed out that the gentile majority made war upon Mormonism, but because the preachers of the Mormon minority taught that all laws enacted for the suppression of polygamy were unconstitutional, on the ground that they were an interference with religious liberty. This was a point, he claimed, most dangerous to good morals; for any association of persons could, under the name of religion, commit any crimes against society with impunity, protected by the constitution of the United States.

To break their power, the legislature of 1884-5 passed a registry law requiring voters to take a ‘test oath’ of the most rigid nature, 55 which kept a large majority of Mormon voters away from the polls, only about 1,000 taking the stringent oath, and voting at the election for adopting or rejecting the constitution in which it was incorporated, which was held, according to the governor’s proclamation, on the 5th of November. The number of votes polled at the election was 14,184, 12,398 being for and 1,773 against the adoption of the constitution. Upon the presumption that the Mormon vote was against the constitution, the vote of the territory was almost unanimous in favor of state government without regard to party.

In order to settle a question raised by the Mormons of the constitutionality of the registry oath, a Mormon voter was arrested, charged with conspiracy, and imprisoned. His friends began habeas corpus proceedings, but the court decided that the writ would not hold, and the case was taken to the United States supreme court to obtain an opinion which would make valid or invalid the test oath, and that part of the Idaho constitution in which it is incorporated. 56 Delegate Dubois, who was taking the opinion of congress on the admission of Idaho, was met by the assertion of the Mormon leaders that the effort to disfranchise 25,000 of the population would prove a stumbling block in the way of statehood – an assertion to which he returned the counter statement that, rather than come in without the anti-Mormon clause in the constitution, the territory would prefer to remain out of the union. 57 Nevertheless, he labored strenuously for it, not on party grounds, for Idaho was so evenly balanced in politics at this period that neither party dared claim it, but simply on the merits of her claims to recognition. “Our constitution,” said the delegate, “forbids the carrying of any flag in public processions, except the American flag. We want a state for those whose highest allegiance is to the United States, or else we want no state at all.” Truly, the times were changed since 1864, when the scum of secession over-ran the territory, and a loyal man dared hardly breathe a sentiment of devotion to the union. But there were complications in the way besides the Mormon test oath. Unless the state should be admitted by the congress about to meet, it might have to wait for years, because in 1890 a census would be taken, and the apportionment for representation in congress undoubtedly raised to about 200,000. Congress was already so unwieldy that it would not, probably, increase the number of representatives, but rather the requirement of population, and it might be very long before Idaho doubled hers. Again, it was said that the democrats in congress would unite in opposition to the admission of Idaho and Wyoming, which was also an aspirant for statehood, unless New Mexico should be admitted at the same time. Thus hopes and fears had their turn. Meanwhile, the newspapers, of which there were now thirty-eight in Idaho, 58 asserted truthfully that never had there been so many new enterprises inaugurated as in this year of 1889; irrigation schemes that would cost millions; new mining camps as fast as they could be built and machinery could be “freighted’ to the mines: homestead filings for the year, 861 ; homestead proofs, 463; preemption filings, 841; preemption proofs, 441; desert filings, 294; desert proofs, 841 ; timber culture filings, 293; timber culture proofs, 5; mineral filings, 72; proofs, 62. All these meant so many times 160 acres improved, or about to be. The total amount of land surveyed in Idaho was 8,500,000 acres; of land patented or filed on, 4,500,000 acres; and land in cultivation, surveyed and unsurveyed, 600,000 acres. Idaho contained about 55,000,000 acres, 12,000,000 of which were suitable for agriculture, while nearly as much more could be made so by irrigation. There were 5,000,000 acres of grazing land, 10,000,000 acres of timber, and 8,000,000 acres of timberland. Idaho had indeed advantages unsurpassed in any quarter of the globe. Railroads, irrigation, and statehood would make this evident. Such was the voice of the Idaho press, and such, by their vote on the constitution, was the voice of the people.



Bancroft, Hubert H. Bancroft Works, Volume 31, History Of Washington, Idaho, and Montana, 1845-1889. San Francisco: The History Company. 1890.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top