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.

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.