History of Washington, Idaho and Montana

Bancroft’s extensive work on the history of the Northwest Coast meticulously chronicles the development of the region encompassing Washington, Idaho, and Montana up until 1846, marking the end of the fur company era and the resolution of territorial boundaries between Great Britain and the United States. His writings provide a comprehensive account of how these regions evolved from being parts of Oregon into separate territories, detailing the intricate relationships and historical overlaps among them. Bancroft’s approach includes a broad spectrum of sources such as printed materials, public documents, newspapers, and firsthand accounts from early settlers and prominent figures, ensuring a thorough narrative of the region’s historical landscape. This article aims to present the interconnected histories of these territories, emphasizing their significance in the broader context of North American history.

In Bancroft’s History of the Northwest Coast, he brought down the annals of Washington, Idaho, and Montana to the end of the fur company regime, in 1846, at which time the question of boundary between the possessions of Great Britain and those of the United States was determined, the subjects of the former power thereupon retiring from the banks of the Columbia northward beyond the line of latitude 49°. In the History of Oregon, he likewise given much of the early affairs of the territory treated of in this volume, that territory for a time being a part of Oregon; just as in the history of Washington much is given of the history of Idaho, and in the history of Idaho much of Montana.

Under the term Northwest Coast Bancroft originally included all that vast region of North America north of the 42d parallel and west of the Rocky Mountains, Alaska alone excepted. When, in 1846, the southern line of British Columbia was determined, all that remained was called Oregon. Later, from Oregon was set off Washington; from Washington was set off Idaho; and from Idaho, for the most part, was set off Montana. Thus, for some part of the history of Montana we look to the annals of Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and the Northwest Coast; for part of the history of Idaho we look to the annals of Washington and the rest; and for the history of Washington, we must have also the histories of Oregon and the Northwest Coast. He was thus ex Illicit on this point, in order that the people of Washington, Idaho, and Montana might thoroughly understand how the histories of their respective sections are distributed in this series histories which if segregated from the series and issued separately would each fill a space equal to two of his volumes.

There were those among the early pioneers who came to the Northwest Coast some who determined, while securing to themselves such homes as they might choose out of a broad expanse, to serve their government by taking possession of the territory north of the Columbia River, not as Vancouver had done fifty-seven years before, by stepping on shore to eat luncheon and recite some ceremonies to the winds, nor as Robert Gray had done, a few years later, by entering and naming the great River of the West after his ship; but by actual settlement and occupation. Bancroft need not repeat here the narrative of those bold measures by which these men of destiny achieved what they aimed at. Bancroft wish only to declare that they no more knew what was before them than did the first immigrants to the Willamette Valley. Nevertheless, it fell out that they had found one of the choicest portions of the great unknown north-west; with a value measured not alone by its fertile soil, but also by its wonderful inland sea, with its salt-water canals branching off in all directions, deep, safe from storms, always open to navigation, abounding in fish, bordered many miles wide with the most magnificent forests on earth. It did not require the imagination of a poet to picture a glowing future for Puget Sound, albeit far away in the dim reaches of time. To be in some measure connected with that future, to lay ever so humbly the corner stone, was worth all the toil and privation, the danger and the isolation, incident to its achievement.

Not only was there this inland sea, with its treasures inexhaustible of food for the world, and its fifteen hundred miles of shore covered with pine forests to the water’s edge, but surrounding it were many small valleys of the richest soils, watered by streams fed by the pure snows of the Cascade and Coast ranges, half prairie and half forest, warm, sheltered from winds, enticing the weary pilgrim from the eastern side of the continent to rest in their calm solitudes. It was true that the native wild man still in-habited these valleys and roamed the encircling mountains, to the number of thirty thousand; but in so vast a country three times as many would have seemed few; and the incomers were the sons of sires who had met and subdued the savage tribes of America as they pushed their way westward from Plymouth Rock to the Missouri and beyond; therefore they had no hesitation now in settling in their midst. They had been bred to the belief that “the British and Indians” would melt before them.

The sources of material for writing this volume are similar to those which have enabled Bancroft to write all of his volumes; namely, all existing printed matter, books, public documents, and newspapers, together with many valuable manuscripts, the results of hundreds of dictations, containing the experiences of those first upon the ground in the various localities, or who have in any manner achieved distinction in organizing society and government in these domains.

Bancroft provides an abundance of information in this book, but it is necessary for the reader to check the footnotes.  In many cases we have provided pages for a footnote that contains names and genealogical information.

History of Idaho

History of Montana

History of Washington


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

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