Idaho’s ideal location as a Rocky Mountain state on a direct path to the Pacific Coast, as well as a major Native American territory throughout history, means the Gem State has an incredible past tucked within its borders. In fact, despite its beautiful surface, it’s safe to say that Idaho has quite the story to tell. These 10 locations in Idaho are particularly important to our state’s history and have played a key role in establishing our rural oasis as the wonderful place to live that it is today.
1. The Lemhi Valley: Where Lewis and Clark's journey changed fortune.
Idaho made history when Lewis and Clark first entered the region in 1804, as it was here that the Corps of Discovery faced many of their greatest land challenges to date. But the Lemhi Valley, 20 miles East of the Salmon River, was also the birthplace of Sacagawea, without whom they most certainly would not have made it to the ocean and back.
While Sacagawea's first role here was as an interpreter between the men and her people, her key legacy was as a guide, leading the men through the trails of her childhood while also gathering safe food for the party to eat.
2. Boundary: The Oregon Treaty is signed.
The Oregon Treaty was signed in 1803, establishing which lands would be under control of Great Britain and the newly established US. The line between the US and Canada was drawn on the 49th parallel, marking the final change for the two countries and giving Idaho's panhandle a definite top.
3. Pend Oreille: Where Idaho's trade industry got its start.
When Canadian fur trapper David Thompson built Idaho's first trading post near Bonners Ferry, he set into motion a whirlwind pf trade, as well as sparked a new phase in Idaho's relationship with its Native American residents. The trade post brought in thousands of white settlers, setting the foundation for the wars and development that was to come.
4. The Idaho Border: Where seven states got their permanent state lines.
Idaho officially became a U.S. territory under Abraham Lincoln in 1863. After this designation, alongside Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Montana, and Wyoming, all were separated into distinct states with borders created predominantly by existing landmarks. Originally four immense rectangles of land, the new states were even granted a say in which parts of land they wanted to keep.
5. Clearwater: Where the Nez Perce war took a dramatic turn.
In a battle that covered three states and lasted for the entirety of 1877, the battle in Clearwater marked a turning point as the war moved south and ultimately into Montana.
6. Orofino: Gold becomes the currency of the Idaho territory.
When gold was discovered in Orofino Creek in 1862, the population surge into Idaho was quick and unexpected. This discovery, made prior to the development of mine-based extraction, caused Idaho's fist official mining town to spring up -- Pierce -- soon to be followed by
Silver City, Cottonwood, and many more.
7. Lewiston: An original capital faces an uprising.
Most people know that Lewiston was Idaho's original capital in 1863, chosen by first governor William H. Wallace himself due to its unique seaport, mines, and its somewhat central location.
When the gold petered out, however, an uprising within the capital occurred simultaneously. Gold was exploding in the Boise Basin, and people were migrating there in droves, abandoning the Palouse in favor of the southern oasis. Fortunately (or unfortunately), the governor at the time, Caleb Lyon, was an out-of-stater with little to no interest in the "middle of nowhere" territory, and with no leadership, the state in many ways was a free for all. Thus, Secretary of State Charles DeWitt Smith took matters into his own hands here. Naming himself governor, he grabbed the territorial seal and official papers and rode them on horseback to Boise, marking the capital's "move."
8. Hailey: Where electricity and phone service first came to Idaho.
While something as small as power may not seem like a historical event, consider the date: 1887. Far later than many other states already boasting electricity, newspapers, and other modern conveniences, the building of the electric plant allowed Idaho easier community access and the ability to mine, develop, and expand into the new century.
9. Soda Springs: Where the Oregon Trail came to life.
The Oregon Trail was a 2,000 mile journey made by pioneers in the early 1800s, each family motivated by the hope of new lives and new opportunities, but the challenging journey wasn't for the faint of heart. Soda Springs (well before the geyser was established) was the point where the trail first crossed into Idaho. Today, you can still see and follow the original wagon ruts and even find forgotten relics, as well as visit the museum and Fort Hall replica in nearby Pocatello.
10. Boise: Where Idaho made gender equality history.
Idaho was the 4th state in the country to allow women the right to vote, beginning in 1896. The movement occurred much in part to Abigail Scott Duniway, though it wasn't until the 20s that the 19th Amendment passed in the entire country. Idaho's progressive role in this matter was years before its time, and paid tribute to the importance of women in the family. Boise was the location of most, if not all, of Duniway's public lectures on the topic, which played a huge role in influencing the state capital to make the change.
Idaho’s long and tumultuous history of settlement and development is captured in these places – and there’s so much more to the stories than the textbooks explain! What other notable locales played roles in Idaho’s history?
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