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Bear Lake County is the smallest in Idaho, yet one of the richest, and one of the very few counties comparatively free from public indebtedness. The natural wealth of the little domain is about as happily diversified as its residents could wish. It has mountains on either side rich in minerals, timber and building stone, which have recently been developed to a greater extent than during all the years of its settlement.
The county was settled by Mormons in the year 1863, and for a number of years afterward their residence continued under circumstances of the most forbidding and discouraging nature. The county is perhaps the highest altitude that is cultivated successfully in the world, the altitude being about six thousand feet, and the early settlers, being unaccustomed to the frosts and the storms of these high altitudes and the different methods of raising crops by irrigation, were for several years compelled to haul their flour and other necessaries over the rugged mountains from Cache valley, Utah, a distance of seventy-five miles, the roads being mere trails, rocky, sidling, and without bridges over the wild, swift mountain streams. To settle such a county, none but the strongest and most determined could accomplish; so bleak and sterile was the country that the shade and fruit trees first planted refused to grow. All this is changed by the labor and perseverance of this people, and their learning how to cultivate by irrigation, and to secure those seeds, trees and shrubs which are acclimated to these high altitudes. By this means the county is now abundantly fruitful in grain, hay and vegetables of almost every kind. It appears to be the home of all kinds of small fruit, and apples, pears, plums, cherries, prunes, etc., are becoming plentiful, while watermelons, squash, corn, tomatoes and other of the tender fruits are raised by many.
Along the mountainous surface of the county is a heavy growth of pine timber, into which numerous sawmills annually make inroads without seriously diminishing the supply.
The stock business is one of the principal industries, and one of the main resources of the county. The grazing facilities are excellent, and the hay-producing area is very large; much of it is overflowed by the waters of Bear River each spring, and this not only serves the purpose of irrigation, but also very materially increases the productiveness of the soil. Without this heavy hay crop, stock raising could not be very well carried on, as the winters are very severe from early in January to the middle of March.
Cheese-making has come to be quite an industry in Bear Lake, and during the summer sea-son of 1897 it was estimated that the cheese factories of Bear Lake County of which there are seventeen turned out ten tons of cheese each week, almost every pound of which found its way into Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Montana and Colorado markets.
A short distance from Montpelier, near what is known as the old Lander emigrant road, are located the Oneida salt works. There are several springs, and no pumping is required, the water being run through wooden pipes into large galvanized-iron pans, in which the salt is made by boiling the water. The water is as cold as ordinary spring water, and is perfectly clear, showing-how completely the saline matter is held in solution. The salt is shoveled out once in thirty minutes, and after draining twenty-five hours, is thence thrown into the drying-house, there to remain until sacked and ready for shipment. The supply of water gives four thousand five hundred pounds of salt per day, and the owners market it at five cents per pound. An analysis made by Dr. Piggott, of Baltimore, shows a higher percentage of pure salt than the celebrated Onondaga brand of Syracuse, while neither Liverpool, Turk’s Island nor Saginaw salt approaches it in purity, or is as white, clear or soluble in liquids.
The product for 1897 was about seven hundred and fifty thousand pounds.
It has only been but recently that the fame of the hot springs has been published abroad. All through the beautiful Bear Lake valley mineral springs are plentiful. The most important, however, are the Bear Lake Hot Springs, situated on the shores of Bear Lake. Here a stream of mineral water comes pouring from the side of the mountain, nearly boiling hot, furnishing water sufficient for two splendid plunge baths. The curative qualities of the waters of these springs are marvelous. For rheumatic complaints, skin diseases, catarrh and kindred ailments, they are unexcelled. The waters have never been fully analyzed, but sulphur, mercury and niter exist in quantities sufficient to make the waters the best natural medical bath known. Montpelier, on the Oregon Short Line, is the most convenient railroad point. Hunting, fishing and bathing are all combined with this resort, and there is a good family hotel.
Within a radius of two or three miles there are a group of mineral springs, near Soda Springs, which are considered most remarkable, because of their waters ranging from almost ice cold to warm, containing magnesia, soda, iron, sulphur and various other constituents in such proportions as to have a great power on disease, and some of them being so highly charged with carbonic acid and other gases as to prove a most pleasing beverage. Over one million bottles of the famous “Idanha” mineral water are put up every year. This water is bottled out of the spring called Idanha (the Indian name for Ida-ho). The water from this spring is most palatable and has a delightfully refreshing and invigorating effect. During one single month the Oregon Short Line shipped over one hundred tons of this bottled elixir from Soda Springs station.
In the neighborhood of these springs there are extinct volcanoes, geyser cones, sulphur mountains, a boiling lake of the same material, some wonderful caves, superb fishing and hunting, the Blackfoot and Portneuf furnishing the trout and the mountains bear and elk. Four miles southwest is Swan Lake, one of the loveliest natural gems set in the Wasatch range. It reclines in an oval basin, whose rim is ten feet above the surrounding country. The shores are densely covered with trees, shrubs and luxuriant under-growth. The outlet is a series of small, moss-covered basins, symmetrically arranged, the clear water overflowing the bank, trickling into the nearest emerald tub, then successively into others, until it forms a sparkling stream, emptying into the Bear river in the valley below. The lake is said to be bottomless, no sounding having as yet determined its depth. Near this lake of beautiful fresh water is the singular sulphur lake, out of whose center liquid sulphur incessantly boils and coats the shores with thick deposits.
But the most famous of all the lakes is the Bear Lake, from which the county is named. This body of fresh water is twenty miles long by eight miles wide, reaching from St. Charles (a prosperous, cleanly city eight miles south of Paris, to Lake Town, in Rich county, Utah) its elevation is five thousand nine hundred feet, and it abounds in fish of various kinds, such as several kinds of trout (salmon, silver and speckled), and mullet, white fish and chub. Utah’s state game and fish warden has deposited a large amount of black bass in this lake, and Idaho’s executive has arranged for their protection and care.
The lake is fed by several mountain streams, and these also abound in fish, mostly mountain brook trout. It has an outlet, emptying into Bear River, in the north. The shores of the lake are sandy and gravelly, affording a clean and easy approach. The water is shallow for a distance of about one hundred yards, when it gradually deepens to an extent not as yet determined. A little north of Garden City, Utah, a sounding line ran out nine hundred feet, but no bottom was touched. The water is very clear, affording a view of the bottom at a depth of ten to fifteen feet. It is a splendid bathing resort, and the inhabitants, living on its shores, delight in its exercise, as well as the many hundreds who visit the lake in the summer from Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and other distant localities. The Oregon Short Line skirts the northern shore.
Movements made in mining circles in Bear Lake county during the last two years compel one to believe that this county will yet rank as one of the foremost mineral producers of the state. This is made especially the more forcible on account of the wonderful developments made in the Humming Bird property, recently bonded by Colonel Shaughnessey of Salt Lake City and others. The mine is located about five miles from Paris, up Paris canyon.
The Blackstone mine, near St. Charles, eight miles south of Paris, is another excellent piece of mining property, well supplied with a quartz-crushing mill and all other necessary machinery. This property, with fourteen others, is owned by the Dodge Company, of Salt Lake. It produces a low-grade galena ore, running about seventy-five per cent lead and a few dollars in silver and gold.
The Norman copper mines are being worked, and are showing up brighter all the time.
The public schools of Bear Lake County take high rank. New school furniture and apparatus is to be found in every school district, and over half of the school districts have now new and commodious schoolhouses. Examinations have been frequent, so as to prevent any individual teaching school who could not come up to the required standard.
Paris, the county seat of Bear Lake County, is situated ten miles southwest of Montpelier, which is its nearest railroad station. The altitude is about six thousand feet above the sea, and the climate and natural advantages are all that could be desired. Paris is an incorporated city, containing about fifteen hundred inhabitants, and was founded in the fall of 1863 by Apostle C. C. Rich, who brought with him a company of Latter Day Saints to possess the land and make a settlement. Among the first residents were Robert H. Williams, Hezekiah Duffie, John Mann, Thomas Sleght, John and George Humphreys and Joseph Rich, the last named now judge of the district court. They were a brave and faithful band of pioneers, who endured many hard-ships and privations in order to make homes in this new district, and Paris now stands as a monument to their fortitude and enterprise. It contains many nice homes, beautiful shade trees, fine gardens, and is surrounded by richly cultivated farms and well-kept stock ranches. Farming and stock raising constitute the chief occupations of the settlers of this locality, and many of the agriculturists reside in Paris, and own and cultivate lands near by. In 1897 the place was incorporated as a village, with a board of trustees, and in April, 1898, the first city board was elected, consisting of John U. Stucki, mayor; J. R. Shepherd, Arthur Budge, Walter Hoge, Thomas Menson, Wilfred Rich, A. F. Seegmiller, Christian Fuller and Charles Inness, all representative men. The city is out of debt. It has a large brick district school building, and the stake academy, which is a large brick structure, is now being completed and occupies a splendid site, which was donated for the purpose by Mayor Stucki. The grounds include four acres, and the building overlooks Paris and the entire valley. The Latter Day Saints have also erected a large stake tabernacle, of red and white stone, with a seating capacity of twenty-five hundred. It was built at a cost of fifty thousand dollars and is by far the finest church edifice in the state. There are also two ward frame meeting houses, owned by the same church, for use on more common occasions. The Presbyterian people also have a nice little church edifice and a resident minister. The business of the town is done in two large general mercantile stores, a drug store, two meat markets, two blacksmith shops, a harness shop and a creamery. The last is a new industry, owned by a stock company of the citizens, and the factory has a capacity for utilizing six hundred cans of milk per day. In the county there are also a number of cheese factories. The residents of Paris are nearly all Latter Day Saints, and are an honest, temperate, thrifty people, who have founded and maintain an attractive little city.
Montpelier is a city of sixteen hundred inhabitants, situated in Bear Lake valley, Bear Lake County, Idaho, on the Oregon Short Line Railroad, ninety-nine miles east of Pocatello, and it is nearly six thousand feet above sea level. It was first settled in April, 1864, by fifteen men and their families, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who in answer to the call of the church volunteered to go out and settle the valley. Of those first fifteen brave and faithful pioneers the following are still living in the town, honored for what they have done: John Bunney, Christian Hoganson, William Severns, John Cozzens and William Ervin. Jacob Jones and Edward Burgoyne are credited with having arrived about the same time. Charles H. Bridges is also one of the very early settlers of the town. Most of these gentlemen have raised large and respected families, most of whom have settled in the town and surrounding country. The wives of most of these pioneers who braved with them all the early trials and dangers are still spared to them.
The first settlers called the place Clover Creek and Belmont, but later President Brigham Young visited them and gave the town its present name, Montpelier, that being the name of the town in Vermont in which he was born. The first settlers lived in dugouts covered with brush, some by day in the willows, sleeping in their wagons. As soon as they could, they built log houses, and, not having lumber, spread hay on the earth floor and hung up a cloth for a door and covered the window in the same way. Later they whipsawed lumber for floors, etc., and made themselves more comfortable. Part of the time a large coffee mill was used to grind the grain, and they had to go with oxen seventy-five miles for their supplies, and the mail during the long months of winter was brought in by men on snow-shoes. Each settler was allotted an acre and a quarter in the town, and out of the town twenty acres of grain land and twenty acres for hay. These small allotments were made so that they could live close together for mutual protection.
During several of the first years of the settlement there were destructive early frosts, and the crickets and grasshoppers came down on the pioneers in great numbers and completely destroyed all that they tried to raise, and at times it looked very dark for the brave little colony. Not a few of the men had pulled hand-carts across the plains and suffered many hardships for their church, but they had courage and a great faith that never faltered, and they endured and persevered, and one outcome of their stability is the growing business town of Montpelier. The little huts and log houses have been replaced by fine commodious houses, and the founders of the town are now living in peace, comfort and contentment, still true to the faith that inspired them in those days of peril and privation.
The railroad was completed in 1884, Repair shops were established at Montpelier and the town was made a division terminus and grew to-ward the depot and naturally became a distributing point for all the country north within a distance of one hundred miles and south for sixty miles or more. At this time its post-office distributes mail for twenty-seven post offices, seventy million pounds of freight are annually received at the station, and large numbers of sheep and cattle and a considerable quantity of wool are shipped from it, and it is believed that fully twelve thousand people procure their supplies at this point. The town has six general merchandise stores. It has three large hardware and implement houses and the only banking house in the county. This bank, known as the Bank of Montpelier, under the able and courteous management of Mr. G. C. Gray, its cashier, is doing a large general banking business. On the 13th of August 1893, its officers were “held up” and the bank was robbed of more than seven thousand dollars, by cowboys. None of the money was ever recovered, but one of the robbers is now serving a thirty-five-year sentence in the state penitentiary. The plate-glass surrounding the counting-room of the bank is now fortified with plates of steel. Montpelier is the only telegraph town in the county with the exception of Paris. It has two large schoolhouses and four church edifices, those of the Latter Day Saints, the Presbyterians, the Catholics and the Episcopalians. It has one live newspaper, the Examiner. The town is located in a rich farming valley forty miles long and eight miles wide, occupying more than one-fourth of the territory of Bear Lake county, which contains one thousand one hundred and fifty square miles. The town was incorporated a village in 1891, and as a city in 1894. A very large proportion of the inhabitants of the town and county are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They and the “Gentile” portion of the inhabitants live on the best of terms, and the great majority of both classes are industrious, trustworthy and progressive citizens.