Idaho Historical and Descriptive

As to the exact time and period in which the United States acquired possession of what is now the state of Idaho there seems to have been somewhat of confusion in the minds of historical writers, and while it is scarcely demanded that we enter into a consideration of the various theories and conjectures that have been advanced, it is proper that the matter receive due attention and that the most authentic evidence be recognized. The majority of writers and text-books have assigned the region as a part of the vast area included in the Louisiana purchase, to which due reference is made on other pages of this work. This view, however, can not be held as essentially correct in its premises. What was generally known as the “Oregon Country” was not an integral portion of that purchase, and no better or more concise evidence to this effect may be found than that given in the following excerpt from James G. Blaine’s valuable work, “Twenty Years of Congress:”

The Louisiana Purchase did not extend beyond the main range of the Rocky Mountains, and our title to that large area which is included in the state of Oregon and in the territories of Washington and Idaho rests upon a different foundation, or rather upon a series of claims, each of which was strong under the law of nations. We claimed it, first, by right of original discovery of the Columbia River by an American navigator, in 1792; second, by an original exploration in 1805; third, by original settlement, in 1810, by the enterprising company of which John Jacob Astor was the head; and, lastly and principally, by the transfer of the Spanish title in 1819, many years after the Louisiana purchase was accomplished. It is not, however, probable that we should have been able to maintain our title to Oregon if we had not secured the intervening country. It was certainly our purchase of Louisiana that enabled us to secure the Spanish title to the shores of the Pacific, and without that title we could hardly have maintained our claim. As against England, our title seemed to us to be perfect: but as against Spain, our case was not so strong. The purchase of Louisiana may, therefore, be fairly said to have carried with it and secured to us our possession of Oregon.

When the territory of Idaho was set off by act of congress, March 3, 1863, it contained 326,373 square miles, extending from the 104th meridian to the 117th, and from the forty-second to the forty-ninth parallels of latitude. Thus it extended to a meridian within fifty miles of the great bend of the Missouri below the mouth of the Yellowstone River, and included the Milk, White Earth, Big Horn and Powder Rivers, and also a vast extent on the North Fork and Sweetwater Rivers, tributary to the Platte. It then contained the Black Hills, Fort Laramie, Long’s Peak, the South Pass, Green River, Fort Hall, Fort Boise and that tedious strip of territory rendered notorious by the routes of the emigrants to the Pacific coast along Snake River. As originally constituted it included all the present state of Montana and a large portion of Wyoming.

The territorial boundary line, according to the act of March 3, 1863, organizing the territory, was as follows: Beginning at a point in the middle of the channel of the Snake River where the northern boundary of Oregon intersects the same, thence following down said channel of the Snake River to a point opposite the mouth of the Kooskooskia or Clearwater River, thence due north to the forty-ninth parallel of latitude, thence east along said parallel to the twenty-seventh degree of longitude west of Washington, thence south along said degree of longitude to the northern boundary of Colorado territory, thence west along said boundary to the thirty-third degree of longitude west of Washington, thence north along said degree of longitude to the forty-second parallel of latitude, thence west along said parallel to the eastern boundary of the state of Oregon, thence north along said boundary to the place of beginning.

In 1868 Idaho was reduced to its present dimensions, extending from the British possessions on the north to Utah and Nevada on the south; from Montana and Wyoming on the east to Oregon and Washington on the west, having a length from north to south of four hundred and ten miles, and a width from east to west varying from fifty to two hundred and fifty-seven miles. In size the state is larger than all New England, or about equal in area to New York and Pennsylvania combined. The straight western frontier is four hundred miles long; the southern three hundred miles; and the northern only fifty; while the eastern runs due north for one hundred and thirty miles, and then follows the crest of the Rocky Mountains northwesterly to the national boundary line.

The United States government prior to 1863 opened a road across the Bear River chain of Mountains, at the expense of several millions of dollars, under the direction of Colonel Lander. Hence this shortening of the overland route to the Pacific was known as “Lander’s cutoff.” Antecedent to the year mentioned, concerning all the country now embraced in Idaho, the public knew scarcely anything beyond the narrow limits of the old trail. The principal thing known to the early travelers was the wonderful Snake River, which stream, by the way, derives its name from the principal tribe of Indians found in the vicinity, though it has also been called Shoshone, Lewis and Les Serpents (the French term for snake). This River in sections consists of great pools, both in the plains and in the Mountains, and Falls and rapids of great extent. In a distance of one hundred and fifty miles it has a fall of over two thousand one hundred feet. Therefore it is not navigable, but renders a vast amount of water power and also water for irrigation purposes. The first large cataract to be noticed is the American Falls, so named on account of the fact that a party of Americans lost their lives here in their effort to cross the River in canoes. It is twenty-five miles southwest of Fort Hall, and the descent of the water is sixty feet. Thence the River flows between banks of trap rock for about seventy miles, when it enters a deeper canyon, several miles in length and from eight hundred to a thousand miles in width. Soon after this there is a fall of one hundred and eighty feet in one perpendicular descent, of the main portion of the water, while a smaller portion makes its way down the descent gradually to a certain point, where it completes the downward journey to the great pool by a perpendicular descent. These descents are called the Twin Falls, and sometimes the Little Falls, to distinguish them from the great Shoshone Falls four miles below, where the entire body of water plunges down two hundred and twenty-five feet in a perpendicular descent, after a preliminary descent of thirty feet down an incline. Forty miles still farther west, at the Salmon or Fishing Falls, the River makes its last great downward plunge of forty feet. after which it flows, with frequent rapids and canyons, on to the Columbia. Much of the way from the head to the mouth is marked by remarkable scenery, awful, grand, weird or mysterious.

The American Falls are forty feet high, the water plunging over a lava stairway; and the Oregon Short Line Railroad crosses the River amid their roar and spray. Below Goose creek the River enters a deep canyon, within whose gloomy abyss it flows for seventy miles, and in this course the River sweeps through a group of five islands of volcanic origin, amid which occur several cascades, and then forms the magnificent Shoshone Falls, descending in full volume nine hundred and fifty feet wide, over a semicircular cliff two hundred and twenty-five feet high, torn by projecting rocks of lava into cataracts of white foam and prismatic spray. At times the volume nearly equals that of Niagara, while the descent is a third greater. Richardson calls it “a cataract of snow with an avalanche of jewels, amid solemn portals of lava, unrivaled in the world save by Niagara.” This remarkable locality is twenty-five miles from the railway, and of course there is a hotel here for the accommodation of tourists. A more detailed description of this magnificent cataract appears on other pages of this volume. The Snake is navigable from a point a few miles above the Boise River to Powder River, a hundred miles below.

The following beautiful word-picture is from the pen of C. C. Goodwin, who, after a description of the Columbia River and its beauties, continues in these words:

The Columbia is grand, but you must follow it up to its chief tributary if you would find perfect glory follow it into the very desert. You have heard of the lava beds of Idaho. They were once a River of molten fire from three to nine hundred feet in depth, which burned its way through the desert for hundreds of miles! To the east of the source of this lava, the Snake River bursts out of the hills, becoming almost at once a sovereign River, and, flowing at first south-westerly and then, bending westerly, cuts its way, with many bends, finally, far to the north, merging with the Columbia.

On this River are several falls. First are the American Falls, which are very beautiful. Sixty miles below are the Twin Falls, where the River divides into two nearly equal parts and falls one hundred and eighty feet. They are magnificent. Three miles below are the Shoshone Falls, and a few miles lower down are Salmon Falls.

It was of Shoshone Falls that I began to speak. They are real rivals of Niagara. Never anywhere else was there such a scene; never anywhere else was so beautiful a picture hung in so rude a frame; never anywhere else on a background so forbidding and weird were so many glories clustered. Around and beyond there is nothing but the desert, sere, silent, lifeless, as though Desolation had builded these everlasting thrones to Sorrow and Despair.

Away back in remote ages over the withered breast of the desert, a River of fire one hundred miles wide and four hundred miles long was turned. As the fiery mass cooled, its red waves became transfixed and turned back, giving to the double desert an indescribably blasted and forbidding face. But while this River of fire was in flow, a River of water was fighting its way across it or has since made the war and forged out for itself a channel through the mass. This channel looks like the grave of a volcano that has been robbed of its dead!

But right between its crumbling and repellent walls a transfiguration appears; and such a picture! A River as lordly as the Hudson or the Ohio springing from the distant snow-crested Tetons. with waters transparent as glass but green as emerald, with majestic flow and ever-increasing volume, sweeps on until it reaches this point where the august display begins. Suddenly, in different places in the Riverbed, jagged, rocky reefs are upraised, dividing the current into four Rivers, and these, in a mighty plunge of eighty feet downward, dash on their way. Of course the waters are churned into a foam and roll over the precipice white as are the garments of morning when no cloud obscures the sun. The loveliest of these falls is called the Bridal Veil, because it is made of the lace which is woven with a warp of falling waters and a woof of sunlight. Above this and near the right bank is a long trail of foam, and this is called the Bridal Train. The other channels are not so fair as the one called Bridal Veil, but they are more fierce and wild and carry in their furious sweep more power.

One of the reefs which divides the River in mid-channel runs up to a peak, and on this a family of eagles have through the years, maybe through the centuries, made their home and reared their young, on the very verge of the abyss and amid the full echoes of the resounding boom of the Falls. Surely the eagle is a fitting symbol of perfect fearlessness and of that exultation which comes with battle clamors.

But these first Falls are but a beginning. The greater splendor succeeds. With swifter flow the startled waters dash on and within a few feet take their second plunge in a solid crescent over a sheer precipice two hundred and ten feet to the abyss below. On the brink there is a roofing crest of white, dotted here and there, in sharp contrast, with shining eddies of green, as might a necklace of emerald shimmer on a throat of snow, and then the leap and fall.

Here more than foam is made. Here the waters are shivered into fleecy spray whiter and finer than any miracle that ever fell from India loom, while from the depths below an everlasting vapor rises the incense of the waters to the waters’ God. Finally, through the long, unclouded days the sun sends down his beams, and to give the startling scene its crowning splendor, wreathes the terror and the glory in a rainbow halo. On either sullen bank the extremities of its arc are anchored, and there in its many-colored robes of light it stands outstretched above the abyss like wreaths of flowers above a sepulcher. Up through the glory and the terror an everlasting roar ascends, deep-toned as is the voice of fate, a diapason like that the roiling ocean chants when his eager surges come rushing in to greet and fiercely woo an irresponsive promontory.

But to feel all the awe and to mark all the splendor and power that come of the mighty display, one must climb down the steep descent to the River’s brink below, and, pressing up as nearly as possible to the falls, contemplate the tremendous picture. There something of the energy that creates that endless panorama is comprehended; all the magnificence is seen. In the reverberations that come of the war of waters one hears something like God’s voice; something like the splendor of God is before his eyes; something akin to God’s power is manifesting itself before him and his soul shrinks within itself, conscious as never before of its own littleness and helplessness in the presence of the working of Nature’s immeasurable forces, not quite so massive is the picture as Niagara, but it has more lights and shades and loveliness, as though a hand more divinely skilled had mixed the tints and with more delicate art had transfixed them upon that picture suspended there in its rugged and somber frame.

As one watches, it is not difficult to fancy that away back in the immemorial and unrecorded past the angel of love bewailed the fact that mortals were to be given existence in a spot so forbidding: a spot that apparently was never to be warmed with God’s smile, which was never to make a sign through which God’s mercy was to be discerned. that then Omnipotence was touched, that with His hand He smote the hills and started the great River in its flow, that with His finger He traced out the channel across the corpse of that other River that had been fire, mingled the sun-beams with the raging waters and made it possible in that fire-blasted frame of scoria to swing a picture which should be shown first to the red man and later to the pale races, a certain sign of the existence, the power and unapproachable splendor of the Great First Cause; and, as the red man through the centuries watched the spectacle, comprehending nothing except that an infinite voice was smiting his ears and insufferable glories were blazing below his eyes; so through the centuries to come the pale races will stand upon the shuddering shore and watch, experiencing a mighty impulse to put off the sandals from the feet, under an overmastering consciousness that the spot on which they are standing is holy ground. There is nothing elsewhere like it nothing half so weird, so wild, so beautiful, so clothed in majesty, so draped in terror; nothing else that awakens impressions at once so startling, so winsome, so profound. While journeying through the desert, to come suddenly upon it, the spectacle gives one something of the emotions that would be experienced to behold a resurrection from the dead. In the midst of what seems like a dead world, suddenly there springs into irrepressible life something so marvelous, so grand, so caparisoned with loveliness and irresistible might, that the head is bowed, the strained heart throbs tumultuously and the awed soul sinks to its knees.

J. P. McMeekin, a photographer of Hagerman, Idaho, thus describes these wonderful springs: “Of all the wonderful and beautiful scenes of earth there are none, in all probability, more worthy the attention of the lover of the grand and beautiful than Thousand springs. This sublime spectacle is situated in the heart of the great Snake River desert, Idaho, some twenty-four miles from Shoshone, a town on the Oregon Short Line, and owing to its isolated position is known but to few; yet it is doubtful whether it has a parallel on the globe. Imagine a cliff or cliffs from two to four hundred feet high, from which for a distance of two miles, at a height varying from ninety to two hundred and eighty feet, rush crystal streams of water forming water-Falls of almost every conceivable form, and you have but a faint idea of this lovely scene. It must be seen to be appreciated, and the senses become even bewildered by its extent and beauty.

“Viewed from the green, placid bosom of Snake River, but a few hundred feet distant at this joint, the scene is sublime, the foaming torrents contrasting well with their dark background of lava, or where they trail their beautiful lacework over carpeting’s of velvet moss of the most gorgeous hues green, scarlet, orange and crimson. Below, on the banks of the numerous streams formed by these springs, grow the birch, cedar and willow, their varied foliage dripping with the never-ceasing spray. Wild flowers are scattered here in profusion and coloring not known to other localities nearly.

“A boat may be taken the whole distance around the base of these falls, when the River is high, say in June or July. It is then that their variety, extent and beauty may be seen to full advantage. Then, too, you can look down into the clear, cool water below, where trout and other fish may be seen darting through their beautiful, blue depths or over shallows of golden sand and bright hued pebbles. And then, as we look upward to the dizzy heights, what a transformation we behold! Rainbows are everywhere visible in the spray as it rises in masses or detached fragments, coloring the snowy jets into flame and colors for which there are no names: and the most gorgeous colorings of the palette become lifeless compared with them. Set in its frame of adamant and surrounded by a barren waste, its beauty is greatly enhanced, and forms a wonderful and lovely picture, one on which the eye loves to linger until wearied of trying to trace the endless torrents as they plunge madly onward to rest in the placid River below.”

The eastern gateway to the Snake River valley and also to Idaho, is the famous South Pass, where the lowest point on the summit of the divide is nearly seven thousand and five hundred feet above sea level, while the peaks in the vicinity rise to an elevation of ten to over thirteen thousand feet, Fremont peak being thirteen thousand five hundred and seventy feet. The pass to the north to the Blackfoot country is six thousand feet above the sea level, which is the general level of that region. Various peaks in the Bitter Root range rise to elevations between seven and ten thousand feet. Fort Boise is in the lowest part of the Snake River valley in Idaho, being only two thousand feet above the sea. The Florence mines are about eight thousand feet above the level of the sea. The largest body of level land affording grass instead of the almost omnipresent sagebrush is the Big Camas prairie, on the headwaters of Wood River. Camas prairie comprises five hundred square miles of rolling farmlands. Much of the southern part is a dry, black lava desert four hundred miles long and fifty miles wide, cut deep down a thousand feet or more by the sheer canyons of the Snake River and other streams and by many great crevasses. The northern part of the plain has a wonderfully weird appearance, as of a black sea suddenly turned to stone. The soil elsewhere in the valley is sandy and unstable, and the chief vegetation consists of enormous sagebrush and bunchgrass: but irrigation is redeeming it for farming. Within the bend of the Snake River is an immense basaltic plain, out of which rise the granite crests of the Three Buttes, famous landmarks for overland emigrants. South of the Snake the valleys and foothills contain bunchgrass and arable bottomland, alternating with abrupt ranges of Mountains, which are dotted with a few evergreens and aspens. The beautiful Malade, Cache, Gentile, Bear River and other valleys open the way into the Utah basin and are occupied by Mormon hamlets, around which extend broad farms, with efficient irrigation systems. Southwestern Idaho contains a dreary, alkaline desert, out of which rise the Owyhee Mountains. A small portion of the wonderful Yellowstone National Park is included within the state.

Almost everything grand or mysterious in nature, in her land exhibits, is represented here in the state now beautifully characterized as the “Gem of the Mountains.” Even a magnificent volcano exists within its limits. Buffalo Hump, an isolated butte between Clearwater and Salmon Rivers, has had three or four eruptions within the period of white settlement, flames shooting high into the sky and lava flowing down the sides of the mountain. In 1881 an outburst of lava occurred in the Mountains east of Camas prairie, while at the same time an earthquake occurred. In 1864 the Salmon River rose and fell several feet, rising a second time higher than before, and was warm and muddy.

But volcanic action has never been so extensive as to destroy the fine paleontological character of most of the country. The country between Reynolds creek, in Owyhee County, and Bruneau River is one vast bed of organic remains of extinct species of animals. Even parts of the human skeleton have been found which were so situated as to indicate that a race of men once existed here before the present Indians. Many localities are rich in organic remains, whence the paleontologist will find interesting material for his museum for ages to come. In Scribner’s Magazine for February 1890, there is a scientific account of a miniature but finely wrought image a few inches long, of a human skull, apparently representing the skull of an extinct race of men, found at the bottom of an artesian well over two hundred and sixty feet deep at Nampa, in sandstone, below vegetable soil. S. F. Emmons, of the geological survey, considered that the stratum in which this relic was found was far older than any others in which human remains had ever been found, excepting perhaps those under Table Mountain, in California. It raises a question of the stability of geological developments, upheavals and subsidence’s that are impossible to calculate.

On the hills and mountain spurs almost the only vegetation consists of Artemisia tridentata, or “absinthe,” as the early Canadian voyageurs used to call it, and sagebrush, another species of artemisia, and cactus, the whole giving a uniformly dull gray tint of inconceivable melancholy to the landscape. The hills themselves consist of black lava, and this is slightly covered in spots with vegetable soil, almost always dry.

There was primarily no particular reason for calling the Rocky Mountains by that name. This appellation was probably given it by some travelers who first saw the range where it was exclusively rocky, or possibly by Indians who lived in its vicinity, who, never having seen any other Mountains in the world, considered these great elevations peculiarly rocky. At any rate, along the eastern boundary of Idaho, on both the western and eastern slopes the Mountains are in general beautifully rolling masses like the waves of the sea, covered to a certain height by rich forage grasses, shrubbery and trees. The “Poet of the Sierras” thus describes the general scene in his peculiar style:

“The only thing that strikes the stranger with awe and admiration on first looking at these great mountain slopes, is their massiveness. As you climb up the rounded, grassy steeps, either from the west or from the east, you first notice a tremendous hill before you, and massive, grassset tumuli to your right, to your left, behind and before, as you proceed. You pass huge hills dotted with herds, ribbons of rills threading down and around and running together, here and there forming wooded streams. Then you see before you more massive, grassy hills, more herds, more massive hills now, more herds, more herds, then more massive and mighty hills.

“Such was the sublime aspect of this land when my eyes first looked upon it more than a generation ago, and such it must remain until ‘the wreck of matter and the crash of worlds.’ Man may break this sublime monotony of nature a little, as time sweeps on, by a harvest field where the ever-fertile hilltops tempt him to sow and reap: he may set his little city and center of trade by the meadow brook at the base; he may gridiron the great, rounded domes of grass that stretch in billowy succession east and west and north and south; but he will never be able to drive from the mind of the stranger the conviction, as he first beholds Idaho, that it was at the first cast in a tremendous mold.”

All the streams emptying into Snake River at a distance below the great Falls sink before reaching it and flow beneath the lava, shooting out of the sides of the canyon with beautiful effect and forming a variety of cascades. The lava presents phenomena like breathing-holes, where strong currents of air find continual vent. Chasms extending seemingly to immense depths, “devil’s” corrals of lava walls, extinct craters, a pile of basalt resembling a magnificent city in ruins, and numerous other basaltic masses presenting a weird and suggestive appearance and having correspondingly significant names, many of them having the word “devil” as an essentially descriptive element.

Salmon River, in the descriptive language of a miner, almost cuts the earth in two, the banks having a perpendicular height of about four thousand feet for miles and backed by rugged mountains that seem to have been rent by the most violent convulsions. Godin or Lost River is a considerable stream from the Wood River Mountains, which disappears near Three Buttes hence the name Lost and reappears at a distance. Opposite the Big Camas prairie is a range of mountains whose tops glisten with perpetual snow. Stretching southward is a sea of cinder, wavy, scaly, and sometimes cracked and abysmal. All the Rivers of Idaho run into the Columbia excepting the Bear River, which flows into the Great Salt Lake.

Curious mineral springs have been discovered in various parts of the state, the most famous of which are the soda springs in the Bear River region. Around these springs are circular embankments of pure white soda several feet in height and twenty to thirty feet wide. In the Bear River valley there is an area equal to a square mile in which there are masses of pure soda, and others of soda mixed with sulphur, others with iron, etc.; and some are warm, some cold, some bubbling, others quiet, etc.

The climate of the valleys of Idaho is found to be far milder than had been expected from their great elevation, while the Mountains, of course, present their usual variety. In the mountainous regions are some picturesque lakes, many of them navigable. Lakes Coeur d’Alene and Pend d’Oreille are navigable, being thirty to thirty-five miles in length, and they abound in choice varieties of fish. Kaniksu is a clear body of water twenty miles long and ten wide. Hindoo lakes are a group of small bodies of alkaline water of medicinal qualities.

Bear lake is a magnificent oval, twenty by twenty-eight miles in dimensions, whose deep and mountain fed waters abound in trout and mullet, and ripple up sandy shores below Paris, Montpelier and other peaceful Mormon villages. The valley is five thousand and nine hundred feet above the sea. Bear Lake remains ice-bound from January to April.

Lake Pend Oreilles is thirty miles long and from three to fifteen miles wide, studded with islands and surrounded by Granite Mountain, the snowy Pack-saddle range, the purple Coeur d’Alene Mountains and other peaks, nearly ten thousand feet high. This lake has two hundred and fifty miles of shore line and is navigated by several small steamboats. The Northern Pacific Railroad follows the north shore for twenty-five miles.

Coeur d’Alene Lake fills a wide gorge in the spurs of the Coeur d’Alene Mountains, and bears the form of the letter E, with the branches pointing southeast. Its irregular and lonely shores are clad with forests of pine and tamarack. The expanse is twenty miles long and one to four miles wide, with a depth reaching one hundred and eighty feet, a wild Windermere of clear, cold, light-green water, abounding in trout and other fish, and stocked with millions of whitefish. St. Joseph River, flowing into this lake, is navigable for twenty-five miles. The lake is said to be agitated in the evening by mysterious swells, like those on lake Geneva in Switzerland. Out of the northern end of this lake flows the Spokane River, which runs a hundred miles west to the Columbia. At the head of this lake, ten miles from Rathdrum station, is an eight-company post. Fort Sherman, established by General Sherman.

Farther north, under the lonely Cabinet Mountains, in a land inhabited mainly by caribou, deer and bears, lake Kaniksu covers two hundred square miles. This remote locality, forty miles from the railway, is visited only by hunters.

In the southeastern part of Idaho are Henry and Cliff lakes, surrounded by high peaks and basaltic cliffs of the Rocky Mountains. Each of these is three to four miles long. The clear, cold, deep Payette lakes, one of which is two by ten miles in magnitude, lie at the head of the beautiful Long valley.

The Bear Lake country has a mountain of sulphur and deposits of lead and coal. The latter is also mined on Irwin creek and at Lewiston. Near Bear River is the soda springs health resort, with its alterative and tonic iron, sulphur and magnesia waters, sparkling, effervescent and pleasant, and highly charged with carbonic acid gas. One of these fountains Fremont named the Steamboat spring, on account of its measured puffs of steam. In this vicinity are sulphur lakes, a deep ice cave and the beautiful Swan Lake. The most famous springs are the Mammoth and Ninety Percent; and there are also mud, hot, ammonia and gas springs. These waters are 5,779 feet above the sea, among the Wasatch Mountains, in a pure and dry air, which is of great benefit to consumptives. They were the favorite resort of Brigham Young, and many Salt Lake Mormons frequent them still. Also other well-to-do persons have built summer cottages here. Large quantities of this water are bottled and shipped to the markets.

Besides the abundance of fish in the waters, there is yet a great number of game animals, even of the large class, as bear, deer, antelope, elk and mountain sheep, among the quadrupeds; besides large quantities of partridge, quail, grouse, swan and wild duck. Formerly there was also an abundance of the fur-bearing animals, including the beaver, martens and muskrats, etc., and also wolves, red and silver-gray foxes and some specimens of the mountain lion.

In the vegetable world there are grapes, cherries, blackberries, gooseberries, huckleberries, strawberries, salmonberries, several useful species of pine and fir, white cedar, hemlock, yew, white oak, live oak, cottonwood, poplar, mountain mahogany and madrono. Among the curiosities were the camas root, which was formerly eaten by the Indians, and the quallah, an inferior root, also consumed as an article of diet by the natives.

Professor F. V. Hayden, in his “Geological Survey of the Territories,” in referring to the surface of a large portion of Idaho, describes it as literally crumpled or rolled up in one continuous series of mountain ranges, fold after fold. Perhaps even better examples of these remarkable folds may be found in the country drained by Salmon River and its branches, where lofty ranges of Mountains, for the most part covered with limestones and quartzites of the carboniferous age, wall in all the little streams. None of our published maps convey any idea of the almost innumerable ranges. We might say that from longitude 110° to 118°, a distance of over five hundred miles, there is a range of Mountains, on an average, every ten to twenty miles. Sometimes the distance across the range in a straight line, from the bed of a stream in one valley to the bed of the stream in the valley beyond the range, is not more than five to eight miles, while it is seldom more than twenty miles. “From these statements,” says the Professor, “which we believe to be correct, the reader may form some conception of the vast amount of labor yet to be performed to explore, analyze, and locate on a suitable scale these hundreds of ranges of mountains, each one of which is worthy of a name.”

Though the foregoing may be somewhat exaggerated, Idaho is in reality a mountain territory. It is from the interior of her Mountains that the chief source of her wealth is derived. It is her mountain sides that afford the nutritious grasses that sustain hundreds of thousands of her cattle, and it is her intermountain vales that furnish the soil of her farms and ranches.

In the north are the Coeur d’Alene and Bitter Root Mountains, a portion of the latter range, together with the crest of the Rocky Mountains, forming the dividing line between Idaho and Montana. Spurs from the main range of the Rockies ramify into all sections of the state. The Sawtooth, Salmon River, Wood River, Boise, and other ranges are the scenes of active mining operations in central Idaho: while the Wahsatch and Owyhee Mountains are among the more important in the southeastern and southwestern portions, respectively.

The average elevation of the state is about 4,700 feet, being from 2,000 to 3,000 feet less than that of Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, or Colorado. The highest peaks range from 9,000 to 13,000 feet in height. The lowest altitude is at Lewiston, where the Clearwater joins the Snake at an elevation of 680 feet.

A bird’s-eye view of the state would represent a vast, wedge-shaped plateau, rising from an elevation less than 700 feet in the extreme west to over 10,000 feet in the extreme east. Over this rugged surface countless streams are flowing as tributaries to the three principal streams. In its long serpentine course through the state, the Snake absorbs the waters of such streams as the Clearwater, Salmon, Payette, Boise, Owyhee, Bruneau, Wood and others. Of these the largest is the Salmon, which, rising in the Sawtooth range, after a long circuitous course, receiving numberless tributaries, and forcing the very Mountains asunder, finally empties into the Snake not many miles above Lewiston. The immense water power of Idaho is one of its great resources, affording as it does ample facilities for irrigating, mining, and manufacturing purposes.

This “northern” region, as Colonel McClure justly remarks, is not in all respects “northern.” It is, indeed, the “cold blue north” in this respect, where the stars glitter in the clear, sparkling air of the majestic winter; but the cold is not uncomfortable. The air is so dry pure and bracing that even zero does not make the resident flinch: he rather enjoys it. Men wear fewer clothes than in the same latitude in the east, and at the same time suffer less. Overcoats are seldom worn, excepting by travelers in conveyances. Rheumatism and consumption are unknown here except in the cases of those immigrants who had such ailments before locating here. Catarrh, or “cold in the head,” is seldom experienced. And even those who come here with these troubles, if in the incipient stage, are almost always cured. The same remarks are practically applicable to asthma and all other throat and lung diseases. Mountain fever, however, is sometimes contracted, but the people are learning to avoid this, and to treat it successfully when contracted.

No community can be continuously prosperous with but a sole dependence. This has been shown repeatedly in the history of our own country. Fortunately for Idaho, she is not so situated. She is not a land of mineral veins and gold placers only. The wealth of these mineral veins and deposits, and the fact that their discovery and development came in advance of the natural movement by which her other resources are now being developed, have served somewhat to give the impression that Idaho is only a mining state. As a matter of fact, this is only one of her resources, and one that is destined gradually to be overshadowed by those giving a more stable basis of permanent and unbroken prosperity. Five great industries occupy the attention of her people, mining, agriculture, stock-raising, fruit-growing and lumbering. The last four are increasing year by year and have such capabilities of expansion that it may be safely predicted that in a few years they will absorb the attention and contribute to the support of a large majority of the population, in connection with the manufacturing that will be based upon them and grow out of them and he provided by them, with the home market supplied by the largely increased population.



MLA Source Citation:

Illustrated History of the State of Idaho. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company. 1899. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 2 August 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/idaho/idaho-historical-and-descriptive.htm - Last updated on Jun 30th, 2013


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