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Each month, the Idaho State Historical Society releases a “Histor-E Lesson” along with an e-newsletter. Subscribe to Histor-E to get notified about upcoming events and programs, and other historical happenings across the agency.

This Month's Histor-E Lesson

The Impact of the ‘CCC Boys’ on Idaho’s Camping and Recreational Resources

Who’s ready for a short history pop quiz?

What do the following Gem State campgrounds share in common? Here’s the list: Lake Walcott State Park near Rupert; Twin Creeks Campground just outside of North Fork in east central Idaho; Heyburn State Park, Idaho’s first state park, built on Lake Chatcolet north of Plummer; and finally, let’s throw in a series of smaller campgrounds along the banks of the South Fork of the Salmon River east of McCall.
Need a hint? Ok, consider the fact that all of these recreational sites are linked to one of the most successful federal programs ever created, an all-out effort designed to put hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work and, at the same time restore and improve millions of acres of forests and public lands across the country.

The fact is, each of these campgrounds, along with hundreds of other projects across the state, were built or improved thanks to the handiwork of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Better known as the CCC, this New Deal program launched by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933 was a response to a nation languishing in economic depression and the 1929 stock market crash. But the CCC had more practical ambitions, such as rejuvenating America’s natural resources that had been damaged by overcutting, overgrazing, soil depletion, farm closures and devastating wildfires.

As Idahoans gear up for a summer of camping, hiking, fishing, and exploring state parks and national forests, it seems timely to take a glimpse back in time and examine the CCC’s impact on the state’s abundant and enduring recreational resources. Whether it’s building campgrounds, fish hatcheries, or fire lookouts – many of which are rented out for lodging today – or constructing roads, trails, and bridges through forest lands, the CCC’s fingerprints are scattered all across Idaho’s recreational backcountry.

On Apr. 5, 1933, FDR signed an executive order creating the CCC. Leaders in Idaho, realizing the potential of the program, responded immediately. Within weeks of FDR’s action, Idaho Gov. C. Ben Ross dispatched two of his top officials to Washington, D.C., to negotiate the state’s involvement in the new program.

The first CCC camp arrived on the scene months later. On Jun. 6, Camp Prichard, located on the North Fork of the Clearwater River, became the first operational CCC camp in the state. Over the next ten years, more than 87,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 who enrolled in the CCC would make Idaho their temporary home and job site. When the CCC ended its run, Idaho had the largest number of CCC camps per population, second only to California.

In many ways, it’s hard to imagine Idaho’s impressive inventory of campgrounds, parks, hiking trails, backcountry roads and other recreational infrastructure without the sweat, muscle of CCC laborers and the engineering savvy of the Corps’ officer class.

Here are a few facts to consider as part of the scope and impact of the program. The “CCC Boys” are credited with building thousands of miles of trails in the backcountry and hundreds of fire lookouts that, for decades, would play a vital role in helping fight wildfires. CCC crews built dozens of U.S. Forest Service ranger stations, some of which the agency rents to people looking for a unique backcountry lodging experience.

In 1935, a party of explorers, scientists, and documentarians sponsored by the National Geographic Society ventured down the Salmon River, marking one of the first public research expeditions into the Western wilderness. The explorers paid a visit to Camp French Creek, the base for CCC crews assigned to the challenging task of building a road between the river and the cliffs lining the banks. This project, which on paper was intended to but a path through the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states, was ultimately shelved after leadership determined it was too costly and difficult. In north Idaho, CCC crews blasted the 415-foot Fishhook Tunnel through the Bitterroot Mountains near Avery.

The impact of the CCC also extends beyond recreation. Crews connected more than 3,000 miles of telephone line across the state. CCC enrollees were on the front lines of fighting wildfires and played a critical role in improving forest health with efforts to control disease and pests harming native stocks of White Pine.

CCC camps in the Palouse helped restore soil and erect soil protection barriers, in and southern Idaho the CCC helped to finish building the canals that play such an integral role in delivering water to crops.

In the late 1930s, the direction of the CCC mission changed toward national defense and preparedness as war in Europe intensified. The CCC in 1939 was moved to the Federal Security Agency, meaning enrollees could receive training applicable to the U.S. entering World War II. While training for combat was prohibited from CCC camps, hundreds of thousands of enrollees had learned the kind of discipline, teamwork and physical conditioning should the U.S. enter the conflict overseas.

When the U.S. finally entered the war on Dec. 8, 1941, many of the new noncommissioned officers turned out to be CCC veterans. The CCC was officially closed in June 1942.


Written by Todd Dvorak

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If you stroll through Downtown Historic Weiser, you’ll undoubtedly see a castle façade tucked amidst the usual brick storefronts. Complete with sweeping Tudor arches, glass plate windows, stained glass transoms, cylindrical pilasters, and crenelated battlements, the Romanesque Revival style of this building is a whimsical nod to late 10th- through 12th-century European architecture. Except for areas of natural staining from environmental exposure on the stonework, the building looks much as it did initially. The first-story awnings added in previous decades have been removed, and the central stained glass window, once boarded, is entirely on display.

In 1904, the Boise architectural firm John E. Tourtellotte & Company designed a structure that would become a landmark in Weiser-the Knights of Pythias Lodge Hall. The Weiser Signal hailed it as a “handsome new building” that would be a credit to any city. The Pythian Castle, one of the few buildings designed by Tourtellotte & Company in Weiser, was originally owned and commissioned by the city’s Knights of Pythias. The Weiser Lodge, incorporated on March 27, 1897, has its roots in a fraternal organization dating back to 1864 in Washington, D.C.

During their formative years, Weiser members of the Knights of Pythias convened at the city’s Independent Order of Odd Fellows Hall, and two societies agreed that they would share the building. Saturday night on their inaugural assembly, the Knights of Pythias adjourned at 7 o’clock for supper—and to allow the Odd Fellows their regularly scheduled meeting—and returned to session at 9 o’clock. They concluded their final adjournment around 5:30 Sunday morning, completing all initiations and lodge business. As a modest number of 25, the Knights of Pythias Lodge christened itself Myrtle Lodge No. 26, with Monday evenings declared for regular sessions. 

Steady membership growth enabled financial milestones to be reached. In February 1904, the Knights of Pythias announced plans in the Weiser Signal to build a castle hall on a lot they had purchased on East Idaho Street. By August of that year, they had all necessary approvals; in September, they began accepting construction and fine trade bids, eventually securing Tourtellotte & Company as the architect. The grandness of the new Castle Hall reflected members’ aspirations for equal prestige alongside the older secret societies; it also represented ambitions of an emerging business class developing in Weiser and across the United States.

Local newspaper coverage estimated the Pythian Castle over $9,000 or $10,000 in final construction costs. (Comparatively, the city’s Odd Fellows hall cost $7,000 in 1891.) Sandstone for the castle façade was quarried at nearby Sand Hollow and hauled by wagon to town, where it was meticulously cut and custom fit onsite. First-floor occupancy of the two-story building was anticipated by January 1905. At least by February,  the Weiser Lodge was holding its regular meetings, as mentioned in the 41st celebratory announcement for the Knights of Pythias order in the Weiser Signal. On Monday, June 12, 1905, Grand Chancellor Charles R. Foss presided over the structure’s formal dedication ceremonies to the order’s principles. 

Although no longer used as a lodge hall, the building’s legacy continues. Through the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office, the Pythian Castle was officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. In 1982, the building was owned by the Weiser Architectural Preservation Committee. Today, the Pythian Castle celebrates its 120th construction anniversary under the lease of Co-Opportunities Inc., a non-profit business founded in 2017 that teaches the community arts, crafts, music, and basic living skills like cooking. The Castle serves as the main office of their Bee Tree Folk School and museum space for the Simpson-Vassar Collections. 


Written by Katie Hall

Next to the jagged peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains and the flowing waters of the Middle Fork of the Boise River sits the sleepy town of Atlanta, Idaho, home to nearly 20 full-time residents. Now known as a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, this town was once an industrious community with hundreds of prospectors, miners, shopkeepers, and others drawn to potential of a Western pioneer town.

In 1863, a prospector named John Stanley was searching for gold around the basin that now bears his name. Scant yields led him further south, where he struck gold along the Yuba River, just a few miles from what we now know as Atlanta, Idaho. Following the news of Stanley’s boon, miners soon flocked to the area, and after a substantial lode discovery in 1864, Atlanta was established as a mining town.

From 1864 through 1867, Atlanta saw an influx of placer miners, immigrants, and merchants. Many of the new settlers arrived because of unrest from the Civil War further East and South, and the name Atlanta was chosen by Confederate miners who incorrectly reported General Hood’s victory over General W.T. Sherman in Georgia. While Atlanta’s population was slowly growing, outside investors became interested in building mills and opening mines, but the town’s remoteness, harsh weather, and rugged terrain kept most development at bay. In 1865, the only road into Atlanta came up from Rocky Bar, the county seat at the time, and winters made it nearly impossible to access, much less transport heavy equipment and materials. In fact, within the first two years of settlement, at least six mailmen died in snowslides while delivering mail to Atlanta and nearby towns.

In 1868, motivated British investors finally began funding the construction of the Lucy Phillips Mill in Atlanta. Following suit, a company from Indiana began construction on the nearby Monarch Mill in 1869, but within a few months into operations, ore recoveries proved less rich than hoped, leading to a lull in operations for a few years.

Despite the hiatus, small mine operators and placer miners stayed persistent, and the Atlanta community saw the additions of a postmaster, butcher, blacksmith, lumber manufacturer, and brewer. In 1870, the town had its first brewery and billiard hall, the Atlanta Brewery, which crafted beer from local hops. Chinese migrants and placer miners also settled in Atlanta and established China Basin, a small camp  on the north side of the Boise River. Improvements in ore recovery and a new road into town facilitated further growth, and by the mid-1870s, Atlanta had grown to a population of about 500.

Mills in Atlanta successfully produced gold between 1878 and the early 20th century, but the scarcity of high-grade ore, milling costs, and legal battles between unpaid creditors impeded significant economic development and growth of Atlanta. In 1907, the Atlanta Miners Company constructed the Atlanta Dam and Power Plant on the Boise River to power the mine, mill, and town. Unfortunately, a year later, a fire on Main Street claimed the Atlanta Brewery, The Atlanta Hotel, Greylock Saloon, and the Butler Store.

After years of rebuilding, improvements in the 1930s helped open Atlanta to easier intrastate commerce and more efficient mining practices; The Middle Fork Road expedited travel between Boise and Atlanta, and the introduction of the amalgamation-floatation concentrator in 1932 nearly eliminated the long-standing issue of recovery that plagued mills for decades. From 1932 through the Great Depression and WWII, the Atlanta mining district went on to successfully produce at scale until 1953. According to estimates, from 1864 to 1953, the Atlanta mining district produced approximately $16M – $18M in silver and gold, with the majority coming after 1932.

In 1939, Talache Mines, Inc. acquired the Monarch Mine, Last Chance Mine, and all previously established mining properties along the Atlanta lode. After WWII, production sharply decreased for Talache, and most of the mining effort shifted to smaller, higher grade ore shoots. Talache ceased mining operations by 1953 and leased out parts of the mine to smaller miners who continued producing limited amounts of ore until 1963. At this point, the population, community, and economy had all but left Atlanta and moved on to different parts of the state.

John Stanley and his party tried keeping the location of Atlanta a secret, but the town’s significance to Idaho’s history cannot be understated. Today, Atlanta is a living ghost town with several relics of the booming years. It’s now mostly known as a paradise for backcountry lovers, but visitors can explore shops and travel back in time by touring buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

Written by Noé Zepeda


U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2004-1205: Preliminary Report on the Geology and Mineral Deposits of the Atlanta Hill Area, Elmore County, Idaho

History of the Boise National Forest 1905-1976:

What do the giant salamander, square dance, and potato all have in common? While this may sound like a setup for a joke, these are all examples of Idaho’s state symbols—the state amphibian, state folk dance, and state vegetable, respectively.

State symbols or emblems are legally approved representations of a state’s character, history, goals, and landscape. Each state has its own collection of symbols, some of which include state soil, state sport, and state cat. Since Idaho entered the union, the state’s symbols have been unique, quirky, and, frankly, Idahoish because they represent a state that takes pride in its distinct environment, people, creatures, and culture. In fact, Idaho’s first symbol was its state seal, which was chosen in 1891 through competition. A Boise art instructor named Emma Edwards Green submitted an entry that depicted the resources and industries of Idaho at the time. Her design won unanimously and was declared the official state seal by Governor Norman B. Willey. Although it received a touchup in the 20th century, Idaho’s seal remains the first and only state seal designed by a woman. Nearly 20 years following the adoption of the state seal, Idaho approved its flag in 1907, which is still in service today and depicts the seal in the center of a blue rectangle.

After establishing its two primary icons, state legislators welcomed efforts to grow the list of Idaho’s trademarks. In the 1930s, the legislature approved adding the state bird (Mountain Bluebird), state flower (Syringa), and state tree (Western White Pine). “Here We Have Idaho,” the song composed by Sallie Hume Douglas in 1915, became Idaho’s State Song in 1931. It might not have as much airplay as Sweet Home Alabama or New York State of Mind, however, it’s still popular in Idaho’s elementary schools and around Moscow as the University of Idaho’s alma mater.

Following the mid-century, Idaho dug further for some of its subsequent symbols, such as the state gem (Star Garnet) and state fossil (Hagerman Horse). The Hagerman Horse is a relic of the horses that once roamed North America more than 3 million years ago and is the oldest known relative of the modern horse. In 1928, a farmer in Gooding County uncovered the first set of Hagerman Horse bones at a site that eventually became the Hagerman Fossil Bed. To date, the fossil bed has yielded the remains of more than 200 horses and 200 other species of pre-historic animals. In 1988, the Hagerman Fossil Bed became a national monument, and the Hagerman Horse became the state fossil that same year.

Idahoans’ appreciation for wildlife is evident through an assortment of iconography. The Hagerman Horse is the second horse symbol recognized by the state, with the first designation going to the Appaloosa as the state horse. Other animal symbols include the state fish (Cutthroat Trout), state insect (Monarch Butterfly), state raptor (Peregrine Falcon), and even state dinosaur (Oryctodromeus). The Oryctodromeus, or Orycto for short, was a small burrowing dinosaur found only in eastern Idaho and the southwest corner of Montana. In 2022, a group of elementary school students in East Idaho persuaded legislators to introduce the Orycto as the state dinosaur, and in 2023, the bill passed both chambers with little resistance.

Idaho’s selection of state symbols can also generate vigorous debate, however. In 1997, students at Boise’s Summerwind Elementary School noticed no state reptile. They petitioned on behalf of the rattlesnake, a species they said embodied the courage and bravery of Idaho citizens. Legislators brought it to a vote, but the proposal was shot down because of the rattlesnake’s nuisance to those working in Idaho’s agriculture industry. Another symbol that went to vote but was rejected by the Senate was the Silver Tipped Sagebrush as the state bush in 1988. Surprisingly, the potato was introduced as a state symbol in the early aughts, and even then, it was debated whether it would be appropriately classified as a vegetable. A group of 4th graders made the case to lawmakers in 2002 and after putting it up to vote, the spud became the state vegetable.

Currently, Idaho has close to 20 State Symbols, ranging from state fruit to state motto. As the state continues to trace its history and shape its identity, one can only anticipate that more state symbols will emerge thanks to the enthusiastic and visionary 4th graders residing in all corners of the state.

Written by Noé Zepeda

Decades before the Boise State University Broncos took to the Blue Turf and pedestrians crossed Friendship Bridge on the Greenbelt, the BSU campus was actually the site of one of the country’s first commercial airmail trips, the country’s longest airport runway, and the birthplace of an airline that would later become United Airlines.

It all began in 1926 when WWI pilot Walter T. Varney successfully bid for 40 acres of city-owned marshland and built the first municipal airport to fly commercial mail throughout the Western United States via Varney Airlines. Constructed mostly on a gravel bed, the original airport spanned the Boise River between Capitol and Broadway Avenue. It served as a hub for Varney Airlines to deliver mail to places like Pasco, WA, Elko, NV, and other towns. Within a few years of the maiden flight, Varney Airlines introduced passenger travel in 1930, carrying travelers four at a time. That same year, United Aircraft and Transportation Company purchased Varney Airlines, a merger that would ultimately become United Airlines.

As demand for air cargo and air travel grew, so did the Boise airport. By 1938, the airport’s runway had expanded from its original 2,000 feet to 8,800 feet –the longest in the country. At the same time, Boise Junior College (now Boise State University) was expanding, and its Board of Trustees applied to move the college to the airport to ease accessibility for in-and-out-of-state students. Between sharing space with the college and larger airplanes necessitating more extensive facilities, the airport relocated its operations to a plot of land in the southern part of the city where the current Boise Airport resides. After the move, Boise Junior College bought and used the old hangars and airport to teach ground and flight school, offering a semi-professional degree until 1946. The college kept the airstrip until the 1950s and eventually built over it to create additional space for Bronco Stadium, resulting in the current campus’ relatively linear layout.

Operating out of its new and current location, the Boise Airport started as a joint-use airport serving air mail and cargo, passenger, and military services. With WWII looming, the U.S. War Department posted military personnel at the airport in the early 1940s and named it Gowen Field in honor of 1st Lt. Paul R. Gowen of Caldwell, who was killed when his twin-engine Army Air Corps bomber crashed in Panama. During WWII, the Army Air Corps leased Gowen Field as a training base and stationed over 6,000 men (including actor Jimmy Stewart). After the war ended, the War Department turned over the airport to the City of Boise in 1946, when the Boise Department of Aviation and Public Transportation began managing it.

Air travel became far more popular and accessible in the 1950s and 60s, with the number of enplaned passengers in Boise reaching 86,000 in 1961 and nearly doubling to 148,000 by 1966. United Airlines was the first company to offer jet service to and from Boise in 1964, and by 1969, the Boise airport had its first concourse. The airport added its second concourse in 1979 and used its outgrown hangar as part of the terminal until renovations in 2003.

Nearly a century since its first flight, the Boise Airport has come a long way and shows no signs of slowing down. The Treasure Valley’s boom as both a living and tourist destination has facilitated further development at the Boise airport, including two parking structures, a new rental car facility, and a new concourse by 2025. BOI is on course to surpass 4,000,000 total passengers, 100,000,000 freight items, and 7,000 military operations for the 2024 calendar year.

Written by Noé Zepeda

William “Teton” Jackson (#111) operated a gang of a dozen men out of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and stole horses from the surrounding territories. He earned the nicknames “The Prince of Horse Thieves” and the “Scourge of the Four Frontiers.” Wanted in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada for horse theft, Sheriff Frank Canton finally apprehended him in 1885. The court sentenced Teton to 14 years of hard labor in the Idaho Territorial Prison for Grand Larceny.

On August 28 of the following year, Teton, accompanied by Scott Holbrook (#112), escaped from the penitentiary after digging an 11-foot tunnel under their cell with a spoon after months of discarding excess dirt each morning while emptying their bathroom bucket. Captured in Montana with stolen horses, Teton returned to the Idaho prison in 1888.

On April 6, 1892, Teton received a pardon after serving just under five and half years in the Idaho Penitentiary, due in part to a petition for his release and testimonials from the guards of Teton’s “moral as well as physical courage.”

The most remarkable part of Teton’s life is what happened to him after prison. Teton, one of the most wanted outlaws of the Rocky Mountains, gave up his life of crime. He settled in Wyoming and married Mary Calhoun, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Nation. Together they had four children.

Teton spent the rest of his life working as a guide to different hunting outfits in the mountains. In his free time, he played the violin and avidly collected magazines and books. He passed away in 1927 at age 72.

Explore Teton’s entire story and how it intersects with Sheriff Frank Canton in episode 88 of the Behind Gray Walls podcast.

Written by Samuel Anderson

In 1947, countries were still reeling from the toll WWII was having on life, infrastructure, and the economy. Stateside, Americans were helping returning veterans adjust to post-war life and getting businesses back on their feet. But many were also conscious of the long road to recovery for our allies overseas. Coinciding with conversations and policies to help Western Europe rebuild, a grassroots movement called the American Friendship Train brought Americans together to collect and donate food, medicine, equipment, and clothing that would be shipped to Europe and distributed by rail. 

Although the American Friendship Train traveled throughout Western Europe, the French were the biggest recipients of the provisions. No strangers to love languages, France responded by crowdsourcing its own gift for the Americans and sent over the Train De La Reconnaissance Françoise Au Peuple Americains, otherwise known as the French Gratitude Train or Merci Train. Through this initiative, the French packed 49 boxcars with public donations and shipped them across the Atlantic, designating one for each state and one for both Washington D.C. and the Territory of Hawaii. Boxcars were overflowing with items of French culture, history, and character and none had the same contents.

The Merci boxcar destined for Idaho arrived in downtown Boise on February 22, 1949, bearing its unique coat of arms to a crowded reception with a parade, speeches, and media coverage. Veterans, politicians, and Francophiles were on hand to celebrate and admire the gifts from the French. Among the items displayed that drew the most attention was a sculpted replica of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, now a distinguished fixture of the rotunda inside the Idaho State Capitol building.

In the years following its ceremonial arrival, Idaho’s Merci Train boxcar was relocated around Boise several times, but unfortunately was neglected and fell into disrepair. In 1977, members of the American Legion and the Idaho State Historical Society coordinated an effort to preserve the boxcar and move it to the Old Idaho Penitentiary. By 1980, it finally arrived inside the prison walls where it remains today. With the help of military veteran and history enthusiast Tom Brown, the Merci Train boxcar was restored to its original shape and color with a new coat of Ponderosa Blue 51. The contents that once packed the boxcar were donated to the Idaho State Historical Society and sorted for exhibit, including old artillery shells, dishware, and even a wooden stool handcrafted by a blind octogenarian. Despite all boxcars having distinct gifts, each included one “Friendship Cord” made of red, white, and blue threads from the French and American flags that flew atop the Eiffel Tower on Liberation Day in 1944. Incidentally, Idaho received two Friendship Cords.

Idaho’s Merci Train is still located at the Old Idaho Penitentiary and serves as a reminder of a shared goodwill between the United States and France. And although trains may not always translate to thanks, it is fitting that gratitude is the same in both English and French.

Visitors to the Old Pen can view the Merci Train during business hours by appointment. For more information, visit

Written by Noé Zepeda

Lewiston, Idaho, nestled along the banks of the Snake River, has a rich history intertwined with the development of north Idaho’s steamboat transportation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although the region’s large lakes—Coeur d’Alene and Pend Oreille—boast of a flurry of steamboats that ferried miners, supplies, and later excursionists across the majestic waters, Lewiston’s water transportation history is equally important to the state’s economic development. The arrival of steamboats to Lewiston, provoked by the gold rush along the Clearwater River watershed, had a profound impact on the region’s growth, economic prosperity, and transformation into a bustling hub of commerce. 

Before 1855, there needed to be more water transportation on the upper Columbia River watershed. Tributaries of this system include Idaho’s Snake River and Clearwater River. In the early 1860s, pioneers and gold seekers were only beginning to understand the water infrastructure of these two Idaho rivers. Yet, by 1863, Idaho’s first territorial governor would select the burgeoning town of Lewiston at the confluence of these rivers as the territory’s first capital city. In the early 1860s, a water navigation company, The Oregon Steam Navigation Co., controlled most of the steamboat traffic in the region. The first recorded steamboat to reach Lewiston was the SS Colonel Wright in 1861, under the command of Captain Thomas Stump. Before this, Lewiston had been a remote and isolated settlement accessible only by arduous overland journeys. The arrival of steamboats opened the region to trade, connecting it to the broader network of river transportation, even if this transportation was only feasible during high water and spring runoff. If not for Stump’s daring 8-day journey up the Snake River over rocks and through rapids, this revolutionary breakthrough in transportation may have been left untapped. This accessibility by steamship, in turn, attracted settlers and businesses to Lewiston, boosting its population and economic activity. 

Steamboats remained crucial for transporting essential commodities like timber, which was readily available in North Idaho’s forests, and wheat once irrigated agriculture reached the region. They facilitated the export of resources from the inland region to the coast and enabled the import of essential goods for the town’s growth. This exchange had a profound impact on Lewiston’s development, as it established the town as a vital link in the regional supply chain. 

The heyday of steamboats in Lewiston was during the late 19th century and the early 20th century. However, with the advent of improved railroads and roads, steamboat transportation gradually declined. By 1893, the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company had laid tracks along the south side of the river. As a result, steamboat transportation virtually ended on the Columbia and Snake Rivers above the Dalles, at least until November 1896, when the Cascade Locks and Canal were completed, allowing open river navigation from Portland to The Dalles.  

The history of steamboats in Lewiston, Idaho, is a captivating tale of transformation and progress. The arrival of these majestic vessels not only connected the town to the rest of the region but also catalyzed its growth and economic development. While the era of steamboats has passed, the legacy of this remarkable period is still evident in the town’s historical sites and the collective memory of its inhabitants. Additional development of locks and dams along the Columbia River has made the river’s navigation possible, meaning that today, Lewiston is the most inland seaport on the West Coast. Located 465 river miles from the Pacific Ocean, Lewiston can still receive cargo barges and other boats, keeping it connected strategically to the Pacific Northwest’s water transportation systems and making the chapter of steamboat history in Lewiston a vital reminder of the indomitable spirit of pioneers, and the legacy of their work in laying a foundation for today’s economic opportunities.  

Written by Mark Breske     

Following prospector Elias Davidson Pierce’s gold discovery in the Boise Basin in 1860, many vaqueros (cowboys) in Idaho transitioned to mining and mule packing. Many more Mexican laborers arrived in the Gem State, bringing essential skills that helped develop Idaho’s mining industry. As miners, Latinos developed mining districts, and as mule packers, they became the lifeline of remote mining towns by providing them with merchandise and goods. They left place names such as Orofino, Alturas, and Esmeralda.

This influx took shape in cultural hubs throughout the state. One of the most influential examples first emerged at 115 Main Street in Boise. In the 1860s, vaquero and local herder Antonio de Ocampo rented part of Boise’s Block 29 on Main, where Mexican laborers stayed in Boise. He welcomed muleteers like Jesus Urquides and Manuel Fontes. De Ocampo later bought this parcel of land known as Spanish Village. The village served as an ethnic center for the Spanish-speaking population, and after De Ocampo died in 1878, his good friend Jesus Urquides inherited the land.

Jesus Urquides, born in Sonora, Mexico, belonged to a remarkable generation of Mexican mule packers throughout the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. He started a pack-train operation in California in 1850 at seventeen. In 1877, the government contracted Urquides to supply federal troops during the Nez Perce War.

Urquides utilized his business acumen in Idaho. He transferred his operation to Boise and began supplying local miners with food and supplies. Urquides built stables and corrals to accommodate his outfit and established a freight business on his inherited land. Boise’s Spanish Village became a hub of Hispanic culture.

Jesus Urquides’s contributions to what was little more than a ‘frontier boomtown’ helped establish Boise as a flourishing community within Idaho. He died in 1928, and his daughter Dolores “Lola” Urquides Binnard continued renting out the cabins and giving tours for tourists, keeping her father’s legacy alive. By 1956, Spanish Village had roughly 20 tenants, and after Dolores passed away in 1965, the buildings fell into disrepair and became a sore spot. The city condemned and tore the cabins down in the early 1970s.

During its sesquicentennial, the City of Boise established a memorial where the Spanish Village once stood to honor Urquides’ legacy.

Written by Mark Breske

Outside of movie theaters and disco clubs, one of the largest attractions in the 1970s was the stunt work of Robert Craig Knievel, otherwise known as Evel Knievel. Famous for death-defying jumps with his motorcycle, Evel knew how to draw crowds throughout the ’60s and ’70s, and forty-nine years ago, he brought national attention to Southern Idaho when he attempted to jump the Snake River with his X-2 Skycycle on September 8, 1974.

Knievel developed a taste for doing tricks and stunts around his hometown of Butte, Montana, from an early age, usually in front of friends, schoolmates, and even coworkers. Although most people enjoyed his acts, sometimes they landed him in trouble. After crashing his motorcycle and being arrested for reckless driving in 1956, Knievel heard one of the other inmates, William Knofel, referred to as Awful Knofel. Knievel liked the rhyme scheme and adopted the name “Evel” Knievel, swapping out letters because he didn’t want to be considered evil.

His early jumps as the Evel Knievel act had him jumping over boxes of rattlesnakes, pools, cars, and pickup trucks. As he gained attention, he started performing more impressive jumps to outdo himself, clearing 50 stacked cars or the Caesar’s Palace fountains in Las Vegas. Evel successfully positioned himself in the national spotlight after appearing on talk shows, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, and record books, so riding the momentum, he set his eyes on his next big jump over the Snake River in Twin Falls, just west of Shoshone Falls. 

On the day of the Snake River Jump, Evel was dressed in his white, American-themed suit and facing a large crowd of onlookers eager to witness history. For this jump, Evel hired aeronautical and NASA engineers to build a rocket-powered cycle with enough force to launch him up and over the gorge, using a parachute to safely reach the ground on the other side. Just after take-off, his parachute deployed and slowed down Evel so much that he only made it about halfway across the quarter-mile-wide gorge, sailing down towards the river on the same side he launched from. Evel survived with a few minor injuries, but had he landed a few feet further into the water, he would have drowned because of a harness malfunction. Despite the outcome, the crowd cheered on and fans praised him for his bravery and ingenuity. 

Evel continued riding and performing around the country until 1980 when he retired and shifted his focus towards supporting his son Robbie’s daredevil career. In 2007, at the age of 69, Evel passed away after a long bout with diabetes and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and he was laid to rest in his hometown of Butte. Evel’s career and persona left a lasting impression on people across the globe; forty years after Evel’s Skycycle took off from the south side of Snake River, stuntman Eddie Braun successfully jumped the gorge with his rocket-powered motorcycle named “Evel Spirit” on September 16, 2016. Now, when visitors walk Twin Falls’ Centennial Trail, they can see the ramp where Knievel took off, as well as a monument to Evel’s jump in 1974 at the city’s visitor center.

Written by Noé Zepeda            

The history of the Boise School District is a testament to the growth and development of education in the capital city of Idaho. The district’s evolution mirrors the societal changes and educational advancements that have shaped the region and the nation.

The origins of the Boise School District can be traced back to the mid-1860s when the city of Boise was experiencing rapid growth due to the discovery of gold and the expansion of the railroad. As the population increased, so did the demand for education. In 1864, the Territorial Legislature established a public school system in Idaho Territory. Territorial Governor Caleb Lyon appointed J.B. Knight as the Ada County superintendent in 1865, where he established School District No. 1, and the first public school, marking the beginning of formal education in the area.

In the early years, common schools were small and often located in makeshift buildings. However, as the city flourished, there was a growing recognition of the need for more organized and comprehensive educational facilities with sustainable financial support. This demand led to the first tax levy in September of 1868 to fund public education with tax revenue. Dedicated school buildings like the iconic Boise High School were integrated into the city’s planning and design and are still operational today.

Boise embraced three school districts in 1880 to manage higher enrollment rates and the financial strain of the school system. Territorial Governor John Baldwin Neil signed a bill on February 4, 1881, officially creating the Independent School District of Boise City No. 1. Of all the provisions afforded in the bill, granting a Board of Trustees power and authority to propose a budget, conduct public hearings, and determine tax revenue supporting the budget, has proven to be among the most important.

A newspaper article from the Idaho Triweekly Statesman from October 6, 1885, indicated that Central School was divided into four departments: 1) primary, 2) intermediate, 3) grammar, and 4) high school. Music and art were said to be taught in the first three departments in addition to the traditional courses of reading, writing (including penmanship), arithmetic, and social studies. Garfield High School students studied higher math, science, and college prep courses in the classics. In 1888, bookkeeping was added to the high school curriculum. The Boise District had one of only two high school programs before statehood in 1890. The first graduating class 1884 included two students: Tom G. Hailey and Henry Johnson. The class of 1885 doubled and included women: Hetty Cahalan, Mary Cahalan, Harry Humphrey, and Philo Turner. The sizes of the graduating classes continued to increase. In 1887 there were eleven graduates; by 1900, there were twenty-three, and by 1910 the number had increased to seventy-two. By 1920 there were 151 graduates, and within ten years, the number of graduates had reached 223 (

While the school district’s enrollment increased greatly from 1881-1930, Boise City’s physical limits also increased as the city annexed surrounded townships and county property. With these annexations, smaller rural schools that developed around the City of Boise out of necessity before 1881 found themselves within city limits, and many opted to join the more extensive Boise District. Hawthorne was the first district to annex in 1907, followed by Garfield in 1910, Lowell in 1909, Collister in 1922, and Whitney in 1923.

In recent decades, the Boise School District has strongly emphasized academic excellence, preparing students for higher education and the workforce. Rigorous academic standards, advanced placement programs, and a wide range of extracurricular activities have become integral parts of the district’s offerings. Additionally, as technology became more prominent in education, the Boise School District adapted to the digital age. Today, computers and the internet have transformed how students learn, and teachers instruct. The district embraced these technological changes, incorporating digital resources and tools into its classrooms to enhance the learning experience. Community involvement has also been a hallmark of the district’s history. Parents, educators, and local leaders have collaborated to ensure the best educational experience for Boise’s students. Bond measures and community support have enabled the construction of state-of-the-art facilities and the implementation of innovative educational initiatives.

The history of the Boise School District reflects the region’s growth, evolution, and adaptability of education. From humble beginnings in the late 1800s to today’s modern, technology-driven classrooms, the district has continually transformed to meet the changing needs of its students and the community. As Boise’s population grows and society evolves, the district’s history serves as a reminder of education’s crucial role in shaping the future.

Written by Mark Breske


The history of the telegraph in Idaho is intertwined with the development of the American West and the expansion of communication networks across the region. During the 19th century, the telegraph played a vital role in connecting remote areas and facilitating communication in Idaho. The Western Union Telegraph Company connected the first transcontinental telegraph system from the eastern United States to San Francisco in 1861. It was an immediate success that swiftly replaced the Pony Express as the preferred means of long-distance communication. The first telegraph lines reached Franklin, Idaho, in 1866 as part of the continued broader effort to establish telegraphic connections across the United States. Lewiston became the first town in northern Idaho linked to the telegraph in 1874 and was later the first town in the Pacific Northwest to host a telephone call made by businessman John P. Vollmer in 1878.

The establishment of telegraph lines in Idaho had significant implications for various aspects of society. It facilitated the development of trade and commerce by providing a means of transmitting business orders, market information, and financial transactions. The telegraph allowed merchants and miners in Idaho to stay connected with markets and business centers elsewhere. Furthermore, the telegraph played a crucial role in disseminating news and information. It enabled newspapers in Idaho to receive updates, national news, and other important information rapidly. This ensured that the residents of Idaho were kept informed about current events and developments occurring beyond their immediate surroundings.

The telegraph also impacted transportation and travel in Idaho. It allowed for the coordination of train schedules, improving the efficiency and safety of railroad operations. Telegraph lines were often installed alongside railway tracks, providing instant communication between stations, and enabling the smooth functioning of the growing railroad network in Idaho.

Over time, the telegraph network expanded throughout Idaho, reaching more towns and communities. Telegraph offices and stations became integral parts of the social and economic fabric of the region. They served as activity hubs, where skilled operators sent, received, and decoded messages. However, as technology advanced, the telegraph’s dominance began to wane. The telephone emerged as a more direct and interactive form of communication, gradually replacing the telegraph for personal and business conversations. By the early 20th century, following the end of World War II, the telegraph had been mainly superseded by newer technologies.

Nevertheless, the telegraph left a lasting legacy in Idaho. It played a crucial role in connecting the state with the rest of the country, facilitating communication, trade, and transportation. The telegraph network laid the foundation for subsequent advancements in communication technology, eventually leading to the development of modern telecommunications systems.

Today, the telegraph’s influence can be seen in the historical sites and artifacts related to its operation in Idaho. Museums, exhibits, and preserved telegraph stations provide glimpses into this transformative era of communication and its impact on the state’s development.

Written by Mark Breske

Conversations about an untapped natural resource in Boise began around Idaho’s transition into statehood. Geothermal energy became realized in a swampy area known as Kelly Hot Springs near the Old Idaho Penitentiary in late 1890. Warm water was found on December 24, and one month later, drillers struck a large flow of hot water. By the spring of the same year, 800,000 gallons of pure water flowed from the well each day. Soon after, plans were made for a resort to commercialize the new abundant resource. On May 25, 1892, Boise’s first large-scale natatorium opened.

C.W. Moore founded the Boise Artesian Hot & Cold Water Company to further develop the resource after successfully using hot water to heat his home. He recruited architect John C. Paulson to design the heated bathing resort. Once the Boise Natatorium opened, it quickly became a popular recreational destination. The impressive and efficient design was inspired by the Moorish Revival style, complete with a 125-foot-long swimming pool filled with natural hot water. The interior also featured a lava rock diving platform, wooden truss arches, and a mezzanine around the pool. Aside from swimming, guests could also enjoy a dining area, gym, baths, dance floors, card and tea rooms, and a saloon.

The combination of wood and moisture caused the structure to rot. In 1934, a windstorm forced a beam to fall, prompting the end of the Boise Natatorium as so many people had come to know it. Boise City reopened the pool shortly after as an outdoor swimming area, which continues to operate today.

Geothermal heat became much more than a novelty, and homes on Warm Springs began incorporating the energy source into their construction, plumbing in with wooden pipes initially. The wooden pipes were exchanged for metal in 1896 after being deemed “dangerous and useless,” which allowed the system to grow. The plumbing upgrade increased the natural flow from 800,000 gallons to 1.2 million daily, providing more access to residential and commercial dwellings. Nine miles of pipe funneled geothermal water to all customers for 2-3 dollars per month—a rate that remained reasonable at the height of geothermal popularity. As late as 1958, 244 customers continued to use natural hot water for domestic use and heat.

Many buildings in the downtown Boise area continue to utilize geothermal energy as a heat source today, with over 20 miles of pipeline to more than 6 million square feet of building space. If you walk around downtown, you can see the plaques indicating that a building uses geothermal heat as an energy source. Local artist Ward Hooper designed the plaques. Geothermal energy is found throughout the Gem State, and we are one of just seven states with utility scale electricity generation from geothermal energy. With its vast volcanic landscape, Idaho has over 1,000 wells and 200 natural springs. Idaho is the only state in the nation with a capitol building heated by geothermal energy.

Written by Mark Breske

The Sacred Heart Mission, also known as Cataldo Mission, is located in northern Idaho and is the oldest building in the state. The mission was the second Jesuit mission in the area. The first was St. Mary’s, established among the Flatheads in Montana in 1841 by Father Pierre-Jean De Smet. Father De Smet was instrumental in establishing several missions throughout the Pacific Northwest, including the St. Ignatius Mission in Montana and the Sacred Heart Mission in Washington.

While traveling for supplies in 1842, De Smet met Coeur d’Alene chief, Twisted Earth, whose father, Chief Circling Raven, had in 1740 prophesied the coming of the “Black Robes” (Jesuit missionaries) with special powers who would provide spiritual help for the Coeur d’Alene people. In response to a request from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, De Smet sent Father Nicholas Point and Brother Charles Huet to establish the mission along the St. Joe River near the southern end of Lake Coeur d’Alene. Due to ongoing flooding in the area, Point moved the building site from its original proposed location near the St. Joe River to a hill overlooking the Coeur d’Alene River 27 miles east of the lake, where it still stands today.

Construction materials were limited, including no nails being used. The Coeur d’Alene people quarried fieldstones for the foundation and mixed clay and water to create a bonding mortar. They shaped nearby trees into sills, posts, and beams, using pulleys with hemp rope to secure them into place. They weaved grasses and saplings together and applied a coat of clay, creating a “wattle and daub” insulation. The design of the mission was inspired by Father Antonio Ravalli, a priest stationed at St. Mary’s in Montana who had learned construction skills like woodworking and bricklaying in Italy. The Sacred Heart Mission was constructed by Jesuit missionaries and members of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe between 1850 and 1853.

In 1873, President Grant issued an Executive Order creating a reservation for the Coeur d’Alene people that excluded the mission, which forced the Tribe to move out of the area. Father Joseph Cataldo, who had begun ministering to the Coeur d’Alenes in 1865, made the recently vacated mission his headquarters when he became Superior-General of the Rocky Mountain Missions in 1877. Cataldo continued to use the facility for a decade. Over time, the church was being used less, aside from being a transportation hub connecting steamboats from Coeur d’Alene with trains to Wallace and other mining towns in the 1880s. The mission was no longer being maintained and subsequently began to fall apart. Though the building was repaired in 1884 by Father Joseph Joset and again in 1910 by Father Paul Arthuis, the Jesuits realized they could not afford the upkeep of the structure. In 1924 they deeded the mission and its property to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise led by Bishop Gorman. In 1925 Bishop Gorman initiated a funding campaign to restore the mission. With $12,000 raised, Boise architect Frederick Hummel and contractor James Lowery completed the restoration in 1929.

The Sacred Heart Mission was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. In 1975, the Diocese of Boise leased the Old Sacred Heart Mission to the Idaho Board of Parks and Recreation, establishing Old Mission State Park and ensuring the landmark’s preservation. In 2001 the Diocese deeded the mission and its property to the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. Ownership of the mission was a meaningful achievement for the Tribe, whose ancestors built and worshipped at the mission. As a testament to the importance of the mission to the Coeur d’Alene people, in 2011, the Tribe built a new $3.26 million visitor center to accommodate a permanent exhibit about the relationship between Jesuits and the Coeur d’Alene people and neighboring tribes. The mission is still a popular tourist destination today. Visitors can tour the mission and learn about the history of the region and the role that the mission played in it. The Sacred Heart Mission is a testament to the dedication and perseverance of the early Jesuit missionaries and a reminder of religion’s important role in the settlement of the American West.

Written by Mark Breske


The history of beer brewing in Idaho coincided with the search for gold in 1862. At this time, the territory had an influx of German immigrants, bringing along their brewing traditions and changing the history of brewing in Idaho. Before this, American brewers often followed British brewing traditions, their bars serving primarily dark pints of porter and stout. Mining camp brewers were different. Most were immigrants from German-speaking countries with a love for lager, a beer, light in color and body. 

In 1862, the territory’s first brewery opened in Lewiston, Idaho. Fueled by gold and the unquenchable thirst of camp miners, many other cities followed suit and thus the brewing boom of Idaho began. By 1880, Idaho had 33 active breweries.

Men like John Lemp, a German immigrant also known as the “Beer Baron of Boise,” started to create change in the brewing industry by creating more large-scale production and sale of beer that highlighted the use of “Idaho Local” ingredients. Such as today’s movement of “Buy Local”, Lemp declared his beer “honest beer” made with “Idaho hops and barley”, fervently reminding Idahoans, “the money you spend helps to employ Idaho labor.” By 1882, Idaho’s breweries set a record for the territory by producing a total of 2,747 barrels of beer.

With the formation of the Anti-Saloon League in the late 1800s, the movement towards Prohibition in Idaho began. This organization dedicated their efforts to the promotion of temperance, or the abstention from alcohol, becoming instrumental in the passage of the early adoption of the Idaho Prohibition Law in 1916. With the start of The Great Depression in the 1930s, a decline in support for Prohibition began. In 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution passed, repealing Prohibition nationwide. Idaho was one of the first states to ratify the amendment, making the production, sale, and transportation of alcohol once again legal in the state.

Unfortunately for Idaho’s breweries, many of them did not make a comeback. Few made it to the 1950s, but all had closed by the 1960s. Due to the national craft beer movement in the 1980s, Idaho started to see new breweries emerge, such as Grand Teton Brewing Company, opening in 1988, and Highland Hollows, opening in 1992.

Today, Idaho is a prominent player in the craft brewing industry. The state possesses more than 80 breweries and produces more than 100,000 barrels of beer per year, according to the National Brewers Association.


Written by Alexandra Polidori 

By law, we recognize March 4th each year as the anniversary of the day on which President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 signed the Bill creating Idaho Territory. From the outset, Idaho was formed in the crucible of American history. Two months earlier, the Sixteenth President issued his and our Emancipation Proclamation. Seven months later, Lincoln at Gettysburg would remind us that all men (and women) are created equal.

Just a week after March 4th in the same room at the White House where he earlier pondered and produced emancipation, Honest Abe, gave Idaho an honest start by appointing the first of a total of fifteen loyal “Union Men” which he would send to Idaho to be our earliest territorial officers over the next two years. During the rest of his presidency, Lincoln kept abreast of Idaho political affairs. For instance, he commented in his 1863 and 1864 Messages to Congress on the state of the Territory’s political organization, the wealth of our mineral riches, and the situation of our Native American relations.

But what is not so well known about Lincoln and Idaho is that, at the four greatest speeches ever delivered by him, people with Idaho connections were present and even assisted Lincoln at those most significant and memorable addresses ever delivered on American soil! In February of 1860, not-yet candidate Abraham Lincoln spoke to 1500 people in the basement auditorium of Cooper Union in New York City. At first, the speech was a failure, until he received a prearranged signal from his Illinois lawyer-friend, Mason Brayman from the back of the room, urging him to speak louder and project more enthusiasm. Lincoln did, suddenly engaging the crowd, rousing their passions against the extension of slavery with phrases like

“RIGHT MAKES MIGHT.” Thereby, he instantly became a leading presidential possibility. Brayman, the man who raised his hat on the top of his cane to signal, was appointed Governor of Idaho Territory by President U.S. Grant in 1875 and moved to Boise.

One year later, sorrowful, pensive Abe Lincoln said “Farewell” to a few hundred Springfield, Illinois neighbors in February of 1861 as President-elect, beginning his journey to Washington by train. “I HOPE IN YOUR PRAYERS YOU WILL COMMEND ME”, he told them. In the crowd, were two young boys named Dubois, neighbors who lived across the street and often played with the Lincoln children and even romped and wrested with their father. In 1880, Jesse and Fred moved to Blackfoot. Jesse became the medical doctor for the Shoshone Bannock Tribe. Fred Dubois, in short order became the appointed U.S. Marshall and then was elected Territorial Delegate to Congress for the Territory. In that role, the little boy who grew up on Eighth Street with Lincoln led the successful political campaign to tum Idaho Territory into Idaho state in 1889-1890 and became our first United States Senator.

Written by David Leroy, President, Idaho Lincoln Institute and former Attorney General and Lt. Governor 

Idaho had an early interest in boxing. Historical records show evidence of boxing fights in mining camps dating back to the 1890s. The Lewiston Daily Teller published “Boxing for Boys” in 1891. The article stated:

“If a lad is quick to lose his temper, boxing will cure him; it will teach him that no one who lets his temper get the best of him will become an expert sparrer.”

However, not everyone agreed with that sentiment. The Blackfoot News, less impressed with the sport, wrote in 1890:

“The undertaker’s favorite exercise is boxing.” 

Idaho eventually caught the boxing fever. Since then, it has remained one of the more active states for boxing in the northwest. Boxing in Idaho, for most of its history, remained a winter sport. Most fights took place in winter and spring due to how many boxers also worked on farms and were needed during the summer and fall. 

In 1891, the Idaho Penitentiary held a series of matches between three inmates. Wesley Dunlap, William McCreary “Billy the Kid,” and John Braithwaite. The event sparked a scandal in Boise. Community members demanded an investigation into reports that guards drank and gambled while the inmates boxed. The uproar caused by these boxing matches eventually contributed to Warden Arney’s dismissal and a ban on boxing in the prison.

By 1927 Warden Wheeler lifted the ban, and boxing returned to the site. Between 1936-1940 the prison began holding public fights; non-inmate audience members had to pay 85 cents to watch.

By the end of the sixties, boxing returned to its final and most serious stage here at the prison. Boxers traded the days of unorganized brawls for more serious training regimens. The men, naming themselves The East Side Boxers, began having outside coaches and trainers prepare them for sanctioned amateur fights. Some of these competitors even went on to win local titles and Golden Gloves championships. One boxer even qualified as an alternative for the Olympics during their time in prison. After inmates were transferred to the new facility at the end of 1973, boxing continued for many years at the new facility before the program’s conclusion in the 2000s. During the Old Idaho State Penitentiary operation, 170 plus inmates competed in boxing while serving time.

Written by Samuel Anderson

In 1963, the Bureau of Reclamation proposed construction of the Teton D on the Snake River near in the eastern Snake River Plain to control spring runoff and provide more water for irrigation, hydropower, and drinking. The final dam would be 305 feet tall and have a crest length of 3,100 feet. In 1971, an environmental impact statement was issued for the worksite. The study’s lack of funding, coupled with a lack of site preparation, stalled construction.

Environmental groups moved to stop construction, citing the impacts on fish and wildlife, and degradation of the aesthetic value within the region. While the initial (brief) environmental impact study did not raise questions about a potential collapse, conservation groups questioned the area’s potential for earthquakes. Nevertheless, construction on the Teton Dam, reservoir, and hydro plant began in 1972, and by November of 1975, construction was nearly complete, and filling the reservoir began.

On June 3 and 4, 1976, workers discovered three small leaks below the dam. At 7:30 am on June 5, a muddy seepage appeared. While small dam leaks are not uncommon, these leaks would foreshadow the dam’s impending demise. Shortly after the outflows began, the dam’s embankment began to wash out, and crews moved in with heavy equipment to patch the leak to no avail. Knowing the collapse was inevitable, local law enforcement evacuated residents downstream. At 11:55 am, the dam’s crest caved, compromising the structure. Over 2 million cubic feet of water per second spilled into the area below, quickly and devastatingly running through thousands of homes and businesses, leaving 11 people dead and a wake of destruction totaling more than $400 million in damages. The effects of the disaster also had long-term impacts on the fish and wildlife populations. Rebuilding the surrounding communities and cleaning up the debris took several years.

An investigation by geologists concluded that the area’s propensity to seismic activity and its base of basalt and tuff rock formations, known for high permeability and instability, made the need for construction and engineering protocols essential. Due to tight budgetary and timeline restrictions, developers bypassed critical measures that would have ensured a solid foundation before backfilling. Furthermore, engineers should have considered the dam’s unique location and environmental conditions while developing the design. The decision not to grout fissures to keep the soil used in the core from settling was a fundamental ecological and design lapse that led to internal erosion and subsequent collapse. 

Written by Mark Breske

Of all the notable figures in Idaho’s history, Polly Bemis stands out as one of the most resilient and memorable. Polly Bemis was born in northern China in 1853. In 1872, she was smuggled to the United States and sold as an enslaved person in San Francisco for $2,500. From San Francisco, Bemis was escorted to Portland, Oregon, and eventually settled in Warrens, Idaho Territory (now Warren) with her Chinese owner. Polly earned a reputation in the small community for her clever, pragmatic, and kind personality. While it is uncertain how Polly eventually acquired her freedom, a census shows Polly living with her future husband, Charlie Bemis, in the mid-1880s. Charlie had called Idaho home since roughly 1866 and made a name for himself in Warren as a merchant, miner, saloon owner, and boarding house operator.

Charlie and Polly formed an intense bond. It’s been noted that Charlie often saved Polly from harassment at the saloon. Polly returned the favor by, nursing Charlie back to health after he was shot in the face following a disputed poker game. Polly would again save his life when their home caught fire in 1922. Polly and Charlie married on August 13, 1894, in their home, which was also Charlie’s saloon. The couple soon filed a mining claim along the Salmon River near Warren, where they mined and established a small farm. Polly grew an array of fruits and vegetables and raised chickens, ducks, and cows. Polly was known to sew, crochet, and fish in the nearby river.

Polly and other Chinese immigrants of her time were never considered American citizens due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and its extension, the Geary Act of 1892. The legislation prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers. It also required Chinese immigrants to apply for a certificate of residence and always carry it with them if they wished to stay in the United States. In remote Warren, Polly had been promised assistance in filing for her certificate by George Minor, an IRS collector. Minor failed to make the journey due to impassable winter roads leaving Polly at risk of deportation. In 1896, Polly and roughly fifty other Chinese migrants appeared in the Moscow district court to petition for their certificates. She was successful and lived in Idaho until her death in 1933.

By 1920, Charlie’s health had steadily declined. He passed away shortly after suffering severe burns in the fire that destroyed their Salmon River home. Polly returned to Warren, and with the help of friends, she rebuilt their home and lived along the river by herself for over a decade. Later in life, Polly left the Warren area and was often amazed by the glimpses she got of bustling towns and cities. Regional newspapers reported Polly’s wonder at seeing a railroad for the first time, riding in a car, and even watching her first movie. Weeks after a stroke, Polly died on November 6, 1933, at the age of 80.

The National Park Service listed the Polly Bemis Ranch in the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. The 26-acre property is surrounded by 2.2 million acres of the Frank Church Wilderness Area, the largest protected wilderness area in the continental United States. During her lifetime, Polly Bemis was respected for her welcoming, bright, and mischievous personality. Today we also see her story as one of true Idaho resilience.

Written by Nicole Inghilterra and Mark Breske

As we head into the holidays, learning about the traditions at the Old Idaho State Penitentiary offers us a chance to reflect on our own holiday experiences. Thanksgiving at the Idaho State Penitentiary was welcomed by many who were serving time at the site. But, for some incarcerated men and women, the holiday season was a painful reminder of the distance and isolation from family. However, it is not all a loss of hope and a time of despair. The inmate-produced prison newspaper The Clock is an excellent source of insight into the monthly experiences of incarcerated individuals at the site. Nearly every November issue of The Clock featured updates from the dining hall and what to expect for the annual Thanksgiving meal. The holiday issues also usually included articles written by the chaplain and contributing writers about giving thanks. It was a treat for the men working in the dining hall and kitchen to prepare a special meal for everyone else.

The dining hall was built in 1898 and was the first building designed and constructed entirely by prisoners. George Hamilton designed the dining hall and oversaw its construction. The ground floor held space for the dining room, a kitchen, and the bird’s nest. An armed guard sat in the bird’s nest to watch over meal times. Down below, the basement had six rooms. Initially, there was a bakery, a root cellar, bathing facilities, a butcher shop, a laundry room, and a shoe shop within the space. The riot of 1973, which led to the site’s closure, caused the building to go up in flames, leaving just the exterior walls standing today. 

By the 1950s, the Idaho State Penitentiary was largely self-sufficient in almost every aspect. Under the wardenship of Louis E. Clapp, the pen flourished in the growth of rehabilitative initiatives and vocational industries. Farming was always one of the industries tied to the site, but it grew with Clapp at the helm. There were three major areas where men cultivated land: the penitentiary grounds, Moseley Ranch (now Warm Springs Golf Course), and Eagle Island Prison Farm (now Eagle Island State Park). The food the farms produced was enough to keep the dining hall and bakery stocked, provide a reserve for the prison’s use, and feed residents at State Hospital South in Blackfoot. The prison sold any remaining surplus back into the community.

In the November 1959 issue of The Clock, an article titled “The Life Line” described statistics surrounding meal production in the dining hall basement during–and outside the holiday season. The dining hall would feed about 350 men in a half hour, three times per day. Most kitchen and bakery staff would work 7-hour days, sometimes longer, especially around the holidays. The bakery went through 1,300 pounds and 60 dozen eggs per week, which the prison farm chickens provided. Inmates processed vegetables in the root cellar; according to the article, workers processed about 3,000 pounds of potatoes per week! Between the biennium of 1959 and 1960, workers processed 680 turkeys, and inmates consumed 399,182 potatoes. The men working in the kitchen took pride in what they did and especially looked forward to providing a good holiday meal. 

Though the menu in 1959 wasn’t published in the November issue of The Clock, the November issues in 1956 and 1971 had robust offerings. Menu items included roast turkey, sno-flake potatoes, giblet gravy, creamed peas, buttered corn, cranberry jelly, tossed salad, stuffed celery, hot rolls, creamed pumpkin pie, and hot coffee.

The Nez Perce War stemmed from an escalating land conflict between several bands of the Nez Perce Tribe and the United States government. The 1863 Treaty, known as the ‘Thief Treaty’ by the Nimiipuu, outlined the conditions that would eventually lead to an all-out war between the Nez Perce and the US Army in 1877. The treaty era for the Nez Perce began in 1846 with the creation of Oregon Territory. Westward expansion immediately made land in the northwest more of a commodity, so much so that in 1855, territorial governor Isaac Stevens met with tribal representatives to negotiate the tribe’s surrender of 7.5 million acres of land in exchange for hunting and fishing rights. The US Senate ratified the treaty in 1859.

When gold was discovered along the reservation’s boundaries in 1860, the US government drafted another treaty to further shrink the reservation by absorbing another five million acres of reservation lands, which became the 1863 Treaty. By 1869, reservation lands were reduced to just 750,000 acres in Idaho Territory. All Nez Perce members were ordered to move onto smaller reservation land east of Lewiston. Many tribal members defied the order and remained on their lands.

Disputes between white landowners and tribal members continued to escalate. In May 1877, General Otis Howard ordered non-treaty tribal members to move to the reservation within 30 days. By June, 600 Nez Perce members gathered on the Camas Prairie, where warriors began war ceremonies. Warriors then acted against four white men in a raid. Chief Joseph and his brother Ollokot arrived at the camp the next day to find out what had happened. Joseph knew an attempt at peace was futile at this point as General Howard moved 130 men to the reservation to retaliate. The military underestimated the power of the Nez Perce and was defeated in the Battle of White Bird Canyon on June 17, 1877, thus beginning the Nimiipuu’s escape eastward from US soldiers. A small band of Nez Perce warriors slowed military efforts amidst the retreat from Idaho into Montana Territory. Brigadier General Nelson Miles led a surprise attack on the Nez Perce camp on the morning of September 30. On October 5, 1877, Chief Joseph surrendered at the Bear Paw battlefield in Montana Territory with one of the most infamous speeches in US history:

I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohoolhoolzoote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say, “Yes” or “No.” He who led the young men [Ollokot] is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are — perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.

Instead of returning to Idaho as promised during surrender negotiations, General William Tecumseh Sherman ordered the remaining tribal members to be sent to Kansas. First, captives began their 265-mile trek east to the Tongue River Cantonment on October 23, 1877. On November 23, the remaining prisoners left for Fort Leavenworth by train, along with their lodging and provisions.

In 1879, Chief Joseph made one final plea to President Hayes and US Congress in Washington DC to return to Idaho. The government did not grant Joseph’s wish, and he and the Nez Perce were sent to Oklahoma, establishing a small reservation near Tonkawa. In 1885, Joseph and his 268 surviving tribespeople returned to the pacific northwest, settling at the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington. Chief Joseph died there in 1904 at the age of 64. He was revered, even by his adversaries, as a humanitarian, peacemaker, and diplomat.

Written by Mark Breske

How many titles could a woman hold in Idaho in the 1920s? Mother, wife, homemaker, small business owner, entrepreneur, pioneer, international traveler, philanthropist, engineer, innovator?

For one woman, it was also “Queen.”

Born in 1884 in Poor Fork, Kentucky, Emma Branson traveled to Washington, where she married Walter Coldiron in 1909. Bucking traditional social norms, Walter and Emma divorced around 1926; while Walter quickly remarried, Emma was left to raise their two adopted daughters alone. She also took in and adopted a one-year-old boy who’d been abandoned on the steps of a shack.

Coldiron saved enough money to buy a beat-up old car, which she used to deliver candy she made and sold to loggers near her new home in Boise to support her childrenShrewd and entrepreneurial, Coldiron started running supplies for local townspeople; her earnings paid for gas and oil needed to deliver her candies. In a few months, she made more profit from delivering supplies than selling her goods. Her business was so profitable that she could buy additional cars on installment and hire two drivers to operate them. The transition from confectioner to freight hauler was quick.

In 1926, Coldiron obtained the business certificate for Blue Line Motor Coach Stages and began her first passenger bus route to a logging camp. In 1927, Coldiron received a citation in Oregon for operating a motor stage without a proper license, but she didn’t let that slow her down. Blue Line expanded from Washington through Oregon and Idaho, reaching as far east as Twin Falls. By 1929, Blue Line consisted of 32 cars, four depots in three states, and its own garages and repair shop. The innovative Coldiron even designed and built dust-proof motor cars specifically for Blue Line Stages, which provided a greater sense of comfort and luxury for her passengers.

Emma had a knack for management, with eighty-five percent of her staff comprised of college graduates. She paid her employees a good wage at 28 cents per day. Her philosophy? 

“I believe in paying well and getting good people.” Coldiron was well known for her investments in quality labor and for providing her staff with the means to a fair standard of living. Her reputation and her profits kept growing.

Coldiron sold Blue Line Motor Coach Stages at her children’s behest and could not refuse a very generous offer in 1929. The “rich” Ms. Coldiron then toured Europe with her son, enjoying her first and much-needed vacation. Although she considered opening an apparel shop, Coldiron continued her engagement in various philanthropic and professional organizations, such as the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Walla Walla Business Woman’s Club, Rebekahs, Eagles Yeoman, and several others, until she died in 1962.

Emma Coldiron’s international renown and reputation for her business acumen earned her the frequently conferred title of Idaho’s “Omnibus Queen.”

Written by Cathy Charlton

When your child is misbehaving, just ship them away!

In 1913, Parcel Post opened to serve U.S. citizens. For those who drove to large cities to mail packages, no one took the luxury of sending a package from your mailbox for granted. In the first six months of being opened, the Parcel Post transferred over 300 million boxes across the country. Some Idahoans attempted to see just how far they could push the definition of shipping “a package” with access to this new modern process.

Only a month after the Parcel Post opened, a couple in Idaho was looking for ways to send their daughter, Charlotte May Pierstorff, to her grandparents. This would not be a long journey, only about 73 miles, but to a young five-year-old like Charlotte, that may as well be the entire length of the United States. Most Idahoans traveling between cities would take the passenger train that ran between these two locations. However, the cost of a train ticket deterred the couple. Because the post office did not charge extra for shipping a live child, the frugal parents decided that they would mail their daughter.

With a weight limit of 50 pounds per package, Charlotte just made the cutoff at 48 and a half pounds. Her parents may not have been the most responsible for sending a young girl to another city alone, but they were wise to see this opportunity to save some money. At the post office, her parents attached the postal stamp directly to her winter coat and sent her on her way. Little Charlotte was then loaded onto a train from Grangeville to Lewiston.

The postmaster who accepted the young girl as a package accompanied her while on the train, so she was not completely alone on her long ride. Once the pair arrived in Lewiston, he delivered Charlotte to her grandparents’ front door. Sadly, she was too big to fit inside the mailbox, so she was left at the door in the care of her grandmother.

This incident made national news and caused the Postmaster-General, Albert Burleson, to make many new rules on what the public can and cannot ship through the mail. That summer, Burleson decreed that the post office would no longer accept human cargo or animals except bees. While a box of bees might just be one of the scariest things that could spill out if accidentally dropped, the post office has good reasons for allowing them to be shipped.

Charlotte May Pierstorff was not the first nor the last child to be shipped through the mail. Within the same month Parcel Post allowed packages to ship, a 10-pound infant from Ohio was already on his way to his grandmother’s home a mile away. This journey cost his parents 15 cents, but being the responsible parents, they insured their little boy for $50 just in case.

Kids growing up at this time had to take the threat of “I’ll ship you off to boarding school” very seriously, lest they get put in a box and get slapped with a postal sticker.

With each shipped child making national news, many reporters took it as a sign of what’s to come from future technology. After all, what can’t you mail if a child can be packaged and shipped? May Pierstorff’s story sparked many newspapers around the world to think about how new technologies could be used in everyday life. In 1914, the Emmet Index predicted that people would have long range conversations without telephones and groceries delivered over wireless. While we can order groceries on our phones and have them delivered to our homes, we are far from the technology that will let us download our breakfast over WIFI.

Written by Joey Przedwojewski and Cathy Charlton

Some experts see the 1925 International Exposition of Decorative Arts and Modern Industries in Paris as the beginning of the Art Deco era, but the design movement emerged in early 1900s Europe.  

Long seen as the authority on fashion, France found itself competing with other nations to usher the world into the next era of style. With growing industrialization and a burgeoning arts movement, Germany threatened France’s trendsetter status. After successful appearances at international exhibitions in 1900 (Paris) and 1904 (St. Louis), critics celebrated the rising success of German arts. In response, French designers and art authorities decided they had to do something.  

So, as historian Charlotte Benton wrote, “… the main purpose [of the exposition] was not to consolidate and encourage the spread of an international style but to reassert, in an international forum, France’s authority as an arbiter of taste and producer of luxury goods.” Whatever the organizers’ motives, the 1925 Paris exhibition succeeded in promoting Art Deco across the world.  

The rapid spread and popularity of Art Deco style can likely be attributed, in part, to when it was born. Increased tensions and competition between European countries encouraged growth and modernization. Innovations in radio and film, prompted by World War I, made communication faster and easier. The global stage of conflict exposed more people to more cultures than they had known before. When the war ended, people were primed for any opportunity to find optimism. For some, like the United States, a growing economy meant there was more money to spend on goods.  

Art Deco objects, like those shown in Paris in 1925, were expensive. They contained precious stones, were gilded with gold, or lacquered by artisans with years of training. The average American could not afford to buy such luxurious things. Hoping to make money, companies tried to make the style accessible to a growing middle class. New materials, like plastics and synthetic fabrics, allowed manufacturers to imitate the pricey materials. With assembly lines and automated machinery, companies made more stuff than ever before. Soon, Art Deco displays filled department store windows across the United States. 

Recognized today as the first international visual and decorative arts trend, Art Deco relied upon inspiration from all over the globe. Patterns taken from the weavings and sculptures of African cultures are echoed in Art Deco objects. Fashion designers adapted Chinese embroidery and clothing styles to the slim lines of Western women’s wear. Art Deco architects copied built elements from Indigenous cultures of South America, Mexico, and the United States.  

Many of the elements and motifs repurposed by Art Deco design have special meaning to the originating cultures. Art Deco designers rarely acknowledged the significance in what they recreated, and some refused to recognize creators outside of Europe as inspiration for their work.  

Rather than one uniform trend, Art Deco comprises many distinct styles. For example, one facet of Art Deco design relies on the use of geometric shapes, heavily stylized figures, and lots of decoration. While other Art Deco pieces utilize simplified, or streamlined, designs that mimic movement and speed. Due to the broad and varying nature of the style, it can be difficult to determine if something is Art Deco. In fact, an exact description of the style and parameters on the era itself continue to be debated by historians, architects, and artists alike.  

If you are interested in learning more about Art Deco and how it materialized in Idaho, visit The Art of Deco exhibition at the Idaho State Museum. Open through January 14, 2023, the exhibition features more than 40 artifacts that illustrate Art Deco and its inspirations.  

The above text is adapted from The Art of Deco exhibition at the Idaho State Museum.  

Written by Capitol Curator & Museum Registrar Nicole Inghilterra and Museum Registrar Chelsee Boehm.  


Art Deco 1910-1930, edited by Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton and Ghislaine Wood.  

Etymologists may lament the less than glamorous history of how Idaho got its name. Idaho, bountiful in its resources and beauty, has no shortage of inspiration for a namesake. The influence of Native American history can be seen in placenames like Bannock, Coeur d’Alene, and Nez Perce. French trappers solidified their place in Idaho history through names like Latah, Palouse, and Lapwai. In the early to mid-1800s, Idaho’s trapping and mining heritage were honored through names like Fish Creek, Hungry Creek, Mores Creek, Placerville, and Ruby City. Following Idaho’s solidification as a territory, new influences like railroads, Mormon colonization, and conflicts between white settlers and Idaho’s indigenous tribes inspired names like Burley, Rexburg, Battle Creek Massacre Rock, and Camp Lyon. A summary of Idaho’s name sources shows that people inspired 42% of names, 30% by descriptive features, and flora and fauna inspired 14%. 4% of Idaho’s names were from transfer and another 4% from minerals and mines. 2% of names were derived from incidents, 2% from biblical, legendary, and mythological characters, and 2% from “other” (Idaho Place Names). But how did the state of Idaho get its name?

Originally believed to be a Native American Shoshone word meaning “Gem of the Mountains,” Idaho was initially intended to be the name of present-day Colorado (formerly Pike’s Peak territory). Mining lobbyist George M. Willing presented the name to Congress as the name for Colorado under the pretense the name was of Native American origin. The proposal made its way to the U.S. Senate before being struck down after word got out that Idaho was a made-up word. In a letter to the New York Daily Tribune on December 8, 1875, William O. Stoddard would later describe how his “eccentric friend,” the late George M. Willing, had coined the name early in 1860. According to Stoddard, Willing often told the story “With the most gleeful appreciation of the humor of the thing.” Some even went as far as to label it a “practical joke.”

The leaders of Colorado were still fond of the name, although its origin story was less than captivating. In 1860, a friend of Colorado’s delegation in the Pacific Northwest named a steamboat on the Colombia River “Idaho.” Soon after, Elias Davidson Pierce discovered gold in the Clearwater Valley, leading people to the “Idaho mines,” which were named after thousands of miners arrived in the area by steamboat to prospect in the area.

When Idaho pushed to become a territory in 1863, the name stuck. By that time, most people had forgotten about Colorado’s history with the state name and were back to believing it meant “Gem of the Mountains.” Despite best efforts to trace the actual origin of the word, there has still been no connection to tribal language or otherwise. An Idaho bill, introduced on December 22, 1862, somehow got renamed “Montana” before House passage on February 12, 1863. But in a showdown on the last night of the session, Senator Wilson, who sponsored the bill himself, fought successfully to restore the name “Idaho” to the proposed territory.

Dr. Merle W. Wells’ essay on the origins of Idaho’s name suggests that its highly probable Willing’s claim to be the originator is accurate. Willing was no stranger to scandal, which may have impacted the credibility of his recounted history, but he was, at the very least, involved in the name’s inception. Since Willing introduced the name in Colorado in 1860, it has gained two widely accepted and unfounded etymologies (“gem of the mountains” and “sunrise”) and a dozen or more other Indian explanations, all of them equally baseless. Had it not been for William O. Stoddard’s recounting of George M. Willing’s story, and for some revealing passages in the record of the early debates of the name in Congress, the origin of “Idaho” would remain a mystery today.

Written by Marketing and Communications Officer Mark Breske


Idaho Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary, Lalia Boone

“Prospector”, February 2005,

“Origins of the Name “Idaho” and How Idaho Became a Territory in 1863″, Merle W. Wells

This year marks the 150th Anniversary of the opening of the U.S. Assay Office Building, and in May the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office celebrated this milestone by unveiling this year’s Idaho Archaeology and Historic Preservation Month Poster designed by Boise artist Ward Hooper.

The Assay Office, a National Historic Landmark, is significant for its association with the development and professionalism of mining in the Intermountain West and for the subsequent settlement and economic development of a vast region of the nation’s interior. Opened in 1872, the building was constructed by the Federal Government in 1870-71, and, for a decade, was the most important example of public architecture in the Idaho Territory. The Assay Office is a symbol of the importance of mining in the political, social, economic, and legal development of Idaho and the West and represents the legacy of federal encouragement of mining in the region.

Following the discovery of gold and silver, miners flocked to the region. The ore extracted by mining operations in the newly-created Idaho Territory was rich. Between 1861 and 1866, Idaho’s gold output totaled somewhere between $42 and $52 million or about 19% of the United States’ total during this period. This yield placed Idaho third–after California and Nevada–in gold production during that period.

However, despite their contribution to the nation’s economy, Idaho miners were isolated from federal services by great distances and rugged mountain terrain. While private assayers could be found locally, the nearest U. S. Department of the Treasury facilities that could provide official governmental ore reports were in Denver and San Francisco, with travel requiring extraordinary effort and expense. As early as 1864, the Idaho territorial government began lobbying for a federal mint or assay office, but it wasn’t until 1869 that a federal appropriation was made for the construction of an assay office in Idaho.

The new $75,000 building would be constructed at Boise and plans and specifications for the building were drawn up under the direction of Alfred B. Mullet, Supervising Architect of the Treasury with construction beginning in June of 1870. Built of rusticated local sandstone, the two-story Italianate building at the center of its block is surmounted by a low hip roof and central cupola. Decorative features of the design are limited to quoining at the corners and around the fenestration and stylized references to the Department of the Treasury in the façade’s central pediment.

A steady decline in mineral production coupled with the early 20th Century growth of timber production in the state resulted in the transfer of the Assay Office to the U.S. Forest Service in 1933. While completing substantial interior alterations upon acquisition, that agency left the building’s exterior and grounds largely intact. In August of 1972, a century after construction, the Assay Office was transferred by the Federal Government to the Idaho State Historical Society. It continues to be owned by the agency, which houses the State Historic Preservation Office and the Archaeological Survey of Idaho in the building.

Written By Outreach Historian Dan Everhart

The 1892 Coeur d’Alene labor strike stemmed from a dispute between mining companies and railroads over increased rates for hauling ore amidst a national decline in prices for lead and silver. The introduction of boring machines reduced the need for laborers in those positions, forcing them into lower-paying jobs. Mine owners reduced wages and increased work hours to offset increased costs, deepening the rift between union workers and mine owners. In 1892, miners began to strike against the unfair wages and hours. When union miners walked away from their jobs, mine owners recruited replacement workers by rail from surrounding states to maintain operations. Union miners often confronted the replacement workers upon their arrival, even threatening violence if they chose to work.

Silver-mine owners hired undercover Pinkerton detective agent Charles Siringo to infiltrate the union and gather information about their activities to combat the increase in hostility and slow the union’s momentum. Siringo joined the Gem Miners’ Union under the identity “Charles Leon Allison.” The union appointed him as recording secretary, which gave him access to all the union’s records. Siringo would then report back to his employers, which subsequently foiled several attack and sabotage efforts by union workers. He was eventually suspected as a spy when the Mine Owners’ Association newspaper published information unknown to those outside the union circle. In fear of retribution, mining companies hired armed guards to patrol mining grounds while union miners began assembling.

On July 11, 1892, union members opened fire on guards and workers at the Frisco mill. Siringo had warned of a standoff, so guards were somewhat prepared for the ambush—equipped with Winchesters behind barricades. Nevertheless, a three-and-a-half-hour standoff ensued. Finally, striking miners loaded a Union Pacific railroad car with 750 pounds of giant powder. They sent it down the track toward the mine, destroying the mill and reportedly killing twenty union men before taking several captives. Shortly after the explosion, hundreds of union strikers closed in on the mining town of Gem, where a similar gunfight broke out, resulting in three deaths per side and  150 more strikebreakers and guards held captive at the union hall. Siringo narrowly escaped through a hole in the barracks floor and fled to a nearby wooded area.

Later that same evening, five hundred union strikers boarded a train to Bunker Hill mine. Strikers swiftly overpowered staff at the mine before placing explosives beneath the ore mill. The next morning, union miners gave the manager an option to vacate the mine with all staff, or they would blow up the mine. The mine’s manager “hastily discharged” three hundred non-union men from the site, seventeen of whom suffered injuries from gunfire while waiting to board a boat at Lake Coeur d’Alene.  

Governor Willey declared martial law and deployed six companies of the Idaho National Guard to end the violence. Federal troops also aided in ending the standoff, detaining over six hundred miners. Siringo emerged from hiding and identified union leaders and suspects in the attack, which led to eighteen convictions, including George Pettibone, who prosecutors later linked to the 1905 bombing assassination of former Governor Frank Steunenberg. Martial law and the Coeur d’Alene military occupation lasted until November 18, 1892. Eventually, the mines were re-opened, and union miners were re-employed.

While the 1892 Coeur d’Alene labor strike was not the end of labor disputes between mine owners and union workers, the events inspired the founding of the Western Federation of Miners in 1893, which sought to outlaw hiring labor spies. The union also moved to pay fair wages relative to job danger, ensure preferential employment of union men, and repeal conspiracy laws against unions. The union was viewed as conservative and economically focused, seeking change through “education, organization, and legislation,” a stark contrast to the violent movement that sought to incite change just one year prior.

Written by Marketing and Communications Officer Mark Breske

From 1872 to 1973, the Idaho State Penitentiary served Idaho from its territorial days through a proclamation of statehood in 1890 to a major riot in March 1973 that destroyed three buildings on-site, including the Dining Hall and the Chapel. The Chapel, previously the “Territorial Prison” building, stood as the oldest building within the compound. Construction began on this three-story cell house on April 2, 1870, with a groundbreaking ceremony and placement of a cornerstone containing a time capsule filled with community contributions. As administrators prepared to relocate the prison population to a new site near Kuna, tensions between staff and incarcerated men overtook the penitentiary. Prisoners set fire to the building, leaving just the shell of the prison’s first structure and accelerating the prison’s closure. By December 1973, buses moved men permanently to the Pleasant Valley Road site.

After a battle between Lewiston and Boise, Idaho, for the prison location, Ada County commissioners ultimately approved the Boise site near Table Rock, a lookout point for the Shoshoni Tribe. In addition, the area provided a source for local sandstone that inmates would eventually quarry to construct the penitentiary’s imposing walls and cell houses.

The compound grew over time with the addition of the 1890 Cell House, followed by the addition of the wall, guard towers, and Administration Building in 1893-94, now iconic structures within the Boise landscape. Despite its seventeen-foot height, guards found the wall lacking in security. In its 101 years of operation, around 500 men and women attempted to flee from the site, with nearly ninety successful escapes, several of whom climbed over the wall unnoticed before guards could stop them.

A series of defined confinement areas awaited those who attempted to escape or commit another offense deemed worthy punishment, including violent acts, disobeying authority, or even throwing a full “honey bucket” (containers used as toilets) at another individual.

Following the early use of an outdoor two-cell cage called the “bug house,” the 1890 Cell House (or “New Cell House”) included both a dungeon and a third-tier dark cell nicknamed the “Black Maria.” By 1923, a new corner complex called “The Cooler” with six cells each holding up to six men at once, became the site’s primary means of punishment. After a group of six broke out of the Cooler, the site added twelve solitary cells dubbed “Siberia” in 1926. The final building added to the interior penitentiary grounds, called #5 House or Maximum Security when it opened in 1954, housed both a solitary confinement system and death row. The indoor gallows in #5 House operated only once on October 18, 1957. Nine previous executions took place on outdoor wooden gallows in the penitentiary’s tenth and final instance of capital punishment.

The prison operated for another sixteen years after the construction of #5 House. Prison staff began facilitating public guided tours for a fee in the early 1970s before the site closed. This form of fundraising and sales of prison hobby crafts transitioned into the 1974 launch of the Old Idaho Penitentiary’s Museum operations, managed by the Idaho State Historical Society. March 21, 2022, marks the 150th Anniversary of the Idaho State Penitentiary.

Dedicated staff and volunteers preserve and maintain the historic site, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Over 75,000 guests from across the globe visit the Old Idaho Penitentiary annually for educational programs and guided tours, annual events, and groundbreaking exhibits that focus on the human experience of those who lived and worked on the grounds.

Written by Old Idaho Penitentiary Staff Members Jacey Brain and Anthony Parry

On March 24, 1961, Governor Robert E. Smylie penned a special introduction to the Idaho Bureau of Mines and Geology Bulletin No. 18, titled “Idaho Mining Industry, the First 100 Years.” Throughout the publication, industry experts, academics, and our agency’s state historian, Merle W. Wells, explored the history of mining in Idaho, addressed misconceptions about the mineral industry, and provided a snapshot of the industry’s continued importance in the Gem State. These individuals recognized that Idaho’s mining history aligned with the territorial centennial (1863-1963). In preparation for statewide centennial commemorations, they developed this unique bulletin to inform Idaho residents of how the state’s mineral wealth supported the development of the territory and state. Keep reading to learn more about Idaho’s mineral resources and how industries relied on these Idaho commodities during the 20th century.

Elias Davidson Pierce and his party of prospectors first discovered gold in the Clearwater River watershed in what would become Idaho Territory in 1860. Between 1860 and 1960, discoveries of other minerals, such as silver and zinc, allowed the industry to grow from the romantic notion of a prospector armed with a pick and shovel to one that encouraged technological advances. These advances improved mine safety, efficiency, and environmental concerns, all while meeting the ever-changing raw material needs of the state and country. Over the course of these one hundred years, the industry maintained a position as one of the top three most important industries in the state, ranking 3rd in terms of dollar value of production.

While gold literally helped put Idaho on the map, the state’s leading mineral commodities between 1860-1960 were silver, lead, and zinc. These non-fuel metals had many and varied uses in the mid-20th century.

Silver’s role in human history dates back centuries, and ancient civilizations primarily used silver for coinage. However, by the 20th century, scientists discovered that silver was also an excellent conductor of electricity and heat. Silver naturally resists corrosion, and when alloyed with copper, forms sterling silver. In the 1960s, the photo and electroplating industries used silver mined in Idaho, as did the medical industry in the form of silver fillings and sutures, wires, and plates for surgical purposes.

Lead had a particularly high usage rate in the 1960s. During this decade, the United States annually used more than 170,000 tons of lead as an additive to gasoline. Like silver, ancient civilizations also used lead. Some archaeologists believe that mankind first started using lead over 6,000 years ago because it was an abundant resource and relatively easy to mine. The mineral’s properties make it very malleable, easy to work with, and resistant to corrosion. It also has a low melting point and easily stands up to weather elements. In the 20th century, manufacturers used Idaho’s lead in storage batteries, electrical cables, ammunition, and pipes. By the mid-20th century, scientists also used Idaho lead as an important element in nuclear shielding against radiation from gamma rays. Although American scientists had begun studies in the 1940s to better understand the dangers of exposure to lead, especially in babies and children, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the US Congress passed legislation banning a common household item responsible for lead exposure – lead paint.

Civilizations in China and India first mined zinc, and they used the metal to produce brass, which is an alloy of copper and zinc. Zinc discoveries in Idaho occurred in north Idaho; however, the railroad’s arrival was paramount to making zinc production profitable. The Sullivan Mining Company’s Star Mine in Mullan first erected an electrolytic zinc plant in 1926, and production hit record levels during World War II. During the 20th century, most manufacturers used zinc in alloys.

Written by State Historian HannaLore Hein


1968.121.8 – Metal Bar, ore mined at Bunker Hill

2012.023.006 – Zinc from Idaho, casted as a token in the shape of Idaho

62-181-22 – Silver Bars produced from the Bunker Hill Company, Kellogg, Idaho 1962.

Artifacts in the Idaho State Historical Society (ISHS) Collection can reflect multiple lifetimes of use and stories. One such item resides in the Idaho State Museum’s Idaho Room: the 1878 Weber grand piano originally owned by Caroline “Carrie” Cartee.

The Cartee family have deep ties to ISHS and Idaho. Originally from New York, Lafayette Cartee traveled west in 1848; he ventured from California and Oregon until settling down in Boise by 1863. His wife, Mary Bell Cartee, died in The Dalles, Oregon in 1862. Their four children Carrie, Ella, Ross, and Mary Bell were cared for by their aunt Henrietta Baker Bell in Milwaukie, Oregon until Lafayette sent for them in 1866. With 24 acres encompassing a barn, orchards, and the first greenhouse in Boise, the Cartees resided in an extravagant mansion off Grove and 4th for decades.

Lafayette was appointed as the first Surveyor General of Idaho in 1863; he would hold this position for 14 years. As early as 1886, he served as a charter member of the Historical Society of Idaho Pioneers, an institution that later evolved into ISHS. He became superintendent of construction for the Boise Assay Office in 1869 (which today houses the State Historic Preservation Office), and for a new cell house at the Idaho Territorial Penitentiary in 1890 (later renamed the Idaho State Penitentiary). Both the State Historic Preservation Office and the Idaho State Penitentiary are part of ISHS today.

The Cartee children had a privileged upbringing in the high society of Boise. “Auntie” Bell accompanied them to the Grove Street mansion and served as a homemaker. All four children attended St. Michael’s Episcopal Parish School, with Carrie and Ella regularly listed as honor students in the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman. Lafayette emphasized musical education with his children, and Carrie, Ella, and Mary Bell took lessons from Mr. Morse, the first voice instructor in Boise.

Chaperoned by family friends Mr. and Mrs. Falk, Carrie travelled to Mannheim, Germany to study music in 1875. At the behest of her father, she stopped in New York City on her way back in 1877 to purchase a Weber grand piano for herself and a pipe organ for Boise’s St. Michael’s. The Weber travelled by train from New York City to Salt Lake City, and from there by covered wagon to the Cartee mansion, where it resided for many years to come.

Each Cartee sibling married from the upper echelon of Boise families. Carrie married local attorney Fremont Wood on New Years Eve, 1885. By 1889, Wood was appointed U.S. attorney, and in 1906 he presided over the famous William “Big Bill” Haywood trial. Carrie and Fremont had nine children, two who died in childhood. Ella married local attorney Charles H. Reed in 1884. Their only daughter, Mary Snowden Reed, helped organize the Boise Business Women group in 1910 and served as their first president. Ross married Leona Hailey in 1887, daughter of pioneer John Hailey for whom Hailey, Idaho is named after. Leona contributed extensively to forming what is now ISHS, going so far as to store artifacts in her home in 1904 and serving as one of the first trustees in 1907. Mary Bell married John E. McCrum, the brother of Julia McCrum Davis. McCrum died suddenly in 1886, and Mary Bell would later marry Clarence W. Joy in 1890.

Lafayette died on September 2, 1891. As a testament to how influential he was in the community, all Boise businesses closed that day and a large group of family friends walked behind his casket as it travelled to Pioneer Cemetery off Warm Springs. Beloved “Auntie” Henrietta Bell lived in the Grove Street house until 1914. She moved in with longtime friend Mrs. Adelina Rossi in 1915 and died at her home soon after sustaining a broken hip.

By 1941, the Cartee mansion was being used for apartments and Fayette Wood Simpson, Carrie and Fremont’s eldest daughter, was the only Cartee descendant still in Boise. 17 years later, Carl Oppel purchased the Cartee estate and promised the mansion to the Sons and Daughters of Idaho Pioneers with the intention that they move the building. The Pioneers submitted a request to Boise City Council to relocate the Cartee mansion to Julia Davis Park, and the Council denied this request due to overcrowding concerns. The mansion was demolished to make way for Oppel Harvester Inc. in 1958.

Fayette’s daughter, Margaret Simpson Peterson, donated the Weber grand piano to the Idaho State Historical Society in 1974. Since then, it has been a treasured part of the collection and has undergone multiple restoration projects. One of the main advocates for these restoration projects is Paul Schiller.

Paul Schiller is a master Steinway technician and a longtime chief concert technician at Dunkley Music in Boise. He originally worked on the Weber grand piano in 1984, a 15-month project that included installing new custom hammers, replacing wires, and tuning the instrument. Then, in 2014, Schiller reached out to ISHS and arranged an extensive restoration for the Weber. Dunkley Music moved the piano to a temporarily loaned workspace in the Esther Simplot Performing Arts Building basement. It took 3 years for him to restore the Weber Grand piano to its former 1878 glory. While most of the piano remains original, some of the internal parts – like the strings and a customized action – Schiller replaced. After he finished, the piano was sent to Provo, Utah for exterior maintenance on the rosewood veneer.

On September 5th, 2019, the Idaho State Historical Society honored Paul Schiller’s contributions with a proclamation of Paul Schiller Day in Idaho. Thanks to all the time and effort Schiller and ISHS staff put in, the Cartee piano can now be heard at select events throughout the year at the Idaho State Museum.

Written by Visitor Services Representative Micah Hetherington


Bauer, Barbara Perry and Elizabeth Jacox. Legendary Locals of Boise. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing,          2015.

“Beloved Woman Passes.” Idaho Statesman, April 25, 1915.         view?p=WORLDNEWS&docref=image/v2%3A114CF38DF1A90B10%40EANX-               1192F842C68DB818%402420613-1192F843B338A008%4026.

“Cartee Home, Built in 1871, Gay Society Center in Past.” Idaho Statesman, June 13, 1941.         view?p=WORLDNEWS&docref=image/v2%3A114CF38DF1A90B10%40EANX-               14F850E3DB82420D%402430159-14F5B66C75BC666E%405-14F5B66C75BC666E%40.

“City Council Gives Okeh to Budget of $2,347,450.” Idaho Statesman, June 17, 1958.         view?p=WORLDNEWS&docref=image/v2%3A114CF38DF1A90B10%40EANX-               15398D7A6819FD0D%402436372-15383B7098C3F1AF%402-15383B7098C3F1AF%40.

“Gen. Cartee.” Idaho Statesman, July 31, 1869.   view?p=WORLDNEWS&docref=image/v2%3A114CF38DF1A90B10%40EANX-               1154E3C05AF830A8%402403910-1154E3C14093A4E0%402.

Germain, Jeanette. “Historic Piano Renovated for Museum.” Idaho Statesman, Sept. 17, 1984.   view?p=WORLDNEWS&docref=image/v2%3A114CF38DF1A90B10%40EANX-               1640DFE3083F98DF%402445961-1640DAABBACD3895%4030-1640DAABBACD3895%40.

Hart, Arthur. “Cartees Helped Make Boise a Blooming Oasis.” Idaho Statesman, April 5, 1984.         view?p=WORLDNEWS&docref=image/v2%3A114CF38DF1A90B10%40EANX-               1640AAFC18CEB729%402445796-1640A12219367D76%4042-1640A12219367D76%40.

Hart, Arthur. “Widower Lafayette Cartee Raised a Notable Family.” Idaho Statesman, Dec. 6, 2015.   view?p=WORLDNEWS&docref=image/v2%3A114CF38DF1A90B10%40EANX-               184352004559379A%402457363-1840871F24224D0F%405-1840871F24224D0F%40.

Hein, HannaLore. “Illuminating Idaho: Narratives From The Idaho State Historian.” Idaho State Historical Society, 2021.

“Lafayette Cartee.” City of Boise.               recreation/pioneer-cemetery-walking-tour/list/lafayette-cartee/ (accessed November 15, 2021).

“Piano Repair and Tuning.” Dunkley Music. Accessed December 2, 2021.       .

Turner, Faith. “Boise’s B.P.W. Club Had Lively Beginning.” Idaho Statesman, Aug. 26, 1939.         view?p=WORLDNEWS&docref=image/v2%3A114CF38DF1A90B10%40EANX-               14F7ED41D8E7DCED%402429502-14F5AD2FF5739726%404-14F5AD2FF5739726%40.

“Two Charming Brides to Plight Troth Today.” Idaho Statesman, June 16, 1935.         view?p=WORLDNEWS&docref=image/v2%3A114CF38DF1A90B10%40EANX-               14F6A0C096238BC3%402427970-14F464893A2DE26B%4014-14F464893A2DE26B%40.

Webb, Anna. “New Life for an Old Idaho Treasure.” Idaho Statesman, Oct. 24, 2014.         view?p=WORLDNEWS&docref=news/15127BCBEE8D1188.

Williams, Walter. “Musical Talent of Boise Groups and Individuals Features City’s History From its               Earliest Days.” Idaho Statesman, June 5, 1949.         view?p=WORLDNEWS&docref=image/v2%3A114CF38DF1A90B10%40EANX-               14F6A79E4E73E245%402433073-14F6597E14AE0D2E%4030-14F6597E14AE0D2E%40.

Winter, Mike. “This 141-Year-Old Piano Belonged to a Cultured Boise Pioneer. Here’s How to Hear it in             2019.” Idaho Statesman, Oct. 13, 2019.   view?p=WORLDNEWS&docref=news/1768E4AC1BD7A3C8.

From the community’s labor of cattle drives, mining, railroads, and agricultural impacts to the leadership of important public figures, Hispanic Idahoans are essential to Idaho’s development, one of the most economically proficient, environmentally focused, and safest states within the U.S. 

Hispanic heritage in Idaho pre-dates statehood and has been present in every facet of life. Spanish and Mexican immigrants lived off the land as itinerant trappers and hunters in the Boise Valley as early as 1860. Before the railroad arrival around 1868, Mexican vaqueros/cowboys from Mexico and the Southwest were instrumental in bringing the cattle to Idaho ranches from Texas, California, and Colorado. They left Mexican-Spanish vocabulary; places like mesa and corral, tasks like rodear, darse vuelta/dally up, items like reatas, mecates, stirrups, and many more. They also left the western style of dress that persists today.

After gold was discovered in the Boise Basin in 1862, many vaqueros transitioned to mining and mule packing. Many more Mexican laborers arrived bringing with them skills that were essential to the development of Idaho’s mining industry. As miners, Latinos developed mining districts and as mule packers, they became the lifeline of remote mining towns by providing them with merchandise and goods. They left place names such as Orofino, Alturas, and Esmeralda.

This influx took shape in cultural hubs throughout the state. One of the most influential examples first emerged at 115 Main Street in Boise. In the 1860s, vaquero and local herder Antonio de Ocampo rented part of Boise’s Block 29 on Main where Mexican laborers stayed while in Boise. He welcomed muleteers like Jesus Urquides and Manuel Fontes to name a few. De Ocampo later bought this parcel of land that had became known as Spanish Village. The village served as an ethnic center for the Spanish-speaking population and after De Ocampo died in 1878 the land ownership transitioned to his good friend, Jesus Urquides.  

Jesus Urquides belonged to a remarkable generation of Mexican mule packers found thorough the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. He was born in Sonora Mexico and arrived in California during the Gold Rush Era. With the shift in mining to Nevada in the 1850s, Urquides began to pack over the Sierra Nevada. Later he transferred his operations to Walla Walla, Washington and from there to Lewiston, Idaho. In 1963, he packed thirty-two mules to Boise. Already a shrewd, and calculating businessman, he no doubt figured that Boise had a future. 

Urquides utilized his business acumen in Idaho. He transferred his operation to Boise and began supplying local miners with food and supplies. When in 1978, he inherited the piece of land in the outskirts of Boise from his good friend Antonio de Ocampo, Urquides built some stables and corrals to accommodate his outfit and his freight business was formally established! Boise’s Spanish Village became a hub of Hispanic culture. 

Jesus Urquides’s contributions to what was little more than a ‘frontier boomtown’ helped establish Boise as a flourishing community within Idaho. He died in 1928 and his daughter Dolores “Lola” Urquides Binnard continued renting out the cabins and giving tours for tourists, keeping her father’s legacy alive. By 1956, Spanish Village had roughly 20 tenants and after Dolores passed away in 1965, the buildings fell in disrepair and became a sore spot. It was demolished in 1972 and an important part of Idaho history was destroyed.  During its sesquicentennial, the city of Boise established a memorial where the Spanish Village once stood to honor Urquides’ legacy. 

Around the turn of the century, massive government irrigation projects enabled Idaho farmers to grow marketable agricultural produce. Working in tandem with developers, the railroad companies sought to expand their markets by bringing settlers to the dessert and shipping their crops to markets. Labor recruiters turned increasingly to Mexican immigrants to meet the needs of Idaho’s expanding economy: railroads and sugar beets.  By 1910 a large number of Mexicans and Mexican- Americans were building and maintaining the railroad system in the American West including Idaho and its railroads yards in Pocatello.

In 1917, during World War I, the Utah Idaho Sugar Company, then controlled by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, brought about 1500 Mexican workers and their families to the district of Idaho Falls, Shelley and Blackfoot to fill the desperate farmer’s needs, but failed to provide appropriate working conditions and housing and to its workers.  The Mexican government complained about inhumane treatment of Mexicans in the beet fields.

In 1926, San Diego Fruit and Produce, a California company contracted with Idaho farmers on the production of fresh peas. As harvest times varied from area to area, the company brought the migrant pea workers crews who worked diligently; picking the peas in hampers and sending them to a nearby packing house where they were sorted, packed in crates and loaded into refrigerated railroad cars. In this way the peas were delivered to lucrative markets in the east coast of the United States.

In the 1930s as the Great Depression began, it was a time of economic hardship and suffering for most working people in the United States, but Mexicans suffered additional hardship of being pressured to return to Mexico whether they had been born there or not. Idaho farmers were force to hire “white” people only, but complained that white labor could not do the work needed to be done. Still, they began fluctuating the payment per pound to the Mexican workers and to offer bonuses if certain conditions were met like staying until the end of the harvest regardless of sickness. In 1931, the Mexican Vice Consul traveled to Idaho to investigate and was able to interview workers and take photographs of the “dwellings” on behalf of the workers. The conditions and housing were deplorable.

In 1935, after a dispute about pay between the pickers and the company, the recruiters and labor contractors had offered them $1.25 for every hundred pounds of peas picked plus a bonus if they stayed till the end of the harvest. Once in Drills, Idaho, they discovered that the pay was only $0.70 cents and the bonus was $0.15 cents per hundred pounds. The summer was hot and dry. It was the second year of a severe drought and tensions mounted between the farmers of the upper and lower basin over the use of scarce water resources. The pea picking crews demanded $1.00 per every hundred pounds and when the company refused to comply, 1500 workers went on strike. The conflict escalated to which the farmers faced the prospect of economic ruin if they lost their pea crop, so the governor declared martial law and send the Idaho National guard, arresting the leaders and forcing the workers to pick up their hampers and return to work.

Widespread Hispanic migration to Idaho increased in the 1940s due to agricultural labor shortages exacerbated by the onset of World War II. Most Anglo agricultural workers left farming for wartime industrial jobs or joined the military. With farm production threatened, the governments of the United States and Mexico established a series of agreements allowing millions of Mexican men to migrate to the United States for contractual agricultural labor. In August 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order established the Mexican Farm Labor Program or the “Bracero Program,” which created many more opportunities for Mexican laborers in Idaho.  

The word “bracero” is derived from “brazo,” the Spanish word for arm and its  colloquial meaning is “manual laborer” or “one who works using his arms.” The Bracero Program lasted from 1942 to 1964, with approximately 4.6 million contracts issued. It allowed a bracero to enter the United States under a six or twelve-month contract primarily through agricultural contracts. Workers returned to Mexico after working in a particular region in the U.S. for an allotted time. They could sign another contract and return to the U.S. to work after completing their initial agreement. Over 15,000 Mexicans labored in Idaho through the Bracero Program, making the Gem State one of the three most significant agricultural laborer hubs during World War II, behind California and Texas.

The Amalgamated Sugar Company recruited the first permanent Mexican workers to the Twin Falls Migratory Farm Labor Camp in 1942. While it is unknown if private efforts or the Bracero Program recruited these individuals, the workers joined other migrants living within the housing facilities. By 1947, over 1,000 Hispanics worked in the Magic Valley. However, due to substandard working and living conditions, including a bracero two-day “sit-down strike” after they found out they would be paid less than their contract specified, the program came to a halt. By 1946, the Mexican Consul refused to send additional bracero workers to Idaho officially ending the program in 1948. Still, the program had created an informal migration network from Mexico to Idaho, allowing many braceros to stay in the state after their contracts expired and help grow the region’s Hispanic community. In the 1950s labor shortages continued and Mexican American families, most of them from the southern counties of Texas moved north to fill seasonal jobs. In 1957, as part of the effort to attract and retain workers, the Idaho Employment Security Agency and the Twin Falls Chamber of Commerce organized the first Cinco de Mayo Fiesta which attracted hundreds of participants. A young crew leader named Jesse Berain (who later in the 1990s became an Idaho Legislator) organized and served as master of ceremonies.  

After termination of the international Bracero Program in 1964, Latino individuals and families continued to move north, with a majority migrating to Idaho by way of California and Texas. Corporations like the Amalgamated Sugar Company continued recruiting Latino laborers to work in sugar beet fields seasonally and processing plants in Nampa, Twin Falls, and Paul. Migrant workers relocated to coincide with the harvest seasons, resulting in an annual migration that developed Hispanic culture across the state. Over time, agricultural industrialization led to a decrease in seasonal labor. However, Hispanic immigration continued to rise, resulting in Latinos becoming the fastest growing population in Idaho. 

Written by Ana Maria Schachtell and BSU Intern Cameron Dickie

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, the Idaho State Historical Society wants to highlight the relationship between Native Americans of Idaho and their horses. Idaho’s indigenous peoples were among the earliest North American natives to possess and cultivate spiritual relationships with horses. By adopting hunting methods that incorporated horseback riding and their necessity to perpetuate a nomadic lifestyle, the Native Americans continued to utilize their horses in ways previously not considered within North America. The importance of the horse to the spread of Native American influence and collaboration between tribes cannot be understated, with their characteristic bond allowing extraneous journeys to yearly intertribal meetings between the tribes of Idaho. These meetings would permit the individual tribes to celebrate the beginning of the fishing season with cooperative festivities while simultaneously sharing their cultures through trading items such as shells (for ornament), hides, dried meat, and arrowheads. Furthermore, horses proved to be a necessity in acquiring commodities that would permit trade with European settlers.

Due to inherent inadequacies between the faster and more powerful horses bred by the Native Americans and the horses brought by European settlers, the Native American horses became an invaluable asset used in trade. European settlers highly coveted the Natives’ horses, exemplified by their trade offerings of clothing, cooking utensils, tools, and whiskey to acquire Native horses for their own. However, the most impactful benefit provided by the Native horses was not the trade value they provided but rather what their speed and strength could provide in terms of trade. The importance of the Natives’ horses was their ability to hunt large game, specifically buffalo. Attributable to a lack of speed from the European horses, foreign settlers could not hunt buffaloes, leading to a reliance on the Native Americans for buffalo hides. This provided further means of acquiring foreign goods and enhanced relations between the Native Americans and European settlers. These are solely the physical benefits brought by the Native American horse. Arguably more significant is the spiritual relationship that developed between the Native Americans and their equines over decades. 

While the power and speed brought by the Native American horses provided tremendous physical benefits to the indigenous peoples, the spiritual connection developed positively impacted the spiritual dynamic within their respective tribes. As the bond between Native Americans and their horses strengthened, the horse began to serve as a blessing due to the symbiotic relationship sustained between the pairing. The importance of the horse concerning the Native American nomadic lifestyle would result in the creation of several religious ceremonies meant to honor the vital functions the horse served to the Native American communities. From the benefits horses provided through grazing native lands, which was beneficial to the ecosystem as a whole in ways humans could not provide, to the constant labor and support they supplied through physical activity, the sanctity of the Native American horse was ceremonially honored through dance and music. In addition to these ceremonies, it is conveyed that there is no stronger representation of the bond between the Native American and his horse than before battle. It is shown in depictions that as they stand together adorned in war paint and eagle feathers, the fierce gaze shared between man and horse shows the love and sanctity of the relationship. 

Upon consideration, the Native Americans’ domestication and use of horses are comparable to the invention of automobiles. The horse allowed faster travel across the vast state of Idaho, therefore providing greater opportunities to hunt, trade, and find new territories better for agricultural development. Furthermore, this faster means of transportation promoted collaboration between the Native American tribes all across Idaho. Without the developed relationship between Native Americans and their horses, tribes would have far less cooperation resulting in a more contentious relationship. In addition, it would have taken several more decades to acquire goods from European settlers without all of the provided by the strategic breeding of the Natives’ horses. 

Written by Boise State University Intern Cameron Dickie


The Boise & Interurban Railway Company, Ltd. brought the Treasure Valley into the 20th century by utilizing electricity to create a railway system that would connect Boise and Caldwell. It provided stops between Eagle, Star, and Middleton, and a convenient connection to the Oregon Short Line Railroad by way of Caldwell. After four years of planning and development, railway service commenced from Boise to Caldwell in 1907, led by Boise & Interurban President W.E. Pierce. Pierce conceived an electric railway to run through the Valley, branching to all favored points within the area. He enlisted the cooperation of local men to gather data on the feasibility and profitableness of the construction of the system before presenting his ambitious plan to capitalists in Pittsburgh, who met the idea with great enthusiasm. The first line of the Boise & Interurban Railway was 30 miles of track that connected depots in Caldwell and Boise. Sub-stations were placed in Middleton and at Pierce Park, and a connection was made to a freight interchange track with Oregon Short Line Railroad in Caldwell.

An article from the Boise Citizen on August 16, 1907, spoke highly of the new Boise and Interurban Railway, saying, “Such is the briefest possible outline of this great enterprise that is destined to make the great Boise and Payette Valleys one grand central community, all points being as easily reached as in a populous city, and all under intense cultivation, with a climate rivaling that of Italy and with soil as rich as the famed Valley of the Nile, it requires no prophetic vision to see here in the near future the homes of many thousands of prosperous, happy, patriotic and liberty-loving people. So mote it be!”

In 1910, a new Boise Depot Station at 7th and Bannock, featuring a passenger waiting room and an express office, eventually served as the hub for all electric railway traffic leaving Boise. The Caldwell to Boise loop was completed in 1912 when the Boise Valley Railway tracks along Ustick and Franklin and the Boise & Interurban Railway along State Street were connected.

Electric railway systems provided an efficient way to transport people and goods, primarily agricultural products, throughout the Valley. They also contributed to the growth and consolidation of the local populace, which was considerably more segmented at the time. For example, the railway is responsible for bringing electricity to the once small town of Star. The Idaho Daily Statesman noted in 1907 that because of the completion of the Boise and Interurban line through Star, “this town has taken a wonderful activity and citizens here have awakened to the fact that Star is very liable to become a very important point before long. There’s been a great deal of building of late and the population of the town has easily doubled since it was definitely known that electric line would be built through here.”

Despite financial setbacks, Boise passenger service was added by the Boise Valley Railway along Fairview to Cole School. Another branch extended from Hillcrest and South Boise to a carbarn storage one block west of Broadway. Although the ambitious plan of connecting both railway systems on a loop became a reality, national financial panic in 1908 crippled profitability and expansion.

The mismanagement of debt by investors, increased popularity of automobiles, and the introduction of the bus transit system, led electric railways to become increasingly less profitable. Over time, electric railways transitioned to more of a leisurely activity that could no longer be financially viable. Electric service to South Boise and Nampa-Caldwell stopped on May 26, 1928. Several freight customers worked to form the Boise and Western Railroad, which ran one old steam locomotive along State Street to Star, transporting goods. The operation lasted several years until crews dismantled and paved over the tracks.

Written by Marketing & Communications Officer Mark Breske

Sources: Boise Valley Electric Railroads, ISHS Reference Series #220; Chronicling America digital newspaper archives; 1991StarFeasibilityStudy_000.pdf (

Photos: Idaho State Archives, 70-181-104g, Boise Valley Interurban Railway Work Engine 99 and crew (colorized); 70-181-104a, Boise Valley Interurban Railway Work Engine 99 and crew; 62-85-2 Boise Interurban Railroad – Car number 4 (Colorized); 62-85-12 Boise Interurban Railroad – Urban Car 100; 62-85-5 Boise Interurban Railroad – Car number 6 (Colorized); 61-170-9 Street RR – Boise Rapid Transit Car 1 (Colorized)

Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, affectionately known as “Pomp,” was the son of Sacajawea and Toussaint Charbonneau. He was born at Fort Mandan in North Dakota in 1805. Toussaint was hired as an interpreter during the Lewis and Clark expedition and was able to bring Sacagawea, who was pregnant at the time, along. Upon his birth, Pomp was carried along in boats or on his mother’s back, becoming accustomed to the life of an explorer at a very early age. He traveled to the Pacific and back to North Dakota before the age of two.

In 1807, the family moved to St. Louis, where Clark ensured that Pomp would have a proper education. He attended St. Louis Academy, a Jesuit Catholic school with a humble single classroom. He had acquired a traditional education and could speak German, Spanish, French, English, and several Native languages. In 1823, at the age of 18, he had a chance to work for Prince Paul of Wurttemberg, a great traveler pursuing scientific interests. The two got along very well, and after a summer on the Great Plains, Jean Baptiste accompanied the prince back to Europe, spending six years traveling through neighboring countries.

His superior education and exceptional skill as a hunter and guide set him apart from the ordinary mountain man of his time. Between 1830-1845, he was involved in the traditional pursuits of hunting, trapping, guiding, and exploring. He served as a scout for the Mormon battalion in a march from Santa Fe to San Diego during the Mexican war. In 1847 and 1848, he served as mayor of San Luis Rey, a community north of San Diego.

In the spring of 1866, Jean Baptiste set out for the mines of Montana. On the way, he caught pneumonia at Inskip’s Ranch in Jordan Valley and did not survive the trip. He died on May 16 at the age of 61. A short distance from the old station, there is a grave, which is presumed to be that of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. His gravesite was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Written by Mark Breske, Marketing and Communications Officer for the Idaho State Historical Society

Sources: ISHS Reference Series (428); Charbonneau Gravesite National Register of Historic Places Listing, National Archives

Photos: Sacajawea and Pomp statue at the @idahostatemuseum; Gravesite of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau (73001577, National Archives); Lewis and Clark at the Mouth of the Columbia River (Library of Congress, 2006683399)

On July 4th, 1870, the small territorial city of Boise held a full day of events to honor the 94th anniversary of American Independence. The event also included the celebration of the laying of the cornerstone of the territorial prison, what we know today as the Old Idaho Penitentiary. A few days before this, the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman urged the public to contribute “any coins, rare papers or curiosities” that would fill a lead box encapsulated in the cornerstone. They encouraged “any documents relating to the early settlement of the territory and town, mementos, and letters so that future generations will know who and what their ancestors were.” Many citizens donated items to the time capsule and made the trek over a dirt trail to the vacant base of the foothills to watch as the cornerstone was “set by the rule and square and bore evidence of a master’s hand.”

One hundred years later, in 1970, Warden Raymond May gave an inmate the assignment of writing a booklet telling a brief history of the prison. The inmate discovered the story of the time capsule and relayed the information to Warden May. However, since the territorial cell house became a chapel in 1942, confusion arose as to the time capsule’s location. A guard armed with a metal detector scoured the 1890 cell house and the chapel and finally discovered the time capsule in the southwest corner of the chapel on July 17th, 1970. With the help of inmates, Captain Josef Münch removed the stone from the foundation, and Idaho Historical Society members were on hand for the unveiling. Contents included:

  • Original jewels of the Boise Number 2 Masonic Lodge
  • A great seal of the Territory of Idaho
  • Vintage coins from 1866, 1867, and 1869
  • Bills ranging from five cents to 25 cents
  • A box of quartz samples
  • A packet of gold dust from Indian Creek
  • A list of officers of Idaho Lodge Number 1 – Independent Order of Good Templars
  • Stage Line tickets from Boise to Sacramento
  • Chinese documents
  • Two “regular democratic tickets”
  • Two tickets to a German Society inauguration
  • A coupon for one loaf of bread from the Idaho Bakery
  • A Pacific Coast almanac and yearbook of facts from 1870
  • An 1870 World Almanac
  • Several newspaper publications from the Cincinnati Daily Gazette, San Francisco Chronicle, the Boise Semi-Weekly News.

The Idaho State Historical Society displayed the objects at the Idaho History Museum a week later at an exhibition titled A Corner of History. Described as “one of the most important caches to come to light in many years”, unfortunately, several objects from the capsule have gone missing.

Written by Anthony Parry, Research and Education Coordinator for the Old Idaho Penitentiary

Source: Idaho Statesman, July 1870 and July 1970.

When Mayor Thomas Barnard hired 30-year-old Nellie Stockbridge in 1898 to be his photography assistant in Wallace, Idaho, she was one of the few professionally trained female photographers in the nation. Born in 1868 in Illinois, Stockbridge received her training in Chicago but once she relocated to Wallace, she remained there until her death at the age of 97 in 1965. Though she was hired as an assistant, Barnard quickly gained confidence in Stockbridge and she began taking the majority of his studio photographs. In 1907 she became partial owner of the studio and when Barnard died in 1916, she took over as sole owner. She photographed diverse subject matter from mines, parades, churches, and schools to the documentation of the economic growth of Coeur d’Alene.

What makes Stockbridge unique is that she photographed the same subjects over six decades, providing a rich visual history. She is mostly known for her photographs of mining and mills which she obtained through her travels by buggy and foot to treacherous slopes and canyons. Her mining photography required donning protective clothing and traveling deep into the mine via man cages.

Importantly, she knew the historical significance of the work done by herself and Barnard. She preserved and catalogued hundreds of thousands of negatives documenting the evolvement of the Coeur d’Alene mining district from 1894 to 1964. Her heirs donated her catalog to the University of Idaho in the 1960s. Today, the Barnard-Stockbridge Collection is one of the richest photo collections documenting the history of the American West. In 1984, authors Patricia Hart and Ivar Nelson published Mining Town: The Photographic Record of T.N. Barnard and Nellie Stockbridge from the Coeur d’Alenes. According to the book, Stockbridge’s collection “may be the most complete, unbroken visual record of a mining district in existence…”

To access the Barnard-Stockbridge photo collection at the University of Idaho, please visit You can view more of her work at the Idaho State Museum’s “A Tale of Two Nells” panel and associated exhibit area.

Written by Membership and Volunteer Coordinator Jennifer Spencer


CollectionBuilder, Digital Initiatives. “Home.” Barnard-Stockbridge Photograph Collection, Digital Initiatives, University of Idaho Library,

“Museum Pathways: Artists.” Former State Historian Keith Petersen.

“Remembering Nellie Jane Stockbridge.” Ron Roizen’s Blog, 7 Nov. 2015, 

The U.S. Census Bureau defines “rural areas” as any territory or population not included within an “urban area.” Meanwhile, Merriam-Webster’s definition of rural is: “of or relating to the country, country people or life, or agriculture.” Still, another notable American presidential hopeful, William Jennings Bryan, essentially described rural America as critical yet underappreciated in his famous 1896 “Cross of Gold” speech. During this monologue, he presented a unique scenario that placed the importance of rural America above its urban sibling, claiming that “the great cities rest upon [America’s] broad and fertile prairies.” The importance of rural areas is not lost on Idaho, where the state’s Department of Labor classifies 88% of Idaho’s land area as rural, and neither is the importance of the history of rural places. Keep reading to learn about one of the Gem State’s many rural places – Inkom, Idaho.

Inkom, Idaho, sits within the current boundaries of Bannock County, twelve miles south of Pocatello, at the confluence of Rapid Creek and the Portneuf River in Southeast Idaho. Since time immemorial, the indigenous people of the Great Basin, including the Northern Shoshone and the Boise and Bruneau bands of the Bannock, traversed this region, including the 634 acres that would become Inkom. 14,500 years ago, the Bonneville Flood discharged a massive volume of water from the precursor of the Great Salt Lake. This flood, which geologists estimate was 400 feet high, cascaded north through Red Rocks Pass and the Portneuf River Valley before it carved the Snake River Canyon deeper on its way to the Pacific Ocean. The flood moved enormous boulders and deposited nutrient-rich silt along its path. Thousands of years later, the effects of this flood greatly impacted Inkom and southern Idaho’s agricultural development.

Because of Inkom’s unique geography (it sits at a soft bend in Portneuf River in a relatively protected valley), it became a natural transportation corridor for the area’s tribal people. By the 1800s, fur trappers, including Robert Stuart (1812), Peter Kene Ogden (1824), Benjamin Bonneville (1833), and Nathaniel Wyeth (1834), had also passed through the Inkom area. By the mid-1800s, the area witnessed regular Oregon Trail travel and the migration of Mormons flowing north from Utah. But, the 1864 discovery of gold in Montana brought stagecoach routes through the Portneuf River region. Businessman Ben Holladay’s “Idaho Gold Road,” which connected Corrine, Utah to Virginia City, Montana, and his “Portneuf Road,” which extended north along a route that paralleled today’s I-15, both saw lots of traffic during the stagecoach heyday. It wasn’t long, however, before the Utah Northern Railroad and later the Oregon Shortline Railroad arrived to replace stagecoaches and wagon trains. The railroads “gave the first great impetus to settlement and development in southeastern Idaho, making it possible to market produce profitably and at the same time bringing the settler into touch with the outside world.”

While Inkom’s rural history through the 1800s primarily told of travel and transportation, that changed drastically in 1902 when President Teddy Roosevelt’s proclamation opening 418,000 acres of previously protected reservation lands to settlement went into effect. Immediately after the area opened to settlement, pioneers established School District #46 at Inkom and built a one-room schoolhouse and train depot, and the Mormon church established a ward.  In October 1903, Ms. Mary Hellebrant established Inkom’s first post office, promising service to 400 people in the surrounding area, and in 1905, Inkom touted its first homestead patentee, Charles Stewart. Within a year of Mr. Stewart’s arrival, N.A. Just, D.H. Biethan, Sam Rich, and W.R. Johns opened a lime quarry at Inkom.

Yet, despite so much activity in a few short years, the townsite of Inkom didn’t develop until 1912. That year, Theodore Gathe and Henry Wiffhoft submitted a patent application to acquire 640 acres at Inkom. Since 1906, Gathe and Wiffhoft had worked together as real estate partners, and together, these men developed commercial properties in Pocatello, including the city’s Commercial Block. After acquiring the deed to their land, the men founded Inkom under the guise of the Commercial Development & Investment Company. They advertised their new townsite and enticed buyers to secure their $100 lot with a $5 down payment and ongoing weekly payments of $1.25, with no interest!

The prospects of a small, rural community on the Portneuf River generated interest from settlers from the surrounding area. Continued development of the region’s railroad lines also attracted settlers to Inkom. More settlers meant more modern amenities, including telephone lines and a motel—the Hiway Inn—which featured a supper club and entertainment center. By 1928, J. Simons and J.B. Maxfield purchased 160 acres of hillside and river bottom at Inkom containing vast amounts of limestone and silica, two elements required to produce Portland Cement. The men built a plant, and the first bags of Eagle Brand cement were available for purchase in July 1929.

Since the 1920s, the rural community has continued to exist as an autonomous rural town. Inkom residents voted to elect a mayor and set up a city government in 1946, and although the town has grown, today, its population is only 854 people. With services including postal, garbage, banking, and vehicle repair, the city is self-sustaining, much like it was in 1912 when lots cost $100. The major change that the city has had to reconcile in recent years was the 2011 closing of its cement factory, which had operated continuously since 1928. Many Inkom residents lost their jobs when the plant closed, but the town itself has proven resilient, like many other rural towns throughout the American West. Inkom residents are working to grow the city’s tourism dollars, and organizations like the Inkom Revitalization Commission (IRC) are leading that charge. Last year, the IRC successfully hosted the second annual MountainFest: Harvest and Music Festival. The proceeds from this event fund community improvements.

If this summary of Inkom’s history was enough to inspire a road trip to rural Idaho, take some photos while you are there and consider donating them to the Idaho State Archives. Although I may not have agreed with everything that Williams Jennings Bryan said in his 1896 speech, I do have to agree with the notion that rural places matter and are important threads in the fabric of American life. And I may go so far as to say that rural places matter more today than they did in 1896 and that now, more than ever, we all need to forge stronger connections with the rural towns across the Gem State.


 Bryan, William Jennings. “The ‘Cross of Gold.’ The Great Convention of the Democrats of America, Held at Chicago, July 7, 1896. Platform and Bryan’s Speech.” Kratz Publishing Company, July 7, 1896.

Dax Jacobson. “Rural Towns Project Podcast Season 2 Episode 2 – Inkom, Idaho: Lindi Jo Howell, Rural Entrepreneurship, and the Inkom Revitalization Commission – The Rural Towns Project.” Accessed May 28, 2021.

Building Entrepreneurial Communities. “Defining Rural: A Look at Two Popular Definitions: University of Illinois Extension.” Accessed May 28, 2021.

“Definition of Rural.” In Merriam-Webster. Accessed May 28, 2021.

Hawley, James H. History of Idaho: The Gem of the Mountains. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1920.

“History of Inkom | Inkom City Website.” Accessed May 28, 2021.

Kraus, Scott. “Inkom Sets Second Annual MountainFest Celebration and Fundraiser on Saturday.” Idaho State Journal. October 8, 2020.

Limerick, Patty. “Forge New Bonds Between Urban and Rural Colorado.” Colorado Politics. July 18, 2018.

“Local News.” Montpelier Examiner. April 22, 1904.

“New Quarries Opened.” The Idaho Republican. April 20, 1906.

Pruitt, Sarah. “The Contentious 1896 Election That Started the Rural-Urban Voter Divide.” HISTORY. Accessed May 28, 2021.

Saunders, Arthur C. History of Bannock County, Idaho. Pocatello, Idaho: The Tribune Company, Limited, 1915.

Stoops, Nicole, and Series CENSR. “Demographic Trends in the 20th Century.” Census 2000 Special Reports. Series CENSR-4. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, n.d.

United States Census Bureau. “Story Map Series – Rural America.” Accessed May 28, 2021.

United States Department of Agriculture. “Idaho – Rural Definitions: State-Level Maps.” Accessed May 28, 2021.

Wolkenhauer, Sam. “The Future of Rural Idaho.” Boise, Idaho: Idaho Department of Labor, July 1, 2018.

Frank Bruce Robinson was born in 1886 in a small village in England. Son of a Baptist minister, he joined the Navy at age 12 or 13 before taking jobs as a farmhand at the age of 14. In his early years, he struggled with finding a religion he believed in and he eventually attended Bible school but dropped out. After his California brokerage firm closed, he moved to Moscow, Idaho in 1928 to work in a drug store.

While in Moscow he founded a mail-order religion he called Psychiana. It would eventually have thousands of students in more than 60 countries. The religion flourished during the Great Depression, when many people sought comfort and help. Robinson died in 1948; the religion continued until closed by Robinson’s widow Pearl and son Alf. Frank Robinson claimed Psychiana was the largest mail order religion in the world, and it well might have been. What is known for sure is that it was, during the Depression, Latah County’s largest private employer and that it sent so much mail—as many as 60,000 pieces a day—that Moscow’s post office gained first class status, something unusual for a community the size of Moscow.

Psychiana was a non-Christian, self-help religion. There was nothing really new in Robinson’s theology; he was more of a follower than a leader, though his combination of self-help (similar to Dale Carnegie’s teachings in “How to Win Friends and Influence People”) with religion was unusual. But Robinson was a significant innovator in the use of the media to promote Psychiana. Robinson was a leader in the use of mail order. He continually innovated in order to speed the process of getting his lessons and other materials out to his students, as well as finding ways to answer piles of correspondence from his students. One of the best-known photographs of Psychiana shows a group of women sitting around a table with a large Lazy Susan type wheel; each would take off a page as the wheel revolved, and the pages would be assembled into completed lessons. It was early automation.

While it is doubtful any executives at Amazon realize it, they are beneficiaries of early experimentation in mass marketing via the mails instituted by pioneers like Robinson. Similarly, while today’s televangelists might not recognize the name Psychiana, they have their roots in Robinson’s pioneering use of the media—including radio—to promote Psychiana.

 Written by former State Historian Keith Petersen

Resource:  For a 26-minute documentary on Psychiana produced by Idaho Public Television, see:

Source: MG 101, Frank Bruce Robinson. Papers, 1929-1951, University of Idaho Library Special Collections and Archives,

Although Women’s History Month is officially over, I believe that women’s contributions to Idaho history are too important not to share year-round, especially the contributions of the women who served the Idaho State Historical Society (ISHS). This month’s Histor-E article features the stories of two Idahoans, the first two ISHS librarians. Together, these two players shaped the agency during its first twenty-five years as a component of state government. I bring you these stories this month because both librarians experienced a major life event in April—one was born in April 1859, and the other died in April 1921. The Latin origin of April, “aperire” means “to open.” With that sentiment in mind, we hope you “open” this month’s Histor-E lesson and “open your minds” to learning about Ella Cartee Reed and John Hailey through the lens of agency history. 

Although chronologically, it would make more sense to tell you about Mr. John Hailey first, I hope to shift the habit of making women’s history an afterthought to the narrative and instead make it a focal point. Mrs. Ella Cartee Reed’s impact on the Idaho State Historical Society was, in the opinion of this state historian, equally, if not more important than that of legendary John Hailey, especially since Reed’s involvement with the agency overlapped with Hailey’s. But before I get ahead of myself, let me give you a glimpse into the life of Mrs. Ella Cartee Reed.

Ella Cartee was born in Salem, Oregon, on April 12, 1859, to Lafayette and Mary Bell Cartee. At the age of seven, she arrived in Idaho and watched as her father, a widower since 1862, build a successful agricultural enterprise after installing Boise’s first greenhouse in 1871. Ella enjoyed the privileges associated with belonging to an upper-class, pioneer family in Boise City. She studied music and singing and later in life reminisced about growing up next door to Idaho Judge John Cummings and swinging on the garden gate that separated the two properties. In 1884, Ella married Caldwell attorney Charles H. Reed, and by the mid-1890s, she had become involved with Boise’s prominent Columbian Club. At the request of that organization, she had accepted the position of Boise City Librarian in 1894, which she held for nine years.

During the early 1900s, several prominent Idahoans, including Ella’s sister-in-law, Leona Hailey Cartee, who coincidentally was also John Hailey’s only daughter, had begun advocating for the creation of a state historical society. Ella and Leona’s involvement with the Columbian Club also meant that they had first-hand knowledge of the collections, materials, and relics of Idaho’s Pioneer Historical Society since the club had displayed those materials in the Boise Carnegie Library “Historical Room” since 1905.

By 1907, the advocacy work had paid off. On March 12, 1907, Idaho Governor Frank Gooding signed legislation creating the Idaho State Historical Society, giving it the authority to acquire the Pioneer Historical Society’s documents and artifacts, and officially making the entity a component of state government. Then, exactly two months later, on May 7, 1907, the agency held its first meeting of the Governor-appointed Board of Trustees. During that meeting, the Trustees James A. Pinney, H.L. Talkington, and Leona Hailey Cartee met. They appointed Pinney as chair of the board and Cartee as secretary. They also unanimously nominated John Hailey as the agency’s first librarian.

Although the minutes of those first meetings are short and do not mention Ella Cartee Reed’s attendance, other first-hand accounts from Leona paint a more vivid picture of Ella’s early involvement with the agency. Towards the end of 1907, Ella started working in an unofficial capacity as John Hailey’s assistant. Hailey’s efforts to organize the agency and write his History of Idaho were no small tasks, and it is likely, therefore, that Ella assisted considerably with the former. By 1910, the need for an assistant librarian was evident. The board made a request of the legislature for an appropriation for a paid assistant librarian, and in 1913, the Idaho legislature honored their request. John Hailey immediately recommended Ella Cartee Reed for the job.

During her first two years as assistant librarian, Ella earned $50 a month, exactly half of John Hailey’s salary. Yet, during her years, Ella recorded the minutes for Board of Trustees meetings and assisted Hailey in completing the infant agency’s daily duties. She also oversaw considerable work, including relocating the agency’s artifacts and materials to and from several locations before finally establishing the agency in the new Idaho State Capitol’s basement rooms.

The biennial reports spanning Ella’s first few years as assistant librarian highlighted the agency’s considerable growth. Chair of the Board, James Pinney, noted that the staff (i.e., John Hailey and Ella Cartee Reed) should be congratulated on the volume of work completed. Hailey opined in 1914 that he and his staff no longer felt embarrassed when patrons from out-of-state visited the agency’s historical rooms since the new “State Exhibit” was interesting and instructive. And to put this volume of work into context, the ISHS budget for the 1913-1914 biennium was only $5,000, roughly $130,000 in today’s currency, a far cry from the more than $8.4 million budget we manage today. But Ella’s involvement with the agency continued to grow, exceeded her early efforts to stand up a new department of state government.

Following John Hailey’s death on April 10, 1921, Ella Cartee Reed assumed the librarian position. She ultimately held this role until 1931. One of Ella’s first policy decisions was to cease accepting items for display on loan. Throughout much of John Hailey’s tenure, he encouraged pioneers and others to bring items to the historical society for display. Still, he did not attempt to secure ownership of the items for the agency’s collections. Ella, recognizing the importance of growing the agency’s artifact collection, worked diligently during her first two years as the librarian to secure the donation of items on loan or return loaned items to their original owners. By 1922, Ella proudly reported to the Board of Trustees that “practically all property stored within our rooms belongs to the Society itself instead of being merely cared for as borrowed property.”

Additionally, she purchased new exhibit cases and display supports. She implemented other “modern methods” of preservation for society’s books, photographs, and documents, including a standard accession system, card classification, and indexing and information process. She brought the agency into the 20th century. Throughout the 1920s, she continually advocated for growing the collection, established a clippings file system, and encouraged support from volunteer groups, namely the Daughters of the American Revolution. (Incidentally, if you aren’t a member yet but want to learn more about our agency’s connections with volunteer organizations – join today, and you will receive the April edition of Illuminating Idaho, a new publication that will cover that very topic!).

Most importantly, however, Ella planted the seeds to build a purpose-built museum building. Her efforts resulted in the rapid growth of agency artifacts, and with this growth, she had the foresight to recognize that the agency’s space in the Idaho State Capitol would not be adequate long-term. Additionally, her concerted efforts to expand the agency’s reach statewide materialized not only through donations but also through the implementation of the County Historian Program, which came online in 1931 during her final year as librarian.

Ella enjoyed more than a decade of retirement before she passed away on September 10, 1944, in Seattle, Washington. She is buried in Boise’s Morris Hill Cemetery near her husband, Charles Howard Reed, who predeceased her by thirty-five years. Ella Cartee Reed’s legacy with the Idaho State Historical Society is robust. Despite John Hailey’s many accomplishments, including service as a territorial delegate to the U.S. Congress, a member of the Idaho Territorial Legislature, Warden of the Idaho Penitentiary, and first librarian of ISHS, I stand firm in my decision to highlight Ella’s accomplishments in this official communication of the agency. We owe her at least that much, given her nearly twenty-five years of service to ISHS and her unwavering dedication to preserving and promoting Idaho History.

Written by State Historian HannaLore Hein

Yellow Flowers

Sara Annette Bowman

In this year of 2020, we continue to celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage and women’s history. In my research I came across a woman noteworthy not just for her suffragist work, but for two other important reasons. Sara Annette Bowman was one of the first two women hired to teach at the University of Idaho.[1] On the first day of classes on Oct. 10, 1892 Sara, Nellie G. Brown, John E. Ostrander, and Franklin G. Gault were the University’s first faculty members.[2] And finally, Bowman was an accomplished artist. Hired to teach art at the University of Idaho, some of her works remain in the University’s Special Collections and Archives.[3]

Born in Illinois in 1855, Sara was trained as both a teacher and an artist, studying under Johannes Gelert, a noted Danish sculptor. She attended both the Illinois State Normal University and the Davenport, Iowa School of Design.[4] Bowman taught in Illinois and in Washington State before she was hired as the University of Idaho’s art instructor, eventually becoming the acting professor of art and design. She was with U of I until 1901, having taught all aspects of art. She then stayed in the area teaching at other local schools.

Not only was she a gifted teacher, but Sara’s artistic talent is readily seen in her works housed in the University Archives. She was known for spending the summers sketching and painting the landscapes around Moscow. Her floral watercolors accurately capture the beauty and delicacy found in the region’s wildflowers. Not just her art remains at the University. The University acquired her large collection of books to be donated to their student library, upon her death in 1931.[5]

Sara was also a staunch supporter of women’s rights. While living in Moscow she attended the state convention as the Latah county delegate, organized by the Idaho Equal Suffrage Association, held on Nov. 20, 1895, in Boise. She was also chosen to be the Moscow representative on the Suffrage Association’s advisory board, working with the club’s officers.

Some of the other details about Bowman’s life are fuzzy, but we do know that she never married, although her nephew, Frank, lived with her for a while.[6] We also glean from newspaper articles that she had a strained relationship with the rest of her family. In 1900, when Sara’s mother died, her brother accused Sara of influencing her mother and changing the conditions of her will, leaving out the brother.[7] He brought these accusations to court, and the family drama played out in papers for all to see for years.[8]  The family found themselves in the news once more when Sara’s father died, and issues with the division of his farm arose between Sara and her siblings.[9] Sara died not long after that on July 24, 1931, in Wallace, Idaho at age 76.[10] She is remembered for her historic position as one of the first teachers hired at the University of Idaho, a talented artist, and a suffragist working for Idaho women to gain the vote.

Written by Research and Programs Coordinator at the Old Idaho Penitentiary Hayley Noble

Image Credits: University of Idaho Special Collections and Archives

[1] She is sometimes just referred to as Annette.

[2] Keith C. Peterson, This Crested Hill: An Illustrated History of the University of Idaho, (Moscow, ID: University of Idaho Press, 1987), 28.

[3] Sara Annette Bowman Portfolio. “Flowers and Fields Around Moscow.” Spec Col MG 5023. University of Idaho Special Collections.

[4] Sandy Harthorn, and Kathleen Bettis. One Hundred Years of Idaho Art 1850-1950. A Centennial Exhibition and Catalog. (Boise, ID: Boise Art Museum, 1990), 77.

[5] “Sara Bowman’s Library Arranged by University.” The Idaho Daily Statesman. February 7, 1932. NewsBank online database.

[6] “1900 Census.” United State Bureau of the Census, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls. National Archives and Records Administration. bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=7602&h=45135744&tid=&pid=&queryId=e59d32e924a3a724a37f6824c31dc753&usePUB=true&_phsrc=WGX166&_phstart=successSource.

[7] “A Suit on a Will.” Quad-City Times. April 28, 1900.

[8] “Court Rules in Estate Suit.” The Daily Times. December 22, 1916.

[9] “Sister Bids In Father’s Farm in Court Sale.” The Rock Island Argus. February 1, 1930.

[10] “Woman Pioneer Taken by Death.” The Spokesman-Review. July 25, 1931.

A Steadfast and Prolific Author – Vardis Fisher 

Idaho has produced or been home to its fair share of authors and historians. Famous names come to mind—Ernest Hemingway, who lived and died in Sun Valley or Mary Hallock Foote, whose writings and illustrations from the late 1800s painted a vivid picture of women’s experiences in the American West. Additionally, the number of historians who hail from the Gem State is nearly as large as the state is diverse. Near the top of Idaho historians’ list is Merle Wells, who served as the Idaho State Historian for more than 30 years. Former Idaho State Historian Keith Petersen rightly claimed that “no one will ever have the breadth and depth of knowledge about Idaho that Merle possessed.” Other historians of note include Leonard J. Arrington and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, the historian who coined the phrase, “well-behaved women seldom make history.” Interestingly, Vardis Fisher seldom rises to the top of either list, despite his more than 35 books that spanned both fiction and non-fiction. Keep reading to learn more about this obscure yet prolific Idaho author, and then you can ponder why history seems to have forgotten him.1

Vardis Alvero Fisher was born on March 31, 1895, in Annis, Idaho, to Joseph and Temperance Fisher. Raised Mormon, his mother homeschooled him until he entered 5th or 6th grade at Poplar Elementary School. Temperance’s unwavering passion was to see her children educated through high school and college. She saw the fruits of her labor as Vardis continued his formal education at Rigby High School, where he graduated in 1915. He later earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah in 1920, and his M.A. (1922) and Ph.D. (1925) in English Literature from the University of Chicago. After receiving his degrees, Fisher assumed a teaching position at New York University, and by 1928 he published a book of sonnets and his first novel, Toilers of the Hills. But Fisher dreaded splitting his time between teaching and writing. So, he decided to pursue writing full time and returned to Idaho in 1931, shortly after publishing his second novel, Dark Bridwell. He settled and made his home near the Hagerman Valley.

However, during the 1930s, as the country grappled with the effects of the Great Depression, and by the mid-1930s, the Dust Bowl, Fisher realized that publishing two novels did not equate to financial success, let alone financial security. During the early 1930s, Fisher and his second wife, Margaret, spent time in Montana, where Fisher took up a teaching position at the University of Montana. But this respite to financial uncertainty did not last long, and Fisher and Margaret returned to Idaho, where he produced the first novel in a four-book series, titled In Tragic Life. Between 1932 and 1935, he had completed and published the second and third book in the series. But again, far from being a financial success, this series also received incredibly disparate reviews. It was clear that critics either loved or hated Fisher’s work—a theme and trend that would continue throughout his career and even after his death.

Even though his tetralogy garnered a global response and brought Fisher’s name into popular culture, Vardis and his wife lived in poverty in 1935 with few prospects. However, at this most opportune time, Fisher received an invitation to work under a federal recovery program called the Federal Writers’ Project. Although Fisher expressed some reservations about a federal employment program that targeted out-of-work artists, including writers, he quickly accepted the offer to work as the Idaho Director for the program. This opportunity also paid $2,300 a year—much more than his previous novels had produced and more than the teaching positions. Despite facing administrative challenges, Fisher ensured, thanks to his close relationship with James H. Gipson, owner of Caxton Printers in Caldwell, Idaho, that his Idaho: A Guide In Word and Picture became the first state guidebook published in the United States. This book became the model for all other guidebooks created under the Federal Writer’s Project. Fisher remained in the director position through 1939, producing, among other works, the Idaho Encyclopedia, but he was eager to turn his attention to other projects.

Between the 1940s and his death in 1968, Fisher produced a plethora of fiction and non-fiction works. His fiction works utilized robust imagery and symbolism and included both short stories and historical novels. One novel that remains more visible than many of his others is Mountain Man. In 1972, film director Sydney Pollack and actor Robert Redford made this story famous in the film Jeremiah Johnson. While his talent was expansive, given his ability to straddle the line between fiction and non-fiction, Fisher remained true to his own set of literary standards: careful research and unwavering adherence to factual detail. Yet, even within his strict standards, he often waivered from the established guidelines and best practices of the field of history. For example, his decision to omit footnotes in his works of non-fiction resulted in criticism from his contemporaries and historians today. Ultimately, his writing style, approach to his subject matter, and difficult personality are likely reasons why his name is so obscure today.

Despite his reliance on a uniquely “Fisher” approach to research, he produced an enormous volume of non-fiction during his lifetime, including, Suicide or Murder? The Strange Death of Governor Meriweather Lewis. In this piece, Fisher laid down two theories, based on his approach to research and fact. One theory supports the premise that someone murdered Lewis; the other supports the theory that he committed suicide. Notable historians today have remarked on how this book contributed to the “murder theory” in popular history, despite the clear consensus among historians that the American hero—the Lewis of the “Lewis and Clark – Corps of Discovery” duo—committed suicide on October 10, 1809. But this is just one more example of the complexity of Fisher’s literary legacy.

On July 9, 1968, Fisher committed suicide at his Hagerman Valley home. His death came as a shock to his family and friends, as he was in the process of writing his 37th book, an autobiography, and 38th book, of which he had completed 3,000 words, titled, The Western United States: The World’s Greatest Physical Wonderland. And in his death, as was true of his life, there was a paradox. Why would a man end his life right after he launched not one, but two new projects? It is a question that Fisher scholars have asked without finding a satisfactory answer. But throughout his life, he was a man who produced works of fiction and non-fiction, who abhorred labels, both good and bad, and who could be gentle and irascible at the same time. These characteristics make it easier to see why he is neither a remembered author nor a remembered historian. But his life and his works can, today, serve as inspiration for others.

As we approach November, which, coincidentally, is “National Novel Writers Month,” we encourage you to pick up on Fisher’s voracious appetite for writing and consider joining the month-long challenge, whereby participates attempt to write a 50,000-word manuscript between November 1st and November 30th. Take Fisher’s approach to research and peruse the Idaho State Historical Society’s resources to find a piece of Idaho history ripe for retelling as historical fiction. If your creative juices flow fast and you complete the manuscript, please share it with our Idaho State Historian. You never know, you might be the next person to land on the list of Idaho writers or Idaho historians, and if you are feeling especially generous, consider thanking Vardis Fisher in your manuscript’s acknowledgments.

Written By State Historian HannaLore Hein

 Image Credit:
77-90-1, Idaho State Archives

Agar, Autumn. “Legacy of an Idaho Author.” The Times-News. December 16, 2012.
Boise State University Special Collections. The Clore Collection of Vardis Fisher Research Materials: A Guide. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University, 1989.
“Box 1, Folder 29, Reviews: Suicide or Murder? – 1962,” January 1, 1962. MSS 159, Opal and Vardis Fisher Collection. Boise State University Library Special Collections.
“Box 1, Folder 32, V.F. Miscellaneous,” n.d. MSS 159, Opal and Vardis Fisher Collection. Boise State University Library Special Collections.
“Box 1, Folder 37, About V.F. – Obituary, American Book Collector,” January 1, 1968. MSS 159, Opal and Vardis Fisher Collection. Boise State University Library Special Collections.
“Box 1, Folder 40, About V.F. Miscellaneous Clippings,” n.d. MSS 159, Opal and Vardis Fisher Collection. Boise State University Library Special Collections.
Crump, Steve. “True West – Hagerman’s Vardis Fisher Remains Forgotten Enigma.” The Times-News. January 6, 1995.
Fisher, Vardis. Vardis Fisher, Oral History 1030. Transcript, 1967. Oral History Collection. Idaho State Archives.
Sainsbury, Jan Arthur. “Vardis Fisher Is Dead At Age 73.” The Times-News. July 10, 1968.
———. “Will The Real Vardis Fisher Please Stand Up?” The Times-News. May 12, 1968.
Wells, Merle. “Vardis Fisher (March 31, 1895 – July 9, 1968) a Tribute.” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 19, no. 1 (December 1, 1969): 71–71.
Woodward, Tim. Tiger on the Road: The Life of Vardis Fisher – A Biography of a Lierary Maverick. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1989.

Celebrating 150 years of Chinese and Chinese American People in Idaho

People of Chinese descent have lived and contributed exponentially in Idaho for approximately 150 years, making names for themselves in industries and communities state-wide. While their experiences in Idaho have been far from smooth, the stories of Chinese immigrants are woven into history with rich threads. They not only took up difficult jobs, but excelled in fields such as mining, railroad construction, farming, and medicine. From Polly Bemis in Warren, to Pon Yam and Loke Kee in Idaho City, to Dr. C.K. Ah Fong and Louie Do Gee in Boise, there is a profound history of Chinese and Chinese American people in Idaho.

Some of the first Chinese people came to Idaho in the 1850s and 60s as miners and railroad workers. After the California Gold Rush, miners from all over flocked to areas like the Boise Basin, Pierce, and Idaho City. Chinese workers were restricted from claims until their white counterparts exhausted the site; nonetheless they made their fortunes from mining the remains. With construction of the transcontinental railroad wrapping up in 1869, workers settled into Idaho communities and picked up jobs in farming, cleaning, cooking, and laundry services. By the 1870s, people of Chinese origin made up almost a third of Idaho’s total population.

Most Chinese immigrants in Idaho and America were men who came over to make money for their families in China. During the 19th century, Chinese women mainly came to the U.S. unwillingly, many of whom signed binding brothel agreements they could not read. One of the most famous Idahoan women of Chinese descent was Polly Bemis. Polly’s story is fraught with myths; we do know that her struggling family sold her, and smugglers transported her to Portland. From there, she was sold to a man in Warrens (present-day Warren), Idaho, and became close friends with local saloon owner Charlie Bemis. The two married in 1894 and settled along the Salmon River, where they welcomed locals and visitors alike. Polly became known for her hospitable demeanor and called Idaho home until her death in 1933.

In the 1880s Boise boasted one of the largest Chinatowns in the Intermountain West. Chinese people settled into the community with temples (referred to as joss* houses [*pidgin for God]), laundries, gardens, restaurants, and Masonic buildings. With the limitations that came with non-citizenship, Chinese people of Idaho took up laborious work seldom recognized for its difficulty and skill. As stated by Arthur Hart, “One of the first jobs [for Chinese immigrants] …was washing and ironing clothes for whites.” Laundries in Boise dealt with constant issues of fires and wastewater disposal, but efforts to shut them down proved unsuccessful due to how heavily white households relied on their work.

From supplying individual households to local grocery stores, farms worked by Chinese immigrants prospered in the community; some Boise farms produced so much that they began to sell their crops out of state in the early 20th century. Louie Do Gee, and eventually his sons William and Tong, ran their thriving Louie Gee Garden for generations in what is now Garden City. The main thoroughfare of the city, Chinden Boulevard, combines the words “Chinese” and “garden” to pay homage to the history of the land.

Chinese restaurants served as successful ventures beginning in the 1890s until the economic downturn of the Great Depression. While not traditional Cantonese fare, the Americanized food they served grew in popularity throughout Idaho and the United States. Boise Chinese restaurants dwindled to three businesses by 1950, which was the lowest it had been since 1910. The Louies, an established Boise family since the 19th century, owned several restaurants by the 1980s, one of which, Golden Star Restaurant, continues to serve people today.

Of those who practiced traditional Chinese herbalism in Boise, Dr. C.K. Ah Fong was a well-known and beloved figurehead. All types of people frequented his business for medical assistance, and the Fong name endured in the Boise medical field for nearly a century. In 1899, Ah Fong made history as the first licensed Chinese man to practice medicine in Idaho after suing the State Board of Medical Examiners for denying him a license.

Racism and hatred played a role in the experience of Idaho, and America, for many Chinese people. In 1865, after the first Chinese miners traveled to the Boise Basin mine, the Idaho City newspaper Idaho World labelled them the “Locusts of Egypt.” The Snake River Massacre of 1887 became the worst example of violence towards Chinese people in Idaho, when an outlaw group murdered 31 Chinese people. Racist sentiments surfaced throughout the 19th and 20th centuries in the form of anti-Chinese riots, forcibly removing them from towns like Clark, Emmett, and Moscow, redirecting business to white-owned and operated companies, and the Chinese Exclusion and Geary Acts, which prevented Chinese immigration to the U.S. and American citizenship for those already living here. Boycotting Chinese owned and operated businesses as a racist measure to promote whiteness never fully succeeded due to the prominent and essential nature of work they performed. While these instances made daily life difficult for people of Chinese descent, no amount of hatred can erase their existence and contributions to Idaho.

Not all experiences were negative, however. After multiple instances of intentional harm and theft in 1890, both Boise Mayor James A. Pinney and Territorial Governor Edward A. Stevenson proclaimed that Chinese immigrants deserve the same rights and protections as anyone else. Generally considered a welcoming place for Chinese immigrants, Idaho City fully integrated their schools by the late 19th century. Some of the most successful businessmen of Idaho City, Loke Kee and Pon Yam, began as miners and grew to be beloved pillars in the community.

Idaho thrived as a new state because of the brave immigrants who left behind their homes for a brighter future. People of Chinese descent, both past and present, form an intrinsic part of Idaho history in a tapestry of stories. There are many more narratives of Chinese and Chinese American people of Idaho not conveyed in this article that are just as important as the stories told.

Historic sites like The Polly Bemis Ranch by Warren, The Pon Yam House in Idaho City, and the newly redone Chinese Rail Worker Memorial by Glenns Ferry offer stories for visitors to explore, while digital resources like the Idaho State Archives and Idaho Experience by Idaho Public Television offer further insights. I entreat you to pursue additional resources chronicling the Chinese people of Idaho so that we can honor their legacies and stories.

Written by Idaho State Museum Visitor Services Representative Micah Hetherington


Image Credits:

1983.037.0022. Delamar Chinese. Image courtesy of Idaho State Archives.

1976.054.0001. Chinese (Louie and Mary Lai, Mandarin Inn 8th Grove ca. 1924). Image courtesy of Idaho State Archives.



Carmack, Dani. “Polly Bemis House.” Intermountain Histories. Last updated May 29, 2019.   

Carmack, Dani. “Pon Yam House, Idaho City.” Intermountain Histories. Last updated May 29, 2019.   

Fisher, Andrew and Alex Ravella. “Sounds of Idaho: Andy Louie – Garden City, Idaho’s Chinese         History.” Boise State Public Radio. September 28, 2018. Video,  

Hart, Arthur A. Chinatown: Boise, Idaho, 1870-1970. Boise: Historic Idaho, Inc., 2002.

Krumm, Bill, dir. Forgotten Neighbors: Idaho’s Chinese Immigrants. 2018; Boise, ID: Idaho Public         Television.

McCunn, Ruthanne Lum. “Reclaiming Polly Bemis: China’s Daughter, Idaho’s Legendary      Pioneer.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 24, no. 1 (2003): 76-100.

Webb, Anna. “Boise State faculty, alumnus honor Chinese railway laborers who lost their lives in        Idaho.” Boise State News. June 15, 2020.            railway-laborers-who-lost-their-lives-in-idaho/.

Wegars, Priscilla Spires. “Chinese in Moscow, Idaho, 1883-1909.” The Historian 52, no. 1 (1989):       82-99.

Zhu, Liping. “‘A Chinaman’s Chance’ on the Rocky Mountain Mining Frontier.” Montana The Magazine of Western History 45, no. 4 (1995): 36-51,

Histor-E Lesson: Waves on Lake Pend Oreille

When you think about the United States Navy, one rarely thinks of Idaho. But during World War II, Idaho became home to the second largest naval training base in the country: Farragut Naval Training Station on the banks of Lake Pend Oreille.[1] Fearing Japanese coastal attacks, the military decided upon northern Idaho due to its deep lake inland location, availability of timber and building supplies, and its proximity to the railroad hub in Spokane, Washington. Aside from basic training for recruits, the base also housed a hospital, ships service and many service schools, providing more specialized training after initial “boot camp.” In operation from 1942 to 1946, Farragut saw nearly 300,000 recruits and almost 26,000 service-school sailors in 4 years, making it at one point Idaho’s largest city.

One aspect that is often overlooked is that many WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) were also stationed at Farragut. These female sailors worked as mechanics and drivers, hospital staff, performed clerical jobs, plus other day to day operations to keep the base running. The base’s location meant that there was no shortage of activities to keep the women busy during their time off. Aside from the lake, many took liberty and went to nearby Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint, or Spokane to see a movie and grab a meal, or to ski and catch a football game in fall and winter. The base even had its own football team that defeated the Idaho Vandals 14-6 in 1945.[2]

As the war progressed, WAVES were stationed all over the country. Last summer I had the pleasure of interviewing Ruth Wilkins, a WAVE born and raised in Weiser, ID. She described her feelings after the attack on Pearl Harbor. She was home that day listening to the radio and decided right then to join the service. She said “that she wanted a gun and a helmet” to fight in the war. The day she turned twenty, she enlisted in the Navy with her father’s signature. Her three brothers also joined the military, as well as almost her entire graduating class of ’41.

Her first taste of independence came when leaving for basic training at Hunter College in New York City. Ruth trained in Navy correspondence and was stationed in Salt Lake City, Utah. She loved wearing her uniform and took great pride in her years of service. Ruth continued, “You know they talk about Gold Star Moms, the ones who’ve lost a child. But the Blue Star just meant they had one [a child] in the service, and my mom had four stars in her window. That fourth star was me!…I liked being in there with the boys.” Ruth met her husband while on leave and they married in December 1945. Once the war was over, he re-enlisted in the Army, and she followed him to Rapid City, South Dakota where he was stationed. “We were just kids, you know, really,” Ruth remembered.

Many of these “kids” and women provided invaluable manpower to mobilize America’s fighting force. Nearly 350,000 women served in uniform, not just in the Navy with the WAVES, but in all branches of the military as WACs, SPARS, and Marines. Despite their valiant service, most women did not receive veteran status and benefits until the late 1970s and 80s. Women were officially integrated as permanent military servicemembers in 1948. Oral histories, like Ruth Wilkins’, let the listener gain vital insight into why they joined the military and what life was like during the war, showing that a sense of duty to their country is a feeling not just reserved for men, but one that knows no boundaries. Farragut Naval Training Station operated until June 1946. The area became Farragut State Park in 1966.

Written by Research and Programs Coordinator at the Old Idaho Penitentiary Hayley Noble


Alvarez, Gayle E. and Dennis Woolford. Farragut Naval Training Station. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2009.

“America’s Landlocked Navy: Farragut’s WWII Memories.” PBS Documentary, KSPSIdaho Public Television. Originally aired April 22, 2010.

“Farragut Sailors Defeat Idaho Vandals 14-6,” Lewiston Morning Tribune, Nov. 11, 1945.

Ruth Wilkins Oral History. Boise City Department of Arts and History Citizens of Boise Oral History Collection. Interview by Hayley Noble. August 30, 2019.

[1] The first largest training station was Naval Station Great Lakes near Chicago.

[2] “Farragut Sailors Defeat Idaho Vandals 14-6,” Lewiston Morning Tribune, Nov. 11, 1945.

Inmate Photo Old Pen

Histor-E Lesson: Letters: Gold to a Historian

As a researcher, one of the things I love stumbling across are letters. Personal correspondence contains so much that official documents sometimes lack, and letters are not restricted to upper-class, white families. People of all different classes and backgrounds wrote letters, revealing details that researchers could not access otherwise. When researching inmate files for Old Idaho Penitentiary projects, sometimes I’m lucky enough to find a file that contains letters. They are usually from the warden ascertaining the behavior of a parolee or replies to family inquiries.[1] These provide useful glimpses into the lives of the men who were released from prison, and what they did after their sentences. Records do not always afford those clues and these letters can be invaluable. We often wonder what became of someone after they served time and, occasionally, we can answer that question with the help of correspondence.

One example is that of inmate Henry Wasielewski #6153. He entered the Penitentiary in April 1940 and was pardoned on January 13, 1942, under the condition that he join the military. An Idaho Daily Statesman article references that Wasielewski’s father served in World War I.[2] For his service, Poland granted Henry land and citizenship. As a citizen, he was eligible to join the Polish forces taking refuge in Canada after their country was invaded, enlisting on January 21, 1942. After that, he disappears from our records. The only inkling we have that Henry survived the war is a letter in his file dated November 1948, from Seattle.

As a military historian, my favorite letters are those from servicemembers to their family and friends. My recent visit to the Idaho State Archives produced such letters. John M. Morrison, son of Gov. John T. Morrison, attended college in Maine, and then enlisted with the Army during World War I. Throughout his time in college and the military John wrote to his mother, Grace, and she kept all his letters, providing a glimpse into the life of an upper-class man in his early twenties in 1918.

Combing through letters I am also struck at how methods of communication have changed so much in the last thirty years. There is a sense of romanticism and intimacy that can accompany reading personal letters, and occasionally, I feel like I am invading an individual’s privacy despite the fact that they are long gone. Family members going through the attic and finding a box of letters from a relative can offer a sense of connection and rekindle family ties after those people have passed. Emails, text messages, and tweets just do not have the same effect.

Of course, none of this information is anything new. Digital archivists have been struggling to preserve emails, tweets, and webpages for years now, deciding what needs to be kept, and what does not.[4] And perhaps I am just nostalgic for a time when snail mail was the norm and not the outlier. Interestingly, many news outlets have reported that during the coronavirus pandemic, more people have been writing letters craving human connection that has since been lost with shutdowns and quarantine orders.[5] “Zoom fatigue” is real and has plagued those working remotely or navigating online classes.[6] To combat this, many are turning to pen and paper to write friends and family, in a personal and more authentic mode of communication. Perhaps naively, my hope is that even when coronavirus restrictions are long gone, people will continue “the lost art of letter writing,” providing archivists and historians with the same glee that I feel when coming across personal correspondence in my research.

Written by Research and Programs Coordinator at the Old Idaho Penitentiary Hayley Noble


[1] Idaho State Archives AR 42 Idaho State Penitentiary Inmate Files.

[2] “Idaho Prisoner to Fight Nazis In Polish Army,” Idaho Daily Statesman, January 14, 1942.

[3] Idaho State Archives MS 318 John Morrison Collection.

[4] Digital Preservation Coalition,

[5]“Idaho Life: Boise Woman Combats Social Distancing Void with Hand-Written Letters,” NBC-7 KTVB, March 25, 2020.

Rosie Blunt, “Letter-Writing: Connection in Disconnected Times,” BBC News, May 20, 2020.

Lynell George, “Op-Ed: Forget Zoom. In Letters, We can Find A Better Way to Connect,” Los Angeles Times, May 23, 2020.

[6] Manyu Jiang, “The Reason Zoom Calls Drain Your Energy,” BBC Worklife, April 22, 2020.

Histor-E Lesson: Mildred Bailey, the Rockin’ Chair Lady

Musicians that call Idaho home vary widely in genre; from Carole King to Gene Harris to Built to Spill, our state boasts a wide history of musical talent that continues to grow. Among them is Mildred Rinker Bailey, a jazz singer and Coeur d’Alene Tribe member who made a name for herself as “Mrs. Swing” and the “Rockin’ Chair Lady” in the 1930s and 40s. Considered one of the first successful non-black female singers in jazz, Bailey’s legacy carries on in the performance and content of jazz music.

In her time, Bailey was considered “white.” Her mother, Josephine Lee Rinker, was of Coeur d’Alene ancestry, and both Bailey and her mother were enrolled members of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. This was not a hidden fact during her lifetime, but a part of her identity that she was tremendously proud of.

Mildred Rinker was born in Tekoa, Washington in 1901 (many sources claim 1907, however that was her brother’s birth year). The first decade of her life was spent on a family farm in De Smet, Idaho, a part of the Coeur d’Alene Reservation. Growing up in a musically inclined family helped set Bailey on her path to the jazz industry. Her mother Josephine taught her and her brother Alton (Al) how to sing and play the piano, and her father Charles played the fiddle at local dances. Musical aptitude ran in her family; her great grandfather Bazil (Basil) Peone was the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s song leader and head speaker in the early 20th century. Bailey accompanied her mother to Coeur d’Alene Tribe gatherings, where they would sing hymns that combined the tribe’s music with Christian hymnal structure, like the song Xalips Č’awm (“The Daylight’s Prayer”). The style of music that surrounded Bailey helped her develop an individual rhythm, tone, and lilt.

Sheet music was hard to come by during her childhood. Bailey’s mother traveled to The Auditorium in Spokane, Washington to attend musicals and performances, where she memorized music to teach to her children. Bailey mirrored this practice and began to experiment with the sound and rhythm of the songs she knew, a style that was later known as swing.

In 1912, the family moved to Spokane, where Bailey received formal piano education at Joseph’s Academy. Bailey and her mother maintained regular trips to the Coeur d’Alene Reservation for special events during this time. At age 14, her mother died of tuberculosis, and her father remarried a woman who was far from amicable with Bailey. Not long after, Bailey moved to Seattle to live with her Aunt Ida and Uncle George. More misfortune soon followed Bailey when her aunt died in a car wreck, leaving her to move into an apartment and accept a musical equipment demonstrator job at Sonny’s Music Shop. A proprietor of the Silver Grill Speakeasy discovered her musical talents there, and she soon became a well-established singer at the local bars. It was at the Silver Grill that she met her future husband, Ted Bailey. Unfortunately, their marital bliss didn’t last. After consistent pressure from him to quit her career and start a family, she left him and moved to Los Angeles, keeping the last name Bailey.

By the early 1920s, Bailey began performing in cabarets across Hollywood. Her brother Alton and his band the Rhythm Boys, which included a young Bing Crosby, came to Los Angeles in 1925 for Bailey’s assistance.  Bing Crosby later credited Bailey for starting his music career thanks to the gigs she found for the band. 1929 marked a drastic shift to Bailey’s career; she published her first record “What Kind o’ Man Is You,” and Paul Whiteman of the Whiteman band (the most famous American big band at the time) offered her a singing role. Bailey made history as the first female singer of a big band and sang with them for three years. By the 1930s, Bailey made history again as the first female singer with her own radio show. After breaking with the Whiteman band, she and fellow band member Red Norvo started their own band. The two married in 1932, and soon after earned the nicknames “Mr. and Mrs. Swing.” It was at this time in the 1930s that Bailey’s popularity as a singer peaked.

Based on her recordings alone, Bailey was at times presumed black. Her voice took on intonations and phrasings that black female singers like Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith (a close friend of Bailey’s) were known for. However, this phenomenon characterized the time period in jazz history when black and white singers’ music styles overlapped. Like other singers at the time, Bailey also sang pieces that would be considered racist towards black people today. While an uncomfortable truth, this marked a part of entertainment history wherein black people were stereotyped and mythologized in varying art forms.

In the 1940s, Bailey moved to a rural farm in Stormville, New York, where she had easy access to the epicenter of jazz music, New York City. Her record producer John Hammond introduced her to the owner of Café Society, Barney Josephson. She sung at the Café for years and was known for bringing in her beloved pet dachshunds. Bailey died before the LP era, making it harder to widely distribute her music in comparison to her contemporaries.

Bailey’s health began to starkly deteriorate in the 40s; she was diagnosed with advanced diabetes and suffered multiple heart attacks. As her hospital bills grew and financial resources from her career dwindled, Bailey feared eviction. Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra financially pitched in to ensure this did not happen, and Crosby went so far as to pay for her to go to a hospital on the West coast for treatment.

Mildred Bailey died on December 13, 1951 after struggling for years with complications due to obesity and other ailments. She was posthumously recognized for her work multiple times; in 1989 she was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame, in 1994 a 29 cent U.S. stamp was dedicated to her, and in 2012 the Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Idaho successfully introduced House Concurrent Resolution 49 to retain the history of her enrollment in the tribe. Her music inspired contemporaries and future artists alike, musicians including but not limited to Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tony Bennett.

The work Bailey put into her music career lives on through the countless people she impacted historically and currently. She persevered through familial loss and health-related issues to be known as one of the most influential female jazz singers of her time.


Written by Idaho State Museum Visitor Services Representative Micah Hetherington

With special thanks to Mildred Bailey’s niece, Julia Rinker Miller, for her insights into the life of her aunt.


Image credits:

Gottlieb, William P. Portrait of Mildred Bailey, Carnegie Hall(?), New York, N.Y., ca. Apr. 1947. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress.

Mildred Bailey on CBS, circa 1930. Whitman County Heritage, Tekoa Museum, Tekoa, Washington.


Dahl, Linda. Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazzwomen. New York: Hal Leonard Corporation, 1989.

Davis, Francis. “A Female Singer In Holiday’s Class And in Her Shadow.” The New York Times (2001): Accessed April 23, 2020.

Hamill, Chad. “American Indian Jazz: Mildred Bailey and the Origins of America’s Most Musical Art Form.” Indigenous Pop: Native American Music from Jazz to Hip Hop (2016):

Idaho House of Representatives Concurrent Resolution 49, 61st Legislature (2012).

Josephson, Barney and Terry Trilling-Josephson. “We are on the same beam together, Barney and Mildred.” Café Society: The wrong place for the Right people. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2009.

Credit: Idaho State Archives, AR42 Box 1025.

Histor-E Lesson: Prominent Roots & Penitentiary Ties: Families are Complex; Embrace it.

One of Idaho’s great historical offerings serves more than just prison and criminal justice history. Many aspects of history converge at the Old Idaho Penitentiary. Established while Idaho was still a territory, the prison reveals much about Idaho’s past. Society’s reaction to crime reveals not only its moral code, but it’s memory of the past.

Researching one of the women incarcerated at the Idaho State Penitentiary, Alice Wilson, led me down the rabbit hole to Idaho’s territorial and suffrage days. Alice, incarcerated on Dec. 13, 1923 for forgery, was the daughter of Corilla J. Robbins, and stepdaughter of Orlando “Rube” Robbins, two of Boise’s early influencers.

Corilla, born in 1846 Missouri, moved with her husband, Tolman Brassfield, a Civil War veteran, from Kansas to Boise, in 1876. Brassfield died not long after in 1880 due to kidney disease, leaving Corilla to support her four children as a seamstress. Alice, the youngest, born in 1876, would not have known her father.

Instead her father-figure would have been Orlando, who previously made a name for himself after coming to Idaho in 1861. His reputation grew as he worked in law enforcement and government as a Deputy U.S. Marshal, scout during the American Indian Wars, Ada and Boise County Sheriff, and a territorial legislator from 1874-1875. By the time he met Corilla, and their subsequent marriage, he was serving on the Idaho legislative council. At the time of their marriage in 1882 Alice was six years old. After the wedding Orlando continued in his role of Deputy U.S. Marshal while also teaching Corilla how to break horses on his ranch. In December of 1892 he became warden of the Idaho State Penitentiary for one month. After that in 1895, he was appointed as the Boise Chief of Police. He continued in law enforcement, working as a traveling guard and foreman for the penitentiary from 1905 until his death in 1908 of an unknown illness.

No doubt influenced by her stepfather’s law enforcement career and her mother’s active social life, Alice’s life centered around the law and high society. In the 1890s, Corilla served as the Ada County President of the Equal Suffrage Association, calling upon Idahoans and lawmakers to pass the suffrage amendment, which they did in 1896. Additionally, she worked with the local Rebekah Lodge, a chapter of the International Association of Rebekah Assemblies, a service-driven organization. She also served as Boise’s President of the Florence Crittenden Home, lodging for unwed pregnant women and reformed prostitutes. According to the 1910 and 1920 censuses Corilla listed her occupation as a midwife and an obstetric physician, perhaps aiding in the care of pregnant women at the Crittenden Home. Additionally, Corilla always tried to be the first when anything new came to town. She was the first in Boise to make a long-distance telephone call, ride in an airplane, discard hoopskirts, and one of the first to ride in a real automobile in 1903. Corilla died on Dec. 11, 1926 of natural causes. It is interesting to note that none of her obituaries mention a run-in with the law in October of 1915. Her home at 219 Warm Springs Ave was raided by police and she was charged with Running a Bawdy House. She pled guilty to the charges and paid her fine. She defended herself in a letter printed in the Idaho Daily Statesman, claiming that the ordeal was all just a misunderstanding and that she was innocent. The arrest is never mentioned after that. She is buried next to Orlando in Boise’s Pioneer Cemetery. Interestingly, she did not receive a headstone until 2019.

Growing up among such accomplished parents must have set the bar quite high for Alice. She became a nurse, working at a maternity home (perhaps the Crittenden Home), and married three times before 1920. Her Forgery charge was not her first encounter with police. Arrested for performing an abortion, her trial dragged on for three years, until the charges were eventually dropped. A costly trial and maintaining her lifestyle forced her forger’s hand. She spent just over a year in the penitentiary before her parole on March 4, 1925. After her sentence, Alice began going by her middle name, Lucy, and lived with her mother until her fourth marriage in Emmett to John B. Hill in 1926. She continued to live in Boise until her death in November 1952. Her headstone lists her name as Lucy Alice Tolman Hill, located in Meridian Cemetery.

All this to say that history teaches us that people are complicated with complex pasts. Corilla’s guilty plea does not diminish her charitable work and efforts to pass the suffrage amendment. Nor does Orlando’s time as a scout actively assisting the U.S. Army persecute Native Americans and confine them to reservations erase his distinguished law enforcement career. And Alice’s decisions which lead to serving time in prison do not mean that her years spent as a nurse were wasted. People are multifaceted and filled with complexities that are often left out of the romanticized interpretations that make their stories easier to tell. So, dig into your own family histories, embracing the good with the bad, understanding that people are ultimately flawed, but that does not lessen their legacies.

Written by Old Idaho Penitentiary Research and Programs Coordinator Hayley Noble

Sources used were from records available on (census, death, marriage records) and The Idaho Statesman database provided by the Boise Public Library.

Histor-E Lesson: Dr. Minnie F. Howard

Medical professionals serve an intrinsic need in the community. Now more than ever we are reminded how much the medical community does for society as a whole. A pioneer for women in Idaho’s field of medicine is Dr. Minnie F. Howard. Not only did Dr. Howard contribute to the medical world, but to the community of Pocatello as an active proponent for education, art, history, and preservation.

Born on August 23, 1872 in Memphis, Missouri, Minnie Frances Hayden spent most of her formative years in the Midwest. After her family moved to Kansas in 1886, she pursued secondary education at Central Normal College while intermittently educating rural communities from 1889 to 1898. Minnie Hayden met her future husband William Forrest Howard around 1890, and they married in 1894. From 1897 to 1899, both Minnie and William Howard were enrolled in medical school; she attended the Women’s Medical College at University of Kansas, historically known as one of the first state universities to admit and teach women on equal footing with men. After graduating from their respective colleges, the Howards opened a small medical practice in Cuba, Kansas until 1902, when they set their eyes westward to Pocatello, a flourishing railroad town.

When they first arrived in Pocatello, there was no established hospital. The Howards opened a home practice at 154 South Main St. and joined a local board to build the Pocatello General Hospital. Opened in 1907, the hospital filled a community need until the mid-20th century when the Bannock Memorial Hospital opened. As a practicing physician, Dr. Minnie (as she was known by the community) balanced work and home life until the birth of her third son in 1908, when she retired from the medical field. This retirement did not end, but rather invigorated, her profound endeavors in the Pocatello community.

She served as the first co-chair of the American Red Cross of Bannock and Caribou counties, organized and funded a touring art exhibit program that travelled to 26 towns, and was a lifetime member of the Oregon Trail Memorial Association’s Idaho chapter to name a small handful of her pursuits. Dr. Howard founded the Civic Club of Pocatello in 1904, and by 1908 obtained a grant from Andrew Carnegie to build Pocatello Carnegie Library. As a close friend to the daughter of Chief Pocatello of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, Dr. Howard quickly noticed health concerns at the Fort Hall Reservation. She regularly provided healthcare to the Shoshone-Bannock tribe members and aided the Distribution Day by helping pass out food and supplies. Dr. Howard also created an “Indian Day” at the Congregational Church in Pocatello. On the last Sunday of May, hundreds of tribal members, singers, and dancers would gather together to attend religious services. As a strong proponent of temperance, Dr. Howard worried for the amplified ratio of those effected by alcohol at the Fort Hall Reservation. As Chairman of Indian Welfare of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, Dr. Howard took efforts to implement laws against alcohol on the reservation.

Dr. Howard was a strong supporter for the preservation of history. She established the Southern Idaho Historical Society in 1922 and served as the president for many years. She was also appointed by The Idaho State Historical Society as the Bannock County Historian from 1933 to 1956.

In particular, Dr. Howard was fascinated by Old Fort Hall, a white settlement outpost created in 1834. In 1916, with the help of local pioneer Ezra Meeker and Shoshone-Bannock tribe member Joe Rainey, Dr. Howard established the area where Old Fort Hall once stood. The Women’s Study League installed a seven-foot monument to designate the area in 1921 accompanied by a commemoration ceremony led by Meeker. The site’s location was contested until 1993, when an archeological dig found Dr. Howard’s conclusion to be valid. Dr. Howard spent the rest of her life researching and writing about the Old Fort Hall, predominately through oral histories.

Some of her preservation techniques would be frowned upon today. While exploring the outer city limits of Pocatello, Dr. Howard came across preserved petroglyphs. After unsuccessfully advocating for a preservation park to be established by the city council, Dr. Howard took the petroglyph rocks and installed them on her home fireplace as a conservation measure.

Dr. Howard died in 1964 at the age of 92, and her legacy lives on in the infrastructure she helped build in Pocatello today. All four of her sons became involved in the medical field and carried on the legacy that their mother and father set. In 1983, the Pocatello mountain Howard Mountain was named for her and her husband. Many of her personal writings and images can be found in archives throughout the state, including the Idaho State Historical Society’s State Archives off of Warm Springs Road in Boise. Dr. Howard was a strong pioneering spirit who set a brilliant example for all Idahoans to aspire to.


Written by Idaho State Museum Visitor Services Representative Micah Hetherington


Anderson, Janice K. “About Minnie Howard.” Pocatello Writers Group. March 7 2020.

Bragg, Lynn, Idaho’s Remarkable Women: Daughters, Wives, Sisters, and Mothers Who Shaped History. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.

“Dr. Minnie Frances Hayden Howard.” Changing the Face of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015.

Histor-E Lesson: African American History Month and Miss Idaho, Dorothy L. Johnson

This year, in recognition of African American History Month and the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, explore the history of one of Idaho’s remarkable women of color: Miss Dorthy L. Johnson. Originally from Pocatello, Dorthy became the first African American “Miss Idaho” and went on to compete in the 1964 Miss USA Pageant in Miami, Florida. She also touched the lives of hundreds of children over her forty-year career as a teacher.

In 1915, historian and author Dr. Carter G. Woodson first founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Overtime, this association morphed into today’s Association for the Study of African American Life and History. But Woodson’s early efforts focused on re-expressing the stories of Black people in America to position their experiences, contributions, and achievements within a broader context of history. By the 1920s, Woodson’s original vision emerged as a national initiative called Negro History and Literature Week. In 1926, Woodson renamed this largely grassroots initiative Negro History Week. The programs and celebrations planned as part of this initiative took place in February to honor the lives of President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglas.[1]

Since 1926, numerous presidents and the U.S. Congress have taken action to encourage the commemoration and study of African American history. President Ford first issued a message on the observance of Black History Week in 1975, and the very next year, with the support and encouragement of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, President Ford expanded his recognition to Black History Month. Later, Presidents Carter and Reagan issued similar messages recognizing February as Black History Month. However, it was 1986, that Congress passed Public Law 99-244 which officially designated February as “National Black (Afro-American) History Month.[2]

Between 1920 and today, the stories of African Americans and African American women have become a larger part of the historic narrative. The Idaho State Historical Society is pleased to present the story of one such Idaho women.

Dorthy Loretta Johnson was born on May 9, 1945, in Pocatello, Idaho to Pompie and Nellie Johnson. She was the youngest of seven children, but experienced a positive upbringing in Pocatello, where she was active in Pocatello’s oldest black church, Bethel Baptist, and where she and her family garnered respect from the community. After high school Dorothy enrolled at Idaho State University where she studied Education,[3] and she also worked at Mountain States Telephone Company.[4] In 1964 she won the title of Miss Idaho and with it the chance to compete in the Miss U.S.A. competition that year in Miami Beach, Florida. At the time, Dorthy was the first African American woman to represent Idaho at the Miss U.S.A. event, and she went on to become one of the pageant’s first African American semi-finalists, having made it to the top 15 contestants in that year’s competition.

Despite her family’s role in church life and civic affairs in Pocatello, the community did not rally around Dorthy in the same way it had for previous contestants. In fact, Dorthy did not receive any prizes or donations of clothing or airfare after winning the Miss Idaho title as was usually customary. Her family had initially thought it best to shield Dorthy from any discrimination she might experience if she were to compete for the Miss U.S.A. title in Miami. However, her family, ultimately decided that that they could not hold Dorthy back from such an opportunity or from the negative consequences that were sure to follow on account of her race. Her father supplied Dorthy with four perfectly fitting outfits to wear during the Miami Beach competition.

Throughout the competition, Dorthy and her mother faced constant questions about their nationality, as the all-white news crews believed Dorthy to be one of the international contestants competing in the Miss Universe portion of the 12-day pageant. They were shocked to learn that she was in fact an American and spoke English fluently. Coverage of the pageant in the October 1964 issue of Ebony Magazine claimed that feminine beauty was “universal” and that it was “neither the monopoly of any race nor the exclusive property of any nation.” Although Dorthy was only one of two black contestants, her beauty left a mark on the judges.[5]

With this pageant behind her, Dorthy went on to serve in a summer internship with the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and after completing her studies in Education she and her high school sweetheart married and moved to Los Angeles, California, where she taught for over 40 years at several elementary school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Additionally, in 1992, she received the Los Angeles Reading Association’s Teacher of the Year Award and was listed in Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. She was also nominated for the Disney Teacher of the Year Award in 2001. Dorthy retired from teaching in 2009 and enjoyed artistic endeavors until her passing in 2017.

Written by Idaho State Historical Society State Historian HannaLore Hein

[1] Jarvis R. Givens, “The Political Origins of Black History Month,” Black Perspectives (blog), February 18, 2019,

[2] “African American History Month | Law Library of Congress,” Overview, January 30, 2020,

[3] “Obituary for Dorthy (Johnson) LeVels,” 2017,

[4] “Pocatello Coed To Compete for Mis Universe in Florida,” Idaho State Journal, June 21, 1964.

[5] “Obituary for Dorthy (Johnson) LeVels.”

Photo Credit: (Left) Idaho State Archives, 62-20-15412-Maude Cosho, (Right) Courtesy of Marilyn Cosho

January Histor-E Lesson: Maude Cosho

Since gaining the right to vote in 1896, Idaho women have been involved in politics at local, state, and national levels. A new temporary exhibit at the Idaho State Archives showcases just a few of those women who have taken on the unique challenges that come with running for, and serving, in elected office as a female. Original campaign materials, historic photos, and original documents help to highlight some of Idaho’s women in government, from U.S. Legislators to County Treasurers.

Of the women featured in the exhibit, Maude Cosho stands out as a true pioneer in paving the way for women in legislature in Idaho. At a time where women were slowly transitioning into higher positions of power within state and local government, Maude’s perseverance was truly inspiring to those who followed. After her husband Harry’s accidental death in 1932, she raised three children, ran the Bristol Hotel, and served in the Idaho State Legislature (1933-34 and 1937-38). In 1931, Maude introduced the bill to give women the right to serve on juries. The four female House members (two republicans and two democrats) joined together in their support, but the printing of the bill was blocked, ending its possibility for passage. Maude again introduced the bill in 1933 stating, “This bill is an extension of the suffrage rights of women.” It passed the House but not the Senate. In 1937, she reintroduced it and again it failed. By the time the bill did pass, Maude was no longer in the legislature, but she did, along with a delegation of women, proudly stand behind Gov. Bottolfsen as he signed the bill into law in 1943.

Maude had quite a sense of humor too.  Also, in 1931, those same four women in the House introduced the bill to make “Here We Have Idaho” the state song. When asked to stand at the Speaker’s desk and sing it, Maude retorted, “No, we want to pass the bill, not to kill it!”

During World War II, Maude joined the Women’s Army Corps at the age of 48, making her one of its oldest recruits. At age 54, she earned a master’s degree from the University of Idaho in American History. At age 57, when most people are looking forward to retirement, she began a 14-year career teaching Tohono O’odhan Indian children in Ajo, Arizona. During the last two years of her life she wrote the book, “An Idaho Hodgepodge.” In her 1973 memoir she wrote, “I have done almost everything in life that I have wanted to; I am sure I could have done more if I would have tried harder.”

Learn more about Maude Cosho and other Idaho women in legislature at the Idaho State Archives. This exhibit, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, is currently on display until March 31, 2020. It is free and open to the public during normal Research Center hours.

Pictured: Marilyn Cosho, Granddaughter of Maude Cosho at the “Idaho Women in Government” exhibit at the Idaho State Archives, courtesy of Marilyn Cosho

Written By Mark Breske and Marilyn Cosho

Photo Credit: P2008-6-003(roundhouse), Idaho State Archives

December Histor-E Lesson: New Heights in Sun Valley

In May of 1936, during the economic hardship of the depression era, Averell Harriman, son of Union Pacific tycoon, Edward Henry Harriman, enlisted the help of Austrian adventurist, Count Felix Schaffgotsch, Los Angeles based architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood and Company, and eager workers from near and far to begin construction on the Sun Valley lodge. By June, construction was moving swiftly. The buzz around the new ski town taking shape was making the Sun Valley Lodge a popular destination even before its completion. The last major task at hand before opening was to find a way to get skiers up and down the slopes. Union Pacific engineers looked at several “mechanical devices” like the J-Bar and an up-ski toboggan, which was already being used in Yosemite, California, but both were limited by the amount of people that could be taken up at once. It took an adaptive idea from Jim Curran to spark the perfect lift for the new mountain resort. Curran invented the chairlift by creating a variation of a conveyor system he had envisioned as a way to streamline the process of loading bananas onto fruit boats in South America. With the help of pioneer skier, Charley Proctor, Curran’s innovation began to take shape.

Three hills within walking distance of the lodge were first to be commissioned for skiing in Sun Valley: Ruud, Proctor, and Dollar mountains. “Monocable” lifts were built on the sides of each mountain and thus began another subsequent influx in interest, the likes of which had not been seen in the area since the mining boom in the early days of Ketchum. On December 21, 1936, Sun Valley opened. Four years later, the ambition of Felix Schaffgotsch would transform nearby Bald Mountain into a skier’s paradise with a three-tiered lift system, making Sun Valley home to the finest lifts anywhere in the country at the time.  Averell Harriman noted “Sun Valley achieved its objective of encouraging the development of ski resorts in many parts of the west, and Idaho has the pioneer resort it is justly proud of. My hopes have come true.”


Written By Mark Breske

Source: Sun Valley, A Biography by Doug Oppenheimer & Jim Poore, 1976

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