Native people have lived in Idaho for more than 14,000 years. The earliest evidence of their existence is in the bows, arrows and pottery they crafted about 1,500 years ago.
The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 included the Idaho territory. That momentous event was soon followed by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which traversed Central Idaho in an unfulfilled quest for a navigable route to the Pacific Ocean. Lewis and Clark entered what is now Idaho at Lemhi Pass near Salmon only to encounter seemingly endless, forbidding peaks ahead. Traders and trappers would soon follow. Kullyspell House, the first non-native establishment in the Northwest, was built in 1809 near Lake Pend Oreille, followed by Fort Henry near St. Anthony in eastern Idaho.
In 1830 Captain Bonneville escorted the first wagon train across southern Idaho and in 1834 Fort Hall and Fort Boise were established. By 1843 the Oregon Trail migration had begun but most emigrants bypassed Idaho for milder climates in Oregon. That trend would soon change as French Canadians discovered gold on the Pend Oreille River in 1852.
In 1836 Henry Spalding established a mission near Lapwai and opened Idaho's first school, created the first irrigation system, printed the first book in the Northwest and grew the first Idaho potato.
In 1860, Idaho's first town Franklin, was established near the Utah border, and as gold and silver were discovered, mining towns sprung up between 1860 and 1863 at Pierce, Idaho City, and Silver City.
Miners, ranchers, and farmers found a state rich with natural resources. They mined, homesteaded, plowed, and fenced, eventually staying to make Idaho a United States Territory in 1863. Lewiston served briefly as its capital. By 1864 the capital was moved to Boise. By 1870 Idaho's population was all of 17,000; a decade later it would be 32,000.
In 1877 the Nez Perce Indian War occurred as pioneers and natives clashed, and Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe led his people on a historic flight across Idaho and Montana before uttering his famous words, "From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever."
In 1884, silver was discovered in the Coeur d'Alene area which would prove to be the nation's richest deposit. In 1889 a constitutional convention was held and Idaho became the nation's 43rd state by 1890 and the state's population had swelled to more than 88,000. In 1889 the territorial legislature established the University of Idaho at Moscow and the College of Idaho held classes for the first time in Caldwell in 1891.
On July 3, 1890, Idaho became the 43rd state in the Union with Governor George Shoup serving as the state's first governor.
Butch Cassidy and his Hole in the Wall gang made headlines by robbing a bank in Montpelier in 1896. In 1900, Idaho's population approached 162,000. After the turn of the century, commerce exploded as the Milner Dam brought valuable irrigation water south of the Snake River near Twin Falls and the largest sawmill in the country opened at Potlatch.
By 1910 Idaho had grown to over 325,000 people. That year was a disaster for northern Idaho as forest fires consumed one-sixth of the region's forests. Historic Wallace, now on the National Register of Historic Places, was burned down and rebuilt in the ensuing years. Idahoans elected Moses Alexander the first Jewish governor in the United States in 1914 and the Capitol Building was completed in 1920. Also in 1920, a young man from Rigby began to dream of concepts for the first television picture tube. Philo Farnsworth was only 15 years old at the time and would go on to be named the "Father of Television". The first television station in Boise would not open until 1953.
Craters of the Moon National Monument was established to preserve a vast lava flow near Arco in 1924 and Averell Harriman's Sun Valley Resort opened near Ketchum in 1936. Sun Valley was also the site of the world's first chair lift. Grocer Joe Albertson opened his first supermarket in Boise in 1939 and entrepreneur J. R. Simplot dehydrated the first potato in Caldwell in 1941, pioneering the way for the frozen french fry to become quintessentially American cuisine.
Idaho's population grew from almost 525,000 in 1940 to over 588,000 by 1950 and over 667,000 by 1960. A National Reactor Testing Station was established in the desert west of Idaho Falls in 1949 and by 1951 it was the first place to use nuclear fission to generate electricity. Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1 would later be designated a national landmark and still stands today between Arco and Idaho Falls.
Writer Ernest Hemingway died in his home in Ketchum in 1961. Idaho's population swelled to over 713,000 by 1970. More disasters would occur during the 1970's as a fire in the Sunshine Mine in Kellogg killed 91 miners in 1972, and the new Teton Dam collapsed in Eastern Idaho in 1976, killing 11 and forcing thousands to flee. In 1980, the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State left Northern Idaho covered in ash. An earthquake near Challis measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale killed two children and caused millions of dollars of damage in 1983.
Idaho's Historical Sites:
The Lewis and Clark Trail
Explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark trekked through northern Idaho accompanied by Indian interpreter Sacajawea to the mouth of the Columbia River drainage. Today U.S. Highway 12 follows the old Lewis and Clark Trail along the Lochsa (pronounced lock-saw) and Clearwater rivers until they merge with the Snake and continue their journey to the Pacific Ocean. Web: www.lewisandclarkidaho.org.
Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural and Educational Center
Located in Salmon by the rivers and mountains of Sacajawea's homeland, this 71-acre park is dedicated to the commemoration and memory of Sacajawea, her people the Agaidika (now known as Lemhi-Shoshone) and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The center is a unique outdoor experience for Lewis and Clark travelers to learn about culture and history in an area that retains much of the character from 200 years ago. Web: www.sacajaweacenter.org
Farragut State Park
Farragut State Park was once the second-largest U.S. naval training center during World War II. Approximately 293,000 sailors were processed in 15 months and roughly 850 German POW's were housed and employed as gardeners and maintenance men. The park museum contains natural history exhibits, Navy photographs, and rosters where former recruits can find their names. www.parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/farragut.aspx
The Coeur d'Alene Indians constructed the mission in 1850-1853 under the direction of Father Ravalli, a Jesuit missionary. The mission walls stand a foot thick and the structure was built totally without nails using woven straw, adobe mud, and pegs to secure the walls and ceiling. Living history demonstrations and the visitor center are "must-sees." The "Coming of the Black Robes" pageant is held in August. Web: www.parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/oldmission.aspx
Wallace, Murray and Prichard
Until recently, mining was the lifeblood of Wallace. Established in 1892, the entire town served as the supply center for one of the largest silver producing areas in the world in the late 1800s. Today the entire town is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Northern Pacific Depot, an architectural gem, and the Coeur d'Alene District Mining Museum serve as interpretive centers for regional history. The Oasis Bordello Museum provides a more "colorful perspective" of the town's past and the Sierra Silver Mine gives a good feel for the life of an underground miner.
Located near Wallace in the Idaho Panhandle, Murray and Prichard are full of history of the early mines that put Idaho on the map. A loop tour of the area is the best way to view the towns. Be prepared to feel the "Wild West" come to life. Web: www.www.wallaceidahochamber.com/
The Nez Perce National Historical Park and Trail
A Nez Perce mission location, developed two years after missionaries Henry and Eliza Spalding settled on Lapwai Creek in 1836, this site serves as National Park Service headquarters and contains a major interpretive center to explain Nez Perce history. The park consists of 38 sites scattered across four states and is the only national park that celebrates a people instead of a place.
Pursued by the Army, the "nontreaty" Nez Perce left Idaho intending to initially seek safety with their Crow allies on the plains to the east. When this failed, flight to Canada became their only hope. Their long, desperate and circuitous route through Idaho into Oregon and Montana, as they traveled and fought to escape pursuing white forces, is now the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.
Although the route was used in its entirety only once, component trails and roads that made up the route bore generations of use prior to or after the 1877 flight of the nontreaty Nez Perce. At the Whitebird Battleground a small group of Nez Perce Indians repelled a larger United States Army force that came down to drive them away in 1877. This battleground is of exceptional public interest because of its unusual geography and history. Web: www.nps.gov/nepe
The Paris Tabernacle
A religious and architectural monument from 1889, the Paris Tabernacle has been a community center for Bear Lake Valley for more than a century. Bear Lake County's original courthouse is adjacent. Web: www.bearlake.org/museums.html
This typical late nineteenth century rural Mormon community is preserved to represent an important feature of Idaho history. Web: www.chesterfieldfoundation.org/
Bear River Massacre Historic Landmark
This National Historic Landmark, located in the Cache Valley along U.S. 91, a National Monument. Very few Indians survived an attack when the California Volunteers trapped and wiped out the Cache Valley Shoshoni in 1863. With a loss of about 400, they met the greatest Indian disaster in the entire West. Web: www.bearlake.org
Fort Hall Site
Fort Hall was originally a fur traders post and later, a refuge for Oregon Trail emigrants. Located on the Fort Hall Reservation, the original site is fenced and permission to visit must be obtained from the Shoshone Bannock Tribe. The Fort Hall Museum, also located on the Fort Hall Reservation, has a marvelous collection of Indian artifacts, books and photos. Eight miles south in Pocatello's Ross Park, the Fort Hall Replica gives travelers an idea of what the fort was like in its early days. Web: www.forthall.net/
Massacre Rocks State Park
Located west of American Falls, thousands of emigrants passed safely through this break in the rocks before 10 were killed in an 1862 skirmish. Wagon ruts are visible for miles. Park displays and interpretive trails tell the history of the area. Web
City of Rocks
A California Trail site of exceptional interest, the City of Rocks is a place of geological enchantment with granite columns rising 60 stories above Circle Creek Basin. A rock-climber's paradise, this National Historic Landmark is located 50 miles south of Burley. Web: www.nps.gov/ciro/
Three Island Crossing: Idaho's Oregon Trail Center
Upon reaching the Three Island ford, emigrants had a difficult decision to make. Should they risk the dangerous crossing of the Snake or endure the dry, rocky route along the south bank of the river? The rewards of a successful crossing were a shorter route, more potable water and better feed for stock. About half attempted to cross by using the gravel bars that extended across the river. Not all were successful; many casualties are recounted in pioneer diaries. Today, Three Island Crossing looks remarkably like it did when emigrants and American Indians encountered it more than 150 years ago. Learn more about these two fascinating cultures at the center which offers interactive exhibits, a gift shop, future genealogical library, and conference room. Visitors will be encouraged to take a self-guided tour, see wagon replicas, view the Snake River, or rent a tepee for an overnight stay.
National Oregon/California Trail Center
At the Oregon/California Trail Center in Montpelier visitors ride in a computer-controlled covered wagon and enjoy a real encampment next to a waterfall, all inside on actual Oregon Trail soil. Original murals depict the journey along with a re-creation of the old Clover Creek Wagon encampment and interactive experiences in the mercantile, blacksmithing, and gun shops.
Idaho Historical Museum
For an overview of Idaho history visit the Idaho State Historical Museum in Boise's Julia Davis Park. Exhibits change periodically and special events are held throughout the year. The museum is open Mon. - Sat., 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. and Sun., 1 p.m. - 5 p.m. Web: www.history.idaho.gov/idaho-state-historical-museum
The Boise Depot
Constructed in 1924-1925 this station marks Boise's four decades of effort to secure mainline rail service. Web: www.cityofboise.org/departments/parks/boise_depot/
Old Idaho Penitentiary
The names Harry Orchard and Diamondfield Jack still echo through the halls of the Old Idaho Penitentiary, a fascinating Boise tourist attraction that offers one of the most informative prison tours in the West. The cornerstone of the "Old Pen" was set in 1870. The last prisoners were moved from the prison in 1973. Built of sandstone quarried by prisoners sentenced to hard labor, the prison is open to visitors to walk through the courtyards, cells, gallows and the "coolers" where prisoners were sentenced to solitary confinement. Visitors can also see the Museum of Electricity and the Idaho Transportation Museum within the walls. The Idaho Botanical Garden is located nearby.
Located in the Boise Basin 38 miles north of Boise, Idaho City was once the largest town in the Pacific Northwest. Placerville and Centerville were Idaho City's neighbors. Between them, the two communities formed a rip-roaring gold mining area, rivaling anything the California '49ers created. Today Placerville and Centerville are relatively quiet areas. Idaho City has been rebuilt after several fires in the 1860's and today most original buildings are still in use. Visitors can browse the local museum and arts and crafts center and see hand-carved woodwork, pottery, and quilts made by the Boise Basin Quilters. A tourist information center is located on Idaho Highway 21 at the town entrance. Idaho City has several celebrations every year to relive its history. Web: www.idahocitychamber.com
Located in the Owyhee Mountains of southwest Idaho, Silver City produced $40 million in gold and silver during its mining heyday. About 40 buildings, including the Idaho Hotel, "the finest in the territory," still stand along Jordan and Washington Streets. The Idaho Hotel is open summer and fall for business. Web: www.historicsilvercityidaho.com
The Ski Lifts of Sun Valley
Designed by a Union Pacific Railroad engineer to make ski resorts practical when Sun Valley Lodge opened in 1936, these first ski lifts are of substantial historic interest. The original lift is still standing and can be seen from Sun Valley Road. Web: www.sunvalley.com
Land of the Yankee Fork Interpretive Center
Located at the junction of Idaho Highways 75 and 93, this magnificent center contains interpretive information on historic central Idaho mines and on the role mining played in the state's development. The center is also the gateway to several ghost towns.
Custer, a gold-mining ghost town on the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River, ten miles north of Sunbeam, Idaho, on Idaho Highway 75, was a thriving community of the late 1870s. Today the old Custer schoolhouse is used as a museum which is open to visitors from June to September each year by the U.S. Forest Service and the "Friends of Custer." Visitors walk through the old Empire Saloon, take a self-guided tour of the town and see a slide show in the old Opera House about Custer history.
Custer is two miles north of the ghost town of Bonanza and the massive Yankee Fork Gold Dredge which operated on the Yankee Fork off and on from 1940 to 1952. The Dredge is open for guided tours each summer. Web: www.parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/yankeefork.aspx
The Railroad Ranch
In 1902 several Oregon Shortline Railroad magnets and other investors purchased what is now Harriman State Park. Called the "Railroad Ranch," the property was the private retreat of wealthy families like the Harrimans and Guggenheims.
E.R. Harriman and his brother Averell arranged to preserve their important family ranch as an impressive part of Idaho's park system. Twenty-seven buildings from the cookhouse to the horse barn are still intact. Ranch tours are available. Web: www.parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/harriman.aspx
For additional information on Idaho History visit: www.history.idaho.gov