From Territory to State-hood, Idaho’s Early History

Posted by Hughes Group Blog on Monday, January 13th, 2020 at 11:38am.


The United States is full of rich history, and one can spend their whole life trying to learn fascinating new things about the nation through its beginnings to the more recent happenings. Each and every state has its own unique qualities in its history that set it apart from the rest. Idaho is no different! When Idaho was first discovered, it certainly didn’t produce the billions of pounds of potatoes every year that it does now, and the many different and unique gems that earned the state its nickname had yet to be identified. As you dive into the early history of what was originally part of the Oregon Territory, you’ll find that there is a lot that went into Idaho reaching its status as one of the United States of America!

Chances are that you have heard a thing or two about the Corps of Discovery, or the Lewis & Clark Expedition as it is often referred to as. They played a huge role in Idaho’s statehood, as at the time of their expedition, that portion of the United States was untouched territory. The last place the company traversed on their trip to the Oregon Territory was what is now the state of Idaho, entering the borders of the state in 1805. It is here that they met the now-famous Sacagawea as well as the Lemhi Shoshone tribe of which she was a part of. The entire tribe ended up playing a vital role in helping guide the company through the state. Sacagawea in particular (along with her newborn son) turned out to be an important symbol and reminder of peace, as well as an excellent trader and useful interpreter amongst other tribes. She also possessed much knowledge not only of the local plants and which ones were safe to eat but also of the landmarks that helped the company know where they were going. During the expedition, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark came across many other Native American tribes, including the Nez Perce, who also were impressively hospitable and helpful to the Corps of Discovery.

Over time, many people started moving to and settling in Idaho, including immigrants from England, Germany, Ireland, and even from the Basque Country (the state’s capital of Boise is now home to one of the largest communities of Basque people in the nation). Many new settlers in the area were Mormon pioneers who had traveled north from the Mormon settlement in Utah. One of the biggest influxes of people moving to the state was during the Idaho gold rush. The news of gold in the area originally came from Elias D. Pierce and his party, who in 1860 found gold in Orofino Creek. By 1962 there were around 20,000 prospectors who had moved to the area seeking out precious gold. Late that year, George Grimes and his company came across gold in the Boise Basin, kicking off the search in what is now Idaho’s capital. With such an influx of voting-age males moving to the area, President Abraham Lincoln saw fit to sign off on Idaho becoming an official territory in 1963. That year, prospectors also discovered an abundance of silver in the Owyhee mountains, claiming that to be what would earn them the most money in that area. By 1880 Idaho’s population was around 32,000 people, most of them being miners. The rush continued on until the latter end of the 19th century. Many of these old mining towns (or “ghost towns”) are still standing today, and a visit to one of them can really give you a feel for what the state was like during the 1800s.

Even though the area was visited by Lewis and Clark in the early 1800s and it was home to the biggest gold rush since California’s in the mid-to-late part of the century, Idaho territory only officially became a state in the year 1890. It was on July 3rd of that year that the state was admitted to the union, becoming the 43rd state of the U.S. With admittance to the union, every state receives its own unique flag that becomes the nationwide recognized symbol of that particular state. Idaho’s state flag has a unique history. In 1991, when Idaho was still in its infancy as far as being a state was concerned, the First Legislature of the State of Idaho initiated a nationwide competition to design a seal for the state. Emma Edwards Green, a schoolteacher living in Idaho who had gone to a New York art school, came up with the design that is now the famous symbol in the center of Idaho’s flag, a picture depicting a man and a woman as well as many natural resources and symbols of justice that define the Gem State. The state seal is now revered and respected as well as famous for being the only state seal designed by a woman.

The United States of America was still trying to find its footing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and many new policies were being presented and voted on in the government, such as women’s suffrage and prohibition. At this point in time, the (newly-formed) state of Idaho was considered very progressive and welcomed these new policies, particularly women’s suffrage.

When the gold rush had started to die down, Idaho’s economy became much more involved in agricultural endeavors, and now is one of the biggest agricultural producers in the U.S., with their main export obviously being potatoes.

This brings the great state to where it is today! Idaho is full of such amazing history, and unique circumstances that helped it to become its own territory, and ultimately help it achieve the status of statehood. Now it is known all around the United States for its agriculture and most of all for its wonderful sights to explore and enjoy. A lot of history went into Idaho becoming a state, and hopefully, you can gain a better appreciation for this beautiful part of the country.


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