Of all 50 states, Idaho was the last to be explored by whites. The first white men known to have entered what is now modern-day Idaho were the two explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The Lewis and Clark Expedition passed through the Bitterroot Mountains in 1805 on their search for the Northwest Passage and ran out of the food. Clark was able to trade some eye ointment to the Nez Perce in exchange for food.
Due to the discoveries of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, many fur traders and trappers were eager to explore the region. In 1809, the North West Fur Company established Kullyspell House on Lake Pend Oreille. Kullyspell house was the first trading post in the Oregon Territory, which consisted of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and western Montana. Two years later, two men from the Pacific Fur Company named Wilson Price Hunt and Donald Mackenzie travelled through southern Idaho en route to Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River. The path they took later became the end portion of the Oregon Trail, which brought thousands of immigrants to Oregon Territory.
The North West Fur Company, which later merged with the Hudson's Bay Company, controlled practically all of the fur trading in Idaho. However, in 1825, a Missourian named General Henry William Ashley formated a new trade system that eliminated the need for trading posts. This system, called the rendezvous system, consisted of annual gatherings where the fur trappers, mountain men, and Native Americans would meet and trade. Because no trading posts were involved, the rendezvous system was cheaper to operate. In 1834, a businessman from Boston named Nathanial Wyeth founded Fort Hall. The Hudson's Bay Company countered by founding Fort Boise near a rendezvous spot near the Boise and Snake Rivers. Unable to profit in the fur industry, Wyeth sold Fort Hall to the Hudson's Bay Company in 1836. With the fur supply in Idaho dwindling, there was no longer enough trade to merit using the rendezvous system. This allowed the Hudson's Bay Company to control the little trade there was through Fort Boise and Fort Hall. These two forts later became vital outposts on the Oregon Trail.
After the fur traders, the next wave of visitors to Idaho were the missionaries. Missionaries on the East Coast first gained interest in the Oregon Territory in 1831 when a group of Native Americans from Idaho travelled to St. Louis, Missouri, asking to be taught instruction in religion. This prompted a small flood of missionaries travelling to the Oregon Territory. By far, the most famous missionary in the Idaho region was Henry H. Spalding. He established the first mission in Idaho a few miles east of what is modern-day Lewiston in the Clearwater Valley. In addition to teaching the Nez Perce about Christianity, Spalding also taught them farming and irrigation. Also at Spalding's mission were Idaho's first blacksmith shop, gristmill, and printing shop, the latter of which printed several books in the Nez Perce language.
The first Roman Catholic mission in Idaho was founded in 1842 among the Coeur d'Alene tribe. Together, the missionaries and the Coeur d'Alenes built the Cataldo church, which is to this day the oldest standing building in Idaho. In 1855, Fort Lemhi was built in eastern Idaho as a Mormon mission. However, due to frequent Indian attacks, the Mormons abandond Fort Lemhi three years later.
Up until 1846, the United States and Great Britain were engaged in the Northwest Boundary Dispute. However, in 1846, an agreement was reached and the 49th parallel was established as the northern border of the U.S. portion of the Oregon Territory. In 1853, Idaho was divided between the Oregon Territory and the Washington Territory. Six years later, when Oregon achieved statehood, Oregon's part of the Idaho region went to the Washington territory.
Due to the large mountains and arid plains, Idaho remained pretty much unsettled. However, in 1860, gold was found in the Nez Perce territory, and miners came in droves. By 1963, over 20,000 white settlers had arrived in Idaho, mostly in Florence and Idaho City. For a time, those two mining towns were the largest settlements in the Washington Territory. The gold ran out, but the people were in Idaho.
Olympia, the capital of the Washington Territory, found it increasingly difficult to govern the Idaho region. Therefore, the Idaho Territory was formed on March 4, 1863. This territory consisted of all of present-day Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. William H. Wallace became the first territorial governer, and Lewiston was declared the capital. However, large mountains and larger distances prevented many of the mining camps from having easy accessability to the rest of Idaho. To make things easier on the territorial government, the Montana Territory broke off from the Idaho Territory in 1864. Boise also became the new capital. Four years later, the Wyoming Territory also split from Idaho, and the Idaho Territory acquired the boundaries it has today.
To support the mining communities in Idaho, ranchers from Texas and California had brought herds of cattle into Idaho. In the decades to follow, many ranchers had begun taking their herds to Idaho to take advantage of the good grazing land. Sheep and cattle raising had become very common throughout much of Idaho by the 1860's. Farming started slow, but farmers soon discovered that oat, barley, and wheat could be grown in the Palouse plains and the Snake River Valley.
At first, Idaho's economy was limited by the relative difficulty in getting there. However, gradually transportation improved to allow contact with the rest of the nation. At first, stagecoaches and freight wagons brought the gold miners to the territory. Then, in the 1860's, people in Portland, Oregon, could take a steamboat up the Columbia River to Idaho. However, the most important transportation advancement was the railroad.
In 1874, the first railroad in Idaho reached the town of Franklin on the Idaho-Utah border. This line was continued through Idaho to Butte, Montana, in 1881. Also in that year, the Oregon Short Line connected Idaho, Oregon, and Wyoming.In 1884, the Northern Pacific Railway built a track through northern Idaho, where a gold and silver rush had cropped up. In the south, trains could take the Union Pacific railroad. These tracks enabled the economy of Idaho to start to prosper.
Because of the central mountain barrier seperating northern Idaho from southern Idaho, the territory was almost split in two. In the mid-1880's, a measure went through Congress. This measure would have added northern Idaho to Washington, and attached southern Idaho to Nevada. The measure was passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Fortunately for Idahoans, Edward A. Stevenson, who was the current territorial governer, pleaded with President Grover Cleveland to veto the bill. Cleveland did, and Idaho was never split.
The population of Idaho expanded with the economy, growing from 33,000 in 1880 to 89,000 in 1890. By the turn of the century, over 162,000 people called Idaho home. Although many of the new people were Democrats, Idaho was still mostly filled with Republicans. This help influence Congress, which was Republican at the time, to grant statehood to Idaho, in the hopes that Republicans would get Idaho's electoral votes. Therefore, on July 3, 1890, Idaho became the 43rd state in the union, with Republican George L. Shoup as the first state governor.
The United States economy slumped in the 1890's, and Idahoan farmers saw their crops lose value. At this time, the free silver movement was sweeping through the U.S. The Populist Party gained a great deal of influence in Idaho in 1892. Under a platform of a graduated income tax, the minting of silver coins to stimulate Idahoan silver mines, and federal control of railways and telegraph lines, the Populists and Democrats were able to defeat the Republicans in 1896. However, the Populists were unable to achieve any of their goals. As a result, Free-Silver Republicans and Democrats defeated the Populist Party two years later. Although the Populists never won any other elections in Idaho, the free silver movement remained a major issue in Idaho until 1902.
The poor economy brought other problems as well. When the miners tried to form unions and demand higher wages, the owners of the mines responded by cutting wages, firing unionized employees, and bringing in armed guards. The most violent of these incidents occured near Wallace in 1892, when miners discovered that they had been locked out of their jobs and replaced with strikebreakers. As tension rose, shots were finally exchanged between the union workers and the guards. The fighting escalated, and soon the miners had blown up an ore mill with dynamite. At this point, the governer of Idaho declared martial law and sent in federal troops to arrest some of the striking miners.
Although there were some farms in Idaho, there was not enough farmable land to support Idaho's economy. The main problem was the lack of an irrigation system. In order to boost Idaho's agriculture, the Carey Land Act of 1894 was passed. The terms of this act allowed all of the western states to sell federal land to settlers, under the condition that part of each tract of land sold this way would be farmed and irrigated. Of all the western states the Carey Land Act applied to, Idaho profited the most, and soon most of the Snake Valley was irrigated and farmed.
The next irrigation projects in Idaho occured because of the Reclamation Act of 1902. This act allocated federal funds to Idaho for the express purpose on irrigation. Dams were built under the Minidoka Project and the Boise Project, the latter of which was responsible in 1915 for the Arrowrock Dam, the then-largest dam in the world. Now Idaho had plenty of water for irrigation, and Idaho's three most important crops, sugarbeets, peas, and potatos, started to flourish.
Idaho was an important contributer in World War I for two reasons: the agricultural success of the state, and the inordinately high percentage of Idahoans who signed up with the military. Although World War I was a boon for Idaho's economy, Idaho was hit hard by the economic recession that followed the armistice. The price of crops sharply fell and many Idahoan farmers went bankrupt. Many Idahoans left for other states, hoping that things would be better elsewhere. Although prices eventually went back up during the 20's, the population did not.
Idaho was hit hard again by the Great Depression. However, the population actually increased, thanks to the migrants from the Dust Bowl states of Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. This influx of people helped Idaho recover after the Depression had ended.
Like the rest of the nation, Idaho found the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 very useful in recovering from the Great Depression. Idahoans were given work in the Civilian Conservation Corps eliminating a fungus that threatened Idaho's forests. Electricity reached isolated areas in Idaho thanks to the Rural Electrification Program. The Forest Service was able to improve irrigation and build roads thanks to the Public Works Administration. Finally, both private and commercial farmers benefitted from the various agricultural programs that were included in the New Deal. This helped the Idahoan economy quite a bit.
By World War II, the economy of Idaho was in full swing. The U.S. Army needed lead and silver mined in Idaho for their weapons. Like in WWI, crops from Idaho were used to feed the soldiers. And the timber from Idaho's forests were used in just about everything from barracks' to wooden crates. The prosperity of the farms during this time led to farmers expanding their fields and purchasing mechanical equipment such as tractors.
Idaho's geography made it ideal for holding prisoners of war. Over the course of WWII, 18 camps for German and Italian POWs were located in Idaho. Idaho was also home to the infamous Japanese internment camps that the federal government constructed after the attack of Pearl Harbor in 1942. The Minidoka Relocation Center became the home of the 10,000 Japanese-Americans and Japanese nationals from Oregon and Washington that were considered to be a security risk. Although the Japanese were able to establish a fairly productive community at Minidoka, complete with general stores, newspapers, shoe repair stores, and flower shops, that did not excuse the forcible relocation. Therefore, in 1988 Congress gave $20,000 in compensation to every Japanese-American citizen that had been forced from their homes during WWII.
In the 1970's, Idahoans became concerned with the environment of their state. Under the guidance of Governor Cecil Andrus, the state passed legislature aimed at conserving the rivers, streams and natural resources of Idaho. This time period saw many areas in Idaho declared national wilderness areas or forests, including the Sawtooth Wilderness Area, the Seven Devils mountains, and the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. With these beautiful areas protected, more and more tourists started coming to Idaho to see them, and tourism soon became a major industry in Idaho. This was fortunate for Idaho's economy, for timber and mining started to decline. In 1981, the Bunker Hill Mine and Smelter left Kellogg. This put 2,000 workers out of their jobs in a town that was vital to miners in the Silver Valley region. Technological advancement took its toll, and thousands of workers lost their jobs. Many of the lumber and mining towns across Idaho are desperately trying to develop a tourism industry, and it appears that tourism will be one of the largest factors in future economic growth.
To the rest of the nation, Idaho has earned a stereotype of being the land of potatos and guns. This latter image was reinforced in 1992 during the Ruby Ridge incident. It all started when a white separatist named Randy Weaver did not show up for a federal weapons trial. When federal officials tried to arrest him, Weaver was found with his family in their home at Ruby Ridge. Since Weaver refused to cooperate with the officials, his house was surrounded and was held under seige for 11 days. At the end of this period, shots were exchanged, and Weaver's wife Vicki and their son were killed along with a federal officer. Across the nation, people questioned the power of federal agents to use deadly force to apprehend suspects. Eventually, the federal policy was changed to emphasize the use of nonlethal force whenever possible. After the shootings, Weaver and his friend Kevin Harris were aquitted for the death of the officer, and Randy Weaver won $3.1 million in a settlement with the federal government. As for the officer who shot Vicki Weaver, a federal judge ruled in 1998 that he was innocent of involuntary manslaughter, the death being decided to be within the scope of the officers duties.