Monday, February 24, 2014

Geography Makes Idaho Territory Ungovernable, Should be Split

On February 24, 1864, newspapers all over the East carried “bullets” of information on what happened that day in Congress. The item from the New York Tribune was typical: “Mr. Grimes (Un., Iowa), presented a petition from the citizens of Idaho praying for a division of that territory, one portion being inaccessible to the other, which was referred to the Committee on Territories.”

It’s not clear why James W. Grimes, the Union (Republican) Senator from Iowa, presented the “petition” from Idaho. Born in New Hampshire, Grimes graduated from Hampton Academy in that state, and then studied at Dartmouth College. He moved to Iowa in 1836, when he was just twenty years old. Two years later, he served the first of two terms in the House of Representatives for Iowa Territory. During this period, he studied law and was admitted to the bar.

After Iowa became a state in 1846, Grimes served in its House of Representative, and then as governor (1854-1858). Elected to the U. S. Senate in 1859, he served there for ten years.
Senator Grimes. Library of Congress.

At least two possible connections between Grimes and Idaho Territory exist. First, James Tufts, Speaker of the Idaho Territorial Council, was from New Hampshire, like Grimes, and became a lawyer in Iowa. Before moving on to Nebraska, he would have overlapped with the term of Governor Grimes.

Second, Granville Stuart, a pioneer destined to be known as “Mr. Montana,” had lived in Iowa from 1838 to around 1852, and his family still lived there.

In any case, the Journal of the Senate provided further details on what Grimes submitted. The memorial requested “a division of the Territory of Idaho, by formation of a new Territory embracing the headwaters of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, with the Rocky Mountains as the dividing line.”

Meanwhile, lobbyists from the east side of Idaho Territory had already been at work. One of them was Idaho Chief Justice Sidney Edgerton, who had been hired to push the idea of a split with his influential contacts in Congress. Edgerton, of course, knew Lincoln personally. Also, being from Ohio himself, he was a friend of Ohio Congressman James M. Ashley, who happened to be chairman of the House Committee on Territories.

These future Montanans had plans that differed a bit from those of the Idaho legislature.

References: Michael P. Malone, Richard B. Roeder, and William L. Lang, Montana: A History of Two Centuries, Revised Edition, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1991).

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Idaho’s Magnificent Shoshone Falls Announced to the World

On January 25, 1864, the San Francisco Evening Bulletin published an article that began, “A detachment of troops recently scouting in the valley of the Snake or Lewis fork of the Columbia, discovered a waterfall which, it is said, is entitled to the distinction of being the greatest in the world. The entire volume of Snake river pours over a sheer precipice 198 feet high, 98 feet higher than Niagara.”

Given that description, the troops had observed Shoshone Falls, located about four miles northeast of today’s town of Twin Falls. The numbers given are somewhat skewed: The falls are around 212 feet high, and that’s only about 45 feet higher than Niagara Falls. (The combination of falls at Niagara is much wider, however.)

The first white men thought to have visited the falls, in 1818-1822, were French-Canadian trappers working for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Because of that, mountain men from the U. S. sometimes referred to them as the “Canadian Falls.”

Writer/artist George Gibbs provided the first documented description of the falls, and drew a sketch. Gibbs was with the Regiment of Mounted Rifles, which marched over the Oregon Trail in 1849 as a show of force against the Indians. Gibbs and the Army lieutenant who saw the falls with him decided to call them “Shoshone Falls,” which stuck.

Yet even with that earlier report, the falls had “always been enveloped in mystery.” Travelers might get near enough to hear “ the roaring of these falls,” but they seldom had the time or inclination to investigate further. As the Bulletin noted, “Very few, if any, of the tens of thousands of adventurers that have crossed the plains ever looked upon the great falls.”

In fact, even John C. Fremont, “the Pathfinder,” does not mention seeing the falls when he marched through in September 1843. His column cut across the flats south of the canyon and camped on Rock Creek, well away from the canyon.
Shonshone Falls, ca 1868. Library of Congress.
“It was said,” the Bulletin went on, “that there were a series of falls and rapids, making a descent of 700 feet in 7 miles, and the sound gave color to the report.”

Actually, the Snake drops over a thousand feet in the 24-25 miles of course between “The Cedars” (today’s Milner Dam) and below Shoshone Falls. The bulk of that – about 400 feet – occurs in the last three miles, where the Snake goes over the Twin Falls and then Shoshone.

The article said, “Some day they will be visited by the tourist and pleasure seeker, and looked upon as frequently and familiarly as Niagara is to-day.”

References: [Brit]
John C. Frémont, Report Of The Exploring Expedition To The Rocky Mountains ... The Senate Of The United States, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC. (1845).
“The Great Waterfall Of The Snake River,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, California (January 25, 1864).
Raymond W. Settle (ed.), The March of the Mounted Riflemen, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1989).