Early History of Bannock County, Idaho
Source: The History of Bannock County Idaho, By Arthur C. Saunders, Pocatello, Idaho. U. S. A., The Tribune Company. Limited, 1915
The territory now comprising Bannock county first entered the pages of history when, in 1662, the French Sieur de la Salle planted his country’s flag in what he called “Louisiana,” after his sovereign, Louis XIV, of France. In order to prevent England from gaining it, and hoping at the same time to win an ally, Louis XV ceded Louisiana to Spain in 1762. Napoleon traded it back from Carlos IV of Spain, but later sold it. This was the territory purchased for the United States by Thomas Jefferson in 1803 and for which the country paid $15,000,000. It included the greater part if not all, of the present state of Idaho, and certainly all of Bannock County.
The northwestern section of this purchase became known as the Northwest Territory and included all land west of the summit of the Rocky Mountain range, between the forty-ninth and forty-second parallels of latitude. This was later called the Oregon territory, and contained not only the present state of Oregon, but also Washington, Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming.
In 1789, Captains Robert Gray and John Kendricks skirted the coast of this territory and traded for furs with the Indians, and three years later Captain Gray discovered the Columbia River, up which he sailed several miles. The Lewis and Clark expedition, which left St, Louis in May 1804, headed by Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, gave such encouraging accounts of the resources of the Northwest Territory that many of the more adventurous people in the states were induced to undertake settling it.
For a time Spain, Russia and Great Britain, as well as the United States, claimed the northwest, there being some dispute between the latter two countries as to the boundary line between Canada and the northern limits of the Louisiana purchase.
Great Britain and the states, by treaty of October 20, 1818, agreed that the subjects of both countries should settle the territory jointly for a period of ton years. Before the ten years had passed, both Spain and Russia had ceded their claims to the United States the former in 1810, the latter in 1824. At the expiration of the ten years, the treaty between Great Britain and the United States was renewed indefinitely, to be annulled by either party after one year’s notice.
In his History of Idaho, Mr. Hiram T. French gives the following brief sketch of Jim Bridger, after whom Bridger Street in Pocatello was named:
“Among the men who trapped on the headwaters of the Missouri and its tributaries for the fur companies, probably none was better known than Jim Bridger. He made his headquarters at a place now in southwestern Wyoming, which became known as Fort Bridger, and was later one of the landmarks along the old ‘Oregon Trail.’
“Jim Bridger is authoritatively credited with being the first white man to see Salt Lake. In 1824 he was trapping along Bear River in what is now Idaho territory. He followed the stream to the canyon leading out of Cache valley. Climbing the high hills, he saw off to the south a large body of water. His interest aroused, he went on until he reached the shore, tasted the water and found it salty. Later an exploring party went around the lake and determined that it had no outlet.
“After having spent many years among the Indians, Bridger lost his life at their hands.”
The fate of Jim Bridger was not an uncommon one in the early days. A number of white men deserted their own kind to become the adopted members of Indian tribes. They took to themselves Indian wives, and dressed, spoke and lived as Indians. But their fate was nearly always the same. Sooner or later they were usually killed by the people of their adoption.
Two American expeditions visited this country in 1832, one headed by Captain Bonneville. U. S, A., and the other by Captain Wyeth.
Already some of the names in this narrative must have struck the reader’s ears as locally familiar Clark, Lewis, Bonneville and Wyeth. All the cross streets in Pocatello, except Center, which divides the city into north and south, are named after early explorers, Indian fighters, hunters or men who otherwise distinguished themselves in daring during the early days. Hence, Wyeth Street, Bonneville street, etc. The streets parallel with the railway on the east side of the city are numbered, while those on the west are named for the various presidents, as Arthur, Garfield and Hayes.
In this way Pocatello has linked to herself the names and there fore the history and adventures of the daring and hardy pioneers of the great northwest. The history of her street names would be one of romance and adventure, of daring and hardship, suffering and triumph, such as it would be hard to equal. For this heritage of nomenclature, the city is indebted to Daniel Church, former mayor of Pocatello, to the Tribune, and others who selected this system of names.
Captain Bonneville’s expedition was one of exploration only. Captain Wyeth came to trade with the Indians, but in this he met with small success. The Hudson Bay Company, a wealthy English corporation, had entered the territory and was most ably represented by Doctor sometimes called Captain McLoughlin. He was an honorable, kind and brave man, but farseeing and shrewd. He covered the country with a network of English, Canadians, French and Indians, and met American competition everywhere by offering higher prices for furs than his rivals could afford. Consequently Captain Wyeth ’s expedition was not a business success, but he deserves more than passing notice, not only because his name is now a household word in Pocatello, but more especially because he established Fort Hall, which he named after a member of the firm for whom he had come west.
Captain Nathaniel Wyeth, having heard of the profits to be made in fur trading, led an expedition over land from Boston, arriving at Fort Vancouver in the fall of 1832. Here he was to meet a vessel laden with supplies and sent by a Boston company with which he was associated. But the ship never came. After waiting all winter Wyeth decided that she had been lost, and returned to Boston.
In 1834, Captain Wyeth returned to the northwest and this time a ship containing supplies did come to meet him. In his party were three Methodist ministers Rev. Jason Lee, Rev. Cyrus Shepherd and Rev. T. L. Edwards, who were the first missionaries to land in Oregon. It was on this second trip that Captain Wyeth built Fort Hall, on the banks of the Snake River, as a trading post, and here, on July 27, 1834, Rev. Jason Lee conducted the first Christian service held in Idaho.
Competition with the Hudson Bay Company and the loss of many men by desertion and death, finally forced the captain to sell out and return to the east.
Two women deserve notice here as being the first white women to pass through what is now Bannock County. They are Mrs. Whitman, wife of the Rev. Dr. Marcus Whitman, afterward killed by the Indians, and after whom Whitman College in Oregon, and Whitman street in Pocatello, are named, and Mrs. Spalding, wife of the Rev. Spalding. They came to the Northwest in 1836, and settled in Oregon.
Another expedition, under Captain John C. Fremont, after whom Fremont Street, Pocatello, is named, was 6ent to survey parts of this territory in 1843.
At this time the condition of Americans in the Northwest Territory was far from satisfactory. They had undergone great hardships and risks in order to establish themselves in the new land, but their home government had done nothing to either protect or organize them. Petition after petition was sent to congress, but without effect. So, on May 20, 1843, the Americans met, at a place called Shampoig, near where Salem, Oregon, now stands, and organized a provisional government, designating Oregon City the capital. The first legislature met in a carpenter shop, and adopted the laws of the state of Iowa, because an Iowa man, with a copy of the. Iowa laws in his pocket happened to be present.
This provisional government was entirely successful and continued until 1846, when a new government was formed and Hon. George Abernathy was elected governor.
In this same year, 1846, Great Britain ceded to the United States her claim to the Northwest Territory, with the exception of the Hudson Bay Company’s holdings and those of the Puget Sound Agricultural Company. In July 1863, the United States purchased the interests of these companies for $450,000 and $200,000 respectively, the final payments being made in 1865.
On March 3, 1853, congress passed an act creating and organizing Washington territory, which included all the Northwest Territory except the present state of Oregon. Ten years later to a day, the territory of Idaho was created and organized, containing all of Washington territory, except the present state of Washington. The following year, 1864, Montana was cut off from the territory of Idaho, and that of Wyoming in 1868, when Idaho took her present geographical limits, being three hundred miles long across her southern portion and only sixty across the northern panhandle.
In February 1864, the territory of Idaho was divided into Shoshone, Nez Perce, Idaho, Boise, Owyhee, Alturas and Oneida Counties, the last of which included the present county of Bannock. Soda Springs was the first county seat, which was afterward moved to Malad City.
Bingham county was created January 13, 1885, out of the northern and eastern parts of Oneida county, the southern part of which was made into Bannock County, March 6, 1893. This county was named after the Bannock Indians, who were its original inhabitants, and who still own many acres within the county limits.
In speaking of conditions at the time when the first seven counties were created, Mr. John Hailey, in his “History of Idaho,” says: “Quite a percentage of the whole population was engaged in some kind of trade, merchandising, hotel and restaurant-keeping, butcher, feed and livery business, blacksmithing, sawmilling and carpentering. A large number were engaged in the transportation of merchandise and passengers. Some few had settled on ranches and were cultivating and improving them. A few were engaged in the stock business and many more than was necessary were engaged in the saloon and gambling business, with a few road agents, ready and willing to relieve any person of his ready money without compensation, whenever a favorable opportunity presented itself. The primary object of all seemed to be to gather gold. But I think I may truthfully say that ninety-five per cent of these people were good, industrious, honorable and enterprising, and to all appearances desired to make money in a legitimate way.”
In this same connection Mr. Hailey also says: “Most of the first settlers of Idaho were poor in purse, but were rich in muscle and energy, and most all possessed a good moral character. The rule that was in common practice was for each person to attend to his own private business, and to have an affectionate regard for his neighbors and his neighbors’ rights, and to extend a helping hand to the unfortunate that needed help. I speak from experience, having an extensive business and social acquaintance with many of the early settlers of Idaho, when I say (with a few exceptions), the early settlers were as noble, patriotic, industrious, unselfish, intelligent, good, generous, kind and moral people as ever were assembled together in like number for the reclamation and development of an unsettled country, inhabited only by untutored, savage Indians, wild animals and varmints.” Surely, we people of Idaho have a proud heritage to live up to!