THURSDAY, MAY 13, 1937

IDAHO’S BIGGEST COUNTY – “IDAHO”   By: Byron Defenbach

One hundred thirty-one years ago this present month, in May 1806, the Lewis & Clark expedition was encamped just below where the Kamiah Bridge now spans the Clearwater.  It must have been a late spring; they did not venture up to Weippe until June 10, leaving there five days later “against the advice of the Indians.”  They found snow in the Bitter-roots “from twelve to fifteen feet deep;” and did not get across the Divide until June 30th.

Captain Lewis records that while encamped at Kamiah they sent three men across the prairies to the Salmon River; which way do you suppose they went?  Quite likely skirting the south side of Lawyer’s Canyon, possibly down Rocky Canyon.  At any rate they must have crossed what is now Idaho County and so were the first white men who ever set foot in what is now the largest subdivision of our State.

Just how long a time elapsed before the next white man stepped into this section is hard to say; as far as the record goes it was fifty-five years to a month.  In May, 1861, fifty-two men left Pierce City for the valley below; they followed the Clearwater and the South Fork to about where Stites is now.  For some reason they then struck more to the east, and six miles from Stites, on the high ground, they met the Nez Perce Chief Cool-cool-snee-nee in the midst of his followers.  The Chief objected very strongly to the invasion of his territory; so threatening was he that thirty of the men went back but the other twenty-two went on over the ancient Nez Perce trail until they arrived at a high flat or prairie some seven miles long a d half mile wide, a spot which came to be known as the Elk City meadows. 

At this time and for eight years before, all this section was in Washington Territory, and strange to say was already in Idaho County.  The oldest county in our state is Shoshone; Nezperce came next but only a day or so ahead of Idaho County which was created by the legislature of Washington Territory in the spring of 1861.  In the fall of the same year Captain Francois built his cabin on the Whitebird Divide.

The Florence discovery was in July of the same year and when another May came around Allen was running a wayside station where Cottonwood now is, and Mrs. Seth Jones was given a free ticket to Florence over the trail that Moses Milner was calling by his own name.  A book very recently published is known as the “Life of California Joe”; the author claims that his hero was Moses Milner.

Idaho County remained in Washington Territory until the Fourth of July, 1863, when Idaho Territory was created by a proclamation of President Lincoln.

The first county seat was Florence; in 1868 it went to Warrens; in 1875 we voted it to Mount Idaho; not until 1902 did it reach Grangeville.

In 1878 we took a vote on whether we would stay in Idaho or join Washington; the result in Idaho County was 12 votes for Idaho and 221 for Washington.  The division question flared up again in 1888 but Fred Dubois fixed it up.  He said in effect, “If you will be good, and stay in Idaho, we will build you a road from Mt. Idaho to Florence and locate the State University at Moscow.”  So we were good and stayed in Idaho.

I think we are all glad we did just that.  You can safely bet that South Idaho is glad we stayed.  What kind of a State would Idaho have been without A.F. Parker, Stephen and Frank Fenn, Doctor J.B. Morris, Felix Warren, Bill McConnell, Bill Claggett, Weldon Heyburn, Major McConville?   To say nothing of empire builders still engaged in building a superstructure on the foundation laid by the pioneers now on that expedition to a hidden frontier from whose bourn no traveler returns.





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