The area now known as Idaho is likely home to big-game-hunting Paleo-Indian groups, such as the Clovis, Folsom, and Plano cultures.
Native cultures establish permanent settlements. The predominant tribes of the region include the Nez Perce and the Coeur d’Alene in the north and the Northern and Western Bannock in the south.
1803–1860 EUROPEAN/U.S. EXPLORATION AND SETTLEMENT
The U.S. purchases the Louisiana Territory, which extends to Idaho, from France for $15 million.
(August 12) Idaho is the last of the 50 states to be explored by whites when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark reach it via the Lemhi Pass through the Rocky Mountains.
John Jacob Astor, leader of the "Astorians," charters a fur company with a view to cornering the northwestern fur trade and establishing U.S. political domination from the Continental Divide to Alaska. To counter Astor’s plans, the British-backed North West Company sends David Thompson to establish a presence in the Idaho area. Thompson builds the first non-native establishment in the Northwest, Kullyspell House, near Lake Pend Oreille.
Fur trader Andrew Henry enters the Snake River plateau. He builds Fort Henry, the first American fur-trading post west of the Rocky Mountains, along the upper river near present-day St. Anthony. Henry abandons the post the following spring after several disputes with the local Blackfoot population, returning to his home in Saint Louis, Missouri.
Astorian Wilson Price Hunt navigates the Snake River, leading the first expedition into southern Idaho and becoming the first white explorer to discover the Boise Valley. At the time approximately 8,000 Native Americans live in the region.
Astorian Donald Mckenzie establishes a fur-trading post at Lewiston.
As part of the Anglo-American Convention of 1818, Britain and the United States agree to "joint occupancy" of land west of the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Known as Oregon Country, this land encompasses modern-day Idaho.
Donald Mackenzie begins the first extensive explorations of southern Idaho. They culminate in a trade rendezvous with Native Americans on the Boise River in 1819 and the negotiation of a peace treaty with the Shoshone tribe in 1820. Mackenzie’s annual expeditions continue through 1821.
The British Hudson’s Bay Company controls fur trade in the Idaho region.
Russia gives up its claims to the area south of 54°40' and east of the 141st meridian in separate treaties with the United States and Britain.
William H. Ashley and Jedediah Smith expand their St. Louis fur operations into Idaho.
The Rendezvous of 1832. Hundreds of trappers, Natives, and fur traders meet to sell and trade furs for supplies at Pierre’s Hole, a valley west of the Teton Range. At the end of the meeting, a major battle breaks out between Gros Ventre Natives and a party of Americans aided by Nez Perce and Flathead allies near present-day Victor.
French-born U.S. Army officer and explorer Benjamin Bonneville explores along the Snake River in present-day Idaho. He will later have an Idaho county named in his honor.
The Rev. Henry H. Spalding establishes a Protestant mission near Lapwai. Here he prints the Northwest’s first book, founds Idaho’s first school, and develops its first irrigation system. Perhaps most prophetically, he plants and grows the state’s first potatoes.
Belgian missionary Pierre-Jean De Smet helps establish St. Joseph’s Mission in what is now Council Bluffs. During this time he assists Joseph Nicollet in mapping the Upper Midwest, producing the first detailed map of the Missouri River valley system from the Platte to the Big Sioux rivers.
The Bidwell-Bartleson Party is the first wagon train of emigrants to leave Missouri for the West over South Pass. More than 300,000 white settlers will follow in the next two decades. Many are lured by the California Gold Rush of 1849, and some, like the Mormons, escape religious persecution. Groups take over the land of the Bannock, Nez Perce, and Blackfoot.
(May 2) The Provisional Government of Oregon is established by popular election. It provides a legal system and defense for early settlers. The Organic Laws of Oregon are adopted, serving as the region’s constitution. The government remains in power until 1849, when the region becomes a U.S. territory.
The Oregon Trail is established in Idaho. It crosses the border near Montpelier, passes Fort Hall, then moves west south of the Snake River and on to Fort Boise.
(June 15) Great Britain and the United States sign the Oregon Treaty, bringing an end to the Oregon boundary dispute. The treaty establishes the northern U.S. border at the 49th parallel.
(August 14) The U.S. organizes Oregon Territory, which encompasses all of modern Idaho.
Italian Jesuit missionary Antonio Ravalli founds the Cataldo mission. It becomes an important stop for traders, settlers, and miners. Currently the oldest building in Idaho, it will be designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961.
French-Canadian prospectors discover gold on the Pend Oreille River.
Washington Territory is split from Oregon Territory. As a result, the future state of Idaho is cleaved in two: while most remains part of Oregon, the northern tip is in Washington.
The Oregon Constitutional Convention establishes Idaho’s western boundary.
The modern boundaries of the state of Oregon are defined, and the rest of Oregon Territory (including Idaho) reverts to Washington Territory.
1860–1890 IDAHO TERRITORY
Gold, silver, and other natural resources are discovered throughout Idaho, encouraging more new settlements. One site of gold is on the Nez Perce reservation, which the federal government will consequently reduce to 1/10th its original size as the Lapwai Reservation. Chinese laborers come to Idaho to work the mines. Most mining operations recover metal; from 1860 to 1869, Idaho produces 19 percent of all U.S. gold.
The Battle of Providence. A group of presumed Shoshone attacks Elijah Otter’s migrant party, killing almost all members. As a result, Col. George Wright requests $150,000 from the federal government to establish a military post near present-day Boise.
(April) Mormon settlers found Franklin, the first organized town in Idaho (although they believe themselves to be in Utah at the time). Mormons go on to establish most historic and modern communities in southeastern Idaho. Today they represent nearly 23 percent of the Idaho population.
President Abraham Lincoln signs the Homestead Act. Successful applicants are granted freehold title to 160 acres of undeveloped land outside the original 13 colonies. The act draws many settlers into the Teton Valley.
New mines near Boise and in the Owyhee Canyonlands of northern Nevada lead to an influx of white settlers, causing unrest among the various Shoshone (called the "Snakes" by whites) living there.
(March 4) Idaho splits from the Washington Territory, becoming the Territory of Idaho, which encompasses most of the present-day states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Its capital is Lewiston.
(January 29) The Bear River Massacre. The westernmost battle of the Civil War, the event pits the U.S. Army against the Shoshone Native Americans during an unseasonably cold winter in what is now Franklin County. When the Shoshone run out of ammunition, troops led by Col. Patrick Conner massacre them, rape women in the nearby encampment, and murder Shoshone children. The massacre opens up Cache Valley to white, particularly Mormon, settlement.
The Montana Territory is organized out of the part of the Idaho Territory east of the Bitterroot Range.
The Snake War begins. Shoshone bands lead the fighting against white settlers in southern Idaho. Consisting of a series of guerrilla skirmishes throughout the Northwest, it ends four years later with peace negotiations. Total casualties on both sides reach slightly more than 1,700.
Boise becomes the capital of the Territory of Idaho.
The Idaho legislature proposes the State of Columbia in a petition to Congress. Included are all the lands in western Montana, northern Idaho, and eastern Washington. The proposal is rejected.
Areas east of the 111th Meridian are made part of the new Wyoming Territory, and Idaho assumes its present-day boundaries.
The First Transcontinental Railroad is completed between Council Bluffs and Alameda, California, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific coasts by rail for the first time and encouraging further western settlement.
The Nez Perce War. Refusing to move to the Lapwai Reservation, a group of Nez Perce kills four white men in the Salmon River Valley. A cavalry of 100 white men retaliate, and continue to attack Nez Perce with Chief Joseph who are leaving the territory for Montana. In October, the Nez Perce surrender. By 1880 most Idaho Natives have been put on reservations, leaving their land open to white settlement.
The Bannock Indian War. Led by Chief Buffalo Horn of the Bannocks and Paitutes Chief Egan, Natives attack when the U.S. government opens the Camas Prairie, which had previously been reserved for Natives, to white settlement. Defeated, the Bannocks move to the Fort Hall Indian Reservation with the Northern Shoshone, and gradually their tribes merge, becoming the Shoshone-Bannock.
(May 10) The first telephone call in the Pacific Northwest is made in Lewiston.
Mormons are banned from voting in Idaho Territory, ostensibly on the basis of the group’s practice of polygamy.
The nation’s richest deposits of silver are discovered in the Coeur d’Alene mining district.
President Grover Cleveland refuses to sign a bill that would divide Idaho between Washington Territory and Nevada.
(July 3) Idaho becomes the 43rd state admitted to the Union.
Idaho now exports more lead than any other state as mining becomes increasingly crucial to its economy.
Miners in Coeur d’Alene strike over low pay, long working hours, and the right to unionize. The action develops into a shooting war between miners and company guards. The Frisco mine in the Burke Canyon is blown up, and guards are taken hostage. Strikers also shut down a mine in Gem and the Bunker Hill mining complex near Wardner. Several are killed in the melee, and the Idaho National Guard and federal troops are called in to quash the uprising.
Idaho grants women suffrage 24 years before the passage of the 19th Amendment.
The Bunker Hill mining facility fires 17 miners for unionizing. In retaliation, union members blow up the mill, killing two company men.
The largest sawmill in the country opens in Potlatch.
Western Federation of Miners member Harry Orchard assassinates former governor Frank Steunenberg for his perceived role in quashing the 1899 miner uprising.
The Snake River’s Milner Dam is completed. The dam allows for the formation of several agricultural communities, signaling a shift away from mining to agricultural production. Today Idaho produces one-third of the potatoes grown in the U.S.
Along with two other defendants, Western Federation of Miners’ "Big Bill" Haywood is tried for conspiracy to murder Governor Steunenberg. Trigger man Orchard strikes a deal and testifies against the three men. Famed attorney Clarence Darrow represents the defendants, and the men are all either exonerated or released. Orchard spends the rest of his life in an Idaho prison.
Fires destroy one-sixth of northern Idaho’s forest area.
Idaho governor Moses Alexander becomes the first elected Jewish governor in U.S. history.
Idaho passes a prohibition law and alcohol is barred in the state.
Fifteen-year-old student inventor and Rigby resident Philo Farnsworth develops concepts that eventually lead to the invention of television.
American Falls becomes the first town in U.S. history to be relocated in its entirety when it is moved to make way for construction of nearby American Falls Dam.
Idaho becomes the nation’s largest silver producer.
The Sun Valley Lodge ski resort opens in Blaine County. Built on the site of a former mining community, it features the world’s first chair lifts and will become a major tourist attraction in the state, drawing winter sports enthusiasts from around the globe. Earnest Hemingway completes his famed novel For Whom the Bells Tolls at the lodge in the fall of 1939.
1950–PRESENT MODERN IDAHO
The National Reactor Testing Station in eastern Idaho produces the first electricity by nuclear fission. The facility is now known as Idaho National Laboratory.
(July 17) Arco becomes the first community in the world to be lit by electricity generated by nuclear power when it is powered by the NRTS.
A meltdown of the SL-1 reactor at the NRTS causes three deaths. It is the world’s first fatal nuclear reactor accident and remains the only such fatal accident in the U.S.
The Bunker Hill Mine complex in Shoshone County closes, and the area’s economy is ruined.
A fire at the Sunshine Mine in Kellogg claims 91 lives.
The collapse of Teton Dam kills 11 and forces thousands of nearby residents to flee.
An earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter Scale hits, killing two in Challis and causing millions of dollars in damage.
U.S. Marshals and the FBI surround white separatist Randy Weaver’s compound at Ruby Ridge. Shots are fired, and a marshal and Weaver’s wife and son are killed. The incident garners national attention, with many decrying the federal government’s use of force.
Victoria Keenan and her son are attacked by guards and held at gunpoint at the white supremacist Aryan Nations headquarters in Hayden Lake.
Keenan wins a $6.3 million judgment against Aryan Nations, and the Hayden Lake compound is turned over to her as a result. She sells the property, which will later be acquired by North Idaho College and turned into a public "peace park."
Click to enlarge an image
1805: View from Lemhi Pass
1809: John Jacob Astor
1824: Jedediah Smith
1832: Pierre's Hole
1833: Benjamin Bonneville
1838: Pierre-Jean De Smet
1843: Map of Provisional Oregon
1860: Shoshoni tipi
1862: Abraham Lincoln
1862: Certificate of homestead given under the Homestead Act