On March 4, we celebrate Idaho Day, which marks the 159th anniversary of the establishment of Idaho Territory by President Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1863. It is remarkable to observe that the creation of Idaho began with our greatest and most beloved President whose plans for westward expansion helped settle Idaho and transform her into the 43rd state in 1890.
At the beginning of 1860 there were perhaps only a few dozen European Americans living in the land area now known as Idaho. No towns existed until later that year when farmers from Utah established Franklin. During the next three years, thousands of miners began to flock to the Clearwater drainage, the Boise Basin and sites near Salmon where gold had been discovered. The miners and tradesmen who followed needed organized government. Lincoln needed their gold to help win the Civil War, so he established the Territory of Idaho. In an address to Congress on December 8, 1863, President Lincoln stated that the mineral resources of Idaho “are proving far richer than has been heretofore understood.” Former Idaho Lt. Governor and Lincoln scholar, David Leroy, has written about the surprising number of Lincoln connections to Idaho.
Lincoln appointed Idaho’s first 15 territorial officials including his close friend William Wallace, to serve as Idaho’s first governor, and later as Idaho’s first delegate to Congress. While in Washington DC, Wallace was invited by Lincoln to join him and the First Lady at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865, the day of his assassination. Wallace did not attend because of his wife’s illness.
Among many other Idaho officials and citizens with Lincoln connections was Mason Brayman, Idaho’s seventh territorial governor and close friend of the President. Brayman rented Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois during his term in Congress and campaigned for Lincoln during the presidential election of 1860. He assisted Lincoln with logistics at the Cooper Union speech.
Fred Dubois, Idaho territorial delegate to Congress and first U.S. Senator, grew up almost across the street from the Lincoln home. As a boy he romped with Lincoln and played with his sons, Willie and Tad. They once played a practical joke on Lincoln by tying a string between a tree and a fence on top a wall in front of the family home which knocked Lincoln’s hat off as he walked up to the house.
Not only is Lincoln connected to Idaho through political appointments and friends, he also promoted projects which helped establish Idaho. Legislation leading to the construction of the transcontinental railroad and the implementation of the Homestead Act in 1862 helped bring settlers to Idaho making eventual statehood possible.
There was, however, one major threat to achieving statehood. In 1887, Congress passed legislation which would have given north Idaho to Washington State, while a second plan was being prepared to transfer southern Idaho to Nevada which was losing population after a decline in mining activities. It was a close call. The bill went to the desk of President Grover Cleveland for his signature, but Idaho Territorial Governor Edward A. Stevenson was not going to allow the dissolution of Idaho. Edward Stevenson loved Idaho. He had grown up with Idaho, arriving in the Boise basin in 1863, the same year the Territory of Idaho was established. He immediately organized an effective protest movement which convinced the president to veto the legislation. Idaho was saved. Governor Stevenson then went to work with Senator Fred Dubois and others to secure statehood for Idaho which was achieved on July 3, 1890.
Sadly, the man who saved Idaho is almost forgotten. Edward Stevenson’s grave in the Pioneer Cemetery just east of the Capitol Building in Boise is easy to find, however. You might even place flowers on his grave to thank him for saving Idaho.
Currently, Idaho is the fastest growing state in America. In land area, Idaho is about the size of Great Britain with more roadless wilderness areas than any other state except Alaska. She has 3,100 miles of rivers (more than any other state), more than 2,000 lakes, and the deepest river gorge in North America.
Idaho has the second largest unbroken stretch of rich irrigated farmland in America and is the number one producer of potatoes, barley, trout, and small seeds. She also ranks high in the production of cattle, wool, dairy products, timber and minerals. Known as the Gem State, Idaho produces 72 types of precious and semi-precious stones—more than any other state. Idaho is abundantly rich in wildlife, which includes the largest concentration of nesting eagles, hawks and falcons in the world—all located within a 40-minute drive from Boise. According to FBI statistics, Idaho has the lowest per capita crime rate in the West.
We love Idaho. Her name invokes images of wide open spaces, lovely winding rivers, and mountain skies fading into sunset. Romance lies in her name. Freedom lies in her name.