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The History of Idaho
© 2005 Rickie Lazzerini

Page 4

Historical Review 1.16   
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Idaho During World War II

          The demands of the Second World War were powerful enough to reverse the slump in the economy and pull the nation out of the Great Depression. Idaho contributed manpower and resources to the war effort. Over 60,000 Idaho men and women served in the war; 1,784 were killed. Idaho's natural resources and agriculture were tapped for the war causing a boom in the state's economy. Livestock products, including beef, pork, chicken, and eggs were all exported. The Idaho potato, beans, peas, onions, corn and fruit were also produced for the war. Idaho's abundant minerals, such as lead, zinc, silver, and tungsten, were mined and transformed into war goods. The lumber industry in northern Idaho received large orders. In 1942, mills in Potlatch, Coeur d'Alene, and Lewiston produced 427 million board feet of white and ponderosa pine.

          Idaho was also home to the construction of numerous military bases. Farragut Naval Base was constructed on the south end of Lake Pend d'Oreille. The project employed 22,000 men. After construction, over 5,000 men were stationed at the base and its six boot camps. The Army and Air Force used Gowen Field near Boise as a major B-24 bomber base. In addition, Sun Valley Resort closed during the war and was used as a Navy hospital. Idaho became home to two major and sixteen minor German and Italian prisoner of war (POW) camps. The largest camps were located at Farragut and Rupert, others were in Rexburg, Sugar City, Rigby, and Idaho Falls.(16) The Second World War recovered Idaho's failing economy completely and put to use the agricultural, natural, and political resources of the state.

Idaho's Settlers

          Settlement of Idaho came much later than in most states. Fur trappers and missionaries came to the area in the 1820s and 1830s, but did not create many permanent settlements. Miners came a while after, beginning in 1860. Their findings dictated the earliest settlement patterns throughout the state. Among these miners were Americans, French Canadians, Mexicans, and Europeans. As gold was discovered throughout the state, towns would be created near these newly formed mines. The construction of the railroads in the 1880s and the ability to move water to the arid parts of the state in the 1890s caused a population boom in the early part of the 20th century. These people came from across the nation, but the majority came from the Midwest and Plains states. Some early settlers also came from Utah. Many Mormons migrated from Utah into southern Idaho in the late 19th century.

          Mormons began to push into southern Idaho, around the Cache and Bear Lake Valleys in the 1870s and continued to migrate there until World War I. Franklin, one of the first permanent settlements in the state, was founded by Mormons. Mormons went on to found many other southern Idaho towns. The largest population of Mormons in Idaho could be found in the Rexburg and Driggs areas. Early Mormon settlers faced much discrimination from the non-Mormon population, resulting in the Test Oath of 1885. This law, brought on by the backlash to Mormon polygamy, actually disenfranchised all Mormons in Idaho. When this law was repealed in 1893, Mormon migrants were less hesitant to move to Idaho. The combination of opportunities put forth by the railroad and water projects, lack of available land in Utah, and the official end of Mormon discrimination unleashed a new era of Mormon settlement between the years of 1890 and 1914.

          During this period, Idaho would also attract many foreign-born migrants. Some Europeans had come to Idaho during the fur trade and mining eras, but the majority of European migration came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many French Canadians and British Islanders worked for the fur trading companies. French Canadians also played a part in Idaho's mining booms. Frenchmen's Island in Minidoka County was named after two French Canadian homesteaders. The main areas of French Canadian settlement were in northern Idaho, including Kootenai, Shoshone, and Bonner counties, and in the lumber regions of Latah and Benewah counties.

          Many British Islanders, including people from England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, became early migrants to Idaho. Most of these immigrants assimilated into society well, but the Irish, Welsh, and Cornish (from the Cornwall district of England) settled into enclaves. Cornish immigrants came mainly to work in the mines. The gold rush in Idaho coincided with a depression in the mines of Cornwall, which prompted the immigration. Idaho's northern mines drew Welsh immigrants as well who mainly settled in Kellogg and the American Falls region. Welsh Mormons settled in the Malad Valley and Bear Lake Valley in the 1860s and 1870s. The mining booms also drew large numbers of Irish, as did the military. Half of the miners in the Wood River area during the 1880s were Irish.(17) Many Irish stayed in Idaho and became intensely active in the labor movement.

          The Chinese were the next ethnic group to migrate to Idaho in significant numbers. They came to work in the mines, and by 1870, comprised 25 percent of the population. In the late 1870s and 1880s many of these Chinese worked in railroad construction. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1884 halted Chinese immigration to the United States entirely, causing the number of Chinese in Idaho and the U.S. to slowly decline.

          Scandinavian immigrants, including people from Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark, constituted about of Idaho's population by 1900.(18) These Scandinavian immigrants usually did not come directly from Europe to Idaho. Some were Mormon converts who went to Utah before moving into southern Idaho. Most of the others had first settled in Michigan, Minnesota, or Wisconsin before migrating to Idaho. Many of the migrants from the Midwest followed the shift in the lumber industry from the northern Midwest to Idaho and the west coast. Many settled in Potlatch, Moscow, Bonners Ferry, Sandpoint, and Troy. Southern Idaho attracted Swedes as well, mostly settling in New Sweden, Firth, and Nampa. The majority of Finnish immigrants settled in Silver City and Long Valley between 1890 and 1920.

          Idaho also drew many German immigrants, usually from the Midwest. Many came during the mining rushes, others came to homestead. A group of Germans from Illinois came to Idaho and founded the town of Keuterville where many German Catholics would settle. German Lutherans tended to settle around Leland and Kendrick. Germans could be found in the north, in St. Maries and Moscow, as well as the southern capital city of Boise. In 1910, Germans comprised ten percent of Boise's population.

         Mines and railroads attracted many southern European immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Italian enclaves existed in Kellogg, Wallace, Bonners Ferry, Naples, and Mullan. Pocatello was home to the largest community of Italians and Greeks, employed by nearby railroads. Agents of the Oregon Short Line Railroad recruited immigrants from Greece, creating an enclave in Pocatello.(19) Potlatch, Boise, St. Maries, and Sandpoint also hosted small Greek populations. Other southern European immigrants included Portuguese immigrants in Gooding County, as well as a large community of Basques from northern Spain and Southern France. The Basques who immigrated to Idaho cane from the Pyrenees in Spain. They began to immigrate to Idaho in 1895, working as sheepherders and ranch hands. Basque enclaves declined in the 1920s, due to Americanization, but Boise, Mountain Home, Nampa, Hagerman, Twin Falls, and Hailey remain important locations of Basque settlement outside of Europe.

Idaho's History Through Place Names

          Idaho's history and settlement patterns can be explored through place names. Idaho's place names vary in origin, but follow a few patterns. Many places are named after people; others were influenced by Native American names or figures. Early explorers, miners, and travelers along the Oregon and California trails provided many names, as did railroad construction and Mormon settlers.

          Many of Idaho's place names are Native American in origin. Many counties, such as Shoshone, Bannock, and Kootenai were named after Idaho tribes. Native American chiefs and leaders are also preserved in place names, such as Targee, Benewah, Pocatello, and Wabango.

          Early explorers, fur trappers, and miners were often the first white people to travel through the region and name places. Lewis and Clark named several places on their journey, but many of those names did not endure. William Clark named the Lewis River, but it was later changed to the Salmon River. Many places in Idaho are named after explorers, especially Lewis and Clark. Lewis County, Lewiston, and Lewisville are all named for Meriwether Lewis. The Clark River, Clark Point, and Clarkia were all named for William Clark. Place names throughout the state were inspired by the numerous mining rushes in Idaho. Centerville, Bogus Basin, Eldorado Gulch, Idaho City, and Silver City are examples of that trend.

          Mormon colonization also brought place names. Often Mormon settlers would name a town in honor of an important church leader or official. Burton, Chesterfield, Hammond, Kinckley, Lyman, Rexburg, and St. Charles all received their names this way. Lemhi County took its name from a figure in the book of Mormon. Mormon Canyon, Mormon Mountain, and Mormon Ranch were all named after Mormon settlers.

          Ethnic place names are found throughout Idaho as well. Albion, Amsterdam, Bern, Danish Flat, Copenhagen, Dublin, Geneva, Irish Canyon, Italian Gulch, and Little Sweden all derive their names from the immigrants who settled in those towns. Place names are an informative way to begin local research and often give important insight to local history and settlement patterns.

Bibliography >>    

(16) Arrington, Volume 2, 82.
(17) Arrington, Volume 2, 265.
(18) Arrington, 271.
(19) Mary Katsilometes Scott, "The Greek Community in Pocatello, 1890-1941," Idaho Yesterdays, 28, no.4 (1984): 29.

By Rickie Lazzerini

BA History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Index of Historical Reviews

2006 Rickie Lazzerini, All Rights Reserved
This page may be freely linked to but may not be reproduced
in any form without prior written consent from the author.

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