From Territory to Statehood; Idaho’s Early History
Before any European-Americans came to explore the area of land now known as Idaho, the territory was always home to many Native American tribes. Some of these tribes include the Shoshone, Bannock, Pocatello, Nez Perce, and Kootenai tribes. These tribes were used as the inspiration behind the names of many of the cities, parks, and roads, created later. The Native American tribes were known for their hunting and trapping. They were incredibly resourceful and knew how to use the land to their advantage. This knowledge was helpful when Europeans finally came to explore the land.
Idaho was the last of the 48 continental United States to be explored by European-Americans. Merriweather Lewis and William Clark and their company didn’t enter the state until 1805. They were led through the terrain with the assistance of Shoshone tribe members. They tried first to enter the area by the Salmon River, but rough rapids and intense rock walls made it impossible. The river has since been known to be called “The River of No Return.” However, they were able to find a route through Idaho by following Clearwater and Snake rivers. They then could move on to the Columbia River and follow it all the way to the great Pacific Ocean.
For an area of land, such as Idaho, to become its own territory, then state, there was a very specific two-step process. Both the processes to become a territory, and then to later become a state of the Union, had to be approved by Congress. When an area of land began to be explored, it would have had no specific identification or boundaries. If a resource or reason was found for a lot of people to move over, a bill was presented to Congress to become its own territory. Rarely would they allow it to become a territory if the population was too small. Their general guidelines for a territory being too small were if it didn’t have enough people to warrant one representative in Congress, or if it had less than one- or two-thousand occupants. As long as Congress approved, and the territory was granted, the residents would then try to move on to statehood and be admitted to the Union as quickly as possible. This is the exact process that Idaho went through to become the state that it is today.
Both the United States and Great Britain claimed ownership of the land of what is now Idaho. However, in 1846, the two governments were able to come together, and they signed the Oregon Treaty. This allowed the total ownership of the land to be turned over exclusively to the United States, along with Oregon and Washington, as well as small parts of what is now Montana and Wyoming. The land of Idaho was made part of the Oregon Territory until a year later when it was transferred over to the Washington Territory.
In 1860 gold was found in Idaho, which beckoned thousands of people to relocate to the territory, expanding the population immensely. Just three years later, the population became large enough that Idaho was able to finally become its own territory. The name “Idaho” was first presented to Congress as the name of a completely different territory by a mining lobbyist named George M. Willing. He had claimed that “Idaho” was a Shoshone Indian word meaning “Gem of the Mountains.” Congress liked the idea, especially since Indian words were very popular to use for territory and state names. There were all set to use the name Idaho for that territory, but just as they were about to finalize the decision, they found out that Idaho was not actually an Indian name. In fact, it wasn’t a name or word of any kind. George Willing had made it up. In response, Congress instead named the territory Colorado.
Before this decision was made, however, Idaho had become the common word to use in regard to mining colonies in a totally separate part of the northwest region of the country. A mining town had since been named Idaho Springs. Also, a Columbia River steamboat was named “Idaho.” It was launched June 9, 1860, and provided services between the Cascades and The Dalles. When gold was found in Nez Perce county, the mines that were created were called the “Idaho Mines.” Despite Congress denying the name Idaho being used for a previous territory, it became the most common word used for many parts of this new territory. Even people in Washington D.C. used the name Idaho frequently. It had been two years since the “Idaho” debate with the Colorado territory, and with the impending Civil War, most people in Congress had forgotten all about it. In fact, most people had completely forgotten that the word was made up, and they accepted it as a word from an Indian language. The name “Idaho” was approved for the territory without any struggles or debates.
On July 3, 1890, Idaho, also known as “The Gem State,” was admitted into the Union. This made it the 43rd state to join the United States of America.
Idaho’s state seal is the only one of all 50 states to be designed by a woman. In 1891, The First Legislature for the State of Idaho had sponsored a competition for designing a new state seal. Emma Edwards Green, a previous art student in New York, entered the competition and won. She had submitted a drawing of a miner, a woman symbolizing justice, and sever of Idaho’s natural resources.
That was not Idaho’s only advocacy for women. In 1896 Idaho became only the fourth state to give women the right to vote. Women didn’t have the right to vote on the federal level until 1920, but some states began to see the importance and women’s suffrage started to make some progress. Wyoming, for example, wouldn’t even agree to join the Union until women were allowed to vote. Colorado was the first state to allow women to vote in 1893, and just a few years later Utah, Idaho, and Washington followed suit.
Idaho has a rich history from it’s exploration all the way to its statehood in 1890, and beyond.