Idaho State History

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The State of Idaho was name is claimed to have been derived from a Shoshone language term meaning “the sun comes from the mountains” or “gem of the mountains”. The nickname is the Gem State. The State Motto is “Esto perpetua” which translates to May it Endure Forever.

Idaho is located in the western part of the United States. It is on the eastern side of what is known as the Pacific Northwest. It is a state full of wonderful natural landscapes and its population is quite diverse. Many natural resources can be found in Idaho and they serve to support and expand upon the state’s economy. The state’s capital, which is also its biggest city, is Boise.

The Rocky Mountains run through Idaho. They are known for their forests, upland slopes, plateaus, and snow-covered mountain peaks. The mountains that divide the state from north to south and from east to west have caused communication problems throughout the state’s history. An area of the state called the Panhandle is to the north of that mountainous divide. It is well-known for it’s minerals, forests, and lakes.

Ever since the 1940s, Idaho’s economy has developed at a very fast rate. The area is known mainly for its agriculture and farming industry. Wood product manufacturing, food processing, and technology industries have also grown. Not only that, but the tourist industry in Idaho has been a strong source of revenue for the state.

Boise, Idaho was home to the area’s first district land office, which was established in 1866. A similar office also opened in Lewiston that year. Later, the following land offices were established: Oxford in 1879, Hailey in 1883, Coeur d’Alene in 1884, Blackfoot in 1886.

Confederate refugees came to Idaho when the Civil War ended. A new mining boom in the late 1800s and the addition of railroads in the southern Idaho farmland also attracted new groups of settlers to Idaho.

It took a long time for Idaho Territory to be recognized as a U.S. state. There were several disputes over state borders and whether or not northern Idaho should be considered part of Washington Territory. Then, in 1889, the Idaho Constitution was signed and compromises were soon reached. By July 3, 1890, when Idaho became a state, all of the boundary disputes had been settled.

Several different ethnic groups settled in Idaho at different times. One of those groups was the Finns, who settled near Payette Lakes in the mountain valleys of Idaho. Another group consisted of the converted Scandinavian Mormons. Immigrants from the Balkans and Wales also came to the area because of the draw of the Coeur d’Alene mines. Many hundreds of Chinese workers also came to work in the mining colonies from the1860s through the 1870s. Basque sheepherders also came to the area. They traveled from the Spanish Pyrenees and then settled in California, Oregon, Nevada, and Idaho. Before the start of World War II, Japanese immigrants had also come to southwestern Idaho. Pocatello and Idaho Falls were also home to Japanese settlements. Desert lands were opened up for farming use during the early 1900s, which caused even more immigrants to come from the state. Many migrated to Idaho from Utah.

There are also 4 Native American reservations in Idaho. They are: Nez Perce Reservation, Coeur d’Alene Reservation , Fort Hall Reservation, Duck Valley Reservation

Enclaves of Native Americans exist in Cusick and Bonner’s Ferry. The first is home to Kalispell Tribe members, while the second is home to Kootenai Tribe members.

The development of Idaho was tolerant and peaceful at times, but turbulent and difficult at other times. Three very different cultures, the northern miners, eastern Mormons, and western non-Mormons, all formed in the area. Eventually, they all came together to form Idaho as it exists today.

Idaho Ethnic Group Research

The federal census from 1900 states that the following tribes were present in Idaho at that time: Bannocks, Cayuse, Coeur d’Alene, Colville, Cree, Crow, Flathead, Kalispell, Kootenai, Omaha, Seletze, Sheepeater, Snake, Spokane, Umatilla

The federal government created multiple agencies to oversee Idaho Native American tribe affairs. The Idaho State Historical Society and the National Archives, Pacific Alaska (Seattle) have those records on file. The FHL also has copies of the records for the Northern Idaho Agency.

Fort Hall Agency – Fort Hall, Idaho (1889 to 1952) records may include: School Censuses, School Surveys, Mining Permits, Grazing Leases, Individual Indian Accounts, Ceded Land Records, Irrigation Records, Forestry Records, Loans, Law Suits.

The tribes administered by the Fort Hall Agency were the Shoshone, Bannock, Boise, and Bruneau tribes. However, researchers should note that Bannock tribe members did not fall under that agency’s jurisdiction until 1872.

Northern Idaho Agency – Lapai, Idaho (1875 to 1964) records may include: General Correspondence and Decimal Records, Historical Files, Correspondence Concerning Kutenai Educational Contracts, Timber and Grazing Leases, Forestry Records, Road Records, Individual Indian Account Ledgers, annuity Payrolls, Vital Statistics, Census Records, Economic and Social Surveys.

The tribes covered by this agency were the Nez Perce, Kootenai, and Coeur d’Alene.

There are two schools that can be excellent resources for Idaho tribal records. They are the Chemawa, Oregon Chemawa Indian School and the Cascade County, Montana Fort Shaw School. Those schools included students from across the entire northwest part of the country.

The Pacific Northwest Tribes Missions Collection of the Oregon Province Archives of the Society of Jesus (1853-1960) and the Major James McLaughlin Papers contain valuable Native American information.

There are several ethnic groups in Idaho. Many of them did not fit well into Idaho’s frontier society. For example, the eastern part of the state was mainly Mormon. It consisted primarily of Mormons from Scandinavia and England. They had their own court system and didn’t really adhere to territorial law in Idaho.

In 1864 the first Chinese people came to the area in order to work in the gold fields of Oro Fino. They were originally used as a labor force in California, but quickly began working in all of the mining towns in the Northwest. As of 1879, 4,274 Chinese people lived in the area. They made up about 28.5% of Idaho’s population at that time. Boise was home to the biggest Chinatown in the country aside from the one in San Francisco at one point in time.

The Chinese people who came to Idaho started out in Kuang-Tuang province, in a city called Canton. There was a lot of political upheaval in that area around that time. Combined with severe weather, that upheaval led to economic problems. That led to many Chinese people leaving to find better lives in America.

There were several taxes that the Chinese people had to pay in Idaho. Those included a hospital tax, miners’ tax, poll tax, and property tax. The Chinese people enjoyed the fraternal and social aspects of the Masonic Lodge. Although other states were anti-Chinese, no conflicts with the Chinese developed in Idaho.

As of 1880 there were 3,379 people living in the are. However, 10 years later there were only 2,007. The next decade saw an even larger decline in the Chinese population, which had dropped to just 1,467 by 1900. Most of the Chinese people who still lived in Idaho around 1900 were living in Boise County.

A Chinese fraternity called the Hip Sing Association existed in Boise until the building was torn down, which took place in the 1970s. The Idaho State Historical Society now holds many of the materials from that fraternity. An inventory of those materials, including documents written in Chinese, is currently being created.

Idaho gained its statehood in 1890. Over the next decade, several Japanese people moved to the state. In fact, they made up the biggest ethnic group in the region. There were Japanese settlements at Pocatello, Nampa, and all along the Oregon Short Line Railroad by the 1890s. As of 1920 there were 1,569 Japanese people living in Idaho.

The Japanese-American group’s loyalties were questioned by many during World War II. That led to the federal government creating camps to hold Japanese-Americans during the war. Ten camps were created in all. One of them was opened in August of 1942 in Hunt, Idaho. It was called Camp Minidoka and it mainly held Japanese-Americans from Seattle and Portland. When the war ended, several Japanese-Americans chose to stay in Idaho.

People known as Basques from Navarre, Alava, Guipuzcoa, and Viscaya in the Pyrenees Mountains also came to Idaho. To this day Boise is home to one of the largest concentrations of Basque people in the United States. Many of them began moving to the United States in 1876 because of suppression in their home lands. They soon sent word to relatives that there was work in the Idaho area, causing even more Basques to immigrate to Idaho. The largest immigration of Basques to Idaho lasted from 1900 to 1920.

The Basque people were Catholics, but Idaho was predominantly Protestant when they settled there. There were a few Catholic parishes in Idaho at the time, but most of the Basques didn’t attend them because the parish priests mainly spoke English and the Basques spoke little or no English. It wasn’t until 1911 that a Basque-speaking priest was hired by the Boise Diocese bishop. That allowed the Basque people to begin really settling into the area. There are still several Basque organizations that can be found in the Boise area and may hold records that researchers will find useful.

Idaho History Databases and other Helpful Links

The websites below will provide state-specific details to those in search of information for Idaho genealogy work.

State Genealogy Guides