But for the intervention of an elderly Nez Perce woman on behalf of Lewis and Clark in 1805, what later became Idaho might have wound up in British hands.
So argue Randy Stapilus and Marty Peterson in their new book, “Idaho 100: The people who most influenced the Gem State.”
The woman was Wetxiwiis, who spoke up to cool the passions of Nez Perce who argued that the sickened Meriwether Lewis and the broken-hipped William Clark should be killed.
Pronounced Wet-k’hoo-wees, her name means “one returned from a faraway country.” She reminded her tribe that whites had helped return her to the Weippe Prairie after she’d been kidnapped by other tribes. The explorers sent by President Thomas Jefferson deserved the same courtesy, she said.
Lewis and Clark didn’t know how close they came to slaughter. They were fed, nursed and sent west to the Pacific. What if they’d never made Astoria, Ore., and never returned toWashington, D.C., fueling exploration, expansionism and commerce?
“It’s not a reach to suggest that what’s now Idaho, and points west, might today be part of Canada if Lewis and Clark had not returned,” write Stapilus and Peterson, who put Wetxiwiis at No. 10, one of just five women and three non-whites in their account.
“Idaho 100” is intentionally provocative, meant to spur debate, while reminding us from whence we’ve come as we approach next year’s territorial sesquicentennial.
Some might blanch at omissions, or that a national figure such as Sen. William Borah, at No. 69, could be so far down the list. Though 14 governors are represented, many of those are recognized for their work outside of public office.
It’s not a honor roll of greatness, say the authors, whose inclusion of neo-Nazi Richard Butler (No. 88) proves the point. Instead, they write, “It’s an encapsulation of what people did that has transformed Idaho, for good and for bad.”
Gold-seekers, surveyors, engineers, land speculators, merchants, bankers, ranchers, utility executives and Mormon pioneers are well represented. They set Idaho’s path. So are wonderfully obscure figures whose presence at a key moment made a world of difference.
Take No. 17, Edward Stevenson. The entry on Stevenson, a lawyer, miner and territorial governor, so charmed me that I went looking for his grave in Boise’s Pioneer Cemetery.
Stevenson intervened in 1887 when a bill that parceled out the Idaho Territory to Utah, Nevada and Washington state was on President Grover Cleveland’s desk. Three years after convincing the president to kill the bill, Stevenson helped secure statehood. “Odds are, there would be no Idaho today but for him,” write the authors, who put his image on the book’s cover.
Even the Famous Potato owes its fame in large part to one man, Joe Marshall, a Jerome farmer who pressed the claim that Idaho taters were best.
J.R. Simplot (No. 11) might not have gotten so rich dehydrating but for Marshall (No. 5) establishing the Idaho brand. Seeing value in the high solids content of Idaho spuds, Marshall began selling them as “premium” in 1917. He took over marketing for as many as 200 Southern Idaho farms, spurred the food-processing industry and helped the world agree that the Idaho baker is No. 1.
Another of my favorites is Alfred Budge, No. 73, who served on the Idaho Supreme Court from 1914 to 1949, writing more than 1,000 decisions. Budge was more than a voluble jurist; he was a defendant in a case that helped erase one of the stains of statehood, the ban on Mormons voting and holding office.
In Toncray v. Budge, the Idaho Supreme Court upheld Budge’s 1906 election to the district court bench in Bear Lake County, rejecting a challenge based on Budge’s being a practicing Mormon.
The No. 1 ranking goes to Lloyd Adams, a newspaper publisher, lawyer and lobbyist from Rexburg — and not a household name. Adams gets five pages, the longest entry.
Adams was a fixer with heavy influence on Idaho government, beginning with his role in electing a Republican governor in 1912 and ending only with his death in 1969.
As an example of Adams’ style, the authors tell the story of the battle in the 1919 Legislature over whether to build wings for the House and Senate. A key senator with votes in his pocket was fuming because the Ada County sheriff had raided the senator’s hotel room, spiriting away his spirits.
Adams invited the lawmaker to dinner with the Boise Chamber of Commerce, where the hosts “presented him with his confiscated liquor, a new silver flask and a note of apology from the sheriff’s office.” Feelings soothed, wings approved.
Adams, largely unknown outside political circles, might seem to be an eccentric pick. But by the time I got to No. 100, it made perfect sense.
Peterson told me that he aimed to give “an overview of why Idaho is what Idaho is.” Stapilus said the “real value is in opening up often obscure but important parts of Idaho history.”
They’ve succeeded. The rankings are less important than the acts that earned a spot.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics