150 Boise Icons: The Idaho Statesman

awebb@idahostatesman.comJune 23, 2013 

In its 149 years in existence, the Idaho Statesman's front page has told its readers about presidential assassinations and wartime victories. The paper announced Idaho statehood in 1890 with the words, "Let the Eagle Scream!"

Readers have turned to the Statesman to learn about the sinking of the Titanic, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the opening of the grand state Capitol on a cold day in 1921. The Statesman announced the launch of Sputnik in 1957 and Neil Armstrong's lunar stroll in 1969.

The paper's history reaches back to Boise's earliest days. A year after the city was platted, the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman produced its first issue from a windowless log cabin with a dirt floor where City Hall sits today. The driving force behind the first paper was H.C. Riggs.

Riggs came to the Boise Valley with his family in 1863. He helped lay out Boise's first city plan. In 1864, he was elected to the territorial legislature, then meeting in Lewiston. His powers of persuasion were apparently so great he helped convince delegates to move the territorial capital to Boise and to create a county named for his daughter, Ada.

That done, Riggs turned his attention to the newspaper business. He offered New Yorker James Reynolds $1,500 and the Main Street cabin to settle in Boise instead of Idaho City. At the time, Idaho City had more than four times as many people as Boise. Reynolds, an abolitionist and ardent supporter of Abraham Lincoln, took the offer and became the paper's first publisher.

The inaugural issue of the Statesman hit Boise streets on July 26, 1864.

Almost half of the front page was devoted to Civil War news - "Particulars of the Great Raid into Maryland" and "Rebels Repulsed at Bush Hill." Advertisements were mostly those for lawyers practicing in Idaho City, gold rush boom town.

The first paper had the beginnings of a humor column. A brief near the bottom of the page equated the sight of a polka-dancing man to a man shaking loose change down the leg of his trousers.

Reynolds was well aware of the risk inherent in starting a newspaper in a nascent city 300 miles from the nearest mail delivery. Days after the first paper was printed, Reynolds wrote an editorial:

"OUR PAPER: No one who has never had the trial can fully appreciate the labor and perseverance and untiring care required to start a newspaper and get it in successful operation. It is a rough business in any country, and the failures outnumber the successes. But in our humble opinion this country, as we found it, is about as rough a place to start this business as any poor Knight of the quill or stick ever stumbled upon."

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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