One of the Southerners who brought his family west during or soon after the Civil War was Charles R. Black, who had served in the Confederate army. He took over operation of a stage station 15 miles east of Boise City where the Oregon Trail crossed Black’s Creek. It became a regular meal stop for travelers going east or west and had the reputation of supplying good food and charming table service by Mrs. Black and her four beautiful daughters.
Daughter Mary married William Ridenbaugh and became a regent of the University of Idaho. Ridenbaugh Hall is named for her. The Ridenbaugh mansion, now gone, stood on an elevated site above Boise Avenue and was for many years one of Boise’s showplaces.
With the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Point in Utah on May 10, 1869, the nation was spanned by rails for the first time, and Idaho freight and passengers could connect to the Union Pacific at either Kelton, Utah, or Winnemucca, Nev. The Kelton Road followed the route of the old Oregon Trail as it passed Black’s Creek station.
In 1883 the Oregon Short Line Railroad was built across Idaho on a route that followed an Indian Creek grade passing 10 miles south of Boise City, which had to wait for rail service until 1887 when a branch line from Nampa was built. The main line of the Union Pacific did not pass through the capital city until 1925, when it reached the striking new Mission-style depot, now on the National Register of Historic Places.
The vast sagebrush plains of Southern Idaho, and mountains to north and south, provided grazing for more than a million sheep and cattle in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Basque immigrants from the province of Vizcaya in northern Spain began coming to Southern Idaho in the 1880s, and by 1920 made up the largest colony of Basques in America. The Basques are an ancient people with a distinctive culture and a language unrelated to any other. Although few of them had herded sheep in the old country, the men who took up this lonesome and sometimes dangerous line of work in the Intermountain West proved to be so faithful and diligent that they were soon in demand, and brothers and cousins found their way here, followed by wives and families.
The Basque Center and the Basque Museum and Cultural Center in Boise keep the Basque language and culture alive. Basque festivals bring together Basques from Nevada, Oregon and California, as well as from Idaho.
Idaho, like the nation, is a melting pot of nationalities, races and cultures, and nowhere is this better documented than it is in the U.S. Census. The first of these to include Idaho Territory was taken in 1870. The largest foreign-born population by far in that year was Chinese, which numbered 4,272, most of them mining in Boise County. In 1880 more than a thousand had left Idaho for California and back to their homeland in south China. The decline continued dramatically: In 1890 there were 2,007; in 1900, 1,467; in 1910, 859; and by 1920 there were only 858 Chinese in Idaho.
When U.S. 30 was built across Idaho in the 1920s, Idaho was solidly in the automobile age. Most Idaho families now owned a car and used it for commuting to and from work, for shopping trips and for recreational touring on the state’s mostly unpaved roads. Electric street cars were replaced by buses, and city traffic, parking and air pollution became new problems to be solved.
When Varney Airlines established the country’s first commercial airmail service in 1926, with Boise as its headquarters, its pilots flew tiny open-cockpit single-engine biplanes over mostly desert country from Pasco, Wash., to Boise, to Elko, Nev.
Later, after Varney became part of United Airlines on July 1, 1931, its larger planes carried passengers and mail across Idaho on a Portland to Salt Lake City route. For a more detailed aviation history, with lots of great pictures, see my book “Wings over Idaho.”
To all of my faithful readers I send best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.