Highway 20 spans Idaho and the lives of Medal of Honor recipients
This story was originally published in March 2010.
One drew its name from a Saturday Evening Post picture, another from some persuasive home cooking. Many Treasure Valley roads sport signs that promise — and deliver — intriguing stories, from a likely mythical marauding Indian to a cold night on a high hill.
One of the most-recognized road names in the area is Meridian’s Black Cat, famously marked by a steely strutting feline that has dangled for decades above the road’s intersection with Franklin Road. But few seem to know the name’s origins.
Drew Eggers knows.
“My grandfather, Chester Eggers Sr., and my grandmother Myrtle moved onto a farm in 1921 on what then was called Post Road,” Eggers said. “They started a registered Holstein business and dairy. You need a name for your farm when you’re selling registered cattle.
“My grandfather saw a picture of a proud cat in the Saturday Evening Post. He liked that and decided to name the place Black Cat Farm.”
In the early 1930s, Myrtle Eggers took the picture to Gate City Steel in Boise, which created a black metal replica. The couple hung the cocky cat at the nearby intersection. Nearly 80 years later, it’s still there.By the time Drew’s father, Chester Eggers Jr., came back to the farm in the early 1950s, Ada County had decided to drop Post and rename the road Black Cat, he said.The Eggers family no longer owns that farm, but the stately barn and other buildings remain. And Drew Eggers grows mint across the road, putting the black cat logo on his farm machinery.
Poultry for potholes?
Eggers wonders about other road names, like Chicken Dinner Road in rural western Canyon County.
The tale has many versions, each with devotees. Those competing accounts initially caused Caldwell librarian Elaine Leppert to respond to a Chicken Dinner query by saying, “I wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole. I wouldn’t touch it with a chicken leg.”
But she relented. The story’s too rich to stay quiet, and its central facts are accepted by most: The titular chicken dinner was prepared in the 1930s by Laura Lamb, who lived along the then-rutted road.
Other facts are less certain. The most popular account has Lamb preparing her famous fried chicken for then-Gov. C. Ben Ross, a family friend, and asking him his opinion of the rough road he’d had to travel to reach her home. Ross told Lamb that if she could get the county to grade the road, he’d get it oiled. She did, then he did.
“I’ve heard it was a commissioner; I’ve heard it was the governor,” Leppert said. “My father said it was a commissioner.”
That last version carries some credibility, since county commissioners are more likely than a governor to hear a plea for improving a county road. Then again, Leppert acknowledged, a governor does have clout.
According to some versions, the street name first appeared on cardboard “chicken dinner” signs placed along the route to direct the governor — or commissioner — to his supper.After the road was oiled, vandals supposedly wrote “Lamb’s Chicken Dinner Avenue” on its freshly oiled surface in bright yellow letters. The name was catchy, so it stuck.
Cold names in Gem County
For curiosity, Emmett’s Frozen Dog Road ranks right up there with Chicken Dinner.
Some say the name hearkens back to, well, a very cold canine. But a more widely accepted version gives the credit to William Hunter, who planted orchards in the Emmett area in the late 1800s, then went to Kansas City, where he wrote tongue-in-cheek newspaper columns about a fictional Idaho town called Frozen Dog. In 1905 he published a collection of those columns as “Frozen Dog Tales and Other Things.” The “other things” included various poems he dubbed “frozen dog-gerel.”
The freezing theme continues in Gem County with Freezeout Road, a name tied to the daunting Freezeout Hill.
According to the Gem County Web site, the hill got its name because early travelers entering the Emmett Valley from the southeast had to lock, or “freeze,” their wagon wheels and skid down the steep hill.
Lalia Boone’s “Idaho Place Names” book gives a more dramatic, but related, reason for the name: Early freighters approaching that incline in 1864 decided to spend the night atop the hill after watching one of their number tip his wagon in the attempt. They reportedly nearly froze to death before they could make it down the hill the next day.
Big Foot, big story
William Hunter isn’t the only imaginative newspaper writer linked to Treasure Valley road names. According to Caldwell public historian Madeline Buckendorf, a Portland scribe was responsible for fueling folklore that gave a Nampa-area road its name — Big Foot Road.
“Mostly it was a widely published and widely repeated newspaper story that was made up,” Buckendorf said. Big Foot, so the story went, was an imposingly large Indian with massive footprints who marauded the area in the late 1800s.
“Bits and pieces of the story were probably true, but there was no Big Foot,” Buckendorf said.
Wendy Miller, director/curator of the Canyon County Historical Museum, says Big Foot was purported to be a half-Cherokee, half-black man around 7 feet tall who came West on a wagon train in 1856 and became smitten with a young woman who chose another. He killed his rival then declared war on Oregon Trail emigrants, leading a band of renegades who attacked wagon trains.Various accounts say that storied Big Foot was born Starr Wilkinson, but Miller said there’s documentation on an Indian known as Howluck who fits much of the story. According to the Idaho Historical Society Reference Series, Howluck was “the real Bigfoot,” given that name by white settlers because his foot measured 14 3/4 inches. He reportedly settled on a reservation and died of old age, Miller said,but not before he became “known for his ability to run down and capture jackrabbits using only his cane.”
The Starr Wilkinson versions offer a more sensational tale of Big Foot’s demise, saying he was gunned down by a lawman but disappeared before his body could be buried. Huge footprints supposedly were sighted at scenes of future mayhem.
Many believe Nampa got its name from a native word for Big Foot, and that the name was carried by an Indian chief. But Miller and Buckendorf say that story was a public relations ruse devised by a promoter trying to boost attendance at the 1919 Nampa Harvest Festival.
“The promoter dressed up in regalia and called himself Chief Nampa,” Miller said. “It was not real, but people thought it was real. People later told their children, ‘When I was young, I saw Chief Nampa.’”
Crimes inspire street names
Elsewhere in Canyon County, a couple of street signs conjure images of stagecoach robberies and mayhem. Robber Place and Gunfire Road lie just off U.S. 20/26 north of Caldwell.
But the roads don’t date back to the wild West; they’re part of a small business park begun in 2000.
“We had an office there, and we were a construction company,” said Jerry Trammel, one of the developers. “A guy came in one day trying to sell us a painting. I said no; I thought he was a flake.
“That night somebody broke into our office and stole our computer. So we came up with Robber.”
The developers planned to name an adjacent street for a local councilman, but their plans abruptly changed after noisy violence broke out in a neighborhood north of them.
“All we could hear was shots going off, so we named it Gunfire,” he said.
And perhaps appropriately, Gunfire and Robber are just down the street from the planned site for a new county jail.
More road names
Can you shed light on the origins of other intriguing local road names - Victory, perhaps, or Pride, or Americana? Or do you know a different tale or additional information for one of the street names in this story? Which local road names are you curious about?
Email the Statesman at firstname.lastname@example.org, including your name and a phone number where you can be reached.
Chinden Boulevard: The name is a contraction of Chinese garden, honoring the beautiful vegetable gardens run by Chinese settlers for decades in what is now Garden City, former Idaho State Historical Director Arthur Hart said. Reportedly, a contest was held in the 1950s to rename Highway 20-26, and Chinden was Neta Danzer’s winning submission.
Protest Road: This was so named because people opposed the road, Hart said. “The neighbors didn’t want it built, but when it was built in spite of their protests it was named Protest,” he said.
Floating Feather Road: This road shares its name with a now-defunct airport that started circa 1940 and operated at least through 1967, according to a Web site dubbed “Abandoned & Little-known Airfields.”
Dixie and Dixie River roads: A settlement of border-state folks trying to avoid the Civil War spawned Dixie Road and Dixie River Road in northwestern Canyon County, Caldwell historian Chuck Randolph said. Although border states were overrun by soldiers from both sides, the community’s name could indicate a Confederate bias.
Overland Road: This was named for the Oregon Trail, aka the Overland Route, Hart said.
Five Mile and Ten Mile roads: These were stops on the stage route from Boise to Silver City, named for their distance from the starting point, Caldwell historian Madeline Buckendorf said. Have more questions about Five Mile and Ten Mile roads? We’ve got answers.
Middle Road: This Canyon County road is sandwiched between Upper Pleasant Ridge Road and Lower Pleasant Ridge Road. Caldwell Librarian Elaine Leppert, who grew up in the area, said residents always called it Middle Pleasant Ridge, but when the road signs went up somehow Middle stopped being pleasant.