Organization of The State of Idaho

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Idaho is a state that is not easily tied up in a neat little package that can be carried with ease and quickly opened and casually explained. Anyone looking for a precise definition of Idaho has embarked on a Gordian quest. In fact, the very manner and way of such a Gordian quest has by definition long been the Idaho manner and way in itself. Idaho is indeed still itself. It is the land of the pioneer, and the starter-over, the “let’s give this life a fresh new beginning,” a place for any and all people who are bold and courageous and not afraid of the unknown. It is the land for the wanderer, the lover, the dream, and the dreamer. This incredible state seems to have been cobbled together —by nature and by people—into an incongruous marvel that is more than the sum of its parts. Close examination confirms in the observer’s mind that this melding together of the different aspects of the State is still unfinished. As any good back-country veteran will tell you, the real unpublished definition of an Idaho outdoor guide is “Anyone who has gotten lost here, before.”

Two great questions and one declaration are always asked to the person considering to move to this majestic and mysterious place called Idaho. They are:

1. Have you ever been to the high and treacherous mountains?
2. Have you seen great masses of bare and jagged rock, great waterfalls, and turbulent, boiling rivers?
3. One who knows this world, called Idaho, must know more than mountains, rocks, and rivers.

An old Idaho saying goes like this: “You just can’t get here from there.” The here in question is Idaho itself. Sometimes it seems that you can’t get here from here. And yet here you are, happy and surprised—and most usually completely out of breath.

Rugged, rangy, elusive, ever-changing, Idaho presents a challenging vision. “It is the light,” someone might say. “The way the light doesn’t fall or shine or even glow like it does in other places. You know what I mean? Here, the light,…Oh what can I say? The clarity tricked me. It magnified my ambitions. I thought that where I was going was closer…than it appears to actually be”

“I mean just look,” our someone might say, “at that tall pine tree on that near—er, I mean that distant ridge. How far is that ? Five? Ten? (Our someone’s voice is rising.) Twenty-five miles? Good Lord! (Our someone is shouting now.) It might be two and one half days! (He is screaming now.) Without the benefit of a helicopter! (Whispering now). Oh, well, I would go back to where I started, if I only knew how to get back there.”

Idaho is just that way. Both geographically and historically. You think you have finally got it all figured out. Then you learn some more about it, that new information immediately changes everything that you thought you already knew and understood. There have been many Idaho river boatmen who have floated by an excited wild-eyed hiker, who is shouting at the river in dismay or delight. Or in both dismay and delight at the same time. But when the excitement finally subsides in a mental eddy of quietude and consideration, one must always remember that what was seen or heard is just one Idahoan’s opinion,…today. Wait another five minutes or another day and everything will all change.

Just one person’s Idaho. Every angle is new. The light on the land, and the land on the light. Our someone might say, “I was enjoying the scenery and then I fell off the cliff.”

There is an Idaho moment that has been shared by many. People often come to Idaho in the same way as philosophers come to a great realization—by felicitous serendipity. Idaho was something wonderful that they found when they didn’t even know they were looking. A transplanted Idaho resident from the mountain town of McCall, Idaho, on the shores of the beautiful Payette Lake had this to say: “I was on my way from Louisiana to Alaska until I got high-centered in Idaho.” Both physically and spiritually, many people have high-centered—quite happily—in Idaho.


An Idaho too hard to figure.
An Idaho too hard to traverse.
An Idaho too surprising to define.
As Idaho back-country pilots always say, “Even the clouds have rocks in them.”
And so do Idaho dreams.
But that is all for the better.

Once a place is completely defined and smoothed out and paved, in many ways it is dead in the mind. Luckily, contradictory Idaho is more than alive. In many ways it is fresh born.


Some people say today that Idaho is what America was. Of course, what America was, was a vehicle for self expression, greased with sweat and fired by the fuel of opportunity. What America was: That is Idaho now. Earnest, energetic, sometimes foolish, always kind.

And remember that America was also funny. Funny in an innocent, kidding, laugh-at-itself way. America could kid, grin, and still get its work done, taking everything seriously but itself. True grit and ready grin. Those were American qualities. That is indeed what Idaho really is today.

This article of discussion will act as a guide to and through this wonderful place carved out of the Rocky Mountains and the Upper Snake River plains and the treacherous Lower Snake River Hell’s Canyon.

The story that is about to unfold comes directly from a man who definitely was there at the same time these events actually occurred. This man was the controller of the entire area known as Idaho Territory. His name was James L. Onderdonk.

In an annual report filed with the federal government, Mr. James Onderdonk compiled within his report much of the information I am telling you in this article. This true tale is about how the United States of America actually acquired possession of what in now known as Idaho Territory. In order to clear up any long standing confusion over the details of the events that established Idaho Territory, the actual facts were boldly stated in Mr. Onderdonk’s 1885 report.

Oregon Country was not included in the Louisiana Purchase. The acquired real estate of the Louisiana Purchase did not extend westerly beyond the main range of the Rocky Mountains. The United States’ title to that very large area was originally included in the State of Oregon and in the Territories of Washington and Idaho. Title to these two Territories 
rests completely upon a different foundation, or rather a series of claims, each of which was strong under the law of nations.

The United States claimed this whole territory in question (Oregon Country) first by right of Original Discovery of the Columbia River by an American navigator, Robert Gray, in 1792; second by an original exploration, The Lewis & Clark Expedition in 1805; third by original settlement in 1810 by the enterprising company of which John Jacob Astor was the head; and lastly and principally, by the transfer of the Spanish Title in 1819, many years after the Louisiana Purchase was accomplished.

It is not likely, however, that we should have been able to maintain our title to Oregon if we had not secured the intervening country of Washington and Idaho Territories. It was certainly our purchase of Louisiana that enabled us to secure the Spanish title to the shores of the Pacific Ocean, and without that title could we have hardly maintained our claim. As against England, our title seemed to us to be perfect; but as against Spain, our title was not so strong. The Louisiana Purchase may, therefore, be fully said to have carried with it and secured to us our possession of Oregon.

Oregon Country originally embraced all of the area claimed by the United States on the Pacific Coast from Latitude 42 degrees to Latitude 54 degrees 40 minutes North. It was jointly occupied by Great Britain and the United States until 1846, when Great Britain renounced all claim to the region south of the 49th parallel.

The Territory of Washington was created March 2, 1853 embracing all that region lying between the Pacific and the summit of the Rocky Mountains, and north of the Columbia River and the 46th parallel.

When Oregon was admitted as a State, February 14, 1859, the region between what was established as its eastern boundary line and the Rocky Mountains, and north of the 42nd parallel, was added to Washington, which then comprised an area of 193,071 square miles, including the present Territory of Idaho and parts of Montana and Wyoming.

Idaho was created by the Act of March 3, 1863, from parts of Dakota, Nebraska, and Washington Territories. As originally constituted, it embraced 326,373 square miles including all of the present Territory of Montana and a large portion of Wyoming. In 1868, Idaho was reduced to its present dimensions, extending from the British Possessions on the North to Utah and Nevada on the south; from Montana and Wyoming on the east to Oregon and Washington on the west, having a length from north to south of 410 miles, and a width from east to west varying from 60 to 257 miles.

Knowing from whence you came is always a good thing as these roots become the anchor point from which to base the manner, customs, and way that a person conducts their own lives. The sum of the parts always totals to the whole. So it was and remains to this day, the great Northwest section of the United Sates of America, in which is nestled this magnificent land called Idaho.

Peace and Love to All of You…………….Poppa Bear (An Idaho Native)

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