In his book “Astoria,” written about 1840, in which he gives the history of an attempt made by the first John Jacob Astor to establish a fur trade to the west of the Rocky Mountains, Washington Irving repeatedly regrets the fact that the great stretch of the western plains must forever form a desert stretch between the civilization of the west and that of the east. In one place he says: “Some portions of it (the prairie) along the river may partially be subdued by agriculture, others may form vast pastoral tracts, like those of the east; but it is to be feared that a great part of it will form a lawless interval between the abodes of civilized man, like the wastes of the ocean or the deserts of Arabia; and, like them, be subject to the depredations of the marauder.”
In this the great writer proved to be a false prophet. Irrigation and the principles of dry farming are fast converting the desert into productive farmland, and land that a few years ago could be had for a song is today held at high prices. The United States Census report for 1910 gave the average value of land in Bannock County as $7.76 per acre. In 1910, the same bureau gave the average value as being $21.57.
This increase in value, however, is not due to development alone, but also to the increased rainfall during recent years, which has made it possible to profitably till soil that was before considered arid. The total precipitation in Pocatello in 1901 was 7.56 inches. In 1906, it was 18.17 inches, and in 1907, 17.43 inches, while in 1914 it was over 18.60 inches. Some scientists explain this by saying that the increased areas of irrigation give off a sufficient evaporation to form clouds, which precipitate the evaporated water in the form of rain and snow, while others maintain that the surface of irrigation waters is not large enough to effect the annual precipitation. But whatever the explanation, the fact remains that many hitherto unproductive tracts have now sufficient natural moisture to make them productive.
The only weather bureau in Bannock county is situated at Pocatello, at an altitude of 4,483 feet, and the following statistics were registered at that place: The average number of days per year with more than .01 inch of precipitation is 92. The mean temperature is about 47.5; nearly the same as that of eastern Massachusetts, but more equably distributed. The earliest killing frost of the winter usually comes about the middle of October, and the last in the spring toward the end of April.
The population of the county in 1910 was 19,242; in 1900 it was 11,702. Some idea of the cosmopolitan character of the population may be gathered from the fact that there were in this county in 1910, 52 Chinese. 360 Japanese, 129 Negroes, 641 Greeks, 483 English, 288 Danes, 280 Italians, and 232 Swedes, beside smaller numbers from fifteen other nationalities. Only 51 per cent of the population were native born children of native parents. The county contained 11,405 males, and 7837 females. These were divided into 3.668 families, housed in 3.560 dwellings.
In 1910 the county had 1,503 farms, as against 769 in 1900. The value of all farm property was $10,957,609, an increase of 188.6 per cent over the total valuation in 1900. The value of all crops in 1910 was $1,339 642, the most valuable being cereals, which totaled $653,768. Hay and forage came next at $610,585. The remaining crops were made up of grains and seeds, vegetables, fruits and nuts, and a few other products. The total irrigated area is about 110,000 acres.
The altitude in the valleys varies from 4,250 feet to 5.780, while among the mountains it is, of course, much higher. There is a large acreage of fine, well-watered pastureland in the county, on which grows an abundance of nutritious bunch grass. McCammon, Downey, Oxford, and Soda Springs are all surrounded with rich agricultural lands, and at the latter place are a number of hot mineral springs, whose waters are bottled and widely sold. Lava Hot Springs will in time be a health resort of more than statewide fame, the beauty of its surroundings as well as its health giving springs making it an ideal spot for rest and recreation.
There was a time when deer, bear and other game were plentiful in this county, and it is only about ten years since a settler was sitting quietly in his cabin one summer evening, reading a magazine, when he was disturbed by a slight noise. He paid no attention to this, but was suddenly startled a second time by an earsplitting scream from his cat, who made a dash for the door, and in her exit, jumped over a bear, who was calmly walking in. The settler was not in the habit of entertaining stray bears in his cabin, and was at a loss to know how to greet the visitor. In his perplexity he emitted a yell that startled all the bears for many miles around and caused the one lone bear in the cabin to make a hasty dive for cover under the bed. The rancher’s gun hung over the bed, but he did not turn that way. He headed toward the door. As he neared it, the bear, for reasons known only to himself, made a dash in the same direction and man and beast were jammed in the narrow entry. The man pushed in and the bear pushed out, but in his excitement the animal turned clean about in the open and presently rushed back into the cabin to his own surprise no less than that of the inmate. The latter, however, was now safe on his bed, and reaching for the gun, he probably added considerably to Mr. Bruin’s perplexity by sending him unexpectedly into kingdom come.
Parts of three national forests are situated in Bannock county; the Caribou in the east, the Cache in the southeast, and the Pocatello in the western part. The Pocatello division of the Pocatello forest was created September 15, 1903, from an examination by Edward T. Allen.
Following an examination by Robert B. Wilson, the Portneuf division was created March 2, 1907. The Malad division, created May 28, 1906, as a part of the Bear River forest, became a part of the Pocatello in the reorganization of July 1, 1908. These national forest lands, covering, in general, the Portneuf and Marsh Creek watersheds, were merged into the Pocatello forest July 1, 1908.
The Bear River forest, almost encircled by the Bear River or its tributaries, was formed May 28, 1906, and with the Logan became the Cache July 1, 1908.
The Caribou forest was established January 15, 1907, the part in Bannock county lying mainly on the watersheds of the Blackfoot, Salt, and Bear Rivers.
Peter T. Wrensted, Clinton G. Smith, and J. F. Bruins, in turn, supervised the Pocatello, the headquarters during this time being at Pocatello. The Pocatello and Cache were joined March 1, 1914, for administrative purposes, under Mr. Smith, whose headquarters are now at Logan, Utah. Logan is the headquarters of the Cache, which has had four supervisors, John F. Squires, Mark G. Woodruff. W. W. Clark, and C. G. Smith. The Caribou has been administered by Supervisors J. T. Wedemeyer, N. E. Snell, and George G. Bentz. The headquarters is at Montpelier.
The need of planting to restock the great areas of burned and insufficiently forested land in the national forests was recognized almost as soon as they were proclaimed. Particularly was this need felt as to the forests withdrawn for watershed protection, and on watersheds furnishing 1 a domestic supply the need was most urgent. At that time a pleasing theory existed that every forest ranger should have a nursery in which to raise trees for setting out in the hills during his spare time. With this idea, the nursery on Mink Creek among others was started.
It was then realized that nursery and planting work presented specialized technical problems calling for a high degree of skill to meet successfully the adverse conditions of an arid region. Soon after the nursery was started, it was realized that success could be hoped for only by centralizing this work at favorable locations. The shipping facilities at Pocatello, together with the need of extensive planting there with a favorable site for the nursery determined the location at that place.
The early work was experimental and principally valuable as indicating the future methods to be followed. However, actual production of stock was begun on an extensive scale in 1911, and since that time half a million or more young trees have been shipped each year to the forests of southern Idaho and Utah. The present capacity of the nursery is about 2,000.000 plants a year and the nursery is firmly on its feet with a record of successful production of stock for several years at a cost not exceeding five dollars per thousand for the stock supplied. At present there are probably three or four million young trees in the nursery, the principal species being Douglas fir and yellow pine.
Stream flow protection is the first object of the service on the area of the Pocatello city watershed. During the time that this area was part of the Indian reservation there was not much difficulty with stream flow protection, but when it was opened, the citizens received an object lesson in the effects of free grazing that led to the inclusion of the watershed in a forest and the prohibition of grazing. The protection of this area has been devoted to prevention of fire, prohibition of grazing and replanting to forest. During the last five years, not five acres of this area has been burned. Control of grazing is more difficult because the boundaries are not fenced, but it may be stated that with the exclusion of stock, the forage has been completely replaced, forming a sight such as gladdened the eye of the first explorer and incidentally a cover that prevents erosion and rapid runoff of water. The streams are almost always clear and the city of Pocatello has an exceptionally pure and palatable supply of water.
The planting operations will probably have no effect on the water supply of the present generation, as it is being undertaken for the future timber supply and present experimental value. About 200,000 trees are being planted a year and recently with good success. The conifers planted are slow growing, but the early plantations are a foot or two high and even the present generation should see fine groves as a result.
Lately the question of stocking this area with game has been considered. It is pointed out that the area is an ideal natural range for elk, deer and other game, also that such a use would not interfere with the stream protection, but would furnish meat, sport and attractiveness to the region and would tend to reduce the fire danger. To provide complete use with complete protection will be the next logical step.
In spite of the wild and sometimes forbidding scenery that meets the traveler’s eve from the train window, there are probably few more peaceful communities than Bannock County in the farming sections of the east. Women frequently live alone and unprotected on isolated ranches and are seldom molested. The case of Hugh Whitney, the bandit and outlaw who robbed Pocatello of a true citizen, and upon whose head there rests a large reward, is today an exception. His story is too well known to be repeated in detail here. In brief, Hugh Whitney, who was a Wyoming sheep man, and a companion, held up a saloon at Monida, just over the Montana line, in 1911, and were apprehended on a train running south toward Pocatello. The sheriff, who had boarded the train to make the arrest, placed his guns on a seat in order to handcuff the prisoners. Whitney grabbed those and shot both the sheriff and Conductor James Kidd, who was helping the officer. Conductor Kidd died in Pocatello within a few days. The sheriff recovered.
Whitney and his companion jumped from the moving train and separated in making their escape. Whitney was trailed by posses for weeks, and in the course of the chase killed several of his pursuers. Although bloodhounds were used in the attempt to capture him, he eluded all pursuit with ingenuity worthy of a better cause. When the excitement had died down somewhat, he and his brother held up a bank in Cody, Wyoming, driving the employees into the safe and locking them up there while they made their escape.
Evidently the days of “bad men,” in the criminal sense of the term, are not yet ended in the far west, but the facility of communication afforded by the railway, telephone and telegraph makes their trade very hazardous, and the ordinary citizen lives in less danger of being held up or shot than does the wayfarer on the streets of New York or Chicago.
Source: The History of Bannock County Idaho, By Arthur C. Saunders, Pocatello, Idaho. U. S. A., The Tribune Company. Limited, 1915