Idaho marks 131 years since becoming the nation’s 43rd state
IDAHO FALLS – People throughout eastern Idaho are gathered with friends and family Saturday to celebrate America’s independence. Many celebrations throughout the state are happening on July 3 this year because July 4 falls on a Sunday.
But July 3 is another significant date for residents of the Gem State. It is the 131st anniversary of Idaho becoming a state. On July 3, 1890, Idaho officially became the 43rd state in the U.S.
Since becoming a territory on March 4, 1863, it has grown from a fledgling state of roughly 88,000 people to the second-highest growing state in the nation with a total population of 1,839,106, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data released in April.
Information on display at the Museum of Idaho indicates Idaho’s road to statehood was a long-fought battle and was apparently a divisive issue.
“For years, tensions mounted between the northern and southern parts of the territory. Many times, the northern panhandle tried to break away and at one point, Nevada even tried to claim part of Idaho,” the Museum of Idaho reports.
Twenty-seven years prior when the U.S. was in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln officially created the Idaho territory. The prospect of making more space for the transcontinental railroad was an attractive idea to Lincoln, along with the area’s abundance of mineral deposits and natural resources. The State Symbols USA website says Idaho has 72 types of precious and semi-precious stones, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. This is how Idaho got nicknamed the Gem State.
Museum displays do not specifically state why statehood was such a divisive issue, but its natural resources and geographic features likely had something to do with it.
In an interview with KTVB last year, retired Idaho State Historian Keith Petersen elaborated on the conflict in the northern and southern part of the state and all that was happening in the Idaho territory at that time.
“Nevada was making a play to annex much of southern Idaho,” Petersen said. “The most serious action came in 1887 when both houses of the United States Congress passed a bill which would have allowed the Idaho panhandle to secede from Idaho and join Washington, but President Grover Cleveland refused to sign it so it was pocket-vetoed.”
The movement for statehood gained a lot of momentum the following year.
Petersen explains there were a growing number of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints settling in the territory. Latter-day Saints voted primarily Democrat in those days because Democratic presidents were the most sympathetic to the church’s views on polygamy. (Church leaders later abolished the practice of polygamy in 1890). Cleveland was a Democrat and so there would’ve been a lot of support for him among church members during the election in 1888 had it not been for a piece of legislation passed four years earlier. Republican state lawmakers established the Idaho Test Oath, which prevented Latter-day Saints from voting, holding public office or serving on a jury, according to Jstor.org.
“Idaho became a really dominant Republican state politically because Mormons were no longer able to vote,” said Petersen. “Republicans won the presidency and both houses of the United States Congress. So the Idaho Republican Party had strong allies in Washington, D.C. suddenly. All of a sudden, the idea of Idaho perhaps becoming a state gained great momentum.”
The Republican-elected President Benjamin Harrison was sworn into office on March 4, 1889 and signed Idaho into statehood more than a year later. In 2014, the Idaho Legislature established March 4 as Idaho Day to commemorate the creation of the territory in 1863.
Happy Birthday, Idaho! pic.twitter.com/YSP5OMCPtt
— Brad Little (@GovernorLittle) July 3, 2021
How did Idaho get its name?
There seems to be some confusion on how Idaho got its name. Some believe that “Idaho” was the name of an Indian chief living in the territory at that time, but that’s not true.
According to the Museum of Idaho, a local leader living in the area said “Idaho” was an Indian word that meant “gem of the mountains,” and suggested that’s what they call it.
“Shortly after Congress voted on the name, they found out that this wasn’t, in fact, a native word, but was just made up. In the meantime, the name ‘Idaho’ was cropping up in a few places in this territory, namely in the mountainous mining regions. People still believed the name meant ‘gem of the mountains,’ and with the abundant natural resources available in the mountains, the name stuck … even if it really is just a made-up name,” a museum exhibit reads.
The fight for Idaho’s borders continues
In recent years, a grassroots movement to move Oregon’s mostly rural eastern and southern counties into Idaho — and a few northern California counties — has gotten a lot of attention.
The inspiration for the bill, as stated by its sponsor, Mike McCarter, is because they believe they’d be better served in Idaho’s more conservative political environment.
“We don’t want to change anything about Idaho at all, we like what they’re doing, we like the way that they are. But we’re a group of pretty conservative people in rural Oregon and we just want to maintain those conservative values if we can,” McCarter told KIVI earlier this year.
Last month, five eastern Oregon counties voted in support of considering becoming part of Idaho. Despite that, the bill still faces an uphill battle. In order for it to be approved, an optional phase 2 of the bill requires California’s consent.
From there, all States involved would have to reach an agreement. The collected agreement bill would have to pass the Idaho Legislature. If approved, it will then head to the United States Congress where it will need to be approved in both the House of Representatives and Senate before any changes would be made.