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These early Idaho settlers left a major mark on U.S. history and you’ve likely never heard of them

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IDAHO FALLS – For more than 130 years, Idaho has been a popular place for people to live and recreate.

Since becoming the 43rd state on July 3, 1890, Idaho is now considered one of the fastest-growing states and is reportedly among the least regulated states in the nation.

But even with its abundance of public lands and natural resources, it’s the contributions of many people over the years who have made the Gem State what it is today. Two of those people are George Shoup and Gutzon Borglum.

Who is George Shoup?

Shoup, the man for whom Shoup Avenue in downtown Idaho Falls is named, was appointed Idaho’s last territorial governor by President Benjamin Harrison in April 1889. He was elected as the first governor in October the following year after Idaho had become a state.

“He served for a couple of months in that position before the new Idaho legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate, which was always Shoup’s real aspiration,” Museum of Idaho Public Relations Director Jeff Carr tells EastIdahoNews.com.

Regarding why the legislature elected Shoup and not voters, Carr says that’s the way congressional elections worked at the time.

An article from the University of Idaho indicates Shoup was born on June 15, 1836 in Kittanning, Pennsylvania.

Captivated by the westward expansion, he gradually moved out west, first to Illinois with his father in 1852, where he worked on a farm. He joined the Gold Rush in 1859 and made his way to Colorado.

Following a stint in the army during the Civil War, he continued his gold prospecting in Montana before eventually settling in Salmon.

“He became one of the most successful businessmen in the Intermountain West,” the U of I article reports.

Prior to being appointed territorial governor, he served as one of the original Lemhi County Commissioners and became the school superintendent in 1872. He served on the Republican National Committee from 1880 to 1884, and again in 1888.

“President Benjamin Harrison, because of his previous service on the Senate Committee on Territories, was aware of the defects in territorial administration. For this reason, he decided not to appoint outsiders as territorial officials, instead, choices were recommended by party leaders of the territories concerned. As a result of this policy, George L. Shoup was appointed governor of Idaho in 1889,” the article says.

After his election to the Senate in December 1890, Shoup was ultimately re-elected in 1894 and served until March 1901.

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Carr says Shoup’s most significant political contribution was the role he played in Idaho’s statehood.

“As governor, he arranged to have a constitutional convention assembled so that the territory would be ready for admission as a state the following year. After signing the new constitution on Aug. 6, 1889, he went to Washington, D.C. where he took a prominent part in getting the Idaho admissions bill through Congress,” the U of I says.

Shoup was 68 when he died on Dec. 21, 1904. In 1907, the Idaho Legislature decided to place a marble statue of his likeness in Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. It was dedicated in 1910.

shoup statuary hall
Shoup’s statue in Statuary Hall | National Statuary Hall Collection

William Borah, another former U.S. senator for Idaho whose likeness is also displayed in the nation’s capital, once made the following statement about Shoup.

“He stood forth a leader. He had only such education as he could secure in a few months in the common schools, but united with rare judgment, a perception almost intuitive, a keen, quick, unerring knowledge of men, a practical wisdom gathered during his long, active career in the school of life, he was a safe, trusted and able counselor in all matters of private and public concern.”

Gutzon Borglum

Another man, who was born in Idaho but spent most of his life in other states, made a contribution that continues to have an impact on people nationwide. His name is Gutzon Borglum.

Borglum is the man responsible for the creation of Mt. Rushmore in the black hills of South Dakota. He led a team of 400 people to carve a 60-foot tall granite memorial featuring the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

Borglum was born in March 1867 and is the son of a Danish polygamist family, according to the National Park Service.

“A winter storm in 1867 forced his parents to stop their journey west at a small cabin near Bear Lake,” KTVB reported in 2020.

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John Hegsted of Rexburg, whose property will soon be the site of a new temple for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has ancestral ties to Borglum. His great-grandfather, Hans Christian Sorenson, was originally from Denmark and had 28 children from three different wives. Sorenson’s first wife, Marin Borglum, was one of Gutzon’s relatives.

Gutzon developed an interest in art early in his life and went on to study art in California and France as a teenager.

“He won commissions in Europe to paint, but returned to the U.S., where he opened his own gallery in New York City,” Carr says. “Influences of his childhood in Idaho can be seen in his early work, such as painting horses in a western fashion, rather than classical tradition. He became known for detailed and personal sculptures, such as a bust of Abraham Lincoln that sits in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.”

Borglum began work on Mt. Rushmore in 1927 at age 60. The reason for those specific presidents being featured is because “he felt those presidents reflected some of the biggest moments in America’s history,” according to KTVB.

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The National Park Service reports Borglum actively campaigned for Roosevelt’s reelection in 1912.

The massive monument took 14 years to complete and Borglum did not live to see it. He died on March 6, 1941 at the age of 74, about six months before it was finished. It was his son, Lincoln, who put the finishing touches on it. In total, nearly 500,000 tons of rock were removed for the project.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial was officially unveiled on Oct. 31, 1941. More than 2 million people visit the site every year.

mt rushmore
Mount Rushmore National Memorial | National Park Service

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