Idaho Territory

Idaho Territory

Idaho Territory was an organized territory of the United States which existed from 1863 to 1890.


The territory was officially organized on March 4, 1863 by Act of Congress, [USStat|12|808] and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln. It was created by areas from existing territories; the area west of the Continental Divide was formerly part of the Oregon Territory and Washington Territory, whereas most of the area east of the Continental Divide had been part of the Dakota Territory. The original territory covered most of the present-day states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

The first territorial capital was at Lewiston. Boise was the territorial capital from 1865.

Although the 1863 Bear River Massacre in present-day Franklin County is considered to be the westernmost battle of the Civil War, the upheaval caused by the Civil War and Reconstruction was a distant concern to those in the comparatively stable Idaho Territory, a situation which in turn encouraged settlement.

In 1864, the Montana Territory was organized from the northeastern section of the territory east of the Bitteroot Range. Most of the southeastern area of the territory was made part of the Dakota Territory.

In the late 1860s Idaho Territory became a destination for displaced Southern Democrats who fought for the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. These people were well-represented in the early territorial legislatures, which often clashed with the appointed Republican territorial governors. The political infighting became particularly vicious in 1867, when Governor David W. Ballard asked for protection from federal troops stationed at Fort Boise against the territorial legislature. By 1870, however, the political infighting died down considerably.

In 1868, the areas east of the 111th Meridian were made part of the newly created Wyoming Territory. Idaho Territory assumed the boundaries of the modern state at that time. The discovery of gold, silver and other valuable natural resources throughout Idaho beginning in the 1860s, as well as the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, brought many new people to the territory, including Chinese laborers who came to work the mines. As Idaho approached statehood, mining and other extractive industries became increasingly important to its economy. By the 1890s, for example, Idaho exported more lead than any other state.


Construction began on the Idaho Territorial Prison in 1870 and was completed by 1872. The prison was in use by the territory, then the state until 1973. The Old Idaho State Penitentiary was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 for its significance as a Territorial Prison. The site currently contains museums and an arboretum. [cite web
title = Old Idaho Penitentiary Timeline
work = Education Programs
publisher = Idaho State Historical Society
date = 2007
url =
accessdate = 2007-06-03
] Almost immediately after Idaho Territory was created, a public school system was created and stage coach lines were established. Regular newspapers were active in Lewiston, Boise and Silver City by 1865. The first telegraph line reached Franklin in 1866, with Lewiston being the first town linked in northern Idaho in 1874. The first telephone call in the Pacific Northwest was made on May 10, 1878, in Lewiston.

Although forming a sizeable minority, Mormons in Idaho were held in suspicion by others in Idaho. By 1882 notable and powerful Idahoans successfully disenfranchised Mormon voters in Idaho Territory, citing their illegal practice of polygamy. Idaho was able to achieve statehood some six years before Utah, a territory which had a larger population and had been settled longer, but was majority LDS with voting polygamists.


After the capital relocation controversy proposals to split the two regions became widespread. In 1887 Idaho Territory was nearly legislated out of existence, but as a favor to Governor Edward A. Stevenson, President Grover Cleveland refused to sign a bill that would have split Idaho Territory between Washington Territory in the north and Nevada in the south.

In 1889, the University of Idaho was awarded to the northern town of Moscow instead of its original planned location at Eagle Rock (now Idaho Falls) in the south. This served to alleviate some of the hard feelings felt by North Idaho residents over losing the capital.

The territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Idaho on July 3, 1890.

External links

* [ Idaho State Univ. document] (PDF) on origin of name "Idaho" and how Idaho became territory
* [ "COLUMBIA": Fall 1988; Vol. 2, No. 3, The Long Wait for Statehood, Why it took Washington 36 years and Idaho 26 years to achieve their goals.]


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