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
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.
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
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
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.
The History of Bannock County
Idaho, By Arthur C. Saunders, Pocatello, Idaho. U. S.
A., The Tribune Company. Limited, 1915
Bannock County, Idaho
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