Thursday, May 23, 2013

Eastern Newspapers Spread Information, and Misinformation, About Idaho

The May 23, 1863 issue of a newspaper in Gloucester, Massachusetts said, “The new Territory of Idaho, created by the late Congress, is formed out of Eastern Oregon and Western Dakota, and extends from the eastern boundary of Oregon to the 27th meridian of longitude, and from the 42d to the 46th parallel of latitude, covering a hundred and twenty-five thousand square miles. ”

Over a month after word filtered West about the true borders, this writer still clung to the old misconception about the northern boundary of the new Territory. The article had the next part right: “The whole breadth of the Rocky Mountains, and all the head waters of the great rivers, are included in it.”

But then we read the first of several blunders: “In the plains west of the Mountains are the gold mines of Salmon River, and others more or less important, but said to be generally productive throughout the whole Territory.”

While the basic idea was true enough, describing the Salmon River area as “the plains” is actually hilarious. That river’s drainage – now the River of No Return Wilderness – contains some of the most rugged mountains in the world. Moreover, all of Idaho’s important gold regions are in mountainous regions.

The article went on, “The great rivers which drain the Territory in every part and are navigable by steamers, give direct communication with St. Louis.”

In reality, of course, the head of steamboat navigation on the Missouri River, Fort Benton, lies almost three hundred miles from the nearest gold fields known at that time.

Yet the writer then showed himself knowledgeable about events in Washington, D. C.: “A railroad is expected to be built along the valley of the Platte River, through Nebraska and Idaho to the South Pass.”
Cut for Transcontinental Railroad, ca 1868. Library of Congress.
The first transcontinental railroad, completed just six years later, did indeed run roughly up the Platte River Valley through Nebraska and into Idaho. Builders found a better mountain crossing than South Pass, however.

The article closed with: “So the inhabited area of the Great West steadily broadens, and with the organization of the Territories the stream of immigration flows even further on.”

References: [Brit]
“Idaho,” Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph, Gloucester, Massachusetts (May 23, 1863).

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