Saturday, February 21, 2015

Bonner County Split Off from Kootenai, Coeur d’Alene Ready to Pounce [otd 02/21]

On February 21, 1907, Idaho Governor Frank Gooding signed the legislative act that split Bonner County away from Kootenai County.

Creation of Bonner County was straightforward enough, and a general election confirmed Sandpoint as the county seat. Soon, they established a county government and built a courthouse.
Bonner County Courthouse, Sandpoint, ca 1910.
J. H. Hawley photo.
However, the legislation left the new, reduced Kootenai County with some unfinished business. The Idaho Territorial legislature had created Kootenai County in 1864 [blog, Dec 22]. Oddly enough, the original definition did not include any of the area that eventually became today’s Kootenai County.

The 1864 legislature also created a “Lahtoh” county. Between them, these two encompassed all of Idaho north of the Clearwater River, except for Shoshone County to the east. In 1867, legislators amended the creation Act to call the entire region Kootenai County, which “technically” wiped out Lahtoh.

However, the issue was moot because the whole region contained too few white inhabitants to organize a government. Thus, Nez Perce County officials in Lewiston handled administrative matters all the way to the Canadian border.

Then, in the 1870s, homesteaders began to colonize north of the Clearwater, establishing settlements along the Palouse and Potlatch rivers. These settlers thought of themselves as being in an unorganized Latah County, and chafed under Lewiston’s control. They got their own government in 1888, when the southern part of Kootenai was officially split off as Latah County.

Meanwhile, the area further north had grown some after the Army established Fort Sherman in 1879 [blog, Apr 16]. Prospects improved even more when it became known that the Northern Pacific Railroad planned to lay track across the Idaho Panhandle. Business leaders in Coeur d’Alene City, next to the Fort, watched the growth and prepared to exploit it

They completed the necessary paperwork in July 1881, when the rails reached Rathdrum. All seemed positive for Coeur d'Alene City to become the county seat until the Recorder moved his store – and all the county records – to Rathdrum. By this rather ad hoc act, Rathdrum became the county seat of Kootenai County. The county formed a rough rectangle 30-50 miles wide and 140 miles long. Few settlers lived in the northernmost sections.
Coeur d’Alene, ca. 1910. Museum of North Idaho.

With the discovery of gold and silver in the mountains east of Lake Coeur d'Alene, Coeur d'Alene City became the "gateway" to the mining districts. Off and on for the next 20 years, the town fought to capture the county seat, but they never quite had the numbers. However, after the turn of the century, the timber industry blossomed into the driving force behind the region's economy.

Situated on lakes that allowed easy timber transport, Coeur d'Alene City and Sandpoint grew rapidly. It is estimated that by 1907, when Kootenai and Bonner were separated, Coeur d'Alene City had grown from about 500 to over 4,000 people and Sandpoint from perhaps 250 to nearly 1,500. Rathdrum lagged behind at less than a thousand.

Thus, a 1908 vote in the truncated Kootenai County moved the county seat to Coeur d'Alene City, where it still is.
Reference: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-North]