History of Valley County
Prior to the gold rush of the 1860’s, Native Americans camped in Round Valley to hunt and to dig and dry camas roots. Packer John Welch,who had contracted to freight supplies from Umatilla Landing on the Columbia River to miners of Idaho City, established a camp on Gold Fork Creek and a brush cabin on Clear Creek in the 1860’s. He also established a station near what later became the town of Cascade.
During the 1870’s, prospectors and miners followed in Packer John’s footsteps to scour the valley and surrounding mountains for gold. The Clara Foltz mines opened on Paddy Flat, and other diggings commenced on Boulder and Gold Fork Creeks. Also during the 1870’s, two salmon fisheries operated seasonally on Payette Lake.
In the late 1870’s, the last of the Sheepeater Tribe was removed from Long Valley and Round Valley to a reservation. As the gold sources dwindled, a few of the miners took up squatter’s rights. James Horner built a cabin on Clear Creek in 1881. Other miners settled on the Payette River. In 1883, S.M. Sisk, a young miner from New York, settled near the old town site of Crawford. Later the same year, L.S. Kimble came from Illinois and began to cut trees at Tamarack Falls. A year later he moved to the site of VanWyck and opened the region’s first blacksmith shop. After Kimble came W.D. Patterson, T.L. Worthington, L.M. Gorton, John DeHaas, E.A. Smith and many others who contributed to the development around VanWyck, Crawford and Alpha.
In the 1880’s, a man named Maxey came to Round Valley to fatten hogs on the camas roots. Caroline Jarvis bought his homestead in 1888. Then in 1892, W.A. “Billy” Bacon, who came to Boise in 1863, married Sarah Jarvis and built a log cabin to begin his homestead in Round Valley.
In 1886, Jack Jasper established a homestead near what is now Roseberry. He estimated then that there were about thirty families in the valley. The Mark Cole and Blankenship families arrived in 1888 and, with Jack Jasper and the Pottengers, founded Roseberry. Also in 1888, the first post offices in Valley County were opened at VanWyck, on March 14, with L. Kimble as postmaster; and, at Alpha, on July 12, with James Horner as postmaster.
In 1889, Louis McCall took squatter’s rights on Payette Lake. Other settlers in the area were the Yorkes, Albert Gaekel, Louis Heacock and Arthur Rowland. Their homesteads were the nucleus of what would later become the town of McCall.
A post office opened at Lardo in 1889 with John Lane as postmaster. Also, W.H. Boydstun established a freight stop at Lardo to service the increased mining activity at Warren Meadows.
An 1890 postal service map for the territory of Idaho shows post offices at Lardo, VanWyck and Alpha. That year, another post office opened at Crawford with James Biers as postmaster. The 1890 census stated 538 people resided in the VanWyck precinct, and 110 resided in the Alpha precinct.
Land survey maps drawn in the 1890’s show four schools: one at Alpha and three in the Crawford-VanWyck area. Pioneer testimony tells about a fifth school located on Timber Ridge near McCall. The maps also point out sawmills at Warner’s Pond and on Gold Fork Creek, as well as a small reservoir near VanWyck. And, in 1896, the Warren Dredge Co. opened a sawmill on Payette Lake.
The Wain family, who settled above Payette Lake, was the first Finnish family in Valley County. Next came the Koskellas, Haralas and Lahtis in 1895 to settle near Gold Fork. In their wake came Edvart Poro, Edward Rimakangas, Mikko Hentila and the Syrjamaki family, until a sizeable Finnish community existed east of Lake Fork. They quickly organized a school, and in 1901 formed the Finnish Mutual Fire Insurance Co. The Elo post office opened in 1905 with Pastor Eloheimo as postmaster. Soon after, the Finnish church and cemetery were erected at the old stopping place of Spink. The Finnish community continued to grow until the 1930’s when Finns and their descendants in Long Valley numbered 400.
The 1890’s were a period of strife for the new settlers. Ranchers from south of Long Valley annually brought their large herds of cattle to graze in Long Valley. The homesteaders resented the intrusion and retaliated on several occasions by slaughtering the outsiders’ cattle. This tension existed for some years until the U.S. Forest Service began to regulate grazing.
Although gold was first discovered in the Thunder Mountain area in 1893, enthusiasm for the area didn’t begin until 1902, when W.H. Dewey began mining on a large scale. As many as 3,000 miners swarmed into the region seeking their fortunes. As a result, the town of Roosevelt evolved, only to be destroyed by an immense landslide in 1908. Because the area had neverlived up to mining expectations, activity there died out soon after the landslide.
Probably the most important event in the Valley County area in the twentieth century was the coming of the railroad. In 19l4, the Union Pacific completed its track from Emmett to McCall, making commercial logging profitable. Logging then became, along with farming and ranching, the economic mainstay of Long Valley for many years. Towns distant from the railroad, such as Alpha, Crawford and Roseberry, soon lost their vitality and died. Towns near the railroad, such as Cascade, Donnelly and McCall, thrived and became the population centers of Valley County. Elo, Thunder City, Pearsol, Norwood and Spink eventually lost their activity to the three major towns. There were numerous private mills located throughout the county in the 1900’s. In October of 1977 the last log went through the Boise Cascade Corporation’s sawmill on Payette Lake in McCall – in May of 2001 Boise Cascade Corporation’s sawmill in Cascade was closed.
In 1917, Valley County was created by the Idaho State legislature. Prior to that, it had been part of Boise County and Idaho County, both of which were created when Idaho was a territory. The portion of Boise County appears to have been in the North Fork of the Payette River drainage. The portion of Idaho County appears to have been in the Salmon River drainage.
In 1948, the Cascade Dam was completed on the Payette River. The reservoir was created for retention of water for irrigation and flood control. The back waters from this dam covered some of the best farming and ranch land in the valley and caused the rerouting of Highway 55 over Little Donner. It also caused many families to be relocated, some of them against their will. Since then the reservoir has been renamed Lake Cascade and has become a renowned fishery and recreational water.