About Idaho

Where “Idaho” comes from

The name “Idaho” was used for a steamship that traveled the Columbia River. When gold was discovered on the Clearwater River in 1860, the diggings began to be called the Idaho mines. “Idaho” is a coined or invented word and is not derived from an Indian phrase “E Dah Hoe,” supposedly meaning “gem of the mountains.”

So why “the Gem State”?

The official nickname stems from Idaho’s rich, plentiful veins of gemstones, including star garnet, jasper, smoky quartz and opal.

Some Idaho nuggets

• About 1.34 million people live in Idaho.
• About 91 percent are white. About 8.5 percent are Hispanic.

• The median age of Idahoans is about 33.2 years.
• The per-capita income is more than $24,000.

Not just our potatoes are famous

Top jockey Gary Stevens — one of the stars of the hit 2003 movie “Seabiscuit” — is a Boise native.
Philo T. Farnsworth was a teenager tilling a spud field in Rigby when he came up with the idea that led to the first television set.

Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer, Olympic gold medalists Picabo Street (skiing) and Stacy Dragila (pole vault), and baseball hall-of-famer Harmon Killebrew are among Idaho athletes who stand out in the sporting world.
Poet Ezra Pound was born in Hailey. Writer and avid outdoorsman Ernest Hemingway helped put Sun Valley on the map.

How we got here

Historical highlights

1805: Sacajawea, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark enter what would become Idaho in their expedition to the Pacific.
1843: The first Oregon Trail wagons pass through the area. More than 20,000 emigrants would make the journey.
1864: Voters decide to make Boise the capital of Idaho Territory (it was Lewiston for about a year). And The Idaho Statesman begins publishing.

1880s: Discovery of lead-silver ore in the Sun Valley area brings more people, the railroad and Idaho’s first electric lights.
1890: Idaho becomes the 43rd state.
1908: Theodore Roosevelt’s forest policy places half of Idaho into federal reserves.

1934: North Idaho silver mines make the state the country’s No. 1 producer of ore.
1949: The National Reactor Testing Station established near Arco. It provided the first nuclear power and would later become the Idaho National Environmental and Engineering Laboratory.

1976: The 310-foot-high Teton Dam collapses, killing 11 and forcing 300,000 people to flee their homes; also the same year, Hells Canyon is protected by Congress.

National Register of Historical Places in Idaho Click Here

What makes us Idaho

State bird: The mountain bluebird, since 1931.
State fish: The cutthroat trout, an Idaho native species, so named because of the distinctive red to orange slash on its lower jaw.
State flower: The syringa, a white-flowering shrub once used by American Indians for bows, arrows and cradles.
State fossil: The Hagerman horse, which is 3.5 million years old and the earliest-known ancestor of the modern horse genus.
State fruit: The huckleberry, popular with bears and humans, can be found at elevations between 2,000 and 11,000 feet. Huckleberries depend on snow cover for survival during winter and have not been successfully grown commercially.
State horse: The appaloosa, once the warhorse of the Nez Perce, today serves as a racehorse, in parades, as a ranch worker and in youth programs.

State tree: The Western white pine, which grows in greater quantities here than anywhere else in the United States.
State vegetable: Do we really need to say it? Potato

Must-see places

Hells Canyon National Recreation Area near Riggins: Almost 70 miles of the wild and scenic Snake River, including a deep gorge at 6,600 feet.
Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area: At 2.4 million acres, it’s the largest mountain wilderness area in the lower 48 states.

City of Rocks National Reserve in Almo: Granite spires that attract rock climbers from all over the world.
Craters of the Moon National Monument near Arco: The most dramatic of Idaho’s portion of the Great Rift, the volcanic system that created the geysers at Yellowstone National Park and the kitschy cool Shoshone Ice Caves.

The Oregon Trail and other emigration paths, winding throughout southern Idaho: The ruts, some hastily scrawled graffiti on rocks, a few structures and a whole lot of history survive.
Shoshone Falls near Twin Falls: They’re higher than Niagara Falls.

Idaho government


The Idaho Statehouse, built from 1905 through 1920, celebrates 100 years in 2005. Designed by local architects, it contains several types of marble, sandstone, copper and an Italian veneer called “scagliola,” which covers the inside columns. For tours and information, call the Idaho State Historical Society at 334-5174.


Like the U.S. system, Idaho has three branches of government.
The judiciary: District and magistrate judges throughout the state and an appeals court and Supreme Court based in Boise. Contact the administrative director of the courts at 334-2246.

The administration: The governor and lieutenant governor — and four other state offices — are elected every four years. Contact the governor’s office at 334-2100.
The Legislature: There are 105 lawmakers in the Idaho Legislature, 35 senators and 70 representatives elected from 35 districts around the state. Yearly sessions start in January and generally run through March. Call the House speaker at 332-1111 and the Senate president pro tem at 332-1300.

Did you know?

Idaho had the first Jewish governor in the United States: Moses Alexander, elected in 1914 and 1916.
Idaho’s state seal is the only one designed by a woman: Emma Sarah Etine Edwards Green.

Idaho has five Indian reservations: Coeur d’Alene, Nez Perce, Kootenai, Duck Valley and Fort Hall (Shoshone-Bannock).
The federal government owns more than 60 percent of Idaho land.

Want to know more?

Read these books:
• “Angle of Repose,” Wallace Stegner’s portrait of the American West in the late 19th century.

• “Big Trouble,” by J. Anthony Lukas: A tale about the murder of Idaho Gov. Frank Stuenenberg, the ensuing “trial of the century” and a wide variety of tangential topics.
• “Idaho Women in History: Big and Little Biographies and Other Gender Stories,” by Betty Penson-Ward.

• “An Enduring Legacy: The Story of the Basques in Idaho,” by John and Mark Bieter.
• “Boise: An Illustrated History,” by Merle Wells: A popular book with students, local history buffs and visitors.
• “The Boys of Boise,” if you can find it: John Gerassi’s 1966 description of a Boise “crackdown” on homosexuality that drew national attention for its McCarthy-esque aspects.

By Idaho Statesman writers:

• “Tiger on the Road,” Tim Woodward’s biography of Idaho writer Vardis Fisher.

• “Saving All the Parts,” Rocky Barker’s look at the Endangered Species Act and its effects on Idaho and the Pacific Northwest.
• “Hiking & Angling in McCall, Idaho: A Guide to 32 Trails, 20 Lakes & Eight Rivers & Streams,” by Roger Phillips.
• “Idaho Fishing Guide: Hook, Line & Sinker,” by Pete Zimowsky, Patrick Davis and Pete Zimowsky