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A History of the Council Valley Area

Excerpts from "Landmarks--A General History of the Council, Idaho Area"

by Dale Fisk

 

 

A Place of Native American Gatherings
Before non-native settlement began in the Council Valley, the area was inhabited by small bands of Shoshoni Indians. Pioneers who frequented the Council Valley in those early days told of huge groups of Indians who gathered here from all over the Northwest.

Perry Clark, a member of the Idaho Territorial Legislature and later an Indian Valley schoolteacher, described what he saw near the present town of Council. He said that from on top of the little hill just north of present-day downtown, he could see ". . . many hundreds of Indians and thousands of head of Indian horses at one sight, literally covering the valley as a blanket."

Clark never actually lived here, but he named the place "Council Valley" because of these gatherings that he interpreted as being Indian "council" meetings. It is hard to tell just how long such native gatherings had been held here. The festivals seem to have peaked about 1872 when a total of about 2,500 Indians gathered here.

Western Emigrants Reach the Weiser River
In the mid-1860s, a loop in the Oregon Trail to Olds Ferry began bringing large numbers of emigrants through the new town of Weiser, at the mouth of the river it was named after. Travelers on the Oregon Trail must have felt like the children of Israel wandering in the desert after months of traveling through mostly desolate, sagebrush wasteland.

By the time they got this far west it was late in the season, and the bone-dry countryside was only occasionally punctuated by feeble strips of green along its rivers. As they trudged along week after week they must have grown weary of seeing land that was devoid of trees other than scattered juniper.

When they reached the mouth of the Weiser River the scenery was still the same depressing desert drab, but far off to the north they caught tantalizing glimpses of forest-clad mountains. The word that there were lush valleys along the Weiser River piqued their interest.

With the winding down of Indian wars in the Northwest in 1868, some travelers decided to end their journey at the Weiser River. By this time most of the best land in Oregon had already been claimed. More than a few families continued on to Oregon, but then backtracked to this area.

To Mann Creek and Beyond
Mann Creek, a tributary of the Weiser River, formed the first farmable valley north of the Weiser area. The main travel route north from Weiser, to Mann Creek and beyond, followed an old Indian trail; it went up Monroe Creek, over into Mann Creek, and on over the hill into Middle Valley. From very early on, wagon roads followed this trail to reach the upper Weiser River valleys. This general route is still followed by Highway 95 today.

The next valley up the Weiser River acquired the name "Middle Valley" because it was between the upper and lower valleys along the river. The first settlers came here in 1868, but the actual town of Midvale wasn't officially established until 1903. The first bridge across the Weiser River (other than the one at its mouth) was built at Midvale near the site of the present bridge. The first road to points north crossed the river here and proceeded through the hills to the northeast.

Salubria and Indian Valley
The next valley up the river was where the Little Weiser River entered the main Weiser. This vicinity also began to be settled about 1868. It was named "Salubria Valley" because the location was said to be "salubrious," meaning "pleasant and beneficial to ones health." The community of Salubria was established where the first wagon road entered the valley from the south--a little over a mile southeast of the present site of Cambridge.

Salubria was granted a post office in 1870. The forming of an actual town began with the first store, which was erected in 1885. Salubria was the only town in that vicinity until Cambridge was established along the railroad when the tracks reached the valley in 1900. Almost no remnant of Salubria remains to mark the spot today.

North of Salubria, the main Weiser River entered mostly narrow canyons with little farmable land. As a result, settlement followed the more open valleys along Little Weiser River to the northeast. About ten miles from Salubria a large basin formed. It was called "Indian Valley" because the Weiser Shoshoni often wintered there. Indian Valley began to be settled at about the same time as the Salubria Valley (1868).

To the east of Indian Valley the terrain swept up into a high mountain range that ran north and south, separating the Weiser River drainage from Long Valley. To the north, the Middle Fork of the Weiser tumbled west to the main river, slashing steep breaks along its course. This challenging obstacle to wagon travel farther north is probably why settlement of the Council Valley lagged behind that of the lower valleys.

The"Upper Country"
In those early days the Salubria and Indian valleys, and even Middle Valley, were referred to as the "upper Weiser," "the upper valleys" or the "upper country." The Council and Meadows Valleys were later included as part of the upper country. Early upper-country residents referred to the Weiser area as the "lower country."

This tradition continues today, and the terminology has evolved further. Newcomers hearing an upper-country person say they are going "down below" are often confused until it is explained that this generally indicates a trip to anywhere between Weiser and Boise
.
Weiser River
Fall colors along the Weiser River
Weiser River Trail
In the earliest days of Idaho settlement, a trail up the Weiser River through the Council Valley became the principal avenue of travel for pack trains carrying supplies from Boise to the gold camps at Warren and Florence. This route was easier to travel than the more direct but torturous terrain along the Payette River. The Weiser River trail was also clear of snow earlier in the spring.

Early Settlers
Although it would be almost another decade before the Council Valley would be settled, it did acquire at least one non-native occupant in 1868: a 32 year old bachelor named Henry Childs. He built a home and did some farming about 2.5 miles up Hornet Creek from the present site of Council. Hornet Creek was named after a nasty encounter that Childs had with a nest of hornets while he was clearing brush. Before it had any other name, the Council area was called "Hornet Creek" or "Hornet Valley" as it was the place where Hornet Creek entered the Weiser River.

George and Elizabeth Moser and their children became the first white family to settle in the Council Valley in 1876. Their homestead later became the location of the town of Council. The Moser cabin was located just across the corner southwest of the present Ronnie’s Market.

By 1880 the Meadows Valley had a few settlers. Like the Council Valley, there were a few bachelors living there before Calvin and Lydia White and their children became the first family to arrive in the fall of 1877. By 1883 Cal White had established a post office at Meadows and generally become the founding father of the community.

The Railroad, Copper and Gold
Construction of the railroad up the Weiser River brought a boom to the town beginning in 1898. For a couple of years Council was a "wide open" town, with about six saloons. The arrival of the tracks in March of 1901 shortened the trip to Weiser from a bone-jarring two-day trip each way in a wagon to a matter of two or three hours in the comfort of a passenger car. Copper ore from the Seven Devils mines that had previously been hauled over 100 miles to Weiser was now loaded onto rail cars at Council.

When the Thunder Mountain mining boom came in 1902, Council was the nearest rail town to the gold strike and became the "jumping off point" for that gold rush. Writer Earl Wayland Bowman arrived in Council that summer, and described it as a bustling, dirty little town with money flowing like water.

 
Council Valley

Livestock, Farming, Mining - and Orchards
Council soon became more civilized, and the town of officially incorporated January 20, 1903. By about 1905 the town had a population of about 1,000. The area continued to boom throughout the first decade of the twentieth century.
Cattle, sheep, farming and mining formed the core of the economy. About 1907 the fruit industry began in the Council area on a large scale. The most famous of the orchards in the area were those of the Mesa Orchards Company, eight miles south of Council. At its peak the company had just over 1,200 acres growing various fruit trees (mostly apples) and was one of the biggest orchards in the world.

The Council Valley  

From Hitching Racks to Electricity
Until 1913 Council's town square was used as a place to tie horses and park wagons. That year the hitching racks all around the square were taken out for "sanitary and appearance reasons." One can only imagine the "ambiance" of the square during constant use by dozens of horses.

In 1915 the town suffered its worst fire, and lost many of the buildings of its downtown core. An ordinance was passed requiring new buildings to be made of brick. Most of the present brick structures in downtown Council were built right after the 1915 fire. The new buildings were wired for electricity that reached the town that year.

Economic Ups and Downs
The 1920s brought hard times to the Council area. The mining boom had gone bust, and the area was hit hard by the national agricultural depression that followed World War I. By 1929 Council had a population of about 500.

The economy of the area started to improve in 1939 when the Boise-Payette lumber company built a sawmill in Council and started logging operations in the surrounding mountains. The town experienced a boom and a housing shortage. A new high school was finished in 1941, just about the time the U.S. jumped into World War II.

For several decades after the War, life and the economy in the Council area were stable, with logging and ranching as its core industries. In the 1980s timber-related jobs began to decline, and the Council sawmill closed March 31, 1995.

It looks like the economic future here will have to be more diverse than its past.

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