History of Adams County

A brief history of our County and Cities

Historical information from Landmarks – A General History of The Council, Idaho Area by Dale Fisk and information received from Patty Gross at the Council Valley Free Library.

In the earliest days of Idaho settlement, a trail up the Weiser River through what is now Adams County 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.

Before non-native settlement began here, 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 school teacher, said that from on top of the little hill just north of present-day downtown Council, 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.

The word “council” probably doesn’t fit the principal nature of the native gatherings. Their most important function was probably trade, but it was also a time to gamble and celebrate the beginning of the salmon runs up the Weiser River.

The main, annual, Indian rendezvous was originally held in the Snake River Valley between the mouth of the Boise River (near Parma) and the mouth of the Weiser River (near Weiser). After the sky seemed to open up and rain white men around the Boise Valley in 1862, the big native festival that had been held along the Snake River was relocated to the more remote Council Valley to avoid contact with whites. It is hard to tell just how prominent the role was that the Council Valley played in this regard, or for how long such native gatherings had been held here. The festivals here seem to have peaked about 1872 when a total of about 2,500 Indians gathered here.

Indian Valley is so named because it was used as a wintering area by the Shoshoni. As settlement started along the Weiser River, the Council and Indian Valley areas were referred to as the “Upper Weiser” or the “Upper country”. By 1868 non-native families were living along the Weiser River as far up as Indian Valley. The only known occupant of the Council Valley was a bachelor named Henry Childs who lived on Hornet Creek. That creek was named after a nasty encounter Childs had with hornets near his home while 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. On November 19, 1878 the first post office was established at what now became officially known as “Council Valley”. Robert White was the postmaster. The office was nothing more than a small box that he kept under his bed in his home just north of the present town.

Like the Council Valley there were a few bachelors living in the Meadows Valley, then known as “Salmon Meadows”, 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 arrival of the railroad in 1882 at the town of Weiser, near the mouth of the Weiser River, spurred rapid growth of the Upper Country. In 1891 the core of the present town of Council began to form around a town square. The first business was a hotel / saloon built east of the square. Another hotel, several stores and many homes soon followed. In 1896 the name “Council Valley” for the town was shortened to “Council”.

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 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 1,200 acres growing various fruit trees (mostly apples) and was one of the biggest orchards in the world.

In 1911 the railroad reached the Meadows Valley, and a new town called “New Meadows” was established where the tracks ended. Until 1911 what is now Adams County was part of Washington County. That year the upper part of Washington County became Adams County with Council as the temporary county seat. In the November election of 1912, Council was voted the permanent county seat.

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 which reached the town that year.

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 experience 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.

Adams County Communities

Early on, a number of separate, small communities were in this area, including Goodrich, Mesa, Council, Fruitvale, Tamarack, Bear, Cuprum, and others.. Most had a combination post office/store and the school was the center of the community social life.

Travel was often cumbersome and initially residents usually stayed pretty close to home. Eventually, however, with the arrival of cars and better roads, students from outlying areas began being bussed to school in Council. Residents from outside also started going to Council to do their buying and selling and the smaller community stores, which couldn’t compete any longer, began closing.

By the 1920’s, live entertainment at the Council opera house was replaced by silent movies. The building, which still stands on the main street of town, is now called the “People’s Theater.” The first radio in the area, called a “wireless telephone,” was built by Mesa hobbyists in 1922.

In 1933 a Federal Civilian Conservation Corps program (the “CCC”) had a main camp east of Highway 95, north of the Middle Fork of the Weiser River. The CCC built a number of roads and lookouts in the National Forest as well as other projects in the Council area. New Forest Service buildings were built near the Corps’ camp in Council and they are still used by the Forest Service today.

The fruit industry in the area was almost finished by the end of the 1930s. The economic outlook, however, was improved with the introduction of logging and the presence of the Boise-Payette Lumber Company. So, in the 1940s a new prosperity came to town. But many felt it was the beginning of the disappearance of its settler heritage.

In the 1990s the economics of the area changed again. The days of the railroad were numbered. The towns that had once seen regular rail travel now saw the tracks that ran through the area removed. A bigger blow came with the closure of the Boise Cascade mill, the largest employer in the area. But time marches on and Adams County residents remain faithful to the determination and steadfastness that the early settlers brought to their new home.