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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Man at irrigation headgate, early 20th c.
Man at irrigation headgate, early 20th century: Federal Bureau of Reclamation engineers transformed the arid Snake River plain into fertile land with dams and reservoirs.

Idaho - Land of Contrasts

The origin and character of Idaho's people and their folkways are reflected in the state's spectacular but harsh landscape. From Mount Borah's 12,662-foot heights to Hells Canyon's 736-foot depths, from Panhandle lakes to Owyhee deserts, the 43rd state is a study in geographic contrasts. Survival by European settlers to Idaho required stamina and skill, as well as a curious mixture of rugged independence and willingness to help neighbors.

The state's geology helped shape human interaction, for example, a huge, ancient intrusion called the Idaho Batholith formed an almost impenetrable barrier to transportation, communication and settlement during the 1800s. Curving around the Batholith to the south is the Snake River Plane, formed over the last 17 million years. North of the Batholith lie large lakes gouged by glaciers and dammed by gravel pits 100,000 years ago. Even in the 21st century, only one paved highway crosses the Batholith from east to west, following the Clearwater River between Oregon and Montana, and only one highway links north and south, skirting the Batholith's western edge.

In 1805, Captain Meriwether Lewis and Captain William Clark were guided through the Batholith by a native tribe member, Scajawea of the Lemhi people. A hundred years later, gold was discovered on land that had been set aside for the Lemhis. After statehood, Idaho's economy expanded, based on the state's abundant natural resources. Silver Valley in the Coeur d'Alenes and Silver City near the Nevada border were named for hard rock deposits nearby. Gold dredges and placer mining transformed the landscape in numerous watersheds. Timber was harvested to build towns, mine shafts and railroads. During the 1900s, Federal Bureau of Reclamation engineers arrived to build dams, reservoirs, and irrigation systems, transforming the arid Snake River plain into the fertile Magic and Treasure valleys. Newcomers prospered but their settlements disrupted the ecosystem, especially the salmon.

In the 21st century, Idaho's varied geological land forms are matched by a flourishing multidimensional cultural landscape. New technologies and industries have fostered cultural changes, and new residents from abroad.

Documentation includes two video tapes about the Nez Perce family and tipi traditions, Tipi Tale, the Nez Perce National Historical Park;the Trailing the Sheep video tape, about the cultural aspects of sheep ranching; 28 slides and a script that describe the slides and this legacy project; and two cassette tapes.

Originally submitted by: Larry E. Craig, Senator Mike Crapo,Senator Helen Chenoweth-Hage, Representative (1st District) & Mike Simpson, Representative (2nd District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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