Eye On Boise

The shape of the state…

State historian Keith Petersen unveils historic maps of Idaho Territory to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Thursday. (Betsy Russell)
State historian Keith Petersen unveils historic maps of Idaho Territory to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Thursday. (Betsy Russell)

A political rivalry between two would-be Idaho governors, a fight over where Washington's capital should be, gold strikes in the Idaho Panhandle and more played into the current-day shape of the state of Idaho, according to historic maps unveiled to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee today after its budget hearing on the Idaho State Historical Society.

Under one, drawn by Lt. John Mullan, the entire North Idaho Panhandle would have become part of Washington. Under the other, drawn by William H. Wallace, not only the Panhandle but all of Montana and most of Wyoming were drawn into the new Idaho Territory. Amid political maneuvering between the two rivals, Mullan's map was adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives in Februrary of 1863, but a month later, on the last night of the congressional session, both houses adopted Wallace's map instead.

The historic maps were unveiled by state historian Keith Petersen, and state Historical Society Director Janet Gallimore told Panhandle lawmakers that if the clash had gone the other way, they might be representing Washington now.

After the hearing, JFAC members gathered around the maps with interest. The backstory: Mullan backed a move to shift Washington's capitol from Olympia to Walla Walla, more centrally located in a region that then included the North Idaho gold strikes. Wallace, who lived in the Puget Sound area, opposed that move. And both wanted to be named governor of the new Idaho Territory by then-President Lincoln. The Wallace map drew in more areas where he was better-known, and the fact that he, like Lincoln and unlike Mullan, was a Republican sealed the deal; Wallace was named the Idaho Territory's first governor. Right away, he designated the capital of the new territory: Lewiston.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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