If you’re like most folks, road signs that denote historic sites or doings often blur as you whiz by. That’s too bad: if you take the time to stop, their contents can give you better context and greater appreciation for those who lived and worked here before these roads were good enough to enable you to whiz on by.
The Idaho Transportation Department has a solution — a booklet that provides the contents of all these signs. You can’t plan a trip by it, but if you carry with you, you can ask your travel companion, “Hey, dig out that road sign booklet. That one we whizzed by looked kinda interesting. What did it say?”
Here’s a sampling of signs you might pass in North Idaho:
Seneacquoteen: (On U.S. 2 at Milepost 15, Laclede, on the north side of Lake Pend Oreille) “Long before white men discovered this river, Indians camped at this important early crossing.
“White fur trader, surveyors and miners followed the old Indian trail that forded the river here at Seneacqoteen – a Kalispell word meaning crossing. During the Kootenay gold rush of 1864, a wagon road came from Walla Walla to a ferry here. The Wild Horse Trail – a pack route – ran on north to the Kootenay mines in British Columbia.”
Saint Joseph Indian Mission: (On Idaho 3, the White Pine Scenic Byway, at Milepost 92.4) “On November 4, 1842, Father Nicholas Point began a Jesuit mission that settled here after a winter at Coeur d’Alene.
Eagerly sought by the Coeur d’Alene Indians, the black-robed missionaries supervised the building of a log cabin and in the spring began to teach ‘the mysteries of plowing and planting.’ Soon, two-thirds of the tribe were baptized. But floods gave trouble and in 1846 the mission moved north to Cataldo.”
John Mullan: (On Idaho 5, Milepost 17.8 in St. Maries at the John Mullan Park) “John Mullan was the Army officer who in 1859-62 surveyed and built the Mullan road from Walla Walla to Fort Benton, Montana.
“The road was to connect the Missouri and the Columbia and Congress approved of it in 1855. Indian troubles and lack of funds delayed the job, but the road was completed in 1862. The first route in 1859 passed about 19 miles west of here, but floods forced a change and the final road passed north of Coeur d’Alene Lake. Interstate 90 follows Mullan’s final route.”
Lewis and Clark: (On Idaho 11 at Milepost 17.2) “Journeying toward the Clearwater, six men under Clark met the Nez Perce Indians not far from here, September 20, 1805.
“Clark first saw three frightened Indian boys who hid in the grass. Finding two, he reassured them with small presents and ‘sent them forward to the village.’ The Indian people, though naturally somewhat nervous in greeting the first whites to reach their land, fed Clark’s men. The next day, Clark ‘collected a horse load of roots & 3 Sammon’ to send back to the main expedition.”
Chinese Hanging: (On Idaho 11 at Milepost 27.5) “Charged with hacking a prominent local merchant to pieces, five Chinese were hanged by vigilantes September 18, 1885.
“They were just setting out on a long, hard 240-mile trip from Pierce to face trail at the county seat in Murray when the vigilantes struck. A large group of armed, masked men forced the deputy sheriff and his posse to give up the prisoners and return to Pierce. A marked trail leads 365 feet from here to the site where this incident occurred.”
Canal Gulch: (On Idaho 11 at Milepost 28.6) “The famous gold rush days of Idaho began on Sept. 30, 1860, when W.F. Bassett struck gold just about here.
“E.D. Pierce, who knew the country, had led 12 prospectors, including Bassett, out from Walla Walla in August. After news of the strike spread, about 60 men came in and wintered nearby in spite of snow and Indians. Next spring the stampede was on and by that July this 6-month-old county cast the largest vote in Washington Territory.”
Oro Fino City: (On Idaho 11 at Milepost 28.6) “Oro Fino City was the commercial center of Idaho’s earliest gold camp in the great days of 1861. It flourished here for more than a year.
“Pierce City was only two miles away, but another town sprang up near some rich gold strikes. In its first few weeks, Oro Fino City had ‘about 60 houses – more going up every day; nine or 10 stores, more saloons than are needed, two smith shops, two butcher shops, three families, and about 500 inhabitants.’ But with the gold rush over, the place was abandoned; the deserted town burned to the ground August 10, 1867.”
Pierce Courthouse: (On Idaho 11 at Milepost 29.6) “Shoshone County’s original courthouse and Idaho’s earliest public building – still stands in Pierce where it was built in 1862.
“Although Pierce gained a large population for a year after gold was discovered here in 1860, most miners moved on to other camps. By 1880, Shoshone County had only 469 people left, of whom 296 were Chinese. When a new gold rush 80 miles farther north led to the removal of county government to Murray in 1885, Pierce’s courthouse became a private home. Eventually preserved by Mrs. Henry Spencer Lawson, it is a component of the Nez Perce National Historic Park.”