Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Report Abuse   |   Sign In   |   Associate Member?
News & Press: Community Spotlights

Minidoka

Friday, September 11, 2015  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
Share |

 

Minidoka Town Hall, 2013. Picture courtesy of Gary Schorzman. 

Minidoka lies on the Snake River Plain about five miles due north of the hydroelectric Minidoka Dam on the Snake River and Lake Wolcott, created by the dam.

A few miles to the north begin vast tracts of public lands and the prehistoric lava flows of the Craters of the Moon National Monument. Rupert is about 13 miles southwest.

Historical Tidbits 

Until the early 1900s travelers through the area generally considered the region around what is now Minidoka as a sagebrush wasteland.

In 1843 Captain John C. Fremont, a topographical engineer, led a military surveying expedition that mapped much of the West. His party stopped at two Idaho trading posts—Fort Hall near what is now Pocatello and Fort Boise near what is now Parma. Both forts started in 1834. Oregon Trail pioneers used Fremont’s Congress-published maps extensively.

Fremont, who had little experience with irrigation and understanding of the high fertility of Snake River Plain soils, spoke dismissively of the land between the two forts. He said, "There does not occur for a distance of 300 miles to the westward a fertile spot of ground sufficiently large to produce the necessary quantity of grain or pasturage enough to allow even a temporary repose to the emigrants."

For decades, Oregon Trail pioneers and others shared Fremont’s view. American Indians may have passed near what is now Minidoka en route to their summer and winter encampments where fresh water was abundant, but they did not stay.

However, in the late 1800s attitudes began to change. Pioneers from northern Utah began settling in the Upper Snake River Plain. They successfully applied their irrigation techniques and experience gained from three decades of desert reclamation in the Great Basin. In 1881 the Utah & Northern Railway Company completed its railroad line from the railhead at Franklin, Idaho, to the Montana gold fields and the boomtowns of Virginia City, Butte and Garrison. This railroad greatly accelerated the settlement of Eastern Idaho.

In 1881 the Oregon Short Line Railroad (OSL) began building a railroad connection between the railheads at Granger, Wyoming, and Huntington, Oregon—a distance of 472 miles. The rail line angled from Granger in a northwesterly direction through Pocatello and Caldwell before connecting with the rail line in Huntington. In 1882 when the construction crews reached what is now Minidoka, the railroad built a railroad construction camp and post office. The OSL chief engineer named the camp Minidoka.

The origin of the word. "Minidoka" is not known. Local legend has it that the name is of Shoshone origin, meaning "broad expanse." However, regional historians and educators familiar with area Shoshone and Bannock languages discredit that notion, asserting that the word has no resemblance to any word sounds used by those tribes—American Indians generally did not have written languages. Some scholars have pointed out similarities with the "mini" and "doka" sounds of words used in one or more of the dialects of the Lakota Sioux Indians whose historic tribal areas included parts of what is now Minnesota and North and South Dakota—"mini" meaning "water" and "doka" probably meaning "without any, gone or not there." How those Lakota Sioux language terms were transported to Idaho—either by railroad officials or Sioux Indian scouts—is open to speculation.

When completed at Huntington on November 17, 1884, it created another continental railroad. Railroad interests completed the first continental railroad in 1869 at Promontory Point near Corinne, Utah. The OSL line opened Southern Idaho to the commerce centers of Omaha, Nebraska, and Portland, Oregon.

In 1902 Congress passed the Newlands Act. The Act authorized the U.S. Reclamation Service, later renamed the Bureau of Reclamation, to construct facilities that would provide irrigation and electricity and promote conversion of arid public lands to private productive farms.

In 1904 the Reclamation Service started construction of the hydroelectric Minidoka Dam on the Snake River and a complex system of canals and ditches. In 1906 they completed construction of the Dam. In addition, construction of the North Side Canal and subsidiary canal systems were well underway.

In contemplation of irrigation water becoming available, farmers began settling the land. Those who settled around what is now Minidoka cleared the land and used dry-land farming techniques to plant winter wheat. (See Southwest Idaho, Cities of the Magic Valley and Federal Land Use Laws.)

Unfortunately for settlers around Minidoka, their farms were too far north to receive water from Minidoka Dam. They had to continue dry farming. While dry-farm production was acceptable for a few years, the weather turned dry and the perpetual problems of hoards of jackrabbits and insects became insurmountable. Many farmers had to sell or abandon their farms. (See Southwestern Idaho—The Jackrabbit Menace.)

However, in 1946 conditions changed. Innovation in irrigation equipment and drilling deep wells allowed farmers to tap into the massive Snake River Aquifer for the irrigation water needed to produce higher-value crops. Minidoka farmland was now valuable as deep wells and sprinkler irrigation turned the high desert into an oasis of potatoes, sugar beets, wheat and feed crops of barley, corn and alfalfa hay. The community’s population grew rapidly. In a few years, the town had the number of people—200—needed to qualify for incorporation as a village.

On October 10, 1904, the Minidoka County Commissioners approved incorporation of the village of Minidoka. In 1967 Minidoka’s legal status changed from a village to a city as required by the new state law.

Minidoka Name Origin?

The origin of the word. "Minidoka" is not known. Local legend has it that the name is of Shoshone origin, meaning "broad expanse." However, regional historians and educators familiar with area Shoshone and Bannock languages discredit that notion, asserting that the word has no resemblance to any word sounds used by those tribes—American Indians generally did not have written languages. Some scholars have pointed out similarities with the "mini" and "doka" sounds of words used in one or more of the dialects of the Lakota Sioux Indians whose historic tribal areas included parts of what is now Minnesota and North and South Dakota—"mini" meaning "water" and "doka" probably meaning "without any, gone or not there." How those Lakota Sioux language terms were transported to Idaho—either by railroad officials or Sioux Indian scouts—is open to speculation.

Amenities and Attractions Today 

Perhaps the most significant attribute for the city is its location next to a fabulous public recreation complex that includes Minidoka Dam, Lake Walcott, Lake Walcott State Park and the Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge.

Lake Walcott State Park offers water skiing, power boating, windsurfing, sailing, bird watching, camping and fishing, as well as picnicking under old-growth hardwood trees. One popular feature of the park is an 18-hole "Disc Golf Course" with metal baskets for holes.

The Wildlife Refuge extends 25 miles east and upriver from the dam. It encompasses nearly 21,000 acres of which over half is open water and marshes.

Camping, hiking, hunting and ATV riding are also available on thousands of acres of public land located just north of the city.


Membership Software Powered by YourMembership.com®  ::  Legal