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News & Press: Community Spotlights


Friday, September 25, 2015  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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City of Rockland

The city of Rockland lies in the Rockland Valley 13 miles south of American Falls and 35 miles southwest of Pocatello. Rock Creek, The Town's namesake, flows through the city. The City is near the center of the valley with numerous farms with irrigated fields of wheat, barley and alfalfa hay extending to the north and south.

On the east is the Deep Creek Mountain Range, a mostly treeless range that runs south of American Falls to the unincorporated town of Holbrook in Oneida County. The second tallest mountain in this range, Bannock Peak, is located 10 miles east of Rockland and rises to 8,263 feet.

On the west of the valley, the up to 7,492-foot-high Sublett Mountains—named after William L. Sublett, a prominent trapper and fur trader who in the 1830s worked the streams of Southern Idaho—extends from the Snake River south about 50 miles to the unincorporated hamlet of Stone just north of the Idaho/Utah border.

Historical Tidbits

Nomadic American Indians—principally of the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes—inhabited the area of what is now American Falls and Rockland long before the first explorers/trappers began traveling into what is now Eastern Idaho.

In 1810 Captain Andrew Henry led the first party of explorers/trappers into Eastern Idaho. They built a log stockade and shelter a few miles north of what is now Rexburg on the Henrys Fork of the Snake River. They named their post Fort Henry and spent the winter trapping beaver. In the spring, they moved on and never returned.

In October 1811 Wilson Price Hunt led a party of explorers who stayed at the deserted Fort Henry for two weeks while they built canoes with which they, unwisely, hoped to navigate the Snake River to the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. When they reached what is now American Falls, they portaged around the falls, which at that time was a series of rapids that dropped 50 feet over an 800-foot-wide and 200-foot-long stretch of the river. When they reached the treacherous rapids near what is now Twin Falls, they lost a man and supplies. They determined the river route impossible, abandoned their remaining canoes, stashed most of their supplies and completed their harrowing journey on foot.

In 1934 Nathaniel J. Wyeth, a fur-trading merchant, constructed a trading post, which he named Fort Hall, on the Snake River about 11 miles north of what is now Pocatello.

In 1843 Captain John C. Fremont, a topographical engineer, led a surveying expedition that mapped much of the West. He stopped at Fort Hall for supplies and traveled near what is now American Falls.

Oregon Trail immigrants used Fremont’s maps, published by Congress, in establishing the Oregon Trail and certain cutoffs from the main trail.

The main Oregon Trail passed about 12 miles north of Rockland on the south side of the Snake River. What is now Massacre Rocks State Park (MRSP) was part of the trail. MRSP is the location of a large clustering of giant boulders deposited 14,500 years ago when the natural Lake Bonneville dam at Red Rock Pass, a few miles south of Downey, breached. The massive flood that followed ripped giant boulders from mountainsides, smoothing them as they rolled in the raging waters and depositing them wherever the force of the flood subsided. One of these rock deposit locations was at MRSP.

In August 1862 Indians hid in the MSRP boulders and ambushed a small wagon train. When it was over, 10 pioneers and an unknown number of Indians were dead.

Following the first arrivals in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, the population of Utah continued to swell with a stream of immigrant converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church). As they came, they spread throughout the Great Basin establishing hundreds of settlements.

In 1860 Franklin became the first permanent settlement in what is now Idaho. At that time, the settlers thought they were in Utah Territory.

Within five years, Church pioneers would found a half dozen more settlements north of Franklin, as well as numerous settlements across the eastern mountains in the north Bear Lake region and to the northwest into the Malad River Valley. The largest migration of settlers from Utah Territory into Eastern Idaho came in the early 1880s with the settlement of the Upper Snake River Plain.

In 1876 pioneers coming up from Utah Territory founded the town of Rockland. Three years later, Utah pioneers settled Oakley, 50 miles southwest of Rockland.

During the 1870s many pioneers, not from Utah Territory, began settling near what is now American Falls. Ranchers moved onto the land, grazing their cattle and sheep on the meadows, plains and hillsides. Homesteaders soon followed, staking their farming claims along the Snake River and its tributaries where they could most easily divert water to irrigate their farms.

In 1879 the U.S. Army suppressed the last resistance from Native Americans in Idaho. In a series of skirmishes termed the Bannock War, the remaining Shoshone and Bannock Indians were compelled to accept living on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.

In 1881 the Oregon Short Line Railroad began building a railroad line between Granger, Wyoming, and Huntington, Oregon. The railroad passed through Pocatello, American Falls, Mountain Home and Caldwell before reaching its destination at Huntington. When completed in 1884 the rail line provided access to the commercial centers of Omaha, Nebraska, and Portland, Oregon.

In 1882 when the railroad reached American Falls, railroad officials built a depot. The railroad was a major boost to the local agricultural economy, including that of the farmers and ranchers around Rockland.

On June 14, 1909, Rockland became an incorporated village.

Pioneer Settlement

Thousands of Church converts streaming into Utah were looking for arable land in the West, suitable for irrigation, where they could build communities and raise their families. When informed about the settlement potential of what is now Rockland, a colony of pioneers came up from Utah and settled, founding the city of Rockland in 1876. Other pioneers, not from Utah Territory and the Church, soon followed suit and settled in and near Rockland.

Amenities and Attractions Today

One of the city’s major attractions is its near proximity to the American Falls Dam and Reservoir on the Snake River. The 103-foot-high and 5,277-foot-long dam creates a reservoir that covers 65,000 acres. Over 200 birds inhabit the reservoir and the surrounding marshlands and hills. Whistling swans, bald eagles, geese, ducks, pelicans and blue herons are common.

The river and the reservoir offer many opportunities for boating, fishing and ice fishing. Boat docks on the reservoir are available at Sportsman’s Park near Aberdeen on the north side of the reservoir. There is a public boat dock on the west shore as well as Seagull Bay Yacht Club, a private facility. In addition, the Oregon Trail Sportsman Access is located on the lower side of the falls at the end of Falls Avenue. The Willow Bay Marina complex is located on the reservoir. It is open year round and has a 128-acre recreation area with RV hookups, café and store.

The 990-acre Massacre Rocks State Park is an excellent place to connect with history where Oregon Trail immigrants kept watch for Indian ambush as they wove their wagons and livestock through the many tall boulders they called “Gate of Death” and “Devil’s Gate.” Oregon Trail wagon ruts are visible from the highway rest areas at either end of the park.

Today, visitors call the park beautiful, serene, restful and rich in history. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the park staff offers outdoor campfire programs. Spectacular sunsets often greet those attending the evening campfires.

The park has a museum and offers camping, hiking and fishing on the Snake River. Birdwatchers have found the park to be a prime site for observing birds, particularly during the spring migration. The park contains about 300 species of plants—including sagebrush, Utah juniper and rabbit brush.

Register Rock is just west of the Massacre Rock Visitors Center. Many Oregon Trail immigrants inscribed their names and dates of passage on the large rock. A scenic picnic area surrounds Register Rock. Today, horse owners riding the equestrian trails can water and rest their animals in the Register Rock corral.

The 3,300-acre Sterling Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is located just east of Aberdeen on the shores of American Falls Reservoir. The WMA provides excellent habitat for upland game and waterfowl.

About 15 miles west is the lower portion of the 750,000-acre Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, which includes the Great Rift National Natural Landmark. Lava flows interspersed with pockets of land that have remained undisturbed for centuries cover the preserve. The most recent lava flows pushed up through the great rift about 15,000 years ago.

The Sawtooth National Forest is popular for hikers, bikers, campers, hunters and ATV riders.

The American Falls Archaeological District is located in the Snake River Canyon downstream from American Falls. Some artifacts found at the digs date back 14,000 years. This archaeological district is on the National Register of Historical Places.

The University of Idaho’s 440-acre Aberdeen Research and Extension Center lies 25 miles north of the city. Research at the Center has resulted in countless discoveries and innovations including new and improved varieties of cereal grains, potatoes and other crops; control of plant diseases and pests; use of fertilizers; and identifying best farming practices for both irrigated and dry farms. Each year the Center receives visitors from throughout the world.

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