AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Arimo
Monday, December 21, 2015
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
Arimo in Winter
The high-desert city of Arimo is situated near the center of Marsh Valley, 40 miles north of the Idaho/Utah border.
The Caribou National Forest frames the valley. The Portneuf Mountain Range is on the east, and the Bannock Mountain Range lies to the west.
Arimo residents have the “better of two worlds.” They live in a peaceful, rural environment yet only 29 miles from Pocatello and the excellent shopping, employment and higher education opportunities offered there.
In the early 1860s following discovery of gold in western Montana, Marsh Valley became a thoroughfare for thousands of prospectors, freighters and fortune seekers.
Freight wagons and stagecoaches ran from Ogden, Utah; across the Snake River at Eagle Rock, now Idaho Falls; across the continental divide at Monida Pass; to the gold fields near Virginia City, Butte and Garrison, Montana. Western Montana was part of the Idaho Territory until the Montana Territory was created on May 26, 1864.
They called the route the “Gold Road.” Between the late 1860s and early 1870s, about half of the supplies for the Montana goldfields came over the 466-mile stretch of road between Ogden and Garrison.
Hauling freight to the mines was often more profitable than prospecting. The demand for food and goods delivered to the miners was so high that freighters could sell their cargo for several times more than they paid for it.
The stagecoach stations were spaced about a day’s journey apart to provide passengers and freight wagon crews a safe place to get food and rest for the night.
Faster moving stagecoaches hauled passengers and mail. Freight wagons, whose cargo and chassis could weigh up to 12 tons, moved much slower. Two or three of these freight wagons were often connected one behind the other and pulled with several teams of mules or oxen.
As a rule of thumb, animals had to pull a load equivalent to their weight—hence the origin of the term “pull your own weight.” Replicas of these wagons are featured at the “Wagon Days Festival” each Labor Day in Ketchum.
One freighter, “Fast Freight Bill,” hauled salt from Corrine, Utah, to Virginia City. When he passed through Marsh Valley, he sold saltlicks to the ranchers for their livestock.
At the time, Marsh Valley was part of Oneida County—a county as large as the states of Maryland and Delaware combined and named after Lake Oneida in New York.
In 1868 a man named Ruddy built his home and a stagecoach station, Ruddy Station, next to the Gold Road at the mouth of Garden Creek two miles west of what is now Arimo. At the same time, settlers began coming to the area, filing their homestead claims, building canals and diverting water for irrigation from the nearby creeks, springs and rivers.
Marsh Valley has many springs and artesian wells. Settlers used some wells for irrigation, but most irrigation water came from the Portneuf River, a river that several decades earlier yielded numerous beaver pelts.
The early settlers built the canals and diverted Portneuf River water at great personal sacrifice. Many could not afford shoes and worked barefoot. The going wage for laborers was 25 cents a day.
A town began to grow up around Ruddy Station. As the community grew, it took on the name of Oneida.
Many settlers built their first houses out of logs hauled down from the mountains. The roofs were made of poles and branches covered with sod.
In 1869 railroad interests completed the transcontinental railroad at Promontory, Utah. Five years later, an independent railroad company built a line from Ogden to Franklin, Idaho. Following a succession of business failures and mergers, the Utah and Northern Railroad Company (UNR) emerged—owned primarily by certain principals of the Union Pacific Railroad. Congress granted the company a railroad right-of-way north of Franklin to Helena, Montana.
In 1878 the UNR built a narrow gauge line that generally followed the Gold Road. The track was three inches high and set approximately 3½ feet apart—much easier and less expensive to build than the wider and heavier standard gauge railroad. The narrow gauge was used successfully for several years before being replaced by the standard gauge that became the national standard.
The railroad built a depot at Oneida, further promoting growth of the town. The town soon boasted a post office, two blacksmith shops, three hotels, a bakery, mercantile stores and many saloons and dance halls. The population swelled to 2,000.
Oneida was a rough and somewhat lawless town. John William Stinger, one of the early residents, cooked for a “work-train.” His father, John Henry, operated bakeries in Oneida and Pocatello. They witnessed some of the lawlessness and said that gambling and drunkenness were prevalent.
Faro and roulette were favorite gambling games. When the stakes got high, gamblers piled bags of gold dust and silver on the table. Gunfights and thefts were common. Sometimes men would shoot through the kitchen walls to hurry the cooks. At times they threw dishes and cooking utensils at each other.
In 1878 the railroad, which was then partly owned by the Oregon Short Line Railroad, began converting its narrow gauge line to standard gauge. A few years later, UNR merged into the Oregon Short Line and built a new standard gauge line between Ogden and McCammon. The new line was more direct and shorter, bypassing Oneida about two miles to the east.
The Oneida railroad depot, along with the post office, moved next to the new railroad track, creating a name identification conflict between the two towns that would take a decade to correct.
Most businesses and many homeowners sold or moved their buildings. Some structures were jacked up, put on horse-drawn skids and dragged to the new site. Others arranged with the railroad before the old tracks were removed to haul their dismantled buildings on flat railcars to the new site where they were reassembled.
The Woodland Store was a saloon and hotel when it was in the old town. James Henderson purchased the building, moved it to its present location on Main Street and turned it into a mercantile store and post office. Henderson’s store sold everything from ice blocks cut from a frozen pond and stored in an icehouse filled with sawdust to machinery, candy and shoelaces. Indians traveling between Fort Hall near Pocatello and Fort Washakie, Utah, often stopped at the store.
A marker built from the original train depot’s foundation stone is the only evidence of the old rip-roaring railroad town of Oneida.
After the move to the new location, the town prospered. Four grain elevators and a lumber and coal business started and a one-room school opened.
With the railroad, the sheep industry flourished. The area was the winter home for 30 to 40 herds of sheep consisting of 3,000 to 4,000 head each. Every spring before being moved to higher elevations to graze, the sheep were sheered in local shearing sheds and the wool shipped to market. In the fall, the herds returned for winter range with a new crop of fat lambs. Oneida was the area shipping point for both wool and lambs. Each spring and fall vast herds of sheep trailed through the community.
In 1912 town leaders began formal action to change the name of the new community and separate it from the sordid reputation of the original Oneida village. They selected Arimo in honor of Chief Arimo of the Shoshone Indians who befriended early white settlers. On April 2, 1912, postal authorities confirmed the new name when they changed the name of the post office to Arimo.
Several months later, W.W. Woodland completed platting 640 acres as the Arimo town site. Woodland’s plat included existing buildings and the donation of lots for the Arimo Cemetery and schools. On December 29, 1913, residents ceremoniously dedicated their new town of Arimo.
A decade later, on December 24, 1923, Arimo was incorporated as a village. On January 5, 1967, in keeping with new state law, the village became an incorporated city.
Marsh Valley School District
In 1955 voters from Arimo, Downey, McCammon, Lava Hot Springs and Inkom approved the consolidation of their school systems into a single school district, so they could provide better educational facilities and curriculum for their children at less cost.
Under the consolidation, the elementary schools stayed in or near each city and the Marsh Valley High School and Middle School were located in Arimo. This added many new stable jobs of mostly university-educated people, strengthened the city’s economy and made Arimo more attractive to families.
The schools also added to the city’s culture. In 2005 the school district built the Marsh Valley Performing Arts Center on the school’s campus where students put on a variety of concerts and performances that are open to the public.
Amenities and Attractions Today
The city leases a large park in the center of town from the school. It is a center of athletic activity with a baseball diamond, lights for games at night, a pavilion and playground equipment.
The city is also developing a small park by the fire station for small gatherings and family activities.
Every July 4, the city celebrates Independence Day with a flag ceremony and parade followed by an afternoon of picnics and family oriented games and activities.
The Hawkins Reservoir Recreation Management Area is eight miles west.