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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Cottonwood

Monday, November 23, 2015  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Cottonwood is on the western side of the fertile Camas Prairie at the eastern base of the Clearwater Mountains, about 13 miles northwest of Grangeville. The Salmon River - the “River of No Return” flows through the mountains about seven miles southwest of the city. 

Cottonwood Butte Ski Resort, with a summit elevation of 5,565 feet, is seven miles west.

Historic Tidbits

In 1862 a man named Allen opened a way station near what is now Cottonwood at the junction of wagon roads to the gold mining towns of Florence and Elk City. He called it Cottonwood House after the groves of black cottonwood trees growing in the area and where logs were cut to build the station.

During the Nez Perce War in 1877, the U.S. Calvary used Cottonwood House as a field headquarters. 

On June 14, the Nez Perce decisively defeated the U.S. Army at the battle at White Bird Canyon, about 25 miles south. Captain Stephan Whipple received orders to move his detachment to Cottonwood House, dig in and await the arrival of Captain David Perry and his troops, who were bringing supplies from Fort Lapwai.

Whipple knew the Nez Perce were still in the area and sent a reconnaissance party of 12 men to locate them. However, a war party of Nez Perce surprised and killed the cavalrymen.

When the reconnaissance party failed to return, Whipple went out in search of the missing men. Finding them dead, he returned to his fortifications at Cottonwood House to await Perry and his troops. Meanwhile, the Nez Perce had begun to move up the Clearwater River to Montana but had left a detachment of warriors as a rear guard. At that time, a party of 17 volunteers from Mount Idaho, near Grangeville, was en route to Cottonwood House to join Whipple. The Nez Perce rear-guard warriors intercepted and killed two of the volunteers before moving off the Camas Prairie and joining the rest of the departing tribe.

By 1880 cattle ranchers and farmers had filed homestead claims in the Cottonwood area and were grazing their livestock on the open prairie. Cottonwood soon became an agricultural center. 

Cottonwood became an incorporated village on October 21, 1901. In 1967 in accordance with a change in state law, Cottonwood became a city.

Monastery of St. Gertrude

In 1907 the Roman Catholic religious order, serving people throughout the Northwest and known as the Benedictine Sisters, moved from Colton, Washington, to a site three miles west of Cottonwood. They lived in and provided services from a frame house and chapel until the 1920s when they built the Monastery of St. Gertrude from blue porphyry stone quarried nearby. The Sisters also established schools throughout the area that continued until public school consolidation occurred in the 1970s. They added the Historical Museum and Monastery in 1982.

Amenities and Attractions Today

The city has a park located in the northern part of town on King Street across from the Idaho County Fairgrounds with a cabana, ball field, playground equipment and bathrooms. Also the city has the Wimer Ball Fields in the southwestern part of town on Maple Street with two ball fields used for T-ball, rookie league, Little League and soft ball. The fields have a concession/bathroom facility.

The historic Monastery of St. Gertrude, Historical Museum and Visitors Center are popular tourist and local attractions. The 7,200-square-foot museum has over 70,000 historical artifacts and exhibits, many displaying the early life of the miners, ranchers, farmers, Chinese and Nez Perce Indians who once inhabited the region. The Museum has a Rhoades Emmanuel Memorial Exhibit that has Asian and E

European artifacts. Some of these Asian items date back to the Ming Dynasty—1368 to 1644.
Also located on the Monastery grounds is the Spirit Center, a 21,800-square-foot conference and retreat center that is available for public rental. In May 2010 the Monastery opened a bed and breakfast to the public.

On the first Sunday of August, the Historical Museum hosts the annual Raspberry Festival.
The Cottonwood Butte Ski Resort averages 45 inches of snow each year, has seven ski runs with a maximum 845-foot vertical drop and 260 skiable acres.

Many city residents enjoy the numerous outdoor activities available year round in the forests and wilderness areas near Cottonwood. Fishing, river rafting, hunting, camping, hiking, skiing and jet boating are available within a short distance of the city.

Four wilderness areas created by Congress are located within a two-hour drive of Cottonwood. To the northeast, U.S. Highway 12 skirts the northern border of the 1.3 million-acre Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area of which about 215,000 acres are in Montana.

Idaho Highway 14, which starts a few miles east of Grangeville, leads to the unincorporated but historic sawmill and gold mining town of Elk City. The highway comes close to the 2.5 million-acre Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness and the 206,000-acre Gospel Hump Wilderness.
The Salmon River joins the Snake River about 25 miles west and then enters the 215,000-acre Hells Canyon Wilderness of which 131,000 acres are in Oregon.

Winchester Lake State Park in Winchester is 26 miles northwest. The park offer campsites, yurts, canoeing, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fishing on the lake as well as nearby streams.

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