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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Ferdinand

Thursday, January 12, 2017  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Ferdinand City Hall

Ferdinand is located on the northwestern edge of the fertile Camas Prairie about eight miles north of Cottonwood. About 20 miles west are the Craig Mountains, rising to 5,279 feet.

Nez Perce Indian Reservation land and fields of wheat, barley and peas surround the city.

Historical Tidbits

For centuries, the nomadic Nez Perce was the principal tribe of American Indians that frequented the area of what is now Ferdinand, generally passing through on the way to their seasonal encampments.

Following the treaty of 1846 with England that established the boundary between the United States and Canada at the 49th parallel, the federal government created territories and took control of the land. The U.S. Army compelled American Indians to follow the dictates of Congress.

In 1855 the federal government entered into a treaty with the Nez Perce, establishing a reservation that covered a large part of Northern Idaho and Western Washington. However, at the same time the federal government was also promoting settlement of the West and the harvest of its natural resources. On their own initiative, gold prospectors and pioneer settlers knowingly and unknowingly moved onto reservation land.

In 1860 prospectors found gold on reservation land at what is now Pierce. A gold rush ensued with thousands of fortune seekers moving into the area. Most of them came by boat from the coast, up the Columbia and Snake Rivers to the seaport town of Lewiston. Lewiston, which was also on reservation land, became a city of tents, a staging area where people could obtain last minute provisions before moving on to the gold fields at Pierce and beyond. The outnumbered Nez Perce were ill equipped to resist.

In 1863 the federal government entered into a new treaty with the Nez Perce that superseded the 1855 treaty. However, not all Nez Perce chiefs signed the new treaty that provided they cede significant portions of 1855 treaty reservation land, including land around Lewiston and the gold mining areas around Pierce, to the federal government. In 1867 Congress ratified the1863 treaty.

The Nez Perce chiefs who did not sign the treaty were angry about the new restrictions. A military conflict ensued, which the non-treaty signing tribes lost and were forced to comply with congressional and military directives.

On February 8, 1887, the U.S. Congress further reduced reservation land holdings by passing the Dawes Severalty Act. The Act authorized Native American tribal lands to be surveyed and specific acreages allotted individually to tribal members. Congress deemed land not so allocated as surplus and available for settlement by non-Indians. In 1935 Congress repealed the law placing unclaimed reservation land into a trust for the Indians; however, by that time ownership of most former reservation lands was in the hands of non-Indians.

By November 18, 1895, the federal government completed its surveys of the Nez Perce reservation land and opened it for settlement. An estimated 5,000 people participated in this land rush.

F.M. Bieker was one of those involved. Bieker planned to stake his claim near what is now the unincorporated town of Keuterville. However, upon arrival he found he lacked adequate water.

The next day he happened to find a map of the reservation, which someone had apparently dropped. With the aid of his pocket compass and map, he ran a line five miles from a survey marker and marked his claim. This became his farm, located just west of what is now Ferdinand. Over the following six weeks, he used his claim as a starting point for helping ten other settlers establish their claims.

Bieker constructed a building that included his home and a general store. He then circulated a petition to his neighbors to establish a post office in the store. Initially, he filed the application with the name of St. Anthony. However, postal authorities rejected that name because it was already in use.

In 1898 Bieker successfully reapplied using the name Ferdinand in honor of his mother’s hometown of Ferdinand, Indiana.

On January 15, 1917, Ferdinand’s population exceeded the 200 required, and it successfully filed to become an incorporated village.

Competition for the Railroad

In 1904 the presidents of Northern Pacific and Union Pacific, co-venturers in constructing the railroad, visited and approved building a railroad across the Camas Prairie. Construction began in 1905. However, it took several years to complete due to difficult terrain between Culdesac and Cottonwood. Construction of the railroad included a 296-foot-high and 1,500-foot-long steel bridge, four miles west of Ferdinand. The bridge, completed August 20, 1908, was then one of the highest railroad bridges in the nation.

John Vollmer—an officer of the Northern Pacific Railroad—planned to personally profit from the railroad by purchasing land and platting several towns next to the planned railroad depots.

One of these towns was Ferdinand. The railroad tracks passed a quarter mile to the east of the community. Vollmer acquired 40 acres on the opposite side of the tracks where he planned to plat the village of Steunenberg. When Bieker learned of Vollmer’s plan, he offered to sell him 40 acres between Ferdinand and the railroad for the new village. Vollmer did not respond to Bieker’s offer, so Bieker began selling commercial lots on the land he had offered to Vollmer.

When Vollmer’s surveyor arrived to plat Steunenberg, he concluded Vollmer’s actions unethical as it would seriously damage the interests of Ferdinand residents and businesses. When Vollmer’s agents fired the surveyor, Bieker hired him to plat the expanded Ferdinand townsite on the western side of the tracks.

Determined to move forward with his town of Steunenberg, Vollmer built a hotel, saloon, store and bank. Postal authorities cooperated by approving the Steunenberg post office. However, many of the Ferdinand residents refused to cross the railroad tracks to patronize Steunenberg businesses. The post office closed within a year due to lack of activity. Fire destroyed at least two of Vollmer’s buildings and the other businesses ultimately closed, leaving Ferdinand as the surviving community.

Amenities and Attractions Today

Ferdinand has a picnic area as you enter town on Main Street. It has a second picnic area and restroom near the baseball field on 2nd Street and Division. The city also has a swing set, slide, tennis court and basketball court on the north end of 2nd Street next to the Assumption Catholic Church’s Parish Hall. The historic Ferdinand Public School, erected in 1909 and operated until 1960 when the schools consolidated, is still standing and is in wonderful condition.

Ferdinand residents participate in activities of nearby communities. Each June is the "June Picnic," 8 miles north in Craigmont. On the first weekend of August is the Raspberry Festival at St. Gertrude’s, 12 miles south of Ferdinand. On the third weekend of August is the Idaho County Fair in Cottonwood.

St. Gertrude’s also has a Museum with many wonderful artifacts and exhibits of the area’s early inhabitants and settlers.

Winchester Lake State Park in Winchester is 16 miles northwest. The park offers campsites, yurts, canoeing, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fishing on the lake as well as nearby streams. Downhill skiing is available at Cottonwood Butte.

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