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Chapter 6:
Settlement Patterns in the Craters of the Moon Region, 1879-1933

Overview of Settlement Patterns on the Snake River Plain

The Snake River Plain was known to Euro-American fur trappers, explorers, and missionaries since the first decades of the nineteenth century, yet it attracted little interest from American settlers. Repelled by the plain's inhospitable and desiccated environment, Oregon-bound emigrants of the mid-nineteenth century viewed the region more as a barrier to cross and survive than settle. They not only feared its waterless and treeless wastes but its Indians as well. Many, perhaps, shared the observations of Wilson Price Hunt who characterized the plain as a "dreary desert of sand and gravel." Washington Irving, in his widely read and influential account of Hunt's expedition, offered a more powerful criticism when he stated: "It is a land where no man permanently resides; a vast, uninhabited solitude with precipitous cliffs and yawning ravines, looking like the ruins of the world; vast tracts that must ever defy cultivation and interpose dreary and thirsty wilds between the habitations of man." Similarly, a traveler in 1839 reported that no land west of Fort Hall would grow "grains or vegetables." [1] Thus settlement in the Snake River country required enticements to offset its negative image. These enticements came in the form of new lands open for settlement, mineral wealth, transportation improvements, and the construction of large-scale irrigation projects for agriculture.

The first community in southern Idaho emerged on the plain's eastern margin when Mormon colonists settled Franklin in 1860. The Franklin settlers were the first of many communities, composed mostly of Mormons, who left behind the crowded settlements of northern Utah for the fertile valleys of the Bear Lake region and the irrigable fringes of the Snake River Plain during the 1860s. The trend continued in the late 1870s and 1880s when large numbers of Mormons settled the upper Snake River Valley, as far north as Rexburg. They were drawn to the region by new prospects for agriculture, expanded railway service, and religious incentives. [2]

Mining, however, stimulated the greatest interest in Idaho settlement during this period. After 1860 gold and silver strikes throughout the region, especially those of the Boise Basin in 1862, drew many emigrants. Some settled in the new mining communities of the Boise Basin, taking advantage of supplying the mines with agricultural products and other merchandise. Similarly when the Wood River mines boomed in the 1880s, ranching and farming interests settled in the Wood River Valley, while other more modest ranching and farming enclaves appeared in the Little Wood River and Lost River valleys in response to mineral strikes in the region. [3]

Communities--whether in Boise, Wood River, or the upper Snake River country-- became more stable by supplying mining centers, (although federal homestead legislation and the placement of Indians on reservations by the late 1870s and 1880s also provided powerful incentives to settlement). Because the mining communities served as local markets and the plain as open range, cattle raising thrived during the 1860s and 1880s. Stockmen had driven cattle toward the Boise mines in the 1860s from the Oregon country, and by the 1870s they expanded their operations across the ranges of southern Idaho from Oregon, Washington, California, Texas, and Nevada. Large numbers of cattle were not only driven into Idaho but also through Idaho to railheads in Wyoming and Utah for transportation to eastern markets. Later sheep and horses occupied the ranges of the plain and these, too, were herded across southern Idaho for markets beyond the territory. Hard winters, overcrowded ranges, a lack of adequate markets, and a persistent depression in the 1870s and 1880s seriously harmed the cattle industry. Although this turn of events opened up more rangeland for sheepmen, eventually both cattle and sheep "empires" diminished as settlement increased and federal regulations closed the open range at the turn of the century. [4]

Transportation developments in the later nineteenth century played an important part in settling the plain as well. In 1884 the final tracks were laid for the Oregon Short Line across southern Idaho following and thus replacing the overland trail. Afterwards, spur lines spread to the upper Snake River Valley, the Lost River country, and Wood River. Beyond the rails, stage and freight lines serviced the more remote sections of the plain where many hardy souls hoped to strike it rich or try their luck at homesteading. [5] Adapting the arid plain for agriculture, however, contributed the greatest attraction to settlement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. State and federal irrigation projects under the Carey Act and Newlands Act between the mid-1890s and World War I reclaimed much of the desert land for farming throughout the Snake River Valley and the northern valleys of the plain. All of this aroused greater interest in and settlement of this one-time spurned desert country; the "tarnished reputation and continued negativism about the Snake River Plain," according to historian Hugh T. Lovin, deterred settlement no longer. During this period, Lovin writes, "thousands scurried" to the plain to claim land on "several dozen reclamation tracts" as promoters "preached that 'honest fortunes' were 'going to waste' on the long-maligned Idaho deserts." Between 1900 and 1920, these newcomers nearly quadrupled the state's population to more than 400,000. [6]

Settlement Patterns near Craters of the Moon: Carey and Arco

The communities that developed closest to and exerted the greatest influence on the Craters country were located in the valleys of Little Wood and Big and Little Lost rivers. They followed a similar settlement pattern as the rest of the plain, eventually bringing a permanent rather than transient population nearer to the lava flows between the 1870s and 1920s.

In the 1870s emigrants, miners, stockmen, and others of the West's mobile population passed back and forth along Goodale's Cutoff without much thought to staying in the region surrounding the Craters country. That changed late in the decade, however, when cattlemen showed an interest in the lush meadows of the Little Wood River Valley and the open range of the Big Lost River Valley. They encountered the valleys as they trailed their herds across the northern rim of the plain. The trail followed the route of Goodale's Cutoff, east through Camas Prairie, Wood River, and "across the rough terrain" of the valleys of the Little Wood and Lost rivers "to Eagle Rock (Idaho Falls)." [7]

The first cattle were driven into the Little Wood River Valley in 1879. The following year the booming mines of the Big Wood River country added further incentive to raise livestock here, and the mining market drew many of the valley's first residents who established the ranching and agricultural settlement of Carey that year. Many of the community's early residents were Mormons who migrated from Utah looking for unclaimed, fertile lands. Moving as families, they often followed the advice of relatives who had already relocated and urged them to join them in this "paradise." [8]

Settlement grew in the 1880s. In 1881, the Blackfoot to Wood River stage line was established and the road ran through the valley bringing heavy freight and emigrant traffic to the Wood River mines, since the nearest supply center was Blackfoot. Although traffic tapered off when the Oregon Short Line reached the mines from the south in 1883, stock raising and farming matured. Eventually the open range closed as settlement increased and farms took over the rich valley land, and livestock raising, primarily sheep, retreated to the foothills. By 1900 the Carey area was well known for its sheep raising and hay production. It was also dependent on small-scale irrigation for its farming. Without irrigation projects, droughts and floods, caused by overgrazed and deforested watersheds, threatened the valley's farms. Helping to alleviate these problems was the construction, with federal assistance, of the Fish Creek Reservoir in 1923. This and the later construction of the Little Wood River Reservoir in the 1950s not only protected but expanded the valley's agricultural production. [9]

In the Lost River country northeast of the lava flows, settlement occurred about the same time and under similar conditions. Fur traders and emigrants passed through the valleys of the Big and Little Lost rivers but none stayed. Then cattlemen, following the open range and the opening of mines in central Idaho, established small cattle operations on the Big Lost River in the early 1870s. These did not amount to anything permanent until the late 1870s and early 1880s when modest ranches and small farms, scattered along the Big Lost River and tributary streams, appeared. [10]

Little is known of these early residents. They occupied a strip of territory in the Big Lost River Valley about seventy-three miles long; it extended from north of Mackey in Custer County south toward Big Southern Butte, and from the mouth of Antelope Creek to the Big Lost River. Most likely these early permanent settlers filed homesteads under the Desert Land Act of 1877; the legislation allowed a family to file on 640 acres in the more marginal lands provided it made irrigation improvements. Many of these new settlers raised livestock and grew hay. A small, resident livestock business prospered in the Lost River country for a time, while other ranching entrepreneurs trailed great herds through the region over the old emigrant road. It was not uncommon, a long-time resident recalled, to see droves of "five or six hundred head of horses and cattle," and on one occasion, "20,000 head of sheep... [being] trailed past...from Oregon to Nebraska." The livestock business benefited greatly from the mining discoveries in the Lava Creek district in the mid- 1880s, as did settlement in general. Late in the decade, however, severe winters and dry summers killed off most of the herds, and from then on farming received the most emphasis, though small stock raisers continued to summer their herds in the foothills and winter them on the sage-covered plain. [11]

The first and most important community to develop in the region was Arco, Located several miles south of the present town of Arco, the original Arco was established in 1879 as a stage stop for the Blackfoot to Wood River and Salmon River stage lines. In the early 1880s, Arco was moved to a site about four miles southeast of today's town. The reason for the relocation was that the Oregon Short Line had reached Wood River from Shoshone, reducing the importance of original Arco's role as a supply junction for the Wood River mines. At this new location, "Old Arco," as it was later known, was better able to serve as a stage station for the Big Lost River Valley and as a supply center for the mines, mining towns, and early settlers of the Big Lost River basin. Consisting of a stage station, livery stable, post office, and saloon, Old Arco formed an important hub of the Lost River country when emigrants flocked to the new mines and boom towns in the Lava Creek district and upper Big Lost River Valley in the mid 1880s. [12]

Many who settled in the region came during these mining strikes and resided in the nearly instant mining towns such as Cliff City, Houston, Alder City, Carbonate, White Knob, and Bonanza. Era and Martin, some twenty miles west of Arco, were especially popular with the discovery of the Horn Silver Mine in 1884. A typical mining town, Era grew up around the Horn Silver Mine and supported a population of anywhere from several hundred to several thousand at its peak, and "the usual lines of business houses," including saloons, laundries, dance halls, general stores, a mining equipment store, and other services, housed in tents and cabins. [13] Era functioned also as a stage stop on the Blackfoot to Wood River stage line.

A sense of what life was like for miners and prospectors can be found in the memoirs of James D. Martin, an early settler in the Lost River country. Martin recalled that he and other fortune seekers headed for what they thought was the "new Eldorado" of Lost River. Actually, the mines of the region were just the latest in a series of Eldorados appearing throughout the West with each new discovery of a precious metal. After word reached miners like Martin in Wood River, they took the road "around the lavas to reach the new mines. Like so much of western mining activity, they soon faced disappointments. Throughout the mid-1880s, these "mining stiffs" rambled around the Pioneer and Lost River mountains doing everything, it seemed, except mining. They filed homesteads with no intention of farming, worked their land only to show the minimal required improvements, and spent the majority of their time scrounging for work and prospecting in what time remained. By the end of the century, the region's mines declined in value because of their low-grade ore and the failure of the nation's silver market. Era and other mining towns like it turned into ghost towns almost as instantly as they were established. And the hopeful miners like Martin abandoned their hard and uncertain life, and either left the area or, as in Martin's case, joined the settlers in the valleys of the Big and Little rivers. [14]

Despite these setbacks, during the late 1890s and early 1900s the Lost River country was home to small-scale ranching and farming, which continued to find some outlet in the supply of mining operations that had weathered the earlier booms or had arisen since then. Most of the arable and irrigable lands along the rivers were claimed, and an informal network of ditches and canals led from their banks to cultivated fields. From a distance Arco could be identified as a place where "clumps of bushes and a few houses tell of the presence of water." Beyond it still other "clumps of bushes and here and there a field of alfalfa, a rectangular patch of green on the vast gray expanse" revealed the Big Lost River as it flowed through the plain and past the scattered settlements located along its course. [15]

But the area remained largely inaccessible and thus isolated from larger markets such as the growing cities on the upper Snake River, even though stages carried potential settlers, mail, freight, and supplies between Blackfoot and the Arco vicinity. That changed in September 1901 with the arrival of a branch of the Oregon Short Line Railroad; the rails spanned the sixty miles of desert from Blackfoot to Arco in order to tap the mining districts of central Idaho. (The line eventually terminated at Mackey.) In addition, the railroad determined the third and present site of the community, breathed new life into farming, sped of the production of the mines, and seemed to point to a "rapid and permanent development" for the Lost River country. [16]

However beneficial the coming of the railroad appeared, irrigation played the most significant role in advancing settlement in the Lost River country. Federal homestead legislation failed, for the most part, to tempt farmers onto desert lands such as those surrounding Arco, The majority of settlers had claimed the best tracts along the Big and Little Lost rivers. In a country of little rain, settlement along these rivers was imperative, and even the rivers were not a sure source of water, for they disappeared into the porous lava fields of the Snake River Plain. It was impossible to attract settlers without water and virtually impossible for a settler to gain title to 640 acres of land under the Desert Land Act; this was simply too much land for a homesteader or his family to bring under irrigation within three years, as the law stipulated. Although revised to allow for filing on fewer acres, the law still fell short of reality but did influence the passage of the Carey Act in 1894. [17]

The Carey Act authorized western states to acquire a million acres of undeveloped and arid federal land from within their boundaries, provided that this land be reclaimed and made agriculturally productive. The state sold the segregated lands as homesteads to settlers in parcels as small as forty acres, as long as at least forty acres were irrigated within five years; afterwards the settler could claim ownership of the land. Under the act, the state was to arrange with the private sector for the reclamation work and was to ultimately plan, fund, and supervise the projects. To attract private capital for building the expensive irrigation works, subsequent amendments were made which permitted the state to place a lien against the land in order to protect private capital, and allowed corporations and private entrepreneurs ten years to complete the irrigation project once construction had commenced. The construction company sold water rights to the settler, and the state sold him the land for fifty cents an acre, with one half down and the other half paid when the final proof was made. Upon completion of the irrigation system, the construction company, under its contract with the state, turned over operation of the system to the settlers. [18]

Among the western states, Idaho was unique in its use of the Carey Act. While other states accepted land grants under the act, only a few more than minimally improved them for irrigation, whereas Idaho, in the "so-called 'Magic Valley' of the Snake River," reclaimed more desert land under the act "than in all other western states combined." [19 ] In fact the Twin Falls project, completed in 1905, was a national showcase. With almost a quarter of a million acres irrigated by 1908, it was labeled as "one of the miracles of modern American life." [20]

The Carey Act was especially important, although on a much smaller scale, to the settlement of the Lost River country. Promoters claimed that construction of an irrigation system would save vast "quantities of water from the Big and Little Lost rivers, which meandered into the 'deserts' of central Idaho where they 'wasted' into the aquifer that underlay the Snake River basin." With this line of argument, irrigation entrepreneurs proclaimed they would "transform into irrigated farms the better part of all flatland" situated around the Lost rivers. [21]

Settlers in the area welcomed the opportunity for large-scale irrigation, it seems, for prior water claims by stock raisers so overtaxed the Big and Little Lost rivers that they created a permanent water shortage. Moreover, cooperative efforts produced shoddy diversion dams that could only fill those canals close to the rivers. In 1906 the Big Lost River Land and Irrigation Company made an attractive offer; it proposed to segregate 80,000 acres, divided into the Era Flat, Arco, and Powell tracts, and soon afterward began construction of canals, laterals, and a dam above Mackay. Although a great future seemed in the making, the company was unable to meet its construction plans, and misled settlers about land openings in order to sell more water rights, eventually going defunct in the spring of 1909. [22]

The Big Lost River Irrigation Company took over the project, and in September of 1909 a land drawing was held. Literally hundreds if not thousands of people from across the country filed on all of the segregated lands. Predictions of another grand city such as Twin Falls appeared; however, those soon disappeared. The Big Lost River Irrigation Company went bankrupt after several years. Controversy swirled over the poor construction of the dam above Mackay, and legal and financial disputes over the completion of the project lasted until 1916 when the Utah Construction Company contracted with the state to finish the project. Having surveyed the project, the company realized that promoters had underestimated the amount of water needed to irrigate the segregated lands and reduced the size of the project to about 20,000 acres. [23] This new approach provided for the completion of the Arco and Era Flat tracts and eliminated the Powell tract altogether, even though canals, headgates, and other irrigation related construction was completed. After a long wait, the Big Lost River project, a shadow of its former self, was operating by the early 1920s, having been stimulated by expanded agricultural production during World War I. [24]

The project affected hundreds of settlers in the Lost River valleys. Many new arrivals found themselves waiting on claims of cleared sagebrush hoping that eventually "everything would work out satisfactorily," the local press reported, "but a trail of wrecked homes and blasted hopes was the result." To make matters worse, early settlers competed with irrigation project settlers for a diminishing supply of water during the droughts of the 1920s. In the early 1930s the issue escalated to the point where angry individuals attempted to destroy Mackay dam with explosives. The issue was finally resolved in 1936 when settlers took over the project and some of the project farms were taken out of production. [25]

By all rights the Big Lost River project was a failure because it fell so short of its original projections and because some of its promoters duped settlers into paying for water contracts before delivering water to their land. [26] Nevertheless, the project influenced the development of a permanent community in Arco and the vast Big Lost River basin. Incorporated in 1909, Arco village reported a population of about 320 in 1910. That population, when added to the population of the surrounding countryside, nearly doubled. A population of six hundred people may not have been that impressive, but it was quite significant when one considers that it was almost six times higher than a decade earlier. After Butte County was created in 1917, Arco became the county seat for a burgeoning agricultural area and a center for commerce and supplies for the smaller communities in the Lost River country. For a time dry land farming replaced irrigated farming as the new impetus for settlement during World War I. However growth was slow. While the Arco area expanded to about 830 residents in 1930, Butte County on the whole declined in population, most likely reflecting the farm failures, drought, and economic depression of the 1920s and 1930s. A more certain future seemed plausible when the Atomic Energy Commission took over thousands of acres of unreclaimed desert (some of which were abandoned irrigation projects) for the Nuclear Reactor Testing Station in 1949. An economic and population boom followed, much of it, however, being felt in the larger cities of Blackfoot and Idaho Falls rather than Arco, which never came close to becoming "a new town of 10,000." [27]

Settlement Patterns for Craters of the Moon Region, 1879-1933

Lying roughly between the Little Wood River Valley and Lost River country, Craters of the Moon seemed untouched by settlement occurring elsewhere. Most potential settlers who traveled near the lava landscape of today's Craters of the Moon bypassed it in search of more fertile agricultural or mineral lands during the nineteenth century. Once ranching, mining, and farming pursuits attracted opportunistic settlers to the Lost River country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a larger population grew closer to the shunned lava wastes. A more permanent population, however, did not transform the volcanic country into a homesteader's paradise. Mostly arid and barren, the lava territory represented the least desirable lands and experienced only fragments of the forces influencing settlement in the greater region. It was not that Craters was unknown; it was just left alone until the more promising lands around it were exploited. It is in this way that the unlikely category of "settlement" sheds light on the history of what is now Craters of the Moon.

The first signs of settlement appeared in this country during the 1870s and 1880s with the livestock business. Great herds of cattle, sheep, and horses passed through the Lost River country over the northern livestock trail of the Snake River Plain. Approximately two miles of the trail crossed the old emigrant trail within today's national monument. It was fairly common to see five to six hundred head of cattle and horses, and even more sheep, on drives from western Idaho to eastern markets. In fact, it was not uncommon for trail herds of cattle to average about two thousand head. [28] Despite thousands of livestock trailing through the bottomlands of Little Cottonwood Creek, it seems that herders, like the overland migrants, favored other sites to water and graze their animals. One such place was Champagne Creek lying at the base of the mountains several miles northeast of the lava flows. It was here that O.E. Forsling remembered stopping with a band of nearly seven thousand sheep in 1896. Forsling counted himself lucky to have trailed the sheep over "fine feed all day" and to have found "plenty of water here," for the next supply was the Big Lost River, about twenty-five miles away--"a long drag." His experience was perhaps something of an anomaly in the 1890s. Both sales and hard winters had exhausted the supply of the Idaho herds after the mid-1880s. Dwindling markets and overcrowded ranges also sent the livestock industry into a downward spiral. When Idaho herds recovered, however, railroads had become better established and "settlers had fenced off much of the route, thus the long drives disappeared as a method of reaching a market." [29]

Though it seemed to possess no valuable resources, the lava country was nevertheless intriguing to resident ranchers and other early settlers of the Big and Little Lost rivers. They wondered what might be there. Shortly after they established themselves in the Lost River region, for example, stockmen turned their attention to the unexplored and unexploited volcanic district. Tales of a hidden valley of lush grass and abundant water known only to Indian tribes drew them there, as did a cattle company's substantial reward for its discovery. Many searched in vain. Eager to claim the prize, Lost River ranchers John W. Powell and Arthur Ferris explored the interior of today's monument as far as its southern border. Powell first visited the vicinity in 1879 and returned with Ferris in the early 1880s. Together they searched for enough water and grass to support a sizable cattle herd. After finding a stream flowing on the lava surface, they thought they had solved the mystery. But the stream was ephemeral, and they abandoned any further attempts to support livestock in the lava beds, their presence marked by a rock cairn at Vermillion Chasm Waterhole and their names and the date 1885 inscribed on a cow's shoulder bone in Buffalo Cave. [30]

More than stories of a "Lost Valley" inspired people to seek out the Craters region. Mining strikes in the mid-1880s produced the first notable population near it. Several miles north of the expanse of black and craggy basalt, the Lava Creek mining district attracted a steady stream of people to the boom towns of Era and Martin. Most who came to the area during this period were hopeful miners, and traveled over the section of emigrant-road-turned-stage-road within the today's monument. But like earlier migrants, they too passed back and forth over the road with other destinations in mind and no thought of staying. Those who did stay were among the first and most influential settlers in this region, members of the Martin family. Frank Martin, for example, discovered the Horn Silver Mine, and along with his brother, Samuel, he had lived in the area since the early 1880s, homesteading, raising livestock, and mining.

It was Frank Martin's nephew, Era Martin, who exploited the lava interior for his homesteading operations in the first decades of the 1900s. Martin, and others it seems, collected firewood for their winter fuel within the monument boundaries prior to and in the first year after its establishment. Martin apparently hauled away dead limber pine from the shaded and sheltered northern slopes of cinder cones so that he would not have to cut the timber on or near his own land, or buy coal from Arco, Wood collecting, however, did not stop with downed trees but resulted in the felling of many live, "beautiful trees," some along the old road corridor near Sunset and Grassy cones. [31]

As an extension of his ranching business, Era Martin also "built" a wagon road across the lava flows to Little Prairie Waterhole about 1920. Martin had discovered the water in a series of fissures a few years earlier, and during the exceptionally dry summers of 1919 and 1920 he found plenty of water here, constructed a cement water trough, and grazed his cattle herds on Little Prairie's "grassy swales free from rough lava." According to some accounts, Martin watered between 70 and 120 head of stock at the waterhole for at least two years. But as older residents pointed out, the water in the lava fields was not likely to last, and after installing a water pump, Martin pumped the well dry eleven days later. [32] For this reason, he apparently abandoned the operation, but the exact date is not known.

It is difficult to say whether Martin was the only rancher who exploited the scattered water and tracts of grass of Little Prairie, According to one observer, sheep were also grazed extensively in the vicinity of Little Prairie Waterhole, which possessed all the elements of "an old sheep camp with its well, tanks, troughs," and pump, causing one to conclude that "this region of wonders was 'discovered' quite a long time ago." At the waterhole, a large "magnificent specimen of limber pine," branches spread out "like a great oak," served as a landmark for the camp for miles, as did Echo Crater about mile to the west. (It is unknown whether this tree still stands.) Whether Martin created this camp is unknown, but it was entirely possible that sheepherders pastured their flocks here for years unbeknownst to others. Domestic sheep, for example, may actually have worn the trails on Sheep Trail Butte rather than wild mountain sheep, for which the butte was named. [33]

To ranchers like Martin the resources of the lava fields were free for the taking, part of the unsurveyed and unclaimed public domain. More appealing land was to be found in the drainage of Little Cottonwood Creek abutting the northern edge of the lava flows. Native grasses, wild plants, and sagebrush carpeted the flatland and slopes of the canyon and cones; Douglas fir and quaking aspen grew in the steeper, north-facing slopes, and dense brush and tall grass lined the stream. Most of this land had been surveyed and claimed by 1920. At least twelve people filed on approximately two thousand acres between 1903 and 1919 covering sections 16, 22, 25, 26, 27, and 35. Their claims embraced the slopes and flatland on the either side of the creek, the mouth of the canyon, Sunset Cone, and the old emigrant road.

Settlers claimed most of the land in this foothill country of the Pioneer Mountains under the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909 and Stock-raising Homestead Act of 1916. Both laws intended to break up the monopolies that grazing interests held on western land and reflected the federal government's belief that by doing so it would expedite settling the West with a large population. Through these homestead laws, the federal government encouraged the cultivation of grazing lands or the establishment of grazing businesses by homesteaders themselves. The 1909 act, for example, let prospective settlers claim 320 acres provided that they cultivated a quarter of it, and that none of it was irrigable, timbered, or rich in minerals. In Idaho the law allowed the entrant to live up to twenty miles from his claim as long as half of it was tilled. Revising this legislation somewhat, the 1916 law doubled the amount of land that could be filed on and allowed those lands to be within a relatively compact form and suitable primarily for grazing. [34]

Although the record of these homestead entrants is incomplete, testimony to their experience may lie in the fact that only two of the twelve claims went to patent. The others failed to show final proof within the allotted three to five years and relinquished their claims, had them cancelled, or sold their interests to speculators. Since the majority of homesteaders registered claims about 1916, they were most likely responding to the more flexible homestead legislation enacted that year. They may well have sought opportunities here as a result of the delays and failures of the Big Lost River irrigation project.

The reason why so few found success here seems to have been because they underestimated the environmental conditions of this foothill country. Claims ranged in elevation from 5,800 to 7,500 feet of mostly timberless ridges surrounding a meadow, a seasonal stream, a few scattered springs, and flows of bare, broken basalt. Snow often arrived early and remained on the ground until late in the spring, shortening the growing season, limiting travel, and isolating prospective residents.

Early in the 1890s one family experienced this, it seems, when attempting to settle on Big Cottonwood Creek, the drainage lying about two miles west of Little Cottonwood and today's monument. Emigrating from Illinois, the family heard of "a pretty, unclaimed meadow" in the mountains west of Blackfoot near a "wild, volcanic lava wilderness." Having passed through the "fire-blackened wasteland" of the Craters landscape, they selected a site in the meadow below the foothills, built a log cabin, started a garden, and raised livestock. Unexpectedly, bands of Shoshone camped in this meadow on their seasonal migration, though by now they were confined to a reservation. Intimidating but not hostile, the Indians were the least of the family's worries. Winter came and at 6,000 feet the tranquil meadow transformed into a frigid and desolate place. Once plentiful wildlife migrated to better habitat. It was difficult to care for animals, stay warm, find food, and thaw ice for water. The closest supply point and neighbor was the Martin ranch, several miles away over a wagon road rough in the summer and nearly impassable in the winter. Abandoning the cabin and meadow, as a result, the family traveled west to the more hospitable Wood River Valley. [35]

One can only imagine that prospective settlers experienced something comparable within the monument's similar terrain. For example, Mary F. Downer, a widow from Idaho Falls, filed a claim for 320 acres in sections 25 and 26 under the enlarged homestead law on September 2, 1919. Her land covered the northeast slope and base of Sunset Cone, a hundred acres of which she planned to cultivate for dryland farming. The nearest running water was Little Cottonwood Creek, two and a half miles northwest, and the nearest well was nine miles northeast. Without a ready supply of water, living on the land seemed unlikely. Farming also seemed unlikely, for it depended on rain and soil moisture in arid climate, her claim averaging an elevation of six thousand feet. The General Land Office cancelled her claim late in 1929; apparently after ten years she had not been able to make the required improvements, though available records do not indicate whether she ever broke ground for planting. [36]

Oscar B. Morris of Martin could have attested to the environmental conditions Downing encountered. On July 14, 1919, he filed a stock-raising homestead claim on eighty acres in the northeast corner of Section 22, which encompassed the steep ridge of about seven thousand feet overlooking Little Cottonwood canyon and was part of a much larger claim to the north of today's monument. This vacant land, as Morris stated, had been used by the "general public" for grazing. He estimated that his entire claim could sustain about one hundred head of stock during the spring, summer, and fall. Grazing, he believed, was all this rolling and hilly country was good for; it was too steep and too high for raising crops, especially since too much snow fell in the winter and stayed too long for working the land in the spring. Thus its "most profitable use" was for grazing because it produced a "good growth of grass." Just how profitable stock raising was remains unknown. For technical reasons Morris's claim was terminated in the fall of 1924. [37]

Like Morris, Earl R. Quincy of Martin entered a stock-raising homestead claim on 160 acres in sections 25 and 26 on November 15, 1919. Relatively flat and rolling land at the base of the foothills, his claim was also part of much larger holdings in bordering sections. The only water, a spring in Section 23, was outside the present monument's boundaries, and Quincy planned to water his stock there and graze about forty head of cattle on his entire claim from spring to fall. Situated at an elevation of 5,800 feet, the land, he noted, was unfit for cultivation, had been previously used for grazing, and was overgrazed. To keep range stock out and to replenish the native grass, he planned to fence his entire claim. Evidently he never made these improvements and relinquished his claim about three years later. [38]

From these failed entries, one might conclude the obvious. Farming and stock- raising were difficult pursuits in these environmental conditions and likely to fail. Those who succeeded in patenting their claims did so, it seems, because their lands flanked Little Cottonwood Creek. This was true for Thomas H. Williams of Martin. On September 9, 1903, Williams filed on 160 acres in sections 22 and 27 embracing the steep slopes of the creek and the creek bottom near the mouth of the canyon. The land went to patent on May 17, 1909. Available records do not indicate the extent of Williams's improvements, but some sense of his operations might be extrapolated from the observations of the neighboring Martin ranch, located a few miles northeast on Lava Creek. In 1904, Annie Foster, a later emigrant traveling Goodale's Cutoff, described the ranch operations has something of an oasis in the sagebrush range that spanned from horizon to horizon. They "have about twenty acres fenced in," she wrote, "and a stack of wild hay. The grass looks green. Lots of fat cattle and horses in this twenty acres." But existing records do show that Williams sold his land to Edward B. and John B. Arthur, otherwise known as the Arthur Brothers, from Carey, Idaho, on September 17, 1909. [39]

Another method of patenting claims was through land speculation. The Arthur Brothers, for example, while apparently using their recently purchased land for grazing, purchased more. Between 1916 and 1919, they acquired the patents to nearly two hundred acres in sections 26, 27, and 28. All but forty acres adjoined their original purchase, raising their total land holdings to about 360 acres. In order to settle unpaid debts, the Arthur Brothers lost 240 of these acres which were in turn acquired by the Kilpatrick Brothers Company, a livestock company from Nebraska, on November 23, 1926. The lands obtained by the Kilpatrick Brothers comprised the original Williams claim of 160 acres along Little Cottonwood Creek, one adjoining parcel of meadow and a separate parcel of a hillside in Section 26. [40]

The monument's boundaries were expanded in 1928 to include the Little Cottonwood Creek watershed. At that time, the Kilpatrick Brothers and Arthur Brothers were the sole owners of some 360 acres. Grazing was prohibited under National Park Service management, and through both land exchanges and direct purchase, the Park Service eliminated all of these private inholdings by 1933, save a small parcel included in a later addition. [41]

Physical remains of homesteading, either in the form of farming or livestock raising, do not appear to exist in the northern foothills and flatland of the Little Cottonwood Creek drainage, though as late as 1926 the geologist Harold Stearns mentioned seeing a "a ranch at the mouth of the canyon that has been abandoned fully 15 years from the looks of the sage brush. A sheep corral has been built on the land and is now used in the spring of the year." Sheep grazing, as Stearns observed, occurred in the area on a seasonal basis; most livestock owners drove their bands, sometimes numbering several thousand, through here on their migration between winter and summer range. [42]

Although sheep and other livestock browsed on the wild plants and grasses in the foothill country on a regular basis into the 1930s, the only lasting physical imprint associated with settlement ironically appeared in the more barren and craggy lava flows to the south. Older, vegetated flows, mostly kipukas, were exploited by livestock interests in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the 1960s the remnants of a sheepherder's camp (in the form of rock monuments and a stray horseshoe or two) and sheep trails were found in the Carey Kipuka. Generally, these materials suggested that other remains might be discovered elsewhere. And though it has not been used for decades, the concrete water trough at Little Prairie Waterhole, perhaps the one surviving feature of this era, symbolizes this period. [43]

Summary of Context Theme

Settlement patterns on the Snake River Plain involved the gradual shift in image of the plain from negative to positive, from an inhospitable, barren desert to a place capable of supporting permanent, agricultural communities. Beginning in 1860 Mormon settlers began this process when they established settlements in southeastern Idaho. In the 1870s and 1880s, they expanded their presence farther north in the upper Snake River Valley. Overcrowding in Utah, new lands for the taking in Idaho, new railway service up the valley, and religious incentives were the motivations for Mormons. A broader and more encompassing force appeared with the advent of mining in southern Idaho in 1862 when gold was discovered in the Boise Basin and lead-silver in the Wood River region in 1880. Typical "boom" communities rose up near the mines, but so did a more permanent population composed of ranching and farming enclaves. Similar communities grew up in the Little Wood River Valley and the Big and Little Lost River valleys in the late 1870s and 1880s in response to mining. Settlement also owed a debt to cattlemen and sheepmen who trailed their herds across the Snake River Plain around this time, some of them establishing small operations in vicinity of mines. The completion of the Oregon Short Line in 1884 across the plain further aided settlement and communication with the more remote sections of the plain. But the most important element contributing to settlement was irrigation. Beginning with the Carey Act in 1894, irrigation projects transformed the desert, in places, into a garden and led to the dramatic increase in the state's population by the 1920s.

Within the Craters country some fragments of these settlement patterns appeared and assist in better understanding this aspect of its history. Stock raisers trailed herds through the Little Cottonwood Creek drainage in the 1870s and 1880s, and ranchers from the Lost River country were among the first known to venture into the lava fields in 1879 and the 1880s in search of water and grass for livestock. The ranchers' interest stemmed from the hope that this rather mysterious landscape possessed some hidden riches. Except for these brief encounters, settlers ignored the lava fields for the rest of the nineteenth century, it seems. Between 1903 and 1919, at least twelve homestead claims were filed in the northern section of the monument, those lands in and surrounding the Little Cottonwood Creek canyon. Evidently severe environmental conditions caused most of these claims to end in failure by the 1920s; the remaining were converted to Park Service ownership by 1933. Virtually no physical evidence of these endeavors remains. In the monument's vast lava fields, perhaps an unlikely country to find elements of settlement of any kind, homesteaders collected firewood, and a nearby rancher constructed a wagon road out to Little Prairie Waterhole where he built a cement water trough for his livestock between 1920 and 1925.

As a historic theme, settlement encompasses the interrelated themes of commercial development, in the form of mining and ranching, and agricultural development, in the form of irrigated farming. To understand the threads of these historical themes at Craters of the Moon it is necessary to weave them into a larger historical tapestry. Considered separately the activities of ranchers, miners, and homesteaders make little sense at Craters of the Moon. But viewed in a broader scope, they suggest that this remote lava landscape was related to the early settlement of the upper Snake River Plain. As each of the forces that brought people to the region occurred, some of their influence could be seen in the lava country.

Associated Property Types

Name of Property Type: Resources Related to Settlement


Typically a settlement property type, such as a farm or ranch, consists of a house, outbuildings, and other small-scale features. But this is not the case at Craters of the Moon. Here a settlement property type consists mostly of features. These could include the remains of farming or ranching operations, such as fences, livestock trails, water troughs, wagon roads, or cairns.

Ranching and farming at their best were marginal endeavors in the Craters of the Moon country. At least a dozen people filed homestead claims on land in the northern foothills of the monument during the first two decades of this century. Some of them raised livestock here and may have attempted to farm, but little is known about their daily lives. And they left behind only the smallest amount of physical evidence to mark their presence on the land. One historical account, for example, describes an abandoned "ranch" at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon in the mid-1920s, but by then it was already melting into the landscape. On this same land, someone had erected a sheep corral more recently, but neither the ranch nor the corral seem to have survived beyond the 1920s, a period when most of the homestead claims in the area had expired or been revoked. The only visible resource related to ranching or farming is the section of Goodale's Cutoff that runs through the monument, which stockmen used to drive livestock across the northern fringe of the lava flows in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (It is described fully in the chapter on overland travel.)

In the southern section of the monument, there is more tangible evidence of ranching operations. The concrete water trough at Little Prairie Waterhole survives as the only known feature associated with ranching here around 1920. There may be other features nearby, such as at Echo Crater where a recent archaeological survey uncovered mostly old cans, porcelain pieces, and similar material. Other features associated with the settlement property type are the wagon road Era Martin built to Little Prairie Lava Flow and the cairn at Vermillion Chasm Waterhole.


These properties at Craters of the Moon are associated with settlement, an important theme in the monument's history as well as in American history under National Register Criterion A.

Registration Requirements:

At Craters of the Moon, properties associated with settlement may qualify for listing in the National Register if they date between 1879 and 1933, or dates of a similar period should new information come to light. A property associated with settlement should be historically significant. It should be associated with some aspect of exploration, settlement, agriculture or commerce in today's monument and/or the surrounding region. For the property to be registered it must also retain a significant measure of integrity, although it may sustain some alteration and remain eligible as long as it retains historic character.

The National Register recognizes seven aspects of integrity to evaluate a property's historic character. These are location, setting, design, workmanship, materials, feeling, and association.


The cairn at Vermillion Chasm Waterhole and the wagon road built by Era Martin should be surveyed to see if they still exist and have enough integrity to be considered eligible for the National Register.

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Last Updated: 27-Aug-1999