Idaho History July 9, 2017

Alturas County, Idaho 1864 to 1895

Map 1864 Idaho Territory

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Alturas County

Alturas County was a county in Idaho Territory and later the state of Idaho from 1864 to 1895. It covered an area larger than the states of Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware combined. Most present-day southern Idaho counties were created at least in part from the original Alturas County area. The name Alturas comes from a Spanish word for “mountain summits” or “mountainous heights.”

Alturas County was created by the Idaho Territorial Legislature in February 1864. Later that year the mining camp of Rocky Bar was designated the county seat. The county seat was moved to Hailey in 1882.

In 1889, the Idaho Territorial Legislature created Elmore County and Logan County from parts of Alturas County. On March 5, 1895, to circumvent a recent state supreme court decision striking down an earlier county reorganization, the Idaho Legislature combined Alturas and Logan Counties into a new county called Blaine. Two weeks later on March 18, the southern portion of the newly created Blaine County was split off to form Lincoln County with its county seat at Shoshone. Hailey remained the county seat of what was now Blaine County, and Alturas County disappeared from the Idaho map.

source: Wikipedia
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Alturas County

February 4, 1864 to March 5, 1896.

Although Esmeralda was designated the original county seat, Rocky Bar actually served as county seat from April 4, 1864, until July 6, 1882. Hailey continued as county seat from August 2, 1882, to March 5, 1895, when a legislative act made Hailey county seat of Blaine County.

excerpted from: Counties Which No Longer Exist, Idaho State Historical Society Reference Series Number 11 1962
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HB12ActLocatingCountySeatAlturasCounty-aHB 12

An Act

Locateing [sic] the County seat of Alturas County

Be it enacted by the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Idaho, as follows:

Section 1st That the County seat of the County of Alturas be, and the same is hereby located at Rocky Bar.

Sec. 2. That all Acts or parts of Acts in consistent with the provisions of this Act are hereby repealed.

Sec. 3. This Act to take effect, and be in full force, from and after its passage and approval by the Governor.

Passed the House of Representatives November 29th 1864
(signed) Alex Blakely
Speaker House Representatives

Passed the Council December 2nd 1864
(signed) John Cummins
President of the Council

Approved Dec 3rd A.D. 1864
(signed) Caleb Lyon
The Governor of Idaho

An Act locating the County Seat of Alturas County at Rocky Bar. Signed by Governor Caleb Lyon of Lyonsdale, Speaker of the House of Representatives Alex Blakely, and John Cummins, President of the Council. House Bill 12.
Date 1864-12-03
Copyright: Idaho State Historical Society 2012.
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Freighters and Emigrants

In the ’80s, Camas prairie was a part of Alturas county which embraced Elmore, Gooding, Lincoln, Jerome, Minidoka, Blaine, Camas, and parts of Butte, Custer, Bingham, and Power. In these early days, Rocky Bar was the county seat of Alturas and had a lot of mining going on. Freighters hauled all the supplies from Kelton, Utah and all come through (or most anyway) Camas prairie.

The fine natural pasture land of the prairie was known far and wide. The freighters would lay over a few days and let their horses or mules rest up and put on a few pounds of flesh. The caravans of emigrants headed for Oregon would also stop for a few days to let their stock rest up.

The freighters would usually travel together in groups of three or four outfits. Each team had 16 to 20 head of horses (all were jerk lines) with two or three loaded wagons and a lighter wagon behind with grain and the camp. Each outfit would have a helper along for brakeman, etc.

The stage line from Kelton, Utah to Boise also passed through the prairie going both ways ever day. The stage from Hailey met this main line at Timmerman hill and forded the Wood river at the Stanton Crossing – the same as the freight wagons had to. There was one of the main stage stations on Poison creek, and I have an idea there are some of the old remains still there.

(I have no records of the following, but take it from old-timers’ tales.)

Anyway, some enterprising fellow figured these people, especially the freighters, would be getting dry and started a saloon on Nigger creek which is a few miles north and west of Hill City. This was a pretty wild place for three or four years. There were two men buried on Grave creek (just a little ways east of Nigger creek) that died with their boots on. Whether they were killed at the saloon or was emigrants, I don’t know. I do know there is the grave of a little girl by the lava butte on Corral creek that died from an emigrant train in the ’80s.

source: McCarter Family history
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Alturas County

“Pacific Coast Business Directory for 1876-78,” Compiled By Henry G. Langley, Editor of the California State Register, Pacific Coast Almanac, San Francisco, 1875. Gazetteer and Business Directory of Idaho Territory

Organized in 1864. Bounded on the north by Boise, Lemhi, and Idaho Counties and Montana Territory, south by Owyhee County, east by Oneida County, and west by Ada and Boise Counties. Area. 13,600 square miles. Assessed valuation of property for 1874, $155,456. County seat. Rocky Bar. Principal towns: Yuba and Atlanta cities, distant respectively 112 and 115 miles from Boise City, the Territorial capital. Resources: placer and quartz mines are profitably worked, and numerous quartz mills are now in active operation urwn its various ledges. Silver-bearing ledges wore discovered within its limits in 1863. The mines of Alturas, particularly those at Rocky Bar and Atlanta have obtained a wide celebrity and are regarded as among the most valuable of the Pacific Coast. The veins are both gold and silver bearing. The distance from the great lines of travel, the expensive transportation of the great masses and quality of machinery and supplies necessary to mining, and want of population have been serious obstacles to the development of the important mineral resources of this region. The county is well timbered and watered, affording fine facilities for milling and mining purposes. The general character of the surface being mountainous, it is not possessed of any extensive agricultural lands, although it contains a number of valleys well adapted for grazing, ranging from one fourth of a mile to two miles in width, of exceeding fertility, and are well stocked with horses, cattle, and sheep. In the southern part of the county are three lone mountains, sharp and rugged in outline, called the Three Buttes, the highest being called Cedar Butte. These mountains are of volcanic origin and almost destitute of vegetation; and as they are visible at a great distance, on account of their isolated position, they are notable landmarks for travelers. In the extreme south of the county are located the great Shoshone Falls on the Snake River. These falls are about 300 yards in width, and the river makes an uninterrupted descent of 200 feet, the sound produced thereby being distinctly heard under favorable conditions of the atmosphere at a distance of twenty miles.

Officers: Stephen B. Dilley, Probate Judge, and Superintendent Public Schools; William Kelley, Clerk, Recorder and Auditor; George Ainslie, District Attorney; Mell Campbell, Sheriff; W. P. Callahan, Treasurer; John Van Schaick, Tax Collector, and Assessor; John Winkelbach, Coroner.

Atlanta City, Alturas Co,

Post Office 23 miles n east of Rocky Bar, is a small but promising mining hamlet, having several very rich veins of gold and silver bearing ore. The mines are but slightly developed. The storms of winter render access difficult at that season.

Davis Nelson, postmaster and liquor saloon
Emerson William, butcher
Fillman John L, blacksmith
Young H D, lumber manufacturer

source: American History & Genealogy Project Idaho
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Cornerstone Laid for Alturas (now Blaine) County Courthouse

by Evan Filby

On August 11, 1883, officials for Alturas County laid the cornerstone for a new county courthouse. The projected cost of the highly ambitious structure, which was to include both the court facilities as well as a jail, was authorized at $40 thousand (about $6 million using today’s labor costs).

Alturas County – Medium blue shows original. Dark Blue line: border in 1883.

The very first session of the Idaho Territorial Legislature defined, or re-defined, seven counties for the area “west of the Rocky Mountains.” One of those seven, created on February 4, 1864, was Alturas County. The original Alturas County contained nearly half the area of southern Idaho. It spanned about two-thirds of the east-west distance, and encompassed an area from the Snake River north to the Salmon River watershed. The original county seat was set as Esmeralda, a mining camp that soon disappeared. After April 1864, Rocky Bar served as the county seat. For fifteen years or so, mining in the Boise River watershed dominated the County’s economy.

Not much happened in eastern Alturas because of ongoing Indian unrest. However, after the Bannock War of 1878, stock raising grew on the Camas Prairie, and prospectors found rich lead-silver lodes in the Wood River Valley. The towns of Bellevue, Ketchum, and Hailey sprang up in 1880-1881.

The silver boom drew most of Alturas County’s population eastward. Thus, in the summer of 1882, after a bitter battle among the three towns, Hailey became the county seat. Prosperity seemed even more assured as Oregon Short Line railroad tracks marched across Idaho, and officials said Hailey would have a branch line connection before the next summer.

So, in February 1883, the legislature approved an Act that allowed Alturas County to issue $40 thousand in bonds to fund a new courthouse-jail. After the cornerstone ceremony in August, construction proceeded into the following year. The structure was completed, and accepted from the builder on August 1, 1884.

The Salt Lake City Tribune published (August 7, 1884) a long account from their correspondent in Hailey. The writer said, “The courthouse deserves more than mere mention. It is a very large, substantial and well arranged structure, located on the bench overlooking Hailey and the valley. The basement is of cut stone, and in it is located the jail, constructed of sheet steel and angle iron, riveted like boiler work.”

Citizen were proud that the project had “for once in the west” stayed within budget. The writer went on, “The finishing touches are now being put on the structure, which will be ample for some years to come.”

But, as usual, the boom times did not last. Within four years, silver production had dropped off drastically. Then silver prices fell in 1892, following by the financial Panic of 1893. The county took years to pay off the bonded indebtedness. Still, they were finally able to add to the structure in 1907.

Alturas/Blaine County Courthouse, ca 1919. [Hawley]

The complex history of how Alturas County disappeared as a political entity is far beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say that eight completely new counties were created from Alturas, and it contributed healthy chunks to six others. Hailey survived as the county seat of Blaine County, created in 1895, but the county contains only about one-ninth the area of the original.

The Blaine County Courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1978. Although parts of the old building must sometimes be cordoned off for repairs or upgrades, it is still in use by county officials and employees.

source: South Fork Companion

See also:

Link to Esmeralda, Alturas (Elmore) County, Idaho
Link to Rocky Bar, Alturas (Elmore) County (part 1 general)
Link to Rocky Bar, Alturas (Elmore) County (part 2 mining)
Link to Rocky Bar, Alturas (Elmore) County (part 3) Transportation
Link to Rocky Bar, Alturas (Elmore) County (part 4) Newspaper clippings
Link to Atlanta, Alturas (Elmore) County, Idaho
Link to Wood River, Alturas (Blaine) County, Idaho
Link to William Manson Troven “Six-Shooter Jack” Lobb
Link to Annie “Peg Leg” McIntyre Morrow (part 1)
to Annie “Peg Leg” McIntyre Morrow (part 2)

page updated Aug 22, 2020