Idaho’s other nickname is the Potato State

November 30, 2012 1:15 am

Do you know what Idaho means? Nobody else does either. It seems to be a made-up word. Before Idaho became a state, somebody claimed Idaho was a Shoshone Indian word that meant “Gem of the Mountains.” Idaho’s nickname—the Gem State—stems from this claim.
Although no one now thinks Idaho is an Indian word, the state’s nickname has stuck. There is some truth to the nickname Gem State, however. A variety of gems comes from Idaho, including opals, garnets, and jasper. Idaho also produces gold and silver.
Facts About Idaho
1,500,000 people
Rank among states in population
Major cities
Boise, Nampa, Pocatello, Idaho Falls
83,600 square miles
216,000 square kilometers
Rank among states in area
July 3, 1890, the 43rd state
State nickname
The Gem State
Name for residents
State bird
Mountain Bluebird
State flower
State tree
Western White Pine
Idaho’s other nickname is the Potato State. Idaho ranks first in potato production in the . About one-fourth of the nation’s potatoes come from Idaho. Potatoes are the state’s leading crop. There is even a potato museum in the town of Blackfoot. It displays the world’s largest potato chip. This chip measures 23 inches (58 centimeters) across.
Idaho credits its climate and its soil for producing such good potatoes. Idaho has warm, sunny summer days and cool nights. The soil has a lot of volcanic material in it.
Volcanoes were active in Idaho about 2,000 years ago. Sheets of lava (melted rock) poured from the Earth and flowed over southern Idaho. The lava then cooled and hardened. It left vast lava fields.
Craters of the Moon National Monument, near Arco, is a good place to view Idaho’s lava fields. It is a barren area, but full of interesting shapes formed from lava. You can see ropes and coils of lava, jagged lava rocks, and cinders of lava piled up into hills. You can even go into caves formed by lava.
The Snake River winds through southern and central Idaho. It forms part of Idaho’s western border with Washington and Oregon. The river has cut deep canyons, including Hells Canyon. This is the deepest canyon in the United States, deeper even than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. In some places, the walls of Hells Canyon drop down about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers).
Hells Canyon didn’t get its name because it’s so deep, however. The waters of the Snake swirl through the narrow canyon so swiftly that river travel here is very dangerous.
The Shoshone Falls plunge 212 feet (65 meters) over rock cliffs on the Snake River. This dramatic waterfall is higher even than Niagara Falls.
The Snake River and the streams that flow into it provide an important supply of water for Idaho. Farmers use water from this river system to irrigate their crops.
North of the Snake and the lava fields, mountains cover much of Idaho. These mountains are part of the Rocky Mountains. They offer beautiful scenery, including towering peaks, clear lakes, and fast-flowing streams. The Bitterroot Mountains lie on Idaho’s eastern border with Montana.
Glaciers have carved the mountain peaks and ridges. The Sawtooth Mountains in central Idaho got their name from the jagged edges of their peaks. Glaciers cut these jagged peaks that look like the teeth on a saw.
Sun Valley is a popular recreation area in the mountains. The Union Pacific Railroad developed Sun Valley as a luxury ski resort in 1936. It wanted to attract more train passengers in the winter months. Movie actors soon flocked to the scenic spot. Olympic skiers used its slopes to practice. Today, people visit Sun Valley year-round.
Mining was Idaho’s first industry. Fortune seekers flocked to Idaho after the discovery of gold in 1860. Merchants followed the gold hunters. The merchants opened shops to supply the miners. Lewiston, Boise, and many other Idaho cities grew as supply centers for miners.
Silver was found near Coeur d’Alene in northern Idaho in 1884. Idaho became for a time the leading silver producer in the United States. Idaho is still a leading mining state, but many of its once-booming mining towns are now ghost towns. No one lives in these towns any more. Silver City is an interesting ghost town to visit.
Wagon trains began to roll across Idaho on the Oregon Trail in the 1840s. But few people stopped to settle in Idaho before the discovery of gold and silver.
One of the earliest Idaho settlers brought the potato. Henry Spalding and his wife, Eliza, built a mission in Idaho in 1836 and planted the first potato crop. Spalding wanted to convert Native Americans to Christianity. He also wanted to show them how to grow their own food so they could depend less on buffalo and other animals. Fewer and fewer buffalo roamed the plains of North America.
Spalding’s potato crop failed. Mormon settlers in Idaho began harvesting large potato crops in the 1860s. They raised potatoes to feed Idaho’s miners.
As white settlers moved in, Idaho’s Native Americans grew alarmed about losing their land. At first relations were peaceful. But then gold was discovered on the land of Nez Perce tribes, and their land was taken away.
In 1877, the U.S. government tried to force a Nez Perce group in Oregon to settle in Idaho. Fighting erupted, and soldiers pursued the Nez Perce. Although the Nez Perce won several battles in Idaho, their leader, Chief Joseph, finally surrendered to save his people.
The railroads were important to Idaho’s growth. They brought in more settlers, and they took farm products to market. On July 3, 1890, Idaho became the 43rd state in the Union. Boise became its capital. Boise is also the largest city in Idaho.
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