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Get to know Idaho: How Idaho got its name

Allegedly, a congressional delegate suggested the name 'Idaho' to congress, which he said meant ‘Gem of the Mountains,’ but it is not that clear-cut.


The story of how Idaho got its name begins way back when the western U.S was full of wide-open space, already occupied by indigenous Americans, who were quickly getting pushed out by pioneers and prospectors. 

These territories, with names like Nebraska, Washington, and Utah, covered a lot of land, and by the time the American civil war began, congress was splitting these places up. These new places needed names and during the westward expansion, new places often took up indigenous American names, or at least the English interpretation of them, like Michigan, Ohio, or Illinois. 

The story goes that there was a congressional delegate named George M. Willing, from a young mining community around what is today Colorado. 

Allegedly, Willing offered up the name Idaho to congress, claiming it was a native American word that meant ‘Gem of the Mountains.’ However, Willing was a known con artist, and after congress voted to approve the new name, they found out Idaho was not a native word at all. 

The newly titled Idahoans, wanted none of it and asked for Colorado back, believing the Spanish word would suffice.  

Three years later in 1863, the eastern part of the Washington territory was split off when gold was discovered in the Boise Basin and in the Clearwater Country up North. There was a steamboat up there that took miners to the gold camps, it was named ‘Idaho.’

When congress needed a name for this new territory, they went with, you guessed it, Idaho.

Those who forget history, even recent history, are doomed to repeat it, and there are still stories out there that claim Idaho is a native American word that means gem of the mountains, but it's not. It's not Nez Perce, it's not Shoshoni, it's not Yakima, it's not Arapaho. 

Bottom line, Idaho was conceived by the conceit of a con man. 

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