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Home » Minidoka County History

The winding path of the Snake River, which crossed the area now known as Minidoka County, was the route of the early pioneers heading west. Minidoka Village, established in 1884, was the first permanent settlement and served as a railroad siding. The Bureau of Reclamation has stated that Minidoka is a Shoshone Indian name meaning “broad-expanse”.

In the early 1900’s, government owned land was made available for settlement and ownership by homesteading. Homesteaders were required to file a claim, live on the land for three years and do a limited amount of farming. Around 1912, many homesteaders came to live in the neighborhood of Kimama and Minidoka. However, by 1932 none of the dry land homesteads remained because of a lack of rainfall and other hazards such as frost, wind, weeds and pests.

President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Reclamation Act of June 17, 1902 which created the Minidoka Project. The project was established by the Secretary of Interior on April 23, 1904 and work began on the diversion works that year. Contracts were also let for the construction of canals and laterals shortly after. Delivery of water to the land began in 1907.
The rush of settlers started in 1904 and increased rapidly for two and a half years. The settlers came form everywhere with the desire to own land and establish a home. However, very few had any experience in irrigation and many mistakes were made by both the settlers and the engineers in charge. As a result, many failed and left the land, but those who stayed were amply rewarded for their efforts.

Minidoka Dam, an earth-fill dam with a concrete powerhouse section, was the key structure in the project. The power plant is the oldest hydro-electric power plant operated by the Bureau of Reclamation. The first generating unit was placed in service and the first water was pumped using electric power from that unit in 1909. Two more units were placed in service in 1910 and the fourth and fifth were ready for operation in 1911. The sixth unit was completed in 1942.

Three town sites were laid out by the Bureau of Reclamation. Heyburn was surveyed and lots were sold on October 20, 1906. It was originally called Riverton and later changed to Heyburn after Senator Heyburn. This was to be the future metropolis where the river and the railroad met. However, when the lots were put up for sale, the people thought they were too expensive around the central square so they bought the cheapest lost on the town plat for the business section. Many early day residents felt this was why Rupert became the hub city of the county instead of Heyburn.

The site where the first well was sunk was called Wellfirst or Wetfirst and later named Rupert. Rupert was platted on November 21, 1905 and filed in Lincoln County on February 8, 1907. There were no restrictions governing the town site in 1904 and 1905, and many businesses were erected around the square. The owners were considered as squatters with no prior right to the lots they had built upon. To solve this problem, Congress passed a special act which let the businessmen buy the lots for designated prices. The Village of Rupert was incorporated on April 1906, and the town board was sworn in and held its first meeting. The origin of Rupert’s name remains pretty much a mystery.
Four men made up the first party who selected sites near what is now Paul. After barely surviving for three years, water arrived in 1907 and their dreams came true. In 1910, the railroad was built and crossed part of the land homesteaded by Jim Ellis. He saw the opportunity so he hired an engineer to survey a town site and called it Paul. It was named after C. H. Paul, who was an engineer in charge of the Minidoka Project.

The early town of Scherrer was named after one of the early settlers who started a store and warehouse. However, the government refused to accept this name and when the post office was established, it was named Acequia, a Spanish word meaning “water course”. This apparently was to denote where the Main A and B Canals split off the main canal.

The fact that there has been large tracts of land open for homesteading twice in the lifetime of many residents makes Minidoka County unique. The first was a result of the construction of the Minidoka Dam in 1904 which opened up some 55,000 acres irrigated by gravity flow. The second tract came when the North side Pumping Project was opened between 1954 and 1961. This opened up 76,802 acres with an additional 70,000 opened by private individuals. Homestead drawings were held in 1953 and more acreage was reclaimed each year, with approximately 5,000 acres added in 1965.
With all the hardships and triumphs of the early homesteaders and the growth of the various communities, the early history of the county is as colorful and interesting as any other area in the nation.
Source: The Minidoka Story, published by the Minidoka County News, August 29, 1963.

MINIDOKA COUNTY COURTHOUSE

The first minutes of the Board of County Commissioners of Minidoka County are dated February 10, 1913, and meetings were held in the Ash Building on the north side of the square in Rupert. Rent for the building was $56 a month. Records show that a desk for the judge cost $12. The first years of the county must have been very interesting and exciting. Determining the school districts, highway districts, election precincts and herd districts were a part of the duties of the board. Finances and the setting up of records were also necessary. The records show that a poll tax of $4 would be assessed for every citizen between the ages of 18 and 50. Revenue was also generated by property taxes and the issuance of bonds.

An election for a permanent county seat was held in 1914. Paul also wanted the county seat, arguing that since the appointed county officials were from Rupert, Paul should have the county seat. Interest was high and campaigning was intense. It was rumored, but never verified, that Rupert transported railroad workers from the City of Minidoka to assist their cause. Right or wrong, Rupert won the election and was declared the permanent county seat for Minidoka County. Originally, the City of Heyburn, where the railroad met the river, was chosen to be the county seat. The building lots in Heyburn were priced so high that there were no buyers and as a result Heyburn was not a contender for the county seat.

As the Ash Building, later called the Rupert Hotel, was no longer adequate for the courthouse, the voters in Minidoka County in February 1916, by a vote of 1364 to 516, approved a resolution to build a courthouse. The following month the City of Rupert donated Block 26 of the original Rupert town site to construct a new courthouse. A bid for the construction of the new courthouse was awarded in June 1916, in the amount of $24,000 to construct the building. One year later, in June 1917, the county officials moved into the new courthouse.

The courthouse housed the government offices until 1961 when a bond election was held to construct a new jail. The building was built right west of the courthouse and proved not to be adequate for a jail. There were several jailbreaks and it soon became too small. In 1972, with the aid of federal grants, a new law enforcement building was constructed to house the Minidoka County Sheriff Department, the City of Rupert Police Department, a joint communications center with modern equipment, the jail and offices for both departments. With the construction of the Mini-Cassia Criminal Justice Center located in Burley, Idaho, and the City of Rupert Police Department at a new location, the Law Enforcement Building currently houses the Juvenile Detention Center and the Minidoka County Sheriff’s Office.

The first court case was filed on July 26, 1913. A total of four cases were filed in 1913 and six in 1914, compared to 1,511 criminal cases in 2,000. In 1974, the Sherman J. Bellwood Judicial Building was constructed at an approximate cost of $400,000, primarily with revenue funds from the federal government. It provides all of the facilities for the court system.

The current Minidoka County Courthouse appears much as it did in 1917. The exterior has changed very little; however, the interior has been remodeled many times. The electrical system is new to accommodate the modern equipment, the roof has been repaired, and many necessary changes have been made. It stands as a tribute to the pioneers who labored so diligently to provide good government to Minidoka County.
(Much of this information was taken from an article by Gus Bethke, a former County Clerk)

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