What’s In A Name?

Thank the good Lord that there is a couple of States before Iowa. I don’t know about you, but I am sick to death of hearing about Iowa. So instead, let’s look at a highly nutritious State (as long as you don’t load it up with butter, cheese and sour cream) – Idaho. Unofficially known as the Potato State (or potatoe if you were ever Vice-President for only one term).

Yes, everyone knows about Idaho and potatoes (in fact Idaho produces about one third of all the spuds grown in the USA, or over 27 billion of the little darlings), but it is not actually called the Potato State. The true nickname is “the Gem State” – which is belied by the fact that they put a potato on their license plates. You can find more than 70 different kinds of precious and semi-precious gemstones in Idaho. In fact, this State is one of a very few places in the world where natural star garnets can be found in abundance (the other main source for these stones is India). The largest diamond ever mined in the USA also came from Idaho. By the way, the potato is not even native to the United States, let alone Idaho. The potato was first cultivated in New Hampshire in 1719. The spud didn’t reach Idaho until 1836.

Idaho produces more than potatoes for your dining table. It is also the World’s Lentil Capital. Idaho produces 85% of the commercial trout sold in the USA. It is also home to the largest hops farm in the world, a more than 1,800 acre farm which grows hops for Anheuser-Busch. There are 40 wineries in the State – it was not clear from my research whether they make potato wine. The Treasure Valley area (near Nampa, I am sure that helps locate it for absolutely no one) is known as the “Banana Belt”. I am somewhat confused by this nomenclature as bananas cannot be grown in Idaho.

And to get the last piece of potato related trivia out the way: the world’s largest potato chip can be seen in Blackfoot, Idaho.

Idaho is an unusual name, even for a State. You never hear of someone being named Idaho, do you? You might think the name had Indian origins, and you might be right. The name was suggested by George Willing. Willing first claimed that the word Idaho came from a Shoshone word meaning “gem of the mountains”. Later he said it came from a Native American word meaning “many waters”. Finally, he admitted he just made the word up, but by that time folks had gotten used to it, and no one had a better idea. So made-up-named State was the 43rd State admitted to the Union, gaining Statehood on July 3, 1890. In a rather odd coincidence, that is also the birthdate of Florence Barringer. Who the heck is that, you may ask? Well she was my grandmother, so get over it.

Idaho really does seem to have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to recognition. Want to see the deepest gorge in the US? Forget the Grand Canyon, Hell’s Canyon is deeper. Or does a trip to view impressive waterfalls strike your fancy? Forget about Niagara Falls. Head to the Shoshone Falls are 52 feet steeper. Want to see the Country’s first ski resort? Forget about Vermont, or Utah, or Colorado. Nope, you need to head to Idaho’s Sun Valley. By the way, the very first ski lift was installed in Idaho. Before that one must assume you walked. (I am reliably informed that one cannot ski uphill). Want to see the Center of the Universe? You better head to Wallace, Idaho. In 2004 the Mayor of this 800-person hamlet declared it to be the center of the Universe. They have a commemorative manhole cover to mark the spot. How about the highest elevation navigable river in the world? Actually, I have no idea where you might think of looking (let alone why), but it is the St. Joe River in Idaho which flows from an elevation of more than 7,000 feet! How about really old man-made artifacts? Better make sure you are viewing items from Wilson Butte Cave. In 1959 manmade items more than 14,500 years old were found there. Want to see the site of the first fatal nuclear power plant accident? Forget Chernobyl or Three Mile Island. Nope, you need to head to Arco, Idaho. On January 3, 1961 Arco gained that dubious distinction after a meltdown killed three people.

Coincidentally, on July 17, 1955 Arco became the first city to be lit using nuclear power. Idahoans take power seriously – they have the only State Capitol building in the US that is heated by hot springs beneath Boise. One might also think that the name “Boise” might be from another Native American word. Well George Willing had no part in naming Boise. The name is said to have come about in the early 1800’s when French-Canadian trappers came upon the area and were overwhelmed by the sight of all the trees and exclaimed “Les bois! Les bois” (The trees! The trees!) I cannot find any confirmation that one of these trappers was a descendent of Herve Villachaize (famous for intoning “the plane! The plane! Every week on “Fantasy Island”).

The Boise State University Broncos are the only collegiate team that plays on a blue field, lovingly referred to as the “smurf turf”. Take that, Kentucky blue grass!

Idaho has the lowest cigarette prices in the US. I have not been able to find out what their lung cancer rate is.
Rigby, Idaho claims to be the birthplace of television. Unfortunately for Rigby, television was not invented there. However, Philo T. Farnsworth, one of the earliest pioneers of television grew up in Rigby.

Like all States, Idaho has a few odd laws on the books. Including:
• It is illegal to fish while seated on the back of either a camel or a giraffe. One has to wonder what lead folks to make this a law.
• It is illegal to give your sweetheart a gift of chocolate(s) weighing more than 50 pounds. I am not sure if this would make 50 one-pound boxes illegal.
• In Eagle, Idaho it is illegal to sweep dirt from your house into the street.
• It is illegal not to smile outdoors in Pocatello, Idaho. (interesting side note: If you are playing the Milton Bradley game “Rail Baron”, if you buy the Union Pacific railroad you own Pocatello.)
• Only two forms of government are legal for towns, cities or other municipalities: a mayor/council form, or manager/council form.

Finally, if you want to avoid tornadoes, skip Idaho. Believe it or not, they do get about a dozen or so vortex touch downs.
So, hopefully by next month I won’t be as sick of Iowa. I tend to doubt it. Lucky for me I have Illinois and Indiana to soften the blow.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Betsey Ellis

Betsey is a recovering agent of Satan (.i.e. a legal professional) now working towards a lifetime goal of becoming a perfectly sane cat lady, medieval clothing designer, and occasional playwright. Maybe even finish my doctorate.....nyah, probably not, who needs another expert in Elizabethan Law and its effect on the growth of the middle class.