The horseshoe-shaped bend in our majestic Payette River made possible the farming, ranching, lumber and railroads that supported the Boise Basin Gold Rush of 1862, and led to the development of Southwest Idaho. Our fun little river town was originally inhabited by the Northern Shoshone and Northern Paiute Indians and was the lifeblood of the gold rush in 1962. As thousands of miners poured into the Boise Basin (east of Horseshoe Bend), the realities of the winter climate and the lack of food turned Horseshoe Bend into a winter oasis.
Bringing their pack animals to the valley, miners helped create an economy of ranchers and farmers who provided the food for the gold rush. William J. McConnell, Idaho’s second governor and later US Senator, and his partner John Porter, planted onions in the Jerusalem area and packed them to the individual miners mining for their own gold. In 1864, thus encouraged, they expanded their produce growing and were soon selling watermelons for $8.00 apiece. Farming soon became a safer, milder and steadier source of gold than the actual gold rush itself.
Originally named Warrinersville, with its first postmaster in 1865, the name was changed two years later to Horseshoe Bend. In 1872, Frank R. Starr, city editor of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: “The picturesque village is regularly laid out, having a hotel, church, sawmill, schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, etc., and is called the 'Arcadia' of Idaho.”
1864 saw the first bridge across the Payette river on the north end of town. As the town grew, buildings increased and the need for lumber skyrocketed. Sawmills appeared on the drainage of nearly every tributary on the river. Soon, the railroads became interested in the area, and in 1912 rail transportation was a reality, ending the river log drives.
Through most of the 1900s, the sawmill run by Hoff Lumber - then later Boise Cascade - was the backbone of the town, with as many as 500 employees. The mill whistle was community’s communication device. Everyone knew which whistle indicated what event, from an accident to a fire to lunch hour. The mill closing in 1990 created a community of commuters as jobs had to be found elsewhere.
Information taken from Idaho Magazine, May 2006, provided by Fran Hefner, Cora Larson, Deb Marks, Jess Cooper and Sandy Boyington, members of the Horseshoe Bend Historical Society. For more information, visit the historical thumbnail in City Hall, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.