History of Horseshoe Bend

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 hsbhistory@gmail.com.

In "pioneer times" Horse Shoe Bend was always spelled with three-capitalized letters - now, only two: Horseshoe Bend.

An eye-witness account of events in and around the three-worded Horse Shoe Bend of 1872 has been preserved. Frank R. Starr, City Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, lived with his aunt after making the trip from California overland via Winnemucca, Nevada in the fall of that year:

"Eight miles beyond Warriner's Diggings we came to the picturesque village of Horse Shoe Bend. The town is regularly layed out having a hotel, church, sawmill, school-house, blacksmith shop, etc., etc., and is called the Arcadia of Idaho*.

The old Brownlee Trail crosses here going into the (Boise) Basin. A toll road and direct route to Oregon passes through also. The population in this district is 300. There is a weekly mail route from here to Bairdville on Upper Squaw Creek, thence over the divide to Upper Weiser, then to Warren, Idaho County. The finest horses and cattle in the world are raised at Horse Shoe Bend and fatten on the luxurious hills. Extensive fishing is carried on here at certain times of the year.

A saw and a first mill were built at the mouth of Shafer Creek in 1866 by E. Flemming.

In 1866 Mr. G. Miner build a large sawmill on the Payette River near town. He also built a fine bridge of two spans across the river in 1864, the only communication during high water for a large extent of the country.

North of here through timbered mountains are a series of valleys entirely unsettled and on to Payette Lakes, three in number. There is much game and many fish, including red fish or land-locked salmon in the upper lake.

Six miles above Horse Shoe Bend is the town of Jerusalem on a creek by the same name. The population is 100. They have a school house there."

*Arcadia is a mountainous, landlocked region of Greece...now English speakers often use arcadia to designate a place of rustic innocence and simple, quiet pleasure. Arcadian can mean "idyllically pastoral" or "idyllically innocent, simple or untroubled."

Excerpted from UC Berkley publications and "All Along the River" by Nellie Ireton Mills.