Bear Lake County History


Our county was named after Bear Lake which was originally named Black Bear Lake by Donald Mackenzie, an explorer for the North West Fur Company who discovered the lake in 1819. The name was later changed to the current Bear Lake.

The first known inhabitants of the Bear Lake Valley were Shoshone tribes, but the area was known to many Native Americans. The first record of whites seeing the lake is from 1818 when French-Canadian trappers working for the North West Fur Company followed the Bear River upstream to the valley. Later, between 1825 and 1840, many mountain men including Jedediah Smith and Jim Bridger met on the south shore with Native Americans to swap goods and stories. This is the origin of the mountain men rendezvous which continues to this day in mid-September on Rendezvous Beach. It is from these trappers that Bear Lake received its well-deserved infamy for harsh winters.

Although the lake lies relatively near the Oregon Trail which runs north and east of the Bear Lake, and was traveled by many pioneers between 1836 and the 1850s, it seems none of them went south enough to view the lake. It wasn't until 1863 that pioneers led by Charles C Rich settled in the Bear Lake Valley, but they made an agreement with Native Americans which left most of the Utah portion of the valley in Indian possession. The Mormons gradually moved south and established the villages of Garden City, Pickleville and Laketown, each along the lake's shore.

Peg-Leg Smith established and operated a trading post on the Oregon Trail from 1848-1850 near Dingle.

Idaho became a territory in 1863 and the extreme southeastern Oneida was enumerated in 1870 as part of Cache and Richland counties in Utah territory.  The first legislative body did not meet until 1863 and the first elected body did not meet until January 1864. But the people of Bear Lake County followed the jurisdiction of the Utah government.  In 1864 the Idaho legislature created Oneida County with the county seat at Soda Springs.  The county then comprised all the territory now occupied by Oneida, Bannock, Bingham, Fremont, Bear Lake and part of Cassia, Blain and Custer counties.

A set of county officials appointed by the governor arrived in Soda Springs and soon sent their representatives to Bear Lake to collect taxes from the citizens.  Because no definite boundaries were known, the people refused to recognize the Soda Springs officials. The tax collector threatened to assess the people and sell property if the taxes were not paid.  "Considerable feelings were engendered on both sides, but nothing hotter than words ensued and we continued politically to act as part of Utah, having representation in the legislature and receiving some appropriation of money for making roads."

The whole of Bear Lake Valley remained under the government of Utah until after the federal surveyor, Daniel G Mayor, in 1871-72 determined that the 42nd parallel cut the valley in two, running almost exactly through the middle of the lake.  This put about eighty per cent of the settlements and at least eighty per cent of the tillable land area into the state of Idaho.

The Bear Lake area then became part of Oneida County, whose county seat had by this time moved from Soda Springs to Malad City.  This left the people without a local government in the Idaho section from 1872-1875.  Bear Lake became the tenth (now ninth) county.  Bear Lake was first represented in the ninth session by William Budge in the Council (territorial senate) and James H Hart in the House of Representatives.

Bear Lake County was founded January 5, 1875.

The county commissioners, temporarily appointed by the act creating and organizing Bear Lake County were Jonathan Pugmire Jr. Edwin N Austin, and J C Rich.  At their first meeting, 5 April 1875, they appointed the following officers to act until a special election was held.

Clerk, Auditor and Recorder-J C Rich
Sheriff-Henry Margetts, Paris
Assessor-Charles C Rich Jr.
Probate Judge-George Osmond
Treasurer-Charles C Rich, Paris
Surveyor-John Martin, Liberty
Coroner-William Budge

Three road districts were organized with William West, St Charles, James Athay, Paris and H S Phelps, Montpelier, as overseers.  The first election of Bear Lake County was held on the first Monday of June.

There was o jail in the valley until the coming of the railroad.  On Jan 1, 1882, a contract was awarded to W J Smith and George Ashley to build one.  Their bid of $275 was for labor only.  The largest undertaking was that of constructing a courthouse.  They awarded a bid on June 2, 1884 to Woolley Brothers who were to do all the building and furnish everything except the rock for the foundation.  The building was officially accepted on Nov 10, 1885.  The courthouse and jail were built on a lot purchased from William Hoge and Horsley for $250.

In January 1884 the legislature of Utah, where Charles C Rich had been representing Cache County, created Richland County naming it in his honor.  They also stipulated that the first settlement in the valley be named in honor of Fred Perris, the surveyor.


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