“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Near Twin Falls in Twin Falls County, Idaho — The American West (Mountains)

Shoshone Falls

The Niagara of the West panel image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Barry Swackhamer, May 15, 2018
1. The Niagara of the West panel
Captions: (map at left) John C. Fremont's explorations; (right-side, top to bottom) Historic view from the north rim; Historic view from downstream; ... view at dusk
Inscription.  (Three panels are found at the Shoshone Falls kiosk:)
The Niagara of the West
The Discovery of Shoshone Falls
No one knows the first non-native person to set eyes upon them. The Wilson Hunt expedition of fur trappers passed through the region in 1811, apparently without having seen them. Group after group of traders, trappers, missionaries and settlers trudged across the sagebrush plain without mention of the falls. Even the Topographical Engineer Lt. John C. Fremont, known as the "Pathfinder," overlooked the falls while leading an expedition in 1843.
The first written evidence of a non-Native American seeing the falls came in 1847 in the journal of Augustine Blanchet, a Canadian priest, traveling west. He gave it the name "Canadian Falls" because it was known almost solely to Canadians passing it bound for the fur trading outposts.
The name was short-lived. On August 14, 1849 Major Osborne Cross led a military expedition across the Oregon Trail to examine the new American territory. A Native American informed an expedition guide of a great waterfall less than ten miles away. Expedition
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members Lieutenant Andrew Lindsay and writer George Gibbs followed the guide and returned to enthusiastically report news of a magnificent cataract at least 160 feet high. The party descended the canyon and made careful observations.
"There seems to be but one opinion, that it equalled (sic) in grandeur (and) in proportion to (the) column of water (at) ... Niagara falls. Having been the first who had ever taken the trouble to examine them carefully and wishing to change the name said to have been given them by a priest many years since, they decided on that of the Great Shoshonie (Shoshone) Falls, instead of Canadian, as being the most appropriate." -- Journal Entry - Major Osborne Cross, 1849
During an 1853-1854 railroad survey, Frederick W. Lander became fascinated with the measurements surrounding the falls. He recorded:
"At a distance of 12 miles, a white column may be seen in the plain resembling the smoke of a fire. The sound of falling water is heard at a great distance. The bed of the river is 620 feet below the surrounding level country. The water flows in a contracted channel of about four hundred (400) feet. The sides of the ravine are nearly perpendicular. The fall is one hundred and eight-five (185) feet, and is slightly broken at a point fifty (50) feet from the upper level." -- Frederick W. Lander
Since their discovery the
The History of the Bonneville Flood panel image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Barry Swackhamer, May 15, 2018
2. The History of the Bonneville Flood panel
Map of ancient Lake Bonnevile and Flood area at the lower right.
falls have held a special fascination to visitors. In the summer of 1875, 19-year-old Charles Walgamott came to the area. He became enchanted with the falls and surrounding lands and was convinced it would be a tourist attraction. In his memoirs he wrote:
"No country in the world could produce a location where beauty, grandeur and power was so artistically and profusely intermixed."
He wasted no time finding out how to acquire the land adjoining the falls, ultimately buying up land on both sides of the canyon.
In 1886, Walgamott built a hotel on the south side that became a popular tourist destination. As surrounding cities grew, the number of guests staying at the Shoshone Falls Hotel gradually decreased, although many continued coming to view the mighty falls.
At 212 feet high and 950 feet wide, Shoshone Falls is known as "the Niagara of the West" but unlike Niagara Falls, it is not surrounded by commercial development. Visitors can see the falls today because of a gift from the past. A land donation made in 1932 to the City of Twin Falls from F.J. and Martha Adams, ensuring that it would be "forever held for park purposes only for the beneficial use and enjoyment of all the people."

The History of the Bonneville Flood
Snake River Plain Geology
The Snake River flows through one of the greatest
Chinese Miners and the Snake River Canyon Gold Rush panel image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Barry Swackhamer, May 15, 2018
3. Chinese Miners and the Snake River Canyon Gold Rush panel
Captions: (middle left) "The Chinese are the very Quakers of the enterprise; they... work in heaps... that have been abandoned and their skills and perseverance could make a living out of what has been disdainfully cast away." -- Comment of British observer, in the Idaho Statesman of Aug. 21, 1869; (bottom, mid-left) The one-way trip from Canton (Guangdong provincial capitol) to Seattle or San Francisco cost $50 and took six weeks by ship. Some miners then walked to the goldfields of Idaho rater than pay $100 for the 600-mile overland stage coach journey.; (center) Typical Chinese Pottery; (bottom, mid-right) Mining tools from the Mon-Tung archaeological site near Shoshone Falls; (upper right) Census Data - Chinese in Idaho; (middle right) Not all Chinese were miners, some made their living growing vegetables to sell to the Chinese and Anglo miners.
volcanic plains in the world. This 400-mile-long crescent-shaped plateau extends from southwestern Idaho, east to the Idaho-Wyoming border. In cross section, it is a depression filled with layers of rock over 5,000 feet thick.
During the past 17 million years fractures opened in the earth allowing hot molten lava to pour out. The last of the lava flows in the Snake River plain occurred only 2,000 years ago. The basalt lava flows in the Snake River Plain were generated by hundreds of "shield" volcanoes. Highly fluid lava flowed from cracks in the earth's surface and spread out to create a gradual curved feature with the appearance of an ancient soldier's shield.
Eventually the Snake River flows through cracks in the basalt lava flows caused by cooling of molten rock. Over time, these cracks enlarged to create the canyons we see today.
The Bonneville Flood - An Ancient Lake Dies, A Canyon Grows
About a million years ago, a gigantic lake about the size of Lake Michigan, covered roughly 20,000 square miles of northern Utah, eastern Nevada and southern Idaho. Lake Bonneville was formed by a natural rock barrier at Red Rock Pass in eastern Idaho but had no river outlet to the sea.
Approximately 11,000 years ago - yesterday in geological terms - rainfall and snow melt gradually raised the level of the lake until the natural dam collapsed. The
Shoshone Falls Kiosk image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Barry Swackhamer, May 15, 2018
4. Shoshone Falls Kiosk
entire lake came crashing through the Snake River Canyon, causing the Great Bonneville Flood.
The tremendous amount of water that ravaged the canyon scoured rock loose from the canyon walls, created whirlpool-eroded alcoves and deposited gravel bars hundreds of feet high along the Snake River Canyon.
The Bonneville Flood lasted about six weeks, but water continued to flow from the remains of the lake for a year. A 350-foot-high wall of water raced through the canyon at 70 miles per hour. In that time 380 cubic miles of water flowed down the Snake River. Today, Utah's Great Salt Lake is all that remains of Lake Bonneville.
To get a perspective of the flood, the canyon at the Twin Falls Perrine Bridge is about 480 feet deep. Before the flood began, the river bottom was at the thin dirt layer visible on the north canyon wall about halfway down, near the bottom bridge support.
The bridge would have been under about 10 feet of water. Rock and dirt cascading downstream chiseled out the lower part of the canyon in just a few weeks. No flooding occurred above this area on the south side of the river as evidenced by the topsoil in the farm fields.
On the north side of the river water overflowed the canyon for miles and scoured the soil off the rock, then flowed back into the canyon just east of the bridge at Blue Lakes County Club. The eddy created by the confluence
Shoshone Falls image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Barry Swackhamer, May 15, 2018
5. Shoshone Falls
of the river and the flooding water coming from the north, gouged the canyon wider. This created a perfect spot where centuries later Twin Falls pioneer Ira B. Perrine developed the region's first farm in the 1880s.
Scientists have determined from the talus materials that the canyon has been changed little by glacial and floods since this event. The flow patterns in the rock and land formation of southern Idaho are especially impressive when viewed from the air.
We invite you to spend a few moments looking at the different layers of sediment in the canyon and at the river below to consider the tremendous and violent forces that were at work at the time of the Bonneville Flood.

Chinese Miners and the Snake River Canyon Gold Rush
Gold Discovered
Gold was first discovered below Shoshone Falls in the fall of 1869. The find set off a short-lived, but significant rush that drew up to 400 Anglo miners to the placer deposits of the canyon. Mining camps sprang up in and around the canyon as men came seeking their fortune. By late summer 1870, the first Chinese arrived to stake their claims. They faced considerable hostility from many of the Anglo miners and a local ban on Chinese immigration was enacted. In less than a year most of the easily accessible placer deposits were exhausted. Many of the Anglo miners left the area, and the
Shoshone Falls image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Barry Swackhamer, May 15, 2018
6. Shoshone Falls
ban on Chinese immigration was dropped.
By the end of 1870, many Anglo prospectors had sold out to Chinese miners. The Chinese both purchased claims outright and acquired claims in exchange as partial payment for wages. After acquiring claims, the Chinese would frequently rework the tailings, recovering gold missed during the first processing.
In the Shoshone Falls area, some Chinese lived in a mining camp known as Springtown while others lived in small dugout shelters along the river near their claims. It's estimated that as many as 500 Chinese were living and mining in the area by the mid-1870s. As the ore deposits were exhausted the Chinese miners also moved on and by 1879 most had left. The 1880 census counted only 22 Chinese living in Cassia County, which at the time encompassed all of present-day Twin Falls County.
Chinese Immigration
Most of the Chinese who immigrated to the Idaho Territory came from the Guangdong Province of southeast China. Guangdong was one of the wealthiest regions in China until the Opium Wars and the Taiping Rebellion bankrupted the province. The resulting economic turmoil led many to seek opportunities far from home.
Chinese immigrants were drawn to America by the hope of striking it rich in the gold fields or by the lure of steady pay helping build railroads across the American West. Average pay on a railroad
Twin Falls Perrine Bridge image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Barry Swackhamer, May 15, 2018
7. Twin Falls Perrine Bridge
See the text on the Booneville Flood panel.
construction gang was $32.50 a month. The need for cheap labor caused the U.S. government to encourage immigration with a treaty permitting unrestricted immigration from China in 1868. However, following the completion of the transcontinental railroad, the Chinese came to be seen as competition by American workers, including Anglo-American gold miners. U.S. political forces responded by enacting the Chinese Exclusion Treaty of 1880, which limited immigration. Two years later Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited immigration from China and restricted the naturalization of Chinese immigrants already in the United States. Between 1881 and 1882, the number of immigrants from China to the United States dropped from 40,000 to 23.
Life in the Gold Fields
The Chinese miners quickly adapted to life on the frontier, adopting many attributes of Anglo culture, yet at the same time preserving aspects of their own way of life. With the increasing Chinese population came a demand for Chinese trade goods. These arrived in Seattle by ship and were loaded onto freight wagons that transported them to Idaho. Archaeological excavations at Chinese mining sites have found imported rice bowls, ginger jars, soy sauce pots, and woks. Chinese miners also developed a taste for Anglo products such as Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce and various medical elixirs.
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By 1870, Idaho Territory had the largest Chinese population per capital in the nation. The Chinese made up nearly 30 percent of the 15,000 people living in the territory and accounted for 58 percent of those listed as miners. With the decline of profitable placer mining between 1880 and 1900, most Chinese left the Shoshone Falls area. While many returned to China, others relocated to larger cities such as Boston, San Francisco, New York, and Seattle. Although their stay was brief, the Chinese miners of the Snake River Canyon contributed significantly to the economy and development of south-central Idaho.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Asian AmericansExplorationNatural FeaturesNatural Resources. A significant historical date for this entry is August 14, 1849.
Location. 42° 35.62′ N, 114° 24.115′ W. Marker is near Twin Falls, Idaho, in Twin Falls County. Marker is on Champlin Road near North 3339 East. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 4155 Shoshone Falls Grade, Twin Falls ID 83301, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 3 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Clarence Bisbee (a few steps from this marker); a different marker also named Shoshone Falls (a few steps from this marker); a different marker also named Shoshone Falls (a few steps from this marker); Shoshone Falls Project (approx. ¼ mile away); History Through the Eyes of a Camera (approx. 2.3 miles away); Before there were potatoes, there was GOLD (approx. 2.3 miles away); Snake River Canyon Gold Rush (approx. 2.3 miles away); Robert Evel Knievel (approx. 2.7 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Twin Falls.
More about this marker. The kiosk is located in Shoshone Falls Park at the end of Champlin Road.
Credits. This page was last revised on October 26, 2018. It was originally submitted on October 26, 2018, by Barry Swackhamer of Brentwood, California. This page has been viewed 377 times since then and 20 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. submitted on October 26, 2018, by Barry Swackhamer of Brentwood, California.

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Apr. 17, 2024