The land that would become Idaho was originally Native land. Today these Native tribes include the Coeur dAlene, Kootenai, Shoshone-Bannock, and Nez Perce. White settlers had been passing through along the Oregon trail earlier in the nineteenth century but became more established in the wake of gold rushes starting in 1860. Many more white immigrants arrived to farm in the 1890s and, along with the U.S. government, forced Native peoples onto reservations.
Idaho was formed largely by agricultural boosterism. White settlers who had envisioned a farming paradise were soon confronted by the difficulty of the land and the unpredictable Snake River. Many persevered, however, and helped Idaho grow. Boosterism even gave the state its name. The name is often taken as a Native word meaning “gem of the mountain” or similar, but it actually traces back to a white man named George Willing, who suggested it as a name of what became Colorado territory. Although the name was pulled as a candidate for Colorado after the truth was discovered, it remained popular and was applied to the Idaho Territory by territorial officials when Congress separated it from Washington Territory. It was established as a territory by Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1863 with Boise decided as its capitol the following year. Benjamin Harrison signed Idaho into statehood on July 3rd, 1890, though it took fifteen years for the old Territorial Capitol building to be replaced by the new State Capitol building.
Construction of the Capitol took place in two distinct phases. Builders constructed the central dome and north wing from 1905–1912, after which it began to operate as the seat of government. In 1919, the legislature secured additional funds to build the east and west wings, completing them the next year. The Legislature tapped J.E. Tourtellotte and Charles Hummel to design the initial structure and chose native sandstone for the building’s superstructure. The state used convict labor to transport the blocks from a nearby quarry but employed craftsmen to finish the fine multicolored foreign marble of the building’s interior. Since its completion, the Capitol has been updated for comfort, safety, and technology to preserve it as a working seat of government.
While facing the front of the Capitol from beyond Jefferson Sreet, visitors can see a statue of Abraham Lincoln; behind that a memorial for Governor Frank Steunenberg, who was assassinated in 1905; and behind that a replica of the Liberty Bell, donated by the U.S. Treasury department in 1950. A Pioneer Monument to the east of the entrance honors the travelers of the Oregon Trail, and to the west stands an 1840 Confederate seacoast gun and the Grand Army of the Republic Monument dedicated to soldiers of the Union Army. A relic from the old Idaho Territorial Capitol stands on the fourth floor: a gilded pinewood statue of George Washington carved in 1869 by Charles L. Ostner. These objects and the building itself stand as a reminder of Idaho’s place in U.S. history.