Idaho, just like any other state, has had storytellers. Whether they’re famous like Ernest Hemingway or they’re members of your family doesn't matter; every one of them has added in some small way to the cultural identity that Idaho has to offer. Of course, we all have heard stories that seemed a little too far-fetched for us to believe, but nonetheless have pervaded to be part of Idaho’s library. Fact or Fiction, this is a small anthology of some of those stories, from all across Idaho.
1. The Body in the Underground River
Northern Idaho has its fair share of mysterious stories, everything from Native American ghosts to ritual sacrifices that were thought to have been the cause of death for a couple traveling in the area. One of the lesser-heard urban legends of the area is that of a man who drowned in Lake Coeur d’Alene during the 1950's, who was later found floating in Lake Hayden much to the North. Not much is known about this story, such as the circumstances around the man’s death or even who he was, but it prompted the question of if an underground passage existed between these two bodies of water. It hasn't been discovered yet...
2. The Man with Two Headstones
Malad City is one of the oldest settlements in Idaho, situated in the Southeastern county of Oneida. An area rich with heritage, one story from the southern unincorporated settlement of Samaria the 1870’s can either delight or disturb the listener. It all started with a young man by the name of Benjamin Waldron, who was twenty five when his leg was caught in a horse-pulled thresher. The leg was mangled horribly, and was amputated in order to save Waldron’s life. Waldron requested that the leg was buried in a plot of its own in the Samaria Cemetery, a request which was carried out. However, weeks after the surgery Waldron continued to suffer from pain, convinced that his missing leg was twisted. The grave was unearthed, and the amputated limb was found to have actually been in a twisted position. Once set right and reburied, Waldron’s symptoms went away...
3. The Seven Devil Mountains
There are many stories that were formed by Idaho’s Native American tribes, including those of the Nez Perce. The Nez Perce, or Niimíipu, who lived predominantly in the lower half of Northern Idaho around the Snake River, had a legend about the Seven Devil Mountains that neighbor the deepest gorge in all of North America, Hell’s Canyon. It is said that long ago, the peaks used to be incredibly tall and strong giants, who would travel to through the area every year and eat all children they could find. The tribesmen asked their friend, Coyote, to rid them of these menaces. Coyote and Fox trapped these giants in deep holes filled with boiling red liquid. The giants splashed in rage as they tried and failed to escape, and sent the red liquid far and wide - which would, coincidentally, harden into the local copper veins. Coyote transformed these giants into even taller mountains, and cut a deep gorge to prevent any more giants from crossing the area and harming the tribe…
4. The Misinformed Fowl
This story is admittedly a more sillier one, but nonetheless good. Boise State University, one of the biggest colleges in the state of Idaho, is well known for its famous “Smurf Turf” - a college football stadium with blue grass, and not the musical style. While not the college or even high school football stadium to have a color scheme different from the usual, it is an attention grabber that since its inception has thought to have attracted the attention of too many waterbirds. The story goes that since the Bronco Stadium (now known as the Albertsons Stadium) was completed in 1970, geese and ducks have crashed into the astroturf mistaking it for a pond, sometimes fatally. These rumors have never been fully proven - no one wants to think a sports team has had too many “fowls,” after all.
5. The Thing that Swims and Writhes
Yes, even though Idaho is a completely landlocked state, there are still stories of unknown creatures rising up from the watery depths. One of the most famous examples of this is the Payette Lake Monster, who made waves in the media in war-torn 1944 by many eyewitnesses in McCall who reported seeing a blunt head moving through the water at a rapid clip, followed by a long body of rising and falling humps. This serpent was said to have been known by Native Americans who had lived in the area originally as an evil water spirit, but since 1944 “Slimy Slim” (and since 1954, “Sharlie”) has been anything but. In fact, unlike the generally feared monster of Bear Lake on the Utah-Idaho border, the community of McCall has adopted their sea monster as a member of the community - and believed in it so strongly that there were plans to breed it. Also unlike the Bear Lake Monster, Sharlie’s existence has never been outright denied, and it was last sighted in 2004...
6. The Sheriff Who Wouldn’t Speak
Gangs, theft, murder...would you believe it if you found out Ada County used to a be a center for illegal activity in the nineteenth century? The first sheriff elected in Ada was David Updyke, who took office in 1864. Though the majority of the county was pleased to have a stronger government present in their home, the situation quickly deteriorated when Updyke began to consort with local criminals, building a crime network that protected illegal activity and forced the people into unfair protection taxes. One of the most noted crimes he organized was the Portneuf Canyon Stage Robbery, where a coach carrying seven passengers and $86,000 in gold and notes was ambushed in Idaho’s Portneuf Canyon. The passengers were murdered, and the money stolen. Updyke was the last member caught of the posse that committed the crime, and refused to answer where the money was hidden before he was hung by the local vigilantes. The money is still missing, however, and so is one of the other accomplices of the crime…
Culture and heritage is built on the stories of its people. Throughout its history, Idaho has had its heritage composed of the myths of Native Americans, legends from the Old West, and modern day stories. Idaho continues to grow and flourish, and in the years to come more unique stories will be told in order to grow Idaho’s identity as a noteworthy state.