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Idaho: Gem State

JOINED UNION: July 3, 1890
STATE BIRD: Mountain Bluebird
MEANING OF STATE NAME: The name given Comanche Indians by the Kowa Apache Indians
1992 POPULATION: 1,067,250
LAND AREA: 82,751 square miles
ECONOMY: Known for potatoes, tourism, processed foods, lumber, mining
HISTORY: Acquired by the U.S. as part of the Louisiana Purchase, the first white explorers of Idaho were Lewis and Clark in 1805-06; however, the area had been the land of the Nez Perce Indians, among others. Fur traders and Mormons made bases in Idaho and the 1869 Gold Rush brought more settlers. War broke out between Indians and U.S. troops in the 1870s. Today, Idaho's northern wilderness areas have become the home base to groups of white supremacists and survivalists.

Whooping It Up



In 1975, the eggs of whooping cranes were placed in the nests of sandhill cranes at this Idaho refuge. The sandhills, thinking the eggs their own, reared the whooping crane chicks. This subterfuge was an attempt by the U.S. Wildlife Service to keep the whooping cranes from becoming extinct.

Unique to North America, whooping cranes ("Grus americana") stand about five feet tall, have sinewy necks, long legs, and a wing span of about seven-and-a-half feet. Their snow-white bodies are contrasted by jet-black wing tips and a red-and-black head.

Found in marshy areas with bulrushes and cattails, "whoopers" feed on crabs, frogs, and other small aquatic animals, but seldom eat fish. The cranes once nested from Illinois to southern Canada. In the winter, they migrated to an area between the Carolinas and Mexico.

When settlers turned their nesting areas into farmlands, the cranes disappeared from the plains and sought refuge in Canada. In 1941, only 16 of the birds arrived at their traditional wintering grounds in Texas.

Today the whooping crane is listed as an endangered species, with about 155 of the birds existing in America's wilds. Intensive education and research programs give promise of further increases in the crane population.

The Big Train

1907 to 1927


When the Washington Senators signed Walter Johnson out of an Idaho semipro league in 1907, the teenager agreed to go on one condition. If he didn't make it in the majors, the Senators would pay his way back to Idaho.

It was an expense the Senators never needed to worry about. By the time Johnson retired in 1927, he had established himself as one of the greatest pitchers who ever lived. Possessed of an overpowering fastball that helped earn him the nickname "Big Train," Johnson won 416 games, second to Cy Young, and established a major-league record that still stands with his 110 shutouts. His 3,508 strikeouts stood as the record for more than half a century, until broken by Nolan Ryan, and his streak of 55-2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in 1913 was the standard until Don Drysdale surpassed him in 1968. It was of Johnson that New York's Ping Bodie first uttered the famous words, "You can't hit what you can't see." 

Johnson's most famous feat occurred in 1908, when he pitched a four-hit shutout against the New York Highlanders on Friday, September 4, and came back to pitch a three-hit shutout the next day. Sunday baseball was prohibited in New York, so the two teams didn't meet again until Monday. Johnson sought out his manager, Joe Cantillon, and said, "It's all right with me if it's all right with you." Johnson went out and shut out the Highlanders on two hits.

For most of his career, Johnson's greatness went for naught with a series of bad Washington teams that inspired the popular saying, "First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League." But finally, in 1924, after 18 major-league seasons, Johnson pitched in his first World Series against the Giants. Before the first game, opposing pitcher Art Nehf shook hands with him and said later, "Walter was so nervous I felt sorry for him. When we shook hands for photographers, his hand trembled." Johnson, who was 36 and past his prime, lost his first two games in the Series but won the seventh and deciding game. The next year, the Senators made the Series again, and this time Johnson won his first two games but lost the decisive Game 7. In 1936, Johnson became one of the original five inductees in the Hall of Fame.


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