Native Americans of the Shoshone, Bannock and Nez Perce Tribes were the earliest inhabitants of Valley County (it was Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce who led the infamous defeat of the U.S. Cavalry at the Battle of White Bird Hill, just north of modern-day Riggins).
In the 1880’s Europeans arrived in the Long Valley, Finnlanders being the first major homesteaders. Roseberry was their main settlement, where “lewd and indecent resorts and intoxicating drinks” were prohibited. Their Finn Churches, cemetery, barns, cabins and saunas still dot the countryside. Today, Roseberry is home to the Long Valley Preservation Society, and a fascinating group of “living” museums.
McCall was named for Tom McCall, a prominent town leader who arrived in 1891 to homestead. Unlike Roseberry, it was a wild and woolly place, notorious for its lakeside whorehouses, dance halls and gambling establishments (including the famous Harrah’s Casinos). Until the early 1980’s firearms were still allowed in local bars.
Mining and timber were McCall’s chief industries driving the town’s rapid evolution into a bustling lake port. Steamboat Lyda – plying the length of Payette Lake – was a fast and economical alternative to wagon transport, serving the logging industry and the Warren and Marshall Mountain Mining Districts (in Warren you can still see dredge mine tailings made by the many Chinese workers). The Brown Tie and Lumber Company was the area’s largest employer and they remain actively involved in the community. In 1914 the town was briefly renamed Lakeport but the local residents demanded it be restored to McCall.
To alleviate the tedium of McCall’s long winters, in 1924 local resident and Olympic ski champion Cory Engen, together with a group of volunteers, founded Winter Carnival. They created ice sculptures and organized dog sled races, commemorating the sled dogs used to carry the U.S. mail when snow was too deep to use horses. The first races were held between Lardo at the mouth of Payette Lake (reputedly named when a large wagon carrying lard and flour overturned into the Payette River) and McCall on a mile-long course. By 1926 the races were attracting top sledders and twelve year old local Warren Brown won the Tom Geelan Cup and gained national recognition when he placed second in the championship race in Ashton Idaho.
McCall is now a thriving resort community, proud of its varied heritage and its continuing and constant commitment to the Heartland of Idaho.
If you are interested in learning more about the history of McCall and Valley County, we invite you to visit the Central Idaho Historical Museum. Built in 1936-37 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, this 4-acre Historic Campus has eight vintage log board and batten buildings. Located on Highway 55, two blocks from downtown McCall, the center is open Wednesday through Saturday, June to August. A Guided Tour is scheduled at 1:00 pm daily. Heritage Tours of Warren are also available and can be arranged by contacting the Museum.
Please visit www.centralidahohistoricalmuseum.com.