Celebrations went on informally in the early days of the territory, often consisting of an Independence Day Ball, a picnic, street games, and perhaps a little drinking. It wasn’t until 1870 that Congress declared the Fourth of July a national holiday. In 1938 they went a step further and declared it a paid federal holiday.
Street games, by the way, were mainly races. They held sack races, foot races, and bicycle races. In 1886 they had something called “target practice” on the streets of Boise. Contestants were blind-folded and given a brace and bit—a hand operated drill. It is unclear all these years later exactly what they were supposed to do with it. There was a target 50 feet away and the winner was the one who came closest to the bullseye. One wonders if they were to throw the tool, or stumble forward blind-folded trying to find the target and drill a hole in it.
That same Fourth you might have won $2.50 for being the fastest to climb a greased pole. You could also win money by throwing a heavy hammer the farthest or by coming in first in the blindfold wheelbarrow race.
In 1890 the Fourth of July was going to be special. Word had made its way by telegraph that Congress had passed the statehood act for Idaho. The speculation was whether President Benjamin Harrison would sign it on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or maybe even the 5th. As it turned out, the pen hit the paper on July 3rd, now known as Statehood Day in Idaho.
That 1890 parade featured a “Ship of State,” a float decked out as a large ship on wheels “gaily decorated with National colors, manned by a gallant crew of Boise youths.” It was followed by a float displaying the wealth of the new state, loaded down gold, silver, copper, and lead ores. Then came five huge saw logs pulled by powerful horses. The Coffin Brothers had a tin shop on wheels “going full blast.”
Miss Carrie Mobley rode in a Car of Liberty to personify the Territory of Idaho. She had not yet heard that Idaho was a state. Governor Shoup brought her up on a stage and addressed her as the newly formed state and informed her of the great change that had occurred. He made this point by removing a sash draped on one of her shoulders that read “Idaho” and replacing it with on that said in larger letters, “State of Idaho.”
Enjoy the day however you’re going to celebrate it.