Dr. Wells started working on the program in the mid 1950s, identifying important sites and writing the text for the signs. The remarkable thing is that he kept the text on each sign down to fewer than a hundred words, and still provided a meaningful history lesson. I’ve used that many words up to this point.
Read what he packed into this marker on U.S. 95 at White Bird Hill.
“A Gatling gun, firing from the top of a low hill a mile northwest of here, beat off a Nez Perce attack, July 4, 1877.
“The next day, Indians just east of here surrounded 17 Mount Idaho Volunteers: two were killed and three wounded before cavalrymen from Cottonwood came out to rescue them. Meanwhile, Chief Joseph’s people, screened by this well-planned diversionary skirmish, crossed the prairie to join their allies on the Clearwater. From there the Indians retired across the mountains to Montana, where the Nez Perce War ended three months later.”
The photo below, courtesy of the Idaho Transportation Department’s digital collection, shows a display promoting the highway markers, probably in the 1950s in front of their Boise headquarters building. At that time, they were proud of the 41 markers already erected. By 1990, when the department published their Idaho Highway Historical Marker Guide (sadly now out of print), there were 232 markers scattered across the state. Merle Wells, pictured at the bottom in a photo courtesy of the Idaho State Historical Society’s digital archives, had written most them.