Tourism professionals often lament that there are not better signs on our roads. Charlie Sampson thought the same thing back in 1914, and he did something about it.
Sampson ran the Sampson Music Company in Boise in 1914. One day, while making a delivery in the desert south of town, Charlie got lost. That annoyed him. He thought there should be signs along the roads so travelers could find their way. He took that suggestion to local officials. They ignored him. To their surprise, Sampson proved that he was not one to let a good idea die. He began to mark the roads around Boise himself.
Sampson carried a bucket of orange paint with him wherever he went, and painted signs on rocks, trees, barns, bridges, fences... just about anything that didn't move. The routes he marked became known locally as the Sampson Trails. Of course, many of the larger signs also included a few words about the Sampson Music Company.
Sampson became such a believer in his markers that he hired a three-man crew to keep the signs in shape. He spent thousands of dollars on the project.
In 1933 the Bureau of Highways decided to put a stop to Sampson's signing. They claimed it defaced the landscape. It probably did, but the Idaho Legislature didn't buy that argument. They passed a resolution commending Sampson for his efforts and giving him the right to continue marking the Sampson Trails.
Charlie Sampson died in 1935, leaving the task of guiding people along the roadways to others. One of those people is Cort Conley. His book, Idaho for the Curious, from which the story of Charlie Sampson was taken, is probably the best guide available for traveler interested in Idaho history.
The photo showing one of Sampson’s orange dots is from the Idaho State Historical Society digital collection.