Little wonder then that people over the years have sometimes been convinced a new eruption was going on. During the dedication of the monument on June 15, 1924 there was one such startling incident. The day was full of speeches from dignitaries such as energetic Idaho promoter Bob Limbert who almost single-handedly created the monument, C.B. Sampson of Sampson Roads fame, Blackfoot Republican publisher Byrd Trego, and Idaho State Automobile Association President T.E. Bliss. Stirring as the oration probably was, it could not match the belching volcano. While the speakers were still speaking spectators spied smoke boiling up from a nearby crater. Some in the gathering began to move briskly away from the smoke, but Commercial Club President Otto Hoebel calmed the crowd by telling them it was just a stunt designed expressly for the occasion by R.M. Kunze, amateur purveyor of pyrotechnics.
It also was smoke, and allegedly the smell of Sulphur that set gandy dancers on edge during the construction of the Oregon Shortline railroad outside of Shoshone in 1882. Reports were that “Smoke and flame of peculiar odor, color, and shape issued from chasms and seams in the lava beds.” The Idaho Statesman also reported that one observer said, “General commotion over the lava fields and unusual agitation of the boiling springs cause many railroad hands to leave, terror stricken. The whole area has the appearance from a distance of being on fire.”
Was the whole area on fire? That is, were workers spotting one or more range fires, never uncommon on the Idaho desert? There were reports of lava glowing at night and even bubbling. Indians from Fort Hall scoffed at the concern of the railroaders, saying that it happened regularly when the devil had a bellyache. There was also a rumor that rival railroaders were starting fires and spreading chemicals around to scare off the Oregon Shortline men. When the rains came, the smoke went away along with the concerns of the workers.
In 1911, reports—if not fresh lava—circulated again. The Blackfoot Republican, published south and a bit east of the lava fields quoted A.E. Byers of Blackfoot as saying smoke and great quantities of gas “rose to great height and spread like an umbrella.” Meanwhile residents who lived near the smoke thought it was just a brush fire.
No doubt many have looked out across that landscape, seeing smoke, perhaps even emanating from one of the three volcanic buttes in the area, and had a moment of pause. At that moment they might not have been comforted by the fact that park rangers speculate the most recent eruption was about 2,000 years ago.