The Blackfoot River I know best flows into the Snake River south of the town of Blackfoot. It may seem odd for the name Blackfoot to apply to two rivers and a town, especially when the rivers are some 300 miles apart and in different states. The Blackfeet Indians live mostly in Montana, where Maclean’s river runs. Blackfoot the town, and the other river are both here in Idaho.
Blackfoot is an odd name. Why did fur trapper Donald McKenzie give it to the river in 1819? The indigenous people around Blackfoot are mostly Shoshone and Bannock, but McKenzie bumped into some Siksika in this area in 1819 and gave the anglicized version of their name to the river. The name Siksika refers to the dark moccasins members of that tribe wore.
The town was named after the river, as were at least three natural features in the area including the Blackfoot Mountains, and the Blackfoot Valley. The Blackfoot Lava Field is in Caribou County, north of Soda Springs.
Another often repeated tale is that someone walked across a recently burned patch of desert and had ash all over their shoes or moccasins. That apocryphal story has some charm, but not the documentation of McKenzie’s naming of the river.
Blackfoot was sometimes referred to as Grove City in the early days because of the many trees planted by settlers. It was more of a nickname. There was never a post office by that name.
Blackfoot did go by another name, though, for a few months. The first post office in what would later become Blackfoot was called Central Ferry. Starting in 1864 Central Ferry Station was a stop for Ben Holiday Stages and for freighters. It became an official post office in 1878. The name was changed to Blackfoot in 1879. A historical marker telling that story is located on a rock monument in the park on the southeast corner of Bridge and Meridian streets in Blackfoot.
What about the other towns in Bingham County? I’ll take a look at where they got their names tomorrow.
This post originally appeared as a column in the Blackfoot Morning News.