Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019


Arbon, Idaho

What is today called Arbon Valley was once known only as Bannock Valley. Bannock Creek runs from the highest part of the valley (at an area once known as Summit), north through the valley and on through the Shoshone-Bannock Indian reservation. The Arbon area was a distinct area; today it is basically where the LDS Church and Arbon Cemetery are.  The other areas were Buist, Summit, Pauline, and Crystal.

Much of the information discussed here was paraphrased from the wonderful book by Laurie Ward Call titled Bannock Valley.

Bannock Valley had many inhabitants and visitors before the homesteaders, including native hunters, European trappers, California immigrants, and cowboys. 

One of the earliest travelers through Bannock Valley was John C. Fremont with his soldiers, on his way to California during the Mexican War (1846). He had passed through what is today Weston Canyon, recording the site of Lone Rock in his journal of the trip.

Another early visitor in the Arbon area was Brigham Young on his way to the Salmon Mission. Rumor has it that as he passed through the Malad Valley, he mentioned that it was nothing but a wasteland, not suitable for farming. But after exploring farther north, on his return through the area, he thought it looked a whole lot better!

The place where these visitors camped was at a spring just below the old trail, Rocky Ridge. This spring is just a little ways north of Andersen Lane (by an abandoned pink house that obviously wasn’t there in 1846). Rocky Ridge can be found by traveling east on Andersen Lane – but get permission before you go on private land!

Literally thousands of other emigrants traveled through Arbon Valley on the Hudspeth Cutoff on the California Trail during the California Gold Rush, mostly in the Summit area.

No one stayed through the harsh winters of Arbon, until British homesteaders George Dennis Arbon and his son, Joe, braved the winter of 1893-94. As more homesteaders poured into the valley and paid their $16 filing fee for their 160 acres (which was completed only after five years and a few other requirements, such as fencing and building a homestead cabin), more people began to stay in order to take care of their livestock.  Even today, with paved roads, heated cars and homes, and internet, Arbon winters are considered a long, drawn-out siege – we honor these early homesteaders from each of the areas in Arbon Valley.

In June 1892, Dave Bowen and Samuel Davis came from Samaria, Idaho to look over available lands.  At this time, many homesteaders took up “squatters” rights. When the area was later officially opened for homesteading by the US government, the squatters had to file again officially, proving up and getting title to their land only after the required five years.

Dave Bowen and Samuel Davis found water coming out of Knox Canyon, but this stream sank underground before it got far enough to the valley to be useful to the homesteaders.  With typical pioneer foresight and ingenuity, the men decided they could dig ditches to convey the precious, life-giving water to their fields. Other men came from Samaria to settle, and assisted with the gargantuan task.  All the men went back to their families when winter came that year.

Much of what is known about the early years of the Arbon area comes from the minutes of the Bannock Valley Irrigation Company, organized in Samaria, Idaho (by Malad) in 1893, and later the Arbon Irrigation Company (1898).  These two irrigation “companies” were essentially the same organization, run by the same earliest homesteaders (joined later by others).  Some of the surnames that residents today might recognize were Davis, Bailey, Hawkins, Williams, Arbon, Bowen, Roderick, and Evans. These men pooled their money and resources such as labor, equipment, and horsepower, to help dig ditches and bring water out of Knox Canyon and Buck Wright Canyon (straight west of today’s Church Lane) to the homesteaders’ fields. Thankfully, these early homesteaders kept good minutes of their meetings, labor, and transactions, even down to the amount of pay each got for their labor or use of their teams by the company. By 1898, the ditch was several miles long, extending to the Jesse N. Ward homestead.

The stated purpose of the irrigation company was “to own and control by means of dams, diches, pipes, flumes, and reservoirs, for irrigational purposes.” At one time it was thought the water coming out of Buck Wright Canyon could be joined up with the water coming out of Knox Canyon, but according to long-time residents of the valley, neither canyon turned out to be a very reliable source for water.  (One of the early flumes can still be seen today when you drive into Knox Canyon, just past the cattle guard when you start down the hill, and look up on the hillside south up the first canyon.)

It is worth noting here that the concept of “dry” farming had not yet been developed, which is the practice of letting the land lay “fallow” (unplanted) every other season while it soaks up ground moisture like a sponge, enough moisture to hopefully grow a crop the following year. So most of the homesteaders necessarily settled near a water source.  However, there aren’t a lot of creeks or springs in the Arbon area itself.  Bannock Creek runs through the valley from the Summit area north through the Shoshone-
Bannock reservation, and water flows out of Knox Canyon at certain times of the year in good water years, but it mostly goes underground before reaching cultivated fields.

Spring 1893 brought the returning Samarian homesteaders, along with others from Cache Valley (such as the Andersen brothers, who took up homesteads on the east side of the Arbon area). The irrigation ditch this year grew to be about a mile and a half long. Even while working together digging this ditch, the homesteaders had other dire tasks to complete.  They had to build cabins (or dugouts), build fences, and plow their virgin ground and plant it. They also had to haul logs from the canyons for building and heating, and they had to cut meadow hay for their livestock to feed through the winter. That year, George Arbon plowed ten acres and planted it to rye. (Today, rye is considered the bane of Arbon wheat farmers.)

That summer, most of the men lived in their wagon boxes, but David Bowen built a 14×16 foot cabin. That next winter, George Arbon and his son Joe braved the Bannock Valley winter blizzards, the first white men to do so.

The following year, men returned again, this time with their families. That was the true start of Arbon Valley as we know it today. The families still moved back to Malad, Samaria, or Cache Valley for several more years until better homes were built, and churches and schools were established. But for the most part, Arbon Valley has had year-round residents in the valley from the time that George Arbon and his son Joe stayed through the winter of 1893-1894.

In 1897 a post office was established.  The first name proposed was “Mountain Side” but this was rejected by the post office as being too long.  So, to honor the valley’s oldest homesteader, it was named “Arbon.” George Arbon was only fifty-eight at this time. Ironically, George Arbon himself stated that he was too poor that year to pay for the cost of a two-cent stamp.  At first the mail came from Malad once a week, along with other staples the homesteaders needed. Later the mails came from Pocatello.

The Arbon LDS Ward was organized in August of 1900 in the David Bowen home.  The valley was still part of Oneida County at this time, and the newly-formed ward was part of the Malad Stake.  The meetings were held in various private homes until 1901-1902 when a 20×36 foot log structure was built by the cooperative labor of the homesteaders.  Several times through the decades, church was held only in the summer months when more of the residents were in the valley. The building was also used for school, church, dances, and other social events. The school here was called Valley View.

In 1928 a larger building was built where the Arbon Pavilion now is.  This church house existed until 2005 when a new building was erected across the street, on the same site as the original log structure.

Today, the whole valley is known as Arbon, without the distinct names of the other areas known to no one except the long-time residents.  There are two churches, an LDS church on the original site (next to the George Arbon homestead) and the Arbon Bible Church on the Arbon Highway, between Knox Canyon Road and Evans Lane.  Instead of five post offices, there is only one, in the Pauline area. Instead of five schools, Arbon Elementary is also in the Pauline area, with two classrooms, two teachers, and grades K-6th.


Ward, Laurie Jean, Bannock Valley (Providence, Utah: Keith Watkins and Sons, 1982).