Wandering Lizard

An online magazine with information related to attractions, lodging, dining,
and travel resources in selected areas of Idaho

Butte County



Butte County is located in the central part of the state. The county seat is Arco. As of the 2010 census, 2,891 people lived in the county. Most of the eastern part of Butte County is devoted to the Idaho National Laboratory, which is engaged in the development of nuclear power generating systems. Part of the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is located in the southwestern corner of the county.

Butte County was named for the volcanic buttes that rise up out of the Snake River Plain. These were important landmarks for Native Americans and early Anglo-European travelers in the area. The first outsiders to visit are thought to have been Donald MacKenzie's Northwest Fur Company party in 1818. During the middle of the nineteenth century, an important spur off of the main Oregon Trail ran through Butte County. The so-called Goodale's Cutoff was actually pioneered by John Jeffrey in 1852 to promote the use of his ferry across the Snake River at the mouth of the Black River. Very few emigrants chose Jeffry's route until increased trouble with hostile Indians along the main trail made the diversion more attractive. In 1862, ten emigrants were killed in a fight with a Shoshone war party on the main trail near what has become known as Massacre Rocks. The following year, Timothy "Tim" Goodale led what is believed to have been the single largest wagon train ever to travel the Oregon Trail - 338 wagons, 1,095 emigrants, and 2,900 head of stock - around the most dangerous part of the main trail on the old Jeffry route which, from then on, was known as Goodale's Cutoff. For the next fifty years it was to be the principal route of travel through this part of Idaho. It was not abandoned until rail transportation replaced wagons at the turn of the century. Goodale's Cutoff ran past present day Arco and remnants of it can still be found in the northern part of the Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Tim Goodale is an excellent example of the legions of amazing people who came before us. Goodale had spent much of his life in the mountains. Trapper, trader, explorer, mountain man, game hunter, cattle and sheep rancher, emigrant guide, military guide, surveyor, trail builder, fort operator, ferryman, etc, etc, etc. In addition to all of that, he spoke several Native American languages. His accomplishments were not remarkable among his peer group, but are impossible for those of us born into the world of Twitter and Facebook to comprehend, let alone emulate. Imagine for a moment the force of personality and depth of practical knowledge necessary to lead more than a thousand people safely through more than a thousand miles of wilderness.