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Blast From the Past

Cold winters were part of the landscape for Eagle’s first farmers.

By Nicole Sharp
Photography Courtesy of Eagle Historical Society

What makes an island in the middle of the desert? The modern community of Eagle, Idaho was originally developed on Eagle Island, the area where the Boise River forks and then comes back together, around 1863. The island was prime farmland, easy to irrigate, with good soil. Needless to say, early farmers on Eagle Island produced bountiful crops. The island’s name came from the numerous eagles found in the area.

At the turn of the century, residents began developing the area where downtown Eagle is located today. A self-sufficient agricultural city developed, with its own drug store, bank, post office, blacksmith, mercantile, volunteer fire department and volunteer police department. The growth of agriculture in the area and development of the town site of Eagle also made the community a stop on the Boise Valley Interurban trolley system by1891.

For more than a century, nearly all the people who lived in and around Eagle were farmers. Winters in Eagle were not easy. The average snow fall could bring snow drifts that measured six feet deep. Life didn’t stop just because the land was covered with snow. Horses and cattle still needed to be tended to no matter how inclement the weather. Some of the farmers did not have any springs or water on their farm, so they had to haul water in wooden barrels or a metal tank on a wagon for all of their needs, even to water their animals.

Eagle was not the suburban community we enjoy today; there was considerable distance between neighbors’ farm houses. Before the invention of automobiles, getting to town wasn’t an easy task, but in the winter, horse drawn sleighs would allow Eagle residents to traverse deep snow drifts.

The tri-weekly Idaho Statesman’s section called “The Valley Loop” reported the news of other small towns in the area. News was simple, often about social affairs, engagements, births, deaths. Land dealings, irrigation rights, and crop yields made headlines. Hard working days went hand-in-hand with a simple life. Men and women worked together to survive the winter.

A photo of the old Patterson Barn at Hill Road and Highway 55 recalls the spirit of Eagle’s first settlers and the pioneer courage that burned within them. Imagine the silence of a winter morning; a farmer might only have the sound of his footsteps crunching the snow, the sound echoing in the winter air. He might beat his hands together as he sets about feeding his livestock.

While the hot summer months saw many inhabitants of Eagle cooling off by moving beds outside to sleep on screened porches, winter months were occupied with efforts to keep warm. Wood stoves and fireplaces would wage war against the chill in the air, assaulting iced window panes; warm homemade quilts might be doubled and tripled upon beds; and layers of clothing would be required. Yet, while the short winter days might have their hardships, there was time for fun as well.

For many children, there were iced over irrigation ditches to be skated, hills to be sledded, snow angels to be made, and snowball fights just waiting to happen. Eagle’s children romped and ran in the white powder until the cold set in, and mothers called their rosy-cheeked cherubs inside to end their outside play time.

Perhaps the slow, thoughtful winter days cause us to look back at sepia toned pictures of life in Eagle all those years ago with a too-romantic view. But one thing is for sure: men and women tilled the soil, they worked hard, they had their challenges and their joys. And maybe, in the winter months they would view the lingering cold season as a time to embark upon a sentimental journey of their own.