The Official Web Site of

Bear Lake County, IDAHO

P.O. Box 190, Paris, ID 83261 - (208) 945-2212

A Brief History of the Bear Lake Valley

The Bear Lake Valley was used by Native Americans for many years. It was recognized as prime hunting grounds by traveling bands of Shoshone, Ute and Bannock tribes. It was a frequent camping area for those on hunting trips.

Mountain men came to the area early in 1818 for trapping and hunting. Donald "Fats" McKenzie attended one of the Indian gatherings at the south end of Bear Lake in 1819 and named Bear Lake "Black Bear Lake" because black bears were abundant in the area. There were two documented rendezvous held in 1827 and 1828. Indians, suppliers and trappers gathered to trade furs and goods. Jedediah Smith and Jim Bridger were present at these rendezvous. John C. Fremont came through the area in 1842. He and Captain Bonneville wrote about their discoveries regarding Bear Lake Valley. Fremont named many of the mountain peaks, canyons and streams in the area.

In 1836, the Whitman-Spalding party came through the area to establish a mission among the Indians. They sent word back about the opportunities for settlement in the Oregon Territory and soon hundreds and then thousands of people began making the journey. In 1841, Oregon Trail travelers crossed the valley on their way to land in western Oregon. The Oregon Trail entered the valley near the point of the present community of Border about where U. S. Highway 30 enters Idaho, generally parallel the line of the Bear River as it journey's northwest. (Later graveled and then paved roads covered much of the old trail.) The banks of Clover Creek, now known as Montpelier Creek, were favored camping places for the travelers as they stopped overnight, then hurried on to reach their destination before snow fell. Many arrived between early to late July leaving the valley again deserted except for the occasional mountain man.
Thomas L. "Peg Leg" Smith operated a trading post during the early days of the trail and traded goods and animals with those journeying along the trail. His trading post was located near Dingle, which is southeast of Montpelier.

It was 1863 when Mormon leader Brigham Young sent the first Mormon settlers to the valley under the leadership of Charles C. Rich. They established the community of Paris, using timber, water and other resources from the valley.

Bear Lake County was influenced greatly by its pioneer heritage, the Oregon Trail, and the advent of the railroad. Population is limited due to its extended winter seasons.


For more HISTORICAL INFO, click below:

Rails and Trails Museum 
Butch Cassidy's Robbery of the Bank of Montpelier in 1896
The National Oregon/California Trail Center in Montpelier, Idaho
More Bear Lake Valley History
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