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Apr 01

Community Spotlight - Roberts

Posted on April 1, 2014 at 6:11 PM by GayDawn Oyler

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Mustang Events Center, Roberts

Roberts is a quiet suburb 17 miles north of Idaho Falls. Fields of potatoes, alfalfa hay and grain surround the city. Interstate 15 borders the city on the west. The Snake River lies to the immediate east.

The 5,071-acre Market Lake Wildlife Management area with its 1,700 acres of marshes and wetland meadows lies to the city’s immediate north. Above the lake are vast acreages of public lands managed by the BLM. Idaho National Laboratory’s (INL) 570,000-acre reservation begins about eight miles west.

Historical Tidbits 

Osborne Russell was one of the first European or American explorers/trappers to pass through the Market Lake area. In his journal, published after his death, titled Journal of a Trapper—Nine Years in the Rocky Mountains, 1834-1843, Russell referenced the lake and surrounding swampland. He said he saw American Indians, buffalo, antelope, beaver, elk, moose, deer, mink, muskrat, weasel, waterfowl and grouse. Early trappers named the area “Market Place” because of the wide variety of game available for harvest.

In August 1841 Father Pierre de Smet, the Roman Catholic missionary and explorer who established several church missions in the West, passed through the area on his way to Fort Hall, 75 miles south. Trappers with the British Hudson’s Bay Company also worked the general area.

In 1852 Lt. John Mullan was assigned to a military detachment under the direction of General Isaac I. Stevens. Mullan was a new graduate of West Point and the officer who, eight years later, would become famous for building the first wagon road across the rugged mountains of northwestern Montana and north Idaho.

Stevens’ orders were to map a western route for a new railroad line. He assigned Lt. Mullan to explore a possible route from Camp Stevens on the Bitterroot River in Montana to Salt Lake City, Utah. In December 1852 Lt. Mullan and Gabriel, a Flathead Indian interpreter and guide, crossed over the Continental Divide at Monida Pass and continued south toward the Snake River. When they reached the area of Market Place, however, the Snake River had flooded—creating a large lake.

Gabriel was surprised. He told Lt. Mullan he was there only “two snows” ago. At that time, it was a beautiful grassy basin alive with buffalo and antelope.                                 

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                                           Early Market Lake

In 1863 prospectors found placer gold at Virginia City, in what is now southwestern Montana. Three years later, prospectors discovered gold near Salmon, Idaho. For the next 20 years, horse and mule-drawn stagecoaches and freight wagons carried people and supplies to the gold fields. One of the stage stops, Market Lake Stage Station, was near what is now Roberts.

At that same time, three men—Thomas Lauder and two brothers, John Newton and William J. Adams—purchased a freight outfit in Corinne, Utah, and went into the freighting business. They loaded their wagon with liquor and flour and started for the gold fields. As they came to Market Lake Stage Station, they saw hundreds of acres of wild hay waving in the wind.

The men were so impressed, they decided that John and Thomas would take the freight to the gold fields and William would ride his horse back to the claims office in Oxford, Idaho, and file their homestead claims. After William filed and staked the claims, he rode back to Corrine where he telegraphed his wife. He told her to sell their belongings and come to the natural hay country of Market Lake where they would start their life anew.

On October 8, 1868, the three families arrived at Market Lake Stage Station and started to develop their homesteads on the meadow.

William’s wife was the first white woman to settle in the area. On December 13, 1870, she gave birth to her first child in a dry irrigation “head gate.”

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              Market Lake Bridge looking east, 1904

Around 1871 Gilmer Saulbury won the contract to carry the mail. He hired Thomas Lauder to drive the mail stage. He also hired William Adams to manage the Market Lake Station and furnish hay and wood to the Sand Hole—now Hamer—and Camas Creek Stations.

In 1879 the railroad reached Market Lake. Railroad officials dug a well and built a depot and a water tower for the steam-driven engines. The railroad enhanced the town’s position as the trading and shipping point for the farms and ranches in the area.

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                   Market Lake Train Depot

In 1889 the town’s first newspaper, the Market Lake Sentinel, began publication. In 1892 Martin Patrie built a hotel and assisted in platting the town. The citizens built a schoolhouse of brick. Other entrepreneurs built the Bank of Market Lake.

In the same year, homesteaders using picks, shovels and horse-drawn Fresno scrapers completed the Butte & Market Lake Canal into which they diverted Snake River water. The irrigation water dramatically increased the productivity of the farmland and the prosperity of the farmers.

On January 20, 1910, town leaders circulated a petition to incorporate the town as a village. The petition also changed the name of the community to Roberts after H.A. Roberts, an Oregon Short Line official who they hoped would add some shops to the railroad’s business presence in the town.

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      Idaho First National Bank                              Bank of Roberts

The county approved the application and name change; however, the new railroad shops did not come. Nevertheless, the town still grew. By 1920 the population of Roberts had doubled to approximately 400.

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                  Old Post Office

On June 5, 1976, the newly constructed Teton Dam on the Teton River ruptured, sending a tidal wave of 80 billion gallons of water down the valley. Roberts was in the path of the flood, which either destroyed or significantly damaged all of the structures in the city as well as the crops and animals on the surrounding farms.

The U. S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) constructed the dam and accepted responsibility for its failure. While the destruction from the flood was devastating, BOR paid damages. The subsequent clean up and rebuilding had a major positive effect on the city’s economy.

Medicine John

John Newton built a log house from drift logs washed up on the banks of the Snake River. He later added a room that became the Market Lake Post Office, Trading Post and Saloon.

Trappers came to Market Lake to trade beaver pelts for tobacco and flour. Flour sold for a dollar a pound. Indians camping along the Market Lake slough east of town or on the lake bottom also came to the settlement to trade. John won and held their friendship, always giving them a choice beef and the pick of the horses.

It the winter of 1871 the Indians suffered from a smallpox epidemic. John befriended and cared for them; however, many died. Those who survived were grateful for John’s efforts in caring for them. They called him “Medicine John.”

Amenities and Attractions Today 

The city has a public library and a city park.

The City of Roberts acquired the old Roberts high school from the school district over a decade ago. The city decided to make it a community events center and named it for the Roberts High School mascot, the Mustang. The Idaho Community Council, formerly the Idaho Migrant Council, provides a learning and care center in the building.

The Mustang Events center has become a valuable asset to the city and surrounding community. Community gatherings such as Market Lake Day, a Halloween Carnival, a Christmas program and other events have become regular annual events. Several nights a week, Zumba classes take place, as well as volleyball and basketball. The Roberts food bank operates out of the center.

The Mustang Center has become the city’s polling place and is a forum for public meetings of all kinds. The Roberts Lions Club and the Roberts Garden Club share a meeting room.

Two miles north of Roberts is the Market Lake Wildlife Management Area operated by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. This wildlife management area is home to a variety of waterfowl, shorebirds and wild animals.

The 10,578-acre Camas National Wildlife Refuge is located 15 miles north near Hamer. To the west of the wildlife refuge is the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s Mud Lake Wildlife Management Area. This wildlife management area comprises 8,853 acres of wetlands, encompassing all of Mud Lake.

A broad array of migratory and native birds and animals thrive among the diverse habitats of the area. Ducks, geese, trumpeter swans, songbirds, raptors, moose, elk, deer and pronghorn antelope inhabit these wildlife preserves. Both the wildlife refuge and management areas have facilities to accommodate the increasing numbers of people coming to watch the birds and view the big game that come out of the mountains each winter.

The St. Anthony Sand Dunes, dunes that range from 70 to 375 feet high, begin 25 miles northeast of the city.

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                   Early School Wagons                                Mustangs and riders
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1st school in Roberts      2nd Roberts School, 1906. Building was said to 
                                            be the most modern in old Fremont County.

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Old Roberts High School, now the Mustang Events Center.
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             Events at the Mustang Events Center
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Polling place in the Mustang Events Center