Blackfoot Idaho


Old Blackfoot homestead
Old Blackfoot homestead

Blackfoot Idaho stands as an oasis in the desert with many attractions, and facilities for its citizens, and visitors. First named Grove City because of the abundance of trees. Blackfoot may be a desert oasis but it lies on the south western edge of the Greater Yellowstone eco-system which provides Blackfoot with unlimited scenic and recreational opportunities. the mighty Snake River flows through town.

As of the 2000 census, there were 10,419 people, 3,685 households, and 2,682 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,926.4 people per square mile (743.6/km²). There were 3,929 housing units at an average density of 726.4/sq mi (280.4/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 86.76% White, 0.21% African American, 2.51% Native American, 1.09% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 6.33% from other races, and 3.06% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 13.17% of the population.

There were 3,685 households out of which 38.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 56.9% were married couples living together, 11.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 27.2% were non-families. 23.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.75 and the average family size was 3.27.
In the city the population was spread out with 31.2% under the age of 18, 10.9% from 18 to 24, 25.5% from 25 to 44, 18.9% from 45 to 64, and 13.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31 years.

For every 100 females there were 96.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.3 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $33,004, and the median income for a family was $36,553. Males had a median income of $31,489 versus $20,625 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,529. About 11.5% of families and 14.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 22.4% of those under age 18 and 5.7% of those age 65 or over.


“Actually, the Eastern Idaho State Fair is a forum, a meeting place of ideas, where the latest and best methods in agriculture, industry, and business are on display, and where the farmer, the stockman, the businessman, the housewife, and the student may come to learn what others are doing in their fields, and how they are doing it. In this respect, the Fair is one of the most important educational institutions in the valley.” This statement, written in the 1940 exhibitor handbook, was applicable then and is still a very valid statement today. It expresses the feelings and aspirations held by Fair Board members, management, and staff for the last 100 years.

Blackfoot River
Blackfoot River

Following is a brief history of the Fair:
In 1902 Blackfoot gained a substantial boost when financially interested cattlemen purchased some ground with aspirations to run a livestock show. The show earned the name the Southeastern Idaho Fair.

This event ran continuously until 1918, when financial hardship forced the Southeastern Idaho Fair Association to discontinue this festival. County leaders, on the urging of the Farm Bureau, purchased the land and reopened the fair in 1920. In March 1925, the state legislators passed the fair district bill. Three counties in southeast Idaho - Bingham, Bonneville and Bannock, created the Eastern Idaho Fair District and held their first meeting at the fairgrounds in Blackfoot on 1 September 1925. In March 1939, the Fair Board learned that the Utah State Fair had changed its dates to run concurrently with the Blackfoot event. The board refused to change its dates and challenged the Utah fair for livestock and entertainment. At the end of the meeting the officials decided to change the name of the festival to the Eastern Idaho State Fair. This new name stuck; the district fair became a state fair.

In 1942 the fair shut down operations in July, allowing individuals to focus their attention on helping the American war effort. The event’s leaders rented out their building to further assist the county through the storage of surplus foodstuffs. On December 10, fire destroyed the commercial building which contained a potato dehydration plant, consuming 250,000 pounds of potatoes, 50 tons of coal and all equipment inside. It took over ten years before the structure could be rebuilt. Operations resumed in 1944 and have continuously held the Eastern Idaho State Fair ever since.

On September 22, 1944, less then one week after the sights and sounds of the festival had dissipated from the area, the Blackfoot labor committee announced that 500 Italian prisoners of war would call the fairgrounds home during the “acute harvest labor crisis in the country.” Four day later the army set up headquarters in the east office building to guard and manage the prisoners who dug sugar beets and potatoes during their stay in southeast Idaho. For over a month the prisoners of war proved that the war affected people in Idaho as well as other countries.

The Native Americans at the Fort Hall Reservation influenced the fair through the one event that has remained from the beginning. The Indian Relay Race was an occasional feature of the fair in the early years, and now Native Americans run the event consistently during the horse races. This event has been popular throughout the history of the fair, but it seemed to burgeon within the last thirty years. In 1964, the new pari-mutuel racing commission and the Fair Board canceled the Indian Relay races. This decision immediately spawned criticism from individuals who called the competition “the most popular part of the racing program.” The racing commission fine-tuned its schedule and the Indian Relay race returned in 1965. The danger in this race brings droves of people to the grandstand during the days that the races are held.

In 1930 the officials desired to add another day to the fair, making it a five-day event. The problem was that they scheduled Sunday for the first day. By opening on Sunday the Fair Board took a chance of alienating major groups in the community, especially the area’s churches. Despite all the public relations that were done, the Sunday opening did not become a feature at the fair.

Blackfoot potato farm
Blackfoot potato farm

After World War II, the Fair sponsored betting on horse races. From 1946-1948, spectators could place money on a horse. During the first day of 1948 horse racing the board pulled the plug on betting. They fought for years trying to get horse racing legislation passed. In 1957 the horse racing bill went before the Idaho legislature. It passed the house and senate and was sent on to the Governor’s office. The Governor vetoed the bill. Pari-mutuel racing finally started in 1964.

The Eastern Idaho State Fair has showcased agriculture throughout its history. Exhibitors from throughout Idaho and the country display the fruits of their labors from their gardens, their farms and their ranches during the fall fair.

The fair houses over 2,000 animals including dairy and beef cattle, light and draft horses, sheep, pigs, goats, chickens, rabbits, pigeons, and occasionally ostriches, llamas, and emus.

Hundreds of entries in the Flowers, Baking, Canning, Needlecraft, Antiques, Fine Arts, Hobbies & Craft, Photography, Native American, FFA, and 4-H are entered in the fair every year.

The 1925 fair ran for four days; by 1970, it was a six-day event. Today, it stretches out to 8 days. The 1926 fair averaged 8,000 people in attendance per day; by 1957, 20,000 people per day clicked the turnstiles, and by 1994, the daily gate reached over 20,000. The 2002 fair saw an opening day with an attendance over 30,000.

Significant changes have taken place over the past 100 years, including the purchase of more land for parking and an RV park, several permanent buildings including horse barns and a livestock pavilion, and numerous changes in the general layout of the fairgrounds.

Idaho Landscape Photography by Daryl L. Hunter
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