January 02, 2024

Wallace, Idaho: History and Impact of the Big Burn

Wallace, Idaho is the newest location for a Cognito Brands, Inc. corporate store.  We fell in love with this quaint community and chose it to be our second location because of its rich history, its friendly people, and its beautiful surroundings.  Wallace sits between 2 great ski areas...Lookout Pass to the east, and Silver Mountain to the west.  As the jumping off spot for the St. Joe and the Coeur d'Alene rivers, it boast some of the greatest fly fishing around.  If biking is your thing, the remarkable Trail of the Hiawatha is just up the hill and the 73-mile long Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes comes right through town.  The manhole cover in the middle of town is known to be the "Center Of The Universe" and is only steps from our front door.  We hope you will come visit us and discover this gem of the Northern Rockies.  Meanwhile, here's some history of our little corner of the country.


Ever heard of a town so resilient, it rose from the ashes not once, but twice? That's Wallace, Idaho, for you...a gem nestled in the Northern Rockies with a past as turbulent as it is intriguing.

You see, this isn't just any old mining and railroad town. Oh no! This place earned its stripes through fire - literally! Back in 1910, Wallace found itself at the mercy of one of America’s most destructive wildfires known as 'The Big Burn'. But did that knock them down?Wallace Idaho Cognito Brands Store Front for the best Outdoor Apparel

No way!

Their story paints a vivid picture of tenacity against all odds; where miners  became firefighters overnight and steam locomotives turned into firefighting equipment. The aftermath? It forever changed how we fight fires across the country.

You're in for a treat. Be prepared for an innovative experience as we move forward learning about this little phoenix of a town! 

Inside view of the Wallace Idaho Store Location of Cognito Brands

 As you read on learning about the interesting history of Wallace, Idaho and plan an adventure make sure to stop by and say hi or visit us online at Cognito Brands.com

Table Of Contents:


The Historical Significance of Wallace, Idaho

Wallace, Idaho's story is a tale that weaves through the wild west era and reaches into the heart of American history. Established in a narrow valley within the Bitterroot Mountains, it grew from its humble beginnings to become an iconic mining town.

Wallace's Beginnings in the Wild West

Born during America’s gold rush period in 1884, Wallace quickly transformed into one of the richest silver districts worldwide. At its peak, this bustling town was so notorious for its lively saloons and brothels that it earned itself quite a title - 'wickedest city.' It wasn't just about wickedness though; amidst all this raucous energy there existed stories of hard work and resilience too.

The wealth from the Gem State's precious minerals attracted prospectors who later became pillars shaping up Wallace as we know today. These miners helped shape not only their own fortunes but also laid down foundations for what would soon become an important railroad hub.

The Role of Railroads in Shaping Wallace

Railroad workers brought life to this remote area by linking it with larger cities across America. The railroads played such a significant role because they made transporting goods quicker and more efficient than ever before.

Steam locomotives, due to their power capabilities and ability to transport large quantities of materials over long distances, were widely used in this area. But these trains weren’t just vehicles; they served as crucial links connecting isolated towns like Wallace with the rest of America.

Yet, as influential as mining and railroads were in shaping Wallace's identity, it was an event known to history as 'The Big Burn' that would truly test its mettle. This largest forest fire in American history left a lasting impact on Wallace and ultimately reshaped its destiny forever.

Wallace Side Note: 


Wallace, Idaho, has a rich history rooted in the wild west and shaped by gold rush ambitions. Born during the 1884 gold rush, it soon became one of the world's richest silver districts. But its transformation wasn't just about wealth; railroads linked this remote town to larger cities across America and played an essential role in shaping Wallace's identity.

The Big Burn's Devastating Impact on Northern Idaho

In 1910, a catastrophic event known as the Big Burn or "Big Blow-Up" tormented northern Idaho and western Montana. The disaster caused irreparable damage over an expansive area of more than three million acres.

Akin to a hurricane in its intensity, this fire was not your ordinary forest blaze. It held an unrelenting grip over vast tracts of land with merciless ferocity.

Firestorm Fury Unleashed

The onset seemed innocuous enough; small fires sparked by dry summer conditions were initially dismissed as natural occurrences within these dense forests. But then something changed.

Hurricane-force winds entered the scene, acting like nature's own bellows upon these fledgling flames. They combined hundreds of smaller fires into one monstrous conflagration so intense that trees would explode.

Daylight Turns to Night

The impact wasn't just local either. So much smoke billowed from this fierce inferno that daylight turned to night as far north as Saskatoon. Imagine looking up at noon only to be met with pitch-black darkness - a grim reminder of the devastation unfolding miles away.

In total, we lost 86 brave souls who fought valiantly against what still remains one of America’s largest forest disasters.

This wildfire transformed entire landscapes overnight: beautiful expanses lush with white pine were reduced to barren wastelands scarred by ash and ember.

For residents across Wallace and other affected towns in Northern Rockies and Bitterroot Mountains regions, such tragic events served both as testaments for human resilience in the face of calamity but also lessons hard-learned about our environment.

Yet amidst chaos, stories of courage rose to the surface too, some of which still echo through the corridors of time today. Wallace’s brave townsfolk, along with railroad workers and others, risked their lives battling these relentless flames.

Through the smoke and embers, tales of courage emerged. The brave folks from Idaho, they stood tall, their stories echoing resilience and hope.

Wallace Side Note: 


The Big Burn of 1910, a devastating firestorm in northern Idaho and western Montana, changed the landscape and lives forever. It gobbled up over three million acres, killed 86 brave souls fighting it, and transformed lush forests into barren wastelands. Yet from this tragedy rose stories of courage and resilience among Wallace's townsfolk.

Role and Response of Wallace during the Big Burn

The town of Wallace, Idaho, stood as a beacon in the face of the 'Big Burn'. When fires started licking at their doorsteps, folks didn't flee; they fought.

The Fight Against Fire

In those days, forest rangers were scarce. The townsfolk knew they couldn’t just wait for help. Miners swapped their pickaxes for shovels while railroad workers laid down tools to lend hands.

Railroad workers played a crucial role by setting backfires along train tracks. This created firebreaks that slowed down the flames from spreading across town.

Much like how buffalo soldiers held off attackers in battlefields past, these brave men stood guard against an enemy both wilder and fiercer than any human adversary - nature herself on a rampage.

Their fight was arduous but not without reward: because despite being surrounded by charred forests on all sides after this disastrous event had passed over them like some biblical plague...the heart of Wallace still beat strong within its walls.

Fight Fires with… Dynamite?

You heard it right. Faced with no other option, miners used dynamite to blow up buildings creating fire lines around parts of town set ablaze due to sparks carried by hurricane-force winds coming from burning surrounding mountains.

A dangerous gambit? Absolutely. But then again – so is letting your home burn down without trying everything possible to save it. And this daring act of defiance against the raging inferno helped save what remained of Wallace.

Imagine for a moment, the scene: As flames roared closer and smoke filled their lungs, miners hurriedly set dynamite charges. With a deafening blast echoing off the Bitterroot Mountains nearby, they carved out salvation from destruction. A classic Wild West showdown - man versus nature.

Ranger Pulaski's Heroic Stand

The Big Burn wasn't just about fighting fires; it was also about survival. The tale of forest ranger Ed Pulaski highlights this perfectly.

Pulaski led a brave group of more than forty men into an abandoned mine shaft near Pl. Their courage and determination in the face of danger were truly inspiring.

Wallace Side Note: 


When the 'Big Burn' threatened Wallace, Idaho, the townsfolk didn't run - they fought back. Miners and railroad workers swapped tools for shovels to fight fires and even used dynamite to create fire lines. Their brave stand against nature's fury not only saved their town but also left a lasting legacy of courage and resilience.

Aftermath of the Big Burn on Wallace

The devastation left by the Big Burn was like a punch to the gut for Wallace, Idaho. The fire had mercilessly consumed the entire east end of this bustling town. As described in an article from KTVB about the reimagined Idaho State Museum, you can get a sense of how intense and widespread this disaster truly was.

Rebuilding Wallace

The people of Wallace showed remarkable resilience in their response to such destruction. Rather than becoming disheartened, the inhabitants of Wallace got to work, reconstructing their lives bit by bit.

Families sifted through ashes, salvaging what little remained – items that held sentimental value or could be used again were saved with care. The stories are numerous: one family even buried sewing machines during evacuation only to dig them up later when it was safe.

Rubble-filled streets soon buzzed with activity as residents worked tirelessly day after day under harsh conditions to rebuild structures brick-by-brick and plank-by-plank.

This collective effort wasn't limited just within town limits either; surrounding mountains also bore witness to recovery work carried out post-firestorm fury unleashed on northern Idaho's landscape. This interactive exhibit at Idaho State Museum, aptly named 'The Fire,' paints an immersive picture about these arduous tasks undertaken amidst ruins once teeming with life.

A Phoenix Rising From Ashes

In less than two years following the Big Burn tragedy, downtown buildings rose anew along Cedar Street in the place where embers once smoldered hot - evidence that community spirit triumphed over adversity. The business district now flourished with structures boasting of ornate brick and stone architecture.

The town's survival story post-Big Burn was no less than a phoenix rising from ashes; it showed how people can overcome even the most disastrous natural calamities when they stand united for a common cause.

Wallace serves as a reminder of human strength and determination in the face of difficulty, each corner possessing its own narrative about struggles, difficulties, and successes. For those who are eager to learn more about this remarkable recovery journey embarked upon by Wallace, make sure you pay a visit to the visitor's center in the town or the Idaho State Museum in Boise.

Wallace Side Note: 


The Big Burn left Wallace, Idaho in ruins, but the town's spirit couldn't be extinguished. Instead of surrendering to despair, locals banded together and started rebuilding from the ashes. In less than two years, downtown was flourishing again - a testament to their resilience and unity in overcoming such a catastrophic event.

Evolution of Forest Service and Fire Suppression Techniques Post-Big Burn

The Big Burn, one of the largest forest fires in American history, triggered a sea change in fire management policies. It gave birth to the modern Forest Service agency and spurred advancements in firefighting techniques.

The Birth of Forest Service Agency

In response to this catastrophe, there was an urgent need for better forest management. In response to the urgent need for better forest management, Teddy Roosevelt's service chief Gifford Pinchot proposed establishing the United States Forest Service. Teddy Roosevelt's service chief, Gifford Pinchot, argued that trained professionals were needed to manage America's forests.

This wasn't just about fighting fires; it also involved preserving timber resources for future generations. The formation of this dedicated agency ensured consistent monitoring and active prevention measures against such natural disasters as massive wildfires.

Advancements in Fire Suppression Techniques

Prior to 1910’s Big Blow-Up, small fires were usually left unchecked or battled with rudimentary methods by local communities. But post-disaster changes led towards more effective ways to fight fires on a larger scale.

New strategies included creating fire breaks - clearings designed specifically so that uncontrolled wildfires would run out fuel before reaching populated areas or valuable resources. Additionally, lookout towers sprouted across national parks providing early detection which proved crucial during dry summer months when wildfire risk is high.

  • Fire Breaks: A method involving removal or modification of vegetation forms an obstruction that helps control spread and intensity.
  • Towers: Structures built at strategic locations within forests for early identification helped make rapid response possible.
  • Smokey Bear Campaign: An iconic public awareness initiative started years later, promoting personal responsibility and educating people about the dangers of careless behaviors.

These advancements were not only aimed at suppression but also prevention. Public education became a key part of the Forest Service's mission - enter Smokey Bear. The beloved icon was introduced to remind us all that preventing forest fires is everyone's responsibility.

To wrap it up, tragedy often serves as a catalyst. It can stir profound changes and lead to unexpected outcomes.

Wallace Side Note: 


The Smokey the Bear campaign also started, aiming to make folks aware of the potential dangers and preventive measures against wildfires. With this shift in approach, we've seen a significant decrease in large-scale forest fires. The Big Burn has certainly left an indelible mark on how we view and manage our forests today.

Legacy of the Big Burn

The Big Burn, also known as the 'big blow-up', didn't just scorch three million acres in northern Idaho and western Montana, killing 86 people. This event left a lasting impact on American history.

This catastrophic event forced us to rethink our relationship with nature, specifically forests. The flames not only destroyed towns but birthed new ideas about forest management that we still use today.

The Birth of Forest Service Agency

Before the firestorm hit Wallace in early August 1910, many viewed America's vast forests as limitless resources ripe for exploitation. But when a dry summer and hurricane-force winds fueled small fires into a massive inferno, perceptions began to change rapidly.

A response was needed to manage these natural disasters more effectively than before - enter the Forest Service agency. In its wake, legislation created this dedicated body responsible for maintaining healthy forests across America.

Advancements in Fire Suppression Techniques

In addition to giving rise to the Forest Service agency, one significant outcome from those blazing days is advancements made in firefighting techniques. Outfitting firefighters with tools like Pulaski axes named after Ed Pulaski who saved numerous lives during this disaster became standard practice post-Big Burn.

We now had methods designed not just to fight fires but prevent them too. Firebreaks, controlled burns, and early detection systems became part of the Forest Service's strategy to safeguard our woodlands. It wasn't just about extinguishing fires anymore but managing them.

The Big Burn's legacy isn't confined to policy changes or technical innovations alone. It shaped American identity in a profound way too.

A New Sense of Stewardship

There was a shift in how people viewed their role regarding nature. No longer were forests seen merely as resources for exploitation; they were now understood as complex ecosystems needing care and stewardship.

of forests not just for timber, but also as crucial ecosystems. Society started to appreciate their role in biodiversity conservation, climate regulation and providing recreational spaces. The value of these green lungs is now more understood than ever.

Wallace Side Note: 


The Big Burn didn't just devastate northern Idaho and western Montana, it reshaped our understanding of nature. This massive firestorm gave birth to the Forest Service agency, inspired advanced firefighting techniques, and sparked a new sense of stewardship towards forests - no longer seen as mere resources but vital ecosystems needing care.

FAQs in Relation to History of Wallace Idaho and the Big Burn

What was the worst fire in Idaho history?

The Big Burn of 1910 holds that title, scorching over three million acres and claiming 86 lives.

What is the history of the Big Burn?

A confluence of small fires fueled by hurricane-force winds birthed this devastating event, forever changing forest management practices.

What city was saved in the Big Burn?

The mining town Wallace stood its ground amidst chaos thanks to its miners and railroad workers who joined forces against flames.

What US Army Regiment was brought in to help fight the Great Fire of 1910?

The U.S. Army's Buffalo Soldiers from Montana's Fort Missoula were called upon for their firefighting prowess during this crisis.

Conclusion of the History of Wallace, Idaho

The history of Wallace, Idaho and the Big Burn isn't just a tale from American History. It's a testament to resilience.

Remember how this mining town faced one of America’s most destructive wildfires? The folks there didn’t bow down but instead turned miners into firefighters and steam locomotives into firefighting equipment.

Think about it - hurricane-force winds, fires turning day into night... yet they endured! They fought back against nature's wrath with all they had, protecting their homes in the Bitterroot Mountains while staring death in the face.

In essence, Wallace is not just a story about survival; it shaped our nation’s approach to fighting forest fires. And that legacy continues today across every wildfire we fight – thanks to those brave souls who stood firm when 'The Big Burn' swept through their home over a century ago.

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