Explore Idaho History Through Two Local Films

Two new documentary films from Idaho Public Television original series Outdoor Idaho and Idaho Experience examine the modern-day legacies of two very different moments in Idaho history.

Trailblazers airs Thursday, May 14, at 8 PM on Outdoor Idaho. Most modern-day “trailblazers” don’t work outside unless it’s their day off. They’re volunteers, but in the woods they look a lot like the nation’s original trailblazers, the Civilian Conservation Corp. President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the public works program in 1933 to revive America during the Great Depression. With nearly 300 work camps in Idaho, the Gem State was the heart of the CCC.

“Trail work isn’t any easier today than it was a century ago. Some of the tools are the same and the intensity of the labor is definitely the same,” says Kris Millgate, Outdoor Idaho producer. “A lot of people aren’t interested in such an exhausting effort. We’re lucky here in Idaho to have so many people who are willing to dig in the dirt.”

That dedication to dirt is no longer inspired by the Depression. It’s motivated by access. Those cutting trail now make sure paths across public lands stay open, despite shrinking budgets, by working for free. 

Outdoor Idaho discovers how public lands are evolving from a network of trails once curated by the nation’s CCC to a labor of love tended by the many users of the dusty system. They are outfitters in the Palisades and trail runners around Pocatello. They are water bar builders out of Boise and mountain bikers in Salmon. There’s no paycheck for clearing the way. No pat on the sore back for maintaining access. And no recognition for work done before play. From past generations to those yet to come, they are Idaho’s trailblazers.

Remembering Bear River airs Thursday, May 14, at 8:30 PM on Idaho Experience. When independent filmmaker Phillip Schoen started out to document archeology work at the site of the Bear River Massacre, he had no inkling how challenging it would be to tell the story of what happened in January 1863 in what is now southeast Idaho.

“I got into it and realized it was a much bigger project than I had anticipated,” Schoen says. “So I just kept going and going, getting more and more stuff.”

There’s little left today at the place where 350 Shoshone people were killed in 1863 by army troops under the command of Col. Patrick Connor. It’s among the worst atrocities ever committed by federal troops against Native Americans, but the massacre is little known — and wasn’t even officially labeled a massacre until recent decades. Today, the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation is raising money to build a cultural and interpretive center there.

Phillip grew up in Victor, Idaho, and is a film student in California. He connected with Idaho Public Television, which uses its Idaho Experience series to give independent documentary makers a place to share their work about Idaho history. “I think what the film really comes down to is … how do we deal with our history? How do we deal with our past?” Schoen says. “Different people have different answers. The tribe feels one way about how we should remember this. And scientists feel totally another way about how we … understand what happened here. And so finding that balance, I think, is really what this film is about.”

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