Owyhee County, Idaho

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Owyhee County, Idaho
Owyhee Mountains.jpg
Reynolds Creek Experimental Watershed in the Owyhee Mountains about 50 miles southwest of Boise.
Seal of Owyhee County, Idaho
Map of Idaho highlighting Owyhee County
Location in the state of Idaho
Map of the United States highlighting Idaho
Idaho's location in the U.S.
Founded December 31, 1863
Named for lost Hawaiian trappers
Seat Murphy
Largest city Homedale
 • Total 7,697 sq mi (19,935 km2)
 • Land 7,666 sq mi (19,855 km2)
 • Water 31 sq mi (80 km2), 0.4%
 • (2010) 11,526
 • Density 1.5/sq mi (1/km²)
Congressional district 1st
Time zone Mountain: UTC-7/-6
Website owyheecounty.net

Owyhee County is a county located in the southwestern corner of the U.S. state of Idaho. As of the 2010 census, the population was 11,526.[1] The county seat is Murphy,[2] and its largest city is Homedale.[3] In area it is the second-largest county in Idaho, behind Idaho County.

Owyhee County is part of the Boise, ID Metropolitan Statistical Area.


On December 31, 1863, Owyhee County became the first county organized by the Idaho Territorial Legislature. While Boise, Idaho, Nez Perce and Shoshone counties were organized under the laws of Washington Territory, they were not recognized by the Idaho Territory until February 1864.[4][5][6] The original county seat at Ruby City was moved to nearby Silver City in 1867.[7]

Owyhee County's original boundary was the portion of Idaho Territory south of the Snake River and west of the Rocky Mountains.[8] Less than a month after the creation of Owyhee County, Oneida County was formed in January 1864 from the eastern portion of the county. The formation of Cassia County in 1879 took further territory in the east. The county gained its present boundaries in 1930 after an election approved moving a portion of Owyhee County near Glenns Ferry and King Hill to neighboring Elmore County.[9] In 1934 the county seat was moved from the nearly abandoned Silver City to its present location in Murphy.

Owyhee County's history is closely linked to the mining boom that dominated Idaho Territory in the second half of the 19th century. Silver City and Ruby City are among the state's most noteworthy ghost towns from the period. At its height in the 1880s, Owyhee County was among the most populous places in Idaho. Today it is among the least populous, at 1.4 persons per square mile (0.5 per km²).


The name "Owyhee" derives from an early anglicization of the Hawaiian term "Hawaiʻi." When James Cook encountered what he named the Sandwich Islands (now the Hawaiian Islands) in 1778, he found them inhabited by Native Hawaiians who Anglo-Americans referred to as "Owyhees." Noted for their hardy physique and maritime skills, numerous Native Hawaiians were hired as crew members aboard European and American vessels. Many Owyhee sailed to the American Northwest coast and found employment along the Columbia River, where they joined trapping expeditions or worked at some of the fur trade posts.

In 1819, three Owyhee joined Donald Mackenzie's Snake expedition, which went out annually into the Snake country for the North West Company, a Montreal-based organization of Canadian fur traders. The three Hawaiians left the main party during the winter of 1819-20 to explore the then unknown terrain of what since has been called the Owyhee River and mountains. They disappeared and were presumed dead; no further information regarding their whereabouts has been found. In memory of these Native Hawaiians, British fur trappers started to call the region "Owyhee" and the name stuck.[10][11]


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 7,697 square miles (19,940 km2), of which 7,666 square miles (19,850 km2) is land and 31 square miles (80 km2) (0.4%) is water.[12] It is the second-largest county in Idaho by area.

Nearly all of the county is high intermountain desert, with plentiful sagebrush and basalt canyons. The Owyhee Mountains in the west dominate the landscape, with Hayden Peak reaching 8,403 feet (2561 m) above sea level. The lowest elevation is at the county's northwest corner, where the Snake River is just above 2,000 feet (610 m) at the Oregon border. The Snake forms most of the county's northern border from Oregon to just west of Glenns Ferry in Elmore County. A tributary of the Snake is the Bruneau River, which flows north from Nevada through the eastern section of the county. The Owyhee River starts in the southwestern part of the county and flows westward into Oregon; it eventually enters the Snake at the state border south of Nyssa.

Adjacent counties[edit]

National protected areas[edit]


Historical population
Census Pop.
1870 1,713
1880 1,426 −16.8%
1890 2,021 41.7%
1900 3,804 88.2%
1910 4,044 6.3%
1920 4,694 16.1%
1930 4,103 −12.6%
1940 5,652 37.8%
1950 6,307 11.6%
1960 6,375 1.1%
1970 6,422 0.7%
1980 8,272 28.8%
1990 8,392 1.5%
2000 10,644 26.8%
2010 11,526 8.3%
Est. 2014 11,353 [13] −1.5%
U.S. Decennial Census[14]
1790-1960[15] 1900-1990[16]
1990-2000[17] 2010-2013[1]

As of the census[18] of 2000, there were 10,644 people, 3,710 households, and 2,756 families residing in the county. The population density was 1.4 person per square mile (0.5/km²). There were 4,452 housing units at an average density of 1 per square mile (0/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 76.87% White, 0.15% Black or African American, 3.21% Native American, 0.47% Asian, 0.08% Pacific Islander, 16.50% from other races, and 2.72% from two or more races. 23.10% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 14.3% were of American, 12.5% German, 10.4% English and 8.1% Irish ancestry according to Census 2000.

There were 3,710 households out of which 37.80% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 61.20% were married couples living together, 8.70% had a female householder with no husband present, and 25.70% were non-families. 21.80% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.50% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.85 and the average family size was 3.35.

In the county the population was spread out with 31.90% under the age of 18, 8.50% from 18 to 24, 26.50% from 25 to 44, 20.90% from 45 to 64, and 12.10% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 109.00 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 107.60 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $28,339, and the median income for a family was $32,856. Males had a median income of $25,146 versus $20,718 for females. The per capita income for the county was $13,405. About 14.20% of families and 16.90% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.80% of those under age 18 and 12.10% of those age 65 or over.




Census-designated place[edit]

Unincorporated communities[edit]

Ghost towns[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 1, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  3. ^ Historic Homedale
  4. ^ General Laws of Washington Territory, 1861 p.3-4
  5. ^ General Laws of Washington Territory: 1863 p.4
  6. ^ "An Act Defining the Boundary Lines of Counties west of the Rocky Mountains", Session Laws of Idaho Territory: 1863-1864, p. 628-630
  7. ^ Ruby City - Idaho Ghost Town (accessed 3 January 2012)
  8. ^ "An Act to Organize the County of Owyhee", Session Laws of Idaho Territory: 1863-1864, p. 624
  9. ^ Sixteenth census of the United ... - United States. Bureau of the Census - Google Books (accessed 3 January 2010)
  10. ^ "The Name Owyhee" (PDF). Idaho State Historical Society. August 1964. Retrieved 1 January 2015. 
  11. ^ 3rd1000.com Owyhee
  12. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23. 
  13. ^ "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014". Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  14. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 1, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved July 1, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 1, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 1, 2014. 
  18. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°34′N 116°10′W / 42.56°N 116.17°W / 42.56; -116.17