Women with SISU Finns in Long Valley

Scandinavians in Idaho

Most Finnish immigrants came to Idaho between 1890 and 1920, the majority of them settling in Silver Valley in north Idaho and in Long Valley in central Idaho; most of those in north Idaho were miners from Minnesota and Wisconsin. Because Finnish is not a Germanic-based language, as is English, the Finns had difficulty learning English. Politically active, the north Idaho Finns constructed six workers’ halls within a forty-mile radius of each other but built no church. In Enaville, their chief center, they held workers’ meetings and performed monthly amateur plays sometimes infiltrated with socialist doctrine. Many of them sympathized with the Industrial Workers of the World. There were dances at the halls, weddings, basket socials, and dramas. They organized athletic teams and held track meets in which only Finns participated. Once, when loggers were moving logs down the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, a group of Finnish women came to loudly protest their use of dynamite-it scared the setting hens off their nests and killed the embryos in the eggs.

The Long Valley Finns, primarily at Elo and Roseberry in present-day Valley County near McCall, were farmers and loggers. The first Finnish immigrants arrived in Long Valley in the 1890’s. They came from eastern Oregon where they had tried homesteading. Long Valley with its forests, mountains and green meadows appealed to them more than the Oregon desert country. Most of the Finns came to Long Valley between 1900 and 1925. Many came directly from the coal mines in Wyoming and by 1905 about 40% of Long Valley’s population was Finnish. Most of the later wave of Finnish settlers took up homesteads in upper Long Valley on the east side.

The Finnish men were noted for their skills in woodworking and log construction. They built many sturdy log houses, saunas and farm buildings in Long Valley. Some of these buildings are 70 – 80 years old and still in use today. Many Finnish women wove rag rugs for their houses on homemade looms. Some of their other homestead chores included baking their famous Finn bread and raising a garden. Before doctors came to the Valley some of the Finnish women were the area’s only midwives.

A well-known Finnish cultural artifact was the sauna, which contained two rooms, a dressing room, and a steam room with a wood-burning stove. Several apple-sized rocks were heated on the top of the stove with a water barrel nearby. Tiered benches were built around the wall, and the hardiest bathers sat on the highest bench where the temperature was hottest. The men often hit themselves with branches to stimulate their circulation. After sufficient steaming, they raced out and dove into a nearby lake or river to cool off. Saunas were heated Saturday nights. When the men had finished and the temperature had cooled somewhat, women used the sauna. Another Finnish custom was celebrating “Juhannus”, or St. John’s Day, on June 24 (the equivalent of the midsummer festival), commemorating the return of summer. An all-day picnic included music, footraces, speeches, and food and drink. The community band played, a church choir sang, and the children recited verses. The Finns in north and central Idaho knew or soon learned how to ski. They fashioned their skis from red pine and old leather harness straps.

The largest Finnish community, Elo, was on the Elo Road southeast of present-day McCall. Named for its religious leader and teacher, Rev. John Eloheimo, Elo had a store, post office, school and a meeting hall. Many of Elo’s Finns were Lutherans. In 1917 they built the Finn Church located on the Farm-To-Market Road about five miles north of Roseberry and the Valley County Museum. It is one of the best preserved buildings erected in that early pioneer era.