NOTUS — There's a lot of mystery around the name Notus, a small town near Parma in Canyon County.
Notus is the smallest town in the county with the business district taking up only a block on Highway 20/26.
In a 2005 Cavalcade, reporter Jon Brown wrote Confederate refugees homesteaded the area of Notus in 1863. The town was later incorporated in 1921.
“The origin of the town's name is a bit murky,” Brown wrote. “One account is that fugitives from the law screamed 'not us' when confronted by a posse.”
A reference book called “Idaho Place Names” by Lalia Boone wrote a similar account saying the name Notus came from pioneers traveling on the Oregon Trail, which later became Highway 20/26.
By the time pioneers had reached what is now the town of Notus, they decided to homestead at the Boise River. When asked by the rest of the pioneer group if they were ready to leave for Oregon they supposedly replied, “not us.”
But that may not be the full story.
A more accurate account of the origin of Notus would have to do with the Oregon Short Line.
“The post office was the primary reason for the location of a town along the river called Notus, and the town narrowly escaped being named 'Lemp,'” an Idaho Press article from 1986 stated.
In 1874, the Lower Boise Post Office was established on the homestead of C.J.F. Peterson. According to “Our First One Hundred Years,” a biography of the Lower Boise Valley, 1814-1914, Charlie Peterson served as postmaster for 20 years. Mail was delivered by stage once, then twice a week. Settlers came to Peterson's homestead along the river from as far away as 50 miles to get their mail.
When the new postmaster, Ben Pugsley, moved in 1894 from his homestead onto land originally owned by the Lemp business interests of Boise, the post office name was changed to Lemp.
According to the article, Pugsley's successor, Ida Mansell, moved the office in 1904 to a piece of land east of the railroad siding that had been named "Notus" 20 years earlier by the daughter of a railroad official. Nothing was there at the time but a siding, a water tank, a windmill and the homestead shack of Mary and Daniel Hartkopf.
In Boone's book, the daughter of the railroad official thought the word “notus” was of Native American origin and meant “it's all right.”
The Hartkopfs had built the homestead in anticipation of irrigation water that was a long time in coming. They survived on the homestead by eating jackrabbit meat, selling jackrabbit ears to the county for 5 cents a pair and by taking care of the water tank for the railroad, the old Idaho Press article states. The man died before irrigation water arrived on his homestead, leaving his wife alone to run the farm.
After her husband died, Mary married a railroad foreman, Tommy Burns, who was sent to take care of the water tank at the Notus station. Burns leveled the homestead land with a wheelbarrow and shovel and planted alfalfa.
When Ida Mansell arrived in 1894 with her family to set up the post office, a store and the old Pugsley homestead building, the Burns family was the only residents in the area.
In 1904, William and Thomas Bridges purchased 26 acres of land from Burns and platted a townsite. They promptly established the two best moneymaking businesses in any growing pioneer community: a saloon, run by William, and a lumber yard, owned by Thomas.
A man named J.B. Shank purchased the Mansell store in 1908, but, because of his trustfulness in matters of credit, he went broke. Later owners of the store did well for many years at the location and named the store the Mitchell-Andrews Mercantile.
A picture of Notus in 1911 would show possibly 16 houses, a brick building, six stores with false fronts, some lumber sheds, a dozen or so ramshackle buildings, a section house, a blacksmith shop, a church and a dance hall with a notorious reputation.
In 1914, the town got a railroad depot, and seven years later, by extending the city limits to include several nearby farmhouses, the town reached the 200 residents required to incorporate.
Today, the town of Notus has 544 residents. The town's website describes it as the “city of the southwind” because the word notus is believed to be a Greek word for “south wind.”
The town is located a mile away from Parma and offers residents a rural, farm feel just like it did in 1904.