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Perrine Coulee

The Perrine Coulee waterfall is seen in this early Clarence E. Bisbee photo. Before irrigation, the coulee rarely carried more than a trickle. Note the men standing to the right of the waterfall.


Editor’s note: This column first ran Jan. 12, 2017, in the Times-News and on

March 1, 1905, was the day the Snake River went dry. A month later, the Perrine Coulee sprang to life.

Throughout the millenia, the “coulee” — a dry stream bed — occasionally carried excess stormwater and snowmelt to the canyon rim. What ran through the coulee was little more than a trickle.

But on April 5, 1905, a torrent of water, diverted from the Snake River far upstream and eventually carried into the coulee, cascaded over the canyon rim and splashed its way to I.B. Perrine’s Blue Lakes Ranch and back into the Snake.

Perrine’s dream to reclaim the southern Idaho desert had become reality as the gates at Milner Dam closed for the first time. A day later, the river rose 38 feet — enough to push water into the south side’s canal system. It took more than a month for the irrigation water to fill Murtaugh Lake — then known as Dry Creek Reservoir — then wind through the canal system and into the coulee on its way back to the Snake.

Water “coursed over the stone bottom of the coulee from the low line canal to the rim rock over the south grade at Blue Lakes, where it forms a cascade with a fall of more than 400 feet,” the Twin Falls News wrote in its April 7, 1905, edition.

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Residents of the new town had never seen such a sight.

“Thirsty horses whinnied when they came to the stream and a hurried unhooking of check lines invariably followed,” the newspaper continued. “Cattle sniffed the water from afar and headed for the coulee in droves. Farmers replenished their water barrels and man and beast were happy.”

Mychel Matthews reports on rural issues and agriculture for the Times-News. The Hidden History feature runs every Thursday in the Times-News and on If you have a question about something that may have historical significance, email Matthews at or call her at 208-735-3233.


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