Saturday, October 3, 2015

Civil Engineer, Surveyor, Stock Breeder, and Farmer David O. Stevenson [otd 10/03]

Civil engineer and County Surveyor David Osborn Stevenson was born October 3, 1851 in Dayton, Ohio. After high school, he moved to California and engaged in stock raising, mainly sheep. However, drought and poor agricultural conditions ruined that operation.
David O. Stevenson. [French]

He went to work as an apprentice in engineering for the Union Pacific Railroad, working mainly on spur line construction in Kansas and Nebraska. Around 1882, he transferred to the Oregon Short Line (OSL) and helped complete the tracks across Idaho into Oregon.

Impressed by what he saw in the Boise Valley, Stevenson settled in the area in 1885 and began civil engineering work for the Settlers Canal. The Settlers branches off the south side of the Boise River a mile or so west of the capital building. The Idaho Statesman reported (March 18, 1890) that the company directors wanted to extend the canal and had “determined to send for D. O. Stevenson, the engineer of the company, and prosecute the work as soon as the proper survey is made.”

After that, David worked on a number of different canal and reservoir projects. However, he also bought property somewhere near Eagle and went back into ranching. There, he raised blooded draft horses, for which he often won prizes at the county fair. He also raised grained, both as feed for his animals and for sale to millers. Stevenson held that property until 1908, when he moved into Boise to pursue other interests.

People in the Boise Basin had long wanted a railroad to bring in heavy equipment and export timber. Several failed attempts had been made, but hopes finally ran high at the start of a new century. On October 10, 1901, the Statesman told its readers, “The railway project from Boise to the Boise basin is being put on a firm foundation. Work has actually begun, a large surveying party now being in the field under the supervision of the chief engineer of the new company, D. O. Stevenson.”
Survey Team, ca 1901. National Archives.
However, for various reasons, that effort also fell through. Not until 1914 did work begin on a rail line from the valley up Mores Creek into the Basin. Trains began hauling logs out in May of the following year. Apparently, much of the main line followed the route surveyed by Stevenson over a decade earlier.

David also had an interest in a least one industrial venture. The Idaho Statesman reported (June 9, 1919) that Stevenson was in charge of production for “the Sand-Lime Brick Company, owned and operated entirely by Boise capital, and for the first time in more that a year the plant is once more in operation.”

Sand-lime bricks are produced by compression molding and then curing under high-pressure steam. They are more uniform in size, with straighter edges and smoother surfaces than conventional clay bricks. According to the Statesman, “Practically all the white brick buildings in Boise have been made out of bricks produced in this plant, prominent among which are the new high school, the Pinney building, and now some 450,000 bricks have been ordered for the construction of the Roosevelt school.”

Over the following years, Stevenson would serve on the Ada County Commissioner as well as several terms as the County Surveyor. After his last stint as Surveyor, he resumed his private practice. David kept it up until about a month before his death, at age 88, in April 1940.
References: [French]
“D. O. Stevenson, Surveyor, Dies,” Idaho Statesman, Boise (April 13, 1940).
Evan E. Filby, Boise River Gold Country, Sourdough Publishing, Idaho Falls, Idaho (2012).
“Sand-Lime Brick – Description and Specification,” Circular of the Bureau of Standards No. 109, Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C. (1921).

Friday, October 2, 2015

Prospectors led by Elias Pierce Find Gold on Orofino Creek [otd 10/2]

E. D. Pierce. [Hawley]
Speaking of this day in October 1860, Captain Elias D. Pierce said, “[On] the second we moved down and camped on the stream, afterwards called Oraphenia creek. Here we found better prospects than further up the stream where we first made the discovery, which was a sufficient guarrentee that we had a rich and extensive mining camp, and organized a new mining district, and gave its boundaries, drafted a code of mining laws, to govern our new mining district.”

Their discovery of gold near what would soon become the town of Pierce set off a rush into Idaho that transformed an “empty wilderness” into a thriving U. S. Territory. Of course, the region was not really empty. In fact, the only reasonable access to the gold fields ran right through the Nez Percé Indian Reservation. Many subsequent finds were actually inside the reservation boundary established in 1855.

Elias Pierce was born in 1824 or 1825, most likely in Virginia. (He always gave that or West Virginia as his birthplace to census takers, and suggestions that he emigrated from Ireland are based on probably flawed evidence.) Pierce enlisted in the Army for the 1846-1848 Mexican War, but saw only minor action. After his discharge, Pierce joined the stampede into the California gold fields. He did quite well there, both as a miner and as a storekeeper – he even served a term in the California legislature.

Unfortunately, that soon changed: First, a partner absconded with the company’s funds, then a major customer defaulted. Conflict with Pacific Northwest Indians complicated his efforts to recoup his fortunes.

Still, Pierce now had an unexpected asset: He spoke the Nez Percé language and had traded with the tribe on good terms for several years. His party did avoid confrontations on their way to make the gold discovery, but they marched out openly and had no trouble with surprised tribesmen.
Gold in the pan. National Park Service.

While fear of the Nez Percé checked an early flood of prospectors, many from Pierce’s party returned to Orofino Creek and built cabins for their winter stay. Wise in the ways of gold mania, Pierce did not go with them. He went to Olympia, the Territorial capital, and secured the franchise for a wagon road between Walla Walla and the Nez Percé country.

Pierce tried to continue in the freight business through about 1866, but without any notable success. He then prospected in Montana and mined coal in Montana before going east to Indiana in 1869 and getting married. He died there, virtually penniless, in 1897.

Meanwhile, back in 1860-61, legislators had made Pierce City the county seat of a brand new Shoshone County, although they had only Captain Pierce’s word that the village existed. They created the county in early January and concluded an agreement with the Nez Percé three months later: Whites could freely prospect and mine the watersheds of the Clearwater and Snake rivers within the reservation, but absolutely no permanent settlement was allowed.

Pierce City, technically outside the reservation, blossomed during the following summer, starting from the core of winter cabins. However, the best placers in the area soon played out and the population dropped from a peak of over a thousand to just 131 in 1864. Still, it held on as the county seat until 1885, when that moved to Murray.
References: [B&W], [Brit], [Illust-North]
“Census of 1864,” Reference Series No. 130, Idaho State Historical Society.
Elias D Pierce., as told to Lula Jones Larrick, The Pierce Chronicle, Idaho Research Foundation, Inc., Moscow, Idaho (1975).

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Spain Returns Louisiana to France, L&C Expedition Builds Canoes [otd 10/1]

On October 1, 1800, by the (poorly-kept) “secret” Treaty of San Ildefonso, Spain returned what might be called “greater” Louisiana to France. “Returned” because Spain had received the region from France in 1762-63, during the latter stages of the Seven Years War. The Great Power details of the Treaty transactions don’t concern us.
Napoleon Bonaparte
Portrait by Jacques-Louis David, here cropped.
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson dispatched “envoy extraordinaire” James Monroe to France to second our minister there in negotiations to reopen the Mississippi River to American traffic. If they couldn’t buy New Orleans, they were to obtain a “perpetual” right of transit to the Gulf.

Instead, of course, Napoleon sold all of Louisiana to the U.S. He was about to renew the war with Great Britain, needed the money, and knew he might lose the region anyway.

The mission to France addressed the immediate concerns of Jefferson’s constituents west of the Appalachians, but the President also had larger plans. He had a long-standing interest in exploring the West. Then he learned that a British-Canadian fur trader had crossed the Continental Divide, and reached the Pacific via a land route.

He decided to counter with an American expedition … to bolster a claim on the vast northwest region. Thus, when the negotiators returned, preparations for the Lewis & Clark Expedition were already in progress. The Purchase simply meant that the Corps of Discovery would be exploring American territory as far as the Continental Divide.

On the same day five years after the Treaty consummation -- October 1, 1805 -- Sergeant Patrick Gass of the Corps wrote in his journal, “This was a fine pleasant warm day. All the men are now able to work; but the greater number are very weak. To save them from hard labour, we have adopted the Indian method of burning out the canoes.”

They had started canoe construction a few days earlier, but the work had gone slowly because many men suffered from intestinal complaints, probably because of a switch to an unfamiliar diet of roots and dried fish. Stephen Ambrose, in his excellent book about the Corps, Undaunted Courage, wrote that they “put them over a slow-burning fire trench and burned them out.”
Idaho Travel Council.

While it can be done that way, and perhaps some were, an alternate method is as effective and much more controllable: piling hot coals on the surface and letting them eat into the wood. Periodically, workers scoop off the coals and chop out the charred wood. They did at least a few that way because Sergeant John Ordway wrote, “built fires on some of them to burn them out. Found them to burn verry well.”

The canoes were completed less than a week later. The final transport vessels weighed well over a ton.

They set out down the Clearwater River on the 7th. The very next day, they had their first mishap on the river: The canoe piloted by Sergeant Gass hit a hidden rock and cracked. One man was slightly injured, and most of their load got wet. They spent the next day letting the baggage dry and fixing the canoe.

The following day they reached the Snake River, leaving (the future) Idaho. They would not return for six months.
References: [Brit]
Stephen E. Ambrose, Undaunted Courage, Simon & Shuster, New York (1996).
Patrick Gass, Carol Lynn Macgregor (ed.), The Journals of Patrick Gass, Mountain Press Publishing Company; Missoula, Montana (1997).
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Gary E. Moulton (Ed.), The Definitive Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (2002). Journals Online.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Merchant, Legislator, and Public Servant Ezra Monson [otd 09/30]

Ezra Monson. Family archives.
Store owner, and Idaho Senator and Representative Ezra Peter Monson was born September 30, 1874 in Richmond, Utah. Richmond is located about thirteen miles north of Logan, and five miles from the Idaho state line. Ezra’s father came to the U. S. from Norway in 1857, after his conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He continued to Utah as a member of one of the “pushcart companies.” He then married another convert, who was from Sweden.

The family moved to Franklin, Idaho, when Ezra was fourteen years old. Franklin was the first white settlement in what became the Territory and then state of Idaho. Of course, for many years, everyone thought the town was in Utah [blog, January 10]. Monson attended college in Logan for a short time, and married his school sweetheart in 1895. Starting in late 1897, Ezra served two years and a few months as an LDS missionary in Alabama and Florida. About a year after his return, he landed a job as Head Bookkeeper for a lumber company with headquarters east of The Dalles, Oregon.

In late 1908, Monson returned to Franklin and opened a large general store. He also took an active part not only in the LDS church there, but also the school system. Almost immediately, he joined the Franklin school board to begin a long period of service on that body. Then, in 1910, he helped organize the “Oneida County School Trustees’ Association.” The goals of the new organization were “to promote the cause of education, raise the standard of our school system and educate the school trustees of the several districts as to the responsibilities and duties.”

However, three years later, the Idaho legislature split Franklin County off from Oneida, with Preston as the county seat. It’s not clear what happened to the Association at that point. Monson kept busy by taking on the position of Secretary to the Idaho Pioneers' Association at Franklin.

Ezra was also very active in the state Republican Party, serving on many different committees over the years. In 1916, he began the first of two terms in the Idaho House of Representatives. Hawley’s History noted that, for the second term, “He did not seek reelection and never left his town during the campaign but the record which he had already made brought him a large vote.”

After his two terms in the House, Monson served a term in the state Senate, where he Chaired the Committee on Finance. He did not run for re-election. However, the Idaho Statesman reported  (Jan 28, Feb 13, 1923), “Ezra P. Monson of Preston will fill the chair in the house of representatives of the Seventeenth state legislature, made vacant by the resignation of Thomas Preston, if the house concurs in the appointment of Mr. Monson by the governor.”
Blackfoot City Hall. [Hawley]
The appointment was approved, and Ezra filled the House seat for that session. The following month, however, President Warren G. Harding appointed Monson to be the Receiver (basically, the Cashier or Treasurer) of the U. S. Land Office in Blackfoot (Idaho Statesman, Boise, February 13, 1923).

Monson moved his family to Blackfoot to handle this position. But two years later, the Federal government combined the offices of Receiver and Register (Clerk, essentially), leaving Ezra without a job. He therefore opened a grocery store in Blackfoot. Then, in 1931, Monson was himself appointed to the combined Register/Receiver position (Idaho Statesman, October 11, 1931). Ezra remained at that position until his retirement.

Upon his retirement, he moved back Utah, and passed away in Logan, on May 17, 1941.
References: [Blue], [Hawley]
“Oneida County Holds School Convention, The Telegram, Salt Lake City, Utah (March 21, 1910).

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Packer, Merchant, Theater Enthusiast, and Boise Mayor James Pinney [otd 9/29]

James Pinney. H. T. French photo.
James A. Pinney – dubbed the “Father of Modern Boise” by historian Hiram T. French – was born September 29, 1835, near Columbus, Ohio. The family later moved to Iowa, and from there James traveled to California. He spent many years in California, returned to Iowa, then prospected around Pike’s Peak in Colorado and the Rogue River in Oregon. He saw some action in the Rogue River Indian War.

In 1862, he led pack trains from Oregon into the lower Salmon River gold fields. The following year, he moved to Idaho City and opened a general store. Pinney also built a theater there. Unfortunately, he had to rebuild his store after one of the fires that swept through the town [blog, May 17] burned him out. In 1872, Pinney moved to Boise City to operate a bookstore he had opened there three years earlier.

The Owyhee Avalanche in Silver City, Idaho told (August 26, 1876) its readers that James Pinney & Co. had forwarded the “latest numbers of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated and Harper’s Weekly. Messrs. P. & Co. are agents for these and many other publications and will fill all orders that may be forwarded [to] them for any of the same from any section of the Territory.”

In 1881, Boise City voters elected Pinney as their mayor and he set out to correct some deficiencies in the town’s infrastructure: The city purchased the main private bridge across the river and did away with its toll schedule. It also designated a new area for the cemetery, today’s Morris Hill Cemetery.

Leading by example, Pinney personally paid for a concrete sidewalk on the block in front of his own home. Others soon followed his lead. During a second term, the mayor directed the construction of Boise’s first sewer system, and grew the town by annexing a half-mile wide area extending to the river itself.

Boise City had made do with various small schools – some subscription, some free. In 1881, the Territorial Legislature created the Boise Independent School District. Under Pinney, the city opened the all-grades “Central School” near downtown. Critics complained that the facility was too large … a waste of tax dollars. A rapidly growing student population soon proved the administration’s far-sighted wisdom.

Pinney declined to run for the next two mayoral terms, but served two more starting in 1889. The mayor again encouraged progressive developments around the city. That included several private facilities – an electric trolley, a Natatorium that used natural geothermal waters, and a fine new bank. Pinney also spearheaded construction of a new City Hall, opened for use in May 1893.
Downtown Boise, ca 1898. [Illust-State]
Pinney did not run again for mayor until 1903, when he lost. He won two years later. During this, his final term, Pinney focused on expanding and upgrading the sewer system, and improving Boise’s streets. Traffic jams due to increased automobile use had already been reported in several cities. The mayor saw that thoroughfares of graded dirt and gravel would soon be unacceptable.

A committed theater fan, Pinney gave Boise City the Columbia (a state-of-the-art, for 1892, opera house) and then the Pinney Theater in 1908. French’s History asserted that The Pinney “would do credit to a city of several times Boise’s population.”

Although James seemed in good health for a man of 78, he took ill and died suddenly in February 1914.
References: [French], [Illust-State]
Sue Paseman, Ann Felton, “Father of Modern Boise: James Alonzo Pinney,” Mayoral Albums – Portraits of Boise Mayors, Boise State University (2004-2009).

Monday, September 28, 2015

Army Pathfinder John C. Fremont at The Cedars on the Snake River [otd 9/28]

John C. Fremont, ca 1861-1865.
Matthew Brady photo, Library of Congress.
On September 28, 1843, an expedition led by Second Lieutenant John C. Frémont reached a point along the Snake River that would later be called “The Cedars.”

In August, Frémont’s command had explored the area around the Great Salt Lake, and then turned north into Idaho. At various times he sent men, including famous guide Kit Carson, to Fort Hall for provisions.

Frémont first gained a name for himself on successful surveying expeditions between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. That notoriety and his personal charisma allowed him to woo and wed Jessie Benton, daughter of Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton. (This despite the stigma of Frémont’s illegitimate birth.)

With Senator Benton’s backing, Frémont led successive survey parties west, including one that reached Wyoming’s South Pass, and then this 1843 trek. In mid-September, they left the Bear River watershed and marched toward the Snake River, camping near American Falls. Then, for September 28th, Frémont wrote, “at evening we found a sheltered camp, where there was an abundance of wood, at some elevated rocky islands covered with cedar, near the commencement of another long cañon of the river.” [My emphasis.]

Sixty years later, Milner Dam would be built near Frémont’s campsite at The Cedars [blog, May 7]. However, the presence of the Snake River canyon was of more immediate concern, because downstream from their camp it was almost impossible to descend to obtain water. Instead, they had to cut across a largely arid, sometimes rocky plain. Frémont wrote, “We encamped about 5 o’clock on Rock Creek – a stream having considerable water, a swift current, and wooded with willow.”

Perhaps a thousand emigrants had crossed Idaho before Frémont’s party explored the area. Few of them had sent letters East, and fewer of those provided any reliable information on the route. In early October, Frémont discovered the difficult Snake River ford that later travelers called the “Three Island Crossing,” near today's Glenns Ferry. Early fall rains had caused the river to rise, and the surveyors had to resort to their inflatable boat to cross.

Four days later, Frémont wrote, “We came suddenly in sight of the broad green line of the valley of the Rivière Boisée (wooded river).”

After noting that the upstream course turned sharply into “lofty mountains,” the party descended to “the bottoms of the river, which is a beautiful rapid stream, with clear mountain water, and, as the name indicates, well wooded with some varieties of timber – among which are handsome cottonwoods.”

Old Fort Boise, E. Weber & Co. Lithograph.
National Archives.
They followed along the river to (old) Fort Boise, where, Frémont said, “We were received with an agreeable hospitality by Mr. Payette, an officer of the Hudson’s Bay Company.”

They again used their boat, and two borrowed canoes, to cross the Snake River, which they found “broad and deep.” The following day they crossed the future Idaho-Oregon border into “very mountainous country.” The party arrived at the first white settlements in late October. Frémont and a few men went on to Fort Vancouver.

Frémont’s published report, with maps, became a vital guide for Oregon Trail pioneers who followed much the same route across Idaho.
References: [Brit]
Brevet Captain J. C. Fremont, Report of the Exploring Expedition to The Rocky Mountains … [1842-1843], Printed by order of the Senate of the United States, Washington D.C. (1845).
Jim Gentry, In the Middle and On the Edge, College of Southern Idaho (2003).
John D. Unruh, Jr, The Plains Across, University of Illinois Press, Urbana (1979).

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Physician, Businessman, and Civic-Improvement Leader Robert Lee Nourse [otd 9/27]

Dr. Nourse. Illustrated History photo.
On September 27, 1864, Boise physician Dr. Robert Lee Nourse was born about 45 miles southwest of Louisville, Kentucky. He came from a distinguished lineage, with ancestors who fought in the American Revolution. Moreover, one of those hung during the hysteria of the Salem witch trials was his many-times-removed grandmother, Rebecca (Towne) Nurse.

He attended a high school academy in his home state and then, at age seventeen, went to work in an Uncle’s hotel in Wisconsin. After several years there, he entered the Rush Medical College in Chicago. Robert completed his medical degree in 1889 and opened a practice at a lake port east of Duluth. He then worked with an eye, ear, nose and throat specialist in Chicago for two years before returning north.

In 1897, Dr. Nourse moved to Hailey, Idaho, where he developed a thriving general practice. Within a year or so, the governor appointed him to the Idaho Board of Medical Examiners, which he served as secretary and treasurer. A member of the State Medical Society, Nourse was the organization’s President in 1905 (Idaho Statesman, October 6, 1905).

During his address to the Society, Nourse roundly criticized a judge who had tried to overturn a Board decision denying a license to one applicant. (The judge had taken it upon himself to “materially raise” the applicants grades.) The judge responded by slapping Nourse with a contempt charge and a $300 fine. In the end,  physicians statewide chipped in to pay the entire amount.

Soon after that, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled (Idaho Statesman, January 21, 1906) that the Board had acted properly, within the powers granted to it by the legislature. (The Court did not address the matter of the contempt charge.)

By the time all this happened, Nourse had left Idaho for an extended course of specialist study, first in New York City and then in Europe.

Upon his returned, he opened a practice in Boise, specializing in eye, ear, nose and throat medicine. Certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology, Dr. Nourse was also a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

Along with his practice, Dr. Nourse invested in a wide variety of business enterprises. For example, he served as a Director and also acted as Secretary for the Empire Hardware Company. He was associated with the YMCA, YWCA, and the Presbyterian church.

His wife, Marie, became a leader in several civic improvement organizations, including a term as President of the Columbian Club. Some of their causes included improvements at the library, creation of parks, and a campaign against objectionable street signs. She appeared in the 1914-1915 issue of Who’s Who in America (The American Commonwealth Company, New York, 1914).
The source caption for the photograph says the American
driver of the ambulance was killed in November 1916.

The couple's two sons, Robert L., Jr. and Norman C., served with the American Field Service in France during World War I. The AFS provided volunteer ambulance drivers to recover wounded from the front lines – the first time motor vehicles had been used for that purpose. Robert Jr. was burned about the face and eyes by mustard gas and also received the Croix de Guerre.

In 1918, Dr. Nourse helped organize Idaho’s section of the nation-wide Volunteer Medical Service Corps (Idaho Statesman, August 30, 1918). For many years, Dr. Nourse served on the staffs of St. Luke's and St. Alphonsus hospitals in Boise. He passed away in June 1949.
References: [French], [Illustrated-State]
History of the American Field Service in France, Houghton Mifflin company, New York (1920).
"Cite American Officer: French Decorate Lieut. R.L. Nourse, Jr., for Bravery Under Fire," New York Times, (March 3, 1918).