Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Cornerstone Laid for Idaho Soldiers Home in Boise [otd 05/23]

On May 23, 1893, dignitaries gathered in Boise City to lay the cornerstone for the new Idaho Soldiers’ Home. Meant to care for Union Army veterans of the Civil War who were “aged and in want,” the Home was completed the following year.
Union soldiers, ca. 1862. Library of Congress.

Idaho, of course, wasn’t even organized when the War started, and provided no Volunteer units for the conflict. However, by the time Idaho became a state, several thousand veterans had settled there. Not too surprisingly, 70 percent of them came from the midwestern states. (Nearly 85 percent came from the Midwest, Pennsylvania, or New York.)

Thus, the Idaho legislature appropriated funds for a soldiers’ home, and designated acreage from Federal land grants to create an operating endowment fund. The Act also authorized the governor to appoint a Board of Trustees. The appropriation stretched further after Ada County citizens donated the money to buy forty acres of land where the home could be sited. Builders completed the structure in November, 1894.

Officials staged a formal opening in May 1895. By then, the legislature had authorized funds for more buildings, including a hospital. Two years later, the state modified the eligibility requirements to include veterans of the Mexican War and National Guard soldiers who were disabled in the line of duty. That provided a “side door” for some who fought for the losing side of what some still called, in 1901, “the war of the rebellion.”

Idaho Soldiers Home, ca. 1914. H. T. French photo.
Fire damaged the main building in October 1900 and took the life of one resident veteran. The structure was rebuilt, reportedly better than ever. Certainly, it was different. The original Home had been built in the style, more or less, of a French chateau, with numerous gables and conical turrets at the front corners. The new design sported an onion-shaped dome that dominated the center front of the building, and the corner turrets had been reshaped. (The results seem rather akin to a Russian-Orthodox church.)

Another fire in October 1917 caused major damage. The state made arrangements to house the residents at Boise Barracks, which then had only minimal use. The aged veterans found their “temporary” quarters comfortable enough, but commented that they never felt like home. Because the country and the state were on a war footing, it took quite a long time for the old home to be rebuilt: It was not reopened until 1920 (Idaho Statesman, May 10, 1920). Perhaps to reduce costs, the repairs did not include the exotic domes and turrets.

As time, and old soldiers, passed, more and more residents of the Home were veterans of the 1898 Spanish-American War, then World War I, and so on. Age also took its toll on the building and finally, in 1966, officials dedicated a new “Boise Veterans Home” a half mile east of the capitol building.
Statuary in Veterans Memorial Park.

Eventually, city workers leveled the structures at the old site and created Veterans Memorial Park. Besides the usual recreational areas, the park contains monuments to war dead in several conflicts, those Missing in Action, and prisoners of war. It also has commemorative plaques for veterans’ groups and various military activities.
                                                                                 
References: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Nancy DeHamer, "Idaho Soldiers Home," Reference Series No. 713, Idaho State Historical Society (1985).
Rod House, Steve Barrett, and Wilma Jager, Civil War Veterans in Idaho, Idaho State Historical Society (2006).
"News of the States: Tuesday, October 9," Colfax Gazette, Colfax, Washington (October 12, 1900).

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Coeur d’Alene and Other Indian Reservations Opened to Homesteading [otd 05/22]

President Taft. Library of Congress.
On May 22, 1909, President William Howard Taft issued a proclamation that opened "unreserved" agricultural, grazing, and timber lands on the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation to white settlement under the homestead laws. The order also opened lands on the Flathead Reservation in Montana and the Spokane in Washington.

The Coeur d'Alene Indians (variously, “pointed hearts” or “hearts of awls”) were so named by early French-Canadian fur trappers. Purportedly this referred to their hard-hearted trading practices, but other interpretations have been offered. The tribe had few other contacts with whites until 1842, when Roman Catholic priests established a mission in their homeland.

By missionary accounts, their work among the tribe was very successful. However, gold discoveries in northern Idaho, northeast Washington, and across the border in Canada brought a heavy influx of whites into and across tribal lands. The resulting friction touched off the Yakima War in 1856, with another flare-up two years alter.

The Coeur d'Alene tribe joined in the 1858 attacks against white incursions, ignoring the advice and warnings from Jesuit missionaries. What is sometimes called the Coeur d'Alene War ended with their defeat at the Battle of Four Lakes. Afterwards, the tribe avoided trouble with whites as much as it could. Continuing provocations often made that difficult.

They resisted an attempt in 1867 to force them onto a small reservation in North Idaho. With more pressing concerns elsewhere, the matter was dropped. Then, in 1873, an Indian Office commission "negotiated" a reserve that spread across the lower reaches of Lake Coeur d'Alene and formed a wedge ending 20-25 miles north of Moscow.

The various negotiations left the tribe with about 400 thousand acres, less than a tenth of what they consider their original ancestral holdings. For a time, these borders worked, generally. In 1871, when German emigrant Frederick Post wanted to build a sawmill on the Spokane River, he agreed to purchase the necessary tribal land for what became the town of Post Falls [blog, Dec 30].
Coeur d’Alene Tribal Territory.

However, when a railroad wanted to run tracks through the reservation in 1888, Congress granted the required right of way without bothering to negotiate with the tribe. (The Act said the company had to pay for the right of way, but left it to the Secretary of the Interior to decide how much.) The discovery of vast silver lodes in the Coeur d'Alene Mountains brought new white pressure into the area. Towns grew at Kellogg, Wallace, Wardner, and other locations.

The tribe lost more land in 1892 and 1894, leaving less than 350 thousand acres. Then Taft's proclamation of 1909 allowed whites to settle on lands not specifically allotted to individual tribal members.

The Idaho Statesman in Boise reported (June 15, 1909), “At this time there is a great deal of interest all over the country in the opening of … the Coeur d’Alene Indian reservation in the state of Idaho … The Coeur d’Alene contains some valuable timber. There are some quarter sections which are reputed to be worth as much as $20,000. There is also some agricultural land upon this reservation which is very valuable, being located in the rich wheat belt of the north.”

When the first drawing was held on August 9, around 105,000 applications had been submitted for the three thousand homesteads available on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation.

The Coeur d'Alene Tribe does still retain sovereign rights within the reservation boundaries – police power, tribal courts, business regulatory oversight, and so on.
                                                                                 
References: [Hawley], [Illust-North]
Charles J. Kappler, Indians Affairs: Law and Treaties, Vol. 1, Government Printing Office, Washington (1903).
"Sovereignty," Coeur d’Alene Tribe, official web site.
William Howard Taft, "Proclamation 874 – Opening Lands in the Flathead, Coeur d'Alene, and Spokane Indian Reservations," National Archives (May 22, 1909).

Monday, May 21, 2018

Richard Z. Johnson: Developer, Legislator, and Territorial Attorney General [otd 05/21]

R. Z. Johnson. Illustrated History.
Richard Z. Johnson, who served in the Idaho Territorial Council and as Attorney General, was born May 21, 1837 in Akron, Ohio. Johnson had ancestors on both sides who fought in the American Revolution. The family had moved from Vermont to Akron three or four years before Richard was born.

He received a law degree from Yale in 1859, then practiced for five years in Minnesota. While there, he served two terms as City Attorney in Winona, about 25 miles northwest of LaCrosse.

Then, after a brief stay in Nevada, he moved to Owyhee County, Idaho. For several years there, he ran a Ruby City law office in partnership with one William H. Davenport. Ruby City, located less than a mile north of Silver City, was then the county seat. Johnson probably switched to Silver City when it became the county seat in January 1867. Within a few years, the partnership was dissolved and Johnson ran a solo practice.

He spent over a decade based in Silver City, but handled cases in Ada County as well as Owyhee. However, a financial crisis in 1875 crippled large-scale mining operations around Silver City. The growth of cattle raising in the region could not offset the decline in the mines.

Finally, in November 1878, Johnson purchased a home in Boise City and moved there permanently. In Boise, his “remarkable powers of concentration” and commanding intelligence earned him a part in most of the important litigation argued in that district. He was also renowned for his skills as an orator in pleading cases.

For a time, Johnson was a member of the Boise City Council and won election to the Territorial Council – equivalent to the state Senate – in 1880. Beginning in 1885, he served on the commission formed to revise and regularize the Territory’s legal code. Then, in 1887, he was selected for the first of two terms as the Attorney General.

Deeply interested in education, he promoted passage of a law creating an independent school district for Boise, and served fifteen years on the Board of Education. Johnson was also one of the first Regents of the University of Idaho and served for several years on its Board of Trustees. Upon his retirement from that position, the University awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Aside from his extensive law practice and political activity, for awhile Johnson owned a horse ranch along the Payette River. However, he sold that off in early 1880. The Idaho Statesman observed that Johnson had “too extensive a law practice to give his attention to raising horses.”
Johnson & Johnson law office. Illustrated History.

Johnson also invested in Boise real estate. That included construction of a large brick office building where he and his son practiced as the firm of Johnson & Johnson. Professionally, he served for a time as president of the Idaho State Bar Association. Up to the time of his passing, he owned the largest law library in the state.

In 1889, Johnson, his wife, and one son traveled to Europe, where they visited Lindau, his wife’s birthplace. (The town is on Lake Constance, along the Swiss-German border, about 55 miles east and a bit north of Zurich.) A decade later, the couple began spending more and more time in Europe. They eventually bought a villa in Lindau and spent many summers there.

Johnson retired from active practice around 1910 and they moved permanently to the villa. Richard died while traveling in Bavaria in September 1913 and was buried in Lindau.
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“Richard Z. Johnson: May 21 1837-September 10, 1913,” Reference Series No. 581, Idaho State Historical Society (1981).
“[R. Z. Johnson News Items],” Idaho Statesman and Owyhee Avalanche (Sept 1865 - Oct 1913).

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Choirmaster, Musical Leader, and Operatic Composer Eugene Farner [otd 05/20]

Eugene Adrian Farner, who initiated Boise’s annual “Music Week,” was born May 20, 1888 in New York City. A child prodigy, he played his first public violin solo at the age of eight. He later became the director for his high school’s orchestra and continued to direct it for three years after he graduated at seventeen. Throughout all his years of regular schooling, Eugene also studied music under private tutors, “some of whom were noted musicians.”

In 1910, Farner opened a studio in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He also served as choir master for the St. Luke's Episcopal Church. Two years later, Episcopal Bishop James B. Funsten persuaded Farner to move to Boise and take a position as musical director and choir master at St. Michael's Cathedral. Except for fourteen months military service during World War I, he held that position for over a decade.
Music Week, Boise High School, 1939. City of Boise.

Beyond his church duties, Farner studied and composed operatic music. He also served as Director of the Boise Civic Festival Chorus and Orchestra and was active in other music-related organizations. In 1919, Farner conceived and promoted a city-wide music celebration, one in which local musicians performed for their neighbors. He envisioned the event as an amalgam of a music festival and a “Week of Song.” Festivals tended to have limited sponsorship and participation. And they charged for admission. Of course, a “week of song” offered only various forms of singing: church choirs, barbershop quartets, and the like.

Music Week offered a broad mix of musical forms and was as inclusive as Farner could make it. Nor did they charge admission. Farner ran that first “Week” in May, 1919. Among the many events, he directed singing by the Boise Civic Festival Chorus, “with full orchestral accompaniment.” The Idaho Statesman noted (May 11, 1919) that many organizations had joined together, hoping “to make the oratorio production and music-and-pageantry week a big thing in the life of Boise.”

The celebration did prove very popular, and has continued to this day. Records indicate that leaders added the first Broadway musical production to the repertoire in 1959.
Boise Music Week. BMW photo.
It is perhaps significant that a newspaper report after the 1958 Week bemoaned dwindling public interest. Organizers even considered skipping a year or two until interest picked up. The stage play was a big hit, and is still a feature of the event.

The celebration is billed as the nation's first such non-commercial city-wide musical event. Even the historian of National Music Week, Charles Tremaine, wrote in 1925 that Boise’s “claim to priority is hereby acknowledged.” However, he also noted that, since no one else knew about the festival at the time, “it is not believed to have influenced the Music Day in Dallas or the general development of Music Week.”

Tremaine credits the heavily promoted 1920 Music Week in New York as “furnishing [the] chief impetus” for National Music Week.

And that fuels an intriguing speculation. New York-born Farner had many musical contacts in the City and probably corresponded with them regularly. (He moved back to the New Jersey-New York area in the mid-Twenties.)

Might Farner’s Music Week success in Boise have sparked interest in his home town? We’re unlikely to ever know.
                                                                                 
References: [Hawley]
Judith Austin, “Music Week,” Reference Series No. 700, Idaho State Historical Society (1970).
Edward Ellsworth Hipsher, American Opera and Its Composers, Da Capo Press, New York (1978).
"Guide to the Music Week Records: 1913-1986," Collection Number MS 50, Idaho State Historical Society (2008).
C. M. Tremaine, History of National Music Week, National Bureau for the Advancement of Music, New York (1925).

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Skinner Toll Road Connects Silver City to California Supply Route [0td 05/19]

On May 19, 1866, with great fanfare in the Owyhee mining camps, the Skinner Toll Road opened for business. The new road vastly improved stagecoach and freight wagon traffic into Silver City and the other nearby mining towns.
Silas Skinner. Skinner Family Archives.

Silas Skinner, from the Isle of Man, followed the rush after the May, 1863 discovery of gold along Jordan Creek in the Owyhee Mountains [blog, May 18]. He prospected for a time, but the cost of supplies shocked him. Merchants sympathized, but pointed out that they paid huge shipping costs to stock their shelves.

Goods reached the area over two main routes. The older route started in Oregon and back-tracked the Old Oregon Trail as far as Boise City. Wagons then traversed thirty to forty miles of rough road to reach the Snake River. After paying the toll to cross the river by ferry, the freight road followed Reynolds Creek deep into the mountains. The final two miles leading to the pass over to Jordan Creek rises over a thousand feet … greater than a 10 percent grade.

By around 1865, more freight rolled directly out of northern California and cut across the southwest corner of Oregon. The track hit the Idaho border 70-80 miles north of Nevada. From there, travelers might head northeast over the high ground to drop onto the Snake River plain and then on into Boise. Traffic for Silver City turned east and then southeast. Before the Skinner Road, pack trains and wagons from the west could only pick their way along the stream beds leading into the mountains.

Skinner and his partners actually obtained two franchises, applicable to the two tracks into the high mountains. They made some improvements to the Reynolds Creek road, and even purchased an existing toll road to complete their holdings in that direction. However, that north-facing route suffered badly from winter storms. It was impassable at times, and costly to maintain.

To connect with the California traffic, Skinner’s workmen hacked a new road down the Jordan Creek ravine to Wagontown, near the base of the main grade. From there, the Creek wanders south for 10-15 miles before turning back to the north. Skinner basically shortcut across the loop to rejoin the Creek further west. Once they were out onto the more level terrain, builders encountered only one other place where they had to make a difficult cut with pick and shovel.
Freight wagons near Silver City. Commercial Directory.
Their route was not only shorter, it was better protected against weather from the north. The Owyhee Avalanche announcement on the 19th said, “The Ruby City and Jordan Valley toll-road is now in good order for teams, empty or loaded. … It is built on the north side of the creek, thus giving it the full benefit of the sun to keep it dry.”

The toll road made money for Skinner and his partners right from the start. Its presence also encouraged settlement in the lower plains along the Idaho-Oregon border. Over time, Skinner diversified his holdings, raising cattle and horses on range near the stage stop he and his wife ran about ten miles west of Silver City. He also sold parts of his road franchise, apparently being totally out of that business by about 1875. By 1878, Owyhee County had purchased all the Idaho portions and opened them as public roads.
                                                                                 
References: Mike Hanley, with Ellis Lucia, Owyhee Trails: The West's Forgotten Corner, Caxton Printers, CaIdwell, Idaho (1973).
A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, Owyhee Avalanche Press (January 1898).
Stacy Peterson, “Silas Skinner’s Owyhee Toll road,” Idaho Yesterdays, Idaho State Historical Society (Spring 1966).
David L. Shirk, Martin F. Schimdt (ed.), The Cattle Drives of David Shirk, Champoeg Press, Portland, Oregon (1956).
“The Skinner Road,” Reference Series No. 427, Idaho State Historical Society (May 1966).

Friday, May 18, 2018

Prospectors Discover Gold in the Owyhee Mountains [otd 05/18]

O.H. Purdy. Commercial Directory.
On the morning of May 18, 1863, a band of twenty-nine men broke camp and marched south and west from Reynolds Creek over a regional divide.

Early that month, the group had set out from Placerville, in the Boise Basin. They were chasing rumors that Oregon Trail emigrants in the Forties had observed gold signs in southwest Idaho. After crossing the Snake River, they followed along it to the mouth of Reynolds Creek (which they named) and turned into the mountains.

According to the account given later by party member Oliver Hazard Purdy, scouts had observed “what appeared to be a large stream, judging from the topographical formation of the mountains, which were well timbered.”

Purdy, born west of Rochester, New York, had been a Forty-Niner in California at the age of twenty-five.  After several years of indifferent success there, he taught school in Oregon. In 1863, he follow the rush to the Boise Basin, where he joined the Reynolds Creek band.

The explorers picked their way south through rough country and over a succession of small streams. Finally, about 4 o’clock, they curved eastward into the broad base of a canyon that narrowed as it cut deeper into the high country. Leaders decided the shallow bowl at the mouth of the canyon offered a better camping spot than anything they might find further up.

Most of the men began to unpack their mules. One man, however, saw some likely-looking gravel and scooped a batch into his gold pan. Excitement exploded when his pan showed something like a hundred “colors.” Everyone dropped what they were doing and spread out along what they called “Discovery Bar.”

Further prospecting along Jordan Creek, named for one of their party, confirmed that they had found more than an isolated pocket. The men spent ten days following the creek deep into the mountains and locating claims. Then they got together and organized a mining district. That settled, they returned to Placerville. (Over a month would pass before Major Pinkney Lugenbeel picked a site for Fort Boise, which sparked the founding of Boise City. [blog, July 4])

Their finds set off a major stampede into Idaho’s Owyhee Mountains. A letter-writer in Placerville commented (Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, July 17, 1863), "The rush this spring to the Boise mines was frantic … But violently as it raged, it was but a small matter compared to the rush from Boise to Owyhee."

By mid-summer, hopeful miners had scattered all over the area, and two rough towns had already sprung into being. One of them, Ruby City, almost immediately became the county seat for Owyhee County. Then, before the end of the year, entrepreneurs founded Silver City.
Early Silver City. H. T. French photo.

They called it that because prospectors discovered that the real wealth of the Owyhees was not gold. It was silver, with lodes said to be richer than any others known except the best of those around Virginia City, Nevada. Silver City grew rapidly and supplanted Ruby City as the county seat less than four years later.

The presence of so many miners quickly sparked a vibrant stock-raising industry in the area. Michael Jordan, for whom the creek was named, started one of the first ranches. He was, unfortunately, killed by Indians in 1864. (O. H. Purdy was also killed by Indians, in 1878.) When the mining furor died down, cattle and sheep ranching became the life-blood of the Owyhees.
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Illust-State]
A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, Owyhee Avalanche Press (January 1898).
“The Owyhee country,” Reference Series No. 200, Idaho State Historical Society.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Second Major Fire Devastates Idaho City [otd 05/17]

The Illustrated History (published 1899) observed, “The second great fire of Idaho City, on the 17th of May, 1867, did not spare St. Joseph's as the first had done.”

The statement referred to the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, which survived a fire that devastated Idaho city in 1865. Fathers Toussaint Mesplie and A. Z. Poulin had been sent by the Roman Catholic Archbishop in Portland to establish a presence in the mining camps. Originally from France, Mesplie had spent years as a missionary among the Indians of Oregon. The Canadian-born Poulin had been associated with the Diocese of Montreal before being sent to the West.
Gold miners with riffle box. Library of Congress.

The Fathers had arrived less than nine months after prospectors established the first mining camp in the Boise Basin. Workmen started construction of the church during the summer of 1863.

The Fathers actually built four churches in the Basin that summer and fall, St. Joseph’s being the first and the largest. Builders had the structures ready by Christmas, 1863. Father Poulin led Christmas masses in Idaho City while Father Mesplie hurried between the smaller churches in three other towns. There were no Protestant churches in the Basin at the time, so, according to newspaper accounts, the Catholic services “were filled to overflowing.”

The following spring, an Idaho City merchant and (apparently) part-time minister erected a Methodist church down the street from St. Joseph’s. The fire in 1865 torched that church and most of the town, but ad hoc firemen saved the Catholic church, a popular theater, and a few other structures. News reports said that people in Boise City could see the huge column of smoke from the fire.

That fire had started, reportedly, in a “hurdy-gurdy” house, which – in the American West, at least – featured girls who would dance with the patrons for a small fee. Accusations of arson flew about, but nothing came of that. Looting, however, was rampant. For years, prospectors continued to find stashes of stolen goods believed to have been hidden away after the fire.

Early histories gave no source for the 1867 fire. Flames were first seen on the roof of a saloon on Main Street, but that did not appear to be where it had started. Although townspeople had organized a Hook & Ladder company a month or so before the fire started, high (almost gale force) winds made their efforts almost hopeless.

In the end, the flames destroyed a major part of Idaho City, even more than had been lost in the 1865 fire. H.T. French noted that every hotel in town was burned to the ground. Yet the flames again spared the Jenny Lind Theater and the offices of the Idaho World newspaper.
St. Joseph’s church, Idaho City. Library of Congress.

In 1867, the Boise Basin placer mines were still highly productive. Owners who had managed to save part of their inventory were soon back in business. Locals also quickly rebuilt St. Joseph’s. A couple months after the fire, the Idaho World reported,  “It is not quite completed, but it already presents the finest appearance of any building in the city … ”

A few months later, newcomers might not even have known that the town had suffered through a big fire. Several structures build after this second fire are still in use today, including St. Joseph’s church.

Idaho City experienced another fire the following year, but the damage was not nearly so great.
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Illust-State]
Hubert Howe Bancroft, Frances Fuller Victor, History of Washington, Idaho, and Montana: 1845-1889, The History Company, San Francisco (1890).
Arthur A. Hart, Basin of Gold: Life in Boise Basin, 1862-1890, Idaho City Historical Foundation (© 1986, Fourth printing 2002).
“Idaho City in Ashes,” Idaho Statesman, Boise, Idaho (May 21, 1867).