Monday, January 16, 2017

Geologist, Mining Engineer, and State Mine Inspector Robert Bell [otd 01/16]

Inspector Bell. J. H. Hawley photo.
On January 16, 1864, mining engineer Robert N. Bell was born in Yorkshire, England. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1877-1880 and worked first on a farm in Wisconsin. After a year or two there, he moved to Montana and joined a railroad construction crew near Bozeman, Montana. When that was completed, Bell found work in a nearby coal mine.

He moved to Salmon, Idaho in 1884 and began prospecting in the surrounding mountains. Two years later, he and a partner made a valuable find near Shoup, Idaho, 20-25 miles northwest of Salmon. Hawley’s History of Idaho said that, “During this period he completed a course in geology and mineralogy through the International Correspondence School of Scranton, Pennsylvania.”

Bell soon combined his studies with personal observations and began to publish authoritative articles in a wide variety of industry and scientific journals. His knowledge of Central Idaho geology and mineral potential attracted the attention of key mining companies and investors. He spent fifteen years working at various mines and acting as a consultant in the industry.

During that period, the office of State Mine Inspector was elective. He first ran for that position in 1900 and missed election “by less than two hundred votes.” He ran again in 1902 and was handily elected. Voters re-elected him for the next two terms, each time with larger and larger majorities. He decided not to run again in 1908, apparently because he wanted time to develop a fruit ranch he had purchased in the Weiser area.

Bell ran again in 1910 and won by a wide margin. He held the position through 1920, then chose not to run after that. Besides his annual reports as Mine Inspector, Bell authored several monographs on Idaho mining resources and on the state industry. Mine safety was first among the Inspector’s responsibilities, but he was also expected to be a spokesman for the mining industry.
North Idaho Mine. Historic Wallace.

In 1917-1918, most Coeur d’Alene mines had cut lead-silver production and laid off many workers. The Spokane Chronicle asked Bell (January 15, 1918) to assess the situation. He briefly explained the market forces involved and asserted that a turnaround should come soon. The newspaper headlined its item: “Lead is Coming Back to Normal.”

Bell took an active role in national and regional professional organizations, including the Mine Inspectors Association of America, the Idaho Mining Association, the Utah Society of Engineers, and the American Institute of Mining Engineers. He was also a member of the National Geological Society and the Boise Commercial Club.

During his second long stretch as Mine Inspector, Bell moved to Boise and invested in considerable real estate. That included a ten-acre estate four miles from downtown, where he built an elaborate home and installed “many modern improvements.” He chose not to run for re-election in 1920, citing “small remuneration” as his reason. The Idaho Statesman article that announced (July 18, 1920) his decision to retire praised Bell’s work to promote mine safety and better underground working conditions.

He lived near Boise until his death in December 1935.
References: [Blue], [French], [Hawley]
“Shoup and Ulysses,” Reference Series No. 386, Idaho State Historical Society (1980).

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Wanderer, Painter, and Sculptor Charles Ostner Gets Paid [otd 01/15]

Artist Ostner. J. H. Hawley photo.
On January 15, 1869, the Idaho legislature appropriated $2,500 to reward artist Charles L. Ostner for the equestrian statue of George Washington he had recently presented to the state.

Born in Baden, Germany in 1828, Ostner emigrated to the U.S. around 1848-1850. Stories that pose him as an untutored natural genius are just that … stories. In reality, Charles received an early grounding in art at the University of Heidelberg and made a living as a sculptor before coming to Idaho.

He settled first in California and began raising a family around 1852. Family members recalled that the artist had itchy feet, and often settled his wife and children someplace and then traveled extensively. Gold camps and other pioneer settlements held a deep fascination for him, yet there is no solid evidence that he prospected himself.

In 1862, gold excitement in Idaho attracted him to the Territory. By 1864, he had moved his family to the Garden Valley area. There, he had a small ranch and operated a toll bridge over the South Fork of the Payette River.

Historian Arthur Hart noted Ostner’s propensity for taking advantage of attention-grabbing events to sell his art, and the shoe seems to fit. H. T. French’s History presents the “untutored hobbyist” myth and what is almost certainly a fanciful tale about the George Washington statue. This major work supposedly grew out of deep-felt admiration for the “Father of our country.”

The story began with an almost mystical selection of the perfect yellow pine. The carving itself then required four years of winter nights – the only spare time he had – in freezing conditions, the only light provided by home-made tallow candles held in the trembling, crudely-wrapped fingers of his son. This fable even had a nice added touch: Ostner’s only model was the likeness of Washington printed on a postage stamp.
Ostner statue on the capitol grounds,
Ostner’s wife - center - and two daughters at the base.
J. H. Hawley photo.

Charles finished the statue in 1868, then moved his family to Boise and “gave” the bronzed figure to the state. No doubt the inspiring story of this untutored genius, persevering through such terrible trials, got wide circulation. Some proposed a handsome award of $7 thousand, but the young Territory could only afford $2,500.

After that, Ostner used Boise as a home base for his wandering ways. Hawley’s History of Idaho said “Mr. Ostner continued to make Boise his home throughout his remaining days but traveled largely during that period, going on trips to various parts of the world."

Still, a trip to the Nome, Alaska gold rush, when he was over 70 years old, was said to have cured his “wandering heel” and he stayed in Boise after about 1900.

His work included paintings on canvas, drawings, and a wide variety of lithographic masters. “Idaho’s Pioneer Artist,” passed away in 1913.

The statue stood on the capitol grounds until 1934 when it was moved indoors, refurbished, and covered in gold leaf. The figure still has a place in the newly-renovated Idaho capitol building.
References: [French], [Hawley]
Arthur Hart, “Idaho History: Charles Ostner was an artist, miner and wanderer,” Idaho Statesman (July 4, 2010).
James H. Hawley, Eleventh Biennial Report of the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society of Idaho, Boise (1928).

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Miner, Builder, Real Estate Developer, and Ferryman John Silcott [otd 01/14]

Ferryman Silcott. J. H. Hawley photo.
Clearwater ferry operator John M. Silcott was born January 14, 1824 in Loudoun County, Virginia, just west of Washington D. C.. The family moved to Ohio about four years later.

He grew up in Zanesville and as a young man worked as a carpenter, boat builder, and crewman on keelboats and river steamers. During the Mexican War, he worked at a government supply depot, after which he moved to New Orleans.

In 1849, he joined the eager rush to California. Silcott quickly discovered that his carpentry skills were in great demand, so he pursued his trade in San Francisco and Sacramento. With a solid stake, he and three partners bought proven claims in northern California. John prospected gold fields there and in southern Oregon until about 1858, when he followed the rush into British Columbia.

The Canadian venture did not pan out, and the cost of the expedition sent him back to carpentry when he ended up in Walla Walla, Washington. Again he did very well as the town expanded. In 1860, he moved to the old Nez Perce mission on Lapwai Creek, where the Indian agent had him erect a new building for the Agency. Silcott then stayed on there as a sub-agent.

Many years later, the Lewiston Teller related the story of “the first Christmas celebration in the Lewiston valley,” hosted by “Old Uncle John” Silcott. He invited “every white man within fifty miles” to a his party. The repast was short on traditional dishes – wild goose replaced turkey – but rich and bountiful nonetheless. Concoctions blended with “medicinal” alcohol from a five gallon container no doubt masked any possible shortcomings in the cuisine.

Not to be outdone, William Craig, an old mountain man turned settler, then hosted the first New Years celebration. But, the Teller said, “a dire situation arose.” Guests at the Christmas party had guzzled all the alcohol. Luckily, two new, and still sober, arrivals volunteered to rush off to Walla Walla for ten gallons of whisky. The paper noted that, “They made the trip and broke the record for rapid freight service.”

The following year, Silcott built a ferry across the Snake River downstream from Lewiston. He benefited greatly from the surge in area traffic with the gold discoveries around Pierce, Elk City, and Florence. Encouraged, he built another ferry connecting Lewiston with the north shore of the Clearwater River. He also leased a ferry on the Spokane River.
Old western ferry. Library of Congress.
Silcott acquired land around Lewiston and helped plat the town. His real estate ventures did well, although not as well as they might had not newcomers “jumped” many of his lots. He also claimed a homestead on the north side of the Clearwater and built a home near the ferry landing.

In 1882-1885, Silcott sold off all his ferry holdings except the Lewiston-Clearwater vessel. He continued to run that ferry until a year or two before his death, successively lowering the fares to just cover his expenses.

Old Uncle John died in 1902 and was buried on the Clearwater homestead beside his Nez Perce wife, Jane, who had died in 1895.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-North], [Illust-State]
“Lewiston (Silcott) Ferry,” Reference Series No. 759, Idaho State Historical Society (1982).

Friday, January 13, 2017

Engineer, Developer, and Boise Mayor Ernest G. Eagleson [otd 01/13]

Ern Eagleson. J. H. Hawley photo.
Engineer and Boise Mayor Ernest George Eagleson was born January 13, 1864 near Cadiz, Ohio, 30-35 miles southeast of Canton. The family moved to Iowa and then Nebraska.

By 1881, “Ern,” as he was usually called, had gone to work as an engineering assistant for a railroad. A few years later, he attended a Normal school before continuing at the University of Nebraska. He graduated from their engineering program in 1889.

During the next four years, he worked as a railway construction engineer and then as a mining engineer in Wyoming. In the meantime, Ern’s parents moved to Boise City in 1891. Two years later, the Boise mayor appointed Ern to be City Engineer. He would serve four terms (eight years) in that position, although not in consecutive stints.

Eagleson found plenty of other work in the Pacific Northwest, including projects for mining companies, railroads, and irrigation districts. He also invested in real estate, with a substantial tract on the bench west of the Boise River plain. All this property needed was water to mushroom in value.

About the time his first term as City Engineer ended, a long-standing canal project seemed to be gaining momentum. Originally conceived over a decade earlier, the system would divert water onto the bench from upstream on the river, about seven miles southeast of Boise. However, financial panics, mismanagement, and bad luck had repeatedly delayed the work. By this time, ownership of the necessary water rights had become clouded, so in early 1896 Ern located one further up the river.

The battle among competing developers was soon joined, and parts of the dispute ended up in the Idaho Supreme Court. Finally, Eagleson could proceed with the engineering and construction work. The first water flowed into the New York Canal in 1900 [blog, June 20]. Over the next decade, Ern served a term as Ada County surveyor, and six years as U.S. Surveyor General for Idaho. In 1914, Eagleson was selected as President of the Idaho Society of Professional Engineers.

Eagleson was elected Boise mayor in 1919. Commenting on Ern's two-year term, J. H. Hawley said that Boise development proposals could be “studied from the standpoint of a civil engineer who can correctly estimate upon municipal engineering problems and also from the standpoint of the business man.”

Oddly enough, probably the most dramatic engineering accomplishment in Boise during his first term was a state project: The Idaho capitol building gained its north and south wings. Although Eagleson ran for re-election, he lost a close election: just 173 votes out of about five thousand cast.
Early airmail fleet, Boise. City of Boise.

Still, he ran again in 1925 and was elected. He was thus mayor when a Varney Airlines plane landed at Boise’s municipal airport on the first commercial U. S. airmail flight, from Pasco, Washington to Elko, Nevada. Boise-based Varney was one of several pioneer airlines that eventually combined to become today’s United Airlines.

Eagleson continued to work in Boise, and passed away there in 1956. Eagleson Road and Eagleson Park subdivision carry on his name.
References: [Hawley]
“The Beginning of the New York Canal,” Reference Series No. 190, Idaho State Historical Society (March 1972).
City of Boise Guide and Directory (online)
“Corrected List of Mayors, 1867-1996,” Reference Series No. 47, Idaho State Historical Society.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Boise’s Dr. Mary E. Donaldson: Pioneer in Medicine and Elder Care [otd 01/12]

Dr. Donaldson. H. T. French photo.
Mary Elizabeth Donaldson, M.D., was born Mary Craker on January 12, 1851 in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, about forty miles northwest of Madison. After graduating from high school, she taught grade school for four years. She married at twenty and had a child who died young. The marriage didn’t work out and they were divorced soon afterwards.

In the mid-1870s, she turned to caring for a very sick brother, and they moved to Idaho in search of a more healthful climate. To support them during this period, Mary Elizabeth again found work as a teacher. Although the brother also contracted diphtheria, she succeeded in nursing him back to health.

In late 1878, Mary Elizabeth married Thomas L. Johnston, an early Idaho pioneer. Her efforts as a nurse strengthened her desire to take a more serious role in medicine. Mary's new husband supported that interest, and she enrolled in the University of Wooster, in Cleveland, Ohio. She received her M.D. degree in 1892, quite an accomplishment at a time when there were hardly any women physicians.

The Johnstons then moved to Oregon, where Dr. (then) Johnston established a sanitarium in Milton (8-10 miles south of Walla Walla, Washington). Her facility was a spa-like institution meant to prevent and cure disease through proper diet and exercise. Although its methods separated them somewhat from traditional medical practices, her approach proved very popular.

She followed that with a similar facility in Portland. The October 13, 1894 issue of The Oregonian newspaper carried a “voluntary testimonial” that praised the treatments available at the Portland Sanitarium. One of those who co-signed the statement was Abigail Scott Duniway, a well-known suffragette who ran a ranch in Idaho for a time (blog, July 29).

Johnston next extended her coverage to Boise, Idaho. An item in the Idaho Statesman (June 28, 1896) mentioned that a local architect had submitted plans for what came to be the Idaho Sanitarium. The facility opened in 1897 and proved to be even more popular than her units in Oregon.  In fact, her flourishing private practice allowed her to give free or reduced-rate services to those in need.
Idaho Sanitarium, H. T. French photo.

Unfortunately, Thomas Johnston died in September 1898. Mary Elizabeth stayed in Boise and in 1912 she married Captain Gilbert Donaldson, a well-known Boise businessman and philanthropist. Attendees at the ceremony included, in the words of historian H. T. French, “some of the most notable men and women of the state and many others whose names are household words in Idaho.”

In 1881, long before she became a doctor, Mary Elizabeth had occasion to travel in the East. In Philadelphia, she visited an institutional home for elderly men and women. With the backing of influential friends of her new husband, such an institution was built in Boise, and called the Donaldson Home for the Aged. It was one of the first, if not the first of its kind in Idaho.

In addition to those accomplishments, Dr. Donaldson found time to promote various service organizations, push the cause of prohibition, and raise five orphaned children. She also helped found and promote a national women’s rights organization, and regularly contributed articles to its publications.

Dr. Donaldson continued in active practice into the 1920s. In the early Thirties, the couple moved to California, where Gilbert died in 1934. Mary Elizabeth passed away in Napa, California in 1941.
References: [French], [Hawley]

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Noted Microbiologist and Vitamin B-12 Researcher Dr. Mary Shorb [otd 01/11]

Dr. Shorb. University of Maryland.
Dr. Mary Shorb, noted microbiologist and vitamin B-12 investigator, was born January 11, 1907 in Wahpeton, North Dakota, about 35 miles south of Fargo.

The family moved to Caldwell, Idaho when Mary was about three years old. There, William Judson Boone, founder and President of the College of Idaho [blog, Nov 5] became a close family friend. Early field trips with Dr. Boone, a skilled botanist, sparked Mary’s interest in biology.

Mary graduated from Caldwell High School, then entered the College of Idaho. There, faculty mentors led her to major in biology, with a minor in home economics … a direction that presaged her later interest in nutrition and the diseases of food animals. She received a B.S. degree in 1928. After two dead-end jobs, she decided to pursue an advanced degree. She married her childhood sweetheart, Doys Shorb, in 1929 and earned a Sc.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1933.

Even with her doctorate, she could only find another dead-end job, so after the birth of a daughter, she stayed home. Two other children followed. However, World War II created a shortage of technically trained people. In 1942, she took a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Two years later, Shorb began work that used Lactobacillus lactis Dorner (LLD) bacteria to ferment milk into yogurt. The bacterial growth media had to contain liver extract. “Everyone knew” this, and thought no more about it. Mary pondered the matter and made a crucial creative leap.

Medical practitioners used liver extract to treat pernicious anemia. The original treatment, discovered in 1926, involved massive consumption of the liver itself. Prior to that discovery, the disease was almost invariably fatal. Yet even in 1944, after years of study, no one had identified the extract’s active ingredient. Researchers had no direct way to tell if a sample even contained the substance, much less the amount present.
Shorb in the lab, ca 1948.
University of Maryland.

The details of Shorb’s development work are beyond the scope of this article. However, after she refined her LLD assay method for the anti-anemia “factor,” researchers needed only three months to isolate its crystals from two different sources. We know the substance as vitamin B-12. Dr. Shorb and Dr. Karl A. Folkers, a Merck Company chemist, shared the 1949 Mead Johnson Award for their B-12 work.

That same year, the University of Maryland made Dr. Shorb a full research professor. She rewarded them, and the world, by authoring or co-authoring nearly sixty journal articles on antibiotics, bacteriology, animal growth, and more.

Shorb received a long list of awards and honors: a 1957 Sigma Xi Research Award, Outstanding Woman of Maryland in 1951, Distinguished Alumnus of the College of Idaho in 1966, an honorary Doctorate of Science from the College in 1979, member of Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame in 1987, and so on. She is further remembered at the University of Maryland by the Shorb Lectureship, with original funding from Merck & Company.

Mary retired in 1972. She and her husband then indulged their love of travel before health problems curtailed that. She passed away in August 1990.
References: Richard A. Ahrens, “Mary Shaw Shorb (1907 - 1990),” The Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 123, No. 5 (May 1, 1993) pp. 791-796.
“Mary Shaw Shorb (1907 - 1990),” Maryland Women's Hall of Fame Online.
“Papers of Mary S. Shorb,” University of Maryland Archives.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Town of Franklin Accepts Being in Idaho and is Formally Incorporated [otd 01/10]

Lorenzo Hill Hatch. Family Archives.
On January 10, 1873, the Idaho Territorial legislature passed a “special act” to incorporate the village of Franklin. The Act defined the boundaries of the town, specified that it should have a mayoral form of government, and decreed that it should hold its first election “on or before the first Monday in August, A.D. 1873.” At that election, Mormon Bishop Lorenzo Hatch became the first mayor.

Franklin had begun as a normal extension of the Mormon colonies pushing north from Salt Lake and other already-settled areas. Outposts had appeared in Utah’s Cache Valley around 1855 and several tiny towns were established by 1859.

In April 1860, thirteen Mormon families brought their animals and wagons to a spot not quite twenty miles north of the settlement at Logan. The mountains provided wonderful scenic views, but the plains between interested them most. An abundance of streams flowed onto the flats. They could graze stock on the foothills while raising food and forage crops near the available water.
Franklin plains with mountain backdrop.

The settlers laid out a town, which eventually came to be recognized as the first permanent settlement in the state of Idaho. Soon after laying out the town, the settlers dug irrigation ditches to divert water from the Cub River and its tributary creeks. Before the year was out, there would be around fifty families in residence.

The colonists also erected a log schoolhouse and recruited a pioneer’s daughter to start classes in the fall. Except for the missionary schools for Indian children in the Panhandle, the Franklin school thus set another first for Idaho. In 1863, Brigham Young moved Thomas Preston, the first Bishop of Franklin, to a post near Bear Lake and assigned Lorenzo Hatch as Franklin’s second Bishop.

At first, everyone, including the Idaho Territorial government, thought that Franklin and the other Mormon colonies were in Utah. Inhabitants there even voted in Utah elections. In fact, Charles C. Rich, founder of Paris, Idaho, and father of Amasa [blog, Oct 25], served in the Utah Territorial legislature.
Hatch House, Franklin, built in 1872.
Franklin Historic District.

Finally, in early 1872, an official survey defined the correct Idaho-Utah border: it runs about a mile south of Franklin. Despite this, people in the region continued to act like they were in Utah. For example, later that year their representatives attended a Utah constitutional convention, hoping to frame a document that would lead to Utah statehood. (It didn’t. Their memorial never even made it out of committee.)

Within a year or so, however, they reconciled themselves to their “new” status, especially after the legislature granted Franklin’s incorporation.

In 1874, a narrow gauge railroad began service between Ogden and Franklin. When construction stopped there, the town became a major terminus for stage lines and thousands of freight wagons running back and forth to Montana. The tracks continued north in 1878, and Franklin was again simply a commercial center for livestock, dairy, and grain producers in the area. It was estimated to have a population of about 600 in 1918, roughly what it has today.
References: [B&W], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Jo Ann F. Hatch, Willing Hands: A Biography of Lorenzo Hill Hatch (1826-1910), Kymera Publishing Company, Pinedale, AZ (1996).
“Idaho's Boundary Dispute with Utah (1860-1872),” Reference Series No. 1016, Idaho State Historical Society (1993).