Monday, November 24, 2014

Fire at State Mental Hospital in Blackfoot, Joe Glidden Patents Barbed Wire [otd 11/24]

Early on November 24, 1889, a fire destroyed the state-run mental hospital located in Blackfoot, Idaho. The sanitarium, as it was then called, housed 47 male and 20 female patients at the time. Early accounts said 7 patients (5 men and 2 women) were missing afterwards, with two bodies found in the ruins. However, Hawley’s later History suggests that no one was killed in the fire.

South Idaho Sanitarium, now Idaho State Hospital South.
J. H. Hawley photo.
Located a half mile or so north of Blackfoot, the asylum had been authorized in 1885 and opened for patients the following year. Before then, mentally ill individuals had been housed in Oregon, under contract with that state. Officials transferred thirty-six patients (26 man and 10 women) when the Blackfoot facility opened.

After the fire, male patients were kept temporarily at the Bingham county courthouse and females at the local Methodist Episcopal Church. The institution was rebuilt at a location a few miles further north.

In 1905, the legislature funded a second state hospital; it was built in Orofino. As views on mental health issues became more sophisticated, the terms “sanitarium” and “asylum” were dropped in favor of a simple “Idaho State Hospital South” and “ … North.”

Today, Idaho is still wrestling with the proper approach, or approaches to treating people with mental health problems. Clearly, sufferers who are a danger to themselves and to others require different methods and facilities from those with lesser problems. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.

Official drawing for Patent No. 157,124.
On November 24, 1874, the Federal government granted a patent to Joseph F. Glidden for an improved form of barbed wire. Over the years, many ideas had been tried but Glidden’s was the first effective design that could be manufactured at reasonable cost.

Homesteaders benefited first from the new product: It provided a way to protect fields from range cattle and sheep. In many jurisdictions, courts would not award damages for losses to stock unless the owner had tried to provide some sort of protection for his (or her) crops. An 1873 Idaho law said, in part, that farm fields “shall be enclosed with a good and lawful fence, sufficient to secure the crops therein from the encroachments of all kinds of domestic animals.”

Possible awards then hinged on the phrase “good and lawful fence.” A split rail fence met the criteria, but the materials were costly and difficult to obtain. In many areas, even wooden posts for stringing a wire fence had to be hauled from miles away. Still, posts and wire were far more affordable than anything available before.

Stockmen also quickly saw the advantages of fencing large expanses of range to keep it for themselves, and they had the capital to buy wire by the train car load. Thus, production of the new form jumped 60-fold a year after the patent was granted. Barbed wire fences brought their own problems, of course. The lore of the Old West is replete with stories of the fence cutters and gun-handy cowboys hired to patrol the wires.
References: [Brit], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Joseph M. McFadden, “Monopoly in Barbed Wire: The Formation of the American Steel and Wire Company,” Business History Review, Vol. LII. No. 4 (Winter, 1978).
J. Orin Oliphant, On the Cattle Ranges of the Oregon Country, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1968).

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Unsuspecting Cowboy Shot and Killed at Fort Hall by Angry Bannock [otd 11/23]

On November 23, 1877, a Bannock Indian, Tambiago by name, shot and killed cattleman Alexander Rhoden at the Fort Hall Indian Agency. Alex was born around 1852 in northeast Missouri, near the Nebraska border. In 1865, the family moved to near Omaha.
Alexander Toponce. Reminiscences.

Later, Rhoden came to Idaho and went to work for cattleman Alexander Toponce [blog, Nov 10]. Toponce, who recalled the spelling as “Rodin,” said the Missourian had been working at the ranch for a number of years before the shooting. The young drover was delivering some of Toponce’s cattle under contract to the Agency.

Accounts suggest that the shooting grew out of the uneasy relationship between whites and Indians at the time. A proclamation by President Andrew Johnson had designated the Fort Hall Reservation in 1867 [blog, June 14]. About a year later, most of the Shoshone and Bannock bands in Idaho finally agreed to resettle there, persuaded by glowing promises from Federal negotiators.

As happened all too commonly, the Agency did not keep its end of the bargain. Most tribesmen hardly noticed the failure to provide seed, instructions on farming, and other craft training. They could easily live without these elements of assimilation anyway. But their very survival depended upon the promised allotments of food and warm clothing.

Unable to live on the skimpy-to-nonexistent supplies provided by the Indian Agent, bands began to roam far and wide outside the reservation. Upset by these excursions, the Agent complained to tribal leaders, which created an atmosphere of frustration and discontent.

The Bannocks generally wandered the most, and therefore earned an extra level of nagging from the Agent. Soon, Bannock leaders began to suspect that the Agent was favoring the Shoshones in his already-sparing allotments.

The existence of this feeling among the Indians was confirmed by an Army officer who inspected the reservation. In his report he wrote, “The Bannocks are regarded by officers of the army and civilians as friendly and peaceable towards the whites. They are, however, very much opposed to their Agent, Mr. Danilson; this opposition I learn is provoked by his discrimination in favor of the Shoshones.”

Of course, the inspector could not stay long enough to verify the Bannocks’ suspicions. But in this tense atmosphere, an unknown white angered the Indians anew: One account said he raped a Bannock girl, but other reports suggest horse theft or some other crime.

Tribesmen had no way to specifically identify the offender, so they knew white authorities would do nothing. A frustrated brave stormed out and shot two teamsters, neither of whom, it is generally agreed, had anything to do with the initial offense. The teamsters eventually recovered from their wounds.
Group of Bannock, 1878. Library of Congress.

After more disputation, the shooter was arrested. As he was brought to, or passed through Fort Hall, Tambiago “snapped” at this one-sided display of justice ... and shot Rhoden. Again, it’s unclear whether Tambiago was the brother or just a good friend of the accused man. Authorities finally caught and arrested Tambiago. Tried and convicted of murder, he was hanged the following year, the first man hanged at the Idaho Territorial Penitentiary.

In his Reminiscences, Toponce remarked, “The Indian who killed Rodin had no grudge against him. He simply wanted to kill a white man and Alex was the first one he saw.”

A week or so after the shooting, Toponce shipped the young man’s body back to Nebraska for burial.
References: George Francis Brimlow, The Bannock War of 1878, The Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1938).
“Killed By An Indian,” Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah (December 1, 1877).
Alexander Toponce, Reminiscences of Alexander Toponce, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman (1971).

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Branch Railroad Arrives in Rexburg, Headed for Yellowstone [otd 11/22]

On November 22, 1899, tracks of the St. Anthony Railroad Company were completed into Rexburg, Idaho. The goal of the Company, which had been incorporated in May, was to extend a rail line from Idaho Falls to St. Anthony. Reporting on the Rexburg arrival, the Fremont County Journal said, “All afternoon the construction train was puffing back and forth through town.”
St. Anthony in 1907.
Vintage postcard displayed at

The tracks reached St. Anthony the following spring. Over the next several years, the railroad built branch lines to communities to the east and west of the main line. By about 1918, Fremont County would have, according to J. H. Hawley, “more than a score of railway stations.” Eventually the company would be acquired by the Oregon Short Line Railroad.

During its period of growth, the Company found itself at odds with the United States government. Construction crews had cut timber for ties and bridges from public lands accessible from their right-of-way.  In this, they cited a Federal statute that allowed a “duly organized” railroad company “the right to take, from the public lands adjacent to the line of said road, material, earth, stone, and timber necessary for the construction of said railroad.”

The closest suitable timberlands were 20 to 25 miles distant. Interpreting the intent of the law liberally, the company obtained the necessary material from those stands. Federal administrators disputed their right in this case and demanded they pay over $20 thousand for timber illegally cut from public lands. A lower court denied the Federal claim, as did a circuit court of appeals. Determined, authorities then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. After much legal nit-picking about the meaning of the word “adjacent,” the High Court reversed the judgement. The railroad company had to pay the charges.
West Yellowstone train depot, ca. 1910. National Park Service.

In 1905, leading investors in the St. Anthony railroad felt the time was ripe to extend the tracks to the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park [blog, Mar 1]. The work proceeded slowly, for various reasons, not the least of which was the heavy snowfall encountered in the mountains between Ashton and the town of West Yellowstone. In fact, each season opened with a major effort to clear anywhere from six to thirty feet of snow off the tracks.

The first passenger train reportedly reached the entrance depot in June 1909. The Idaho Falls Times noted (April 20, 1909) that the railroad had already taken heavy bookings in anticipation of that event. They expected that “attendance at the park for 1909 will be more than double last season.”

Rail traffic through Idaho to Yellowstone enjoyed a boom between the World Wars. Thus, in 1925, the Union Pacific (which by then had absorbed the OSL) built a huge tourist dining hall in West Yellowstone. However, that traffic plunged after World War II, and by 1960 the town no longer had passenger service.

Today, trains still operate as far north as Ashton, Idaho, with some branch lines around the region; however, much branch trackage has also been abandoned or ripped up.
Reference: [B&W], Hawley]
“United States vs. St. Anthony Railroad Company, 192 U.S. 524,” Record of U. S. Supreme Court Cases, Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C. (1904).
“West Yellowstone History,” West Yellowstone Tourism Business Improvement District, West Yellowstone, Montana  (2010).

Friday, November 21, 2014

Wilson Price Hunt Fur Trade Party Reaches Boise Valley [otd 11/21]

In November 1811, Wilson Price Hunt recorded in his journal, “On the 21st at daybreak we saw ahead of us a river that flowed to the west, its banks lined with cottonwood and willow trees. Some Indians who had pitched camp there had many horses and were far better clothed than those whom we had seen recently."

Hunt’s party thus became the first whites to report seeing the Boise Valley. (A smaller group led by Hunt’s associate Donald Mackenzie may have actually seen it earlier, but the details of Mackenzie’s route are uncertain.) As noted before, Hunt’s expedition represented John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company [blog, Oct 5].
Snake River canyon below Caldron Linn. Idaho Tourism.

They had built dugout canoes and attempted to voyage down the Snake River, but lost a canoe and one French-Canadian boatman at Caldron Lynn [blog, Oct 28]. Although the immediate prospect looked grim, Hunt did not give up right away. The next day, he wrote, “For thirty-five miles I went along the banks of the river, which continues to carve a passage northwest through the mountains. Its bed is no more than sixty to ninety feet wide, it is full of rapids, and its course is broken by falls ten to forty feet high. Except at two spots where I went down to get water, the banks are precipitous everywhere.”

His party clearly did not follow the canyon rim all the time. Had they done so, they could not possibly have missed Shoshone Falls, some 20-25 miles downriver from Caldron Lynn.  At over 200 feet tall, the falls top Niagara Falls by nearly forty feet. Later, trappers traversing the area located the feature by the roar of the water crashing over the edge.

In any case, the explorers abandoned their canoes, cached the goods they couldn’t carry, and started walking across Idaho. To make foraging easier, Hunt divided the group into several smaller parties.

Hunt’s contingent generally followed the north bank of the Snake, barely avoiding starvation by trading with local Indians for dogs and dried salmon. Finally, somewhere near, or west of today’s Glenns Ferry, tribesmen advised Hunt to leave the river and head more directly north and west. That route indeed proved shorter, but they found no water. Before light rains after two days relieved their thirst somewhat “several Canadians had begun to drink their urine.”
Boise River, fall. Idaho Tourism.

The next day, they reached the Boise River. They traded with several Indian bands for food and a couple of horses. Hunt said, “They told us that farther upstream beaver were plentiful, though in the vicinity of our camp there were very few.”

With winter closing in, the Overland Astorians, as they are usually called, barely made it out of Idaho before the worst weather blew in. They arrived on the Columbia river about two months later, and were happy to reach Astoria a few weeks after that. The Astorians had learned a good deal about the beaver country west of the rockies, but the Pacific Fur Company would not benefit from that knowledge.
References: Wilson Price Hunt, Hoyt C. Franchère (ed. and translator), Overland Diary of Wilson Price Hunt, Ashland Oregon Book Society (1973).
Washington Irving, Astoria, or Anecdotes of an enterprise beyond the Rocky Mountains, G. P. Putnam and Son, New York (1868). Author’s revised edition.
James P. Ronda, Astoria and Empire, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1990).

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Women’s Suffrage Advocates Hold First Idaho Convention [otd 11/20]

On November 20, 1895, supporters held the first women’s suffrage convention in Idaho. In general, the western states had been much more supportive of women’s suffrage than those in the East. Wyoming had written it into the Territorial Constitution in 1869 and carried that over into statehood in 1890. The state of Colorado passed a similar amendment in 1893.
Suffragettes collecting petition signatures.
Library of Congress.

Nationally, however, advocates made little progress. The 1892 Republican party platform paid the notion lip service, but nothing came of that provision. Moreover, the History of Woman Suffrage said, “No Democratic national platform ever has recognized so much as the existence of women … ”

In 1894, canvassers in New York State collected some 600 thousand petition signatures in support of a women’s suffrage amendment: Constitutional delegates rejected the idea by almost a 2-to-1 margin.

That same year, Idaho politicians supported women’s suffrage in their party platforms and on the campaign trail. Thus, the legislature that convened in early 1895 passed a resolution calling for such an amendment … with just 2 dissenting votes out of 70 cast.

Still, conventional wisdom held that “popular indifference” would doom the measure – opponents would be sure to vote while the rest of the electorate wouldn’t bother. Determined to change that, advocates convened that first convention in Boise, meeting at the home of the President of the Boise Equal Suffrage Club.
Suffrage leaders, including Susan B. Anthony -- seated right of center, in spectacles --
meeting with Utah organizers. Utah State Historical Society photo.
In addition to the usual slate of officers and an advisory board, the women designated county presidents from all across the state. The women then laid out a campaign to insure passage of the amendment. They even received a telegram with advice from Miss Susan B. Anthony: “With hope of carrying amendment, educate rank and file of voters through political party papers and meetings; women speakers cannot reach them.”

To bolster their campaign, supporters held a second, much more heavily attended convention in July 1896. Outsiders also came to lend their support, including Abigail Scott Duniway. Abigial Jane Scott had crossed Idaho in 1852, when she was eighteen years old, as an Oregon Trail emigrant [blog, July 29]. She had since become a nationally-known advocate for women’s rights.

The Idaho Statesman observed (July 5, 1896), “The equal suffrage convention held here last week was a pronounced success, and the result will be beneficial in the campaign that will soon be upon us.”

Hiram T. French related an episode that illustrates the women’s determination. Organizers sent the announcement for a planned local event to their usual contact in a small North Idaho mining town. However, that person had moved, so when two speakers arrived to make the presentation, nothing had been arranged. Undeterred by the slip-up, the women hurriedly found a hall and then hired boys to assemble two huge woodpiles near the primary mine facilities. Lit just in time for the shift end, the roaring bonfires attracted “a large audience” to the talks.

As described elsewhere [blog, Nov 3], the measure passed handily.
References: [Brit], [French], [Hawley]
Susan B. Anthony, Ida H. Harper (eds.), The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol IV: 1883-1900, The Hollenbeck Press, Indianapolis (© Susan B. Anthony, 1902).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Boise Attorney, Businessman, and Education Leader Oliver Haga [otd 11/19]

Attorney Haga. H. T. French photo.
Boise lawyer and education advocate Oliver O. Haga was born November 19, 1872 in Luverne, Minnesota (in the extreme southwestern corner, 25-30 miles east of Sioux Falls, South Dakota).

At the age of twenty, he had a job as school Principal in Wisconsin. In 1894, he graduated from Indiana’s Valparaiso University. (He later received a master’s degree from the school.)

After graduation, he moved to Idaho as the school Principal in Salmon City. He spent two years there, two years in a similar position at Glenns Ferry, and became Principal of Boise High School in 1898. His tenure followed a period of dramatic growth in the Boise student population. In 1894 and then again two years later, Boise City had added new facilities to its system.

For many years, Haga had filled his spare time reading law in local attorneys' offices. During the summers, he traveled East to study in various law schools. Thus, concurrent with his move to Boise, he qualified for the Idaho bar. In time he would earn the right to argue cases in the Supreme courts of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Indiana, as well as Federal courts in those states … and the U. S. Supreme Court.

In 1901, Oliver resigned from the Boise school to go into the law full time. He joined Judge James H. Richards, a former Boise mayor, in the firm of Richards & Haga. In little more than a decade, Richards & Haga developed a client list that included the Idaho branches of some of the largest financial and investment companies in the United States. Haga himself became a nationally-known authority on irrigation and water law, a hugely important specialty in the arid Western states.

In early 1926, Haga was appointed as one of two Idaho members of the Advisory Commission for the The SesquiCentennial International Exposition. The Exposition, a world’s fair held in Philadelphia, commemorated the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It opened at the end of May, was officially dedicated on July 4th, and ran through November.

Haga developed extensive business and property holdings in the Boise Valley, across southern Idaho, and even into Montana. As a sideline, he became a “gentleman farmer” and rancher in the Boise Valley, where he bred registered shorthorn cattle.
BJC Administration Building, ca 1955.
Albertsons Library Digital Collections.

Haga never lost his interest in education. He had a long tenure on the Boise school board, including several years as board president, and also served on the Board of Trustees of the Idaho Industrial Training School. The Training School was a rehabilitation center for juvenile offenders.

From 1934 through 1939, Haga responded to an educational crisis in his adopted home town: the preservation of the fledgling Boise Junior College. The detailed story is beyond the scope of this blog. To summarize: Oliver not only Chaired the Board of Directors that managed the school, but he also shepherded a “junior college bill” through the legislature. That law, signed in February 1939, provided for more reliable school funding.

Haga passed away in 1943. Eight years later, the BJC Administration Building was designated the Oliver O. Haga Hall, although, the Boise State archives note, it was “rarely called by that name.”
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Erastus Long Austin, Odell Hauser, The Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition, Reprint Edition, Arno Press, Inc., New York (1976).
Eugene B. Chaffee, Boise College, An Idea Grows, Printing by Syms-York Company, Boise (© Eugene B. Chaffee 1970).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Nez Percés Indian Reservation Opened to White Settlers [otd 11/18]

On November 18, 1895, “surplus” lands on the Nez Percés Indian Reservation were thrown open to claims by white settlers. This action crowned a long campaign to force assimilation upon the Nez Percés and other Indian tribes.
Nez Percés encampment near Lapwai, 1899.
Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.

The original 1855 treaty between the U.S. and the Nez Percés essentially confirmed the Indians’ sovereignty over much of their extensive ancestral homeland in the Pacific Northwest. However, that treaty lasted just eight years. Then prospectors found gold in what would become Idaho. Some of the discoveries were clearly inside the Nez Percés reservation, which led to a new treaty that drastically reduced the allotted lands [blog, Jun 9].

Most of the Nez Percés bands rejected the agreement, yet whites officials – with the usual self-serving cynicism – billed it as an all-encompassing document. Continued flagrant violations of both treaties eventually led to the Nez Percés War of 1877 [blog, Jun 17]. After that, all of the various bands of the tribe were forcibly placed on reservations – mostly in Idaho but some in Washington.

Soon, the Nez Percés adapted. The schools filled with Indian children, cultivated plots expanded, and native handicrafts found their way to market. Yet much had not changed, perhaps because the Nez Percés did not put that much emphasis on accumulating material possessions. Indian cowboys grazed growing herds of cattle and bands of horses, making good use of the lush rangeland. Women and youngsters moved across the countryside, gathering camas roots and the other usual bounties from the earth.

Unfortunately, as settlement increased around the reservations, the “empty” lands inside the boundaries became an issue. An item from the Idaho County Free Press (June 18, 1886) captures the prevailing white attitude: “The land is of no use to them for they cannot and will not utilize it. … As long as it is reserved from white occupation it will remain as useless as though located in the desert of Sahara.”

Senator Dawes. Library of Congress.
An unlikely alliance between land-greedy settlers and the national “do-gooder” community found a solution. The  1887 “Dawes” or “Severalty” Act provided that lands on many Indian reservations would no longer be held communally. Instead, individual Indians would own plots patterned after the traditional Euro-American family farm.

Although the law made some provision for grazing, its clear intent was to force tribesmen to become small farmers. Then, the do-gooders were sure, they would assimilate into white society as “stout yeomen of the soil.” White settlers would, of course, make productive use of the acreage left over after these allotments.

Government officials arbitrarily assigned a value to the “excess,” bought it from the tribe, and distributed the proceeds among the individual tribesmen. The land office then made these “purchased” plots available for white homesteaders. Some years passed before the details were ironed out in Idaho, but the resulting transfer finally happened in 1895.

Authorities did nothing to keep claimants out, so most had moved onto the land well before the legal opening. A special correspondent for Boise’s Idaho Statesman (November 19, 1895), writing from Lewiston, seemed almost disappointed. Yes, he wrote, “there was no lawlessness, no suffering from the snows of winter or the intense heat of midsummer.” But as a result “all the romance which is supposed to attach to occasions of this kind was lost.”
References: [Illust-North]
M. Alfreda Elsensohn, Eugene F. Hoy (ed.), Pioneer Days in Idaho County, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1951).
Francis Haines, The Nez Percés: Tribesmen of the Columbia Plateau, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman (1955).
Thomas R. Wessel, “Agriculture, Indians, and American History,” The American Indian: Past and Present, 6th Edition, Roger L. Nichols (Ed.), University of Oklahoma Press (2008).