Monday, December 22, 2014

Civil Engineer, Idaho Falls Mayor, and Idaho Governor Barzilla Clark [otd 12/22]

Governor Barzilla Clark.
Bonneville County Historical Society.
Barzilla Worth Clark, sixteenth Governor of the state of Idaho, was born December 22, 1881 in Hadley, Indiana, about twenty miles west of Indianapolis.

The family moved to Idaho Falls (then called Eagle Rock) when Barzilla was about four years old. Described as highly inquisitive and “a tease,” the boy was reportedly well liked by the townspeople.

Barzilla was very active in public school, even serving as school reporter for the Idaho Register newspaper in Idaho Falls. But he wanted to be an engineer like his father, Joseph [blog, December 26]. So, in September 1898, he headed east to attend prep school in Terre Haute, Indiana. He then enrolled at Rose Polytechnic Institute there. However, Barzilla over-did it athletically, to the detriment of his health, and returned to Idaho to recover.

In 1902, the Idaho Register mentioned that he owned ranch property east of town. (Presumably his father helped out with that.) The following year, he acquired ranch and mining properties near Mackay, Idaho, and moved there. Clark also began working more with dam and canal projects for irrigation. In 1905, Barzilla became a licensed professional engineer in Idaho, and also got married.

Three years later, the family moved back to Idaho Falls and Barzilla was elected to the City Council the following spring. Barzilla served another term on the Council, and then became mayor in 1913. Clark pushed for many enhancements for the city, including an improved municipal hydroelectric plant.

In 1914, the mayor entered the Idaho Democratic primary to run for Governor, but lost decisively (727 votes versus 3,121 for his opponent). The following year, he lost his re-election bid for Idaho Falls Mayor by a handful of votes. After that, he spent more than a decade focused on mining properties in Central Idaho.

Still, in 1927, Barzilla ran for Idaho Falls mayor again, won, and began a continuous ten-year span of re-elections to that office. His administrations brought great progress to the city: another large hydroelectric power plant, a new city hall and fire station [blog, Nov 16], the first airport, enlarged municipal parks, and more. Amazingly, he did all that by careful budgeting and planning, with no need to take on long-term debt or impose special tax levies.
Downtown Idaho Falls, 1930s. Bonneville County Historical Society.
Clark ran again for the Governor’s seat, won, and took office in 1937. An analysis in the  Spokesman-Review newspaper (Spokane, Washington, January 4, 1937) noted a host of problems. These included needed revisions in the state liquor laws (post-Prohibition), departmental consolidations, revamping the state police, and much more.

Naturally, money was a huge problem, exacerbated by the fact that a voter referendum had done away with the state sales tax. In theory, progress should have been possible: Democrats enjoyed a 33 to 11 advantage in the state Senate and a huge 50 to 9 majority in the House. But that preponderance was illusionary: Major conflicts among factions within the party over-rode any disagreements they might have had with those few Republicans. Hard-won agreements within the Senate often met opposition in the House, and vice versa.

In the end, little of substance was accomplished under Clark’s administration, other than creation of a state Water Conservation Board. Barzilla’s bid for a second termed ended in the Democratic primary, and he returned to his private business interests in Idaho Falls.

In 1941, Clark published a local history book, Bonneville County in the Making. He died of lung cancer two years later. 
References: [B&W], [Defen]
Barzilla W. Clark Papers, 1937-1938, Manuscript Group 22, University of Idaho, Moscow (June 1979).
Mary Jane Fritzen, Idaho Falls, City of Destiny, Bonneville County Historical Society (1991).
“Golden Jubilee Edition, 1884–1934,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (September 10, 1934).
Robert C. Sims, Hope A. Benedict (eds.), Idaho’s Governors: Historical Essays on Their Administrations, Boise State University (1992).

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Truman C. Catlin: Boise Valley Stockman, Irrigator, and Eagle Developer [otd 12/21]

Truman Catlin. J. H. Hawley photo.
Rancher and developer Truman C. Catlin was born December 21, 1839 in Farmingdale, Illinois, about eight miles west of Springfield.

In 1862, he boarded a Missouri River steamboat for Fort Benton, Montana. By chance, his party encountered one of Captain John Mullan’s road expeditions [blog, Feb 5] and traveled with them across Montana and Idaho to Walla Walla, Washington.

After spending the winter there, Catlin came to the Boise Basin. Idaho City and the Basin were growing explosively at that time and he had no trouble finding work. Probably because the best Basin placers were already claimed, Truman and some companions traveled to Silver City during the summer. Finding the same situation there, they next tried their hand south of Baker City, Oregon.

Catlin decided that working for wages on someone else’s claim would get him nowhere. He and two partners negotiated a substantial shingle contract with the authorities at Fort Boise. After completing that project, Truman returned to a homestead he had claimed earlier. Located about ten miles northwest of downtown Boise City, Catlin’s claim lay between split branches of the Boise River, on what came to be called Eagle Island.

The location facilitated construction of irrigation ditches, so Catlin and a neighbor began irrigated agriculture in 1864. Truman’s fresh potatoes sold at a premium, while his ground corn could be sold for less than imported meal and still turn a handsome profit. Catlin also started in the cattle business in a small way and expanded that line over the years.

By the mid-1870s, stockmen in Idaho and further west were producing a surplus beyond what could be sold locally or in the mining districts. In fact, U. S. government reports indicate that Oregon and Washington cattlemen were driving herds across Idaho into Wyoming and Colorado by 1875. And, in early 1876, buyers were seeking Idaho cattle to join those drives (Idaho Statesman, January 29, 1876).

Catlin was one of the first (Hawley’s History says “the first”) to run such drives: moving a thousand head into Wyoming in 1876. After that, he and various partners regularly drove cattle east until the coming of the railroad in 1883-84.

Meeting the interurban, 1915. City of Boise.
As new homesteaders and developers arrived, Eagle Island became more and more settled. Truman himself eventually owned over 600 acres in the area and raised hogs as a sideline to his farming and cattle business. A bridge to the island spurred growth. Eagle township really took off in 1907, when the interurban railway linked hamlets all up and down the Boise Valley.

In 1917, Catlin sold off his major cattle interests; Hawley suggested that this was because “nearly all of his cowboys entered the army.” After that he concentrated on farming and a dairy operation for which he procured blooded Jersey and Holstein milk cows.

Even approaching age eighty, Catlin had not released the reins to his son, who was then around 45. Hawley wrote that the older man was “yet extremely active and still takes pleasure in riding the range, which he says he can do with the best of them.”

Truman C. Catlin passed away in June 1922.
References: [Hawley]
Laurie Baker, “The City of Eagle: Yesterday and Today,” City of Eagle, Official Website (May, 2007).
James H. Hawley, Ninth Biennial Report of the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society of Idaho, Boise (1924).
J. Orin Oliphant, On the Cattle Ranges of the Oregon Country, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1968).

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Mountain Man Osborne Russell Becomes a "Free" Trapper [otd 12/20]

On December 20, 1835, trapper Osborne Russell said he “bid adieu to the ‘Columbia River Fishing and Trading Company’ and started in company with 15 of my old Messmates to pass the winter at a place called ‘Mutton Hill’.”

The precise location of “Mutton Hill” is uncertain, but Russell said it was on the Portneuf River about 40 miles southeast of Old Fort Hall.

Born in Maine, Russell joined Nathaniel Wyeth’s second fur trade venture [blog, Jan 29] in April 1834. Osborne was then about three months short of his twentieth birthday. Wyeth had also contracted with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company (RMFC) to supply the 1834 Green River rendezvous.

When the RMFC reneged on the contract, Wyeth took his supplies on into Idaho and built Old Fort Hall. For August 5th, Russell wrote, “Mr Wyeth departed for the mouth of the Columbia River with all the party excepting twelve men (myself included), 10 who were stationed at the Fort.”

Lacking experience, the Wyeth men did not attempt a fall trapping expedition. They did, however, traipse through the nearby ranges hunting game to supply the Fort for the winter. During the latter part of September, Russell had his first encounter with a Grizzly bear, prompting the reaction: “Oh Heavens! was ever anything so hideous?”

Too green to know better, he and a hunting partner pursued the animal and killed it, after an extremely close call. Osborne wrote that they “returned to the Fort with the trophies of our bravery, but I secretly determined in my own mind never to molest another wounded Grizzly Bear in a marsh or thicket.”

During the 1835 season, Osborne worked with a trapper party that trekked through eastern Idaho, western Wyoming, and southern Montana. The results were disastrous: two substantial battles with hostile Blackfeet Indians, loss of most of their horses, and a minimum return of furs. Some of these problems arose from inexperience, but Russell decided that the greater cause was their leader’s ineptitude.
Old Fort Hall. Library of Congress.

“I determined not to be so green as to bind myself to an arbitrary Rocky Mountain Chieftain to be kicked over hill and dale at his pleasure,” Osborne wrote, and refused to sign up again with the Company.

Russell learned quickly, and was soon able to sustain himself comfortably. He attended the 1836 rendezvous held on the Green River west today’s Pinedale, Wyoming. Also there were missionaries Henry Harmon Spalding and Marcus Whitman, and their wives [blog, Nov 29]. Osborne said, “The two ladies were gazed upon with wonder and astonishment by the rude Savages, they being the first white women ever seen by these Indians and the first that had ever penetrated into these wild and rocky regions.”

Russell spent the next seven years as a free trapper, mostly in eastern Idaho and western Wyoming. However, even in 1840, he observed that “Beaver also were getting very scarce.”

He struggled along for almost another two years. Then, in August, 1842 an emigrant party arrived at Fort Hall, headed for Oregon. Deciding he’d had enough, Russsell wrote, “I started with them and arrived at the Falls of the Willamette river on the 26 day of Septr. 1842.”

The following spring, Russell helped form the Provisional Government of Oregon and served as a judge under that organization. In 1848, he moved to California. He passed away there in 1892.
References: Osborne Russell, Aubrey L. Haines (ed.), Journal of a Trapper, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1965).
Nathaniel J. Wyeth, Don Johnson (ed.), The Journals of Captain Nathaniel J. Wyeth’s Expeditions to the Oregon Country 1831-1836, Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield, Washington (1984).

Friday, December 19, 2014

Prominent Boise Area and Twin Falls County Architect Benjamin Nisbet [otd 12/19]

Architect Nisbet. Family archives.
Benjamin Morgan Nisbet, who made his name as a fine Idaho architect, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on December 19, 1873. At age seventeen, Ben began an apprenticeship with a leading Pittsburgh architectural firm. Then he decided he needed a more solid grounding and enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture.

The year before he graduated in 1898, he won a school award for “Composition in Details.” Afterwards, he returned to Pittsburgh and opened his own architectural firm. Married there in November 1903, he and his new wife moved to Nampa shortly thereafter. Soon, his advertisement as an architect, with a Nampa office address, appeared in Boise’s Idaho Statesman (December 23, 1903).

However, seeing better prospects in Boise, in March 1904 he partnered with another architect in the capital. For some reason that did not last and they split a few months later (Idaho Statesman, August 23, 1904). Not long after that, Nisbet took a position with a well-known Boise architectural firm.

The following year, in March, water from Milner Dam [blog, May 7] began flowing onto acreage near the new town of Twin Falls. Nisbet liked the potential there and took a leave of absence to “prove up” an irrigated claim. When Ben returned after two months the Statesman said (November 28, 1905), “He has now clear title to one of the prettiest ranches under canal.”
Anduiza Hotel, ca 1925. Boise Basque Tour.
In 1909, Nisbet teamed up with architect Frank Paradice [blog, May 4] in a joint venture. Over the next five years or so, the two would produce designs for a wide variety of structures in Boise and other Idaho towns. Among those in Boise were the Empire Building and the Anduiza Hotel, built as a Basque boarding house with its own fronton (pelota court). The Anduiza is on the National Register of Historic Places and still serves as a center of Basque cultural heritage in Boise.

After Paradice departed to Pocatello in 1914, Nisbet continued to handle projects on his own. In 1915, he designed a new high school building for the city of Fruitland (about five miles south of Payette), and the First Baptist Church of Emmett. Still in use, the Baptist church is also on the National Register.

It is not entirely clear when Nisbet moved his family to Twin Falls, but his ads using a Boise office address continued in the Statesman through February 1916. In 1918, Nisbet prepared plans for the Roman Catholic parish house at the Immaculate Conception Church in Buhl (Twin Falls News, July 3, 1918). That same year, Ben moved his family to Buhl

In 1919, Nisbet designed the Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.) building in Buhl. That too is now on the National Register. The following year, he designed a new “mission style” city hall and civic center for Buhl. He also handled the design of new high school buildings in Kimberly and in Buhl. Unfortunately, he had to file suit against the Buhl school district in an attempt to get paid in full (Twin Falls News, January 20, 1922).
Main Street, Buhl, ca 1919. J. H. Hawley photo.
Idaho, like most farm states, plunged into a depression in the 1920s … generally blamed on excessive expansion to meet demand during World War I. In the words of Ben’s son Donald, “the architect business [went] to the dogs” in the Twin Falls area. Nisbet moved the family to Los Angeles, California, where he found a job with an architectural firm.

Late in life, Nisbet suffered from increasing arthritic pain. He passed away in July 1940.
References]: [French]
“Anduiza Hotel,” National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service, Washington, D. C.  (2003).
“Buhl IOOF Building,” National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service, Washington, D. C. (2009).
“First Baptist Church of Emmett,” National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service, Washington, D. C. (1980).
Robert A. Nisbet Jr., A Nisbet Family from Pennsylvania, (1996).
“[Nisbet News - Boise],” Idaho Statesman, Boise (March 1904 – 1920).
“[Nisbet News - Twin Falls],” Twin Falls News, Twin Falls, Idaho (July 1918 – January 1922).
Gene Smiley, “US Economy in the 1920s,” EH.Net Encyclopedia, Economic History Association (March 26, 2008).
Year Book of the School of Architecture, University of Pennsylvania, The Architectural Society, Philadelphia (1897).

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Weiser Signal Newspaper Publishes Its first Issue [otd 12/18]

On December 18, 1890, Robert E. Lockwood published the first issue of the Weiser Signal newspaper.
Vintage printing press.
American Local History Network,
Clark County, Wisconsin.

Lockwood was born in southwestern Oregon, near the California border, in 1858. The family later moved to east-central Oregon, where Robert learned the printer’s trade. In 1878, he found work on the railroad in eastern Idaho. It then seems likely that he moved on with the Oregon Short Line as it laid track west, toward Weiser and the Oregon border.

Meanwhile, in 1882, Weiser’s first newspaper, the Weiser Leader, began publication. Founded by two partners, one with considerable newspaper experience, the other with none, the Leader passed through a succession of owners through most of a decade.

At some point, Lockwood went to work at the Leader for awhile. He then took a job in Caldwell for three months before returning to Weiser to begin publication of the Signal. The newspaper did very well. In September 1891, Lockwood bought the Leader and combined it with the Signal. Although Lockwood did not retain the Leader name, the purchase established a publishing lineage back to Weiser’s earliest days. The Illustrated History considered the Signal to be “one of the best [newspapers] in southwestern Idaho.”

Lockwood took up an active role in Democratic Party politics. The party nominated him to run for the state Senate from Washington County in 1898, but he was defeated and never ran for public office again. Lockwood also served as an officer of the Idaho Press Association.

In 1899, the Signal gained a long-time competitor, the Weiser American, a weekly. Three years later, Lockwood sold a half-interest in the paper to Frank S. Harding. A Michigan native, Harding was two years younger than Lockwood. However, having been associated with newspapers in the Midwest and in Oregon since about 1875, Harding actually had more experience in the business.

The partnership continued until 1906, when Harding sold his interest and moved to Boise. Four years later, he would return and purchase a controlling interest in the Weiser American. Meanwhile, the Signal reported (December 8, 1906) that “R. E. Lockwood has severed his connection with the Signal to engage in other interests.”
Downtown Weiser, ca 1908. Vintage postcard.

Those interests included a ranch near Riggins, and mining properties about twenty miles east of that town. Sadly, less than a year later (October 26, 1907) the Signal reported, “Former Signal editor, Robert Edwin Lockwood, accidentally shot and killed himself at his ranch at Riggins.”

During this general period, the Signal Publishing Company was formed to control the paper, then published twice weekly. After some turn-over in management, Lester I. Purcell, an experienced newspaperman from Kansas, purchased a controlling interest and took over as Editor. The paper backed off to a weekly schedule in 1912-1913, then returned to semi-weekly publication. It became a daily in 1925.

The Signal and the American both served the city until 1985, when they combined to form the Weiser Signal American. Today, the newspaper proudly traces its roots back to the Weiser Leader of 1882.
References]: [French], [Illust-State]
Chronicling America: Historic Newspapers, The Library of Congress (online).
Frank Harris, “History of Washington County and Adams County,” Weiser Signal (Series, 1940s).

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Unjustly-Convicted “Diamondfield Jack” Davis Finally Released from Prison [otd 12/17]

Diamondfield Jack Davis.
Denver Public Library, Western Collection.
On December 17, 1902, the Idaho Board of Pardons annulled the life sentence of cowboy-gunman Jackson Lee Davis – better known as “Diamondfield” Jack. This action ended a six-year nightmare for Davis.

Verifiable facts are scarce, but penitentiary records indicate that Davis was born around 1870, somewhere in Virginia. He appeared in Idaho in the early 1890s. Pioneer Charlie Walgamott, who lived in the area at that time, wrote, “Jack Davis was very companionable, good in his manners, extremely fond of children, and kind-hearted almost to a fault, but he was a great talker.”

Because of that “talker” reputation, listeners took his bunkhouse stories with a considerable dose of salt. At various times, he claimed to have fought as a revolutionary in South America, lived with Apache Indians in Arizona, and hobnobbed with Cecil Rhodes in South Africa.

He also said he had been a miner in Sonora, Mexico, which might have been true. He performed quite capably during a year or so working in a mine near Silver City. He was among many who chased rumors of diamond strikes in the West … that gave him his “Diamondfield” nickname.

Jack mostly worked as a cowboy in northern Nevada and southern Idaho. He loved to brag about “cutting it in [gun]smoke” in purported battles on the range. This too appeared to have some substance. No one doubted his gun skills, and he had enough of a reputation to get run off one ranch where he sought work.

Local stockmen had reached a “gentlemen’s agreement” concerning the range south and east of today’s Twin Falls: Sheep would remain to the east, cattle stayed west. However, some sheepmen pushed across the so-called “dead line” anyway.

Thus, during the summer of 1895, the Sparks-Harrell Cattle Company [blog, Aug 30] hired Davis as an “outside man.” For a monthly salary of $50 (ordinary hands got $30), the foreman expected Jack and the other outside men to keep the sheep off “company” range.

Intimidation escalated to violence and two sheepmen were shot to death. Suspicion fell on Diamondfield Jack [blog, Feb 16] and he was arrested and tried. The prosecution presented a badly flawed case, but obtained a conviction from a jury composed almost entirely of sheepmen and farmers.

While lawyers appealed Jack’s conviction, the actual shooter and an associate confessed to the killings [blog, Oct 13]: They pled “self-defense” and were acquitted on a murder charge. Yet despite this, Jack twice came within hours of being hanged for the crime.

Authorities finally conceded that perhaps a miscarriage of justice had occurred … and, in July 1901, commuted the hanging sentence to life in prison! Davis spent another seventeen months in prison before a pardon finally set him free.

Afterwards, Jack moved to Nevada and prospered in the mines there, especially around Goldfield, where a boom started about that time. (Goldfield is about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas.) In fact, Davis became something of a celebrity, with write-ups in national as well as regional magazines and newspapers.

But ultimately, the Depression crippled Jack's mining investments and he lived his last years in tight financial circumstances. He died in January 1949 from injuries suffered when he inattentively stepped off a curb in Las Vegas and was struck by a taxicab.
References: David H. Grover, Diamondfield Jack: A Study in Frontier Justice, University of Nevada Press, Reno (1968).
William Pat Rowe, “Diamond-Field Jack” Davis On Trial, thesis: Master of Arts in Education, Idaho State University (1966)
Charles S. Walgamott, Six Decades Back, The Caxton Press, Caldwell, Idaho (1936).

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mining Investor and Idaho Governor Frank W. Hunt [otd 12/16]

Governor Hunt. J. H. Hawley photo.

Idaho Governor Frank W. Hunt was born December 16, 1861 in Newport, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio. His father was an officer in the U.S. Army, so the family relocated several times while Frank was growing up.

Frank held a variety of jobs before he took up mining in Montana around 1885. Three years later, he moved to a mining camp about 25 miles north of Salmon City, Idaho.

From his base in the camp, Hunt prospected extensively, and successfully. It is believed that he also invested in other mining properties. (The usual pattern is for the investor to “grubstake” another prospector, and thereby obtain a share of any later strikes.) Although Frank had no previous history in politics, in 1892 he was elected to a seat in the state Senate.

A Democrat, Hunt became part of a coalition with Populist members that opposed key measures proposed by Governor William McConnell, a Republican [blog, Sept 18]. Besides defeating a reduction in the property tax levy (the new state had collected a surplus under the old levy), the coalition voted down a reapportionment bill.

The legislature did create state Normal schools at Lewiston [blog, Jan 6] and Albion [blog, Mar 7]. Beyond that, Hunt “took a special interest in revising mining law.” He did not run for re-election.

In 1897, Frank explored some mining properties in Canada, but returned in time to join the First Idaho Volunteers when the regiment was mustered for the Spanish-American War. Entering as a lieutenant, Hunt was twice breveted to captain for bravery under fire. The rank was made permanent when the regiment mustered out.

The 1900 political campaign proved especially chaotic in Idaho. The Republicans had a slate, which included William McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt at the national level. The Populists again chose to not make common cause with the Democratic Party; they selected their own candidates. The Prohibitionist Party also proposed a nearly full roster.

The Democrats assembled a Fusion Party with the Silver Republicans. The Fusion supported William Jennings Bryan for President. However, the coalition suffered from severe internal tensions at the state level. Most of this arose from conflicting positions on labor unrest and subsequent violence in the Coeur d’Alene mining districts [blog, Apr 29].
Miners  Held in “Bullpen” After Violent Strike Actions. Historic Wallace.
During a succession of eighteen convention ballots, war hero Frank Hunt’s stock rose as various hopefuls dropped by the wayside. Hunt won the state election by just 2,160 votes out of over 56 thousand cast. During his term of office, Hunt approved legislation that established the Academy of Idaho, precursor to Idaho State University, in Pocatello.

All too aware of the close election result, Hunt also selected leading Populist politicians to fill state boards and other appointive offices. (He even reportedly found a place for the man who ran against him for Governor.) That was not enough, however. His bid for re-election in 1902 failed and he retired from politics.

Hunt then returned to mining, with interests that included properties in Nevada. While in Goldfield, Nevada, he contracted pneumonia and died in November 1906. His remains were returned to Boise for burial in the Masonic Cemetery there.
References: [Hawley]
“Ex-Gov. F. W. Hunt Dead,” The New York Times (November 26, 1906).
“Idaho Governor Frank W. Hunt,” National Governors Association.
Robert C. Sims, Hope A. Benedict (Eds.), Idaho’s Governors: Historical Essays on Their Administrations, Boise State University (1992).