Thursday, July 24, 2014

Railroad Begins Narrow Gauge Track Conversion in Eastern Idaho [otd 07/24]

On Sunday July 24, 1887, multiple crews assembled at intervals along the 262 miles of narrow-gauge track between Pocatello, Idaho and Garrison, Montana. They worked for the Utah & Northern Railroad (U&N RR) Company. This event crowned a lengthy effort to prepare for the moment.
U&N RR train, Beaver Canyon, Idaho, ca 1885.
Idaho Museum of Natural History.

The U&N RR first completed its line across eastern Idaho and into Montana in 1879-1880. The company had made an early decision to run narrow gauge. Narrow gauge railroads are much cheaper to build than standard gauge, especially in mountainous country. Clearly, crews have to move less material to make cuts, fills, and tunnels, and to lay the road bed. Plus, bridges don’t have to be as wide. Less obviously, narrow gauge trains can turn through tighter curves. This allows the tracks to bend around obstacles that would have to be removed for standard gauge.

However, narrow gauge trains carry a smaller payload, and they are (obviously) incompatible with standard gauge systems. Both the Union Pacific and the Oregon Short Line railroads ran standard gauge. Thus, goods moving between the systems had to be bodily transferred from one to the other. Operators had some tricks to improve the process, but it still added time and expense to all their shipments.

The problem became more acute as shipping volume rose. In 1886, the line purchased ten new engines from the Brooks Locomotive Works. These more powerful machines weighed a third more than the U&N's older stock, and over-stressed the lighter narrow gauge rails, particularly on some curves.
Brooks-built steam locomotive, ca. 1890.
Grant County [Oregon] Historical Museum.

To prepare for the conversion to standard gauge, management dispatched crews to widen the roadbed, including all the cuts, fills, and bridges. In some areas, new bed had to be laid to straighten out curves too tight for standard-gauge trains. Workers performed most of these tasks while regular train service continued.

The next step had to be completed in small stages. One team moved along a segment of old line, tearing up the light narrow-gauge rails and short ties. Behind them, another group laid full-length ties and the new, heavier rails. They would fully anchor one rail, while the other got just enough spikes for short-term operation. This had to be completed before the next scheduled train came through.

Next, however, they had to complete the actual switch from narrow to standard width all at once, to avoid a major interruption in service. Hence, on July 24, the U&N gathered enough crews to change the entire line after the last scheduled train passed over the narrow gauge track.

Records indicate that the conversion began at 2:00 o'clock the next morning: pull spikes, move rail over, drive new spikes, then on to the next rail. The whole job was done by the early afternoon of July 25, with no break in service.

As soon as reports reached Pocatello that the first section was done, the Superintendent of the Idaho Division started north with a short special train (Idaho Register, Idaho Falls, July 30, 1887).). The changeover was then celebrated with stops at each station along the way.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W]
Merrill D. Beal, Intermountain Railroads: Standard and Narrow Gauge, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho
George Woodman Hilton, American Narrow Gauge Railroads, Stanford University Press (1990).
Alex Hyslop, “Terrifying Tale of a Killer Steam Engine,” Pocatello Tribune (March 20, 1900).

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Gambler Patterson Shoots and Kills Ex-Sheriff Pinkham [otd 07/23]

Sumner Pinkham.
Idaho City Historical Foundation.
On Sunday, July 23, 1865, businessman and ex-sheriff Sumner Pinkham took a hired carriage from Idaho City to a resort about two miles west of town. Locals often enjoyed a relaxing dip in the pool fed by the warm springs out back. According to some, Pinkham and a few friends were soon in the bar singing raucous anti-Secesh songs. Yet others would dispute even that apparently simple fact.

A native of Maine, Pinkham had joined the rush to California gold in 1849 and then knocked around the towns there and possibly in Oregon for the next decade. He moved to the Idaho gold camps in 1862. When Idaho became a Territory, Pinkham’s Radical Republican politics – he was an ardent Abolitionist –won him appointment as Boise County’s first sheriff.

However, a massive influx of Southerners had aligned the voter roles to favor Democrats, and the next election turned Pinkham out. Ferdinand “Ferd” Patterson was among those Southerners.

From Tennessee, apparently, he too had tried his hand in California, then in Oregon, and finally in Idaho. Records indicate that by the time Patterson reached Idaho, he had killed at least two men in gun fights, but got off on “self-defense” pleas. Moreover, charged for assault on a disreputable female companion in Oregon, he had simply skipped bail. Although he had done some prospecting, Patterson was primarily a professional gambler.

As the Civil War neared its end, Ferd complained bitterly about the South’s impending defeat. He and Pinkham had already exchanged hot words. Then, with the war over, the ex-sheriff rubbed salt in Southern wounds by staging a 4th of July parade in which pro-Union men marched through the streets, singing patriotic and anti-Secesh songs.

Ferd Patterson.
Idaho City Historical Foundation.
On July 23, Patterson entered the resort bar while Pinkham was paying his bill. At this point, Ferd apparently ignored the ex-sheriff and went on to the warm pools. Then, witnesses concurred, Patterson exited the resort while Pinkham stood outside waiting for a carriage back into Idaho City. Here, witnesses agreed on only two points: Patterson said the word “draw” in some (disputed) context, then taunted Pinkham as an “Abolitionist son-of-a-bitch.”

Who drew first was also in dispute. Patterson certainly shot quicker, before Pinkham got off one inaccurate response and then took a second bullet. Ferd fled to avoid any immediate retaliation, but soon gave himself up.

As usual in such affrays, witnesses gave muddled and contradictory testimony, and friend and foe alike expected an acquittal. After being freed by reason of “self-defense,” Patterson left the region for Walla Walla, fearing he wasn’t safe in Idaho City.

He did not, however, go far enough.  The following February, a man shot Patterson full of holes while he visited a barbershop. Most in the region saw the shooting as vengeance for the Pinkham killing. The shooter claimed that Patterson had threatened him, and the first trial ended in a hung jury.

During the wait for a new trial, the man walked away from jail. Authorities arrested him a few months later in San Francisco, but he was released before he could be extradited (Idaho Statesman, November 1, 1866). He then disappeared from history.
                                                                               
References: [B&W]
Boise County, Idaho.
Bill Gulick, Outlaws of the Pacific Northwest, Caxton Press, Caldwell Idaho (2000).
Arthur A. Hart, Basin of Gold: Life in Boise Basin, 1862-1890, Idaho City Historical Foundation (© 1986, Fourth printing 2002).
N. P. Langford, Vigilante Days and Ways, Montana State University (1957). Original publication in 1890.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Army Establishes Fort Lapwai on the Nez Percé Indian Reservation [otd 07/22]

According to Idaho State Historical Society records, a troop of Oregon Volunteer cavalry established Camp – later Fort – Lapwai on July 22, 1862. The location selected was near the mission established by Presbyterian minister Henry Harmon Spalding in 1836 [blog, Nov 29]. Although the church abandoned the mission after the Whitman Massacre in 1847, the Nez Percé Indians continued to occupy the site.

When Elias Pierce discovered gold on Orofino Creek, in 1860, prospectors poured into the region. However, the gold fields lay within the boundary of the Nez Percé Indian Reservation established in 1855. The Indians demanded that white authorities expel the invaders, as stipulated in the 1855 treaty.

White officials met at Lapwai with the Nez Percé in August 1861. The results were inconclusive, so authorities stationed a company of dragoons near the meeting place. They claimed the troop was there to protect the Nez Percé, and keep the miners in line. However, the troopers did absolutely nothing to curb trespassers. There’s no question that their real job was to over-awe the more militant factions within the tribe.

Officials decided they needed a more permanent base, so the Army built Camp Lapwai near the old mission. By the fall of 1862, they had stationed two cavalry companies there. That did not solve the problem, and the local Indian Agent used the turmoil to foist a new treaty on the Nez Percé. The 1863 Treaty drastically reduced the size of the reservation and sowed the seeds of future conflict [blog, June 9].

The Army temporarily vacated Fort Lapwai after the Civil War, when authorities disbanded many Volunteer regiments and there was a delay in replacing them with Regulars. By late 1867, the Department had stationed two cavalry companies at the installation. These troops played a key role when lingering 1863 treaty tensions exploded into the Nez Percé War of 1877. Of course, Nez Percé warriors badly beat the Lapwai soldiers who responded first to the outbreak [blog, June 17]. However, the fort then became a vital staging area for additional troops and supplies to fight the war.

In 1878, the Army established Fort Coeur d'Alene at what soon became the town of Coeur d'Alene City [blog, April 16]. This provided a post from which authorities could observe activities at both the Coeur d'Alene and Nez Percé Indian reservations.
Fort Lapwai, ca 1890. National Park Service.
When civilian steamboats appeared on Lake Coeur d’Alene in 1883-1884 [blog, Apr 4], it became clear that Fort Coeur d'Alene was the more effective location. The War Department decommissioned Fort Lapwai in June 1884. The structures basically reverted to tribal use by default.

The History page of the City of Lapwai says, “The Northern Idaho Indian Agency, originally located at Spalding, was relocated to Fort Lapwai in 1904. Fort Lapwai was later converted into a government Indian school and then into a tuberculosis sanatorium with a hospital, boys' and girls' dormitories, and a school.
"Lapwai remains as the seat of government for the Nez Perce Indian Nation. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Northern Idaho Indian Agency is also still located in Lapwai."
                                                                               
Reference: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“Fort Lapwai,” Idaho Museum of Natural History Digital Atlas, Idaho State University, Pocatello.
“Idaho Military Posts and Camps,” Reference Series No. 63, Idaho State Historical Society (May 1971).

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ammunition Innovator and Manufacturer Richard, "Dick," Speer [otd 07/21]

Dick Speer.
Beal & Wells photo.
Lewiston industrialist Richard A. "Dick" Speer was born July 21, 1915 in Cedar Falls, Iowa. His father, who started out as a farmer and nurseryman, took up "manufacturing and engineering pursuits" before Richard's birth. Thus, after a year at a teachers' college, Richard landed a job in the engineering department of the Maytag Corporation.

In 1939, he began taking courses at the University of Washington in Seattle while working nights as a tool and die maker for the Boeing Aircraft Company. He would have been exempt from military service as a skilled craftsman, and also as a student. His employers and teachers would have surely discouraged Speer from enlisting for World War II.

In 1947, he moved to Lewiston, Idaho, to work with his brother, Vernon, who had founded the Speer Products Company there. The company manufactured jacketed bullets and sportmen's gun supplies, including devices to aid those who wanted to load their own ammunition. The company also produced handbooks to guide such “reloaders.” Some consider those manuals to be a “Bible” for reloading. They have been revised over the years to reflect greater knowledge of the parameters and technology involved.

Two years later, Richard left to establish his own firm, the Speer Cartridge Company. Histories of the company suggest that Dick already had the idea for a new venture when he left Boeing. At the time, hunters often could only find standard mass-production lines of ammunition. Competition shooters, and other who wanted to load their own, had few reliable sources.

Speer decided he could be that producer. The processes he designed did make high-quality components, but only if the raw materials were up to standard. Too often back then, they were not. So Speer refined his niche, noting that the big manufacturers avoided selling primers to reload dealers – ammunition reloaded by hobbyists cut into their sales.

In a somewhat fortuitous coincidence, the escalation of the Korean War created a demand for military-grade primers just as Speer turned his attention to that line. After the war, the company continued to manufacture primers for both governmental and civilian use.
Modern CCI ammunition.
Cabelas catalog image.

Early on, some confusion developed about the difference between Speer bullets (made by brother Vernon's company) and Speer cartridges. Thus, in 1956, Dick established Cascade Cartridge, Incorporated, or CCI®.

To stay ahead of the competition, Speer pushed innovative designs for all the company's products. As usual for a small company in this day and age, it eventually became a subsidiary of a large manufacturing conglomerate.

In 1968, Speer and his wife “retired” to a place in Virginia near Chesapeake Bay. Less than ten years later, Dick filed for the first of a series of patents for the “Apollo Wizard” tennis ball serving machine. In late 1982, he received the patent for a version that imparted “spin” to the ball. Dick eventually sold the company he established to make the machines. He passed away in May 1994.

Today, CCI still makes products in Lewiston, and new plants have been built elsewhere. They are still considered one of the most innovative companies in the ammunition business.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W]
CCI Ammunition.
Ashby Koss, "The Making of Cascade Cartridge Incorporated (CCI): Dick Speer Filling the Industry Gap," Associated Content, Yahoo! Incorporated (January 08, 2008).
Nelda Knemeyer, "Obituary: Richard A. Speer, Ammunition Maker," Daily Press, Newport News, Virginia (May 12, 1994).
Richard A. Speer, “Ball Projecting Device Capable of Providing Spin,” U. S. Patent No. 4,345,578, United States Patent Office, Washington, D. C. (August 24, 1982).

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Poor Roads and Blistering Weather Hobble Traffic to the Idaho Gold Camps [otd 07/20]

On July 20, 1863, The Oregonian reported, “Increased facilities are offering daily for transportation to the Boise mines. We are informed that John Slavin & Co. have established a stage line to run from the Dalles to Bannock City.”

Mining around Bannock City, soon to be re-named Idaho City, was then on the upswing compared to placer fields over the ridge along Grimes Creek. Where Grimes had little water, streams around Idaho City still provided a good flow.

However, the stage line announcement was, at best, premature. Of course, emigrants on the Oregon Trail did get wagons across Idaho and then the Blue Mountains in Oregon. However, the trip took a horrific toll on their draft animals. Even freighters, who knew the road and its dangers, lost stock.
Stagecoach on Steep Grade. U. S. Forest Service photo.

The Oregonian published (August 8, 1863) a letter from the gold country that said, “There is a terrible mortality existing among the teams on the Boise road, and the dead cattle line the road from Burnt river to the Boise basin, so that more than two weeks since I was told by a gentleman returned from there that he was not out of sight of them the whole distance.”

Steep grades and the rutted track were not the worst problem, the correspondent went on: “The alkali dust on the Burnt and Snake rivers is deadly in its effects on the heated and toiling oxen, and sometimes they fall down dead when the yoke is taken off them.”

No transport company could afford to lose stock at those rates. So, for much of 1863, pack trains – horses and mules – carried substantial amounts of supplies to the Idaho mines. But when weather conditions were favorable, teamsters brought freight wagons from depots in Umatilla and Walla Walla. They were very careful, however, to husband the strength of their animals.

As one might expect, the slow pace of these freight trains did not suit eager prospectors. So-called “saddle trains” catered to that impatience. John Hailey, who would play a prominent role in Idaho history [blog,  August 29], is credited with the first saddle train operation, in 1863. Hailey later wrote, “On the 18th day of April, I left Walla Walla with a saddle train of sixteen passengers and four pack animals for Placerville in the Boise Basin. This was the beginning of the saddle train business in the Boise Basin mines.”

Hailey and his partner, William Ish, ran a profitable passenger operation through the summer, although they did have to reduce their fare as competitors appeared. And, he said, “By September, the travel to the Basin was almost over for the season, so we engaged in packing.”
John Hailey. Library of Congress.

Ish & Hailey did not attempt even a partial stagecoach run until spring of the following year. They first ran the stage about fifty miles, from Umatilla to the west side of the Blue Mountains. That early in the season, the road beyond that would not support the stage, so the company’s saddle trains took over. They did build (future) stage stations, which allowed saddle passengers to eat, rest, and change to fresh horses.

They had the stage route from Umatilla to Placerville “ready for passengers about the 1st of June, 1864.” It does not appear the Slavin & Company operation, mentioned above, ever materialized. The Ish-Hailey outfit did  have one competitor on routes over the Blues, but traffic over the next few years remained high enough to support both.
                                                                                 
References: John Hailey, History of Idaho, Syms-York Company, Boise, Idaho (1910).
“To the Mines,” The Oregonian, Portland (July 20, 1863).
Oscar O. Winther, The Old Oregon Country: a History of Frontier Trade, Transportation and Travel, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California (1950).

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Railroad Town of Burley Incorporated [otd 7/19]

The town of Burley, Idaho, was incorporated on July 19, 1909. The village had grown explosively since being platted four years earlier, and many businesses supported the growing farm population. That included a new Bank of Commerce, founded in the spring of 1909 with former Boise Mayor James H. Hawley as Vice President.
Burley, ca 1918. [Hawley]

The location, near where Goose Creek emptied into the Snake River, was a familiar landmark on the Oregon Trail. Other than the river itself, the creek represented the last reliable water source before Rock Creek. Guidebooks warned emigrants that they faced a hard day's travel over rugged terrain. In a moderately poor year, they might find no water whatsoever.

Goose Creek water and grass also attracted stockmen and settlers. By 1900, the area had a number of homesteads. Then developer Ira Perrine [blog, May 7] spearheaded the construction of Milner Dam and its irrigation system, which spurred the creation of Twin Falls.

In late 1904, the Minidoka and Southwestern Railroad Company began construction of a branch line from Minidoka through Twin Falls to Buhl. The next year Perrine and five partners platted a town near where the tracks crossed the Snake River. They called the town Burley, after David E. Burley, an agent for the Oregon Short Line Railroad Company.

French's History of Idaho (1914), emphasized the town's rapid development into a substantial, modern municipality: "The streets are well lighted, the cluster lights being used in the down town section. Burley owns and operates its own electric light, heat and power system and has the benefit of exceptionally low rates. There have just been installed municipal waterworks, which cover the entire town. A trunk sewer has also been constructed."

Six years later when Hawley produced his History, he mentioned those advances and more: "Burley ... has two weekly newspapers, three banks, a good public school system, six churches, an elaborate system of rural telephones, a sugar factory, well-stocked stores of all kinds, good hotels, and more hogs are shipped from this place than any other point on the Oregon Short Line in Idaho."
Train stop on the Minidoka-Buhl line. Twin Falls Public Library.

When the Territorial legislature created Cassia County in 1879, the only towns of any consequence in the region were Albion and Oakley. For various reasons, Albion got the nod as county seat.

Just a year after Burley incorporated, it had a population two-and-a-half times that of Albion. Still, an attempt in 1912 to move the seat to Burley failed. Determined, folks in the area decided to push for their own (new) county, of which they would be the county seat (Idaho Statesman, November 13, 1912). Although the legislature did carve out six new counties in the next session, Burley’s scheme failed.

By 1918, the town's population was four times that of Albion and a vote moved the county seat to Burley, where it still is. In fact, today Burley is a thriving city of around 10 thousand while Albion contains only a few hundred people. Although the railroad is no longer an economic powerhouse, it still plays an important role in transporting the area's farm products.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W], [French], Hawley]
Cassia County History, Cassia County web site.
Kathleen Hedberg, Cassia County, Idaho: The Foundation Years, The Caxton Printers (© Cassia County Commissioners, 2005).

Friday, July 18, 2014

Trappers Clash with Indians at the Battle of Pierre’s Hole [otd 07/18]

On July 18, the great mountain man rendezvous of 1832, at Pierre's Hole, was breaking up. The only Idaho location where the fur companies held their annual conclave, Pierre's Hole is known to us today as the Teton Valley.
Teton Valley – view of the three Tetons from the west.

While they were preparing to hit the trail, one trapper party noticed a column of Indians approaching. The band consisted of 150-200 individuals, including many women and children. Perhaps fifty to sixty qualified as warriors. The Gros Ventre, which these were, were allies of the notoriously hostile Blackfeet tribe. Although the Gros Ventre shared neither lineage nor language with the Blackfeet, Americans almost invariably lumped the two together.

The presence of entire family groups meant this was not a war party, and a chief rode out to parley under signs of peace. Two men, both of whom harbored virulent hatred for "the Blackfeet," went out to meet him. One, a Flathead Indian, had lost many relatives and friends to incessant Blackfeet attacks. A Blackfeet war party had also killed the father of the other intermediary, Métis Antoine Godin.

The two met the chief with all the usual signs of accommodation, and Godin accepted the other's proffered handshake. Then, in what was clearly a pre-planned moved, the Flathead shot the chief dead. One of them then grabbed the chief's bright red blanket and they raced triumphantly back to the trappers' camp.

It's not clear if the Gros Ventres knew how many whites they were up against. There is general agreement that the families began throwing up a crude palisades of soil and deadfall timbers.

By some accounts – and many were recorded – warriors began organizing an attack on the small band that had instigated the treacherous killing. Other witnesses said the Gros Ventres only formed a skirmish line to delay any further attack by the whites.

Soon however, the distinction became moot. More trappers and their Indian allies (Nez Percés and Flatheads) arrived to reinforce the first group and a hot exchange of fire ensued. Captain William L. Sublette tried to organize a general attack on the Gros Ventre's position.

Most held back, so the Captain pushed ahead with a smaller party. They retreated after several men, including Sublette himself, were wounded, and another was killed. Zenas Leonard, one of those who gave an account of the battle, helped carry one wounded man out of danger. This, he said “met my approbation precisely, for I was glad to get out of this unpleasant situation under any pretext.”
Mountain Man. Frederic Remington

Without overall leadership or proper discipline, the trappers and their allies could not mount a tight, organized siege. Someone suggested fires to burn the crude fort. Although Indian allies objected to destroying all the possible loot, the whites began to gather fuel. Then a (false) rumor spread that more Blackfeet were attacking the main trapper encampment. Many trappers rushed off, allowing the Gros Ventre to flee during the night.

Four whites were killed during the battle, along with seven of their allies. They found nine slain warriors inside the fort, along with a couple dozen dead horses, and most of the Gros Ventres baggage. Writer Washington Irving said, "The Blackfeet afterward reported that they had lost twenty-six warriors in this battle."
                                                                               
References: [B&W],
H. M. Chittenden, The American Fur Trade of the Far West, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1986).
W. A. Ferris, Leroy R. Hafen (ed), Life in the Rocky Mountains, Old West Publishing Company, Denver (1983).
Washington Irving, Edgeley W. Todd (ed.), The Adventures of Captain Bonneville U.S.A., in the Rocky Mountains and the Far West. Digested from his journal. University of Oklahoma Press (1961).
Zenas Leonard, Milo Milton Quaife (ed.), Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard, written by himself, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1978).
“Pierre’s Hole Battleground," Reference Series No. 745, Idaho State Historical Society.