Saturday, April 19, 2014

Grand Opening for Exotic and Modern Egyptian Theater [otd 04/19]

On April 19, 1927, crowds began to gather outside the brand new Egyptian Theater at least an hour before it was supposed to open, at 7:00 pm. Boise's first movie "palace" had created an expectant buzz in the city.
Egyptian Theater, ca. 1928*. City of Boise.

Of the five other movie houses in town, the Pinney Theater was the largest and fanciest. Former Boise mayor James Pinney [blog, Sept 29], a theater enthusiast, opened the Pinney in late 1908. Designed initially for stage plays, within a decade movie productions predominated.

As the grande damme of downtown venues, the Pinney got preference for the prestigious first-run movies. For example, the theater offered the first exclusive, limited engagement in Boise of The Birth of a Nation (Idaho Statesman, April 10, 1916). This highly controversial, but wildly popular movie by D. W. Griffith is considered historically important as the first true “feature” film.

However, the "Roaring Twenties" were in full swing, and moviegoers craved something modern for a venue. To some, the Pinney seemed stodgy and old-fashioned. The other four theaters in town were smaller and generally conventional in design. Boiseans were ready for the exotic.

Sensing an opportunity, a year earlier three Boise businessmen – Leo J. Falk, Harry K. Fritchman and Charles M. Kahn – incorporated a company to satisfy that desire. Two of them were especially well known to locals. Boise City was just five year old when Nathan Falk, Leo's father, opened a store there. Born in Boise in 1882, Leo ended up directing the extensive family holdings after his father died in 1903.

Fifteen years older than Leo, Fritchman was already a successful businessman when he relocated to Boise. He continued that success in Idaho, and served as Boise Mayor in 1911. Kahn moved to Boise from Portland in 1899 and established a thriving law practice. Prominent in the local Jewish community, Kahn served a term as City Attorney starting April 1907.
Interior décor, Egyptian Theater. Theater photo gallery.
The partners contracted with the well-known architectural firm of Tourtellotte & Hummel to design a spectacular venue. At the time, "Egyptian" motifs were all the rage, so the designer offered his interpretation.

After almost a year of work, the doors finally opened on the 19th of April. Patrons found themselves in a bright lobby, tiled nearer the doors but with lush carpeting further in. Water fountains burbled somewhere. The walls looked like cut stone, with frescos embellished in bright blues, reds and greens.

Warner Bros. publicity poster.
The Egyptian opened with the movie Don Juan, starring the hugely popular John Barrymore. The release gave Boise theatergoers something else new: The first feature film with prerecorded – via the "Vitaphone" – sound effects and music (no dialog).

Today, the Egyptian is the only theater that has survived from that era. It went through several names in its history, before returning to the original. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. At considerable cost, a recent restoration addressed various building code issues while retaining the historic decor.

* The photograph was identified as "undated," but the marquee says: "Monte Blue in Across the Pacific." That silent film was released in 1926, so this showing would have almost certainly been in 1927 or 1928.
                                                                                 
References: [French]
Arthur Hart, "Idaho history: [Boise Movie Theaters]," Idaho Statesman (September 13 and 20, 2009).
"Don Juan," The Internet Movie Database.
"Across the Pacific," The Internet Movie Database.
Sue Paseman, "The Mysterious East Meets the Pragmatic West," Historical Essay, Boise State University (Dec 2004).

Friday, April 18, 2014

Rancher, Horse Breeder, and Sheriff Sam F. Taylor [otd 04/18]

Samuel F. "Sam" Taylor was born April 18, 1848 in Kentucky. Like his cousin, James Madison “Matt” Taylor [blog Dec 10], Sam traced his lineage back to Englishman James Taylor, who emigrated to Virginia in 1635. James Taylor’s descendants included two U. S. Presidents: James Madison and Zachary Taylor (second cousins to Sam and Matt). Sam’s family moved to Lafayette County, Missouri when he was a year old.
Making hay, the old way. Library of Congress.

In 1870, Sam finished a college degree in Kentucky and then joined cousin Matt in Eagle Rock (today's Idaho Falls). The town grew up around Matt's toll bridge and Sam helped with a hay contract for the stage line.

In a letter written many years later, Sam said, “There was nothing there then but Matt Taylor’s family and what help they had around, and men that worked for the stage line; … There was no farming done, no tame hay, no stock in the country; lots of good grass and we just had to cut the wild grass wherever it could be found. I had four four-horse teams and ten men; lots of this hay had to be hauled twenty-five miles, and we were all summer until frost filling the contract.”

After completing the order, Sam and his brother Ike trailed cattle into the area from Missouri, first for Matt's ranch, and then for one of their own. They were among the first to import thoroughbred stock to help upgrade the Territory's herds. According to local historian Barzilla Clark, "These Taylor brothers originated the SI stock brand, the first brand used in this valley, and well known for many years thereafter."

Besides his ranch, Sam also ran a livery stable, partnered in a meat market, and twice served as county sheriff. He was a member of the first school board organized in Eagle Rock, and President of the first county fair in 1887. Right after that, Sam served a term in the last Territorial legislature and was a member of the constitutional convention that led to Idaho statehood.

The livery business moved Sam into breeding top-grade trotting horses. He bred many fine horses and one went on to excel in Eastern races. A New York Times headline for July 27, 1894 read "Ryland T. Surprises the Talent in the Races on the Grand Circuit."
Bay trotter, Currier & Ives image, ca. 1883. Library of Congress.

The article noted that "the talent" – racing aficionados – had never seen that much speed from the bay gelding, which was "bred in Idaho" and carried the "SI" brand. But this time out the horse had "stepped ... the best mile that has been trotted this year and the fastest one even seen at Cleveland."

Later, Sam moved his family to a ranch near Mackay. While he lived there, Custer County voters elected him to a term in the state House of Representatives.

In 1911, Sam moved to Ontario, Oregon (a few miles south of Payette, Idaho), partly for his wife’s health, and to be near their married daughter. Sam returned regularly to Idaho Falls on business for five or six years after that. The change certainly helped his wife’s health, for she lived until 1928. Sam passed away there in 1935.
                                                                                 
References: [Illust-State]
Barzilla W. Clark, Bonneville County in the Making, Self-published, Idaho Falls, Idaho (1941).
"Golden Jubilee Edition, 1884-1934," Idaho Falls Post-Register (September 10, 1934).
"A New Trotting Champion," The New York Times (July 27, 1894).

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Nampa Incorporates and Forms City Government [otd 04/17]

On April 17, 1891, the village of Nampa, Idaho was officially incorporated and proceeded to form a municipal government. The town – there's no consensus on the origin of the name – owes its existence to the Oregon Short Line Railroad, which ran its tracks through the area in late 1883. Because a direct line into Boise City involved severe grades, the OSL stayed west of that city, following Indian Creek.
Steam locomotive at water tower.
State of California photo.

The railroad established a small transfer station at Kuna, where the tracks crossed the main road between Boise and Silver City. However, those early steam locomotives had an insatiable thirst for water: They had to refill roughly every ten miles. Thus, the spot that became Nampa was marked only by a watering station at first.

Nine miles beyond that station, developers had laid out the town of Caldwell. The skulduggery involved in that site choice is beyond the scope of this item. However, the crux of the matter was construction of a branch line from that town into Boise City. That seemed to be a real possibility by the end of 1884. However, for reasons that are not entirely clear, the OSL – actually, the Union Pacific – suddenly “pulled the plug” on that project in the spring of 1885.

Enter Alexander Duffes, a businessman born in Utica, New York, who had prospered in Canada. In 1884-1885, he decided to sell off his mercantile business and travel in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. Upon his return, in Portland, he ran into James McGee, a Caldwell real estate man.

Duffes had retained his real estate holdings and was apparently ripe for possible land investments. McGee advised him to check out the area around the watering station between Caldwell and Kuna. Duffes did so, and found the potential encouraging. He continued east, but soon returned with his wife and son, and claimed a homestead (160 acres) at the site.

In early 1886, Duffes and McGee formed the Nampa Land and Improvement Company. At the same time, the Union Pacific resurrected the Boise City spur line project, this time using a shorter route from Nampa. Crews completed construction of the branch to Boise City in September 1887 [blog, Sept 13].
Nampa, ca. 1918. J. H. Hawley image.

A simple wood-frame structure provided a way station for passengers at the new stop. Several years later, the railroad funded a considerable expansion of the depot (Idaho Statesman, February 28 and August 19, 1892).

Incorporation of the town in 1891 roughly coincided with the completion of an extensive irrigation system for the surrounding farm land.

That fueled steady growth ... to about 800 people in 1900, when the train station serviced ten passenger trains every day. Three years later, Nampa received a fine new railway station. News reports noted (Idaho Falls Times, August 14, 1903) that “It is said to be one of handsomest on the line.” Today, that structure houses the Canyon County Historical Museum.

Nampa still remains an important railway shipping point for the extensive agricultural production in the area. The city has grown to around 75 thousand residents.
                                                                                 
References: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Canyon County Historical Society, "Our Town,” City of Nampa web site.
“Idaho Central Railroad,” Reference Series No. 216, Idaho State Historical Society.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Congress Authorizes Fort Sherman Construction in North Idaho [otd 04/16]

Gen. William T. Sherman, ca. 1865.
Library of Congress.
On April 16, 1878, the U.S. Congress authorized the construction of a fort on Lake Coeur d'Alene at what would eventually become the city of that name. The action had been recommended by General William Tescumseh Sherman.

The General had traveled through the area the year before, not long after the end of the Nez Percé War. Sherman sought answers to why the Army had had so much trouble with the Nez Percé and other Indian uprisings (the Custer disaster was only a year in the past). More importantly, he wanted to head off any re-occurrence.

Assessing the region, the General decided that a fort on Lake Coeur d'Alene would allow troops to keep an eye on the tribes in the Idaho Panhandle. From there, they could also reinforce units watching the Yakimas in Washington and the Nez Percé along the Clearwater River. Sherman’s experience during the Civil War no doubt alerted him to the advantages of having the lake and the Spokane River close at hand to move troops more quickly.

The installation began life as Camp Coeur d'Alene, a few months after Congress provided the funding. Within about a year, the post was fully manned, and the name changed to Fort Coeur d'Alene. That same year, the Army contracted for the construction of the first steamboat to operate on the Lake [blog, Apr 4]. The steamer primarily hauled feed for the Fort’s animals, but could also carry troops if needed.

As often happened, a town – Coeur d'Alene City – soon grew up near the Fort. The combination of the Fort, and the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in the region, fueled considerable growth in the area.

The fort’s garrison was called out during the Bannock War of 1878, but nothing came of that. The Fort experienced a bit of excitement in 1887, shortly after a new commander took over from Colonel Frank Wheaton. Wheaton, in collusion with his quartermaster and his adjutant, had resorted to “unconventional” means to run the fort: Among a host of transgressions, they had allowed civilians – for a fee – to use the Army steamer to transport goods.

A court of inquiry concluded (The Evening Star, Washington, D.C., July 2, 1887) that “while the actions of the accused may have had their origin in a zealous desire to create a military post for which no adequate appropriation had been made, the methods and processes were deplorable … ”

Yet, in the end, the administration did not pursue the matter. Nor did the incident seem to hurt Wheaton’s career – he became a Brigadier General in 1892, and a Major General five years after that.
Fort Sherman, ca. 1895. Museum of North Idaho.

The post name changed to Fort Sherman in 1887. The only real "action" the troops saw was during the 1892 disputes in the mining districts. Then, the soldiers were sent to establish martial law in Wardner and the other mining towns.

The final deployment from the Fort was in 1898, when the garrison joined the buildup for the Spanish-American War. For a variety of reasons, the Army abandoned the facility in 1901. When the government auctioned off the land in 1905, a small portion was set aside for a park and cemetery. Today, the area is part of North Idaho College and site of the Fort Sherman Museum.
                                                                                 
Reference: [French], [Illust-North]
Larry R. Jones, "Fort Sherman," Reference Series No. 355, Idaho State Historical Society (1969).
Ezra J. Warner, Generals In Blue - Lives of the Union Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge (1964).

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fur Trade Leader Donald Mackenzie Navigates Hells Canyon [otd 04/15]

Donald MacKenzie, ca. 1840s.
Chautauqua County Historical Society,
Westfield, New York.
On April 15, 1819, fur trade leader Donald Mackenzie reported his "successful" ascent of the Snake River through what is today called Hells Canyon: "The passage by water is now proved to be safe and practicable for loaded boats, without one single carrying place or portage; therefore, the doubtful question is set at rest forever. Yet from the force of the current and the frequency of rapids, it may still be advisable, and perhaps preferable, to continue the land transport."

Born in 1783 near Inverness, Scotland, Mackenzie emigrated to Canada in 1800. Shortly after that, Donald hired on as a clerk for the North West Company (NWC), a British-Canadian fur dealer. He had thus amassed considerable experience in the fur trade when John Jacob Astor [blog, Jul 17] recruited him as a Pacific Fur Company (PFC) partner in 1810.

The following year, Mackenzie crossed into Idaho for the first time, as a member of the Wilson Price Hunt party [blog, Oct 5]. Then that group split up. Donald led a small band that trekked from south-central Idaho, through the Boise Valley, and then north into Nez Percé country on the lower Salmon River.

Unfortunately, the War of 1812 ruined Astor's venture. Mackenzie was one of three British-Canadian partners who engineered the bargain-price sale of the PFC base at Astoria to the NWC. By exaggerating the threat posed by a British warship (which did not arrive for months after the transfer), they squelched any thought of moving the base further inland.

After dissolution of the PFC, Mackenzie had to find a new position. Although Astor at first blamed his losses on one of the other British-Canadian partners, he and Mackenzie soon had a falling out. Since two of his brothers worked for the NWC, the Scot accepted a position with that firm.

Starting in 1816, the Company placed him in charge of the "Snake Brigade," a band of trappers and support personnel that worked the Snake River watershed. Although managers doubted that the venture would make much money, if any, Mackenzie soon proved the potential of the region. Profits for his 1817-1818 campaign were particularly fine. Thus, by the time of his 1819 foray, Mackenzie had already led two highly successful expeditions into the area.
Hells Canyon. U.S. Forest Service photo.

His goal in trying Hells Canyon was to avoid the arduous climb over Oregon's Blue Mountains. Still, Mackenzie admitted, "There are two places with bold cut rocks on either side of the river, where the great body of water is compressed within a narrow compass, which may render those parts doubtful during the floods."

"Doubtful" indeed! Today, Hells Canyon is considered a world class whitewater destination for kayakers and rafters. It includes at least two Class V (just short of lethal) rapids during high water. The mind boggles at the thought of traversing the canyon in clunky dugout canoes. And, as a matter of record, the fur companies never tried to ship supplies or pelts through the canyon.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W]
James P. Ronda, Astoria and Empire, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1990).
Alexander Ross, Kenneth A. Spaulding (ed.), The Fur Hunters of the Far West, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman (1956).
John English (ed.), "Donald McKenzie," Dictionary of Canadian Biography, University of Toronto (2000).

Monday, April 14, 2014

Army Leader and Western Explorer Benjamin Bonneville [otd 04/14]

U.S. Army General Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonneville was born to bourgeoisie parents on April 14, 1796, near Paris, France. His father, perhaps sensing how the political winds were blowing, sent the family to the U.S. in 1803. (Napoleon would crown himself Emperor of France in 1804). He joined them some years later.
West Point, early print, bef. 1835. Library of Congress.

A precocious student, Benjamin graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point when he was nineteen years old. Bonneville's career, and reputation, underwent a series of ups and downs, too convoluted to describe here in full. He served at duty stations that ranged from the Northeast to posts in Arkansas and Oklahoma territories, and the new state of Missouri.

When Bonneville arrived in Missouri, the Western fur trade seemed to be in full swing. Moreover, the “Oregon Country” – the Pacific Northwest, including British Columbia – had attracted the interest of religious missionaries as well as curious settlers. Bonneville, now a captain, came to share their enthusiasm.

He persuaded the Army to grant him a leave of absence to pursue a fur trade venture that would allow him to explore the region. His superiors saw this as a “win-win” situation: Bonneville could study the “joint occupancy” lands of the Oregon County, and it would cost the government nothing (not even a captain’s salary).

Bonneville then found private investors to finance his fur trade venture. Unfounded rumors of a “secret mission” have surfaced occasionally, but there is no doubt that Bonneville took his role as trader seriously. He spent three years, from the spring of 1832 to the spring of 1835, running a fur trade business while collecting information about the Oregon Country.

Along the way, he and his trappers and traders covered most of (future) Idaho south of the Salmon River. Thus, in the fall and winter of 1832, his main body camped in the Lemhi Valley near where that river flows into the Salmon. Two years later, after returning from Oregon, Bonneville’s party wintered along the upper reach of the Bear River in southeast Idaho.

Unfortunately, while the captain was an outstanding leader, he was no businessman; the venture lost money. Still, Washington Irving's account of his "adventures," based on Bonneville's personal journals, made his reputation as a western explorer.

However, because his request for an extension had gone astray in the Army files, he appeared to have severely overstayed his leave. Not only that, his formal reports, with maps, also disappeared. He had been struck from the Army roles and there was some doubt that he would regain his commission.

Benjamin Bonneville.
Library of Congress.
He was reinstated, finally, in 1836. Bonneville served in the Mexican War (1846-1848), and later saw duty at Fort Vancouver, back in Oregon Country. He began a brief retirement in 1861. However, experienced officers being in short supply, Bonneville was soon recalled to Civil War duty and rose to the rank of Brevet Brigadier General. He retired again in 1866 and died twelve years later.

With no visible evidence beyond the Irving account, some historians dismissed the notion that he had made major contributions as an explorer. Then, finally, researchers found Bonneville's documentation. His real achievements are, probably, somewhere between the breathless impression created by Irving and the dismissive attitude of the doubters.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W], [Brit]
H. M. Chittenden, The American Fur Trade of the Far West, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1986).
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).
Edith Haroldsen Lovell, Benjamin Bonneville: Soldier of the American Frontier, Horizon Publishers, Bountiful, Utah (1992).

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Newspaperman and Pure Food Enforcer James Wallis [otd 04/13]

J. H. Wallis. Photo from Rytting biography.
Newspaperman and pure food crusader James Hearknett Wallis was born April 13, 1861 in London, England. The family moved to a town near Liverpool when he was twelve. Four years later, James converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Having apprenticed in the printer’s trade, Wallis found work at a newspaper in Liverpool, where he met his future wife.

In 1881, James and his prospective bride emigrated to the United States as part of a Mormon party, and were married in Salt Lake City. After six months in Salt Lake, he and his new wife moved to Paris, Idaho. There, he served as Editor and publisher of the Paris Post, a newspaper started the year before by officers of the LDS Bear Lake Stake. Over the next twenty years, Wallis left and then returned to manage the Post several times.
Linotype machine, Rexburg Standard, ca. 1906. Rytting biography.
In fact, for nearly thirty years, Wallis would operate (and sometimes own and then sell) a bewildering succession of Idaho newspapers: the Montpelier Post, the Sugar City Times, the Rexburg Standard, and more. He also dabbled in the Utah newspaper business.

Many newspapers of that day served as unabashed advocates for specific political parties and candidates. In that context, Wallis decided to go into public service himself. He also studied law and earned a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Nebraska in 1896. Among his public-service jobs his years as Idaho State Dairy, Food and Sanitary Commissioner had the most impact.

Three years after passage of the Federal Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, Governor James Brady [blog, Jun 12] appointed Wallis to head the Sanitary Commissioner. (It was perhaps no coincidence that Brady was a newspaper man himself.) Wallis found plenty of problems and attacked them aggressively. No longer could meat markets display cuts in open trays, with no protection from flies or wind-blown contaminants. Milk had to be properly handled, and dairy barns had to be kept as clean and neat as possible.
Railroad dining car, 1905. Library of Congress.

Wallis became famous nationally for his activities. The New York Times printed (June 1, 1913) a long interview with the Commissioner, who proudly extolled his methods. On several occasions he had even "stopped a through train and forced the dining car chef to throw most of the food out onto the right of way."

As for substandard milk, Wallis said, “We just seize it and sell it for pig feed or destroy it.”

But, as could be expected, Wallis also stepped on a lot of toes. Eventually, his enemies found an opening. The details are beyond the scope of this article, but in October 1914, Wallis was forced to resign for “misappropriation of state funds” – five charges for amounts from $10 to a $50 over-payment of vacation time to an employee. He eventually paid a fine for the over-payment charge. The Idaho Statesman reported (May 5, 1915) that “even the judge and prosecutor [felt] that Wallis had been more careless than sinning.”

Still, the Statesman later noted (September 28, 1916) that the state of Utah had hired him to help with their food safety efforts. That also got him back into the newspaper business. Except for excursions related to LDS activities, he lived in Utah until his death in August 1940.
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Illust-State]
"Fly Man Boosts Buzzless Boise," The New York Times (June 1, 1913).
Gloria Wallis Rytting, James H. Wallis: Poet, Printer, and Patriarch, R & R Enterprises, Salt Lake City (1989).