Wednesday, November 22, 2017

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).

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

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 had probably 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.”

So 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 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 was November  21st, when 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.”

Hunt’s party spent a few days resting and trying to puzzle out a route based on confusing advice from the Indians. Finally, they headed generally northwest and then, in the vicinity of present-day Weiser, turned north into the mountains. From there, Hunt’s party staggered through some of Idaho’s worst country, where many peaks rise to eight or nine thousand feet. Low on food, they were lashed by snows squalls mixed with rain. Finally, they were forced to turn back, returning to the Weiser area about three weeks after they had left it. Hunt said, “Ice floated on the river and the weather was extremely cold.”

Knowing they didn’t have enough supplies to last through the winter, Hunt’s party finally headed due west to where guides said they could cross the Snake River. It took them most of three days to get across using one crude raft made from horsehide. They marched away from the river on the day before Christmas, only to struggle through more mountains in eastern Oregon.

They finally reached the Columbia just under a month after they left the Snake, 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).

Monday, November 20, 2017

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).

Sunday, November 19, 2017

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).

Saturday, November 18, 2017

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, was rather 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).

Friday, November 17, 2017

Horses Thieves Trailed, Captured, and Jailed – Escaped, Caught Again [otd 11/17]

On Saturday, November 17, 1883, three different newspapers across Idaho published stories about a trio of captured horse thieves. That timing arose from the more-leisurely newspaper publication schedules back then. The Owyhee Avalanche (Silver City, Idaho) and the Blackfoot Register were both weeklies, issued only on Saturdays. The Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman (Boise) had issues on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
Watching the horses. Library of Congress.

The raiders began their depredations the previous month when they stole a considerable band of horses near Fort McDermitt, Nevada. That’s along the Nevada-Oregon border about seventy miles north of Winnemucca. They reportedly left Nevada with about 75 animals. Many of them belonged to a stockman named Jeremiah “Jerry” Hearn. He was originally from Massachusetts and brought his bride, Margaret, to the area in 1881.

Edward F. Mullaney, whose brother had lost horses to the thieves, trailed the bandits as they made their way across the southeast corner of Oregon into Idaho. (We know only a few of the pursuers’ names, probably because the composition of the posse changed along the way.)

In Idaho, the thieves added about 40 horses belonging to stockman Con Shea [blog, Sept 24] to their herd. They then pushed through the mountains to the east, emerging, it is supposed, somewhere south of today’s Murphy. Based on the eventual size of the stolen herd, it’s likely they gathered more horses on the high plains there. The raiders finally crossed the Snake River near the mouth of the Bruneau River.

The crooks next dodged there way east. They would have needed to avoid the new Oregon Short Line tracks, since by this time the railroad was running regular mixed trains over the line. They finally pushed their herd into the Lost River area, some sixty to seventy miles west of Eagle Rock (today’s Idaho Falls). Apparently not concerned about any possible pursuit, the thieves now “laid over four or five days” (Blackfoot Register). While there, they stole 45-50 horses belonging to rancher Edward Hawley.
Robbers’ approximate path (Green line). Overlay on historical map.
Rested up, and still unaware of any posse, the thieves moseyed through East Idaho before turning north into Montana. Along the way, they “picked up” another 15-20 horses. The pursuit closed in near the town of Bannack, about eighteen miles west of Dillon.

Events then turn a bit murky. The three apparently sent someone into Bannack for supplies, but were tipped off that a posse was after them. The crooks quickly abandoned their loot and “lit out.” They were soon caught, however, and jailed in Dillon.

Amusingly, the three “simultaneous” news articles had different snapshots of these events. The Statesman and the Register noted that the crooks were in jail pending extradition paperwork from Idaho and Nevada. The Avalanche, on the other hand, knew that the prisoners had already broken out of jail.

The three were recaptured in December and returned to Nevada for trial. The Reno Evening Gazette reported (March 21, 1884) their convictions, under the names of Lee, Stimson, and Dan Bowden. The latter was a gunman well known in southern Idaho and northern Nevada. Lee, apparently, had been “recently released” from the Idaho Penitentiary. The court sentenced Stimson to four months in the county jail, while the other two received long prison terms.
References: [B&W]
Blackfoot Register; Idaho Statesman, Boise; Owyhee Avalanche, Silver City, Idaho (November 17, 1883).
“Horse Thieves … ,” Owyhee Avalanche (November 10, and December 22, 1883).
“Horse Thieves,” Idaho Statesman (November 24, 1883).
“Cattle Stealing Gangs,” Reno Evening Gazette, Reno, Nevada (March 21, 1884).

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Idaho Falls Dedicates a New City Hall and Fire Station [otd 11/16]

On November 16, 1930, Idaho Falls officials dedicated a new City Hall. It replaced the old city building, which had been in use since before 1911.

Idaho Falls, aka “Eagle Rock,” aka “Taylor’s Bridge,” originated when James Madison “Matt” Taylor and his partners opened a toll bridge at the spot in 1865 [blog, Dec 10]. Settlement was very slow at first. When Matt’s cousin Sam Taylor [blog, Apr 18] arrived in June 1870, he recalled, “There was nothing there then but Matt Taylor’s family and what help they had around, and men that worked for the stage line; no settlers at all.”
Idaho Falls train yard. Bonneville County Historical Society.

The stage station finally experienced a growth spurt after the Utah & Northern Railroad arrived in April 1879: Eagle Rock grew as newcomers settled in the region, especially north along Henry’s Fork. Then, in 1887, the town suffered a significant loss of population when the railroad shops moved to Pocatello. Still, continued settlement in the area gave people confidence about the future.

Eagle Rock organized into a village structure in 1889 and selected a board of five trustees. Two years later, the town’s name changed to Idaho Falls. Not until 1895 did the Board formally designate a Chairman. By 1900, the town was large enough to be a “city of the second class,” with a Mayor and council.

Sometime during this period, the Board procured a specific City Hall. This structure, on the southwest corner of Broadway and Capital Avenue, would remain in use until the new City Hall was dedicated. For five or six years after 1911, part of the building also served as the Bonneville County courthouse. The county then erected a new courthouse building, which is still in use today.

Around 1928, “five and dime” retailer S. H. Kress offered a premium price for the property that housed the police and fire stations. With the old City Hall showing its age, the Council saw the offer as a way to finance a replacement. They accepted, and fire and police units became tenants for awhile.

With money in hand, the city began planning a new structure, one that would allow the consolidation of the city offices with the police and fire stations. With additional revenue from the municipal hydro-power plant, the council did not need to call for a bond election. For $9,000, the city purchased a lot that was then owned by the Idaho Falls Elk’s Lodge.

City Hall drawing.
Idaho Falls Historic Preservation Commission.
Construction proceeded in phases after purchase of the property. Although much remained to be done at the time, the city offices moved into the completed fire station structure in August 1929. After that, work proceeded rapidly, leading to the formal dedication noted above.

Over the years, parts of the interior were modernized, and a foyer with skylights was remodeled into additional offices. However, "the lobby retains its distinctive tiles and decorative detail."

City Hall still serves Idaho Falls well today and its façade looks pretty much like it did eighty years ago.
References: [Illust-State]
Mary Jane Fritzen, Eagle Rock, City of Destiny, Bonneville County Historical Society (1991).
“Golden Jubilee Edition, 1884–1934,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (September 10, 1934).
“Idaho Falls City Building,” Idaho Falls Downtown Development Corporation (2012).