Sunday, July 12, 2020

Strong Earthquake Rocks Central Idaho [otd 7/12]

In the early afternoon of July 12, 1944, a quick double-punch of earthquakes hit south-central Idaho. Later analysis placed the epicenter about forty-two miles west, and slightly south, of Challis, Idaho. Oddly enough, the quake was apparently not noticed there – at least the Challis Messenger carried no report.

The magnitude 6-7 quake severely impacted the Seafoam Ranger Station, located about ten miles north of the estimated epicenter. Witnesses there thought the station building might collapse, and several said “they were unable to walk.” They also observed drastic rock dislocations, a slumped canyon wall, and one- to three-inch cracks running several hundred yards along the forest service road. At Cascade, 45-50 miles to the west of the epicenter, the quake toppled two chimneys.

Newspapers in southwest Idaho and over into Oregon had many reports, although none mentioned such dramatic affects. At Garden Valley, about fifty miles distant, people simply reported feeling a tremor. Yet at Idaho City, a few miles further from the epicenter, the County Clerk said the county building shook "noticeably." McCall was about sixty miles northwest of the epicenter. There, witnesses distinctly felt the shock and a housewife said her kitchen floor “danced.” None of these locations reported any damage.

Epicenter and locations where reports originated.
At Fairfield, 70-75 miles south, witnesses reported swaying structures, swinging light fixtures, and rattling dishes. Again, there was no damage in that area. In Emmett, the tremor caught two workmen trying to handle a barrel of chilled water. Each suspected a prank as water sloshed onto one and then the other. The story claimed that the two "almost came to blows" before they figured out what was going on.

Residents in Nampa, Caldwell, Payette, and Weiser mentioned no such drama, but said they distinctly felt the tremors. Ontario, Oregon and another village about fifty miles further west also reported feeling the shocks. Observers in Helena, Montana, about 220 miles away, reported a minor tremor about the same time, but that may have been a local quake.

As might be expected, Boise produced numerous stories. Jolts strong enough to dump dishes on the floor sent some people rushing into the streets. At one fire station, the firemen themselves joined the general rush when their building began to sway and shake. Calls swamped switchboards at police stations, fire departments, and newspapers offices, wondering if there’d been an explosion.

A few folks even wondered if there had been an air raid. Quite a leap of imagination: Allied troops had staged the "D-Day" landing in Europe about six weeks earlier, and the U. S. Navy had crushed Japanese forces at the "Battle of the Philippine Sea" less than a month earlier.

A dental patient bolted from her chair at the first movement. Elsewhere, furniture scooted around and clocks stopped. One woman saw an empty rocking chair suddenly began to sway back and forth. Having no other clues, she found the sight “the most frightening experience of her life.” Some witnesses thought they were ill, and having a sudden dizzy spell. At least one older man remarked, "I thought I was having a heart attack when my chair started shaking."

Seismographs across the West recorded the shock, including stations in Salt Lake City, Spokane, and Pasadena. A seismologist at the University of Utah opined that had the epicenter been closer to a city with larger structures, "it would have toppled a lot of chimneys."
                                                                                
References: "Central Idaho Earthquake," Daily Bulletin, Blackfoot, Idaho (July 12, 1944).
“Idaho Earthquake History,” Earthquake Information Bulletin, Vol. 4, N. 2, U.S. Geological Survey (March - April 1972).
“Newspaper Articles for 1944 Central Idaho Earthquake,” University of Utah Seismograph Stations.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Labor Clash in Coeur d'Alene Silver/Lead Mines Kills at Least Twelve [otd 07/11]

On the morning of Monday, July 11, 1892, striking union miners and a crew at the Frisco Mine exchanged gunfire. This lead-silver mine is located about four miles northeast of Wallace, Idaho. The crew consisted of replacement workers imported by the mining company and guards to protect them.
Frisco Mill, ca. 1890. University of Idaho Digital Archives.

The conflict had started early in the year, when the mine owners reduced the wages paid to lower-skilled workers. Their jobs could be learned “in a few days,” the owners pointed out, and it was hardly fair to pay them the same as an experienced lode miner. But many union men were sure this was just the opening wedge for broader cuts. So they called a strike. After much negotiation, with no resolution in sight, the companies imported replacements and a protective force.

Although the replacement workers received the (new or old) standard wages, the union claimed that was just a temporary ruse. Most of the crews were short-handed, perhaps because of the extra costs for guards. June passed in an uneasy semi-truce, with much name-calling between union men and company supporters. Occasionally, fist fights broke out between union men and replacement workers.

Finally, the building pressure of the various confrontations, and days with no paycheck, pushed the strikers over the edge. Armed union men began to gather late Sunday evening in the vicinity of the Frisco mine. Shots rang out around 5:00 a.m. the next morning. Reporting on the flareup, the Illustrated History of North Idaho declared, "it is said by both sides that the shooting was not intended at first to do other execution than to frighten the men out of the mine."

Unfortunately, with so many tempers on edge, an exchange of warning shots quickly escalated into a "pitched battle." Caught in the open, the union attackers pulled back. Then, circling up the hill, they slid a charge of "giant powder" down the emptied water-supply flume and blew up the Frisco ore mill.

Badly outnumbered and fearing the attackers would begin bombarding their positions with explosives, the defenders surrendered. In the end, three men on each side were killed. Managers on the spot agreed that the strike-breakers would be sent away. Emboldened, the army of union men then marched to mines in Gem and Wardner and forced the same conditions on them.
Senator Heyburn. Library of Congress.

The next day, a considerable band of armed men assaulted the non-union men as they waited for a boat to carry them out to Coeur d’Alene City. One man was badly wound, but recovered. Many others were reported missing, having probably vanished into the mountain wilderness. ‪Weldon B. Heyburn‬, later U. S. Senator from Idaho, reported directly to the Governor about the incident (Idaho Statesman, July 14, 1892). Witnesses told him that twelve bodies had been recovered from Fourth of July Canyon, about 15 miles southeast of Coeur d’Alene City: “They were riddled with bullets.”

The union denied any involvement in this violence, and it may well have been a “free lance” mob outburst. Authorities made many arrests related to the original violence as well as the aftermath. However, none of the prisoners spent much time in jail: Trials overturned all the arrests on technicalities or for lack of evidence.

In fact, the union was never held accountable for the property destruction, and no one was punished for any of the deaths.
                                                                                 
References: [Hawley], [Illust-State], [Illust-North]

Friday, July 10, 2020

First Structures Completed at Naval Ordnance Plant in Pocatello [otd 07/10]

On July 10, 1943 workers completed construction of the first usable structures for the Naval Ordnance Plant (NOP) about three miles north of Pocatello, Idaho. The Navy had authorized the Plant in the spring of the previous year. With more facilities completed later in the year, officials commissioned the NOP in early August, 1943.

Early in World War II, planners had to consider the possibility of attacks on the West Coast when they selected a site to refurbish big naval guns. Pocatello offered the proper transport connections to Coastal bases. Not only was it a major railroad junction, but a segment of transcontinental highway ran through the town. And, off to the northwest, the region offered plenty of open space.

Refurbished battleship gun.
Idaho State University Special Collections.
The most impressive structure at the NOP was the big gun shop. It was 840 feet long, 352 feet wide, and over seven stories tall. Inside, skilled mechanics and machinists could reline and refurbish the very largest battleship guns in the U. S. Navy. Repeated firing wears out the bore of any artillery piece. In particular, distortion of the rifling – the grooves that force shells to spin – severely degrades the gun’s accuracy. Only a specially-design facility, with massive tools and equipment, could handle the huge naval cannon.

Later they added three giant storage buildings – 605 feet long by 352 feet wide – where guns could be mounted and the mounts could be exercised. Besides these out-sized facilities, the site included smaller shops and storerooms, plus quarters for civilian and military personnel. In all, the station encompassed fifty buildings, most of them of permanent construction.

Refurbished guns had to be tested before they were shipped back to the fleet for re-installation. To provide a test range, the Navy commissioned a second site, located 50-60 miles northwest of Pocatello on what was generally called "the Arco desert." Except for three large, roughly cone-shaped buttes, that area is a mix a level plains and low, rolling hills.

On November 20, 1943, the Navy’s first tests were run on some small-caliber guns that had been refurbished. The commandant, Captain Walter E. Brown, told reporters that repairs on big battleship guns would begin “soon.” Captain Brown received an armed forces Legion of Merit award for his work in getting the NOP operational.

The test site eventually contained 27 buildings, including powder magazines, warehouses, a variety of shops, an administration building, and quarters for the operating personnel. Ordnance operators first did short-range proof tests, using a protective blockhouse and large reinforced-concrete targets. They also performed tests of the mounted guns, firing them into a vast cleared area to the north of the command complex.

After the War, the Ordnance Plant saw less and less activity, with a commensurate reduction in the civilian work force. The Pocatello Plant was decommissioned and sold in the mid-Fifties.

Officials "re-purposed" the remote test range in 1949, transferring ownership of the facilities to the Atomic Energy Commission, which called it the National Reactor Testing Station.
Test Shot Toward Big Southern Butte. U.S. Navy photo.

Still, during the Vietnam War the Navy again used the site for test-firing 16-inch battleship guns. By then, the northern range contained many new facilities so test operators fired the guns into the side of Big Southern Butte.

After numerous transformations in mission, the former test area functions today under the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the Idaho National Laboratory.
                                                                                 
References: “Naval Ordnance Plant, Pocatello, Idaho,” Idaho Digital Resources, Idaho Commission for Libraries.
"Pocatello, Idaho," Building the Navy's Bases in World War II, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (1947).
Susan M. Stacy, Proving the Principle, DOE/ID-10799 (2000).

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Shelley Businessman and Theater Owner Francis Davis [otd 07/09]

Theater owner and LDS Bishop Francis M. Davis was born July 9, 1883 in Provo, Utah. He first found regular employment when he was just twelve years old. After several years in various unskilled jobs, he began working as an accountant. He spent seven years in that line before becoming a traveling salesman. His route took him into Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

In 1906-1909, Davis served LDS missions in England and Germany. When he returned to the States, he again worked as an accountant. Three years later, he married Mary Ellen Shelley. About that time, perhaps because an accountant’s salary was inadequate for a family man, Davis went back to work as a traveling salesman.

John F. Shelley, ca. 1890.
Shelley Public Library.
Mary’s father, John F. Shelley, was among those who founded two villages near Idaho Falls. In 1892 and 1893, he began developing a spot about ten miles down the river from the “big town.” Besides a home and barn, Shelley also built a store, which became part of "Shelley Siding" on the railroad.

Francis Davis and Mary moved to Shelley two years after they were married.

In Shelley, Davis started as Credit Manager for Shelley Mercantile Company and worked his way up to Assistant Manager. Eventually he would serve on the Board of Directors for the Mercantile as well as the Shelley Light & Power Company and the Shelley Mill & Elevator Company. He would also serve all three companies as Secretary and Treasurer.

In 1915, Davis was made a Bishop of the Shelley LDS church. He also developed an interest in the growing motion picture – “movie” – business. Until then, the only available commercial entertainment was in Idaho Falls, which had hosted traveling road shows since the 1880s. The first movies appeared there in 1907. By the end of 1915, Idaho Falls had four movie theaters.

Virginia Theater, 2008.
Cropped from photo at Wikimedia Commons,
submitted by Sociotard.
In 1918, Francis built the Virginia Theatre, which was equipped with the latest features current at the time. Within a few years, the facility would make the transition from silent films to talkies.

Around 1936, Davis began allowing the Shelley Chamber of Commerce to use the theater for a Christmas children’s show. (The Kiwanis took over sponsorship after awhile.) The tradition continued for at least twenty years after Francis sold the Virginia to his son Ralph in 1946.

Davis became a very prominent leader in the LDS Church, both in Shelley and in Idaho Falls. He served as President of the LDS Temple in Idaho Falls for about fourteen years, starting around 1950. As such, he officiated at a remarkable number of weddings between then and about 1963. Not infrequently, he would perform more than one on a given day , and a few times three, four, or even more.

In November 1967, around 6 p.m. on the day before Thanksgiving, F. M. Davis was killed in a one-car accident. His car plunged into an empty canal at a curve in a rural road. Whether he lost control or had a fatal health event was not reported.

Although the Virginia Theater closed for awhile, it is now very active. By today’s standards, it is rather small as a movie venue, so they focus mostly on stage plays and improvisational theater.
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Hawley]
“Auto Accident Kills Francis M. Davis,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (Nov 23, 1967).
“Golden Jubilee Edition, 1884–1934,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (September 10, 1934).

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Trapper Osborne Russell Observes "Beer Springs" (Today's Soda Springs) [otd 07/08]

In July of 1834, fledgling mountain man Osborne Russell wrote, "We travelled down this river and on the 8th encamped at a place called the Sheep Rock, so called from a point of the mountain terminating at the river bank in a perpendicular high rock."
Sheep Rock, sometimes called Soda Point
… near Soda Springs, Idaho.
He then noted: "The Sheep occupy this prominent elevation (which overlooks the surrounding country to a great extent) at all seasons of the year."

Osborne Russell was born June 12, 1814 in Maine. So far as is known, he received very little formal schooling. Yet at some point he learned to write clearly and accurately, with a better than average vocabulary. He ran away to sea as a teenager, but picked the wrong captain: Most of the crew jumped ship in New York and young Osborne went with them.

Russell then spent a couple years with a fur company in Wisconsin and Minnesota before joining Nathaniel Wyeth's Columbia River Fishing and Trading Company [blogs, Jan 29 & Dec 20]. After attending the mountain man rendezvous in southwest Wyoming, Wyeth's party continued west in early July.

On July 8, Russell continued, "On the right hand or East side of the river about 2 miles above the rock is 5 or 8 mineral Springs, some of which have precisely the taste of soda water."

Trappers knew these springs well; they called them "Beer Springs." A party led by Captain Benjamin Bonneville had visited the springs less than a year before [blog, Nov 10]. He claimed that his men "threw themselves into a mock carouse." He went on to say, "It was a singular and fantastic scene, suited to a region where everything is strange and peculiar."

Russell said, "This place which now looks so lonely, visited only by the rambling Trapper or solitary Savage will doubtless at no distant day be a resort for thousands of the gay and fashionable world, as well as Invalids and spectators."

Nine years later, an expedition led by Second Lieutenant John C. Frémont visited the springs. He noted that “A traveller … at every step is arrested by something remarkable and new.” They analyzed the water in one spring and found it heavily loaded with dissolved solids … ten times a level that is considered “very hard.”

The feature became a well-known landmark on the Oregon Trail.  Abigail Scott (later, Duniway) [blog, July 29] was one of many who commented on the springs. In 1852, she wrote, “About 11 o'clock we came to the Soda Springs; They are a great curiosity.”

Osborne Russell’s prediction about a “fashionable” resort was off only in the timing. In 1887, the Union Pacific Railroad built the Idanha Hotel in Soda Springs. The resort hosted travelers for over thirty years. However, the hotel burned down in 1921 and they did not rebuild it. That was probably because the more heavily developed Lava Hot Springs lay 15-20 miles to the west.
Idanha Water bottle label. Soda Springs, Idaho.

In addition to the resort, the Natural Mineral Water Company began bottling "natural" soda water, also in 1887. (They were probably part-owner of the hotel, but the records are somewhat uncertain.) The Company shipped Idanha Water all over the world, and won both national and international awards.

Today, Alexander Reservoir covers most of the springs Russell observed. However, the town of Soda Springs does feature a man-controlled geyser powered by a geothermal source of natural carbon dioxide.
                                                                                 
References: [Hawley]
Osborne Russell, Aubrey L. Haines (ed.), Journal of a Trapper, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1965). [Original imprint produced in 1914 by Syms-York Company, Boise, and republished in 1921.]
Soda Springs, Idaho, Idaho online.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Miner, Store Owner, and Dairyman Francis Marion “Frank” Davis [otd 07/07]

Francis Marion Davis was born on July 7, 1838 near Monmouth, Illinois, about 55 miles west and a bit north of Peoria. He lost his father when he was a boy, so he and his brother Thomas lived with and worked for a farm family there. Thomas is covered in my blog for January 2. As explained in that article, the young men headed west in 1860, probably in the spring.
F. M. “Frank” Davis. [Illust-State]

Whatever their initial plans were, at some point they learned of the new gold discoveries in what would become northern Idaho [blog, October 2]. They joined a large party traveling to the gold country. Victims of a swindle in central Idaho, they arrived at Elk City in July 1862 on pack animals with almost no supplies. By then, all the best prospects had been claimed, and many were already played out.

So they went to Walla Walla for supplies and prospected in Oregon and then in the Boise Basin. After awhile, they decided they could do better supplying the camps with fresh vegetables. So they claimed land in the Boise Valley and planted crops. Profits from their early sales of onions, cabbages and potatoes proved that their plan was sound.

Thus, they were there in July 1863 when Major Pinkney Lugenbeel picked a site for his fort [blog, July 4]. A few days later, a group of pioneers gathered in the Thomas Davis cabin to platt a town near the fort. Oddly enough, six lots were assigned to “F. M. Davis” but none to Tom. (Davis almost always went by “F. M.” or “Frank,” rather than Francis.) That was most likely a formality since it’s known that Frank remained a partner in Tom’s fruit ranch for several years.

In 1864, the brothers and two other partners imported seven thousand apple trees for the ranch. That investment paid off handsomely when the trees began to bear fruit. In 1870, Frank purchased a stock of merchandise and opened a hardware store on Main Street. That might have been when he sold his interest in the apple farm. However, he only seems to have kept the store for about a year.

That was because he was also running, with a partner, a business that dealt in milk and butter. In 1873, he took sole ownership of the dairy concern, which flourished under his management. Thus, in late 1875 and early 1876, he purchased a quarter section of land near the city and established a full dairy operation.

A year later, the Idaho Statesman reported that Frank had sold “a splendid piece of property” on Grove Street. That was probably to finance improvements to his farm. By 1880, he was heavily advertising his “choicest quality” milk and butter. Nor was that just advertising fluff. According to reports, he had “an enviable reputation for the excellence of his dairy products.”
Dairy Herd, ca. 1890. National Archives.


With the business going so well, in 1884 Frank had a fine new home built for his family. That fall, the Statesman editor visited the place and declared that it was “the best and most costly farm residence in the county.” Observers were equally impressed with his barns and other equipment for a modern, first-class dairy.

Francis “Frank” Davis passed away rather suddenly in March 1891. While not so well off as his brother, he left an estate that would be valued at about $2 million in modern terms. He was held in such high regard that, thirty years after his death, memorials still lauded his “sterling worth” and his prominent role as an Idaho pioneer.
                                                                                   
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“[F. M. Davis News],” Idaho Statesman, Boise (May 1870 – March 1891).
“First Platt of Boise City,” Eighth Biennial Report of the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society of Idaho, Boise (1922).
“Will of Francis M. Davis,” Probate Court of Ada County, State of Idaho, Record Book [hand-written], Boise, Idaho (1891).

Monday, July 6, 2020

Newspaperman and Printing Company President Harry Syms [otd 07/06]

Harry J. Syms, co-founder and President of the Syms-York Company, was born July 6, 1866 in Aukland, New Zealand. After learning the printer's trade, he found employment in several South Pacific locations, including Australia, Fiji, and the Hawaiian Islands.
San Francisco, ca 1888. National Archives.

He came to the United States in 1888 and worked at a San Francisco newspaper. After a year there, Syms moved to Shoshone, Idaho, where he bought and operated the Shoshone Journal for five years.

In 1894, he sold the paper to a consortium of prominent county Republicans, who wanted to operate it as party mouthpiece. Harry later ran for office as a Republican himself, so it's not entirely clear why he did not retain an interest in the paper. He may have continued to run the paper for awhile because he remained in Shoshone until the spring of 1895. Syms then became City Editor for the Caldwell Tribune.

At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Syms enlisted in the First Idaho Regiment, where he became a 1st Lieutenant. He served with the unit in the Philippines, then returned to Boise City after his discharge in 1899. The following year, the Republican Party nominated Harry as a candidate for State Auditor. However, a coalition of Democrats and Silver Republicans won all the state offices that year. Syms never again ran for public office.

Around 1901, Harry moved again, to become the owner and operator of a newspaper in Mountain Home. After just a year there, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him Register of the U. S. Land Office in Boise. He returned to the city to handle those duties.

Near the end of his appointment, in 1905, he became co-founder and President of the Syms-York Company. His partner, Lem A. York, had comparable experience in publishing and printing, including a stint with the Owhyee Avalanche newspaper.

They started with just two small presses crammed into a basement. However, by 1910 they occupied another location with considerable first floor and basement space, and a full range of equipment. The firm continued to grow and by 1920 had "the largest printing and binding establishment in the state of Idaho."
Printing press, ca 1905. Library of Congress.

The Syms-York Company printed the usual wide range of materials, including brochures, handbills, blank invoices, and so on. On several occasions from 1907 through 1919, they won the contract to print compilations of bills passed by the legislature, as well as various revisions of the Idaho Code of Laws.

The company also produced a fair number of books, although not always as the official publisher. Thus, A Romance of the Sawtooth (1917), reportedly the first novel published in Idaho, was produced by the author, but printed and bound by Syms-York.

They did publish John Hailey's History of Idaho (1910). And in 1914, Syms-York issued a limited edition of Journal of a Trapper by mountain man Osborne Russell [blog, Dec 20]. The demand for that account led the company to release an expanded version some years later. In a "Publisher's Note," Lem York said that Russell "was a great uncle of the writer of these explanatory notes."

In January 1920, because of poor health, Syms sold his interest in the firm and York became President and General Manager. Syms retired first to Redondo Beach, and then to Santa Monica, California. Finally, some time before 1930, he and his wife settled in Glendale. Harry passed away there in 1932 (Los Angeles Times; March 26, 1932).
                                                                                 
References: [Hawley]
Jann G. Marson, "Platen Press Printing in Idaho," Idaho Center for the Book Newsletter, Boise State University (April 2000).
“News of the Printers,” The Pacific Printer and Publisher, Volume XXIII, No. 2, San Francisco, California (February 1920).
Osborne Russell, Aubrey L. Haines (ed.), Journal of a Trapper, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1965).
“[Syms News Items],” Idaho Statesman, Boise (March 1895 - January 1920).