Saturday, August 19, 2017

Philo Farnsworth, Inventor of the First Practical Television Recorder [otd 8/19]

Inventor and television pioneer Philo T. Farnsworth was born August 19, 1906 in Beaver County, Utah. The family moved to a farm near Rigby, Idaho during World War I. There, Philo set off on the path that would earn him the designation as “the father of television.”

Farnsworth accomplished much in his lifetime, despite seemingly endless fights in patent court. The whole story is beyond the scope of this article (but is readily available). Here, I will focus on a few interesting points.

A stack of popular science magazines in the attic of their new home helped Philo learn more about electricity and electro-mechanical devices. Primitive “tele-vision” – distant transmission/viewing of images – was one of the fascinating topics of the day.
Farnsworth, right,
with his former high school teacher.
Philo T. Farnsworth Archives.

By the time he entered Rigby High School, Philo had already exhibited a firm grasp of practical physics, especially electrical phenomena. As the story goes, he devised a better way to record images for transmission while plowing a field in regular back-and-forth rows (lines). However, the complete account involves rather more than that simple idea.

His science teacher at Rigby High School, Justin Tolman, soon recognized the young man’s aptitude and encouraged his pursuit of knowledge. It was he who first learned of Philo’s new approach.

Back then, typical television “cameras” employed a mechanically rotating array of mirrors to focus snippets of an image onto a photocell, which converts photons (light) into flowing electrons … electricity. Without going into all the physics, the electrical response shows how bright the light is. The electrical signal is then transmitted through some distance to a display system. Since Philo’s innovation involved the recorder, not the display, we’ll simply take the viewer as a given.

Mechanical cameras are bulky and require a high degree of precision in their manufacture. In operation, they tend to be noisy, and dust, wear, or mechanical malfunctions hopelessly cripple the synchronization between recorder and display.
Farnsworth’s conceptual sketch. Philo T. Farnsworth Archives.

Farnsworth’s accomplishment was to devise a way to electronically record the picture. His innovation combined several crucial features. Instead of directing snippets of light onto a small photocell, the camera captured the entire picture on a plate coated with photosensitive material. He placed this photosensor inside a vacuum-sealed cylinder, so the electrons generated flew off (were emitted) into empty space.

Philo's device then focused the electrons emitted from a small region – we now call it a pixel – onto an electrode that measured the electrical signal. A simple controller selected pixels one after another to form a line of dots crossing the photosensor horizontally. As in the plowed-field analogy, a series of parallel dot-lines growing from top to bottom covered the entire screen.

Because the device operated electromagnetically – no moving parts at all – the entire picture could be recorded many times each second … and “electronic” television was born.

Ideas similar to Farnsworth’s design had been considered by others, but he was the one who put all the pieces together, and made it work. He passed away in March 1971. Today, the city of Rigby bills itself as the “birthplace of television,” and sponsors the Farnsworth TV & Pioneer Museum.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Brit]
Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
Donald G. Godfrey, Philo T. Farnsworth: the Father of Television, University of Utah Press (2001).

Friday, August 18, 2017

Desert Land (Carey) Act Signed to Encourage Irrigation in the West [otd 8/18]

On August 18, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the Desert Land Act of 1894, better known as the Carey Act. Sponsored by Wyoming Senator Joseph M. Carey, the Act was meant to improve the success rate for the settlement of the public lands. The law specifically addressed the millions upon millions of acres in the western states that required irrigation for productive farming – the so-called “arid lands.”
Joseph M. Carey.
Wyoming State Archives.

Individuals and irrigation cooperatives had already exploited most of the land that could be watered with smaller systems of canals and impoundments. Many larger projects funded by farmer cooperatives or hopeful investment firms had failed, and discouraged further risk-taking on that scale.

The Act authorized the Federal Land Office to transfer up to a million acres of arid public lands to individual states that established approved reclamation programs. States would cover expenses by charging fees and selling the land at nominal prices, with the real incentive being the expected increase in tax revenue.

Acceptable state programs would be able to certify acreage as meeting the requirements of the Act, inspect and approve irrigation projects executed by private investment firms, and oversee the ultimate transfer of properly-irrigated 160-acre plots to individual settlers.

Development companies proposed, designed, and built suitable irrigation projects. They profited by selling water to the settlers, at rates determined in negotiations with the state reclamation office. The development company did not “own” the land itself – technically. However, these firms could place liens on the land and the associated water rights to protect their capital investments … so the effect was basically the same.

Settlers usually paid a flat entry fee ($1 in Idaho) and an almost trivial cost per acre. Owners had to then dig a feeder ditch to connect with the nearest main canal. Once water became available, they followed a schedule for bringing a set minimum of their holdings into cultivation. In three years, if they met all criteria – including construction of a “habitable dwelling” on the property – they received title to the land.

Of course, developers seldom waited out the years it might take before cumulative water sales covered their large initial investments. Once settlers held much of the land, an operating canal company or joint water district bought the system and the collective water rights from the developer.
Milner Dam, 1905. One of the first Carey Act projects in Idaho.
Library of Congress.

The Idaho legislature quickly established the position of State Engineer and tried to assemble the administrative infrastructure to support Carey Act projects. A few years passed before the state refined the process, but then interest picked up substantially. Thus, in the first ten years after passage of the Act, Idaho developers started just 10 or 11 projects. Then, in 1905-1907, they added 14 new ones.

The emergence of so many new projects led Congress to add another million acres to Idaho’s allotment in May 1908. Two days after that authorization, they added yet another millions acres, while also increasing Wyoming’s allotment by a million.

With that much land available, development exploded: In 1908 through 1910, developers initiated forty new Carey Act project in Idaho. No other state approaches Idaho in the exploitation of the Carey Act and later related legislation. By one reckoning, 60% of all U.S. acreage irrigated by Carey Act projects is in Idaho.
                                                                                 
                                                    
References: [French], [Hawley]
“Canals & Irrigation,” Digital Atlas of Idaho, Idaho State University.
The Cary Act in Idaho, Idaho State Historical Society (2004).
 “Carey Act of of August 18, 1894 (28 Stat. 422),” Code of Federal Regulations, U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (2012).

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Mountain Man, Explorer, and Survivor John Colter [otd 8/17]

On August 17, 1806, discharged Army Private John Colter headed up the Missouri River with his two new partners, Forest Hancock and Joseph Dickson. Captains Lewis and Clark had released him early from his enlistment because the Corps of Discovery no longer needed him. Clark wrote, “We were disposed to be of Service to any one of our party who had performed their duty as well as Colter had done.”

In particular, Colter was considered one of the best, if not the best hunter in the entire Corps. He also showed a knack for exploring wild country and then quickly relocating the main party. During the Expedition’s long winter at Fort Clatsop, Colter ranged further and further afield in search of elk to feed the men.
Early Three Forks sketch. Montana Historical Society.

Hancock and Dickson had met the Expedition a few days earlier. During the trip downriver to the Mandan Indians villages, located about 40  miles northwest of today's Bismarck, North Dakota, they persuaded Colter to join them. Colter and his two partners ascended the Missouri to Three Forks, Montana.

They trapped there for awhile, but then the partnership dissolved. Colter started east and, in the spring of 1807, encountered a Missouri Fur Company (MFC) flotilla headed upriver. The ex-soldier agreed to join them. They built a trading post, called Fort Raymond, 55-60 miles northeast of present-day Billings, Montana.

Several other members of the Corps had also hired on with the MFC. They perhaps told the company president, Manuel Lisa, about Colter’s pathfinder skills. Lisa sent Colter to locate more prime beaver country. Although winter approached, Colter set off in late 1807, headed south and west.

Historians have recreated his general route from later verbal reports. He apparently skirted the highest mountains at first, perhaps as far south as north-central Wyoming. He then turned west from roughly today’s Dubois, over the Continental Divide, and on to Jackson Lake.
Teton Valley – view of the three Tetons from the west.

Confronted with the Tetons, Colter may well have sought directions from local tribesman, as did the Wilson Price Hunt party some four years later. He crossed Teton Pass into what we know as Idaho’s Teton Basin. Turning north and then east, Colter traversed parts of today’s Yellowstone Park before returning to the Fort in early spring.

Skeptics greeted his descriptions of wild thermal features with the rather derisive sobriquet “Colter’s Hell.” It is now generally accepted that, while Colter may have observed some activity in the Park area, his accounts probably referred to a thermal basin near today’s Cody, Wyoming.

Colter continued to explore and, in 1809, he experienced the event for which he is surely most famous: Colter’s Run. Captured by Blackfeet, with his companion slaughtered on the spot, the Indians stripped him naked for some “fun,” figuring they could easily run him down. Incredibly, he not only escaped, he killed the most persistent of his pursuers.

Another close call the following year convinced Colter his luck was running out, and he left the Rockies. While in St. Louis, he visited with William Clark, who recorded many of Colter’s observations. Clark used the notes to produce a regional map that was considered the best available for at least a half century. Honored today as the first “Mountain Man,” Colter died two or three years later.
                                                                                                                                     
References: Stephen E. Ambrose, Undaunted Courage, Simon & Shuster, New York (1996).
Burton Harris, John Colter: His Years in the Rockies, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1993).
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Gary E. Moulton (ed.), The Definitive Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (2002).
Merrill J. Mattes, Colter’s Hell & Jackson’s Hole, Yellowstone Library and Museum Association and the Grand Teton Natural History Association in cooperation with the National Park Service, U.S. Dept. of the Interior (1976).

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Captain Relf Bledsoe: Indian Fighter, Businessman, Prospector, Mine Manager ... and More [otd 8/16]

Capt. Beldsoe. Oregon Historical Society
Indian fighter, business leader, and public servant Relf Bledsoe was born August 16, 1832 in Henderson County, Kentucky. That small county is located along the Ohio River, about a hundred miles west and a bit south of Louisville.

The family resettled first to Missouri and then Texas. In 1850, Bledsoe moved to California. He apparently had a knack for mining management, because by the age of twenty-two, he had attained a position as a mine Superintendent in southern Oregon.

Financial trouble for the company ended his employment, but he quickly found himself involved in the 1853 Rogue River War. Courageous almost to a fault, Bledsoe proved to be a superb Indian fighter, quickly rising to the rank of Captain in the Second Oregon (Volunteer) Infantry.

He reportedly participated in twenty close-action Indian fights, but never sustained any wounds. His adversaries were probably convinced that he had such “big medicine,” their bullets could not touch him. After the war, he served several years as an Indian Agent, but finally settled on raising cattle.

Bledsoe certainly knew who made money in a gold rush. When prospectors discovered gold in Idaho, he opened or partnered in mercantile stores in Elk City and then Florence. In 1862, he served on the joint Council for Idaho and Nez Perce counties.

Then a band of prospectors discovered gold in the Boise Basin. Indians killed one of the discoverers, George Grimes, and small troops of volunteers set out to quell the unrest. Bledsoe assumed a leadership role and enhanced his reputation as an Indian fighter.

Relf judged the mass of prospectors pouring into the Basin and traveled to the Territorial capital in Olympia. There, he lobbied successfully for the creation of Boise County, with Idaho City (then called West Bannock) as county seat. That was in January 1863; less than two months later, Congress established Idaho Territory, with a capital at Lewiston.
Placerville, ca 1884. History of Idaho Territory.
Bledsoe also helped found the town of Placerville. In addition to his mercantile interests, he continued to develop mining properties: He is credited with bringing the major lodes around Atlanta into production in 1876-1877. Relf also played a significant role in establishing toll roads into the mines, which allowed heavy mill equipment to be brought in. 

Bledsoe served in a variety of city and county offices, including some time as a probate judge. In the late 1880s, supporters urged the President to make Relf the Territorial Governor, but the appointment went elsewhere.

The Illustrated History, published in 1899, said “When the present shall have become the past, his name will be revered as one of the founders of the state of Idaho, and as one of the heroes who carried civilization into the wild districts of this great region.”

In 1907, excitement about the assassination of former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg convulsed Idaho. Then-Governor Frank Gooding received a flood of death threats, presumably because he pushed the prosecution of the suspected conspirators. As one of his bodyguards, Gooding selected (in the words of author Anthony Lukas), “Relf Bledsoe, a legendary seventy-five-year-old gunfighter and former probate judge.”

Bledsoe passed away three years later.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Illust-State]
John Hailey, History of Idaho, Syms-York Company, Boise, Idaho (1910).
J. Anthony Lukas, Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town … ,” Simon & Shuster, New York (1998).
Merle W. Wells, Gold Camps & Silver Cities, Bulletin 22, Idaho Department of Lands, Bureau of Mines and Geology, Moscow, Idaho (1983).

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

First Documented Visit to, and Sketch of, (Renamed) Shoshone Falls [otd 08/15]

On August 15, 1849, a guide led two men from a column of U. S. Army Mounted Rifles to see a great waterfall on the Snake river, three to four miles northeast of today’s Twin Falls, Idaho. They later told their commander that the huge falls compared favorably to Niagara Falls. (The falls are, in fact, about 45 feet higher than Niagara, although not as wide.)
Shoshone Falls, ca. 1868. Library of Congress.

At that time, the feature was known as “Canadian Falls,” a name picked by early trappers or perhaps a priest. Lieutenant Andrew Lindsay and his civilian companion, George Gibbs, decided to call the spot Shoshone Falls, after the Indian tribe that inhabited the region.

Trained in law at Harvard, Gibbs was also a published author and talented artist. He had joined the Army column at Fort Leavenworth, before it embarked on its march to Oregon. During their visit to the Falls, Gibbs drew what is generally believed to be the first recorded image of the feature.

Congress authorized the Regiment of Mounted Rifles in 1846. Although originally intended as a mobile force to protect growing traffic on the Oregon Trail, the Army sent the regiment to fight in the Mexican-American War. The troops served with distinction in Mexico, then returned to their original mission. After the visit to Shoshone Falls, the regiment continued across Idaho and arrived at Oregon City in early October.

Their commander on the expedition was Brevet Colonel William W. Loring. Born in North Carolina in 1815, Loring had seen militia action in Texas and Florida. He joined the Mounted Rifles for the Mexican War, where he lost his left arm to a cannon shot, and was promoted to Major and then to (Brevet) Colonel. He saw further service after the Oregon trek, but resigned to become a general in the Confederate Army. After the Civil War, he spent ten years serving with the Egyptian Army. Loring returned to the U. S. in 1879 and died in 1886.

Not much happened at the Falls for over a quarter century. Exhausted emigrants had no time for a long, dry trek over rough country, no matter how spectacular the attraction.

Then, in 1875, newcomer Charles Walgamott visited the falls. A native of Iowa, Walgamott had arrived at the Rock Creek stage station less than a month earlier. When he learned that no one had claimed the land around Shoshone Falls, Charlie took a “squatter’s right” to a plot on the south side.

He ran a tourist sideline from Rock Creek until 1882, when crews for the Oregon Short Line graded a railway bed through the growing town of Shoshone. Walgamott realized that his squatter’s right “was on the wrong side of the river.”

Charlie recruited a partner and secured a proper claim on the north side. They cut a stage road to the Falls from the railway station in Shoshone and built a hut on the bluff near the Falls. Business was slow at first, but finally picked up. Then, Charlie said, “In 1883 we sold our holdings to a syndicate of capitalists.”
Falls, recent. Idaho Tourism photo.

Today, the city of Twin Falls maintains tourist facilities on the south side of the canyon overlooking Shoshone Falls. Even during irrigation season, with minimum flows, the Falls are a sight worth seeing.
                                                                                                                                     
References: Jim Gentry, In the Middle and On the Edge, College of Southern Idaho (2003).
Captain Charles Morton, “The Third Regiment of Cavalry,” The Army of the United States, U.S. Army Center of Military History (2002).
Raymond W. Settle, The March of the Mounted Riflemen, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1989).
Charles S. Walgamott, Six Decades Back, The Caxton Press, Caldwell, Idaho (1936).

Monday, August 14, 2017

Snake River Steamboat Annie Faxon Explodes, Killing Eight [otd 08/14]

On the morning of August 14, 1893, the Snake River steamer Annie Faxon exploded, killing eight people and injuring eleven.
Steamer Annie Faxon. Washington State University archives.

Steamboats plied the waters of the Columbia River on a regular basis after about 1850. The most active stretch lay below the Cascade Rapids, about forty miles upstream from Portland. With the 1860 discovery of gold in Idaho, steamship companies found it profitable to extend their routes up the Snake.

That soon led to the founding of Lewiston, Idaho (then in Washington Territory), which became the major upstream terminus for shipping. The Oregon Steam Navigation Company added the Annie Faxon to its fleet in 1877. At 165 feet in length, the Annie was a mid-sized steamer for the period. Over the next two decades, she carried freight and passengers on the Snake, and sometimes ascended the Clearwater during high water.

By the early 1890s, the Annie and other members of the fleet had daily, except Sunday, scheduled runs to where the railroad crossed the Snake, about 80 miles downstream from Lewiston. (Not for another five years would the town have direct train service.)

On that fateful Monday, the Annie left Lewiston for her regular morning run to the railway junction. Captain Harry Baughman commanded the steamer. She made a brief stop at a small town about 35 miles down the river. Transfers complete, she continued downstream. All told, the Annie carried a couple dozen passengers and crew.

About 12 miles further along, a man flagged the boat from the south shore. Although accounts are unclear, Captain Baughman probably stopped the engines; it would have been difficult to hear over their pounding and the frothy splash of the stern wheel.

The farmer said he had a load of fruit ready for the steamer. Business was always welcome, so the Captain steered toward the shoreline, the paddlewheel churning to cut across the river’s current. Carefully judging the distance, Baughman rang for the engines to stop. Before the engine room could respond, apparently, the ship’s boiler exploded.

The blast of released steam blew many passengers and crewmen overboard, where they struggled to swim ashore or clung to wreckage until they could be rescued. Almost miraculously, Baughman was unhurt … but flying debris killed another man near him in the pilothouse. Some of the boat’s superstructure was flung into the water and the rest collapsed into the hull.
Annie Faxon after the explosion.
Washington State University archives.

The blast pattern confused inspectors at first as to the cause of the disaster. Newspapers reported (e.g., Morning Olympian, Olympia, Washington, August 29, 1893) that they had “advance[d] the theory that the explosion was caused by a dynamite bomb.”

However, according to reports, doubts had been raised earlier about the condition of the boiler, which had been running in another ship before the company built the Annie. Yet the flaws were not considered serious enough to order it out of service immediately. It was understood that the unit would be replaced at the end of the main transport season. That came too late for the nineteen injured and dead.

The owners salvaged only the hull of the Annie Faxon; it was used as the substructure of a new steamer.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Defen], [Hawley], [Illust-North]
Phil Dougherty, “The Steamer Annie Faxon Explodes on the Snake River,” Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, Seattle (April 09, 2006).
Darcy Williamson, River Tales of Idaho, The Caxton Printers, Ltd., Caldwell, Idaho (1997).

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Butch Cassidy and Two Gang Members Rob Montpelier Bank [otd 8/13]


On Thursday, August 13, 1896, Montpelier, Idaho sweltered under a blistering afternoon sun. Three riders walked their horses along a street, trailing a pack mare behind them. Had the local jeweler seen them, he might have recognized the three men he’d hired to gather hay on his ranch near the Wyoming border. His wife, who handled the spread while her husband ran his shop, considered them good workers.
Montpelier, ca. 1910.
Source uncertain: Wyoming Tales & Trails.

Founded by Mormon colonists in 1864, Montpelier grew only modestly until the Oregon Short Line railroad built a station there in 1884. The three riders stopped first at a general store.

The storekeeper thought the three might be sheepherders. Finished, the strangers remounted and walked their horses east along the street. The time was after 3:00 p.m. when they stopped in front of the bank and dismounted. Two men standing on the board sidewalk glanced at them, didn’t recognize the riders, and resumed their conversation.

They paid sudden attention when two of the men, now masked with bandanas, accosted them with drawn revolvers. Terse commands urged them inside, where they found three bank employees and several customers. The robbers ordered everyone except the Assistant Cashier to line up facing the wall.

The blond, stocky leader held them at gunpoint while the taller bandit stuffed all the bank’s cash money into a large sack. After raiding the vault, the man tossed loose silver coins into the bag, then dumped a stack of gold coins into a cloth bank bag. Finished, he carried the loot outside and loaded the bags onto his horse and the pack mare.

The blond robber waited inside until his partner completed the loading. He warned them not to make a fuss for at least ten minutes, then strolled out to mount up himself. The bandits turned their horses toward the edge of town.

The Cashier hurried to tell the deputy sheriff as soon as the hoofbeats subsided. However, the deputy was mostly a process server and owned neither gun nor horse. Still, willing to try, he grabbed a “penny-farthing” – a bicycle with giant front wheel and tiny rear – and gave chase. He soon gave up, but did find that the crooks had galloped east, towards the Wyoming border.
Butch Cassidy. Utah Historical Society.

The bandits had planned well. They apparently used the haying job as a cover while they traced the best escape route and located a spot to hide a quick change of horses. Fortunately, the third bandit, who held the horses ready, had not worn a mask. Outside on the street, that might have attracted unwanted attention. The Assistant Cashier got a good look at him.

That man turned out to be Bob Meeks, a member of Butch Cassidy’s notorious “Wild Bunch.” He was the only one caught and convicted for the robbery. The blond leader was surely Butch himself

For some reason, there seems to be no authoritative answer as to how much the bandits got away with. Reports vary widely, from as little as $5 thousand, to around $16 thousand, to over $50 thousand. A figure of about $7 thousand is most generally accepted. Whatever the amount, none of the money was ever recovered.
                                                                                 
References: [Brit], [Illust-State]
Richard M. Patterson, Butch Cassidy: A Biography, University of Nebraska Press (1998).
J. Patrick Wilde, Treasured Tidbits of Time, © J. P. Wilde, Montpelier, Idaho (1977).