Saturday, January 19, 2019

Teacher, Rancher, and Nez Perce County Commissioner Charles Leeper [otd 01/19]

Charles Leeper.
Illustrated History photo.
Nez Perce County pioneer Charles A. Leeper was born January 19, 1850, in Marion County, Indiana, on the outskirts of Indianapolis. Some time before 1870, the family moved to northwest Missouri, where the father ran a farm and served as a low-level judge. Charles spent some time at the University of Missouri, in Columbia.

Leeper came out to Idaho in 1876. He apparently looked over a number of areas around the Territory. He then settled in Salmon, where he found a job as a schoolteacher. A fast learner of Western ways, Charles also served as a scout during the Indian wars in 1877 and 1878.

With the Indian threat suppressed, gold camps in central Idaho boomed. Among those was Bonanza, located deep in the mountains about 25 miles west and a bit south of Challis. The hamlet had been platted in 1877, but hardly grew until 1879. Leeper followed the rush into the town and taught school there. On the side, he may have also grubstaked prospectors to build up a stake. (Teachers’ salaries were notoriously poor, and sometimes problematic in payment.)

Somehow, anyway, Leeper prospered: In 1883, he moved to north Idaho and bought a 320-acre ranch located about five miles southeast of Lewiston. At that time, prospectors were pouring into the Coeur d’Alene Mountains, chasing the gold that had been discovered there in 1882 [blog, March 5]. Locals also talked enthusiastically about the railroad reaching Lewiston … soon. (Their optimism was unwarranted, however.)

Charles combined stock raising and farming, growing grain to fatten his herds of cattle. Eventually, according to the Illustrated History, he would own “more cattle than any other one man in Nez Perces County.”

Leeper also took an active interest in politics. Voters handily elected him to the county commission in 1886. Two years later, Charles seemed to have won election to the Territorial Council. However, at that time, Nez Perce and Latah counties were paired administratively, and Leeper lost the subsequent court battle as to who had won the combined election. He was again elected to the Nez Perce County Commission in 1892, and for a third term in 1900. During his final term, Leeper chaired the Commission.
Cattle Grazing. Library of Congress.

Also in 1900, pioneers organized the Nez Perces County Pioneer Association, open to individuals who had settled in the county during 1877, or before. Charles A. Leeper became a Founding Member, with a note that he had “settled” in the area in 1876. It seems probable that he had invested in property there before returning to Salmon, and Bonanza, to enlarge his personal resources. As noted above, he did not begin living permanently in the county until 1883.

Aside from his political activities, Leeper continued to expand his property holdings, and his herd. Thus, the  Idaho Statesman, in Boise quoted an item from the Lewiston Tribune: “This has been a busy week in Lewiston for cattlemen, and the town has been thronged with the ubiquitous cowboy.” The article mentioned Leeper as one of several stockmen shipping cattle to outside markets via steamboat.

Charles also ran stock on range near the mouth of the Salmon River, perhaps to his regret. The Idaho Statesman reported that he had “lost about 125 head of cattle through the operations of thieves.”

In 1903, when the Illustrated History was published, Charles owned over fifteen hundred acres of land. Sadly, Leeper died from rheumatic fever in April 1906.
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Illust-North]
“[Leeper News Items],” Idaho Statesman, Boise, The Teller, Lewiston, Idaho (June 1897 – April 1906).
George Elmo Shoup, "History of Lemhi County," Salmon Register-Herald (Series, May 8 - October 23, 1940).

Friday, January 18, 2019

Freighter, Lumber Man, Rancher, and Mining Investor Josiah Hill [otd 01/18]

On January 18, 1844, Coeur d’Alene pioneer Josiah Hill was born in New Brunswick, Canada. Like others in that part of the country, his father was from the state of Maine.
Clipper ship in Cape Horn ice, Currier & Ives print.
Library of Congress.

In about 1864, he traveled around Cape Horn to San Francisco and then to Seattle. He looked for opportunities there, but then returned to California. For three years, Josiah worked in the lumber industry, drove a stagecoach, and had various other odd jobs.

In 1870, Josiah started working his way east, with a variety of stops along the way. He then spent about two years back in New Brunswick, during which time he got married.

Hill returned to the west in 1876. There, he engaged briefly in lumbering. Then, for about three years, he handled the freight stock – horses, mules, and oxen – for a major outfit serving the Comstock Lode mines in Nevada. When those mines began to fade, he and a partner bought the animals and equipment, and hauled freight for the strikes around Bodie, California. On the side, he owned a sawmill to furnish lumber to camps in the area.

He sold those operations in 1881. For the next five years, Josiah had a succession of business dealings in Seattle, Portland, and Spokane. The final years involved a construction project with the Northern Pacific Railroad, with an associated logging operation.

He moved to what became Wardner, Idaho in 1886. Expanding from some lumber contracts in Kellogg, he soon built a sawmill in the region.  The Illustrated History of North Idaho said, “When the town of Wardner consisted of one tent, Mr. Hill was here and has remained here since that time.”

With a base in the town, he operated a local stage line, handled a freight and passenger transfer service, and soon opened a livery stable. By about 1900, his son Roy was a partner in that business. Over time, Josiah also accumulated interests in several mining properties, quite likely as payment for debts.

Hill also partnered with his brother in a ranch near Kellogg. That holding drew the two of them into some expensive litigation. Mine tailings washed downstream by the Coeur d’Alene River ruined a considerable portion of their property. At the end of September, 1903, they filed suit for damages against the mining company.

As could be expected, the company used every legal tactic their lawyers could devise to delay the process and make the suit go away. The company even went so far as to divest itself of its Idaho property, transferring them to a “foreign corporation.” They also moved the company records out of state, to Spokane, Washington.

Josiah proved to have more staying power than they expected, however: Five years later, the Mining and Scientific Press (October 31, 1908) reported, “The famous tailings suits of Josiah Hill, J. S. Hill, and others against the Standard Mining Co. have been settled out of court.”
Early Kellogg. University of Idaho Digital Collections.
Ironically, Josiah eventually became much more heavily involved in mining activities himself. In 1918, he was the president of the Hill Mining & Milling Company, Kellogg, with interests in the Coeur d’Alenes. Three years later he became Vice President of a mining company with claims on Big Creek, two or three miles southeast of Kellogg.

Hill passed away at Kellogg in September 1923.
                                                                                 
References: [Illust-North]
“Elgin and Ogden Company Formed,” Spokane Chronicle (July 18, 1921).
“General Mining News: Idaho,” Mining and Scientific Press, Vol. 97, No. 18, Dewey Publishing Company, San Francisco (October 31, 1908).
Sol. Hasbrouck, “Hill vs Morgan,” Reports of cases argued and determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho, Vol. 9, Bancroft-Whitney Company, San Francisco (1906).
Sidney Norman, Northwest Mines Handbook, Vol. One, Northwest Mining Association, Spokane (1918).
Grant Horace Smith, Joseph V. Tingley, The History of the Comstock Lode, 1850-1997, University of Nevada Press, Reno (1998).

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Iconic Lawyer, Boise Mayor, Governor, and Historian James H. Hawley [otd 01/17]

Lawyer Hawley. Illustrated History, 1899.
Lawyer, Governor, Mayor, and Historian James Henry Hawley was born in Dubuque, Iowa, on January 17, 1847. His mother died when James was an infant and he grew up with his maternal uncle. In 1861, the family moved to California, where Hawley learned of the fabulous gold discoveries in Idaho Territory.

The following year, caught up in the excitement, Hawley hurried to Florence. He moved on to the Boise Basin in the spring of 1863. In the Basin, besides work in the gold fields, he also acted as an agent and distributor for the Idaho City newspaper that became the Idaho World.

In 1864, Hawley returned to California, where he studied at the City College of San Francisco and also read law in the city. After a year or so, he went to sea and “knocked around” the Orient for awhile before returning to the Boise Basin in 1868.

James continued his law studies and was also elected to the Territorial Legislature at the age of 23. The following year he was admitted to the Idaho bar. He served in the Territorial Council (equivalent to the state Senate) in 1874, and was elected Boise County commissioner in 1876. According to biographer McClane, Hawley did commence a full time law practice after his marriage in 1875.

Starting in 1878 he served two terms as District Attorney in the second Territorial judicial district. After his second term, he moved to Hailey and practiced law there from 1884 to 1886. In 1885, he was appointed to a four-year term as U.S. District Attorney for the Territory.

Before that term ended, he ran for election as Delegate to the U. S. Congress, but lost to Fred T. Dubois [blog, May 29]. After that, he briefly had a law office in Blackfoot. The Idaho Register reported (March 27, 1891), “James H. Hawley, Esq., of Blackfoot, took in the boom of Idaho Falls Saturday last, and made some small investments.”

That was short-lived, however; by early 1892 Hawley had established his permanent home in Boise

Although he handled legal cases related to mining, and spent over forty years in irrigation law and water-related litigation, Hawley became famous for his work in criminal law. In the early Twentieth Century, it was said that he had acted on one side or the other of “more murder cases than any other member of the bar in the United States."
Hawley, older and more “laid-back.”
McClane, Sagebrush Lawyer.

In 1892, Hawley provided legal counsel for the Coeur d’Alene miners’ union, but in 1899 he served as special state prosecutor in the actions involving union violence against the mining companies.

Later, he acted as special prosecutor during the cases resulting from the assassination of former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg.

He also spent six years defending cowboy-gunman “Diamondfield” Jack Davis against a charge of murdering two sheepmen in 1896. Although another man confessed to the killings, oddities in the Idaho legal system blocked Jack’s release until 1902 [blog, Dec 17].

Hawley was elected Boise mayor in 1902, and Idaho Governor in 1910. He was defeated in a second run for that office and in two runs for the position of U.S. Senator (in 1914 and again in 1918). His four-volume History of Idaho was published in 1920. He passed away in August 1929.
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
John F. McClane, A Sagebrush Lawyer, Pandick Press, Inc., New York (1933).
Edwin H. Peasley, Twelfth Biennial Report of the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society of Idaho, Boise (1930).

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Geologist, Mining Engineer, and State Mine Inspector Robert Bell [otd 01/16]

Inspector Bell. J. H. Hawley photo.
On January 16, 1864, mining engineer Robert N. Bell was born in Yorkshire, England. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1877-1880 and worked first on a farm in Wisconsin. After a year or two there, he moved to Montana and joined a railroad construction crew near Bozeman. When that was completed, Bell found work in a nearby coal mine.

He moved to Salmon, Idaho in 1884 and began prospecting in the surrounding mountains. Two years later, he and a partner made a valuable find near Shoup, Idaho, 20-25 miles northwest of Salmon. Hawley’s History of Idaho said that, “During this period he completed a course in geology and mineralogy through the International Correspondence School of Scranton, Pennsylvania.”

Bell soon combined his studies with personal observations and began to publish authoritative articles in a wide variety of industry and scientific journals. His knowledge of Central Idaho geology and mineral potential attracted the attention of key mining companies and investors. He spent fifteen years working at various mines and acting as a consultant in the industry.

During that period, the office of State Mine Inspector was elective. He first ran for that position in 1900 and missed election “by less than two hundred votes.” He ran again in 1902 and was handily elected. Voters re-elected him for the next two terms, each time with larger and larger majorities. He decided not to run again in 1908, apparently because he wanted time to develop a fruit ranch he had purchased in the Weiser area.

Bell ran again in 1910 and won by a wide margin. He held the position through 1920. Besides his annual reports as Mine Inspector, Bell authored several monographs on Idaho mining resources and on the state industry. Mine safety was first among the Inspector’s responsibilities, but he was also expected to be a spokesman for the mining industry.
North Idaho Mine. Historic Wallace.

His report for 1917 noted that high metal prices during the first nine months of the year had stimulated the search for new ore bodies. Lead production from the Coeur d’Alene mines did well due to the demands for wartime production (bullets and batteries).

However, lead prices evidently softened toward the end of the year, and a reporter asked Bell to assess that market. Oddly enough, Bell blamed the pullback on the “prohibitive” price – seven to eight times normal – of linseed oil, an essential ingredient of most paints at the time. That had forced many firms to severely cut production. Since paint manufacturers used nearly half of all the lead produced, demand for the metal also fell. Bell asserted that when linseed oil “returns to a rational price,” high demand would resume.

Bell took an active role in national and regional professional organizations, including the Mine Inspectors Association of America, the Idaho Mining Association, the Utah Society of Engineers, and the American Institute of Mining Engineers. He was also a member of the National Geological Society and the Boise Commercial Club.

During his second long stretch as Mine Inspector, Bell moved to Boise and invested in considerable real estate. He chose not to run for re-election in 1920, citing “small remuneration” as his reason. The Idaho Statesman article that announced (July 18, 1920) his decision to retire praised Bell’s work to promote mine safety and better underground working conditions.

He lived near Boise until his death in December 1935.
                                                                                 
References: [Blue], [French], [Hawley]
Robert N. Bell, “Idaho Mines Produce $50,000,000,” Idaho Statesman, Boise, Idaho (December 31, 1917).
“Lead is Coming Back to Normal,” Spokane Chronicle, Spokane, Washington (January 15, 1918).
“Shoup and Ulysses,” Reference Series No. 386, Idaho State Historical Society (1980).

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Painter, Sculptor, and Wanderer Charles Ostner Gets Paid [otd 01/15]

Artist Ostner. J. H. Hawley photo.
On January 15, 1869, the Idaho legislature appropriated $2,500 to reward artist Charles L. Ostner for the equestrian statue of George Washington he had recently presented to the state.

Born in Baden, Germany in 1828, Ostner emigrated to the U.S. around 1848-1850. Stories that pose him as an untutored natural genius are just that … stories. In reality, Charles received an early grounding in art at the University of Heidelberg and made a living as a sculptor, sketch artist, and photographer before coming to Idaho.

He settled first in California and began raising a family around 1852. Family members recalled that the artist had itchy feet, and often settled his wife and children someplace and then traveled extensively. Gold camps and other pioneer settlements held a deep fascination for him, yet there is no solid evidence that he prospected himself during these earlier years.

In 1862, gold excitement in Idaho attracted him to the Territory. By 1864, he had moved his family to the Garden Valley area. There, he had a small ranch and operated a toll bridge over the South Fork of the Payette River.

Historian Arthur Hart noted Ostner’s propensity for taking advantage of attention-grabbing events to sell his art, and the shoe seems to fit. H. T. French’s History presents the “untutored hobbyist” myth and what is almost certainly a fanciful tale about the George Washington statue. This major work supposedly grew out of deep-felt admiration for the “Father of our country.”

The story began with an almost mystical selection of the perfect yellow pine. The carving itself then required four years of winter nights – the only spare time he had – in freezing conditions, the only light provided by home-made tallow candles held in the trembling, crudely-wrapped fingers of his son. This fable even had a nice added touch: Ostner’s only model was the likeness of Washington printed on a postage stamp.
Ostner statue on the capitol grounds,
Ostner’s wife - center - and two daughters at the base.
J. H. Hawley photo.

Charles finished the statue in 1868, then moved his family to Boise and “gave” the bronzed figure to the state. No doubt the inspiring story of this untutored genius, persevering through such terrible trials, got wide circulation. Some proposed a handsome award of $7 thousand, but the young Territory could only afford $2,500.

After that, Ostner used Boise as a home base for his wandering ways. Hawley’s History of Idaho said “Mr. Ostner continued to make Boise his home throughout his remaining days but traveled largely during that period, going on trips to various parts of the world."

One such trip was to Washington, D.C., where he unsuccessfully bid on memorial statues of General John Rawlins and Admiral David Farragut. His name doesn’t surface again until 1881, when he discussed his mining investments near Challis, Idaho.

Finally, a trip to the Nome, Alaska gold rush, when he was over 70 years old, was said to have cured his “wandering heel” and he stayed in Boise after about 1900.

His work included paintings on canvas, drawings, and a wide variety of lithographic masters. “Idaho’s Pioneer Artist,” passed away in 1913.

The statue stood on the capitol grounds until 1934 when it was moved indoors, refurbished, and covered in gold leaf. The figure still has a place in the Idaho capitol building.
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Hawley]
“[Bonanza Mine],” Weekly Miner, Butte; Idaho Statesman, Boise (April 6, 1880; October, 29, 1881).]
Arthur Hart, “Idaho History: Charles Ostner was an artist, miner and wanderer,” Idaho Statesman (July 4, 2010).
James H. Hawley, Eleventh Biennial Report of the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society of Idaho, Boise (1928).
“[Statuary],” Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia; National Republican, Washington (December 28, 1872; January 15, 1873).

Monday, January 14, 2019

Miner, Builder, Real Estate Developer, and Ferryman John Silcott [otd 01/14]

Ferryman Silcott. J. H. Hawley photo.
Clearwater ferry operator John M. Silcott was born January 14, 1824 in Loudoun County, Virginia, just west of Washington D. C.. The family moved to Ohio about four years later.

He grew up in Zanesville and as a young man worked as a carpenter, boat builder, and crewman on keelboats and river steamers. During the Mexican War, he worked at a government supply depot, after which he moved to New Orleans.

In 1849, he joined the eager rush to California. Silcott quickly discovered that his carpentry skills were in great demand, so he pursued his trade in San Francisco and Sacramento. With a solid stake, he and three partners bought proven claims in northern California. John prospected gold fields there and in southern Oregon until about 1858, when he followed the rush into British Columbia.

The Canadian venture did not pan out, and the cost of the expedition sent him back to carpentry when he ended up in Walla Walla, Washington. Again he did very well as the town expanded. In 1860, he moved to the old Nez Perce mission on Lapwai Creek, where the Indian agent had him erect a new building for the Agency. Silcott then stayed on there as a sub-agent.

Many years later, the Lewiston Teller related the story of “the first Christmas celebration in the Lewiston valley,” hosted by “Old Uncle John” Silcott in 1860. He invited “every white man within fifty miles” to a party. The repast was short on traditional dishes, but rich and bountiful nonetheless. Concoctions blended with “medicinal” alcohol from a five gallon container no doubt masked any possible shortcomings in the cuisine.

Not to be outdone, William Craig, an old mountain man turned settler, then hosted the first New Years celebration. But, the Teller said, “a dire situation arose.” Guests at the Christmas party had guzzled all the alcohol. Luckily, two new, and still sober, arrivals volunteered to rush off to Walla Walla for ten gallons of whisky. The paper noted that, “They made the trip and broke the record for rapid freight service.”

The following year, Silcott built a ferry to cross the Snake River downstream from Lewiston. He benefited greatly from the surge in area traffic with the gold discoveries around Pierce, Elk City, and Florence. Encouraged, in 1862 he built another ferry connecting Lewiston with the north shore of the Clearwater River. At one point, he also leased a ferry on the Spokane River.
Old western ferry. Library of Congress.
Silcott acquired land around Lewiston and helped plat the town. His real estate ventures did well, although not as well as they might had not newcomers “jumped” many of his lots. He also claimed a homestead on the north side of the Clearwater and built a home near the ferry landing.

In 1882-1885, Silcott sold off all his ferry holdings except the Lewiston-Clearwater vessel. He and two partners built “a double deck wharf and warehouse” along the Lewiston waterfront that was judged to be “convenient for use at any stage of the water in the river.” (Lewiston Teller, October 5, 1885). He continued to run that ferry until a year or two before his death, successively lowering the fares to just cover his expenses.

Old Uncle John died in 1902 and was buried on the Clearwater homestead beside his Nez Perce wife, Jane, who had died in 1895.
                                                                                 
References: [Hawley], [Illust-North], [Illust-State]
“Lewiston (Silcott) Ferry,” Reference Series No. 759, Idaho State Historical Society (1982).

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Engineer, Developer, and Boise Mayor Ernest G. Eagleson [otd 01/13]

Ern Eagleson. J. H. Hawley photo.
Engineer and Boise Mayor Ernest George Eagleson was born January 13, 1864 near Cadiz, Ohio, 30-35 miles southeast of Canton. The family moved to Iowa and then Nebraska.

By 1881, “Ern,” as he was usually called, had gone to work as an engineering assistant for a railroad. A few years later, he attended a Normal school before continuing at the University of Nebraska. He graduated from their engineering program in 1889.

During the next four years, he worked as a railway construction engineer and then as a mining engineer in Wyoming. In the meantime, Ern’s parents moved to Boise City in 1891. Two years later, the Boise mayor appointed Ern to be City Engineer. He would serve four terms (eight years) in that position, although not in consecutive stints.

Eagleson found plenty of other work in the Pacific Northwest, including projects for mining companies, railroads, and irrigation districts. He also invested in real estate, with a substantial tract on the bench west of the Boise River plain. All this property needed was water to mushroom in value.

About the time his first term as City Engineer ended, a long-standing canal project seemed to be gaining momentum. Originally conceived over a decade earlier, the system would divert water onto the bench from upstream on the river, about seven miles southeast of Boise. However, financial panics, mismanagement, and bad luck had repeatedly delayed the work. By this time, ownership of the necessary water rights had become clouded, so in early 1896 Ern located one further up the river.

The battle among competing developers was soon joined, and parts of the dispute ended up in the Idaho Supreme Court. Finally, Eagleson could proceed with the engineering and construction work. The first water flowed into the New York Canal in 1900 [blog, June 20]. Over the next decade, Ern held the position of Ada County surveyor for a time, and spent six years as U.S. Surveyor General for Idaho. In 1914, Eagleson served a term as President of the Idaho Society of Professional Engineers.

Eagleson was elected Boise mayor in 1919. Commenting on Ern's two-year term, J. H. Hawley said that Boise development proposals could be “studied from the standpoint of a civil engineer who can correctly estimate upon municipal engineering problems and also from the standpoint of the business man.”

Eagleson lost a close bid for re-election in 1921, but ran again in 1925 and was elected. He was thus mayor when a Varney Airlines plane landed at Boise’s hurriedly-constructed municipal airport with a load of airmail from Pasco, Washington. That flight initiated the first commercial airmail service west of the Mississippi, and only the second in the country. (The first was based in Detroit [Detroit Free Press, February 15, 1926].) A photo in the Idaho Statesman shows Eagleson shaking hands with the pilot, while the Boise postmaster stands by with a mailbag to be carried on to Elko, Nevada.
Early airmail fleet, Boise. City of Boise.
Varney was one of several pioneer airlines that eventually combined to become today’s United Airlines.

Eagleson continued to work in Boise, and was spry enough at age 86 to give a long, enthusiastic interview about the wonders of Idaho to a bemused reporter (Idaho Statesman, Boise, May 1, 1950). He passed away in 1956. Eagleson Road and Eagleson Park subdivision carry on his name.
                                                                                 
References: [Hawley]
“The Beginning of the New York Canal,” Reference Series No. 190, Idaho State Historical Society (March 1972).
“City Takes on Carnival Airs for Air Mail,” Idaho Statesman, Boise Idaho (April 7, 1926).
“Corrected List of Mayors, 1867-1996,” Reference Series No. 47, Idaho State Historical Society.