Thursday, February 11, 2016

Inventor, Atomic Bomb Witness, and University Professor Larry Johnston [otd 02/11]

Larry Johnston, ca 1945. U. S. Army.
Physicist Lawrence Harding “Larry” Johnston was born February 11, 1918, in Shantung (Shandong) Province, China. His parents were missionaries, who returned to the U. S. in 1923, probably to avoid Nationalistic unrest in the area. By 1930, his father held a position as a Presbyterian pastor in Santa Maria, California.

Like many boys of that era, Larry was fascinated by electricity. That led him to a B.S. degree in physics from the University of California at Berkeley. One of his professors was Luis W. Alvarez, later a Nobel Prize winner, but then a newly-minted Ph.D. and faculty member.

The U.S. had not yet entered World War II when Larry graduated in 1940. He began graduate school on schedule, intending to work for Alvarez. However, the professor took a leave of absence to consult at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The “temporary” assignment soon lengthened, and Alvarez drafted Johnston to help. Larry arrived at MIT in January of 1941.

Much of the work there sought to improve the relatively new technology of radar. Soon, Alvarez made Larry the Project Engineer for what became a Ground Control Approach (GCA) radar system. The system provides precise data on a plane’s altitude, and its track versus the runway centerline. A ground controller uses that information to “talk the pilot down.”
Trinity Test Blast. National Archives.
Then Robert Oppenheimer recruited Alvarez for the atomic bomb project, working out of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Alvarez, in turn, brought along Larry. The details are beyond the scope of this blog, but Johnston tackled, and solved, the detonation trigger array for the plutonium-239 atomic bomb (“Fat Man”). In the summer of 1945, he witnessed the first atomic detonation in history at the Trinity site near Alamogordo.

A few days later, Johnston and his team were ordered to Tinian Island. From there, Larry rode an observation plane and witnessed the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan. He was the only person known to have seen all three of those first atomic explosions. They had also seen the enormous supply of coffins stockpiled in case the Allies had to physically invade Japan. A deeply religious man, Johnston later wrote that he and the bomber crews “had come to terms with the inevitable loss of life. We hoped for an early end to the War and its heavy drain of human life and potential.”

The terrible destruction gave the Japanese a face-saving way to avoid a fight to the death, something they were, indeed, prepared to do. Less than a week after the second bomb, they surrendered. After matters settled down, Johnston went back to graduate school at UC-Berkeley.
GCA Radar Console.
National Air and Space Museum.

During the winter of 1948, the GCA system he and Alcarez had pioneered made possible one of the most dramatic peacetime campaigns of the Twentieth Century: the Berlin Airlift. With ground controllers – the “unsung heroes” – talking them down through bad weather, daring pilots flew a steady stream of supply planes into blockaded Berlin. The Soviets finally gave up their unexpectedly-futile obstruction.

After receiving his doctorate in 1950, Johnston taught for over a decade at the University of Minnesota. He then worked back in California before becoming a physics professor at the University of Idaho in 1967. Some of his research results are still considered the definitive works in his field, and he was renowned as a teacher and mentor. After his retirement in 1978, Larry stayed active, including enthusiastic support of Christian ministries in Moscow.

He passed away in late 2011.
References: [Brit]
David Bergamini, Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy, William Morrow & Company, New York (1971).
Lawrence Johnston, “The War Years,” Discovering Alvarez, W. Peter Tower (ed.), The University of Chicago Press, Chicago (1987).
Sandra L. Lee, “Idaho Man Witness to 3 Atomic Blasts,” Lewiston Tribune, Lewiston, Idaho (November 19, 2011).
“Obituary: Lawrence H. 'Larry' Johnston, 93,” Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho (December 7, 2011).
Stewart M. Powell, “The Berlin Airlift,” Air Force Magazine, The Air force Association, Arlington, Virginia (June 1998).

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Arthur Pence: Stockman, Legislator, and Hot Springs Owner [otd 02/10]

Senator Pence. H. T. French photo.
Idaho rancher Arthur Lee Pence was born February 10, 1847, near Des Moines, Iowa. He chose to make his own way at an early age. In 1864, his brother-in-law and sister Martha decided to move to the West. Arthur examined his prospects in Iowa, and then found himself a job driving an ox team for a wagon train. The column disbanded at Boise City, so Arthur drove a load of hay to Idaho City.

Pence briefly tried his hand at prospecting but soon turned back to freighting instead. For three years, he bullwhacked trains from Umatilla  to Boise City, and sometimes on into Idaho city. He spent one season on a homestead in the Boise Valley, but then began driving a stagecoach that served the new gold camps in northern Nevada. Contacts there soon led to a blacksmith job at a camp ten miles or so south of the Idaho border.

The stage road from Nevada passed near where the Bruneau River joins the Snake, which led Arthur to explore that part of the country. Encouraged, in April 1869 he filed on some hot springs at the upper end of the Bruneau Valley - the springs still bear the name “Pence Hot Springs.”

Arthur and a brother ran cattle in the Bruneau area for about a decade. By then, Idaho stockmen were exporting tens of thousands of cattle out of state. The brothers may have decided the market was too glutted to be profitable, so they sold off their herds and went into vegetable farming. They did a fine business selling produce in the mining camps until about 1885.
Western sheep herding. Library of Congress.
At that time, the Oregon Short Line had completed its rails across Idaho, which made sheep raising a more attractive alternative. Thus, the Pence brothers ran sheep together as partners for about four years, and then they divided the business. Arthur prospered in the sheep business: The H. T. French History (1914) observed that Pence was “still one of the large factors in that industry in the southern half of the state.”

Pence helped organize the Bruneau State Bank in 1905, and also went into politics. He was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1901, and to the state Senate in 1903 and again in 1907. During his first term, the legislature authorized a reform school to be built in Fremont County.  During the second, they funded the first fish hatchery created in the state. Pence helped create a school district in the Bruneau Valley and became almost a permanent member of the school board.

Arthur and his wife, the former Mary Sydney Wells, remained life-long fixtures in Bruneau society. According to local historian Adelaide Hawes, who knew them personally, Mrs. Pence was universally known as “Aunt Sydney.” Pence Hot Springs, which they left open to all, also became a social center. Hawes wrote, “Every Sunday from early morn till evening the people came.”

Arthur passed away in 1935 and Sydney three years later. They are interred in the Hot Springs Cemetery.
References: [French], [Hawley]
Adelaide Hawes, Valley of Tall Grass, Caxton Printers, CaIdwell, Idaho (1950).

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Attorney and Legal Scholar Colonel Edwin G. Davis, D.S.M. [otd 02/09]

Colonel Davis. H. T. French photo.
Colonel Edwin G. Davis was born on February 9, 1873, at Samaria, Idaho, near Malad City. An early interest in teaching led him to a year as school principal in Utah, followed by a year as a principal in Malad. Then, in 1896, a member of the U. S. House of Representatives from Idaho secured him an appointment to the Military Academy.

Davis graduated from West Point in June 1900. Three months later, he found himself in the Philippine, where the Army was trying to suppress Filipino independence forces. The following May, Davis was reassigned from the infantry to the artillery. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant less than two months later. He left the Philippines at the end of 1901, and was stationed at Fort Walla Walla for about fifteen months. In 1903, he became an Instructor of Law and History at West Point.

Davis apparently anticipated retirement and a return to Idaho in 1906, and let it be known that he planned to run for Congress in that year's election. His notion was not well received. While conceding his good qualities, pundits observed (Idaho Register, Idaho Falls, March 2, 1906) that after his long absence from the state, "he ought to at least get slightly acquainted with the people before he asks to be rewarded with so important an office."

Perhaps discourage by the reaction, Davis remained in the service. Promoted to captain in early 1907, he was transferred to a post near San Francisco, California, later that year. Nagged by a "physical disability incurred in the line of duty," he applied for a disability retirement, which was granted in 1910. Davis then returned to Idaho and opened a law practice in Malad. That fall, Oneida County voters elected him to the state House of Representatives for the term starting in 1911.

That legislative session was particularly busy, including the promulgation of eight constitutional amendments to be voted on in the next general election. Yet even with that, Governor James H. Hawley had to call a Special Session to correct a revenue Act that was “deficient in several important provisions.” During that Session, Davis served as Floor Leader for the Republican majority in the House.

DSM. U. S. Army
Comparing his prospects in the capital versus those in Southeast Idaho, Davis moved his home to Boise in 1911.

Besides his regular practice, Davis also contributed well-reasoned papers to various legal journals. As an instructor at the Academy, he authored a textbook on constitutional law. A knowledgeable reviewer said of it: “He has accomplished a good work, and not only the Military Academy will be benefited by his labors, but his work is ample for much that the ordinary practicing State lawyer will require.”

He continued to serve in state government, as well as handling a private law practice, until he joined the Judge Advocate General's office during World War I. In July 1918, Colonel Davis received the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Medal "for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished services ... in the administration of military justice during the war."

Davis returned to his Boise legal practice after the war for a time, and also served as a U.S. Attorney General for Idaho in 1921-1925. In 1928, he handled national-scope cases out of Washington, D.C. He died in July 1934 and is buried at West Point.
References: [French], [Hawley]
“Book Review: Law Books at the Military Academy,” Journal of the U. S. Cavalry Association, Vol. XVIII, Leavenworth, Kansas (July 1907-April 1908).
George W. Cullum, Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U.S Military Academy, Supplement, Vol. V, Sherman & Peters, Printers, Saginaw, Michigan (1910).
“People of Sioux County, Neb., vs National Surety Co.,” Case 276 U. S. 238, United States Supreme Court (1928).
C. Douglas Sterner (Ed.), Citations for Awards of the Army Distinguished Service Medal, Volume 1 (1862-1942), (2008).
U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca. 1775-2006, National Cemetery Administration.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Landowner, Sheep Rancher, and Supreme Court Justice Charles O. Stockslager [otd 02/08]

Judge Stockslager.
Illustrated History photo.
Idaho Supreme Court Justice Charles O. Stockslager was born on February 8, 1847, in Indiana, about ten miles west of Louisville, Kentucky. He attended a Normal school in Lebanon, Ohio, but apparently never taught school himself. Charles decided to become a lawyer instead. He read law at his brother’s office in Indiana, and then with some “prominent attorneys” in Kansas.

Admitted to the Kansas bar in 1874, he practiced there until 1887. Along with his practice, he served as Clerk of a District Court, and later as a County Attorney. Stockslager also became heavily involved in real estate and mining properties. Thus, he helped organize the mining town of Galena (just across the border from Joplin, Missouri) and was elected its Mayor in 1881.

In 1887, President Grover Cleveland appointed Stockslager to be Receiver for the U. S. Land Office in Hailey, Idaho. (The Receiver formally accepts the fees paid by homesteaders when they claim a tract of public land.) Three years later, voters elected him to be Judge of the Fourth Judicial District, which then encompassed much of south-central Idaho. He was reelected four years later, and then again in 1898.

Stockslager’s biographies do not mention that he owned any specific mining properties in Idaho; however, given his activities in Kansas, it’s probable that he did. He owned much other property, and was prominent enough in the sheep business to be selected as a Delegate-at-Large for Idaho at the 1900 Annual Convention of the National Live Stock Association.

As Fourth District Judge, Stockslager handled cases tried at Albion, then the county seat of Cassia County. Thus, in 1897, he presided at the trial of "Diamondfield Jack" Davis, accused of murdering sheepmen John Wilson and Daniel Cummings [blog, Feb 4 and others].
Courthouse, Albion. Cassia County Historical Society.

The prosecution's case was deeply flawed and totally circumstantial. The slugs that killed the sheepmen were .44 caliber; Jack owned only a .45 revolver. Moreover, most of the physical evidence had been grossly mishandled, and the State could not credibly place Davis at the scene of the crime. Nonetheless, the jury found Jack guilty. Stockslager then saw fit to sentence Jack to be hanged.

In 1900, the judge was elected to serve a six-year term on the Idaho Supreme Court, beginning in 1901. He therefore participated in an appeal review for Diamondfield Jack's case. Oddly enough, Stockslager did not recuse himself from the ruling. The appeal only bought more time: The court pushed back the hanging date. (In fact, the Idaho courts never did change Jack’s status. That was left [blog, Dec 17] to the Board of Pardons, a panel consisting of the governor, secretary-of-state, and attorney general.)

Stockslager ran unsuccessfully for Idaho governor in 1907 and tried, also unsuccessfully, for a U. S. Senate seat in 1909. Except for one more term as district judge, he engaged in private practice, first in Hailey and then in Shoshone, until his retirement. In 1919, Stockslager led the effort to create Jerome County (Idaho Statesman, January 14, 1919) from portions of Lincoln, Gooding, and Minidoka counties. The Act creating the new country passed on February 8.

Stockslager passed away in March 1933.
References: [Blue], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
William G. Cutler, History of the State of Kansas, A. T. Andreas, Chicago (1883).
David H. Grover, Diamondfield Jack: A Study in Frontier Justice, University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada (1968).
Charles F. Martin, Proceedings of the Annual Convention, Fort Worth, Texas, National Live Stock Association, Denver (1900).

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Governor Bottolfsen Signs Junior College District Bill into Law [otd 02/07]

Governor Bottolfsen.
University of Idaho archives.
On February 7, 1939, Governor Clarence A. Bottolfsen signed a bill that authorized the formation of local junior college districts in the state of Idaho. The new law allowed district voters to approve a local tax levy to support the school. Also, the district would receive half the state liquor store profits collected in the county where the school was located.

The law arose largely at the instigation of advocates in the Boise Valley, who had long been on the junior college bandwagon.

Small local colleges came and went in the U.S. during the course of the Nineteenth Century. Churches tailored curricula for their members, and towns founded schools as a sign that they had “arrived.” Most struggled or died after a few years of operation.

Toward the end of the century, organizers began to consider offering just the first two years. That would cut costs and offer other advantages: Some felt it would provide a transition between high school and a demanding professional curriculum at a university. Others saw it as a kind of trade school to teach the “practical arts.”

Joliet Junior College, founded in 1901, is considered the first public junior college in the United States. The movement slowly gathered momentum. California authorized the beginnings of its statewide system in 1907, and by the Twenties, the idea had spread all across the country. By 1924, Ricks College, in Rexburg, had embraced the concept and proudly noted its membership in the American Association of Junior Colleges.

People in the Boise Valley felt they needed, and deserved a full-fledged college: By the early Thirties, the area graduated nearly 40% more high school students than all of North Idaho – and the Panhandle had not only the University, but also Lewiston State Normal School. The Valley graduated 300 more high schoolers than East Idaho, which had access to Albion State Normal School, Ricks, and the precursor to Idaho State University.

Unable to make headway toward their own university despite those numbers, Boiseans had settled for a junior college. Boise Junior College began its first classes in September 1932 [blog, Sept 6], as a kind of expansion of the Episcopal Church's St. Margaret's School. Enrollment tripled to over 120 students in its second year.

However, the church had said from the start that other funding must be provided after two years. Thus, locals created a private non-profit corporation in June 1934. After an initial rush of enthusiasm, private donations and corporate membership fees dropped off drastically. So backers sought a more reliable source of funding.
Administration Building, Boise Junior College, 1941.
Boise State University Archives.

But the first JC district law they pushed through the legislature in 1937 was vetoed by the governor. He felt that such local districts would prove inadequate and end up throwing the cost onto an already-strained state educational budget.

After Bottolfsen signed the district authorization in 1939, BJC enrollment shot up again. Eventually, of course, the school grew to be today's Boise State University. North Idaho College, formed as Coeur d'Alene Junior College in 1933, benefitted from the law, and it provided the basis for the College of Southern Idaho, which opened in 1965.
References: [Brit]
Glen Barrett, Boise State University: Searching for Excellence, 1932-1984,  Boise State University (1984).
Eugene B. Chaffee, Boise College, An Idea Grows, Printing by Syms-York Company, Boise (© Eugene B. Chaffee 1970).
James R. Gentry, The College Of Southern Idaho 1945-1985, College of Southern Idaho (1987).
Jerry C. Roundy, Ricks College: A Struggle for Survival, Ricks College Press, Rexburg (1976).

Saturday, February 6, 2016

World War I Hero Army Lieutenant John Regan, D.S.C. [otd 02/06]

Timothy Regan. J. H. Hawley photo.
U. S. Army Lieutenant John M. Regan, D.S.C., was born February 6, 1886, in Silver City, Idaho. John’s father Timothy, with ample capital from his hotel and other business interests, came into possession of many valuable mining properties as they fell on hard times. When the economy improved, Timothy grew not just prosperous, but quite wealthy. The family moved to Boise City in 1889 and father Regan quickly became a prominent leader in area development.

John Regan attended Boise schools and then graduated “maxima cum laude” from Santa Clara College in California. Upon his return to Boise, he entered a lower position in Timothy Regan’s holdings. He also joined in the various social, athletic, and charitable endeavors expected for the son of a wealthy and influential Boise leader. There, he was apparently popular and well liked.
John Regan. J. H. Hawley photo.

He also enrolled, as a private, in the Idaho National Guard, but his impressive educational credentials soon brought officer’s rank. Despite some organizational complications, Regan was part of the Guard unit when it was merged into the Army's 116th Engineering Regiment for service in World War I. The unit sailed for France in 1918.

There, Regan requested, and was granted a transfer to a front-line unit. He joined the 128th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Division, composed of nationalized Guard units from Wisconsin and Michigan. Toward the end of July, the Division was ordered into the counter-attack meant to decide the Second Battle of the Marne. By then, French and American forces had begun to reduce the German salient, despite fierce resistance.

On the 31st, regiments of the 32nd Division advanced through and around the village of Cierges (located 60-65 miles northeast of Paris). Their objective on August 1 was “Hill 230.” Two regiments attacked the hill itself while the 128th assaulted Bellevue Farm, which anchored the German’s defensive line. The attack captured Hill 230, but Lt. Regan was hit clearing the Bellevue Farm defenses.
32nd Division soldiers assembling for attack, August 1, 1918.
U. S. Army Signal Corps photograph.

The medal citation read, “The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to John M. Regan, Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in action near Cierges, France, August 1, 1918. Mortally wounded by enemy fire while leading his platoon, Second Lieutenant Regan remained at the head of his men till he collapsed. He set an example of coolness and fortitude to his command, encouraging them by word and action.”

The posthumous biography in Hawley’s History noted that during the service for Lt. Regan at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, “for the first time a gold star was placed among the one hundred and twenty blue stars of the service flag of the parish.”

Hawley also wrote, “The Ada county post of the World War Veterans has been named the John M. Regan Post in his honor.” John’s remains were repatriated and interred in the family plot in Boise. American Legion “John Regan Post 2” honors his sacrifice each Memorial Day.
References: [Hawley]
The 32nd Division in the World War I, 1917-1919, Wisconsin War History Commission, Madison (1920).

Friday, February 5, 2016

Congress Approves Appropriation for Mullan Military Road Planning [otd 02/05]

Governor Stevens. Library of Congress.
On February 5, 1855, Congress approved a $30,000 appropriation to plan the construction of a military road from Fort Walla Walla, Washington to Fort Benton, Missouri. Major impetus for such a road came from Isaac I. Stevens, Governor of Washington Territory, with support from the U. S. Army’s Department of the Columbia.

In theory, a northern route to match the Oregon Trail would encourage Washington settlement, one of the Governor’s cherished goals. He also hoped that a railroad line along the route would make Puget Sound a commercial gateway to the Orient. A fast clipper ship could reach Shanghai three or four days sooner sailing from Seattle as compared to San Francisco … saving about a week on the round trip.

Shortly after his appointment as Governor, in 1853, Stevens had lobbied hard for a survey of the northern route. Naturally, as a trained engineer and surveyor, he could lead the expedition on his way west to take office. His lobbying succeeded, and his party completed the survey to Fort Vancouver in November.

The Army’s concern arose from the growing unrest among the Indians of eastern Washington. Troops stationed in the region could be supplied more easily by a road that connected with the head of steamboat navigation on the Missouri River. Ironically, the general unrest exploded into the Yakima War in late 1855. In the ensuing conflict, the Army had to make do with the supplies they had, with re-supply via the Oregon Trail.

Lieutenant John Mullan led crews east from Walla Walla in the spring of 1859, after the uprising was suppressed. Their route headed north-northwest until it was more or less even with the south edge of Lake Coeur d’Alene, where it turned east.  Skirting the lake, the road continued up the course of the Coeur d’Alene River and crossed into Montana.

John Mullan.
Center for the Rocky Mountain West,
University of Montana.
In his report for that period, Mullan described the crossing they used as “probably” the lowest they could find, and said that he had named it "Sohon's Pass" ... “in honor of Mr. Sohon, who made the first topographical map of it in our expedition.” That name appeared on maps for many years, but today’s designation – St. Regis Pass – replaced it by around 1900.

Of course, planners had grossly underestimated the cost of cutting a road through such rough country. By the time crews reached Fort Benton, in August 1860, expenses had escalated substantially. Washouts raised the price even further. In fact, part of the road had to be rerouted, including a major diversion to the north of Lake Coeur d’Alene. In the end, the road cost about $230,000, more than double the original estimate.

As it turned out, the military made very little use of the road – which is probably why no money was ever appropriated for routine maintenance. However, it has been estimated that as many as 20,000 civilians traveled the road the very first year after it was completed.

Later roads and rail lines followed the same route to serve the Couer d'Alene mining towns – Wallace, Kellogg, Mullan, and so on – and today's Interstate-90 highway follows much the same course.
References: [French]
Randall A. Johnson, “Captain Mullan and His Road,” The Pacific Northwesterner, Vol. 39, No. 2 (1995). [Reprinted at ]
John Mullan, Report on the Construction of a Military Road from Fort Walla Walla to Fort Benton, Ye Galleon Press (May 1989).
“The Mullan Road,” Reference Series No. 287, Idaho State Historical Society (December 1964).
David Wilma, “Stevens, Isaac Ingalls (1818-1862),” Essay 5314,, Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History.