Thursday, September 20, 2018

Businessman, Public Servant, and Local Sports Legend Wes Deist [otd 9/20]

Wes Deist, 1960. Family photo.
Sportsman and business leader Wesley W. “Wes” Deist was born September 20, 1923, in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. A committed Roman Catholic, after high school Deist entered Gonzaga University. There, he became “a standout back” on their freshman football team. However, the University dropped football after the 1941 season, so Wes transferred to the University of Idaho.

Deist lettered in football for the 1942-1943 season, but at some point he enlisted for World War II. Wes served as a member of the Navy’s Amphibious Raider* force. For that duty, he received special training at Northwestern University and at Notre Dame University.

At Notre Dame, he was identified as a “Marine V-12, of Bonners Ferry, Idaho” … “V-12” being an officer training program for the U. S. Navy and Marines. Asked by the student newspaper to predict when the war would end, Deist said, “Fall of 1944. I don’t believe the countries that we are fighting can keep up their production of war materials to satisfy their needs … ”

Despite his training schedule, Deist found time to get married in Florida, in November 1944. His unit then served in China and India.†

After the War, Wes completed his education and settled down. He moved his family to Idaho Falls in the early Fifties and began teaching people to ski. He taught and coached at Kelly Canyon Ski Resort (22-24 miles northeast of Idaho Falls) from its founding in 1957 until about 2006, when he was over 80 years old.

Wes owned a downtown sporting goods store for a number of years and then “managed eastern Idaho’s largest sports store at the time” on Shoup Avenue. Later he opened an insurance agency, which was still in operation at the time of his death. Through all that, he found time for golf, bird hunting, and other sports activities.

Besides his business duties and various avocations, Wes served three terms on the Idaho Falls City Council. He was instrumental in establishing the city’s Greenbelt along the Snake River, and the spacious Community Park in the southern part of town.

While he was on the Council, Wes was the designated watchdog over an expansion of the Idaho Falls Municipal Airport. He also sparked local interest in an indoor swimming facility, which eventually came into being as the Idaho Falls Aquatic Center – later renamed the Wes Deist Aquatic Center.

Deist passed away in January, 2008.

* Stories about Wes often say he was a Navy SEAL – SEa, Air and Land force. However, those units were not created until much later. Still, Navy SEALs trace their lineage back to a number of Special Operations units formed during the War, including the Amphibious Raiders. Training for amphibious Special Ops members was extraordinarily demanding, and they performed incredibly dangerous missions on hostile beaches.

UDT quartet, WW-II – masks, fins, and guts. U.S. Navy photo.
Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) – “Frogmen” – are perhaps the most famous of these early amphibious Special Ops units. However, Hollywood notwithstanding, scenes showing divers using SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) during WW-II are not accurate – the Navy had no such equipment at that time.

† Known operations of the China-India Raiders involved a survey of the Yangtze River during the spring of 1945. They then reconnoitered the enemy-occupied Chinese coast from Shanghai to near Hong Kong.
                                                                                                                                     
References: J. Robb Brady, “Deist’s Half-Century of Service” The Post Register, Idaho Falls (January 2008).
“Introduction to Naval Special Warfare,” U. S. Navy SEALS, Official Web Site.
“Student Opinion … ,” The Notre Dame Scholastic, Vol. 80, No. 3, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana (December 3, 1943)..
“Vandals Get Gonzaga Star,” Deseret News, Salt Lake City, Utah (September 24, 1942).
“Wesley Walter Deist - Obituary,” The Post Register, Idaho Falls (January 2008).

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Gold Prospector Julius Merrill Reaches Boise City by Wagon Train [otd 9/19]

Julius Merrill. Merrill family archives.
On September 19, 1864, gold-seeker Julius Merrill wrote in his journal, “We hitched up and turned our faces toward Boise City.” They camped about four miles downriver from the city.

Born in Maine, Julius Caesar Merrill turned 24 early on the trip west. He traveled with a rather ad hoc band of gold-seekers: “At Oak Creek I was joined by Charles Carey, Henry and Stephen J. Durbin. We were to furnish and fit out a team in company. Two of them I had seen but once and was little acquainted with the other. They were bound for Idaho and that was deemed sufficient."

Oak Creek is a town about 10 miles south of Milwaukee. From there they boarded a railroad train to St. Joseph, Missouri. That evening their cars tumbled off the poorly-built track. Fortunately, “No one was hurt. We lay there until daylight, which gave us a good opportunity to sleep.”

They purchased an outfit in “St. Jo” and left on May 23rd, heading northwest to join the main Oregon Trail along the Platte River. It so happened that the Elizabeth (Lee) Porter party [blog, Sept 3] was 8-10 days ahead of them. Unlike Porter’s journal, which mentioned only the better-known landmarks, Merrill’s notes were quite detailed.

Both groups took the Lander Cutoff after crossing the Divide at South Pass in Wyoming. But it’s hard to be sure when Porter’s train hit the future border of Idaho. Merrill’s account clearly shows that his party crossed on August 17.

About two weeks later, Merrill gave a graphic description of the Craters of the Moon: “As far as the eye can reach, there is nothing but this black volcanic rock. … I can give no just description of it. It must be seen to be appreciated.”

Toward the west end of Camas Prairie (near today’s Fairfield), Merrill wrote, “The road is splendid but dusty and quite windy. We pass several dry creeks with the willows yet green but could find no water. Splendid feed at noon but no water. At night we camped beside a creek, and I succeeded in shooting two sage hens.
“Here we found some men from California, with sheep which they were fattening and selling occasionally to some emigrants who were so fortunate as to have money enough to purchase. The real market was South Boise, thirty miles distant. There were said to be some hot springs nearby, but I did not have time to visit them.”

“South Boise,” soon to be renamed Rocky Bar, was the latest Boise Basin boom town.
Blacksmith Working on a Horseshoe.
Library of Congress.

The Merrill party broke up within a few days after they camped downriver from Boise on the 19th. Charles Carey, a master blacksmith, stayed in the city, having learned that his trade was in great demand. In less than three years, he had returned to the Midwest to buy land.

The two Durbin brothers found employment in Idaho City, at first working for wages on a ditch project. The younger man, Stephen, made enough to buy land and settle in Idaho.

Merrill stayed in Boise City long enough to advantageously sell their wagon and stock, then followed the Durbins to Idaho City. His journal gives no details about their work in the mines, but Julius was in Iowa with a stake in gold by mid-1867.

There, he bought some excellent farm land, and settled down to marry and raise a family. Julius lived there until his death in February 1912.
                                                                                                                                     
References: Julius Merrill, Irving R. Merrill (ed.), Bound for Idaho: The 1864 Trail Journal of Julius Merrill, University of Idaho Press, Moscow (1989).
Elizabeth Lee Porter, “Iowa to Oregon, 1864,” Covered Wagon Women, Vol. 5, Kenneth L. Homes, David C. Duniway (eds.), University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1997).
John D. Unruh, Jr, The Plains Across, University of Illinois Press, Urbana (1979).

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

William J. McConnell: Vigilante, U.S. Marshal, Merchant, and Governor [otd 9/18]

W. J. McConnell. McConnell,
Early History of Idaho.
On September 18, 1839, William J. McConnell, third governor of the state of Idaho, was born in Commerce, Michigan, about twenty-five miles northwest of Detroit. He moved to California in 1860 and engaged in mining and other work for a couple years. He spent the following year in Oregon, where he taught school and perhaps worked in a store.

McConnell followed the major gold rush into Idaho’s Boise Basin in 1863. Schooled by his experience in California, the young man recognized the opportunity offered by the excellent bottomland along the Payette River. Thus, he did not stay with the scramble of hopeful prospectors. Instead, McConnell and a few other settlers began raising vegetables, which they sold – at fabulous prices – to those same miners.

All was not profits and prosperity, however. The wild new Territory lacked any vestige of effective law enforcement. Shootings, knifings, and robberies were commonplace, and men with gold routinely disappeared on the tracks that linked the various camps.

Finally, when thieves made off with 8-10 horses and mules belonging to McConnell and his neighbors, he and two friends went after the robbers themselves. They returned with the animals a couple weeks later. No one inquired about the fate of the crooks.

William and the Payette Valley settlers then organized a regional Vigilance Committee, modeled on those established in California the decade before. When McConnell later prepared his History of Idaho, he made no apologies for their actions. He simply observed that they had no choice because “no effort was being made by those whose duties it was to enforce the law.”

Reports from the time indicate that the vigilantes did succeed in reining in the criminals, and the Committee disbanded. Popular opinion of their efforts was very positive: McConnell was appointed a Deputy U. S. Marshal, his term starting in 1865. After two years in that duty, he left the state for Oregon and California.

McConnell returned to Idaho in 1878, after the extensive farm lands of Latah County opened up . He established a general store there and became a major factor in the area’s growth.
McConnell General Store, Moscow.
Latah County Historical Society.

When leaders convened a Constitutional Convention to enhance the appeal for statehood, McConnell represented the county in that body. Among other issues he championed, McConnell was instrumental in writing Moscow into the constitution as the location for a state-supported university. (Although he later helped organize the institution, it’s not clear if he was ever formally a member of the Board of Regents.)

After statehood, he became one of Idaho’s first two U.S. Senators. He served the abbreviated term needed to get the new state into the normal election cycle.

He did not stand for a full senatorial term, but ran instead for Governor … was elected, and then re-elected. McConnell served at a critical time in Idaho history. Much of the new state’s administrative structure was in a state of flux, and the “Panic of '93” – a worldwide depression – blighted the economy. Still, his administration made several vital contributions, perhaps the most important being the vote for women’s suffrage in 1896 [blog, Nov 3].

McConnell remained in public service for the rest of his life. After his second term as governor, President William McKinlay appointed him to be a high-level Inspector for the Office of Indian Affairs. Then, in 1909, President Howard Taft made him a Special Agent for the General Land Office. McConnell held that position until he passed away in March 1925.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
W. J. McConnell, Early History of Idaho, The Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1913).
Robert C. Sims, Hope A. Benedict (eds.), Idaho’s governors: Historical Essays on Their Administrations, Boise State University (1992).

Monday, September 17, 2018

Walgamott Slays Liquored-Up Gunman at Rock Creek Store [otd 9/17]

On September 17, 1877, traveling bank examiner Nathaniel Langford recorded an incident that highlighted the rather casual violence of those frontier days. Oddly enough, the surviving participant in the action chose not to connect himself with the event in the reminiscences he published later in life.
N. P. Langford, ca 1870.
Minnesota Historical Society.

Charles Walgamott came west from Iowa in August 1875, when he was seventeen years old. He joined his sister and brother-in-law Charles Trotter at Rock Creek, Idaho – about 12 miles southeast of today’s Twin Falls. Trotter ran the stage station there.

Charlie stayed in the West because, he said, “I love the mountains, the mountain streams, the western atmosphere, and the hospitable people with their western ways, the smoky odor of Indian-tanned buckskin, so prevalent around the camp fires, mingled with the sage-sweetened air, and the ever-present element of risk even to the preservation of life; and even the frequent solitude has its fascination.”

Early in the winter before Walgamott arrived in Idaho, Trotter had a run-in with a horse thief named William Dowdell (sometimes spelled "Dowdle"). According to a later report in the Idaho Statesman (September 20, 1877), Dowdell had served a one-year prison term for stealing a U. S. Government horse.

Just out of prison for that offense, Dowdell rode into the Rock Creek area on another stolen horse. Trotter recognized the animal and had Dowdell detained. Convicted and sent back to prison, Dowdell vowed revenge.

He appeared at Rock Creek station on September 17, not long after he got out. Trotter was down with typhoid fever and hadn’t come in that morning. After some quick drinks at the bar, Dowdell wandered outside and began taking pot-shots at passers-by and other targets. He reportedly wounded the local blacksmith so badly people thought the man would die. [Vintage photo of Rock Creek Station.]*

At that time, Walgamott held a clerk’s position at the Rock Creek store. Charlie doesn’t say what he was doing when the shooting started, but he finally went to the front door to see what was going on. When a shot through the door casing just missed him, Walgamott grabbed a pistol kept near the counter and shot Dowdell dead. (Charlie would have been about nineteen at the time.)

Langford rode the stage into Rock Creek that same afternoon. In his diary, he described the drunken “funeral procession” the locals had arranged: “Frequent potations had exhilarated the entire company to such a degree that no attempt was made to preserve regularity of motion or direction.”
They did eventually bury the body. An inquest declared Charlie fully justified in the shooting. In fact, according to Langford, “The entire settlement manifested their approval of Wohlgamuth’s [sic] timely shot.”

Walgamott lived in the Mountain West well into the Twentieth Century and published his Reminiscences of Early Days in 1926. In that, and the very similar Six Decades Back, he described many wild events, including the death of Dowdell. However, for his own reasons, Charles identified the retaliatory shooter as simply “a young man who was in charge at the store.”

* The Idaho State Historical Society holds the copyright on this photo and charges a usage fee. (As a member, I know the organization needs the money, but since my blog generates no income, I am not in a position to pay.)
                                                                                                                                      
References: Jim Gentry, In the Middle and On the Edge, College of Southern Idaho (2003).
N. P. Langford, Vigilante Days and Ways, Montana State University (1957).
Charles S. Walgamott, Six Decades Back, The Caxton Press, Caldwell, Idaho, 1936. Re-released in 1990.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Governor, U. S. Senator, and Wool-grower Frank Gooding [otd 9/16]

Idaho Senator and Governor Frank R. Gooding was born September 16, 1859 in England. He was 8 years old when his parents emigrated to the U. S. and settled in Michigan. In 1877 Frank moved to California and then, within a year or two, to Ogden, Utah. There, he worked at the Union Pacific (UP) depot.

Two factors then perhaps combined to draw him to Idaho. First, by 1879, the UP had decided to extend a branch rail line across Idaho. At about that same time, silver was discovered in the Wood River valley, setting off a huge rush into the area [blog, April 26]. Several mining towns, including Ketchum, sprang into existence.
Philadelphia smelter, near Ketchum.
Ketchum-Sun Valley Historical Society.
The Oregon Short Line Railroad, a subsidiary of the UP, began laying track in the summer of 1881. Some time during the year, Frank moved to Ketchum and set up a thriving business to supply firewood and charcoal for the nearby smelter.

Extension of an OSL branch railroad into Ketchum in 1884 fueled an even greater mining boom. However, that faded within four years due to low silver prices. Frank then established a sheep ranch on the plains west of Shoshone. Although his flock suffered some damage in the severe winter of 1889-90, he quickly recovered and would soon be “regarded as the most successful sheep-raiser in the state.”

Years of careful study made Gooding an expert on the subject of sheep and sheep raising such that, as the Illustrated History put it, “His opinions on anything connected with the subject are received as authority.” When a group of sheepmen formed the Idaho Wool Growers’ Association in 1893, Frank became its first President. He would hold that office two more times.

In 1899, voters elected Gooding to the state Senate, where he was selected as President pro temp. He followed that with a successful campaign for Governor, serving from 1905 to 1909. During his terms, he did well with many “motherhood and apple pie” issues: rehabilitation of juvenile criminals, better veteran’s benefits, schools for the handicapped and mental patients, improved general education, and so on.

His stands on timber, land, and irrigation projects were less well-received, at least in part because of conflict of interest concerns. (This in an era when such standards were far looser than they are today.) Still, those issues did not prevent his election to a second term. Another Republican, James H. Brady [blog, June 12], succeeded him.

U. S. Senator Gooding.
Library of Congress.
The incumbent U.S. Senator, Weldon B. Heyburn, yet another Republican, was up for re-election when Gooding left office. Heyburn’s dogged advocacy for Idaho’s economic mainstays – mining and agriculture – assured his popularity, so Gooding made no attempt to move on to that position.

When Heyburn died in October 1912, the legislature elected the still-popular James Brady to fill the rest of the term. Then, in 1914, the 17th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution required direct, popular election of Senators: Brady won that election also.

When Brady too died in office, in January 1918, Gooding ran for the remainder of the term, but lost. When he ran again in 1920 for the full term, he won. Frank fought steadily for high tariffs to protect American products – and not just wool, but across the board. Re-elected in 1926, he died in office in June 1928.

Frank and his brother Fred (another successful sheep rancher) gave their name to the town and county of Gooding.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Blue], [B&W], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“Frank Robert Gooding,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
Robert C. Sims, Hope A. Benedict (eds.), Idaho’s Governors: Historical Essays on Their Administrations, Boise State University (1992).

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Senator and Partners Found D. L. Evans Bank in Albion, Cassia County [otd 9/15]

On Thursday September 15, 1904, State Senator David Lloyd Evans convened a group of leading businessmen in Albion, Idaho. Cassia County needed a bank, and they proposed to start one in what was then the county seat.
D.L. Evans bank clerk, Albion, early 1900s.
D. L. Evans Bank.

When their intention was originally announced, the Albion Times, quoted in the Idaho Register, Idaho Falls (August 12, 1904) said, “This is an institution that is badly needed in Cassia county and no doubt it will do a good business.”

The bank, called the D.L. Evans Bank after the Senator, began in a one-story wood frame building but expanded into a two-story stone structure just three years later.

By the time “D.L.” helped found his namesake bank, he already had a fine record of accomplishment. He was born in 1854, on the family farm near Brigham City, Utah. But his widowed mother sold that property in 1871 because her brood of sons and stepsons needed more room for their own places. The family then moved to a homestead near Malad City, Idaho.

After study at the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah), D.L. taught school for a number of years. He also helped with the family farm, and continued to do so even as he pursued other interests.

In 1882, he served a term in the Idaho Territorial Legislature, representing Oneida County. Evans probably found that experience stressful because the governor raised the issue of “suppressing polygamy,” a direct threat to D.L.’s Mormon beliefs.

Two years later, D.L. and his brother Lorenzo bought a co-operative store in Malad that became the “Evans Co-op.” The Co-op’s building is now on the National Register of Historic Places.  Eight years later, a group of “prominent businessmen” founded the J. N. Ireland Bank [blog, May 15]. While the other founders besides Ireland are not named in available records, it seems likely that David, and probably his brother, were among them. (Some years later, D.L. would be president of that bank.) That same year, D. L. helped capitalize a mining and smelting company in Utah, apparently to extract and process silver.
D.L. Evans, ca 1928.
Evans family archives.

In 1899, voters again elected David to the legislature, this time for the state of Idaho. House members then selected him to be Speaker. Four years later, he was elected to the state Senate in a very close election. It was towards the end of his term when he led the establishment of the bank in Albion.

Evans remained very active in the Democratic Party, but he did not run for office for many years after that Senate term. Still, when a state Board of Eduction was created in 1913, D.L. was appointed to the first Board. And in 1920 and 1922, Evans was “boomed” as a candidate for governor, but was not nominated.

He did serve in the Senate again, five years before his death in July 1929.

The Albion bank remained in the same facility for sixty years, finally moving to a new building in 1970. Nine years later, the company opened a branch bank in Burley.

Today, the Evans descendants continue the tradition of family banking: The bank company’s President and Chief Executive Officer are, respectively, grandson and great-grandson of David Lloyd Evans. Moreover, family members – including David L. Evans, IV – hold a substantial number of positions on the current Board of Directors.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Blue], [Hawley]
“[DL Evans News],” Idaho Statesman, Boise; Idaho Register, Idaho Falls; Tribune, Caldwell, Idaho; Deseret News, Tribune, Salt Lake City, Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah (July 1892 – July 1929).
Lisa Davis Jensen, “History of Winnefred (Gwen) Lloyd Roberts Evans, Daniel L. Roberts, David Rees Evans,” Welsh Mormon History, Dr. Ronald Dennis (ed.).
Our History, D. L. Evans Bank, Burley, Idaho.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Ketchum Freighter, Rancher, and Businessman Horace Lewis [otd 9/14]

H. C. Lewis. J. H. Hawley photo.
Freighter, mine owner, and businessman Horace Caleb Lewis was born September 14, 1858 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After graduating from the University of Minnesota he moved to Helena, Montana to work in a hardware store.

A year later, in 1880, his father moved to Ketchum, Idaho to open a store. Horace soon followed, and he and a partner opened a lumber business near the town.

As the Wood River mines boomed, Lewis dealt in mining supplies as well as lumber for a time before operating a small freight outfit. Then, in 1884, the Oregon Short Line railroad extended its tracks into Ketchum, and Horace sensed a major opportunity. He founded the Ketchum Fast Freight Line, which made regular runs to mining camps in Bayhorse, Bonanza, Challis, Clayton, and Custer.

His Line also ran scheduled stagecoaches, but the “crown jewels” of his haulers were the huge freight wagons assembled by his own construction crews. Sixteen feet long, with seven-foot wheels at the back, the wagon box had about the same volume as a standard modern dump truck.* They could handle loads up to nine or ten tons. (The famed Conestoga wagon topped out at six tons.) They carried all kinds of goods – massive machinery, petticoats, whiskey, and more – into the mountains and brought out ore and bullion.

This was quite a feat, considering the state of the “roads.” Some parts of these tracks were little more than two ruts among the rocks and sagebrush, many stretches were barely wide enough for the wagons, and they encountered several acute grades. With five or six big wagons hitched together behind a “jerkline” of perhaps twenty mules, tight curves could be a harrowing challenge.

Even so, reports indicate that the Line had one season where it shipped seven hundred thousand pounds of bullion out to be loaded onto OSL cars. Over time, Lewis also invested in mining properties himself, and founded the First National Bank of Ketchum.

The freight and stagecoach business went into a lull after about 1895, but Lewis revived it during the Thunder Mountain rush of 1900-1907. Thunder Mountain is buried deep in the incredibly rugged Salmon River wilderness, over forty miles east of McCall. The mines never really showed much profit, but Lewis did all right hauling freight and passengers.

Later he took up ranching near Ketchum while continuing his business interests in town and around the region. As the mountain mines played out, there was less and less freight to be hauled. The lumbering trains of giant wagons were discontinued in 1909, two years before Lewis died.

Big Hitch ore wagons. Tourism photo.
As time passed, so did the old wagons … except for a few that sat in storage for a half century. Eventually, some surviving wagons were given to the city of Ketchum, with the proviso that they be paraded through the streets annually as a tribute to area pioneers.

Thus, in 1958, boosters initiated “Wagon Days” in the Ketchum-Sun Valley area. Each Labor Day, the region’s frontier heritage is celebrated with concerts, antique shows, re-enactments, a carnival, readings of cowboy poetry, and other special events.

The highlight of the weekend is the Big Hitch Parade, and the highlight of the parade is the Lewis Ore Wagons: Six giant, century-old vehicles hitched in tandem behind a 20-mule jerkline … 200 feet of authentic Idaho history rumbling through the streets.

* Thanks to Hansen Wheel & Wagon Shop, which has restored several Lewis freight wagons, for the dimensions. Of course, being hand-built, the boxes vary somewhat in size.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Hawley]
Ketchum History and Information, City of Ketchum.
David Sneed, “Idaho Freight Wagons,” Wheels that Won the West Publishing, Flippin, Arizona (2005-2010).
Sun Valley-Ketchum Tourism.