Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Oregon Benefactor Dr. John McLoughlin, Sheep Rancher and Investor Robert Noble [otd 10/19]

John McLoughlin.
Oregon Historical Society.
On October 19, 1784, Dr. John McLoughlin was born in Quebec, Canada. Although trained as a physician, McLoughlin is best known first as a leader of the Hudson’s Bay Company division in the Pacific Northwest, and later officially as the “Father of Oregon.”

In 1824 McLoughlin was appointed Chief Factor in charge of operations that included fur trapping and trading in Idaho and portions of the surrounding (future) states

Despite American fur company competition, the division maintained its profitability and eventually held a virtual monopoly in the region. McLoughlin's persistent and effective opposition to American fur companies was strictly a matter of business; he was personal friends with many Americans.

By around 1840, the fur trade had waned substantially – beaver stocks had plummeted under excessive trapping pressure, and silk had replaced beaver for fashionable men’s hats.

To strengthen British claims to the “Oregon Country” (which included our Pacific Northwest states as well as British Columbia), McLoughlin and the HBC tried to encourage Canadian settlement in the region. Such efforts were soon swamped by the arrival of American pioneers traversing the Oregon Trail.

Despite the disapproval of his superiors, McLoughlin provided crucial help to newly-arrived American settlers. He settled in the Willamette Valley himself after his resignation from the Bay Company. Sadly, unscrupulous politicians manipulated the law to force forfeiture of much of his fine land holding. That injustice was not corrected until after his death in 1857 ... at least his family benefited.

Englishman Robert Noble was born on October 19, 1844. The family moved first to Canada and then to New York state. Robert arrived in Idaho in 1870 with practically nothing except his ambition and willingness to work. He first found a job operating a Snake River ferry. A year later, he became a hand on a ranch outside of Boise City. After five years of hard labor he accrued enough stake to start a small sheep operation of his own.
Robert Noble photo: H. T. French.

Amazingly, just twelve years later, a list printed in the Owyhee Avalanche newspaper (August 26, 1882) identified Noble as the leading sheep stockman in all of Owyhee county. His holdings more than doubled those of the number two man.

Less than ten years later, the DeLamar Nugget reported ( May 19, 1891) that he owned more that 50 thousand head. The article also said, “Robert Noble, Owyhee County’s big wool man has just sold ten thousand mutton sheep ...”

In 1906, in his sixties, Noble sold the ranch and moved to Boise. He then invested in a bank and accumulated much valuable real estate in the Boise Valley. According to French’s History, he provided a large part of the financing “for the construction of the Boise Valley Railroad, and electric lines from Boise to Nampa and Meridian.”

He served as manager for that business until three years before his death in November, 1914.
References: [French], [Hawley]
W. Kaye Lamb, “John McLoughlin,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, John English (ed.), University of Toronto (2000).    
John McLoughlin: Father of Oregon, 50th Anniversary Exhibit, Oregon State Archives (1997).


  1. Man, that McLoughlin dude is MEAN looking!

  2. Not sure when the photo was made, but his expression is certainly formidable.
    Yet his manner was anything but angry or mean. Narcissa Whitman, wife of Protestant missionary Dr. Marcus Whitman, had this to say when they arrive at Fort Vancouver in 1836: "Dr. McLoughlin promises to loan us enough to make a beginning and all the return he asks is that we supply other settlers in the same way. He appears desirous to afford us every facility for living in his power. No person could have received a more hearty welcome, or be treated with greater kindness than we have been since our arrival."

  3. The following from a City of Boise memorandum of 13 Aug 2010 nominates 32 properties as local historic landmarks. It indicates that the Noble building was constructed in 1902, so Noble must have spent a fair amount of time in Boise before actually moving there. Gem Block / 1000 Main Street. The Gem Block, as it was originally known, encompassed the Falk Building on the corner of 10th and Main Streets, as well as the Gibbons & Knight Building immediately adjacent facing Main Street. To the west of these two buildings is the Noble Building which was designed to be visually compatible with the Gem and Gibbons & Knight buildings. The three buildings, designed by John Tourtellotte in the Romanesque style, were constructed simultaneously in 1902.
    The venture was a collaboration of local Boise businessmen Sigmund Falk, John Noble, James
    Gibbons and Charles Knight, all of whom were positioned to build new commercial buildings in
    1902. The Gem Block is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in conjunction with the Lower Main Street Commercial Historic District. The Gem Block is nominated under Criteria 1 & 2: The block is historically significant as it contributed to the lower Main Street commercial area, a source of pride for Boiseans of the day.
    It is also closely associated with Boise businessmen Falk, Noble, Gibbons and Knight. The Gem Noble Building is also architecturally significant given its association with John Tourtellotte, as well as the congruous design for all three structures.

  4. Good stuff John! Noble wasn't the only, or first successful rancher to start investing in and around Boise before they sold their older operations.

    Tourtellotte, of course, shows up in a huge amount of Boise architecture -- guess I'm going to have to do something with his story.