Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Telegraph Line Links Eagle Rock (Idaho Falls) to the Outside World [otd 07/16]

On July 16, 1866, workers completed a new telegraph line from Utah into the stage stop at Taylor’s Bridge. Matt Taylor and has partners had received a franchise for their toll bridge from the Territorial legislature in late 1864 [blog, December 10]. The bridge site, also referred to as Eagle Rock (today’s Idaho Falls), became a major stopping point on the route into Montana.
John Creighton. Omaha Illustrated.

The telegraph crews were supervised by John Creighton, a man with much experience in the business. Born east of Columbus, Ohio, in 1831, he acquired two years of civil engineering education at a small Ohio college. Then at age twenty-three, he went to work for his brother, Edward. By that time, Edward, eleven years older than John, “had become one of the largest builders of telegraph lines in the United States.”

After helping complete a telegraph line from Cleveland to Toledo, John then worked for his brother on other contracts in Ohio and Missouri. The two of them, along with another brother and a cousin, moved to Omaha, Nebraska in 1856.

John spent several years there as a clerk. However, in 1861, brother Edward secured a contract to build the eastern leg of the first transcontinental telegraph line. He, in turn, hired John to supervise the actual construction. They began the first stretch west from Omaha in July and completed the link-up with the western leg at Salt Lake City on October 24, 1861.

After wintering in Omaha, John returned west to Wyoming and Utah. During the 1862 season, he tried to haul freight to the newly-discovered gold towns in soon-to-be Idaho Territory. Thwarted by bad weather, he nonetheless made a handsome profit selling out to the Mormons in Salt Lake City.

He and a cousin succeeded in 1863, delivering a substantial load of freight to Virginia City. The cousin returned to Omaha, but John stayed on to run their new store. He remained there long enough to help found the Vigilantes to fight rampant crime in the gold country. Also while he was there, Montana was split off from Idaho and became a territory in its own right.

John returned to Omaha in 1865, and apparently spent some time visiting family in the East. The following spring, The Telegraph newspaper, in Salt Lake City, reported (May 4, 1866) that “preparations [are] being made for the erection of a telegraph line from this city to Virginia [City], Montana.”
Tightening the Wires. Library of Congress.

Edward had the contract and he again tasked John to supervise the construction. As noted above, they reached Eagle Rock in mid-July. The lines crossed the Continental Divide some weeks later and completed the connection to Virginia City on November 2, 1866. Crews extended the line further north the following year, entering Helena on October 14, 1867. As a sign of their appreciation, businessmen in Virginia City presented John with a fine watch, procured from Tiffany’s in New York City.

John returned to Omaha, married (in June 1868), and made the city his headquarters for far-flung business and investment activities. Over the years, John, Edward, and their wives donated substantial sums for the creation and growth of Creighton College, now University.

The telegraph built by the Creightons in 1866 remained the main communication link across Eastern Idaho for over a decade. Besides Eagle Rock, the system had Idaho stations at Malad and Ross’ Fork (new Fort Hall). Then the railroad, which reached Eagle Rock in June 1879, built its own telegraph system and supplanted the old line.
                                                                                 
References:  [Illust-State].
Barzilla W. Clark, Bonneville County in the Making, Self-published, Idaho Falls, Idaho (1941).
P. A. Mullens, Creighton. Biographical Sketches, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska (1901).
Omaha Illustrated: A History of the Pioneer Period and the Omaha of Today, D. C. Dunbar & Co., Publishers, Omaha, Nebraska (1888).
“Site Report – Henry’s Fork (1808),” Reference Series No. 240, Idaho State Historical Society (1983).

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