Thursday, December 22, 2016

Idaho History: Gold, Cattle, Sheep and More

With Christmas bills coming due soon, I need to sell some books. So bear with me for a small advertisement. You will have noticed that yesterday’s blog featured Truman C. Catlin. One of the earliest pioneers to raise cattle in Idaho, Catlin is featured in my book Before the Spud: Indians, Buckeroos, and Sheepherders in Pioneer Idaho.

I could have also posted a December 21st item from another of my books, Idaho: Year One – The Territory’s First Year.  That book uses newspapers reports, diaries and letters to describe what was happening in the newly created Idaho Territory. It includes some lead-up to March 4, 1863 – when Abraham Lincoln sign legislation to create the Territory – and continues to the one-year anniversary. An Afterword bridges the span until May 26, 1864, when Congress split Montana Territory from Idaho.

Like my On This Day blog items, Year One uses a day-to-day progression, although it does not try to cover every single day of the year. Thus, on December 21, 1863, the Evening Bulletin in San Francisco, California published a report about the mines in central and southern Idaho Territory. Unlike many another flash in the pan, the Boise Basin mines, he wrote, “show promise of a long-continued yield.” The Boise Basin lies high in the mountains to the east and northeast of Boise City (as it was known then).

On December 23, 1863, The Oregonian in Portland published an opinion piece that advocated the authorization of a Federal mint in their city. Idaho had already produced a lot of gold and it was clear that the region’s output held promise for years to come. A mint in Portland would mitigate the cost and dangers of transporting the treasure to the mint in San Francisco. Portland never did get a mint, of course, but Congress later did authorize an assay office in Boise.

Meanwhile, gold (and later silver) mining in and around the Boise Basin would continue for almost a century. That history is described in another of my books, Boise River Gold Country. Besides the mining story, Boise River shows the growth, and later decline, of the timber industry in the region. Today, the region’s economy largely depends upon tourism and outdoor recreation.

Of course, the discovery of gold in the region led directly to the creation of Idaho Territory. But the presence of all those hungry miners then spurred the formation of a thriving cattle industry. Before the Spud outlines the history of that development, starting with the “first stockmen of Idaho” … the Shoshone and Nez Percés Indians. But stock-raising exploded after the discovery of gold. And, by around 1910, income from livestock (including dairy) had surpassed that from mining and timber. And that was “before the spud” … potatoes were then only a small faction of the agricultural production in the state.

I encourage you to visit my other blog, Sourdough Publishing, where I have posted more information about my books. That includes the full Table of Contents for each. Or you can jump directly to the CreateSpace web pages for the books:
Boise Basin Gold Country
Idaho: Year One
Before the Spud

The books are also available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Luke May and His Custom Microscope(s)

During his career, criminologist Luke S. May (1892-1965) handled hundreds of firearms cases. He also examined evidence in the form of hair, fibers, dust particles, tool marks, paint chips and on and on. All that meant he spent a lot of time peering through a microscope. For one firearms case in 1921, he sent the Police Chief in Aberdeen, Washington a preliminary report, but said, “I have been unable to complete my tests.”
Early microscope, ca 1920.
National Institutes of Health.

May explained some of the features he still had to determine and went on, “My eyes played out on me having used the microscope too much in the last few days.”

So it comes as no surprise that he tried to find a better way. May’s answer began with his invention of what he called the “Revelaroscope.” (At the time, his detective agency was called the Revelare International Secret Service.). The Seattle Times published (July 16, 1922) a long article with the headline, “Mastodon of the Microscope Family.” The optics of the unit looked roughly like an extra-tall metal beer keg. That was anchored to a steel post and the whole apparatus stood taller than Luke, who, at about 5-foot 10-inches, was considered tall for that era. It weighed nearly 450 pounds.

The crucial feature was an eye-high view screen that displayed the magnified image – no more squinting through a small ocular. The news report said, “The tiniest strand of human hair is made to resemble a section of the trunk of a giant spruce tree.”

Unfortunately, the technology of the times was incapable of delivering the promise of May’s design. For one thing, the long light paths made the device very susceptible to vibration. And it required a strong light source, which generate a lot of heat that created convection currents. But with all that, the Revelaroscope had great promotional value … important since May ran a private lab and needed all the free publicity he could get.
Magnascope. Popular Science Magazine, 1931

May continued to improve the Revelaroscope over the next decade, eventually changing the name to “Magnascope.” In the spring of 1929, he applied for a patent under the title of “Comparison Magnascope.” During the long approval process, Popular Science Magazine published an article about the use of microscopes in crime detection. The writer said, “The tools of the trade now range from pocket glasses, smaller than a quarter, to a colossal apparatus, tall as a man and weighing half a ton.”

That “colossal” tool was, of course, the Comparison Magascope … now apparently more than doubled in weight. So the giant device continued to have publicity value, even though May by then used a standard commercial comparison microscope for his closest work. Still, the patent form noted that use of the standard scope was “extremely tedious and wearing, and straining upon the eyes.” With his new design “such inspections and comparisons can be made with the normal vision of the two eyes.”

The patent on the Magnascope was granted in 1934. So far as anyone knows, May’s prototype was the only one ever built. The unit was around for some time after May’s death in 1965, but the family eventually lost track of where is was. It may have since been disassembled for scrap or even just discarded.
References: L. S. May, Comparison Magnascope, Patent No. 1,974,654, United States Patent Office, Washington, D. C. (September 25, 1934).
Luke S. May, Luke S. May Papers, University of Washington Special Collections, Seattle (1969).
Edwin W. Teale, “Microscope Detectives,” Popular Science Magazine, New York City (December 1931).

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

True Crime: Gang Busters, Luke May … and Research

If you take on a writing project that requires getting the historical facts just right, you better like research ... but.

I already knew that, and just had further proof. My current project is the biography of pioneer criminologist Luke S. May. My draft is complete and I have submitted the book proposal, so I’m busy editing the text and tying up loose ends.
May dictating answers for "Luke May's Department."

One loose end was the belief that some of May’s cases became episodes on Gang Busters, the true crime radio show that ran from 1936 to 1957. Even May’s granddaughter Mindi was not quite sure where that notion came from. It made sense, because from 1935 through 1940, May wrote a monthly column called “Luke May’s Department” for True Detective Mysteries, the most popular of the true crime magazines.

But rather than leaving it at that, I started looking for some verification. That soon led me to Phillips H. Lord, the man who created Gang Busters and, as it happened, many other popular radio programs. For various reasons, Lord occasionally found himself involved in legal disputes. Buried in some fourteen hundred pages of testimony for one case, I discovered a nugget that linked to Luke May.

Lord was always on the lookout for ideas he could turn into a new series. In 1936, when Gang Busters began to look like a success, Lord considered using the work of a crime laboratory as the basis for a program. His staff found that “Luke May was reported … to be one of the outstanding laboratory scientists for the solution of crime.”

So Lord arranged a meeting with Luke, in June of 1936 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. They talked about two hours and, naturally, May was quite enthusiastic about the idea. Lord said he would do a trial run on such a program and get back to Luke if the idea was well received. Soon after the meeting, Lord wrote a script for a test run on Gang Busters. But he also tested a more standard episode with a district attorney as the featured law enforcement person. In the end, the DA episode won out and eventually led to the popular radio (and television) show, Mr. District Attorney.

I now knew that May’s work had instigated one Gang Busters episode, but that it had been a (comparative) flop. That’s when I discovered the book Gang Busters: The Crime Fighters of American Broadcasting, by Martin Grams, Jr., published in 2004. Fortunately, used copies are still available at for a reasonable price. As a matter of fact, Mr. Grams has written quite a number of books about “old time” radio and TV programs, like The Green Hornet and The Twilight Zone, which you can learn about at his web site.

In nearly 700 pages of the Gang Busters book, Grams provides a lot of background on the program and at least some information for each of the 1,008 radio episodes. Sadly, for episodes after about 1954, he could only list the broadcast dates. But for hundreds upon hundreds of episodes, he not only has the titles, but also the story lines.

I found, for sure, that three of May’s cases ended up as Gang Buster episodes. One was the kidnapping of nine-year-old George Weyerhaeuser, son of the lumber baron, in 1935. Another was the 1934 “Bremerton Massacre,” in which a home invasion/robbery turned into the murder of six victims. There are two or three more episodes that probably have some connection to Luke May, but those will require more research.

And now we come to the “dark side” of needing to like research … you can like it too much. Having gone through the longer story lines, I had the answer to my question: Yes, Luke May cases were turned into Gang Buster episodes. My excuse for what happened next: I was afraid I might miss other Luke May cases that were turned into shows.

So … I spent the best part of the past week exploring episodes where the story line was unknown or given in just one cryptic line. Often the title provided a clue, although some seemed hopeless, like “The Case of the Trail to San Antone” or “The Case of the Monstrous Canary.” I struck out on the first, but actually found something for the second. A newspaper radio listing said the “Canary” episode was about a dope peddler who angered a partner and girlfriend who decided to “sing.”

But the title or brief story line might also have the name(s) of one or more of the criminals. That gave me terms to plug into a full newspaper search. For example, “The Case of Hugo Hedin,” broadcast September 9, 1950, outlined the career of a counterfeiter paroled in 1930. He was not caught again for twenty years because he specialized in small bills and moved just enough to stay ahead of the law. Some titles gave me three or more names, which helped a lot.

All told, I found reasonable to excellent newspaper links for over ninety episodes. The bad news: None of those that I expanded had any solid connection to Luke S. May. Worse yet, I found some of these stories so interesting, I spent more time on them, digging deeper than I really needed to. Sigh. At least now I can be fairly sure I found all the Luke May links I could.
References: “Alonzo Deen Cole v. Phillips H. Lord, Inc.,” Case on Appeal, New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division – First Department, Corporate Press, Inc., New York City, New York (1942).
Martin Grams, Jr., Gang Busters: The Crime Fighters of American Broadcasting, OTR Publishing, Churchville, Maryland (2004).

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Boise’s Water Supply, a Local “Taj Mahal,” and Geothermal Development

Hosea Eastman. H. T. French photo.
In the words of the Owyhee Avalanche (August 27, 1881), brothers Benjamin M. and Hosea B. Eastman were “rattlers in the way of enterprise.” Not referring to the deadly snake, the writer meant the two regularly shook up the status quo. Their far-sighted improvements and innovations led Boise development for over forty years.

Both were born in the White Mountains area in north-central New Hampshire. Hosea was born in 1835, while Benjamin was five years older. Before ending up in Idaho, the brothers ran a sawmill and lumber business in New Hampshire, farmed in California, and mined in Oregon.

In late 1863, they moved to Idaho and staked placer claims on Jordan Creek, near where Silver City would soon be founded. They made enough from their claims to invest substantially in a well-paying lode mine. After about five years, they liquidated their mining properties and acquired the Idaho Hotel in Silver City. The brothers, Hosea in particular, proved to have a special talent for hotel work. They turned the Idaho into the premier hostelry in Silver City.

Unfortunately, in 1875, bank failures in California dried up outside capital and led to financial problems for the Silver City mines. So, in 1877 and 1878, the brothers sold the Idaho and purchased the venerable Overland Hotel in Boise City. Although the brothers remained partners in the Overland until 1903, Hosea generally took the lead, and newspaper accounts identified him as such.

They immediately remodeled the property, added more rooms, and upgraded most of the facilities. Hosea was particularly unhappy with the hotel’s water supply. He finally located a reliable source of cold spring water in Hull’s Gulch, about a mile and a half north of Fort Boise. In 1881, workers completed a system to pipe water to the hotel. With a considerable surplus available, they began distributing water to nearby businesses and residences.
Overland Hotel, ca. 1885. Idaho State Historical Society.
In 1891, the company they had formed to handle the water business merged with another firm to create the Artesian Hot and Cold Water Company. Hosea remained General Manager of the company for over a quarter century. (He passed away in 1920, Benjamin having died in 1909.)

Shortly after the merger, the company had deep wells drilled at a known “hot spot” a few miles southeast of downtown. These tapped into a steady flow of hot water, measured at 172ºF. The firm also had a large, opulent natatorium built. A huge “plunge” formed the centerpiece: 120x62 feet in expanse, ranging from 2 to 14 feet in depth. It was fed by a continuous flow of water that had been allowed to cool to a comfortably warm temperature.
Around the big pool, patrons could enjoy steam baths, hot tubs, showers, and massage parlors. Upper floors soon sported a fine bar, ballroom, and an exercise/health pavilion. Historian Hiram T. French, writing in 1914, dubbed the Moorish style structure “the Taj Mahal of the West.”
The Boise Natatorium, ca 1898. [Illust-State]
Soon, the company began selling surplus hot water to heat many buildings in downtown Boise. The city thus lays claim to being the first American town to have geothermal heating. Business at “the Nat” bloomed after the interurban rail line located a station nearby. It became the preferred site for inaugural balls, fancy weddings, and regular dances with big-name bands.

Still, the Idaho Statesman article (May 24, 1922) about the Nat’s thirty year anniversary made it clear that the facility was well past its prime. Finally, a wind blast in the summer of 1934 damaged the structure beyond repair, and it was torn down. After that, and still today, only an open-air pool remained.

Through all those years, Boise continued to benefit from the geothermal resources developed by Eastman and his partners. In the 1980s, developers drilled several more, much deeper geothermal wells, and just recently one system was expanded across the river to the Boise State University campus.
References: [Hawley], [French], [Illust-State]
Dick D’Easum, The Idanha: Guests and Ghosts of an Historic Idaho Inn, Caxton Printers, Ltd., Caldwell (1984).

Monday, February 29, 2016

Idaho Territory Fends Off One Last Partition Attempt [otd 02/29]

On February 29, 1888, Congressional Delegate Fred T. Dubois sent the following telegram to Milton Kelly: “House committee on territories to-day reported unanimously against any division of Idaho. This ends the fight.”

Judge Kelly. Illust-State photo.
Milton Kelly was the operator-editor of the Idaho Statesman, published in Boise. He was born near Syracuse, New York, in 1818. He became a lawyer in 1845 and practiced for many years in Wisconsin. Kelly moved to Placerville, Idaho in 1863. He then represented Boise County in the first Idaho Territorial legislature.

In April 1865, President Lincoln appointed him an Associate Justice for the Territorial Supreme Court. Six years later, he moved to Boise City and bought the Statesman.

Kelly actually showed remarkable restraint when he inserted the telegram text in the next day’s issue. His brief editorial about it did advise the partition supporters to “help build up Idaho instead of trying to tear it to pieces.”

As noted in several of my blog articles, many residents of North Idaho did not want to be part of Idaho Territory. That became especially true in Lewiston after the south “stole” the capital away to Boise City in 1864. The northerners hoped to become part of Washington, or perhaps a totally new territory.

The partition notion also had another root. The Republican-dominated U. S. Congress made Nevada a state in October 1864, even though its population fell well below the preferred minimum for statehood. (As a state, the region offered a Representative and two Senators who were “safely” Republican.)

To “bulk itself up,” in 1866 and 1868 the new state added major chunks of Utah and Arizona territories. Anti-Mormonism bolstered the Utah acquisition. And clearly the mining camps in the wedge that became southern Nevada benefited from being part of a state rather than a weak Arizona Territory.

Emboldened, starting around 1869 Nevada officials tried to carve a chunk out of southern Idaho. They hoped to acquire the booming Owyhee County silver mines. To gain support, they offered to split Idaho with Washington Territory. North Idahoans jumped on board, of course.

However, the schemers failed to overcome the political savvy of the Idaho leaders and their allies in Congress. Although the partitionists seemed to be close to their goal at times, the Territory remained intact.
Delegate Fred Dubois.
Library of Congress.

The scheme resurfaced in 1886. By that time, miners had exhausted the best silver lodes in Nevada, and the state’s population was plummeting. (It lost almost a quarter of its people between 1880 and 1890). Adding the growing population of southern Idaho could offset the decline.

Led by Idaho’s shrewd and politically astute Delegate, Fred T. Dubois [blog, May 29], the Territory and its allies fought back in Washington, D. C. Internally, they made concessions to North Idaho – guaranteeing a university there [blog, Oct 3], and so on. This eroded northern support for partition. Shortly after Dubois sent his triumphant telegram, Idaho began to prepare for statehood.
References: [B&W], [Illust-State]
“Constitutional Convention and Ratification,” Reference Series No. 476, Idaho State Historical Society.
“Good News from Washington,” Idaho Statesman, Boise (March 1, 1888).

Monday, February 22, 2016

Book on Idaho History

Today’s "On This Day item," along with the “Sheep Queen” biography of yesterday, recall the long and colorful history of stock raising in Idaho. As noted in the blog, that history included the Blackfoot firm of Berryman & Rogers. Their story, along with many others is told in my book Before the Spud: Indians, Buckaroos, and Sheepherders in Pioneer Idaho.

Rogers’ career is, of course, outlined in the blog. Berryman, the book says, “divided his time among the company’s interests in stock raising, retail trade, and real estate for many years. However, by 1910, he saw himself primarily as a banker, working for one of the largest banks in Blackfoot. By 1920, Berryman was President of the bank.”

He passed away in 1925, a year before Rogers.

For more information on Before the Spud, visit the Sourdough Publishing web site. There, you will also learn more about my other two Idaho history books: Boise Basin Gold Country and Idaho: Year One, an Idaho Sesquicentennial History.