Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Railroad Developer, Sheep Rancher, and Investor Robert Noble [otd 10/19]

Englishman Robert Noble was born on October 19, 1844 in Cumberland County, a sparsely-populated region on the border with Scotland. The family moved first to Canada when Robert was ten years old. They continued on to New York State three years later. During the Civil War, Robert volunteered as soon as the Army would accept him.  He served in the quartermaster corps until his discharge in the spring of 1865.

Noble worked on a farm in Illinois until 1870, when he headed West and ended in Idaho. For about a year, Robert tended a Snake River ferry. He then worked for four years at a ranch belonging to Thomas J. Davis [blog, Jan 2] in the Boise Valley. Not well educated, but blessed with considerable native intelligence, Noble used those years to built up a stake. He later said he began running sheep himself in 1874. Robert had his own place along Reynolds Creek a year later.
Noble Ranch, ca 1898. Owyhee Directory.
Just seven 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 total of 7,500 sheep was more than double that of the number two man.

He steadily grew his flocks, and had around fifty thousand head by the latter part of 1890. The Owyhee Avalanche reported (November 29, 1890) a bizarre slashing attack on “Bob” Noble by a disgruntled herder. The article observed that he was “perhaps the wealthiest stock man in Idaho.” The following spring, the DeLamar Nugget reported ( May 19, 1891) that “Robert Noble, Owyhee County’s big wool man has just sold ten thousand mutton sheep ...”

By the end of the Nineties, Noble had around seventy thousand sheep. For a time, he also had a sideline of horse raising. To upgrade those holdings, he imported a top-grade English shire horse. In the summer of 1905, Noble sold his stock and “some 3000 acres” of ranch property. Noble did not quote prices to the reporter for the Idaho Statesman (June 24, 1905), but probably realized $300 or $400 thousand from the sales. (That’s $8-10 million in today’s dollars).

After the sale, Noble moved his family to Boise City. There, he invested heavily in the Idaho Trust & Savings Bank, reportedly one of the largest financial institutions in the Pacific Northwest. With purchases then and over the next few years, he acquired about seven thousands acres of land in the Boise Valley.
Robert Noble photo: H. T. French.

Noble also provided much of the funding for construction of an interurban electric railroad running from Boise out to Meridian and Nampa. Robert served as manager of the rail company until it was sold into a merged firm in 1911. The following year, Noble was elected President of the IT&S Bank. He held that position until his death in November 1914.

Four years after Robert’s death, the estate settled the title for a parcel of land near the complex intersection a half mile southeast of the capitol building. The executor, Robert’s son Ernest, then deeded the plot to the city for today’s Robert Noble Park.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [French],[Hawley], [Illust-State]
A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, Owyhee Avalanche Press (January 1898).   

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