Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Attorney, Mining Investor, and Territorial Secretary Robert Sidebotham [otd 12/06]

Robert Sidebotham. H. T. French photo.
Pioneer lawyer and developer Robert A. Sidebotham was born December 6, 1834 along the Ohio River in Pennsylvania (west of Pittsburgh). He gained early exposure to business because his father “was engaged in manufacturing.” He graduated from the law school at Oberlin College and then moved west. There, he worked in California for a time and then taught school in Utah.

Sidebotham joined the rush to Idaho when the gold fields around the town of Rocky Bar opened up in late 1863. Although placer mining drew the early prospectors, the real wealth of the region lay underground. Lode mining requires much greater capital, to pay for tunneling and for milling equipment to handle the ore.

However, Rocky Bar sits in the midst of massive, rugged ranges, far from normal travel routes. Located 45-50 direct miles east of Boise, the “easiest” link to the city follows over one hundred miles of twisty creek and river canyon. Tools, bales of clothing, bags of flour – every ounce of supplies – arrived by pack train. But pack animals simply could not carry the heavy milling machinery needed to exploit the lode mines.

Thus, in January 1864, Sidebotham and two partners obtained a Territorial franchise for the “South Boise Wagon Road.” (“South Boise” was the original name for Rocky Bar.) The agreement required them to bridge many streams as well as the South Fork of the Boise River. Excluding the money spent building bridges, the stretch from the South Fork over the final huge ridge – about one-fifth of the total distance – cost two-fifth (41%) of the total.

Julius Newberg, a partner with much relevant experience, managed the construction. He had hoped to complete the road early in the summer, but bridge building and other obstacles slowed the work considerably.

The first wagons reached Rocky Bar in early October, releasing a happy round of celebration. A correspondent to an Idaho City newspaper wrote, “Long and loud huzzahs rent the air and made the welkin ring. All business was for the time suspended and everybody seemed loud in their praises of the energetic and thorough-going Newberg.”
Rocky Bar, ca 1867. Elmore County Historical Research Team.
Sidebotham was a Republican in a heavily Democratic district, yet voters there elected him to every county office he ran for. They also elected him to terms in the the Territorial Legislature, and the Council (equivalent to a state Senate).

In 1878, President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Sidebotham to be Secretary of Idaho Territory, “a position now equivalent to that of Lieutenant Governor.” Robert moved to Boise City to handle his duties, which proved wise: He filled in as Territorial Governor for two years because one appointee departed under a barrage of criticism, and his successor never bothered to show up at all.

In later years, Sidebotham continued his law practice, but also held mining interests in the Wood River districts as well as in Colorado. For many years, he maintained a residence in Cripple Creek, Colorado, to be closer to mine holdings there. His wife, who ran a Boise millinery store during the 1890s, kept the family home in Boise. She and their children were very active in Boise society. Robert was on the train bound from Cripple Creek to Boise when he died in December 1904. He was buried in Boise.
References: [French], [Hawley]
“South Boise Wagon Road,” Reference Series No. 94, Idaho State Historical Society, Boise (1964).
Merle W. Wells, Gold Camps & Silver Cities: Nineteenth Century Mining in Central and Southern Idaho, 2nd Edition,  Bulletin 22, Idaho Department of Lands, Bureau of Mines and Geology, Moscow, Idaho (1983).

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