Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Boise Valley Stockman, Irrigator, and Eagle Developer Truman C. Catlin [otd 12/21]

Truman Catlin. J. H. Hawley photo.
Rancher and developer Truman C. Catlin was born December 21, 1839 in Farmingdale, Illinois, about eight miles west of Springfield.

In 1862, he boarded a Missouri River steamboat for Fort Benton, Montana. By chance, his party encountered one of Captain John Mullan’s road expeditions [blog, Feb 5] and traveled with them across Montana and Idaho to Walla Walla, Washington.

After spending the winter there, Catlin came to the Boise Basin. Idaho City and the Basin were growing explosively at that time and he had no trouble finding work. Probably because the best Basin placers were already claimed, Truman and some companions traveled to Silver City during the summer. Finding the same situation there, they next tried their hand south of Baker City, Oregon.

Catlin decided that working for wages on someone else’s claim would get him nowhere. He and two partners negotiated a substantial shingle contract with the authorities at Fort Boise. After completing that project, Truman returned to a homestead he had claimed earlier. Located about ten miles northwest of downtown Boise City, Catlin’s claim lay between split branches of the Boise River, on what came to be called Eagle Island.

The location facilitated construction of irrigation ditches, so Catlin and a neighbor began irrigated agriculture in 1864. Truman’s fresh potatoes sold at a premium, while his ground corn could be sold for less than imported meal and still turn a handsome profit. Catlin also started in the cattle business in a small way and expanded that line over the years.

By the mid-1870s, stockmen in Idaho and further west were producing a surplus beyond what could be sold locally or in the mining districts. In fact, U. S. government reports indicate that Oregon and Washington cattlemen were driving herds across Idaho into Wyoming and Colorado by 1875. And, in early 1876, buyers were seeking Idaho cattle to join those drives (Idaho Statesman, January 29, 1876).

Catlin was one of the first (Hawley’s History says “the first”) to run such drives: moving a thousand head into Wyoming in 1876. After that, he and various partners regularly drove cattle east until the coming of the railroad in 1883-84.

Meeting the interurban, 1915. City of Boise.
As new homesteaders and developers arrived, Eagle Island became more and more settled. Truman himself eventually owned over 600 acres in the area and raised hogs as a sideline to his farming and cattle business. A bridge to the island spurred growth. Eagle township really took off in 1907, when the interurban railway linked hamlets all up and down the Boise Valley.

In 1917, Catlin sold off his major cattle interests; Hawley suggested that this was because “nearly all of his cowboys entered the army.” After that he concentrated on farming and a dairy operation for which he procured blooded Jersey and Holstein milk cows.

Even approaching age eighty, Catlin had not released the reins to his son, who was then around 45. Hawley wrote that the older man was “yet extremely active and still takes pleasure in riding the range, which he says he can do with the best of them.”

Truman C. Catlin passed away in June 1922.
References: [Hawley]
Laurie Baker, “The City of Eagle: Yesterday and Today,” City of Eagle, Official Website (May, 2007).
James H. Hawley, Ninth Biennial Report of the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society of Idaho, Boise (1924).
J. Orin Oliphant, On the Cattle Ranges of the Oregon Country, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1968).

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