Thursday, December 15, 2016

Freighter, Mining Investor, and U. S. Marshall Joe Pinkham [otd 12/15]

Marshal Pinkham.
Illustrated History.
U. S. Marshal Joseph Pinkham was born December 15, 1833 in Canada. His grandparents were Welsh and had emigrated many years earlier to what became the state of Maine. His father was born and married there, then the family moved to Canada shortly before Joseph was born. Joe grew up on a farm near New London, on Prince Edward Island.

In 1850, he boarded a ship for the long voyage around Cape Horn to California. He clerked briefly at a gold camp store before trying his hand at placer mining. After a couple years, he moved on to southern Oregon, where he combined farming with stretches of mining. Pinkham served in the U. S. Army Quartermaster Corps during the Rogue River War. After the conflict ended in 1857, he worked at various locations in Oregon as a farmer, miner, or clerk.

In 1864, he looked toward the opportunities presented by the gold fields of Idaho. By then, he had apparently had his fill of prospecting and mining. Instead, he partnered with two other men to run pack trains into Boise City from supply terminals in Oregon. They converted to freight wagons when the road system allowed it.

After four years, he moved to Idaho City and established headquarters for a stagecoach company that ran passengers and freight to Boise Basin towns, and out to Boise city.

In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Pinkham as U. S. Marshal for Idaho Territory. In its biography of Marshal Pinkham, the Illustrated History said, “He entered upon the duties of his position at a time when the region was largely infested with a lawless element and when crime held sway in many districts. He was ever fearless in the discharge of his duty, and to his efforts is largely due the rapid transformation of the state to its present condition of advanced civilization.”

Philadelphia smelter, near Ketchum.
Ketchum-Sun Valley Historical Society.
Pinkham performed his duties so effectively that he was reappointed for a second term, which ran until 1878. After that, Pinkham apparently invested in central Idaho mining ventures. He followed the 1879-1880 rush into the gold and silver fields of the Wood River area and opened a general store in the boom town of Ketchum.

In 1891, knowledge of Pinkham’s service was still fresh, and he was again appointed to be a U. S. Marshal. Thus, at aged 57, he became the first Marshal to serve the Idaho District after the region became a state. As the “man on the spot,” Pinkham then successfully handled potentially explosive union demonstrations and violence in the Coeur d’Alene mining districts.

In February 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Pinkham to head the U. S. Assay office in Boise. He held that position until his retirement in the summer of 1915.

The memory of his fearless integrity as a U. S. Marshal lived on long after his final retirement from that duty. Twenty years later, J. H. Hawley praised that history and wrote: “His step is firm, his eye is still keen, and his mental faculties are still alert.”

Pinkham passed away in July 1921.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“History of the District of Idaho,” U. S. Marshals Service, United State Department of Justice.


  1. If he was that good, why haven't we ever heard of him? Is their a biography about him? Or maybe a story based on his life?

  2. Not so far as I can tell. He is mentioned in other documents -- a list of U.S. Marshalls and in an item about his re-appointment by President Grant. But I've not found a bio.