Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Businessman, Attorney, and Idaho Legislator Lorenzo Thomas [otd 05/31]

Lorenzo Thomas. Family archives.
Idaho legislator, attorney, and businessman Lorenzo R. Thomas was born May 31, 1870 in Staffordshire, England. The family moved to the United States three years later and settled in Salt Lake City.  Then, in 1882, they moved to Eagle Rock (now Idaho Falls), Idaho. As a teenager, Lorenzo went on a mission for the LDS church in England.

Upon his return, he began work in a store in Eagle Rock (the town name changed not too long after that). Thomas showed immediate talent for the retail trade and became manager of the Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI) store in Rexburg at the age of twenty-two.

In 1895, Thomas was elected to the state House of Representatives, serving during the term of Governor William McConnell [blog, Sept 18]. That session of the legislature dealt with a wide range of issues vital to the young state. Early on, they worked out a reapportionment of the state Senatorial and Representative Districts, and restructured several counties in central Idaho.

The legislature also created several offices within the Executive branch. These included a Horticultural Inspector to oversee fruit grading and suppression of insect pests, and a Sheep Inspector to examine herds for possible infectious diseases. They also devised three amendments to the state Constitution. One amendment called for granting women the right to vote, a key milestone in women’s suffrage [blog, Nov 3].

Lorenzo so impressed leaders in Boise that he was appointed Deputy State Treasurer at the end of his term. Then, in rapid succession he became United States Commissioner and then Register of the Federal Land Office in Blackfoot.

Thomas was active in the LDS church, serving many years as a Bishop in Blackfoot. He also belonged to the Blackfoot Commercial Club, served as Director for several regional corporations, and rose to a captaincy in the Idaho National Guard. For a time, he acted as President of the Southeastern Idaho Fair Association.
Blackfoot, Idaho, ca 1898. Illustrated History photo.
Thomas also operated a mercantile business and owned considerable farm land in the area. Not content with all that, Lorenzo studied law, passed the bar exam, and began a successful legal practice

After ten years in the Land Office, Thomas retired to his law practice, interrupted by a term as a Probate Judge in Bingham County. He served as Blackfoot city attorney, and then was elected in 1915 to the first of his four terms in the Idaho Senate. He served two and two, with one term out of office between. During his final Senate term in 1921-1924, Thomas was selected as President Pro Tem.

Besides his political and legal activities, Lorenzo bolstered his farm holdings by supporting key irrigation ventures. Thus, the Idaho Statesman reported (February 15, 1919) that “Senator L. R. Thomas” and two others were trying to “interest the active support of the Pocatello Commercial Club” in an irrigation project in Bannock County.

Although he held no state public office after his final Senate term, he remained active in the Republican Party. As a sign of his commitment to service, Rotary International acknowledged Lorenzo as one of its three oldest District Governors … in 1939, when he was almost seventy years old. He passed away in July 1944.
                                                                                 
References: [Blue], [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
"Jottings from Convention Folk," The Rotarian, Rotary International (August 1939).

Monday, May 30, 2016

U. S. Assay Office Added to National Register of Historic Places [otd 05/30]

On May 30, 1961, the old U. S. Assay Office in Boise took its deserved place on the National Register of Historic Places.

After the discoveries of 1862, gold – dust, nuggets, and quartz ore – poured out of the mountainous Boise Basin region (east of Boise City). Large amounts of silver from Owyhee County, and elsewhere, soon followed. Gold dust immediately became a preferred medium of exchange, as it always did in gold country. The metal has intrinsic value, of course, and can be doled out in widely varying amounts.
Gold scales. Oregon Historical Society.

However, the dust also suffers from some serious shortcomings. First, transactions require a set of scales and standard weights to measure the dust. Pioneer Charlie Walgamott noted that Chinese miners in south-central Idaho “invariably” carried their own devices, which were very precise and accurate. (A merchant caught with doctored scales would be in big trouble.)

Such transactions were complicated by the fact that not all gold dust was the same. The nominal value was $16 per ounce. However, dust from one placer area might be worth $12 per ounce while that from another might go $19. The circulation of bogus dust caused further doubt in such dealings.

Private assayers provided a stopgap service by melting dust into gold bars of various sizes. Stamped with the weight, value, and assayer identification, these too could be used as a medium of exchange. However, such “currency” did not travel well … generally only as far as the assayers good name.

Thus, by 1864, miners and businessmen alike were agitating for the establishment of a branch mint within Idaho Territory. Failing that, they wanted at least an official assay office. It simply cost too much to ship the precious metals to the Mint in San Francisco. The 1866 Territorial legislature made a formal request for an assay office, but partisan politics and pressing business at the end of the Civil War delayed action until 1869.

In February of that year, Congress authorized creation of an assay office in Boise City. President Grant then appointed former Idaho Chief Justice John R. McBride [blog, Feb 28] to oversee construction and act as the office’s first superintendent.
U. S. Assay Office, ca. 1898. Illustrated History image.

Construction began in 1870 and the Office received its first official deposits in March 1872.

The Assay Office operated as part of the Treasury Department for over sixty years. It processed several billion dollars (in today’s values) worth of gold and silver during that period. The Office closed in 1933 and the U.S. Forest Service began using the building for office space.

Although the interior was extensively remodeled, the exterior of what became a National Landmark was largely unchanged from the original. The National Register states, under Significance, that the Office was “One of the earliest monumental structures in the Northwest … and has always symbolized the importance of Idaho's mines.”

In 1972, the Idaho State Historical Society became the owner of record. Today, the building houses the Idaho Historic Preservation Office and the Archaeological Survey of Idaho.
                                                                                 
Reference: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
"Assay Office, Boise," National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service (1961).
“The Old Assay Office in Boise,” Reference Series No. 359, Idaho State Historical Society (December 1974).
Charles Shirley Walgamott, Six Decades Back, The Caxton Printers, Ltd, Caldwell, Idaho (1936).

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Political Operative, U. S. Senator, and Public Servant Fred Dubois [otd 05/29]

Senator Dubois. Library of Congress.
Idaho Senator and political operative Fred Thomas Dubois was born May 29, 1851 in Illinois. Dubois graduated from Yale in 1872, then worked in a Chicago dry-goods store for about three years.

More inclined toward politics and public service, DuBois wrangled an appointment to a low-level Illinois administrative post. He resigned a year later, shortly before the death of his father, a prominent Illinois politician.

He kept himself busy until 1880, when his brother was appointed resident physician at the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. Fred and his brother were very close, so he decided to move west also. After their arrival, Fred rode on a cattle drive and then worked various jobs around Fort Hall.

Possessed of remarkable political instincts and skills, DuBois began by using family connections to obtain an appointment as U.S. Marshal for Idaho Territory. The job took him all over the Territory. He then parleyed all those contacts into election as Idaho’s Delegate to Congress in 1887. For the first but not the last time, his campaign promises exploited an undercurrent of anti-Mormon sentiment in the Territory.

DuBois played a key behind-the-scenes role in arranging for the selection of the state’s first U. S. Senate slate [blog, Apr 1]. In the end, DuBois became one of Idaho’s first two Senators, as a Republican. By all accounts, he put his extraordinary political skills to good use there.

Silver mining was then a mainstay of the Idaho economy, so DuBois quite naturally became part of the 1896 Silver Republican Party. Their Presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan, won overwhelmingly in Idaho, but lost nationwide. Meanwhile, a Democratic-Populist party “fusion” ticket won the Idaho legislature, which elected a Populist to replace Dubois in the U. S. Senate.

As the Silver Republicans withered away nationally, DuBois resuscitated his career with a clever end-run. His skillful manipulation of factions in Idaho’s Democratic Party won him control of that group, which he then led into a fusion with the state’s remaining Silver Republicans. This peculiar amalgam gained control of the Idaho legislature, which then elected Dubois to replace Senator Shoup in the 1900 election.

Filipino rice field, ca 1905. Library of Congress.
For various reasons, DuBois switched to the Democratic Party for his term in the Senate. He particularly opposed the continued American presence in the Philippines. DuBois and other “anti-imperialists” pushed independence for the islands. On the other hand, DuBois supported Republican President Teddy Roosevelt’s proposal to expand national forest reserves, and a program to encourage irrigation projects for arid western lands.

Meanwhile, Idaho’s Republicans had re-unified to gain an overwhelming majority in the state legislature. Thus, DuBois didn’t even bother to run for reelection. (Even with his skills, he probably felt he’d burned too many bridges.) He remained active in Idaho politics until about 1918, but never again ran for public office himself.

DuBois spent the rest of his career in various appointive Federal positions, and sometimes as a lobbyist. He died in February 1930.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W]
Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
Leo W. Graff, Jr., “Fred T. Dubois – Biographical sketch,” Fred T. Dubois Collection, MC 004, Idaho State University  Special Collections, Pocatello.
"Fred Thomas Dubois,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, online.
"Fred Thomas Dubois: May 29, 1851 - February 14, 1930," Reference Series No. 541, Idaho State Historical Society.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Western Film Maker and Adventure Writer Oliver Drake [otd 05/28]

Prolific writer, producer, and director Clarence Oliver Drake was born May 28, 1903 in Boise. While not especially “wild” by that time, Idaho retained much of its Western character: Cowboys rode the range on horseback, and most packed a gun. Stagecoaches still linked outlying towns.
Stage headed for Boise, 1908. Elmore County Historical Research Team.

Oliver reportedly left “the city” at an early age to work on a ranch. However, by 1920, he was picking lemons near Chula Vista, California. Enthralled by silent film entertainment, he began working in the industry in the early Twenties. He apparently acted in several low-budget Westerns, but we know the name of only one: Red Blood and Blue, in 1925.

Drake eventually turned more to the production side: writing, producing, and directing silent films and then talkies. The earliest producer/director credit listed by the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) was Texas Tornado, released in 1932. The IMDb lists a total of 55 films that he produced or directed (14 in which he did both).

Republic Pictures.
He was an even more prolific writer, contributing original stories, scripts, songs and soundtracks for over 130 movies. He is credited with the original story, screenplay, and songs for the 1936 movie Oh Susanna! starring Gene Autry. At that time, Autry was in the second year of what would be a long career as the prototypical “singing cowboy.”

Drake essentially perfected the “B-Western” approach to movies: formulaic – but action-filled – scripts, low-cost performers, and streamlined production. Often disparaged as low-brow “oaters,” such films nonetheless offered good entertainment value to the movie-going public right into the 1950s.

Not blessed with budgets that could afford stars who had “made it,” Drake worked with a number of stars on their way up. These included Sebastian Cabot, Denver Pyle, and John Paine, among others.

In 1949, he directed a film in which Emmy-winning actress/singer Polly Bergen played a cantina singer. Bergen was still active until 2012.  She played an on-going role in the TV series Desperate Housewives and acted in another film after that. She passed away in 2014. In 1956, Drake wrote a small part for Slim Pickens, later noted for cowboy-riding the dropped nuclear bomb in Dr. Strangelove.

Columbia Pictures.
However, the advent of television, with its “free” content, doomed the B-Western. Whereas Drake directed and/or produced 46 movies in 1941 through 1950, he did only 8 over the next twenty years. His last “standard” B-Western was The Parson and the Outlaw, released in 1957.

Ironically, but perhaps fittingly, the film was also the last movie role for Charles “Buddy” Rogers (who played the parson). A musician and band leader as well as an actor, Rogers had entered the movie business about the same time as Drake. Rogers was never a big star, and was perhaps better known as Mary Pickford’s husband for over forty years.

Drake continued to write, both for movies and for television. He wrote nearly thirty TV episodes, including spots for such popular shows as The Adventures of Superman, The Gene Autry Show and Lassie. He also produced or directed at least 16 TV episodes, including some for Sky King and Lassie. His last IMDb movie title appeared in 1970. He ended as he started … with credits as writer, producer, and director. Drake passed away in August 1991.
                                                                                 
References: [French]
"Oliver Drake," Internet Movie Database, imdb.com.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Snake Indians Defeat U. S. Army at Battle of Three Forks [otd 05/27]

The afternoon of May 27, 1866, a force of white infantry and cavalry encountered a band of about 500 “Snake” (Shoshone-Bannock-Paiute) Indians at the Three Forks of the Owyhee River. Major Louis H. Marshall had led the U. S. Army Regular infantry out of Boise Barracks in an attempt to “pacify” the tribes. Indian attacks on outlying ranches and passing stagecoaches had intensified as prospectors and ranchers poured into the Owyhee area.
Three Forks of the Owyhee.
Photo posted on flickr.com by L. A. Price.

The Army had sent the Regulars west in response to what the newspaper called the “Snake War” [blog, Nov 25]. This generally low-level conflict with tribes in southwest Idaho, Nevada, and southeast Oregon had flickered off and on since 1862. Released from the East by the end of the Civil War, the troops arrived in Boise City in late 1865. Totally unused to Indian warfare, the soldiers had little early success.

From Boise, Major Marshall led his infantry across the Snake River and south to Camp Lyon. This Army outpost straddled the Idaho-Oregon border, 16-18 miles west and a bit north of Silver City. From there, the troops moved south and west into Oregon. Around the 23rd, a troop of Oregon Volunteer cavalry had joined Marshall. They soon discovered fairly fresh Indian sign and followed it south, using trails over the plains high above the Owyhee River.

Marshall and the cavalry commander suspected that the Indians at Three Forks were those who had massacred about fifty Chinese a week earlier. They hurried to attack despite the obstacles and dangers. At Three Forks, the river twists through an 800-foot canyon, where the walls are practically vertical in places.

The soldiers had to clamber over loose rocks and through shifting gravel in their descent along a ravine. Heavily outnumbered (about 85 versus 250-300 warriors), they deployed along the west bank and began exchanging fire across the river. They inflicted a few casualties in four hours of fighting, but even some shots from their mountain howitzer failed to create an opening to advance.

Battle diagram, soldiers entered initially from left.
Overlaid on U.S. Geological Survey relief map.
As the shadows grew long in the canyon, Marshall moved downstream in hopes of outflanking his adversary. However, they lost their cannon trying to ferry it across. In the morning, the Indians ambushed the flanking attempt, killing one soldier. They kept the troops pinned down throughout the day.

Marshall finally realized the futility of trying to attack a superior force in such rugged country. He later wrote that “Ten men can hold a hundred in check and prevent their ascent.”

He ordered a risky night withdrawal. Although they had inflicted more casualties than they took, Marshall’s force had lost its artillery piece and been forced to retreat. Their performance surely did little to inspire fear or respect in their adversary.

Within a week after the battle, Indian raiders struck at three widely scattered spots and ran off over 120 cattle and horses. All told, they made seven or eight attacks in about a month after the debacle.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W]
"Battle of Three Forks and the Owyhee Cannon," Reference Series No. 239, Idaho State Historical Society.
Gregory Michno, The Deadliest War in the West: The Snake Conflict, 1864-1868, Caxton Press, Cakiwell, Idaho (2007).
"The Snake War: 1864-1868," Reference Series No. 236, Idaho State Historical Society (1966).

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Idaho Territory Reduced in Size to Create Montana [otd 05/26]

On May 26, 1864, the U. S. Congress passed legislation that reduced the previously-massive Idaho Territory by creating Montana Territory and splitting off most of future Wyoming. President Lincoln signed the bill two days later. By this action, they solved one of the major problems with the original structure of Idaho Territory.
Original Idaho Territory.
Adapted from J. H. Hawley with future borders tinted in color.

When Congress created Idaho Territory in 1863 [blog, Mar 4], it encompassed today’s Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. It was, in fact, larger than Texas and Illinois combined. Put another way, the direct distance from Fort Laramie, in the southeast corner of the Territory, to the Territorial capital in Lewiston was almost as much as that from St. Louis, Missouri to Washington, D. C.

Aside from the sheer size, geographical reality made the Territory practically ungovernable. The Continental Divide separated two-thirds of all that area from the capital. Most of it was, of course, largely empty of whites. They were concentrated in the rich gold finds around Bannack and Virginia City. Still, over a third of the Territory’s population lived east of the Divide.

The first Idaho Territorial legislature convened on December 7, 1863. The handful of elected officials from east of the Divide had no particular trouble getting to Lewiston. However, when the legislature adjourned in February 1864, deep snow totally blocked the massive ranges to the east and south of the capital.

East-side officials first rode a stagecoach west to Wallula, where they could board a Columbia River steamboat. (Due to ice and low water, the first Snake River steamer would not reach Lewiston until April.) From there, they could proceed to Portland. They then embarked on a coastal ship to San Francisco, where they caught the regular overland stage to Salt Lake City. From there they split, some continuing to Fort Laramie, the others heading north.
Territorial map, 1866. J. H. Colton & Company.

Congress knew of this “ludicrous arrangement.” Even the Eastern newspapers, such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, remarked (March 4, 1864) on Idaho’s problem: “It will be impossible to establish good government there until the Territory is divided. The seat of government is in the extreme northwest corner of Idaho, from which the eastern part of the Territory is cut off by a mountain range, placing it quite beyond the control of the authorities while stationed so far away.”

Fortunately, Federal officials were already devising a solution. The easy answer would have been to partition the area along the Continental Divide. That would have put the border just east of today’s Butte. However, settlers in the Missoula Valley rejected the notion that their government would still be in Lewiston. (The final Idaho-Montana boundary followed the path we see today.)

By early May, 1864, legislators were deep in discussions of a bill to create this new Territory, to be called “Montana.” One final point held up passage, however. The House Committee proposed wording that restricted voting in the first Territorial elections to white men only. The Senate opposed that provision. Finally, after weeks of argument, they settled on the “color-blind” wording that ended up in the Territory’s Organic Act: “all citizens of the United States and those who have declared their intention to become such … shall be entitled to vote at said first election.”

Of course, Montana didn’t get everything Congress split off. They also put Wyoming (more or less) back in Dakota Territory. Note also that Idaho’s eastern border ran along the 33rd longitude west of Washington. That changed to the 34th in 1868, giving Idaho its present odd shape.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W], [Brit], [Hawley]
"The Creation of the Territory of Idaho," Reference Series No. 264, Idaho State Historical Society (March 1969).
Michael P. Malone, Richard B. Roeder, and William L. Lang, Montana: A History of Two Centuries, Revised Edition, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1991).
“Map of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana,” General Atlas, J. H. Colton & Company, New York (1866).

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 than 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 Amazon.com 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).