Thursday, November 30, 2017

Convicted Murderer and Thief Hanged at Idaho Penitentiary [otd 11/30]

On November 30, 1901, authorities hanged convicted murderer Edward Rice. He was the first individual executed at the Idaho Penitentiary as a state institution and only the second in its history. Rice had been convicted of murdering Matthew Mailley, a Wallace cigar and candy store owner, the previous year.
Wallace, ca 1898. Illustrated History.

The evidence was largely circumstantial, in that there were no direct witnesses. A potential customer had found the store door locked at around 9:30 on a Monday morning in October 1900. Finding Mailley’s thriving business closed at that time of day was unusual, to say the least.

The person then walked around and peered in a window, and spotted Mailley’s body lying near the back. A report in the Idaho Statesman (October 5, 1900) said that authorities then forced the door. Mailley had suffered several blows to the head and then his throat had been cut. The article noted that the store owner “had lived in the Coeur d’Alenes about 15 years and had no known enemies.”

Account books showed an $800 shortfall of cash and checks in the store and on the murdered man’s body. Suspicion soon fell on Edward Rice, a casual laborer who had been around town for awhile. Rice had cadged small loans off numerous locals, some of whom had taken to dunning him for repayment whenever they ran into him. Later on the day of the murder, Rice had not only paid off over $100 of those debts, he had “purchased a hat and pair of trousers.”

Investigators also found two bloodstained handkerchiefs at the crime scene, one of which had apparently been used as a gag. Both bore marks assigned by the Wallace laundry to Rice’s belongings. Unable to explain this evidence, Rice’s lawyer tried to raise doubts about the chain of custody on the items.

At his trial, Rice’s lawyer surely did his best to focus attention on those doubts, and the fact that no witness had placed Rice near the scene of the crime. Available accounts do not report what story they advanced to explain his sudden relative affluence. (Throughout this affair, Rice’s activities suggest that he was, in fact, of substandard intelligence.) The attorney’s presentation clearly did not impress the jury: They “found a verdict in thirteen minutes.”

Naturally, the matter did not end there. The scarcity of direct evidence was emphasized in his appeals, which went all the way to the Idaho Supreme Court. One of the other issues the defense raised was that “popular excitement and prejudice” about the case prevented him from getting a fair trial. The High Court conceded that such sentiment certainly justified a request for a change of venue, but no such request was made.
Old Idaho Penitentiary.
Wikimedia Commons, attribution to Peter Wollheim.

Up until 1899, executions had been carried out at the county level. Then the law was changed to require that all such acts be carried out at the State Penitentiary. The only previous execution at the Penitentiary had been under a Federal order, when Idaho was still a Territory.

Early in 1901, even as his appeals proceeded, Rice somehow obtained a knife and ostensibly tried to commit suicide by cutting his own throat … but failed. One last-ditch appeal called for time to examine of his sanity, but that too failed and the execution proceeded. 
References: [Illust-North]
“[Appeal Denied, Rice to Hang],” Idaho Daily Statesman, Boise, Idaho (November 30, 1901). 
"Executions," Idaho State Historical Society monograph.
"State Versus Rice," The Pacific Reporter, Vol. 66, West Publishing Company, St. Paul (1902).

Friday, November 24, 2017

Fire at State Mental Hospital in Blackfoot, Joe Glidden Patents Barbed Wire [otd 11/24]

Early on November 24, 1889, a fire destroyed the state-run mental hospital located in Blackfoot, Idaho. The sanitarium, as it was then called, housed 47 male and 20 female patients at the time. Early accounts said 7 patients (5 men and 2 women) were missing afterwards, with two bodies found in the ruins. However, Hawley’s later History suggests that no one was killed in the fire.

South Idaho Sanitarium, now Idaho State Hospital South.
J. H. Hawley photo.
Located a half mile or so north of Blackfoot, the asylum had been authorized in 1885 and opened for patients the following year. Before then, mentally ill individuals had been housed in Oregon, under contract with that state. Officials transferred thirty-six patients (26 man and 10 women) when the Blackfoot facility opened.

After the fire, male patients were kept temporarily at the Bingham county courthouse and females at the local Methodist Episcopal Church. The institution was rebuilt at a location a few miles further north.

In 1905, the legislature funded a second state hospital; it was built in Orofino. As views on mental health issues became more sophisticated, the terms “sanitarium” and “asylum” were dropped in favor of a simple “Idaho State Hospital South” and “ … North.”

Today, Idaho is still wrestling with the proper approach, or approaches to treating people with mental health problems. Clearly, sufferers who are a danger to themselves and to others require different methods and facilities from those with lesser problems. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.

Official drawing for Patent No. 157,124.
On November 24, 1874, the Federal government granted a patent to Joseph F. Glidden for an improved form of barbed wire. Over the years, many ideas had been tried but Glidden’s was the first effective design that could be manufactured at reasonable cost.

Homesteaders benefited first from the new product: It provided a way to protect fields from range cattle and sheep. In many jurisdictions, courts would not award damages for losses to stock unless the owner had tried to provide some sort of protection for his (or her) crops. An 1873 Idaho law said, in part, that farm fields “shall be enclosed with a good and lawful fence, sufficient to secure the crops therein from the encroachments of all kinds of domestic animals.”

Possible awards then hinged on the phrase “good and lawful fence.” A split rail fence met the criteria, but the materials were costly and difficult to obtain. In many areas, even wooden posts for stringing a wire fence had to be hauled from miles away. Still, posts and wire were far more affordable than anything available before.

Stockmen also quickly saw the advantages of fencing large expanses of range to keep it for themselves, and they had the capital to buy wire by the train car load. Thus, production of the new form jumped 60-fold a year after the patent was granted. Barbed wire fences brought their own problems, of course. The lore of the Old West is replete with stories of the fence cutters and gun-handy cowboys hired to patrol the wires.
References: [Brit], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Joseph M. McFadden, “Monopoly in Barbed Wire: The Formation of the American Steel and Wire Company,” Business History Review, Vol. LII. No. 4 (Winter, 1978).
J. Orin Oliphant, On the Cattle Ranges of the Oregon Country, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1968).

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Newspaper Publisher Ben Read, Lurid Headlines Attract Readers [otd 10/18]

Ben Read. J. H. Hawley photo.
Idaho Falls newspaperman Benjamin Harrison Read was born October 18, 1888 in Palco, located about 25 miles north of Hayes, Kansas. His father, a storekeeper, moved the family to Iowa when Ben was a young man. After high school he attended Grinnell College, graduating in 1910. (Grinnell is about 45 miles east of Des Moines.) After graduation, Ben worked at the Ames Times newspaper.

Within two years, he attained a partnership in the newspaper, which became the Ames Evening Times. He soon assumed management of the paper, which he took from a weekly to a daily in about 1916. Like many newspapers of that day, the company also maintained a lucrative job printing operation.

In 1917, Ben sold the Ames newspaper and moved to Idaho. There, he and his brother Clifford bought a controlling interest in the Idaho Falls Daily Post. The earliest known operators of the Post were brothers Charles and Ernest Sumner in partnership with Henry Gabbe. In 1905, the partners shipped equipment in from Colorado and began publishing the first daily newspaper in Idaho Falls. (Library of Congress records indicate that an Idaho Falls paper of that name began in 1903, but nothing is known of its circulation or management.)

The Post had to compete with two existing weekly newspapers: the Idaho Register and Idaho Falls Times. The presence of a daily did force the Register to go semi-weekly, in 1908. However, it soon became apparent that three newspapers might be too many for the town to support. When the novelty wore off, the Daily Post struggled, going through a succession of owners before the Read’s bought it.

Daily Post offices. Idaho Falls Post Register archives.
Ben and Cliff rejuvenated the paper: They contracted for a dedicated newswire so they could feature the hottest events from around the world, and published full-color Sunday comics. They also packed their pages with sensational stories: notorious (preferably bloody) murders, white slavery, marquee sporting events … whatever would grab attention. On the side, they ran the usual printing operation.

Their competitors merged in 1920 to form the Times-Register, which also went to daily publication. In 1922-1923, Ben served a couple months as private secretary to newly-elected Idaho Governor Charles C. Moore (Idaho Statesman, December 24, 1922). In 1925, the brothers sold the Daily Post to J. Robb Brady, son of former Idaho Governor and U. S. Senator James H. Brady. Ben and Cliff moved to the Los Angeles, California, area. Ben remained in southern California until his death in 1972. Cliff returned to Idaho for a time to run another newspaper.

Robb Brady had originally moved to Idaho to settle the estate of Senator Brady, who died in office from a heart attack. Ironically, a year after purchasing the Post, J. Robb also had a heart attack and died. The manager he hired, E. F. McDermott, arranged a merger with the Times Register, changing the name to the Post-Register. McDermott operated the paper for the next half century. The Post Register is still being published today, six days a week (no issue on Monday).
References: [Hawley]
Chronicling America: Historic Newspapers, Library of Congress (online).
Mary Jane Fritzen, Idaho Falls, City of Destiny, Bonneville County Historical Society, Idaho Falls (1991).
“Golden Jubilee Edition, 1884–1934,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (September 10, 1934).
William Hathaway, Images of America: Idaho Falls, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC (2006).

Friday, September 22, 2017

Opening Day for the Academy of Idaho (Now Idaho State University) Classes [otd 9/22]

On Monday September 22, 1902, the Academy of Idaho – precursor to today’s Idaho State University – celebrated its first opening exercise. Ironically, the people of Pocatello wanted the Academy so badly, it almost didn’t get off the ground.
Pocatello, ca 1895. Bannock County Historical Society.

Pocatello was incorporated in 1889. As a major railroad junction, it grew explosively, topping 4,000 citizens by the 1900 census. After hard lobbying by locals, the governor signed a bill, in March 1901, that authorized the creation of the Academy [blog, Mar 11]. The institution would provide college prep and “industrial” (vo-tech) courses. However, the Act allocated no money to buy land for the school; that was up to the people of Pocatello. The bill set a deadline of May 1st for a site decision.

The subsequent dispute almost killed the Academy before it started. The city split mainly over whether the school should be east or west of the railroad tracks and yards. However, even within those factions, splinter groups formed to push specific sites. The wrangling continued for over six weeks. By April 30, the day before the legal deadline, they had reached an impasse. The Pocatello Tribune reported, “The Board then took a recess and a lot of people went out on the streets and swore.”

Finally, “under the gun,” they settled on what is now the lower part of the ISU campus. Forty students showed up for those first classes in 1902. By the end of the decade, school enrollment would reach nearly 300. In 1906, the Academy’s first Principal, John W. Faris, wrote, “The Academy has demonstrated beyond the question of a doubt that it fills a most important place in the educational system of Idaho.”
Academy, ca. 1914. H. T. French.

School administrators moved aggressively, adding three city blocks to the campus in 1910 and expanding the school’s offerings: night classes for adult education, winter short courses, and summer sessions. Even that early, they had aspirations to attain full four-year status. The only immediate result of their lobbying was a name change – to “Idaho Technical Institute” (ITI) – in 1915.

Recovering from a severe downturn during World War I, the school’s enrollment topped a thousand by 1920. Locals continued to push for four-year status. Finally fed up, the 1927 legislature took drastic action: They made ITI a subordinate division of the University. For the next twenty years, the Pocatello school would be the “Southern Branch of the University of Idaho.”

World War II crushed enrollment again, but afterwards about a thousand veterans attending under the G.I. Bill increased the student body to over 1,800 students. Thus, in 1947, the school became Idaho State College, an independent, four-year institution. Curriculum expansion became a major priority, and the school attained University status in 1963.

Since then the school has grown steadily. That included the addition of a major “College of Health-Related Professions” and a nearby Research and Business Park. The Park began with a large Technology Center that provided space for business start-ups and science-related spin-offs. It now contains a half-dozen substantial facilities, private and public.
References: [Hawley]
Merrill D. Beal, History of Idaho State College, Idaho State College (1952).
Diane Olson, Idaho State University: A Centennial Chronicle, Idaho State University (2000).

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Lewiston State Normal School President George Knepper [otd 9/7]

President Knepper. J. H. Hawley photo.
Lewiston State Normal School President George E. Knepper was born September 7, 1849 in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, 40-60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Later the family moved to Illinois.

George did well with a “common” education, finding a job as a teacher while also doing farm work. Later, he taught part-time and served as a school administrator to help finance an A.B. degree and then a Master’s. (He would earn a Ph.D. from a Kansas university in 1904.)

Meanwhile, in Idaho, businessman James Reid coaxed a bill through the legislature to create the Lewiston State Normal School. Backers hoped to alleviate a severe teacher shortage in the state. In 1893, Reid was selected as president of the institution’s Board of Trustees. He knew Knepper through membership in the Masonic Lodge and recruited him as the school’s first President.

Then contractor problems delayed construction of a facility on the bluff overlooking Lewiston. Knepper scrambled to lease space in town, and classes began in January 1896 [blog, Jan 6]. Besides his administrative duties, Knepper taught pedagogy, math, and commercial law. The promised main building was finally dedicated during the summer.

Still, Knepper worried most about money to keep the school going. The 1897 legislative appropriation was so stingy, he removed the school’s only telephone and pared salaries and ancillary costs to the bone. The next session, two years later, added only $1,000 to the allocation. Although enrollment, and income from student fees, had increased, the school remained desperately short of funds.

Knepper turned to the local community. Lewiston responded with a needed piano and contributions to buy books for the beginnings of a library. At-cost donations of labor and materials also helped fund badly needed dormitories in 1897.

Knepper also appealed to the student body, urging and sometimes requiring their participation in programs to enhance the school’s sense of community. They responded to his enthusiasm, giving recitations, entertaining with musical shows, playing sports, and more.

Despite its financial problems, the Normal School grew rapidly. On a visit to Boise, Knepper spoke enthusiastically to the Idaho Statesman about their gains. The paper reported (September 29, 1901) that, “This year they have a new department of chemistry, with a very complete laboratory and a special equipment of the most modern and efficient make.”

Then, in 1902, James Reid – Knepper’s good friend and sponsor – died. Within a year, the Board asked (demanded, really) that Knepper resign. No one ever discovered a credible reason for his dismissal.
Lewiston Normal in 1915. Lewis-Clark State College.

Ironically, all his lobbying had finally persuaded the legislature to substantially increase the school’s funding, which he was not there to enjoy. Despite many ups and downs, the college grew, changing its name to Lewis-Clark State College in 1971.

Knepper found employment as president or dean at a succession of small colleges in the midwest until about 1911. That year, he returned to Kendrick, Idaho (18-20 miles east of Moscow), where his son Ralph ran a newspaper. After teaching in the area for several years, he moved to Boise to serve as Secretary for the Masonic Lodge of Idaho.

He passed away, aged 90, in Salmon, where he had gone to live with Ralph.
References: [Hawley]
Keith C. Petersen, Educating in the American West: One Hundred Years at Lewis-Clark State College, 1893-1993, © Lewis-Clark State College, Confluence Press, Lewiston, Idaho  (1993).

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Cassia County Attorney and Idaho Chief Justice T. Bailey Lee [otd 8/10]

Thomas Bailey Lee, Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court, was born about twenty miles southwest of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on August 10, 1873. He attended law school after graduating from the University of North Carolina but chose not to practice at that time. Instead, he found a position as a prep school Latin teacher in Asheville. In 1898, he took up the practice of law in Butte, Montana.
Burley, ca 1819. J. H. Hawley photo.

In 1905, Lee moved to the new town of Burley [blog, July 19], becoming the first lawyer there. He also secured a position as a Director of the Burley Town Site Company. He spent two years as the City Attorney for Burley, and also served four terms as Prosecuting Attorney for Cassia County.

For six years, T. Bailey served as District Court Judge for the region encompassing Cassia and surrounding areas. Then, in October 1926, Lee was appointed to fill a vacancy in the Idaho Supreme Court. A month later, he won election to continue in that position. At that point, Bailey moved his family to Boise.  He rose to the position of Chief Justice in 1931.

His most recent biography, in Defenbach, makes the point that, “Three of his ancestors were Revolutionary soldiers, two of them with the rank of captain.”

In 1931, Judge Lee’s Congressman wrote a letter to the Bureau of Pensions. A family Bible, now “two hundred and nineteen years old,” had been submitted as verification to allow the widow of Captain John Dickey to continue receiving his Revolutionary War pension. That document now reposed in the National Archives.

Since the relevant pages had been torn out, the Judge wanted the bulk of the Bible back, as a family memento. This request was refused, so Lee wrote a personal note to the Director of the Veteran’s Bureau. Addressed to “My Dear General,” Lee commented, “I am presuming to write you direct upon a purely personal matter, as the only methods I understand are those of a soldier and lawyer. God save me from civilian bureaucrats!”

Lydia Pinkham. Brochure cover, 1901-1904.
Posted on Wikipedia Commons.
T. Bailey had personally seen the Bible, “dumped in an old box.” Someone had filed the torn out pages, “and tossed the wrecked volume into the scrap heap.” As such, he went on, “it’s mere junk … and is about as valuable to Uncle Sam as … an empty bottle of Lydia Pinkham's.”

Again the Administrator refused his request … for the good of all researchers, not just the family, they said. In his letter to Lee’s Congressman, the Administrator said, “To insure added protection to the Bible in question it was securely wrapped and tied in kraft paper, given the file number of the claim from which it was removed, and locked in a cabinet free from dust. It is now reposing in a steel vault.”

So the Judge “lost,” but perhaps he accomplished something more important: He rescued a potentially-valuable historical document from oblivion.

Through 1932, judges campaigned for election to the Idaho Supreme Court as partisan candidates. That year Judge Lee ran on the Republican ticket. Although Bailey did better than most other Republican candidates, he lost his seat during the Democratic landslide behind Roosevelt on the national ticket. He returned to Burley after the end of his term, and finally moved his family back in late summer (Idaho Statesman, Boise, August 23, 1933).

Lee would again serve as a District Judge in 1942-1946. He passed away in March 1948.
References:[Blue],  [Defen], [Hawley]
“Letters Concerning the Family Bible,“ Captain John Dickey Revolutionary War File, U. S. National Archives (1931-1932).
Ben Ysursa, Idaho Blue Book, 2003-2004, The Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (2003).

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Gold Prospectors Found Elk City Deep in the Idaho Mountains [otd 8/6]

On August 6, 1861, a band of miners founded the mining town of Elk City, Idaho, about 35 miles east of the present town of Grangeville. Prospectors had first entered the area in the latter part of May. A large party left the Orofino area earlier in the month. Somewhat less than half penetrated the region, having ignored protests from a Nez Perce Indian chief because they had intruded onto reservation land.
Riffle Box for Placer Mining. Library of Congress.

They found gold near the confluence of the American and Red rivers.  Further prospecting discovered more and more “color.”  By mid-June they had slapped together a log cabin to serve as a recorder's office, in which “Captain” L. B. Monson recorded the first claim on June 14, 1861.

Some men returned to Orofino for supplies and the new rush began, somewhat dampened by worries about the Indians. However, as more and more prospectors struck pay dirt, the rush swelled. That finally led to the founding of Elk City.

By the following summer, the town had four to six stores of various kinds, five saloons, and two decent hotels. Because of its location deep in the mountains, heavy winter snow shut down work on almost every claim. By the fall of 1862, a quickly-established Express company had shipped out over $900 thousand in gold dust (over $50 million at today’s prices).

Gold discoveries in easier country in Montana drew many prospectors away from Elk City the next year. However, the Evening Bulletin in San Francisco reprinted (May 29, 1863) a letter that said, in part, “Six ditches have been dug during the last winter in the vicinity of Elk City, and are now furnishing water to the miners.” As could be expected, “The miners are doing much better than before the ditches were completed.”

Also, in 1864 and 1865, determined gold-seekers built mores ditches, and flumes, to begin large-scale hydraulic mining. Thus, the value of metal extracted from the region actually increased. A sawmill built to supply lumber for these flumes did a booming business.

Miners continued to obtain reasonable returns from claims in the region for more than a decade. Then, after 1880, many claims were leased to Chinese miners. Like most of the older mining towns, Elk City’s prosperity rose and fell with the output from the gold fields in the region.

The economy received a “bump” when prospectors discovered gold in the “Buffalo Hump,” region, about 20 miles to the southwest. By the summer of 1899, about five thousand prospectors had poured into that area. Although Grangeville became the major supply point for “the Hump,” Elk City also won a share of the stagecoach and freight traffic. However, significant work at Buffalo Hump ran its course by about 1910.
Elk City at sunset. Elk City tourism.

For a time in the twentieth century, Elk City operated as a center for logging activity. However, that faltered when the U.S. Forest Service imposed more restrictions on timber harvesting in the area.

Today, Elk City survives as a recreation and tourism center, a “gateway” to the Nez Perce National Forest. The Elk City web site offers hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, mountain biking, and ATV riding during the summer, with skiing and snowmobiling in the winter.
References: [B&W], [Illust-North]
“Buffalo Hump Stage Lines,” Reference Series No. 794, Idaho State Historical Society (1985 ).
M. Alfreda Elsensohn, Eugene F. Hoy (ed.), Pioneer Days in Idaho County, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1951).

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Second Idaho Regiment Brought into Federal Service for World War I [otd 8/5]

On August 5, 1917, the War Department drafted the Second Idaho Regiment (National Guard) into the U.S. Army for duty in World War I, part of perhaps 300,000 guardsmen taken into Federal service at that time.

A year earlier, the government had directed the state to mobilize the Second Idaho to patrol the Mexican border [blog, June 18]. Under that call-up, the troops could not be sent outside the country. The troops had been demobilized when that duty was over.
Idaho Guard troops headed for training camp.
Library of Congress.

In response to a telegram from  Washington on March 25, the Governor mobilized the Second Idaho, and its companies gathered at Boise Barracks. With a declaration of war close at hand, the Secretary of War wanted Guard units called to duty: “This duty to consist for the time being of protecting traffic, [the] means of communication and the transfer of mails within the state. (Idaho Statesman, Boise, March 26, 1917).

Then, in May 1917, Congress authorized the President to begin inducting Guard units into national military service. Nationalized troops could be sent outside the country. The Idaho regiment was not up to its authorized wartime strength, so officials instituted a vigorous recruiting campaign. By the time the draft order arrived on the 5th, the unit actually exceeded the required enrollment.

The regiment consisted of three battalions. The First Battalion was from northern Idaho: Coeur d'Alene, Grangeville, Lewiston, and Sandpoint. The Second came from Boise, Buhl, Twin Falls, and Idaho Falls. The Third represented Caldwell, Nampa, Payette, and Weiser.

About seven weeks after the draft, the regiment traveled to Camp Greene, near Charlotte, North Carolina. There, commanders parceled the Idaho battalions out to various units of the Army’s 41st Division. Then, when the 41st arrived in France, the high command made it a “replacement” division, so individual units were further distributed. These breakups make it somewhat difficult to track exactly where the Idaho companies fought during the war.

Of course, not every Idahoan who saw World War I action enlisted in the Second Idaho. According to Hawley, the Second Idaho enrolled 5,060 men, while another 12 thousand Idahoans served in Regular Army units, the Navy, or the Marines.

One unit history indicates that an Idaho company provided support to the U. S. Marines in their famous Battle of Belleau Wood, in June 1918. However, the first major action for Idaho soldiers was in the Second Battle of the Marne, in late July.  There, Idaho troops suffered their first significant casualties, including the death of Lieutenant John Regan [blog, Feb 6].

In mid-September, Idahoans participated in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel. American forces caught the Germans in a staged withdrawal and turned it into a hurried retreat. Reportedly, the advance stopped mainly because the American troops outran their artillery and material support.

American soldiers attack at Meuse-Argonne. U. S. Army.
Idahoans next fought in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, in which American and French divisions captured the vital railroad hub at Sedan. The battle began in late September and ended only with the Armistice on November 11. This was by far the bloodiest battle experienced by American troops in the War.

An incomplete casualty list for the Great War, published in 1920, gives the names of 348 Idahoans who were lost to battle deaths, sickness, or accidents. Unfortunately, there may be as many as one hundred names missing from that list.
References: [Hawley]
W. M. Haulsee, F. G. Howe, A. C. Doyle, Soldiers of the Great War, Vol III, Soldiers Record Publishing Association, Washington, D. C. (1920).
Mark A. Shields (ed.), The History of the 116th Engineers, Training Section, U. S. Army (1918).
Richard A. Rinaldi, The US Army in World War I – Orders of Battle, Tiger Lily Publications, Takoma Park, Maryland (2004).

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Methodist Minister Performs First Religious Service in Idaho [otd 07/27]

Nathaniel J. Wyeth, 1840.
Illustration for Harper’s Magazine,
November 1892.
On July 27, 1834, Captain Nathaniel J. Wyeth was working at his new Fort Hall site [blog, July 14]. In his Journal he recorded that a Frenchman named "Kanseau" had been killed during a horse race.

Kanseau worked for the Hudson's Bay Company and, Wyeth wrote, "his comrades erected a decent tomb for him. Service for him was performed by the Canadians in the Catholic form, by Mr. Lee in the Protestant form, and by the Indians in their form, as he had Indian family. He at least was well buried."

The Catholic form was surely the ad hoc performance one might expect from a rough band of men who had been away from civilization for years. However, the Reverend Jason Lee would have performed the official Methodist funerary rites, so Lee is credited with conducting the first European religious services held in Idaho.

Lee was born in 1803 near the tiny village of Stanstead, which now straddles the Canadian border. At the time, the area was considered part of Vermont, so Lee was born a U. S. citizen. Thrown upon his own resources at the age of thirteen, he spent several years as a logger.

Then, in 1826, he attended a revival meeting, had a “conversion experience,” and joined the Methodist church. Some time in the next year or two he felt "the call" to a more active role. For that, he needed more education, so he enrolled at the Wesleyan Academy, a Methodist prep school. After a year there, he taught for awhile, did some lay preaching, and applied for a missionary position in Canada.

Then a sequence that was apparently equal parts religious fervor and well-meaning humbug captured the imagination of church leaders. The scheme is too convoluted to give the details here. In sum, zealous churchmen learned of a fruitless meeting between an Indian delegation and William Clark, now essentially Indian Agent for the West. These evangelists transformed the Indians’ confused inquiry into an eloquent, heart-felt plea for religious enlightenment.

As a result, the church felt a need to send missionaries to carry the white man's religion to the "benighted savages" of the Oregon Country. (That designation encompassed all of our Pacific Northwest, plus a goodly chunk of today's British Columbia).

Rev. Jason Lee.
Oregon Historical Society.
To the man tasked with selecting a leader, Lee – sturdy and vigorous from his hard work outdoors – seemed the only possible candidate. But neither Lee nor, apparently, anyone else in the church had the slightest notion of how to organize an expedition into the wilds of the Oregon Country. 

Enter Nathaniel Wyeth, preparing for his second trading venture into the area. His extant letters give no indication as to why he agreed to shepherd the missionary party west, although some imaginative and plausible ideas have been advanced. Wyeth might have simply decided that the presence of American missionaries would encourage emigration from the States. That, in turn, would help him break the British-Canadian monopoly in the Oregon Country.

Wyeth's second venture failed as miserably as the first. However, if he did foresee the Methodist party as an opening wedge, he was indeed correct. Jason Lee turned out to be a better settlement builder than missionary, although he founded quite a number of missions. He proved far more effective at helping to organize a new, American government for what became Oregon Territory.
References: [B&W], [French]
Malcom Clark, Eden Seekers: The Settlement of Oregon, 1818-1862, Houghton Mifflin Company (1981).
Nathaniel J. Wyeth, Don Johnson (ed.), The Journals of Captain Nathaniel J. Wyeth's Expeditions to the Oregon Country 1831-1836, Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield, Washington (1984).

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Army Establishes Fort Lapwai on the Nez Percé Indian Reservation [otd 07/22]

According to Idaho State Historical Society records, a troop of Oregon Volunteer cavalry established Camp – later Fort – Lapwai on July 22, 1862. The location selected was near the mission established by Presbyterian minister Henry Harmon Spalding in 1836 [blog, Nov 29]. Although the church abandoned the mission after the Whitman Massacre in 1847, the Nez Percé Indians continued to occupy the site.

When Elias Pierce discovered gold on Orofino Creek, in 1860, prospectors poured into the region. However, the gold fields lay within the boundary of the Nez Percé Indian Reservation established in 1855. The Indians demanded that white authorities expel the invaders, as stipulated in the 1855 treaty.

White officials met at Lapwai with the Nez Percé in 1861. The Indians agreed to allow mining and the construction of a shipping warehouse – but nothing else – where the Clearwater River entered the Snake. Of course, the full town of Lewiston sprang up immediately. Tribesmen complained, but otherwise did nothing about this violation of the agreement.
Lewiston, 1862. Nez Perce County Historical Society.

 Authorities then stationed a company of dragoons near the meeting place. They claimed the troop was there to protect the Nez Percé, and keep the miners in line. However, the troopers did absolutely nothing to curb trespassers. There’s no question that their real job was to over-awe the more militant factions within the tribe.

Officials decided they needed a more permanent base, so the Army built Camp Lapwai near the old mission. By the fall of 1862, they had stationed two cavalry companies there. That did not solve the problem, and the local Indian Agent convened a meeting at the fort to foist a new treaty on the Nez Percé. The 1863 Treaty drastically reduced the size of the reservation and sowed the seeds of future conflict [blog, June 9].

The Army temporarily vacated Fort Lapwai after the Civil War, when authorities disbanded many Volunteer regiments and there was a delay in replacing them with Regulars. By late 1867, the Department had stationed two cavalry companies at the installation. These troops played a key role when lingering 1863 treaty tensions exploded into the Nez Percé War of 1877. Of course, Nez Percé warriors badly beat the Lapwai soldiers who responded first to the outbreak [blog, June 17]. However, the fort then became a vital staging area for additional troops and supplies to fight the war.

In 1878, the Army established Fort Coeur d'Alene at what soon became the town of Coeur d'Alene City [blog, April 16]. This provided a post from which authorities could observe activities at both the Coeur d'Alene and Nez Percé Indian reservations.
Fort Lapwai, ca 1890. National Park Service.
When civilian steamboats appeared on Lake Coeur d’Alene in 1883-1884 [blog, Apr 4], it became clear that Fort Coeur d'Alene was the more effective location. The War Department decommissioned Fort Lapwai in June 1884. The structures basically reverted to tribal use by default.

The History page of the City of Lapwai says, “The Northern Idaho Indian Agency, originally located at Spalding, was relocated to Fort Lapwai in 1904. Fort Lapwai was later converted into a government Indian school and then into a tuberculosis sanatorium with a hospital, boys' and girls' dormitories, and a school.
"Lapwai remains as the seat of government for the Nez Perce Indian Nation. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Northern Idaho Indian Agency is also still located in Lapwai."
Reference: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“Fort Lapwai,” Idaho Museum of Natural History Digital Atlas, Idaho State University, Pocatello.
“Idaho Military Posts and Camps,” Reference Series No. 63, Idaho State Historical Society (May 1971).

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Railroad Town of Burley Incorporated [otd 7/19]

The town of Burley, Idaho, was incorporated on July 19, 1909. The village had grown explosively since being platted four years earlier, and many businesses supported the growing farm population. That included a new Bank of Commerce, founded in the spring of 1909 with former Boise Mayor James H. Hawley as Vice President.
Burley, ca 1918. [Hawley]

The location, near where Goose Creek emptied into the Snake River, was a familiar landmark on the Oregon Trail. Other than the river itself, the creek represented the last reliable water source before Rock Creek. Guidebooks warned emigrants that they faced a hard day's travel over rugged terrain. In a moderately poor year, they might find no water whatsoever.

Goose Creek water and grass also attracted stockmen and settlers. By 1900, the area had a number of homesteads. Then developer Ira Perrine [blog, May 7] spearheaded the construction of Milner Dam and its irrigation system, which spurred the creation of Twin Falls.

In late 1904, the Minidoka and Southwestern Railroad Company began construction of a branch line from Minidoka through Twin Falls to Buhl. The next year Perrine and five partners platted a town near where the tracks crossed the Snake River. They called the town Burley, after David E. Burley, an agent for the Oregon Short Line Railroad Company.

After a relatively slow start, the village developed rapidly. Its first bank, the Burley State Bank, was organized in 1906 and, as noted above, the Bank of Commerce in 1909. Then the First National Bank of Burley opened in 1913. The population stood at about 900 in 1910, but had increased to about 2,000 three years later. Four years after that, it had grown to an estimated 2,500.

French's History of Idaho (1914), emphasized the town's rapid development into a substantial, modern municipality: "The streets are well lighted, the cluster lights being used in the down town section. Burley owns and operates its own electric light, heat and power system and has the benefit of exceptionally low rates. There have just been installed municipal waterworks, which cover the entire town. A trunk sewer has also been constructed."

Six years later when Hawley produced his History, he mentioned those advances and more: "Burley ... has two weekly newspapers, three banks, a good public school system, six churches, an elaborate system of rural telephones, a sugar factory, well-stocked stores of all kinds, good hotels, and more hogs are shipped from this place than any other point on the Oregon Short Line in Idaho."
Train stop on the Minidoka-Buhl line. Twin Falls Public Library.

When the Territorial legislature created Cassia County many years earlier, the only towns of any consequence in the region were Albion and Oakley. For various reasons, Albion got the nod as county seat.

Just a year after Burley incorporated, it had a population two-and-a-half times that of Albion. Still, an attempt in 1912 to move the seat to Burley failed. Determined, folks in the area decided to push for their own (new) county, of which they would be the county seat (Idaho Statesman, November 13, 1912). Although the legislature did carve out six new counties in the next session, Burley’s scheme failed.

By 1918, the town's population was four times that of Albion and a vote moved the county seat to Burley, where it still is. In fact, today Burley is a thriving city of around 10 thousand while Albion contains only a few hundred people. Although the railroad is no longer an economic powerhouse, it still plays an important role in transporting the area's farm products.
References: [B&W], [French], Hawley]
Cassia County History, Cassia County web site.
Kathleen Hedberg, Cassia County, Idaho: The Foundation Years, The Caxton Printers (© Cassia County Commissioners, 2005).

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Telegraph Line Links Eagle Rock (Idaho Falls) to the Outside World [otd 07/16]

On July 16, 1866, workers completed a new telegraph line from Utah into the stage stop at Taylor’s Bridge. Matt Taylor and has partners had received a franchise for their toll bridge from the Territorial legislature in late 1864 [blog, December 10]. The bridge site, also referred to as Eagle Rock (today’s Idaho Falls), became a major stopping point on the route into Montana.
John Creighton. Omaha Illustrated.

The telegraph crews were supervised by John Creighton, a man with much experience in the business. Born east of Columbus, Ohio, in 1831, he acquired two years of civil engineering education at a small Ohio college. Then at age twenty-three, he went to work for his brother, Edward. By that time, Edward, eleven years older than John, “had become one of the largest builders of telegraph lines in the United States.”

After helping complete a telegraph line from Cleveland to Toledo, John then worked for his brother on other contracts in Ohio and Missouri. The two of them, along with another brother and a cousin, moved to Omaha, Nebraska in 1856.

John spent several years there as a clerk. However, in 1861, brother Edward secured a contract to build the eastern leg of the first transcontinental telegraph line. He, in turn, hired John to supervise the actual construction. They began the first stretch west from Omaha in July and completed the link-up with the western leg at Salt Lake City on October 24, 1861.

After wintering in Omaha, John returned west to Wyoming and Utah. During the 1862 season, he tried to haul freight to the newly-discovered gold towns in soon-to-be Idaho Territory. Thwarted by bad weather, he nonetheless made a handsome profit selling out to the Mormons in Salt Lake City.

He and a cousin succeeded in 1863, delivering a substantial load of freight to Virginia City. The cousin returned to Omaha, but John stayed on to run their new store. He remained there long enough to help found the Vigilantes to fight rampant crime in the gold country. Also while he was there, Montana was split off from Idaho and became a territory in its own right.

John returned to Omaha in 1865, and apparently spent some time visiting family in the East. The following spring, The Telegraph newspaper, in Salt Lake City, reported (May 4, 1866) that “preparations [are] being made for the erection of a telegraph line from this city to Virginia [City], Montana.”
Tightening the Wires. Library of Congress.

Edward had the contract and he again tasked John to supervise the construction. As noted above, they reached Eagle Rock in mid-July. The lines crossed the Continental Divide some weeks later and completed the connection to Virginia City on November 2, 1866. Crews extended the line further north the following year, entering Helena on October 14, 1867. As a sign of their appreciation, businessmen in Virginia City presented John with a fine watch, procured from Tiffany’s in New York City.

John returned to Omaha, married (in June 1868), and made the city his headquarters for far-flung business and investment activities. Over the years, John, Edward, and their wives donated substantial sums for the creation and growth of Creighton College, now University.

The telegraph built by the Creightons in 1866 remained the main communication link across Eastern Idaho for over a decade. Besides Eagle Rock, the system had Idaho stations at Malad and Ross’ Fork (new Fort Hall). Then the railroad, which reached Eagle Rock in June 1879, built its own telegraph system and supplanted the old line.
References:  [Illust-State].
Barzilla W. Clark, Bonneville County in the Making, Self-published, Idaho Falls, Idaho (1941).
P. A. Mullens, Creighton. Biographical Sketches, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska (1901).
Omaha Illustrated: A History of the Pioneer Period and the Omaha of Today, D. C. Dunbar & Co., Publishers, Omaha, Nebraska (1888).
“Site Report – Henry’s Fork (1808),” Reference Series No. 240, Idaho State Historical Society (1983).

Friday, July 7, 2017

Silver Mining Town of Kellogg Platted [otd 07/07]

The Illustrated History of North Idaho said, "The original plat of the town of Kellogg was filed with the auditor of Shoshone County July 7, 1893."
Kellogg, Idaho, ca 1907. University of Idaho Digital Collections.
Development of the area began in the late summer of 1885, when prospectors Phil O'Rourke and Noah S. Kellogg discovered what became the Bunker Hill Mine. O'Rourke filed the claim on September 10, and by the end of the month other hopefuls had located several mines along extensions of the same ledges.

Soon, prospectors found what came to be the Sullivan Mine across the canyon. By early November, miners built the first cabins for the town of Wardner, along Milo Creek, a mile or so north of the main lodes. (It was initially called "Kentucky," but the U. S. Post Office nixed that.) Even before that, brothers Robert and Jonathan Ingalls claimed a ranch further north on the more extensive flats along the Coeur d'Alene River.

The settlement they started in early 1886 as "Milo" was renamed Kellogg before the year was out. The town grew rapidly, having a local newspaper within a few months. Two years later, Kellogg had train service.

With more space to expand, Kellogg soon surpassed Wardner and became the headquarters for many mining companies in the area. By the time the town was platted in 1893, the Bunker Hill & Sullivan Mining and Concentrating Company was one of the largest employers in the region.

Although Bunker Hill had escaped the worse of the miners' union unrest in 1892, they were the primary target for a major incident in 1899 [blog, April 29.] Some level of friction between the unions and mine owners would continue for many years, but eventually a more cooperative climate developed.

In 1901, the Company donated "one of the finest brick school houses in the state" to Kellogg. Then, in 1913, the town was incorporated. Three years later, the demand for batteries and bullets for World War I sparked a boom in area lead mining. That did not last, of course, and a recession followed the war. Still, the Idaho Statesman reported (January 14, 1923) that, “All of the mines that were idle in 1921 resumed operation at capacity production … ”

The revival was attributed, in part, to “the marked increase in the price of lead, zinc and copper.” In fact, ups and downs in metal prices drove the town's economy well into the 1970s. But that same decade saw the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Silver Mountain gondola.
Guide to North Idaho.

People in Kellogg hoped for the best. Even into 1980, high silver prices fueled optimism about the town's economy. The roof fell in the following year: A national recession depressed prices, and major layoffs soon followed. After that, mineral production no longer played a significant employment role for Kellogg. The designation of wide expanses of the valley as a Superfund Site dealt the coup de grâce.

Soon, town leaders began to seek new sources of employment for the area. Although the transition was painful and is not yet complete, Kellogg now features a tourist economy with museums, shops, condominiums, and a nearby ski area – Silver Mountain. Boosters are also striving to expand their role into more of an all-seasons destination.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-North]
City of Kellogg
Judith Nielsen, “Corporate History: Bunker Hill Mining Company,” Manuscript Group 367, University of Idaho Special Collections (1995).
Julie Whitesel Weston, The Good Times Are All Gone Now, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman (2009).

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Early Nez Percés: Image versus reality

After the Nez Percés treaty of 1855, mentioned in my blog item of about a week ago, white Indian Agents made every effort to downplay the warrior traditions of the tribe. By selling that image they could validate their decision to make what they considered big “concessions” in “giving” the Nez Percés such a “generous” amount of land. After all, they said, “The tribe has always been a friend to the white man,” so they deserve special consideration.

The Agents tried equally hard to sell that notion to the Nez Percés themselves, hoping to counter the glamorous image of those tribesmen who followed the old fighting traditions. Only then could they hope to impose “assimilation” on the bands.

After the 1863 treaty, the Indian Agency stepped up its efforts to sell that image. It was a source of great frustration that they had little success within the bands, although they did fine with whites who wanted to believe that the Nez Percés were becoming peaceful, non-threatening agrarians.

I address this issue in my book, Before the Spud: Indians, Buckaroos, and Sheepherders in Pioneer Idaho.

Here are a couple of excerpts: “… historical records contradict the pacific image [of the Nez Percés]. Recall that when Captain William Clark first met the Nez Percés in September 1805, the ‘great chief’ of that band was off raiding enemies.”

“Right into the Seventies [1870s], tribesmen regularly fought east of the Rockies. There, they joined Crow Indians against the latter’s traditional enemies, the Sioux and Cheyenne. Men like White Bird and [Chief] Joseph’s younger brother Ollokot earned impressive warrior reputations.”

To reach their Crow allies in eastern Montana and northern Wyoming, bands of Nez Percés had to cross territory nominally claimed by the Blackfoot coalition. Tribes in the coalition had a notably fierce – and well-deserved – reputation as fighters. Yet it is recorded that they were generally careful to avoid Nez Percés bands unless they had a distinct advantage in numbers and/or weaponry.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Oregon Treaty of 1846 Largely Settles U. S.-Canadian Border [otd 06/15]

President Polk. Library of Congress.
On June 15, 1846, the United States and Great Britain reached an agreement that settled almost all the remaining disputes about the border between the U. S. and Canada. This treaty, arranged under President James K. Polk, meant that the future states of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and some of Montana were indeed part of the United States.

The U. S.-Canadian boundary had been established as far west as the Continental Divide by the "joint occupancy" treaty of 1818 [blog, October 20]. That had left the area west of the Divide between latitude 42º N and 54º 40' N "in limbo." People commonly referred to that region as the “Oregon Country,” and some in the U. S. wanted all of it. (Note that "we" usually say "Americans" in cases like this ... but citizens of Canada are also "Americans," so I've tried to be very specific.)

Russian claims to the area complicated matters until they reached accommodations with the other two countries in 1824-1825. The Russians finally abandoned Fort Ross in northern California (Spanish-claimed territory) in 1841.

In the U. S., the issue boiled over during the 1844 presidential elections. The Democratic Party platform took an aggressive expansionist stance. Platform provisions demanded the annexation of Texas and laid claim to the entire Oregon Country. Their candidate, James K. Polk, eagerly ran on that platform. The Whigs equivocated and their candidate, Henry Clay, could not seem to make up his mind.

Southern expansionists supported the Texas annexation, partly because that would add another slave state to the Union. Northerners wanted the Oregon Country because it was seen as our “due” and would add several non-slave states. Claims and counter-claims muddled the Oregon issue in the minds of voters, whereas the Texas situation was clear-cut.
Disputed Pacific Northwest region.
Slightly modified Oregon Country map from Wikipedia Commons,
original creator not specifically identified.
Polk won the election by a close margin in the popular vote: less than 40 thousand out of over 2.6 million cast. Outgoing President John Tyler, a Whig, moved quickly to "steal his thunder." With Tyler’s urging, Congress passed a joint resolution to annex Texas. Texans then voted for a matching Ordinance of Annexation. Thus, statehood for Texas became a non-issue for the new administration.

With Texas relegated to "old news," rhetoric on the Oregon Question heated up. The inflammatory slogan, "Fifty-four Forty or Fight," espoused the position that the U. S. should demand the maximum concession on the Canadian border dispute.

However, as Texas statehood moved toward reality, it became clear that war with Mexico would almost certainly result. At the time, chaos gripped Mexican leadership, with the ministerial “lineup” changing almost monthly. The only constant, it seemed, was popular anger over the loss of Texas. Officials who made concessions to the U. S. would be driven from office. So, barring some major change in Polk’s position, Mexican leaders almost had to go to war … even though many knew Mexico would probably lose.

At the same time, American representatives in London warned that annoyed British officials were now considering preparations for war. Polk and his colleagues realized they were in no position to fight two foreign wars, especially when one of the opponents was the greatest power on Earth.

Thus, “cooler heads prevailed” and the new treaty ended the dispute with Great Britain just over a month after Congress declared war on Mexico.
References: [Brit]
Walter T. K. Nugent, Habits of Empire: A History of American Expansion, Alfred A. Knopf, New York (2008).
Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People, Oxford University Press (1965).

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Water Starts Flowing Through Egin Bench Irrigation Canal [otd 06/01]

On June 1, 1883, water flowed from a pioneer canal onto Egin Bench farmland. The Bench bends for about 12-14 miles along the west side of Henry’s Fork, some 25 to 35 miles north of Idaho Falls.
Egin Bench farmland near Henry’s Fork.

The first settlers arrived on the bench during the summer of 1879, shortly after Utah & Northern Railway tracks reached Eagle Rock (today’s Idaho Falls). While they saw potential there, they had to be content at first with cutting hay and raising stock. The river level lies 30 to 40 feet below the plain along much of the Bench's expanse. Farming had to wait until a ditch could be dug to take water from the river above today’s St. Anthony.

Still, the area proved attractive to homesteaders and a post office was established at Egin within a year. Locals thought “Garden Grove” would be a suitable name. The U. S. Postal Service said no … that name was already taken within Idaho Territory. As the story goes, the settlers met to pick another name on a nasty, cold day. They then chose “Egin,” an Anglicized version of the Shoshone word for “cold.”

The settlers began digging a canal during the fall after they arrived. However, they lacked the capital to hire more men and equipment, so it took four long years to complete the channel. Still, by all indications, that first water delivery in 1883 was a success. Perhaps enough water came through to mask what they would learn later.

Soon, more settlers began to break out land and dig irrigation ditches. The results were a shock to farmers used to normal flood irrigation: The coarse, sandy soil absorbed the water almost faster than they could deliver it.

Reports indicate that this phenomenon discouraged some settlers, who left. In reality, Egin Bench is one of the few places in the world that provides natural sub-irrigation. Although the ground absorbs a tremendous amount of water initially, a layer of basalt stops the seepage not too far down (the depth varies). After that, the underground flow can only go sideways.
St. Anthony Sand Dunes,
a popular recreational spot west of the bench.

Once the soil is “charged,” crops receive moisture directly to their root systems, and evaporation losses are minimal. With such a structure, the depth of the water table can actually be regulated by raising or lowering the water level in a network of strategically-spaced canals.

Egin Bench subirrigation also has a notable side effect. Water began to “escape” west by percolating underground over the impermeable rock layer. When it had charged all that area, the flow resurfaced to form today’s Mud Lake, 25-30 miles away. Before that, the low area had water only during periods of very heavy run-off.

Today, large greenhouses often use sub-irrigation to water their indoor crops. Sub-irrigation of field crops using man-made structures is very costly and is generally done only in special situations. (The trade-offs involved are far beyond the scope of this brief article.)
References: [French]
Mark Fiege, Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the American West, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1999).
“Golden Jubilee Edition, 1884 1934,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (September 10, 1934).
Andrew Jenson, “The Bannock Stake of Zion: Parker Ward,” The Deseret Weekly, Vol. XLII, No. 9, The Deseret News Co., Salt Lake City, Utah (1891).
L. A. Zucker, L.C. Brown (eds.), “Agricultural Drainage: Water Quality Impacts and Subsurface Drainage Studies in the Midwest,” Ohio State University Extension Bulletin 871, The Ohio State University, Columbus (1998).

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Stricker Log Home at Rock Creek Burns Down [otd 03/09]

On March 9, 1900, the Rock Creek home of Herman Stricker and his family burned to the ground. In some ways, this was a blessing as well as a tragedy.
Rock Creek. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Even before white men arrived, travelers in south-central Idaho depended upon the stream that gave Rock Creek Station its name. In August 1812, Robert Stuart provided the first written description of the feature. He called it Precipice Creek because, he wrote, “The banks of this stream, at and some distance above its discharge, are almost 300 feet perpendicular.”

The creek empties into the Snake River. For most of its length to the foothills, it runs through a narrow, steep-sided valley, 50-60 feet deep. Emigrants on the southern route of the Oregon Trail also knew it well. From near today’s Milner Dam [blog, May 7] on the Snake, wagon trains sought an upper stretch of Rock Creek as the nearest reliable water source.

In 1864, Ben Holladay had a stage station built near where the creek exits the higher foothills onto the plain. This “home” station – it provided meals and lodging – soon attracted a trading post. The store, established by James Bascom and John Corder, served stage passengers and bullwhackers piloting big freight outfits that hauled loads to Boise City. With the completion of the transcontinental railroad, stage and freight traffic connected at Kelton, Utah. After 1870-1871, miners and stockman became part of the clientele.

Herman Stricker emigrated to the U.S. from Hanover, Germany, a few years before the Civil War. He then joined the Union army, and saw action at Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and several other major battles. He moved to the Mountain West two years after the War. In 1870, he opened a store in the Snake River Canyon, about eight miles east of today’s Twin Falls.
Herman Stricker. J.H. Hawley photo.
In 1876, Stricker and a partner bought the Bascom-Corder store, plus a stable and log dwelling that had been added to their holdings. A year before Stricker's purchase, Charles Walgamott had come west and gone to work at the stage stop. [See my September 17th blog for an 1877 incident involving Charlie.] In 1879, Charlie's sister Lucy came to stay with her sister and brother-in-law. There, she met Stricker and, three years later, married him. They settled down in the log home to raise a family.

Stricker bought out his partner in 1884. By then, Oregon Short Line Railroad tracks had been completed across southern Idaho. Within months, through stage and freight traffic totally ceased. Fortunately, the expansion of the regional cattle business more than offset that loss. The population more than tripled between 1880 and 1900.
Stricker home, 1901. Friends of Stricker, Inc.
While Lucy surely missed the belongings lost in the fire, she did gain a far better home. Started on the same spot soon after the fire, the wood-frame plank structure was larger, with a nice covered porch. Within a few years, they added a second-floor dormer to the longer wing of the house.

Herman died in 1920, while Lucy lived until 1949. Today the immediate area is administered as a state Historic Site: The Rock Creek Station and Stricker Homesite.
References: [Hawley]
John Bertram, et al, Rock Creek Station and Stricker Homesite: Idaho Historical Site Master Plan, Idaho State Historical Society (2001).
Robert Stuart, Kenneth A. Spaulding (Ed.), On The Oregon Trail: Robert Stuart's Journey of Discovery, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman (1953).
Charles Shirley Walgamott, Six Decades Back, The Caxton Printers, Ltd, CaIdwell, Idaho (1936).

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Six Miners Killed in Sudden Mining District Fire [otd 02/25]

On Tuesday, February 25, 1902, about three o'clock in the morning, the residents of the connected Standard Boarding and Lodging houses slept quietly. Most of them worked for the Standard Mine, located on Canyon Creek, about five miles northeast of Wallace, Idaho.
Standard Mine, ca. 1910. University of Idaho archives.

Placer miners prospected Canyon Creek for gold in 1884. However, as happened for many Coeur d’Alene strata, they failed to note the valuable lead-silver lodes buried in these ridges. The following spring, four partners explored the area and located the Standard Mine plus over a dozen other claims – collectively referred to as the Standard Group.

The claims proved so promising that the owners built an ore mill the following year. They located their mill closer to Wallace, near the mouth of the Creek. After awhile, rail lines served many claims along the canyon. By the turn of the century, observers considered the Standard Group the most productive properties in all the Coeur d'Alenes.

On this morning in 1902, flames suddenly flared in the wood frame structure of the Boarding and Lodging houses. The fire probably started from the stove in the room where the men’s work clothes hung to dry. However, the destruction was too complete to be certain later.

The fire moved so quickly, there was no time to use the building's fire fighting apparatus. Some men had no warning at all. Even those who awoke in time had to resort to desperate measures … the flames blocked the internal staircase leading to the building exit. About a dozen men, some also with severe burns, were injured leaping from the top floor windows.

Fearing that the fire would spread to the Standard Mine works, firefighters dynamited the home of one William Fletcher. That stopped the flames, but the home was a total loss, along with the residence halls.

Searchers found the bodies of four men – all but one under twenty-five years old – among the ashes and charred timbers.  Newspapers as far away as Boise, Portland, and Seattle reported about the fire. The Portland and Seattle articles provided complete lists of the known dead as well as those of the seriously injured. The Oregonian, in Portland, said, “There is no hope for the recovery of McCallum and Bowhay, and very little for Yarbrough.”
W. J. McConnell, Early History of Idaho.

Indeed, doctors and their hospital assistants were unable to save the first two. Thomas Yarbrough survived despite excruciating burns. Nine men required treatment for lesser injuries suffered in the fire or in jumping to safety. The report in the Idaho Statesman said, “W. C. McConnell, who is named as among those less seriously injured … is a brother of Mrs. W. E. Borah.”

Besides being brother-in-law to future U. S. Senator Borah [blog June 29], William C. McConnell was also the son of former Idaho Governor and U. S. Senator William J. McConnell [blog, Sept 18].

The Illustrated History described the event as "one of the worst disasters of its kind in the history of the Coeur d'Alene."
Reference: [Illust-North]
Newspapers: “[Deadly Mining District Fire],” Seattle Daily Times, Idaho Statesman, Boise, The Oregonian, Portland (February 25-26, 1902).