Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Iconic Lawyer, Boise Mayor, Governor, and Historian James H. Hawley [otd 01/17]

Lawyer Hawley. Illustrated History, 1899.
Lawyer, Governor, Mayor, and Historian James Henry Hawley was born in Dubuque, Iowa, on January 17, 1847. His mother died when James was an infant and he grew up with his maternal uncle. In 1861, the family moved to California, where Hawley learned of the fabulous gold discoveries in Idaho Territory.

The following year, caught up in the excitement, Hawley hurried to Florence. He moved on to the Boise Basin in the spring of 1863. In the Basin, besides work in the gold fields, he also acted as an agent and distributor for the Idaho City newspaper that became the Idaho World.

In 1864, Hawley returned to California, where he studied at the City College of San Francisco and also read law in the city. After a year or so, he went to sea and “knocked around” the Orient for awhile before returning to the Boise Basin in 1868.

James continued his law studies and was also elected to the Territorial Legislature at the age of 23. The following year he was admitted to the Idaho bar. He served in the Territorial Council (equivalent to the state Senate) in 1874, and was elected Boise County commissioner in 1876. According to biographer McClane, Hawley did commence a full time law practice after his marriage in 1875.

Starting in 1878 he served two terms as District Attorney in the second Territorial judicial district. After his second term, he moved to Hailey and practiced law there from 1884 to 1886. In 1885, he was appointed to a four-year term as U.S. District Attorney for the Territory.

Before that term ended, he ran for election as Delegate to the U. S. Congress, but lost to Fred T. Dubois [blog, May 29]. After that, he briefly had a law office in Blackfoot. The Idaho Register reported (March 27, 1891), “James H. Hawley, Esq., of Blackfoot, took in the boom of Idaho Falls Saturday last, and made some small investments.”

That was short-lived, however; by early 1892 Hawley had established his permanent home in Boise

Although he handled legal cases related to mining, and spent over forty years in irrigation law and water-related litigation, Hawley became famous for his work in criminal law. In the early Twentieth Century, it was said that he had acted on one side or the other of “more murder cases than any other member of the bar in the United States."
Hawley, older and more “laid-back.”
McClane, Sagebrush Lawyer.

In 1892, Hawley provided legal counsel for the Coeur d’Alene miners’ union, but in 1899 he served as special state prosecutor in the actions involving union violence against the mining companies.

Later, he acted as special prosecutor during the cases resulting from the assassination of former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg.

He also spent six years defending cowboy-gunman “Diamondfield” Jack Davis against a charge of murdering two sheepmen in 1896. Although another man confessed to the killings, oddities in the Idaho legal system blocked Jack’s release until 1902 [blog, Dec 17].

Hawley was elected Boise mayor in 1902, and Idaho Governor in 1910. He was defeated in a second run for that office and in two runs for the position of U.S. Senator (in 1914 and again in 1918). His four-volume History of Idaho was published in 1920. He passed away in August 1929.
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
John F. McClane, A Sagebrush Lawyer, Pandick Press, Inc., New York (1933).
Edwin H. Peasley, Twelfth Biennial Report of the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society of Idaho, Boise (1930).


  1. Hawley is obviously much older in the second picture (with the white/light beard) - in his fifties at a guess. That means the picture was taken after about 1900. Did an Idaho lawyer really need to flaunt a gun by then?

  2. I recall having the same thought. Have not been able to track when the photo was taken. My only guess is that it was taken when he was running for governor -- and wanted to show what an old-timey pioneer he was.

  3. Family legend that was passed onto me by his two daughters and remaining son contradict much of what is posted here.

    I was always told he ran away from home at age 12.That he had no formal education and unaware of his having a high school diploma or attending law school.

    He did reside in San Francisco for a period of time. According to his daughters and son the was involved in a fight on the wharfs of San Francisco where he was attacked by another man.
    According to my grand mother he would have been around 15 at the time. He used the attackers knife against him and thought he had killed the man.

    James H. fled the country, working on a boat that took him to China. This was during the time of the Boxer Rebellion. He was captured by the Chinese and sentenced to death, however his life was spared due to his youth.

    My family has one of the dresses be brought back from his adventures in China.

    Upon his return to the United States he learned the man from the fight did not die and there were no charges against him.

    I believe he was still in his teens when going to the Idaho City area and mining. He had found gold and men in town were resentful. One man bragged in the saloon he was going out to my Great Grandfathers mine and chase him off or kill him, that he was taking the mine as his own.

    A man by the name of Jess Bradford rode out to the mine and warned James H. of his impending peril. Together they fought of the men that wanted to steal the mine. In gratitude to Bradford his name has been in our family tree for generations, beginning with James H. naming one of his sons Jess Bradford Hawley.

  4. Nice stories. The good news: I did not prevent the posting of your comment. The bad news: Need more than unsupported family stories to change what's in the history books, and newspapers of the period.
    I will address one matter of historical fact. I will accept that your family has a Chinese dress, and it may well be from the period of the Boxer Rebellion -- but, if so, it was not something the teen-aged James H. brought back at that time. The Boxer Rebellion happened in 1900. In 1900, James H. Hawley was living in Boise (Idaho) Ward 2 ... as recorded by the U. S. Census.

    1. Are there any published pictures of Mr. Hawley's sons? I have a number of unlabeled pictures from 1900-1930, some dating from the time he represented Diamondfield Jack Davis for the Sparks-Harrell ranches. I believe my grandfather Jasper Harrell, cousin Harrell J. Harrell and aunt Elino Harrell Black were friends of the family. Also, Mr. Hawley and his son traveled to China in 1905. Possibly the "dress" dates from this trek. It would be nice to here from the current Hawley descendents. Thank you for an interesting blog. (My daughter's discovered it.)

    2. I have not seen any photos of Hawley’s family ... not even of his wife. As it happened, Hawley and his son did go to China, but NOT in 1905. In 1905, Hawley had been re-elected Boise mayor, and was tied up with city business and his legal practice. This is confirmed by newspaper clipping throughout that year. The trip actually took place in 1910, when they visited China, and more: “Returns from Extended Trip to Orient,” Idaho Statesman, Boise (April 12, 1910).

      According to the article, James and son Harry left Boise on January 2. With stops in Portland, San Francisco, and Honolulu, the pair visited the Philippines (Manila), Japan (Nagasaki and “Kioto” were mentioned), and China. Passenger records (available at ancestry.com) show James H. Hawley left Hong Kong on March 5, 1910, put in at Honolulu on March 25, and arrived in San Francisco on the SS Siberia on April 1.

      The item closes with: “The tourists brought home enough souvenirs of their trip to stock an oriental store, the articles including almost every variety of Japanese and Chinese art.”

      BTW, the Harrell family appears in several of my blog articles, mostly as a partner with John Sparks in the cattle business. Also, my item for October 15 is a bio for Jasper’s cousin Louis Harrell. (Both appear in my Before the Spud book about the Idaho stock-raising industry.)

    3. Thank you so much for the quick reply. I think I will set up a website with a photo archive of all of these documents so that historians and commentators such as yourself can easily access them. I also have some correspondence from Louis, who wrote frequently to my dad Robert Harrell and cousin Harrell J. Harrell. I'm pretty sure that my aunt Elinor was a neighbor in Palo Alto, CA with one of the Hawleys--Dorothy and Frank.

    4. Creating a photo archive would be great! When you have it set up, let me know the address and I'll include a link to if from my blog.

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  6. The photo used in Sagebrush Lawyer was taken in 1925. Hawley was dressed up to participate in Boise's Mainline Celebration on April 16. A copy of the photo is in the collection at the Idaho State Archives in Boise. Also see Idaho Yesterdays, Volume 26, No. 1 Spring 1981. The photo was used on the cover.