Ada County Sheriff’s Office.
James came to Idaho in 1886. This was a period of high optimism for stock-raising in Idaho. For example, the Idaho Statesman gushed (October 9, 1886) that the cattle business “has grown to wonderful proportions of late years.” As proof, it went on, readers should consider that “Millions of dollars are invested in stock in Idaho, and the returns from this source excel all others combined.”
A couple years earlier, the Oregon Short Line completed its tracks across Idaho, which further boosted stock raising. Sheep holdings particularly benefited, since sheep raisers rarely drove large flocks to distant markets. Now they didn’t have to.
Bennett easily found work and, in 1888, he claimed a homestead in Ada County, some of which he still owned thirty years later. Along with his stock raising and farming, he worked for some of the regional irrigation companies. Hawley’s History noted that “For eleven years he was headgate keeper and ditch walker for the Ridenbaugh ditch.”
The Ridenbaugh Canal runs along the Boise Bench, today passing through the residential and business districts of southwest Boise. The Bennett Lateral is a feeder canal in that area.
That feeder was first identified publicly in 1902. The Idaho Statesman reported (June 27, 1902) on Ada County government business concerning “what is known as the Bennett Lateral.” The item said, “It is therefore ordered by the County Board of Commissioners that measuring devices and weirs be placed in said canal.”
Bennett’s first wife, Maggie, died from tuberculosis (Idaho Statesman, October 21, 1898) and he remarried two years later. Maggie had come from an old pioneer family, with property in the Wood River area. In 1903, James was appointed executor so he could settle the estate, including payment of back taxes.
|Ridenbaugh Canal. Nampa and Meridian Irrigation District.|
He then purchased a lot about five miles southeast of Boise. Later, James built a home of “generous proportions … well back from the highway in a cluster of large maples and with a terraced lawn and flower gardens in front.”
He was elected Ada County sheriff in 1908. Bennett had a busy two-year term, during which the office gained a third deputy and the county jail got a new floor. Besides dealing with a rumored Tong war in the Oriental community, the sheriff also had to appear as a witness in a case before the Idaho Supreme Court. At the end of his term, Bennett returned to irrigation work and farming. (Election laws then precluded a second consecutive term.)
In the late 1910s, he served as superintendent of the Nampa and Meridian Irrigation District, a unit that served over 4,000 water users. Today, that District owns the century-old water rights of the original Ridenbaugh Canal.
In 1942, Bennett moved to Meridian, where he was elected a Justice of the Peace. Ill health eventually forced him to resign, and he died in 1947.
|“Brooks v. Orchard Land Co.,” The Pacific Reporter, Vol. 121, West Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (1912).|
|“History,” Ada County Sheriff’s Office, online.|
|J. Orin Oliphant, On the Cattle Ranges of the Oregon Country, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1968).|