Sunday, February 19, 2017

Poet, Attorney, and Public Servant Herbert Ferguson [otd 02/19]

Herbert Ferguson.
H. T. French photo.
Colonel Herbert Van Allen Ferguson was born February 19, 1852, in Three Mile Bay, New York state, about 65 miles north of Syracuse. After attending a preparatory institute in Rochester, he taught school in New York and in Michigan.

Clearly a talented and impressive young man, at the age of eighteen he served as a high school principal in New York. Ferguson then enrolled at the University of Michigan Law School, graduating with an LL.B degree in 1878.

After four years practicing law in Carthage, New York, Ferguson moved to Denver, Colorado. He practiced law there for five years, and also served a term in the state legislature. He then lived for two years in Leadville. During his time in Colorado, he served with their National Guard unit and attained the rank of Colonel.

After looking briefly at business prospects in Butte, Montana, Ferguson moved on to Salt Lake City. He worked there from 1889 to 1893 before relocating to Pocatello, Idaho. In his History, Hiram T. French tellingly described Ferguson as "interminably vigorous and intensively industrious."

He developed a reputation as “a most formidable opponent” in legal circles, no doubt aided by his impressive skills as a speaker. In fact, it appears he could have earned a living as a public lecturer, having had engagements all over the state.

For seven years, he worked for the Department of the Interior, at least part of the time as a Special Agent for the General Land Office. During his tenure, the Federal government threw so-called “surplus” lands inside the Fort Hall Indian Reservation open to white settlement.
Eager settlers and speculators await signal to enter Reservation, 1902.
Library of Congress.

Stockmen – especially sheep herders, as it happened – saw this as an opportunity to graze their herds on land not specifically claimed by homesteaders. Such range was, however, still part of the Reservation and not “public land” open for general use. Ferguson had to publish notices in regional newspapers to remind white interlopers that grazing there was forbidden.

Early the following year, Ferguson was sent to Vancouver, Washington to investigate fraudulent claims related to timber and quarrying in that area. He submitted his report after three or four months of work, but nothing much seems to have been done.

Ferguson also served as special attorney for the city of Pocatello as well as one term as Bannock County prosecuting attorney. In 1912, he was elected for a term in the Idaho legislature. While there, he served as the Chairman of the State Affairs committee.

Ferguson took an active role in the bar association, attended the Congregational church, and was a member of several fraternal societies.

On top of all that, he wrote and published poetry that was quite well received. His Rhymes of Eld, published in 1912, got generally good reviews. One reviewer deemed the poems “slight,” but considered them “brightly written with a good feeling for rhyme and rhythm.” “Slight” or not, the poems had staying power. In 2010, Kessinger Publishing re-released the book in hardcover and paperback versions … as part of its “Legacy Reprint Series.”

Ferguson passed away in July 1917.
References: [Blue], [French]
“Deaths: Herbert Van Allen Ferguson,” The Michigan Alumnus, Volume XXIV, The Alumni Association of the University of Michigan Publishers, Ann Arbor (1918).
“Reimbursement to H. V. A. Ferguson,” Statues of the United States of America, Passed at the Second Session of the Fifty-Seventh Congress, Government Printing Office, Washington (1903).


  1. Is his poetry really that good? That they'd reprint it after nearly a century?

  2. Poetry is a matter of taste. I find his clunky and old-fashioned, and not just because it actually does rhyme (I LIKE poetry that rhymes). If you Google "Rhymes of Eld" (be sure to use the quotes), you should get a hit on a Google scanned version of the book -- judge for your self.