Saturday, March 18, 2017

Bonneville Rancher, Developer, and Public Servant Hank Kiefer [otd 03/18]

Henry W. “Hank” Kiefer was born March 18, 1851 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania … one of twelve children born to the family between 1844 and about 1863. As a boy, he served an apprenticeship as a machinist, while also working part-time for his father, a Master Tanner. His father died in 1865, his mother two years later.
Golden Spike Ceremony. National Park Service.

In 1869, Hank decided to head West. French’s History specifically mentions June as the date when he arrived in Colorado. It may well be significant that the transcontinental railroad had been completed just a month earlier.

Within a year or so, Kiefer landed a job with Coe & Carter, a well-known Omaha firm that had major contracts to supply lumber and ties for the Union Pacific Railroad. Over the next few years, the job took Hank through Wyoming, Utah, and into Idaho.

In 1878, the Utah & Northern Railway extended its narrow gauge tracks across eastern Idaho, headed for Montana. Kiefer took charge of a logging camp on the South Fork of the Snake River. As the tracks approached the Montana border in the spring of 1879, Hank moved the camp closer to Monida Pass.

Kiefer worked on tie contracts in the Rocky Mountains until the spring of 1883. At that time, he purchased a ranch on Willow Creek, northeast of Eagle Rock (now Idaho Falls). There, he raised cattle, farmed, and also planted an apple orchard. Four years later, Eagle Rock school teachers took their pupils on a field trip to see the first home-grown apples in the Upper Snake River Valley.

Hank spent the rest of the 1880s tending to his crops and livestock. Thus, the Idaho Register in Idaho Falls reported (October 1, 1887), “Hank Kiefer has purchased from Taylor & Smith one of the latest improved hay balers and will soon commence operating it, when he will be prepared to ship hay.”

 In 1892, he was elected Assessor for Bingham County. At that time, the county encompassed most of eastern Idaho. He then served two years as sheriff, before being elected again as County Assessor.

In the summer of 1901, Kiefer, like many others, took a fling at the the Klondike gold rush, where he apparently did better than most. The following year voters elected him to a term in the Idaho Senate.

As his farm-ranch operation prospered, Kiefer invested in irrigation projects and real estate. That expertise led to his appointment, in 1907, as Register for the U. S. Land Office in Blackfoot. He would subsequently be re-appointed to that position.

Idaho Falls Carnegie Library construction, ca 1915.
Bonneville County Historical Society.
However, he still retained an interest in Idaho Falls and, in 1908, donated a lot to be used for a public library. A committee proceeded with a request for a Carnegie Library grant and the facility opened in 1916. After his tenure as Land Office Register ended, Hank became a member of the Idaho Falls City Council. In late 1917, he served a half-year as Acting Mayor.

After that, Kiefer began winding down his active participation in business and politics. He lived a comfortable retirement until his death in 1937.
References: [French]
Barzilla W. Clark, Bonneville County in the Making, Self-published, Idaho Falls, Idaho (1941).
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).

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