Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Mining Investor, Prominent Mason, and Judge Jonas Brown [otd 06/27]

Judge Brown. H. T. French photo.
Early Western pioneer and prominent Idaho lawyer Jonas W. Brown was born June 27, 1825 in Coshocton County, Ohio, 60-70 miles northeast of Columbus.

Around 1842, Jonas moved to Keokuk, Iowa, and found work in a flour mill. After nine years there, Brown joined the flow of gold-seekers headed for California. Over the next decade, he worked as carpenter, miner, county clerk, and deputy sheriff in California and then Washington.

He moved to Florence in 1862, while it was still in Washington Territory. At that time, Florence was the county seat of Idaho County, which then encompassed much of what became southern Idaho. There, he held several positions (at the same time, for awhile): district and probate court clerk, recorder, deputy county auditor, deputy treasurer, and deputy sheriff.

In 1863, when the goldfields around Florence began to play out and those in the Boise Basin grew, Jonas moved to Idaho City. During his public service time to this point, he had studied the law and was finally admitted to the bar, apparently in about 1864. After that, he carried on a considerable private law practice.

Jonas also served for a year or two as a Clerk in the county offices. In 1878, he missed – by just 6 votes – being elected as the Delegate from Idaho Territory to the U. S. Congress. (Delegates have no vote on the floor, but can serve on committees and vote on issues at that level.)

By the early 1880s, the Boise Basin mines had passed their prime. Brown moved his practice to Boise City in 1882. Even so, a correspondent from Quartzburg told the Idaho Statesman (June 22, 1886) that “J. V. R. Witt is at work up the gulch from the Gold Hill mill, where he and Jonas W. Brown of your city, own a good ledge.”

Jonas was quite active in politics, although he never ran again for a national office. In the 1890s, he split with the national Republican Party to follow the Silver Republicans. When the silver issue waned, Jonas returned to his long-term political allegiance. In 1903, Brown was elected to a four-year term as a Probate Judge. His name thus became associated with quite a number of important cases in Boise.
Residence of Jonas W. Brown.
Colored lithograph from History of Idaho Territory, 1884.

Even before moving to Idaho, Brown played an active role in the Masonic fraternity, and also with the Methodist Church.

In Keokuk, Jonas helped collect funds for the first Methodist Church there, and may have contributed his labor as well. He also had a hand in raising the first Methodist Church in Idaho City. In Boise City, Brown made generous donations to the church and served among its lay officers. He also served as Boise’s lay Delegate to the church’s General Conference.

Brown held most of the high positions in the Masonic Order and received many honors during his half-century-plus in that organization. He passed away in September 1916, right after attending the Annual meeting of Idaho Masons held in Twin Falls.
References: [French], [Illust-North], [Illust-State]
History of Idaho Territory: Showing Its Resources and Advantages..., Wallace W. Elliot & Co., 421 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, California (1884).
“Report of the Committee on Foreign Correspondence: Idaho,” Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Alabama at the Annual Communication, Brown Printing Company, Montgomery, Alabama (December 6-7, 1916).


  1. Thanks for this post.

    I am a direct descendant of Jonas, a lawyer myself, and from Boise, where I still live. It's neat to know someone knows a little about my family.

  2. Thank YOU for looking in on my blog. Naturally, I have to "plug" my book -- Boise River Gold Country -- in which Judge Brown played a prominent role. In fact, his law office was in Idaho City for almost 20 years. (The book even has a photo of Jonas as a much younger man.)