Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Rancher, Mining Investor, and Probate Judge Frank Harris [otd 06/28]

Judge Harris, ca 1898.
Illustrated History.
Judge and state Senator Frank Harris was born June 28, 1854 in Placerville, California, 25-30 miles east of Sacramento. In the 1870s, he read law in two different firms in Eureka, California. Frank moved to Idaho in 1880 and established a home in Weiser.

Harris immediately qualified for the Idaho bar. One of his earliest cases was to draw up the articles of incorporation and bylaws for an irrigation company. Many farmers who had settled along the Weiser River pooled their resources to form this company. They hoped to build a canal system to get water onto their homesteads. Work began in the spring and summer of 1881.

The shareholders soon discovered they were severely under-capitalized, and sold out to a new firm. Those initial water rights changed companies several times before a reasonable system of ditches was finally completed. Then the arrival of the Oregon Short Line Railroad "made" Weiser City.

The initial impact of the railroad was largely negative. Harris later wrote, "Weiser took on a sudden change, but not for the better. They were composed of a motly [sic] mob of tinhorn gamblers, pimps, burglars, pickpockets, prostitutes and every variety of mankind that was low and despicable."

Fortunately, the riff-raff left when construction moved on, and Weiser prospered in a more lasting, substantial way. In 1889, the county selected Harris as a delegate to the convention that wrote the constitution for the proposed state of Idaho. In 1892, the Democratic Party convention nominated Frank for Lieutenant Governor, but Republicans swept every state executive branch office. Four years later, he was elected to the state Senate.

Harris was nominated for Lieutenant Governor again in 1904, but lost to the Republican landslide behind the presidential election of Teddy Roosevelt. In 1918, he was nominated to run unopposed on the Democratic ticket for Prosecuting Attorney of Washington County. But Harris then discovered that voters had placed numerous “Nonpartisan League” candidates at the head of the state Democratic ticket.
Downtown Weiser, ca 1908. Vintage Postcard.
The League was a rural/agricultural movement that proposed radical changes in American farm and financial policies. Harris branded (Idaho Statesman, September 10, 1918) the League’s founder a “trouble maker from North Dakota” and angrily rejected the nomination. (Many other traditional Democrats took similar stands.)

In 1922, Frank ran for the state Senate, and won. Ten years later – at the age of 78 – he was elected a Probate Judge.

Harris had a home in Weiser City and also owned a ranch near town. For many years he involved himself with mining interests and handled numerous cases of mining litigation and business. Judge Harris thus knew, better than most, all the ways that ignorant investors could be separated from their money.

In the 1940s, he published a series of articles in the Weiser Signal about the history of Weiser and Washington counties. Naturally, he discussed the prospects for new mineral discoveries. That included glowing reports of "immense deposits" of copper ore laced with fabulous amounts of gold and silver in the Seven Devils region.

Concerning these claims, Frank wrote, "I hesitate to accept at one-hundred percent or even at a greater discount, this report. I am inclined to believe it was made for the consumption of a new crop of eastern suckers."

Judge Harris passed away in April 1944.
                                                                                 
References: [Blue], [Defen], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“Frank Harris, "History of Washington County and Adams County," Weiser Signal (1940s).

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