Saturday, August 19, 2017

Philo Farnsworth, Inventor of the First Practical Television Recorder [otd 8/19]

Inventor and television pioneer Philo T. Farnsworth was born August 19, 1906 in Beaver County, Utah. The family moved to a farm near Rigby, Idaho during World War I. There, Philo set off on the path that would earn him the designation as “the father of television.”

Farnsworth accomplished much in his lifetime, despite seemingly endless fights in patent court. The whole story is beyond the scope of this article (but is readily available). Here, I will focus on a few interesting points.

A stack of popular science magazines in the attic of their new home helped Philo learn more about electricity and electro-mechanical devices. Primitive “tele-vision” – distant transmission/viewing of images – was one of the fascinating topics of the day.
Farnsworth, right,
with his former high school teacher.
Philo T. Farnsworth Archives.

By the time he entered Rigby High School, Philo had already exhibited a firm grasp of practical physics, especially electrical phenomena. As the story goes, he devised a better way to record images for transmission while plowing a field in regular back-and-forth rows (lines). However, the complete account involves rather more than that simple idea.

His science teacher at Rigby High School, Justin Tolman, soon recognized the young man’s aptitude and encouraged his pursuit of knowledge. It was he who first learned of Philo’s new approach.

Back then, typical television “cameras” employed a mechanically rotating array of mirrors to focus snippets of an image onto a photocell, which converts photons (light) into flowing electrons … electricity. Without going into all the physics, the electrical response shows how bright the light is. The electrical signal is then transmitted through some distance to a display system. Since Philo’s innovation involved the recorder, not the display, we’ll simply take the viewer as a given.

Mechanical cameras are bulky and require a high degree of precision in their manufacture. In operation, they tend to be noisy, and dust, wear, or mechanical malfunctions hopelessly cripple the synchronization between recorder and display.
Farnsworth’s conceptual sketch. Philo T. Farnsworth Archives.

Farnsworth’s accomplishment was to devise a way to electronically record the picture. His innovation combined several crucial features. Instead of directing snippets of light onto a small photocell, the camera captured the entire picture on a plate coated with photosensitive material. He placed this photosensor inside a vacuum-sealed cylinder, so the electrons generated flew off (were emitted) into empty space.

Philo's device then focused the electrons emitted from a small region – we now call it a pixel – onto an electrode that measured the electrical signal. A simple controller selected pixels one after another to form a line of dots crossing the photosensor horizontally. As in the plowed-field analogy, a series of parallel dot-lines growing from top to bottom covered the entire screen.

Because the device operated electromagnetically – no moving parts at all – the entire picture could be recorded many times each second … and “electronic” television was born.

Ideas similar to Farnsworth’s design had been considered by others, but he was the one who put all the pieces together, and made it work. He passed away in March 1971. Today, the city of Rigby bills itself as the “birthplace of television,” and sponsors the Farnsworth TV & Pioneer Museum.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Brit]
Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
Donald G. Godfrey, Philo T. Farnsworth: the Father of Television, University of Utah Press (2001).

Friday, August 18, 2017

Desert Land (Carey) Act Signed to Encourage Irrigation in the West [otd 8/18]

On August 18, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the Desert Land Act of 1894, better known as the Carey Act. Sponsored by Wyoming Senator Joseph M. Carey, the Act was meant to improve the success rate for the settlement of the public lands. The law specifically addressed the millions upon millions of acres in the western states that required irrigation for productive farming – the so-called “arid lands.”
Joseph M. Carey.
Wyoming State Archives.

Individuals and irrigation cooperatives had already exploited most of the land that could be watered with smaller systems of canals and impoundments. Many larger projects funded by farmer cooperatives or hopeful investment firms had failed, and discouraged further risk-taking on that scale.

The Act authorized the Federal Land Office to transfer up to a million acres of arid public lands to individual states that established approved reclamation programs. States would cover expenses by charging fees and selling the land at nominal prices, with the real incentive being the expected increase in tax revenue.

Acceptable state programs would be able to certify acreage as meeting the requirements of the Act, inspect and approve irrigation projects executed by private investment firms, and oversee the ultimate transfer of properly-irrigated 160-acre plots to individual settlers.

Development companies proposed, designed, and built suitable irrigation projects. They profited by selling water to the settlers, at rates determined in negotiations with the state reclamation office. The development company did not “own” the land itself – technically. However, these firms could place liens on the land and the associated water rights to protect their capital investments … so the effect was basically the same.

Settlers usually paid a flat entry fee ($1 in Idaho) and an almost trivial cost per acre. Owners had to then dig a feeder ditch to connect with the nearest main canal. Once water became available, they followed a schedule for bringing a set minimum of their holdings into cultivation. In three years, if they met all criteria – including construction of a “habitable dwelling” on the property – they received title to the land.

Of course, developers seldom waited out the years it might take before cumulative water sales covered their large initial investments. Once settlers held much of the land, an operating canal company or joint water district bought the system and the collective water rights from the developer.
Milner Dam, 1905. One of the first Carey Act projects in Idaho.
Library of Congress.

The Idaho legislature quickly established the position of State Engineer and tried to assemble the administrative infrastructure to support Carey Act projects. A few years passed before the state refined the process, but then interest picked up substantially. Thus, in the first ten years after passage of the Act, Idaho developers started just 10 or 11 projects. Then, in 1905-1907, they added 14 new ones.

The emergence of so many new projects led Congress to add another million acres to Idaho’s allotment in May 1908. Two days after that authorization, they added yet another millions acres, while also increasing Wyoming’s allotment by a million.

With that much land available, development exploded: In 1908 through 1910, developers initiated forty new Carey Act project in Idaho. No other state approaches Idaho in the exploitation of the Carey Act and later related legislation. By one reckoning, 60% of all U.S. acreage irrigated by Carey Act projects is in Idaho.
                                                                                 
                                                    
References: [French], [Hawley]
“Canals & Irrigation,” Digital Atlas of Idaho, Idaho State University.
The Cary Act in Idaho, Idaho State Historical Society (2004).
 “Carey Act of of August 18, 1894 (28 Stat. 422),” Code of Federal Regulations, U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (2012).

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Mountain Man, Explorer, and Survivor John Colter [otd 8/17]

On August 17, 1806, discharged Army Private John Colter headed up the Missouri River with his two new partners, Forest Hancock and Joseph Dickson. Captains Lewis and Clark had released him early from his enlistment because the Corps of Discovery no longer needed him. Clark wrote, “We were disposed to be of Service to any one of our party who had performed their duty as well as Colter had done.”

In particular, Colter was considered one of the best, if not the best hunter in the entire Corps. He also showed a knack for exploring wild country and then quickly relocating the main party. During the Expedition’s long winter at Fort Clatsop, Colter ranged further and further afield in search of elk to feed the men.
Early Three Forks sketch. Montana Historical Society.

Hancock and Dickson had met the Expedition a few days earlier. During the trip downriver to the Mandan Indians villages, located about 40  miles northwest of today's Bismarck, North Dakota, they persuaded Colter to join them. Colter and his two partners ascended the Missouri to Three Forks, Montana.

They trapped there for awhile, but then the partnership dissolved. Colter started east and, in the spring of 1807, encountered a Missouri Fur Company (MFC) flotilla headed upriver. The ex-soldier agreed to join them. They built a trading post, called Fort Raymond, 55-60 miles northeast of present-day Billings, Montana.

Several other members of the Corps had also hired on with the MFC. They perhaps told the company president, Manuel Lisa, about Colter’s pathfinder skills. Lisa sent Colter to locate more prime beaver country. Although winter approached, Colter set off in late 1807, headed south and west.

Historians have recreated his general route from later verbal reports. He apparently skirted the highest mountains at first, perhaps as far south as north-central Wyoming. He then turned west from roughly today’s Dubois, over the Continental Divide, and on to Jackson Lake.
Teton Valley – view of the three Tetons from the west.

Confronted with the Tetons, Colter may well have sought directions from local tribesman, as did the Wilson Price Hunt party some four years later. He crossed Teton Pass into what we know as Idaho’s Teton Basin. Turning north and then east, Colter traversed parts of today’s Yellowstone Park before returning to the Fort in early spring.

Skeptics greeted his descriptions of wild thermal features with the rather derisive sobriquet “Colter’s Hell.” It is now generally accepted that, while Colter may have observed some activity in the Park area, his accounts probably referred to a thermal basin near today’s Cody, Wyoming.

Colter continued to explore and, in 1809, he experienced the event for which he is surely most famous: Colter’s Run. Captured by Blackfeet, with his companion slaughtered on the spot, the Indians stripped him naked for some “fun,” figuring they could easily run him down. Incredibly, he not only escaped, he killed the most persistent of his pursuers.

Another close call the following year convinced Colter his luck was running out, and he left the Rockies. While in St. Louis, he visited with William Clark, who recorded many of Colter’s observations. Clark used the notes to produce a regional map that was considered the best available for at least a half century. Honored today as the first “Mountain Man,” Colter died two or three years later.
                                                                                                                                     
References: Stephen E. Ambrose, Undaunted Courage, Simon & Shuster, New York (1996).
Burton Harris, John Colter: His Years in the Rockies, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1993).
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Gary E. Moulton (ed.), The Definitive Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (2002).
Merrill J. Mattes, Colter’s Hell & Jackson’s Hole, Yellowstone Library and Museum Association and the Grand Teton Natural History Association in cooperation with the National Park Service, U.S. Dept. of the Interior (1976).

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Captain Relf Bledsoe: Indian Fighter, Businessman, Prospector, Mine Manager ... and More [otd 8/16]

Capt. Beldsoe. Oregon Historical Society
Indian fighter, business leader, and public servant Relf Bledsoe was born August 16, 1832 in Henderson County, Kentucky. That small county is located along the Ohio River, about a hundred miles west and a bit south of Louisville.

The family resettled first to Missouri and then Texas. In 1850, Bledsoe moved to California. He apparently had a knack for mining management, because by the age of twenty-two, he had attained a position as a mine Superintendent in southern Oregon.

Financial trouble for the company ended his employment, but he quickly found himself involved in the 1853 Rogue River War. Courageous almost to a fault, Bledsoe proved to be a superb Indian fighter, quickly rising to the rank of Captain in the Second Oregon (Volunteer) Infantry.

He reportedly participated in twenty close-action Indian fights, but never sustained any wounds. His adversaries were probably convinced that he had such “big medicine,” their bullets could not touch him. After the war, he served several years as an Indian Agent, but finally settled on raising cattle.

Bledsoe certainly knew who made money in a gold rush. When prospectors discovered gold in Idaho, he opened or partnered in mercantile stores in Elk City and then Florence. In 1862, he served on the joint Council for Idaho and Nez Perce counties.

Then a band of prospectors discovered gold in the Boise Basin. Indians killed one of the discoverers, George Grimes, and small troops of volunteers set out to quell the unrest. Bledsoe assumed a leadership role and enhanced his reputation as an Indian fighter.

Relf judged the mass of prospectors pouring into the Basin and traveled to the Territorial capital in Olympia. There, he lobbied successfully for the creation of Boise County, with Idaho City (then called West Bannock) as county seat. That was in January 1863; less than two months later, Congress established Idaho Territory, with a capital at Lewiston.
Placerville, ca 1884. History of Idaho Territory.
Bledsoe also helped found the town of Placerville. In addition to his mercantile interests, he continued to develop mining properties: He is credited with bringing the major lodes around Atlanta into production in 1876-1877. Relf also played a significant role in establishing toll roads into the mines, which allowed heavy mill equipment to be brought in. 

Bledsoe served in a variety of city and county offices, including some time as a probate judge. In the late 1880s, supporters urged the President to make Relf the Territorial Governor, but the appointment went elsewhere.

The Illustrated History, published in 1899, said “When the present shall have become the past, his name will be revered as one of the founders of the state of Idaho, and as one of the heroes who carried civilization into the wild districts of this great region.”

In 1907, excitement about the assassination of former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg convulsed Idaho. Then-Governor Frank Gooding received a flood of death threats, presumably because he pushed the prosecution of the suspected conspirators. As one of his bodyguards, Gooding selected (in the words of author Anthony Lukas), “Relf Bledsoe, a legendary seventy-five-year-old gunfighter and former probate judge.”

Bledsoe passed away three years later.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Illust-State]
John Hailey, History of Idaho, Syms-York Company, Boise, Idaho (1910).
J. Anthony Lukas, Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town … ,” Simon & Shuster, New York (1998).
Merle W. Wells, Gold Camps & Silver Cities, Bulletin 22, Idaho Department of Lands, Bureau of Mines and Geology, Moscow, Idaho (1983).

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

First Documented Visit to, and Sketch of, (Renamed) Shoshone Falls [otd 08/15]

On August 15, 1849, a guide led two men from a column of U. S. Army Mounted Rifles to see a great waterfall on the Snake river, three to four miles northeast of today’s Twin Falls, Idaho. They later told their commander that the huge falls compared favorably to Niagara Falls. (The falls are, in fact, about 45 feet higher than Niagara, although not as wide.)
Shoshone Falls, ca. 1868. Library of Congress.

At that time, the feature was known as “Canadian Falls,” a name picked by early trappers or perhaps a priest. Lieutenant Andrew Lindsay and his civilian companion, George Gibbs, decided to call the spot Shoshone Falls, after the Indian tribe that inhabited the region.

Trained in law at Harvard, Gibbs was also a published author and talented artist. He had joined the Army column at Fort Leavenworth, before it embarked on its march to Oregon. During their visit to the Falls, Gibbs drew what is generally believed to be the first recorded image of the feature.

Congress authorized the Regiment of Mounted Rifles in 1846. Although originally intended as a mobile force to protect growing traffic on the Oregon Trail, the Army sent the regiment to fight in the Mexican-American War. The troops served with distinction in Mexico, then returned to their original mission. After the visit to Shoshone Falls, the regiment continued across Idaho and arrived at Oregon City in early October.

Their commander on the expedition was Brevet Colonel William W. Loring. Born in North Carolina in 1815, Loring had seen militia action in Texas and Florida. He joined the Mounted Rifles for the Mexican War, where he lost his left arm to a cannon shot, and was promoted to Major and then to (Brevet) Colonel. He saw further service after the Oregon trek, but resigned to become a general in the Confederate Army. After the Civil War, he spent ten years serving with the Egyptian Army. Loring returned to the U. S. in 1879 and died in 1886.

Not much happened at the Falls for over a quarter century. Exhausted emigrants had no time for a long, dry trek over rough country, no matter how spectacular the attraction.

Then, in 1875, newcomer Charles Walgamott visited the falls. A native of Iowa, Walgamott had arrived at the Rock Creek stage station less than a month earlier. When he learned that no one had claimed the land around Shoshone Falls, Charlie took a “squatter’s right” to a plot on the south side.

He ran a tourist sideline from Rock Creek until 1882, when crews for the Oregon Short Line graded a railway bed through the growing town of Shoshone. Walgamott realized that his squatter’s right “was on the wrong side of the river.”

Charlie recruited a partner and secured a proper claim on the north side. They cut a stage road to the Falls from the railway station in Shoshone and built a hut on the bluff near the Falls. Business was slow at first, but finally picked up. Then, Charlie said, “In 1883 we sold our holdings to a syndicate of capitalists.”
Falls, recent. Idaho Tourism photo.

Today, the city of Twin Falls maintains tourist facilities on the south side of the canyon overlooking Shoshone Falls. Even during irrigation season, with minimum flows, the Falls are a sight worth seeing.
                                                                                                                                     
References: Jim Gentry, In the Middle and On the Edge, College of Southern Idaho (2003).
Captain Charles Morton, “The Third Regiment of Cavalry,” The Army of the United States, U.S. Army Center of Military History (2002).
Raymond W. Settle, The March of the Mounted Riflemen, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1989).
Charles S. Walgamott, Six Decades Back, The Caxton Press, Caldwell, Idaho (1936).

Monday, August 14, 2017

Snake River Steamboat Annie Faxon Explodes, Killing Eight [otd 08/14]

On the morning of August 14, 1893, the Snake River steamer Annie Faxon exploded, killing eight people and injuring eleven.
Steamer Annie Faxon. Washington State University archives.

Steamboats plied the waters of the Columbia River on a regular basis after about 1850. The most active stretch lay below the Cascade Rapids, about forty miles upstream from Portland. With the 1860 discovery of gold in Idaho, steamship companies found it profitable to extend their routes up the Snake.

That soon led to the founding of Lewiston, Idaho (then in Washington Territory), which became the major upstream terminus for shipping. The Oregon Steam Navigation Company added the Annie Faxon to its fleet in 1877. At 165 feet in length, the Annie was a mid-sized steamer for the period. Over the next two decades, she carried freight and passengers on the Snake, and sometimes ascended the Clearwater during high water.

By the early 1890s, the Annie and other members of the fleet had daily, except Sunday, scheduled runs to where the railroad crossed the Snake, about 80 miles downstream from Lewiston. (Not for another five years would the town have direct train service.)

On that fateful Monday, the Annie left Lewiston for her regular morning run to the railway junction. Captain Harry Baughman commanded the steamer. She made a brief stop at a small town about 35 miles down the river. Transfers complete, she continued downstream. All told, the Annie carried a couple dozen passengers and crew.

About 12 miles further along, a man flagged the boat from the south shore. Although accounts are unclear, Captain Baughman probably stopped the engines; it would have been difficult to hear over their pounding and the frothy splash of the stern wheel.

The farmer said he had a load of fruit ready for the steamer. Business was always welcome, so the Captain steered toward the shoreline, the paddlewheel churning to cut across the river’s current. Carefully judging the distance, Baughman rang for the engines to stop. Before the engine room could respond, apparently, the ship’s boiler exploded.

The blast of released steam blew many passengers and crewmen overboard, where they struggled to swim ashore or clung to wreckage until they could be rescued. Almost miraculously, Baughman was unhurt … but flying debris killed another man near him in the pilothouse. Some of the boat’s superstructure was flung into the water and the rest collapsed into the hull.
Annie Faxon after the explosion.
Washington State University archives.

The blast pattern confused inspectors at first as to the cause of the disaster. Newspapers reported (e.g., Morning Olympian, Olympia, Washington, August 29, 1893) that they had “advance[d] the theory that the explosion was caused by a dynamite bomb.”

However, according to reports, doubts had been raised earlier about the condition of the boiler, which had been running in another ship before the company built the Annie. Yet the flaws were not considered serious enough to order it out of service immediately. It was understood that the unit would be replaced at the end of the main transport season. That came too late for the nineteen injured and dead.

The owners salvaged only the hull of the Annie Faxon; it was used as the substructure of a new steamer.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Defen], [Hawley], [Illust-North]
Phil Dougherty, “The Steamer Annie Faxon Explodes on the Snake River,” Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, Seattle (April 09, 2006).
Darcy Williamson, River Tales of Idaho, The Caxton Printers, Ltd., Caldwell, Idaho (1997).

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Butch Cassidy and Two Gang Members Rob Montpelier Bank [otd 8/13]


On Thursday, August 13, 1896, Montpelier, Idaho sweltered under a blistering afternoon sun. Three riders walked their horses along a street, trailing a pack mare behind them. Had the local jeweler seen them, he might have recognized the three men he’d hired to gather hay on his ranch near the Wyoming border. His wife, who handled the spread while her husband ran his shop, considered them good workers.
Montpelier, ca. 1910.
Source uncertain: Wyoming Tales & Trails.

Founded by Mormon colonists in 1864, Montpelier grew only modestly until the Oregon Short Line railroad built a station there in 1884. The three riders stopped first at a general store.

The storekeeper thought the three might be sheepherders. Finished, the strangers remounted and walked their horses east along the street. The time was after 3:00 p.m. when they stopped in front of the bank and dismounted. Two men standing on the board sidewalk glanced at them, didn’t recognize the riders, and resumed their conversation.

They paid sudden attention when two of the men, now masked with bandanas, accosted them with drawn revolvers. Terse commands urged them inside, where they found three bank employees and several customers. The robbers ordered everyone except the Assistant Cashier to line up facing the wall.

The blond, stocky leader held them at gunpoint while the taller bandit stuffed all the bank’s cash money into a large sack. After raiding the vault, the man tossed loose silver coins into the bag, then dumped a stack of gold coins into a cloth bank bag. Finished, he carried the loot outside and loaded the bags onto his horse and the pack mare.

The blond robber waited inside until his partner completed the loading. He warned them not to make a fuss for at least ten minutes, then strolled out to mount up himself. The bandits turned their horses toward the edge of town.

The Cashier hurried to tell the deputy sheriff as soon as the hoofbeats subsided. However, the deputy was mostly a process server and owned neither gun nor horse. Still, willing to try, he grabbed a “penny-farthing” – a bicycle with giant front wheel and tiny rear – and gave chase. He soon gave up, but did find that the crooks had galloped east, towards the Wyoming border.
Butch Cassidy. Utah Historical Society.

The bandits had planned well. They apparently used the haying job as a cover while they traced the best escape route and located a spot to hide a quick change of horses. Fortunately, the third bandit, who held the horses ready, had not worn a mask. Outside on the street, that might have attracted unwanted attention. The Assistant Cashier got a good look at him.

That man turned out to be Bob Meeks, a member of Butch Cassidy’s notorious “Wild Bunch.” He was the only one caught and convicted for the robbery. The blond leader was surely Butch himself

For some reason, there seems to be no authoritative answer as to how much the bandits got away with. Reports vary widely, from as little as $5 thousand, to around $16 thousand, to over $50 thousand. A figure of about $7 thousand is most generally accepted. Whatever the amount, none of the money was ever recovered.
                                                                                 
References: [Brit], [Illust-State]
Richard M. Patterson, Butch Cassidy: A Biography, University of Nebraska Press (1998).
J. Patrick Wilde, Treasured Tidbits of Time, © J. P. Wilde, Montpelier, Idaho (1977).

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Presbyterian Missionary and Preacher’s Wife Narcissa Whitman [otd 08/12]

Narcissa Whitman.
Oregon Historical Society.
On August 12, 1836, Narcissa Prentiss Whitman wrote in her journal, “The hills are so steep and rocky that husband thought it best to lighten the wagon as much as possible and take nothing but the wheels.”

“Husband” referred to the Reverend Marcus Whitman, to whom she had been married less than six months. Narcissa’s calm chronicles of the dangers and difficulties of their trip rather “set the standard” for pioneer wives on the Oregon Trail.

Born in New York state, Narcissa felt the tug of a religious call as a pre-teen. She thought about becoming a missionary for many years, but found no way to further that dream. Then, in 1834 she heard a minister speaking about the need for missionaries in the Oregon Country. The catch was, Narcissa, at 28 years old, was still not married … and the Presbyterians would probably not send out an unmarried missionary.

In February 1835, she became engaged to Marcus Whitman, a physician with an interest in becoming a medical missionary. Neither party ever mentions any courtship, and some historians speculate that they had an “arrangement” in case church authorities decided single women were not welcome as missionaries.

Almost immediately after the engagement, Dr. Whitman left on a trip to the Pacific Northwest. He returned to the East in December and two months later he and Narcissa married.

They immediately headed west to join up with the Reverend Henry Harmon Spalding, Spalding’s wife, and some other missionaries. Narcissa and Spalding’s wife, Eliza, become the first white women to cross the Continental Divide, traveling on to attend the mountain man rendezvous on the Green River.

They entered Idaho in late July and stopped at Old Fort Hall. They visited the fort’s garden, but the plants were doing very poorly. They talked to the factor, who said that “his own did extremely well until the 8th of June, when the frost of one night completely prostrated it. It has since came up again, but does not look as well as it did before. This is their first attempt at cultivating.”

When they continued, they were still dragging one wagon along. Then, as noted above, they decided to dismantle the wagon and use the wheels to assemble a cart. Whitman had to discard her favorite trunk. She wrote, “If I were to make the journey again I would make quite different preparations.”
Three Island Crossing. Re-enactment, Glenns Ferry Tourism.

The very next day they encountered an obstacle that became notorious in Oregon Trail diaries: the Three Island Crossing, near today’s Glenns Ferry.

Some trains found this Crossing of the Snake so dangerous they chose the more arid and difficult route south of the river instead. Narcissa wrote, “Husband had considerable difficulty in crossing the cart. Both cart and mules were turned upside down in the river and entangled in the harness. The mules would have been drowned but for a desperate struggle to get them ashore.”

Despite these and other trials, the missionaries made it safely to the Columbia. The Spaldings opened a mission at Lapwai among the Nez Perc├ęs [blog, Nov 29], while the Whitmans built theirs at Waiilatpu, west of today’s Walla Walla. Unfortunately, it ended badly for Marcus and Narcissa. In November, 1847, they were murdered by the Indians they had traveled across a continent to help.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W], [Brit]
Julie Roy Jeffrey, Converting the West: A Biography of Narcissa Whitman, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman (1994).
Narcissa Whitman, “Narcissa Whitman Journal,” published in Myron Eells, Marcus Whitman, Pathfinder and Patriot, Alice Harriman Company, Seattle (1909).
“History and Culture,” Whitman Mission National Historic Site, National Park Service (2004).

Friday, August 11, 2017

Cornerstone Laid for Alturas (now Blaine) County Courthouse [otd 08/11]

On August 11, 1883, officials for Alturas County laid the cornerstone for a new county courthouse. The projected cost of the highly ambitious structure, which was to include both the court facilities as well as a jail, was authorized at $40 thousand (about $6 million using today’s labor costs).
Alturas County – Medium blue shows original. Dark Blue line: border in 1883.
The very first session of the Idaho Territorial Legislature defined, or re-defined, seven counties for the area “west of the Rocky Mountains.” One of those seven, created on February 4, 1864, was Alturas County. The original Alturas County contained nearly half the area of southern Idaho. It spanned about two-thirds of the east-west distance, and encompassed an area from the Snake River north to the Salmon River watershed. The original county seat was set as Esmeralda, a mining camp that soon disappeared. After April 1864, Rocky Bar served as the county seat. For fifteen years or so, mining in the Boise River watershed dominated the County’s economy.

Not much happened in eastern Alturus because of ongoing Indian unrest. However, after the Bannock War of 1878 [blog, June 8], stock raising grew on the Camas Prairie, and prospectors found rich lead-silver lodes in the Wood River Valley [blog, April 26]. The towns of Bellevue, Ketchum, and Hailey sprang up in 1880-1881.

The silver boom drew most of Alturas County’s population eastward. Thus, in the summer of 1882, after a bitter battle among the three towns, Hailey became the county seat. Prosperity seemed even more assured as Oregon Short Line railroad tracks marched across Idaho, and officials said Hailey would have a branch line connection before the next summer.

So, in February 1883, the legislature approved an Act that allowed Alturas County to issue $40 thousand in bonds to fund a new courthouse-jail. After the cornerstone ceremony in August, construction proceeded into the following year. The structure was completed, and accepted from the builder on August 1, 1884.

The Salt Lake City Tribune published (August 7, 1884) a long account from their correspondent in Hailey. The writer said, “The courthouse deserves more than mere mention. It is a very large, substantial and well arranged structure, located on the bench overlooking Hailey and the valley. The basement is of cut stone, and in it is located the jail, constructed of sheet steel and angle iron, riveted like boiler work.”

Citizen were proud that the project had “for once in the west” stayed within budget. The writer went on, “The finishing touches are now being put on the structure, which will be ample for some years to come.”

But, as usual, the boom times did not last. Within four years, silver production had dropped off drastically. Then silver prices fell in 1892, following by the financial Panic of 1893. The county took years to pay off the bonded indebtedness. Still, they were finally able to add to the structure in 1907.
Alturas/Blaine County Courthouse, ca 1919. [Hawley]

The complex history of how Alturas County disappeared as a political entity is far beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say that eight completely new counties were created from Alturas, and it contributed healthy chunks to six others. Hailey survived as the county seat of Blaine County, created in 1895, but the county contains only about one-ninth the area of the original.

The Blaine County Courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1978. Although parts of the old building must sometimes be cordoned off for repairs or upgrades, it is still in use by county officials and employees.
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“Alturas County,” Reference Series No. 112, Idaho State Historical Society (1966).
George A. McLeod, History of Alturas and Blaine Counties Idaho, The Hailey Times, Publisher, Hailey, Idaho (1930).

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Cassia County Attorney and Idaho Chief Justice T. Bailey Lee [otd 8/10]

Thomas Bailey Lee, Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court, was born about twenty miles southwest of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on August 10, 1873. He attended law school after graduating from the University of North Carolina but chose not to practice at that time. Instead, he found a position as a prep school Latin teacher in Asheville. In 1898, he took up the practice of law in Butte, Montana.
Burley, ca 1819. J. H. Hawley photo.

In 1905, Lee moved to the new town of Burley [blog, July 19], becoming the first lawyer there. He also secured a position as a Director of the Burley Town Site Company. He spent two years as the City Attorney for Burley, and also served four terms as Prosecuting Attorney for Cassia County.

For six years, T. Bailey served as District Court Judge for the region encompassing Cassia and surrounding areas. Then, in October 1926, Lee was appointed to fill a vacancy in the Idaho Supreme Court. A month later, he won election to continue in that position. At that point, Bailey moved his family to Boise.  He rose to the position of Chief Justice in 1931.

His most recent biography, in Defenbach, makes the point that, “Three of his ancestors were Revolutionary soldiers, two of them with the rank of captain.”

In 1931, Judge Lee’s Congressman wrote a letter to the Bureau of Pensions. A family Bible, now “two hundred and nineteen years old,” had been submitted as verification to allow the widow of Captain John Dickey to continue receiving his Revolutionary War pension. That document now reposed in the National Archives.

Since the relevant pages had been torn out, the Judge wanted the bulk of the Bible back, as a family memento. This request was refused, so Lee wrote a personal note to the Director of the Veteran’s Bureau. Addressed to “My Dear General,” Lee commented, “I am presuming to write you direct upon a purely personal matter, as the only methods I understand are those of a soldier and lawyer. God save me from civilian bureaucrats!”

Lydia Pinkham. Brochure cover, 1901-1904.
Posted on Wikipedia Commons.
T. Bailey had personally seen the Bible, “dumped in an old box.” Someone had filed the torn out pages, “and tossed the wrecked volume into the scrap heap.” As such, he went on, “it’s mere junk … and is about as valuable to Uncle Sam as … an empty bottle of Lydia Pinkham's.”

Again the Administrator refused his request … for the good of all researchers, not just the family, they said. In his letter to Lee’s Congressman, the Administrator said, “To insure added protection to the Bible in question it was securely wrapped and tied in kraft paper, given the file number of the claim from which it was removed, and locked in a cabinet free from dust. It is now reposing in a steel vault.”

So the Judge “lost,” but perhaps he accomplished something more important: He rescued a potentially-valuable historical document from oblivion.

Through 1932, judges campaigned for election to the Idaho Supreme Court as partisan candidates. That year Judge Lee ran on the Republican ticket. Although Bailey did better than most other Republican candidates, he lost his seat during the Democratic landslide behind Roosevelt on the national ticket. He returned to Burley after the end of his term, and finally moved his family back in late summer (Idaho Statesman, Boise, August 23, 1933).

Lee would again serve as a District Judge in 1942-1946. He passed away in March 1948.
                                                                                 
References:[Blue],  [Defen], [Hawley]
“Letters Concerning the Family Bible,“ Captain John Dickey Revolutionary War File, U. S. National Archives (1931-1932).
Ben Ysursa, Idaho Blue Book, 2003-2004, The Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (2003).

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Rancher, Businessman, and Party Leader Robert Coulter [otd 8/9]

Robert Coulter.
Family portrait photo.
State Representative and agricultural pioneer Robert Coulter was born August 9, 1875 in Richmond, Kentucky, about eighty-five miles southeast of Louisville. In 1892, he moved to Oregon, where he worked at various jobs, including insurance and real estate, ranching, and boiler room operations. He married in 1901, in Portland, and moved to Washington County, Idaho the following year.

He first ran a dairy operation near Cascade (later county seat of Valley county). Coulter sold that after five years to go into general farming and stock raising. He also helped organize an irrigation company near Weiser.

When boosters formed the Washington County Fair Association, Coulter became one of its first Directors. In 1909, Robert spearheaded formation of a partnership to deal in real estate and mortgage loans. According to H. T. French, in 1914 the firm was “known for one of the largest real estate and loan companies in the county.”

Soon after he arrived in Idaho, he began taking a very active role in Democratic Party politics. For a number of years, he lived near Weiser and served as Secretary of the party Central Committee for Washington County. In the early 1920s, he moved his family back to Cascade.

For quite a long time, Coulter did not seek political office himself, working diligently for other candidates at all levels. In 1922, however, he ran successfully for the state House of Representatives. He would be re-elected for a total of six consecutive terms, running unopposed in at least one of those elections.

In 1931, Governor C. Ben Ross appointed Coulter to be Director of the Bureau of Budget. In that position, Coulter led the preparation of the budget to be presented to the legislature. He was also, ex officio, a member of another board charged with recommending construction of needed public buildings.
Senator Borah, 1937. Library of Congress.

Defenbach’s History of Idaho, published in 1933, characterized him as “one of the most forceful figures in Democratic politics at this time.” He served as Chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party for the first time in 1934-1935. Asked about party prospects, he incautiously predicted that they could defeat popular Republican Senator William E. Borah [blog, June 29] the next time he ran for re-election. Borah won handily.

For most of Coulter’s career in the House, Democrats were the minority party, yet he proved to be a very effective floor leader. When the party attained a majority in 1933, he was elected Speaker of the House. Coulter then apparently did not run for re-election, but filled the position of state Land Commissioner in 1933-1935. He would hold that office again in 1941-1947.

In 1935-1937, Coulter chaired the State Liquor Commission. Some time during this period, he moved to Boise. He served again as Chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party in 1940-1941 and 1942-1943. He ran again for that position in 1952, but was soundly defeated.

Two years later, he retired from the chairmanship of the Ada County Democratic Central Committee. He called that  “the last office I shall hold in the party.”

Coulter lived to be almost one hundred years of age, passing away in August 1974.
                                                                                
References: [Defen], [French]
“Brunt Named Chairman of Idaho Demos,” Idaho Statesman, Boise (September 3, 1952).
“Coulter Retires,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (August 24, 1954).
“Defeat of Borah in 1936 Race Predicted,” San Antonio Express, San Antonio, Texas (December 5, 1934).
Robert Coulter Collection, MS 415, Idaho State Historical Society.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Bartleson-Bidwell Emigrant Party Enter Idaho, Headed for California [otd 08/08]

John Bidwell, 1840.
Meriam Library, Chico State University.
On August 8, 1841, the group generally referred to as the Bartelson-Bidwell emigrant party entered what would one day become the state of Idaho. By most accounts, John Bidwell had been the driving force behind this first larger movement of settlers to the West.

John was born in 1819, in New York state. Later, the family moved west as far as Ohio. John himself continued further west, and 1840 found him teaching school in Missouri. Unhappy with his prospects there, Bidwell listened with great interest to stories of California told by Frenchman Antoine Robidoux.

Bidwell later wrote, “His description of California was in the superlative degree favorable, so much so that I resolved if possible to see that wonderful land.”

As a result, sixty-nine emigrants headed west in May 1941. The “captain” of the train was one John Bartleson, who had campaigned for the position and refused to go unless he got it. Bidwell apparently didn’t care, he just wanted to get on with it.

In his later account, Bidwell wrote, “Our ignorance of the route was complete. We knew that California lay west, and that was the extent of our knowledge.”

Fortunately, they learned that a party including Roman Catholic Father Pierre-Jean de Smet [blog, Jan 31] was also starting west. Their guide was experienced Mountain Man Thomas “Broken Hand” Fitzpatrick. Since larger parties were generally safer, de Smet and Fitzpatrick let the Missouri group join them.

Bidwell said the presence of the “old mountaineer” was particularly important when the train’s “easily excited” people first encountered Indians. Without Fizpatrick’s experience and knowledge, Bidwell felt, “the result would certainly have been disastrous.”
Father de Smet. Library of Congress.

The travelers followed what would become the primary route of the Oregon Trail in southeast Idaho. By the time they reached Soda Springs, only sixty-four emigrants remained: one had accidently shot and killed himself, one stopped along the way, and three turned back.

Fitzpatrick and de Smet planned to head north from Soda Springs, following a path that would take them to Fort Hall. Although the emigrants had only crude maps to go by, they were sure the Fort Hall route would not get them to California. They did know from missionary reports that the more northerly track would take them to Oregon.

Thus, half the party decided to visit the fort and take the known trail to Oregon. They were the largest emigrant party to trek across Idaho to that time. The other thirty-two pioneers, including Bidwell, held to their original goal. Fitzpatrick could offer only second- or third-hand information about how they might get to California.

The Bidwell group turned south along the Bear River, having sent four men to Fort Hall to learn what they could. Bidwell wrote, “We were now thrown entirely upon our own resources. All the country beyond was to us a veritable terra incognita.”

Despite their profound ignorance, they did win through to California, although they almost starved along the way. Bidwell later played a prominent role in California history.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W]
John Bidwell, “The First Emigrant Train to California,” Century Magazine, New York (1890).
David L. Bigler, “Bartelson-Bidwell Party” Utah History Encyclopedia, Utah History to Go.
“Site Report - Cache Valley (1822-1884),” Reference Series No. 610, Idaho State Historical Society (December 1981).

Monday, August 7, 2017

Murphy and Twin Falls Get Regular Train Service [otd 8/7]

Coincidentally, August 7 marks two different Idaho railroad milestones.

On this day in 1898, the Boise, Nampa & Owyhee Railway initiated railroad service to Murphy. Colonel William H. Dewey [blog, Aug 1] promoted the line, with construction beginning in September 1896. The venture encountered just one unusual obstacle, but it was a substantial one: They had to bridge the Snake River. Even the economical design chosen – Parker trusses – represented a major expense in the overall budget.
Guffey Bridge, ca. 1898. Directory of Owyhee County.

Right after workers completed the bridge in 1897, the town of Guffey, named for one of Dewey’s partners, sprang up a mile or so downstream from the crossing. Guffey was the railway terminal for a time, and grew to be quite a respectable little town. Shippers transferred their freight to wagons for the long climb into the mountains.

Then crews laid the tracks into Murphy. The transfer point quickly moved there once trains began arriving. At the time, developers had high hopes for the mines around Silver City, but those optimistic notions never panned out.

In fact, the original concept called for the tracks to continue into the town of Dewey, a few miles from Silver City. That would have required the construction of another 25 miles of railway, with an ascent of over 3,800 feet. Needless to say, that line was never completed. By around 1912, all the big mines in the Silver City area had shut down.  Still, shipments of livestock and other agricultural products kept the railway going until 1947.

Today, Murphy – although it is the county seat of Owyhee County – has a population of less than two thousand. Hardly a trace of Guffey remains … but the Guffey Bridge is still in place as a pedestrian crossing.

Citizens of Twin Falls hailed August 7, 1905 as “Railroad Day,” for that was when the first train on the Minidoka and Southwestern Railroad arrived in town. The Milner Dam project, promoted by Ira B. Perrine [blog, May 7] brought irrigation to the plains south of the Snake River Canyon. That, in turn, spurred the formation and growth of Twin Falls.

In late 1904, further promotion by Perrine and others initiated the construction of a branch line to run from Minidoka to Buhl. The promoters also created the town of Burley where the tracks crossed the Snake River [blog, July 19]. As the tracks neared Twin Falls, townspeople planned a gala celebration in anticipation of their arrival. Celebrants rode into town from all over the region for the big day.
Buhl Depot. Twin Falls Public Library.

In fact, a special dispatch to the Idaho Statesman (published August 8, 1905) on the big day said that, “About 350 people came in this morning on the train, and hundreds came from all portions of the surrounding region by team.”

The dispatch writer estimated that “Five thousand people are in Twin Falls tonight celebrating the advent of the Minidoka & Southwestern railroad to the metropolis of the Twin Falls region.”

The railroad’s arrival sparked an even greater surge in the growth of Twin Falls. Within a few weeks, local stockmen began shipping substantial numbers of sheep and cattle from their depot. In less than a decade, the town had a population of about eight thousand. Similar expansion occurred at the terminus of the line in Buhl, which was incorporated in 1908.
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“Boise, Nampa & Owyhee Railroad (1896-1898),” Reference Series No. 218, Idaho State Historical Society (January 1993).
Jim Gentry, In the Middle and On the Edge, College of Southern Idaho, Twin Falls, Idaho (2003).
A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, Owyhee Avalanche Press (January 1898).

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Gold Prospectors Found Elk City Deep in the Idaho Mountains [otd 8/6]

On August 6, 1861, a band of miners founded the mining town of Elk City, Idaho, about 35 miles east of the present town of Grangeville. Prospectors had first entered the area in the latter part of May. A large party left the Orofino area earlier in the month. Somewhat less than half penetrated the region, having ignored protests from a Nez Perce Indian chief because they had intruded onto reservation land.
Riffle Box for Placer Mining. Library of Congress.

They found gold near the confluence of the American and Red rivers.  Further prospecting discovered more and more “color.”  By mid-June they had slapped together a log cabin to serve as a recorder's office, in which “Captain” L. B. Monson recorded the first claim on June 14, 1861.

Some men returned to Orofino for supplies and the new rush began, somewhat dampened by worries about the Indians. However, as more and more prospectors struck pay dirt, the rush swelled. That finally led to the founding of Elk City.

By the following summer, the town had four to six stores of various kinds, five saloons, and two decent hotels. Because of its location deep in the mountains, heavy winter snow shut down work on almost every claim. By the fall of 1862, a quickly-established Express company had shipped out over $900 thousand in gold dust (over $50 million at today’s prices).

Gold discoveries in easier country in Montana drew many prospectors away from Elk City the next year. However, the Evening Bulletin in San Francisco reprinted (May 29, 1863) a letter that said, in part, “Six ditches have been dug during the last winter in the vicinity of Elk City, and are now furnishing water to the miners.” As could be expected, “The miners are doing much better than before the ditches were completed.”

Also, in 1864 and 1865, determined gold-seekers built mores ditches, and flumes, to begin large-scale hydraulic mining. Thus, the value of metal extracted from the region actually increased. A sawmill built to supply lumber for these flumes did a booming business.

Miners continued to obtain reasonable returns from claims in the region for more than a decade. Then, after 1880, many claims were leased to Chinese miners. Like most of the older mining towns, Elk City’s prosperity rose and fell with the output from the gold fields in the region.

The economy received a “bump” when prospectors discovered gold in the “Buffalo Hump,” region, about 20 miles to the southwest. By the summer of 1899, about five thousand prospectors had poured into that area. Although Grangeville became the major supply point for “the Hump,” Elk City also won a share of the stagecoach and freight traffic. However, significant work at Buffalo Hump ran its course by about 1910.
Elk City at sunset. Elk City tourism.

For a time in the twentieth century, Elk City operated as a center for logging activity. However, that faltered when the U.S. Forest Service imposed more restrictions on timber harvesting in the area.

Today, Elk City survives as a recreation and tourism center, a “gateway” to the Nez Perce National Forest. The Elk City web site offers hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, mountain biking, and ATV riding during the summer, with skiing and snowmobiling in the winter.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W], [Illust-North]
“Buffalo Hump Stage Lines,” Reference Series No. 794, Idaho State Historical Society (1985 ).
M. Alfreda Elsensohn, Eugene F. Hoy (ed.), Pioneer Days in Idaho County, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1951).

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Second Idaho Regiment Brought into Federal Service for World War I [otd 8/5]

On August 5, 1917, the War Department drafted the Second Idaho Regiment (National Guard) into the U.S. Army for duty in World War I, part of perhaps 300,000 guardsmen taken into Federal service at that time.

A year earlier, the government had directed the state to mobilize the Second Idaho to patrol the Mexican border [blog, June 18]. Under that call-up, the troops could not be sent outside the country. The troops had been demobilized when that duty was over.
Idaho Guard troops headed for training camp.
Library of Congress.

In response to a telegram from  Washington on March 25, the Governor mobilized the Second Idaho, and its companies gathered at Boise Barracks. With a declaration of war close at hand, the Secretary of War wanted Guard units called to duty: “This duty to consist for the time being of protecting traffic, [the] means of communication and the transfer of mails within the state. (Idaho Statesman, Boise, March 26, 1917).

Then, in May 1917, Congress authorized the President to begin inducting Guard units into national military service. Nationalized troops could be sent outside the country. The Idaho regiment was not up to its authorized wartime strength, so officials instituted a vigorous recruiting campaign. By the time the draft order arrived on the 5th, the unit actually exceeded the required enrollment.

The regiment consisted of three battalions. The First Battalion was from northern Idaho: Coeur d'Alene, Grangeville, Lewiston, and Sandpoint. The Second came from Boise, Buhl, Twin Falls, and Idaho Falls. The Third represented Caldwell, Nampa, Payette, and Weiser.

About seven weeks after the draft, the regiment traveled to Camp Greene, near Charlotte, North Carolina. There, commanders parceled the Idaho battalions out to various units of the Army’s 41st Division. Then, when the 41st arrived in France, the high command made it a “replacement” division, so individual units were further distributed. These breakups make it somewhat difficult to track exactly where the Idaho companies fought during the war.

Of course, not every Idahoan who saw World War I action enlisted in the Second Idaho. According to Hawley, the Second Idaho enrolled 5,060 men, while another 12 thousand Idahoans served in Regular Army units, the Navy, or the Marines.

One unit history indicates that an Idaho company provided support to the U. S. Marines in their famous Battle of Belleau Wood, in June 1918. However, the first major action for Idaho soldiers was in the Second Battle of the Marne, in late July.  There, Idaho troops suffered their first significant casualties, including the death of Lieutenant John Regan [blog, Feb 6].

In mid-September, Idahoans participated in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel. American forces caught the Germans in a staged withdrawal and turned it into a hurried retreat. Reportedly, the advance stopped mainly because the American troops outran their artillery and material support.

American soldiers attack at Meuse-Argonne. U. S. Army.
Idahoans next fought in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, in which American and French divisions captured the vital railroad hub at Sedan. The battle began in late September and ended only with the Armistice on November 11. This was by far the bloodiest battle experienced by American troops in the War.

An incomplete casualty list for the Great War, published in 1920, gives the names of 348 Idahoans who were lost to battle deaths, sickness, or accidents. Unfortunately, there may be as many as one hundred names missing from that list.
                                                                                 
References: [Hawley]
W. M. Haulsee, F. G. Howe, A. C. Doyle, Soldiers of the Great War, Vol III, Soldiers Record Publishing Association, Washington, D. C. (1920).
Mark A. Shields (ed.), The History of the 116th Engineers, Training Section, U. S. Army (1918).
Richard A. Rinaldi, The US Army in World War I – Orders of Battle, Tiger Lily Publications, Takoma Park, Maryland (2004).

Friday, August 4, 2017

Ag Secretary, Author, and Mormon Patriarch Ezra Taft Benson [otd 08/04]

LDS President and public servant Ezra Taft Benson was born August 4, 1899 in Whitney, Idaho (located 20-25 miles west of Bear Lake). He was named for his grandfather, who converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1840 and rose to be a member of its Quorum of Twelve Apostles. Growing up on the family farm, Ezra learned the “traditional” agricultural approach, which depended upon draft animals and offered little mechanization.
Sugar beet harvesting in the Mountain West, ca 1915. National Archives

Benson sandwiched a solid education in agricultural subjects around his mission to England in 1921. In 1927, he attained a Master’s degree in agricultural economics from Iowa State University.

Two years after he returned to the family farm, the University of Idaho (UI) Extension Service hired Ezra as their agent for Franklin County. In 1930, the UI promoted him to a statewide position as an agricultural adviser. He travel extensively, helping farmers market their products, with an emphasis on strategies implemented through cooperative organizations.

In 1939, he moved to Washington, D.C. to head the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. While there, he continued his advancement in the LDS: having been a stake president in Boise and then Washington, he was confirmed as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1943. From there, he was called to be President of the church’s European mission, dealing with the devastation left by World War II.

In 1952, President Dwight Eisenhower selected Ezra Taft Benson to be Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. An ardent anti-Communist and anti-Socialist, Benson disagreed with the system of Federal price supports and other farm aid; to him it smacked of what we would call a “slippery slope” to socialism.

Agriculture Secretary Benson.
Life Magazine*
He believed even more strongly, however, in adherence to one’s civic duty. Ezra performed those duties so well that he remained Secretary through all eight years of Eisenhower’s administration. He authored two books on farming while in office, and one later about his experiences in the Cabinet.

Benson also authored three books having to do with church and civic matters. In 1973, he rose to the Presidency of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Twelve years later, Ezra Taft Benson became President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In April 1986, members sustained Benson as President, Seer, and Revelator, confirming his position as ultimate patriarch of the Church.

Ezra took an active role in Scouting, starting as an Assistant Scoutmaster in 1918. Just over thirty years later, in 1949, he became a member of the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America. Over time, he received all three of the highest awards bestowed by that organization as well as the Bronze Wolf award from International Scouting, their highest, very selective honor.

In 1989, President George H. W. Bush presented Benson with the Presidential Citizens Medal. Fourteen American colleges and universities conferred honorary degrees on Ezra Taft. He passed away in May 1994.

* Photo provided online by Time for “Personal non-commercial use only.”
                                                                                 
References: Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: a Biography, Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City (1989).

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Track Star, Olympic Athlete, and Coach "Hec" Edmundson [otd 8/3]

Coach, University of Idaho track star, and Olympian Clarence “Hec” Edmundson was born August 3, 1886 in Moscow, Idaho. In 1901, Clarence enrolled in the UI prep school and soon established himself as an outstanding distance runner.
Edmundson wins! University of Idaho archives.

Hec – “Aw Heck!” being his preferred expletive – basically put UI track & field athletics on the map. At most meets, he ran the quarter mile, the half, the mile, and anchored the mile relay. In 1905, Hec led a three-man “team” to the Lewis and Clark Exposition Games, in Portland, Oregon. Amazingly, the tiny squad placed second in the event, with Hec winning two firsts.

In 1908, Edmundson won one event and placed second in another at the Olympic qualifying trials held at Stanford University. He was not, however, among the 76 athletes selected for the American team that went to the 1908 Olympic Games in London (The Oregonian, Portland, June 9, 1908). Later that year, he organized the first cross country squad for the University of Idaho.

Edmundson was selected for a spot on the team for the 1912 Olympics, held in Stockholm. Hec reached the semi-finals of the 400-meter race, and the finals of the 800-meter. Edmundson was the first Idaho native to compete in the Olympic Games.

After his Olympic experiences, Hec turned to coaching, starting as track coach at the University of Idaho in 1913. After awhile, he also coached the basketball team. Edmondson’s hoopsters specialized in ferocious defense, which led some sports writers to gush that they “vandalized” their opponents. According to tradition, a writer for the student newspaper dubbed the powerful 1917 squad the “vandals” in a season-opening article. Four years later, “Vandals” became the official name for University of Idaho athletic teams.

Coach Edmundson. Seattle Times photo.
In 1919, Hec joined the University of Washington staff, where he started as head trainer as well as the track & field coach. The school’s athletes showed his impact almost immediately. One of his trainees, Augustus “Gus” Pope, won a Bronze Medal for the discus throw in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. (The following year Pope won both the discus and the shot put in the NCAA championships.) In all, seven of his athletes competed in the Olympic Games, and three of them won medals.

Besides a half dozen other individual NCAA track & field champions, Hec coached world record holders in several events. His teams won three Pacific Coast Conference (PCC) titles, twice finished second in the NCAA championships, and three other times finished in the top five.

Two years after he started at UW, Edmundson began coaching basketball there. Washington Husky tradition credits Hec with the invention of “fast break” basketball. Other claims for that honor exist. Most likely, many coaches of that era got frustrated with slow, set-piece basketball, and several … including Hec … invented ways to pick up the pace.

Hec’s squads won the PCC Northern Division ten times, and the conference title three times. He coached more wins (488) and compiled the highest career winning percentage (71.5) of any UW basketball coach. Edmundson passed away in August 1964.

Hec belongs to both the Husky and the Vandal Halls of Fame. The indoor sports venue at the University of Washington is called the “Hec Edmundson Pavilion” – generally referred to as the “Hec Ed” – in his honor.
                                                       
References: Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
Jim Dave, W. Thomas Porter, “Hec Edmundson,” The Glory of Washington: The People and Events that Shaped the Husky Athletic Tradition, Sports Publishing, Inc. (2001).
Rafe Gibbs, Beacon for Mountain and Plain: Story of the University of Idaho, The Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (© The Regents of the University of Idaho, 1962).
“Hall of Famers Arrive on Campus: Clarence ‘Hec’ Edmundson,” University of Idaho news release, Moscow (Sept 6, 2007).