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).

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