Monday, September 25, 2017

Attorney General Roy Black, "Lady Bluebeard" Prosecutor [otd 9/25]

Attorney Roy Black.
J. H. Hawley photo
Idaho Attorney General Roy L. Black was born September 25, 1878 in Lagrange County, Indiana, about forty miles east of South Bend. He became a teacher at an early age and continued for a number of years in the county schools near his parent’s home. After some advanced study at Valparaiso University and an institute in Michigan, he entered the University of Michigan Law School.

Roy drove a stagecoach in Yellowstone National Park during one summer while he was at the University. He graduated with an LL.B. in 1907, having served as Associate Editor of the Michigan Law Review during his junior year. Soon after graduation, Black formed a partnership with Nicodemus D. Wernette, a Law School classmate, and they moved to Coeur d'Alene.

Earlier that year, Kootenai County had been drastically reduced in size by the creation of Bonner County. Coeur d'Alene became the county seat of this smaller Kootenai County in 1908.

The firm of Black & Wernette operated successfully for over a decade, even as the partners also found positions in public service. In 1909, Black was elected to a two-year term as City Attorney for Coeur d'Alene. The following year, Wernette was elected Prosecuting Attorney for Kootenai County, and Black was elected to a term in the Idaho House of Representatives. There, leaders made him chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

During his term, Roy sponsored an act known as the “Black Law,” which allowed cities of over 2,500 population to adopt a commission form of government. The Black Law generated a great deal of controversy, especially when advocates applied it to Boise, which operated under a special Charter. Still, in a close election (52-48%), voters did overturn the Charter.

In 1918, the Republican Party nominated Black as their candidate for Attorney General and he won easily. He was also elected for a second term.

The most famous case of Black's period as Attorney General involved the trial of serial killer Lyda Southard, variously known as “Idaho’s Lady Bluebeard,” “Flypaper Lyda,” Lyda Trueblood (her birth name), or any of her numerous married names.
Lyda [Southard etc]. Associated Press.

Lyda’s family had moved to Twin Falls in 1906. There, in 1912, she married Robert Dooley, who died three years later. Forensic evidence eventually showed, with varying degrees of certainty, that he, his brother, a daughter, and three husbands that followed, all died from arsenic poisoning – apparently extracted from many, many sheets of flypaper.

Paul Southard, her husband at the time of the trial, escaped that fate, as did two later spouses. Showing arsenic as the means, life insurance payoffs as the motive, and (sometimes) apple pie as the opportunity, Roy and the team of prosecutors convicted Lyda for the murder of her fourth husband.

In 1923, after his final term as Attorney General, Black moved to Pocatello. There, he became heavily involved in legal issues associated with reclamation and irrigation enterprises. He played a role in the American Falls Dam Project. Besides his thriving law practice, he also served as Chairman of the Pocatello school board in 1929, and was an active member of the Chamber of Commerce.

Roy passed away in August 1970. In honor of his long association with the Pocatello Elks Lodge, the Exalted Ruler conducted his funeral.
References: [Blue], [French], [Hawley]
William C. Anderson, Lady Bluebeard: The True Story of Love and Marriage, Death and Flypaper, Fred Pruett Books (1994).
“Roy L. Black – Longtime Pocatello Attorney Dies,” Idaho State Journal, Pocatello, Idaho (August 16, 1970).
“‘Flypaper Lyda’ and Her Special Apple Pie,” Newsletter, Idaho Legal Historical Society, Boise Idaho (January 2010).

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Cattleman Con Shea Drives Texas Longhorns to Owyhee Ranches [otd 9/24]

On September 24, 1870, the Owyhee Avalanche (Silver City, Idaho) published the following item: “From Texas – Con Shea, one of Owyhee's most adventurous and enterprising citizens, just got back from Texas. He and Tom Bugbee left here in March last, since that time they have purchased in Texas, and driven to within one hundred miles of Denver City, some 1300 head of cattle. Bugbee remains with the stock, which will winter on the waters of the Arkansas river. Grass is very short along the route, which accounts for their not coming on this season.”
Longhorns on the move.
International Texas Longhorn Association.

Originally from Canada, Cornelius “Con” Shea arrived in Idaho in the spring of 1864. He worked as a miner and then teamster for awhile, but by 1867 had established himself as a cattleman. The following year, a well-off rancher bankrolled him to go to Texas and bring back a herd of longhorns. (Texas had a “glut” of cattle, and prices were low.)

Con started east, but at Raft River ran into a drive already on its way from Texas. The owners agreed to sell him the herd. Con drove the cattle to range along Sinker and Catherine creeks (southeast of today’s Murphy). These are believed to be the first Texas cattle brought into the “Owyhee Country” of southwest Idaho and southeast Oregon.

The following year, Con and some other cattlemen bought longhorns along the Brazos River in Texas and drove them to Idaho. As noted by the lead newspaper item above, Con repeated the process in 1870. Many of these cattle went, as needed, from the range to meat markets in the Owyhee mining camps. But ranchers like Shea also began to build up their breeding stock.

In 1874, Con moved his herds to grazing land that straddled the Oregon border, about 15 miles northwest of Silver City. He and a brother also ran a meat market in a mining camp that flourished near Silver City from 1871 to about 1876. Con and two of his brothers took part in the Battle of South Mountain during the Bannock War of 1878 [blog, June 8]. For the next twenty years, Shea played a major role in the Owyhee Country cattle business. He left his name on Idaho’s Con Shea Basin and on Sheaville, Oregon.
Con Shea, ca 1898.
Savings Bank of Santa Rosa.

Around 1883, Shea purchased a winter home in Santa Rosa, California. After that, he “commuted” to Idaho and Oregon to oversee his ranch and business properties. Local newspapers usually referred to his town visits with the lead: “Con Shea of Cow Creek ...” (Cow Creek rises about ten miles northwest of Silver City.)

After the Oregon Short Line laid tracks across Idaho, Shea began selling cattle to the Eastern markets. Thus, the Owyhee Avalanche in Silver City, Idaho, reported (July 4, 1885) that Shea had sold a consignment to a company in Chicago. The item said he was about to “turn over 1500 or 2000 head to the agent of the firm at Caldwell.”

Around 1897, Shea disposed of his Idaho and Oregon ranch holdings and moved permanently to Santa Rosa. There, he had invested in land and other real estate, and served as Director of the Savings Bank of Santa Rosa. After the 1906 Bay Area earthquake, a Santa Rosa newspaper lauded the fact that Shea intended to rebuild his commercial properties using reinforced concrete.

Con passed away in May 1926.
References: [Illust-State]
Mildretta Adams, Owyhee Cattlemen, 1878 – 1978, Owyhee Publishing Co., Homedale, Idaho (1979).
Adelaide Hawes, Valley of Tall Grass, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1950).
A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, Owyhee Avalanche Press (January 1898).
“Savings Bank of Santa Rosa,” Sonoma County Homes and Industries, Reynolds & Proctor Publishing, Santa Rosa, California (1898).
“Solid Block of Concrete: Santa Rosa Will Have Substantial Structure,” Santa Rosa Republican (July 16, 1906).  

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Lewis & Clark Return to St. Louis, First Train Arrives in Moscow [otd 9/23]

On September 23, 1806, Sergeant John Ordway wrote in his journal, “About 12 oClock we arived in site of St. Louis. Fired three rounds as we approached the Town and landed oppocit the center of the Town, the people gathred on the shore and Huzzared three cheers.”

Portraits of William Clark and Meriwether Lewis.
Independence National Historical Park, National Park Service.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition had been gone from St. Louis just about 28 months. Their exploration of the Louisiana Purchase territory, and beyond, was a monumental achievement, which need no further elaboration here. Still, there are two points worth mentioning, one striking an ironic note.

Just over a month earlier, the captains granted Private John Colter an early discharge from the Army so he could accompany two American hunters who were heading into the Rockies. Before he left the mountains for good in 1810, Colter trapped and explored southern Montana, northern Wyoming, and eastern Idaho. He was the first white man to traverse what later became known first as Pierre’s Hole, and is today the Teton Valley of Idaho [blog, Aug 17].

The irony lay in the presence of the two hunters, Joseph Dickson and Forest Hancock from Illinois: The government venture wouldn’t report officially for another six weeks or so, yet already daring and ambitious Americans were moving to explore the wild new territory. My favorite account of the Expedition is Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (Simon & Shuster, New York, 1996).

Another OTD item appears in Hawley’s History: “In 1883 right of way was obtained for a branch between Moscow, Idaho, and Winona, Washington. Wednesday, September 23, 1885, was a red-letter day in Moscow's calendar, as on that day the first train arrived in that city. Salutes were fired, speeches made, and the celebration closed with a grand ball in the evening, at which several of the officials of the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company were present.”

Scattered settlers entered Paradise Valley around 1871. The area grew very slowly at first, but by a concerted effort, locals obtained a post office in 1872. By 1877, the post office had a new name -- Moscow -- and a new location a mile or so away. However, the town was just another small, isolated farm and ranch town until the railroad arrived.

Anticipating the arrival, the Portland Oregonian said (September 23, 1885), “Before dark tonight the track of the Oregon Railway & Navigation extension will have reached Moscow, Idaho.” The item noted that workers had completed the construction a week sooner then expected. It went on, “To-morrow the company will begin bringing wheat out of Moscow, and freight destined for that point will be received as soon as facilities can be provided for handling it, which will be about the last of this week.”

President Gault.
UI Archives.
As expected, the local economy surged. In describing the period before the national “Panic of '93,” the Illustrated History declared, “Moscow reached the high water mark of prosperity. Everybody made money and everyone had money, and the volume of business transacted here was enormous.”

In 1889, the legislature selected Moscow as the site for the land-grant University of Idaho, and facility construction began in 1891 [blog, Oct 3]. The school soon hired President Franklin B. Gault to replace an unpaid head.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-North]
Rafe Gibbs, Beacon for Mountain and Plain: Story of the University of Idaho, The Caxton Printers (© The Regents of the University of Idaho, 1962).
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).

Friday, September 22, 2017

Opening Day for the Academy of Idaho (Now Idaho State University) Classes [otd 9/22]

On Monday September 22, 1902, the Academy of Idaho – precursor to today’s Idaho State University – celebrated its first opening exercise. Ironically, the people of Pocatello wanted the Academy so badly, it almost didn’t get off the ground.
Pocatello, ca 1895. Bannock County Historical Society.

Pocatello was incorporated in 1889. As a major railroad junction, it grew explosively, topping 4,000 citizens by the 1900 census. After hard lobbying by locals, the governor signed a bill, in March 1901, that authorized the creation of the Academy [blog, Mar 11]. The institution would provide college prep and “industrial” (vo-tech) courses. However, the Act allocated no money to buy land for the school; that was up to the people of Pocatello. The bill set a deadline of May 1st for a site decision.

The subsequent dispute almost killed the Academy before it started. The city split mainly over whether the school should be east or west of the railroad tracks and yards. However, even within those factions, splinter groups formed to push specific sites. The wrangling continued for over six weeks. By April 30, the day before the legal deadline, they had reached an impasse. The Pocatello Tribune reported, “The Board then took a recess and a lot of people went out on the streets and swore.”

Finally, “under the gun,” they settled on what is now the lower part of the ISU campus. Forty students showed up for those first classes in 1902. By the end of the decade, school enrollment would reach nearly 300. In 1906, the Academy’s first Principal, John W. Faris, wrote, “The Academy has demonstrated beyond the question of a doubt that it fills a most important place in the educational system of Idaho.”
Academy, ca. 1914. H. T. French.

School administrators moved aggressively, adding three city blocks to the campus in 1910 and expanding the school’s offerings: night classes for adult education, winter short courses, and summer sessions. Even that early, they had aspirations to attain full four-year status. The only immediate result of their lobbying was a name change – to “Idaho Technical Institute” (ITI) – in 1915.

Recovering from a severe downturn during World War I, the school’s enrollment topped a thousand by 1920. Locals continued to push for four-year status. Finally fed up, the 1927 legislature took drastic action: They made ITI a subordinate division of the University. For the next twenty years, the Pocatello school would be the “Southern Branch of the University of Idaho.”

World War II crushed enrollment again, but afterwards about a thousand veterans attending under the G.I. Bill increased the student body to over 1,800 students. Thus, in 1947, the school became Idaho State College, an independent, four-year institution. Curriculum expansion became a major priority, and the school attained University status in 1963.

Since then the school has grown steadily. That included the addition of a major “College of Health-Related Professions” and a nearby Research and Business Park. The Park began with a large Technology Center that provided space for business start-ups and science-related spin-offs. It now contains a half-dozen substantial facilities, private and public.
References: [Hawley]
Merrill D. Beal, History of Idaho State College, Idaho State College (1952).
Diane Olson, Idaho State University: A Centennial Chronicle, Idaho State University (2000).

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"Judge" William Clagett: Mining Investor, Lawyer, and "Silver Tongued" Orator [otd 9/21]

Judge William Horace Clagett was born September 21, 1838 in Prince Georges County, Maryland, which wraps around the east side of Washington, D. C. In 1850, the family moved to Iowa. After high school, William studied at the Albany Law School in New York.

Mark Twain, 1867.
Library of Congress.
In 1861, Clagett moved to Nevada and began a life-long passion for prospecting and mining investments. On one “stampede” to Humboldt County, he was in a party with the later celebrated Samuel Clements (Mark Twain). When Twain’s book Roughing It was published in 1872, it contained the passage, “Young Clagett (now member of Congress from Montana) unharnessed and fed and watered the horses … ”

William also went into Nevada politics, serving in the Territorial and then State House of Representatives. There, he became known as an outstanding speaker, soon earning praise as “the silver tongued orator of the west.”

He then practiced law, served in political offices, and invested in mining properties in Montana and Dakota Territories, as well as around Denver. In 1871-1873, he served Montana Territory as Delegate to Congress. (Delegates have no vote on the floor, but can serve on committees and vote on issues at that level.) While there, he introduced the bill that would eventually result in the creation of Yellowstone National Park.

In 1873-1874, he held an appointment as a U. S. Special Counsel to investigate possible fraud in the Office of Indian Affairs for Montana. However, he failed to accomplish much in that position. Newspaper reports of the day suggest that backroom politics thwarted his most diligent efforts.

Clagett practiced law in several mountain west towns, including Denver and Deadwood, Dakota Territory, before gold and silver discoveries in the Coeur d’Alene region brought him to Idaho in 1883. According to the Illustrated History of North Idaho, “Mr. Clagett’s cabin was the first one put up in Murray.” [Blog, Murray, March 5.]

When residents of Idaho Territory convened their Constitutional Convention in 1889, delegates selected Clagett as Convention President. After that, newspaper reports from the convention began referring to “Judge” Clagett, an honorary title he carried for the rest of his life. (There is no record that he served any regular judgeship.)

After Idaho achieved statehood, Clagett became involved in a nasty political dispute with regard to the new state’s first Senatorial seats. Voting together (technically a violation of the legally mandated procedure) the state House and Senate elected Fred T. Dubois to a full six-year term in the U.S. Senate.

Judge Clagett. Library of Congress.
Opponents challenged this process on that and other technical grounds, and a subsequent election designated Clagett to fill the seat. Clagett supported his case in a speech before the entire U. S. Senate. Observers rated his oration as being remarkably eloquent and effective, and the hopeful Senator-elect emerged very confident of success. However, Senators found the technicalities insufficient to unseat Dubois.

Clagett ran again when the other Senatorial seat came up for a vote, but lost. The Illustrated History said, “Friends and foes alike unite in believing he was too uncompromising to succeed in politics.”

After his election disappointments, Clagett moved to Spokane to enjoy its more civilized amenities. (Such a move was common practice for well-off pioneers from the Coeur d’Alene mining districts.) He died there in August 1901.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-North]
“Clagett is Very Hopeful,” The New York Times (May 23, 1891).
“William H. Clagett,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
“Old Friends of the Late Judge Clagett Speak … ,” The Standard, Anaconda, Montana (August 11, 1901).

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Businessman, Public Servant, and Local Sports Legend Wes Deist [otd 9/20]

Wes Deist, 1960. Family photo.
Sportsman and business leader Wesley W. “Wes” Deist was born September 20, 1923, in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. A committed Roman Catholic, after high school Deist entered Gonzaga University. There, he became “a standout back” on their freshman football team. However, the University dropped football after the 1941 season, so Wes transferred to the University of Idaho.

Deist lettered in football for the 1942-1943 season, but at some point he enlisted for World War II. Wes served as a member of the Navy’s Amphibious Raider* force. For that duty, he received special training at Northwestern University and at Notre Dame University.

At Notre Dame, he was identified as a “Marine V-12, of Bonners Ferry, Idaho” … “V-12” being an officer training program for the U. S. Navy and Marines. Asked by the student newspaper to predict when the war would end, Deist said, “Fall of 1944. I don’t believe the countries that we are fighting can keep up their production of war materials to satisfy their needs … ”

Despite his training schedule, Deist found time to get married in Florida, in November 1944. His unit then served in China and India.†

After the War, Wes completed his education and settled down. He moved his family to Idaho Falls in the early Fifties and began teaching people to ski. He taught and coached at Kelly Canyon Ski Resort (22-24 miles northeast of Idaho Falls) from its founding in 1957 until about 2006, when he was over 80 years old.

Wes owned a downtown sporting goods store for a number of years and then “managed eastern Idaho’s largest sports store at the time” on Shoup Avenue. Later he opened an insurance agency, which was still in operation at the time of his death. Through all that, he found time for golf, bird hunting, and other sports activities.

Besides his business duties and various avocations, Wes served three terms on the Idaho Falls City Council. He was instrumental in establishing the city’s Greenbelt along the Snake River, and the spacious Community Park in the southern part of town.

While he was on the Council, Wes was the designated watchdog over an expansion of the Idaho Falls Municipal Airport. He also sparked local interest in an indoor swimming facility, which eventually came into being as the Idaho Falls Aquatic Center – later renamed the Wes Deist Aquatic Center.

Deist passed away in January, 2008.

* Stories about Wes often say he was a Navy SEAL – SEa, Air and Land force. However, those units were not created until much later. Still, Navy SEALs trace their lineage back to a number of Special Operations units formed during the War, including the Amphibious Raiders. Training for amphibious Special Ops members was extraordinarily demanding, and they performed incredibly dangerous missions on hostile beaches.

UDT quartet, WW-II – masks, fins, and guts. U.S. Navy photo.
Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) – “Frogmen” – are perhaps the most famous of these early amphibious Special Ops units. However, Hollywood notwithstanding, scenes showing divers using SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) during WW-II are not accurate – the Navy had no such equipment at that time.

† Known operations of the China-India Raiders involved a survey of the Yangtze River during the spring of 1945. They then reconnoitered the enemy-occupied Chinese coast from Shanghai to near Hong Kong.
References: J. Robb Brady, “Deist’s Half-Century of Service” The Post Register, Idaho Falls (January 2008).
“Introduction to Naval Special Warfare,” U. S. Navy SEALS, Official Web Site.
“Student Opinion … ,” The Notre Dame Scholastic, Vol. 80, No. 3, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana (December 3, 1943)..
“Vandals Get Gonzaga Star,” Deseret News, Salt Lake City, Utah (September 24, 1942).
“Wesley Walter Deist - Obituary,” The Post Register, Idaho Falls (January 2008).

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Gold Prospector Julius Merrill Reaches Boise City by Wagon Train [otd 9/19]

Julius Merrill. Merrill family archives.
On September 19, 1864, gold-seeker Julius Merrill wrote in his journal, “We hitched up and turned our faces toward Boise City.” They camped about four miles downriver from the city.

Born in Maine, Julius Caesar Merrill turned 24 early on the trip west. He traveled with a rather ad hoc band of gold-seekers: “At Oak Creek I was joined by Charles Carey, Henry and Stephen J. Durbin. We were to furnish and fit out a team in company. Two of them I had seen but once and was little acquainted with the other. They were bound for Idaho and that was deemed sufficient."

Oak Creek is a town about 10 miles south of Milwaukee. From there they boarded a railroad train to St. Joseph, Missouri. That evening their cars tumbled off the poorly-built track. Fortunately, “No one was hurt. We lay there until daylight, which gave us a good opportunity to sleep, which we needed.”

They purchased an outfit in “St. Jo” and left on May 23rd. The wagon train crossed the (future) Idaho border on August 17, just eleven days after the Elizabeth (Lee) Porter party [blog, Sept 3].

Throughout the trip, Merrill’s comments included more specific details than Porter’s. Toward the west end of Camas Prairie (near today’s Fairfield), Porter wrote, “Came about ten miles, another spring run. Looks like rain. Hope it will. Came about eight miles. Lots of people stopping here putting up hay. Gold and silver mines handy. Rolling.”

Merrill said, “The road is splendid but dusty and quite windy. We pass several dry creeks with the willows yet green but could find no water. Splendid feed at noon but no water. At night we camped beside a creek, and I succeeded in shooting two sage hens.
“Here we found some men from California, with sheep which they were fattening and selling occasionally to some emigrants who were so fortunate as to have money enough to purchase. The real market was South Boise, thirty miles distant. There were said to be some hot springs nearby, but I did not have time to visit them.”

“South Boise,” soon to be renamed Rocky Bar, was the latest Boise Basin boom town.
Blacksmith Working on a Horseshoe.
Library of Congress.

The Merrill party broke up within a few days after the 19th. Charles Carey, a master blacksmith, stayed in the city, having learned that his trade was in great demand. In less than three years, he had returned to the Midwest to buy land.

The two Durbin brothers found employment in Idaho City, at first working for wages on a ditch project. The younger man, Stephen, made enough to buy land and settle in Idaho.

Merrill stayed in Boise City long enough to advantageously sell their wagon and stock, then followed the Durbins to Idaho City. His journal gives no details about their work in the mines, but Julius was in Iowa with a stake in gold by mid-1867.

There, he bought some excellent farm land, and settled down to marry and raise a family. Julius lived there until his death in February 1912.
References: Julius Merrill, Irving R. Merrill (ed.), Bound for Idaho: The 1864 Trail Journal of Julius Merrill, University of Idaho Press, Moscow (1989).
Elizabeth Lee Porter, “Iowa to Oregon, 1864,” Covered Wagon Women, Vol. 5, Kenneth L. Homes, David C. Duniway (eds.), University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1997).
John D. Unruh, Jr, The Plains Across, University of Illinois Press, Urbana (1979).

Monday, September 18, 2017

William J. McConnell: Vigilante, U.S. Marshal, Merchant, and Governor [otd 9/18]

W. J. McConnell. McConnell,
Early History of Idaho.
On September 18, 1839, William J. McConnell, third governor of the state of Idaho, was born in Commerce, Michigan, about twenty-five miles northwest of Detroit. He moved to California in 1860 and engaged in mining and other work for a couple years. He spent the following year in Oregon, where he taught school and perhaps worked in a store.

McConnell followed the major gold rush into Idaho’s Boise Basin in 1863. Schooled by his experience in California, the young man recognized the opportunity offered by the excellent bottomland along the Payette River. Thus, he did not stay with the scramble of hopeful prospectors. Instead, McConnell and a few other settlers began raising vegetables, which they sold – at fabulous prices – to those same miners.

All was not profits and prosperity, however. The wild new Territory lacked any vestige of effective law enforcement. Shootings, knifings, and robberies were commonplace, and men with gold routinely disappeared on the tracks that linked the various camps.

Finally, when thieves made off with 8-10 horses and mules belonging to McConnell and his neighbors, he and two friends went after the robbers themselves. They returned with the animals a couple weeks later. No one inquired about the fate of the crooks.

William and the Payette Valley settlers then organized a regional Vigilance Committee, modeled on those established in California the decade before. When McConnell later prepared his History of Idaho, he made no apologies for their actions. He simply observed that they had no choice because “no effort was being made by those whose duties it was to enforce the law.”

Reports from the time indicate that the vigilantes did succeed in reining in the criminals, and the Committee disbanded. Popular opinion of their efforts was very positive: McConnell was appointed a Deputy U. S. Marshal, his term starting in 1865. After two years in that duty, he left the state for Oregon and California.

McConnell returned to Idaho in 1878, after the extensive farm lands of Latah County opened up . He established a general store there and became a major factor in the area’s growth.
McConnell General Store, Moscow.
Latah County Historical Society.

When leaders convened a Constitutional Convention to enhance the appeal for statehood, McConnell represented the county in that body. After statehood, he became one of Idaho’s first two U.S. Senators. He served the abbreviated term needed to get the new state into the normal election cycle.

He did not stand for a full senatorial term, but ran instead for Governor … was elected, and then re-elected. McConnell served at a critical time in Idaho history. Much of the new state’s administrative structure was in a state of flux, and the “Panic of '93” – a worldwide depression – blighted the economy. Still, his administration made several vital contributions, perhaps the most important being the vote for women’s suffrage in 1896 [blog, Nov 3].

McConnell remained in public service for the rest of his life, serving the U.S. government in various appointive positions. For part of that time, he was a Regent of the University of Idaho. He passed away in March 1925.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
W. J. McConnell, Early History of Idaho, The Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1913).
Robert C. Sims, Hope A. Benedict (eds.), Idaho’s governors: Historical Essays on Their Administrations, Boise State University (1992).

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Walgamott Slays Liquored-Up Gunman at Rock Creek Store [otd 9/17]

On September 17, 1877, traveling bank examiner Nathaniel Langford recorded an incident that highlighted the rather casual violence of those frontier days. Oddly enough, the surviving participant in the action chose not to connect himself with the event in the reminiscences he published later in life.
N. P. Langford, ca 1870.
Minnesota Historical Society.

Charles Walgamott came west from Iowa in August 1875, when he was seventeen years old. He joined his sister and brother-in-law Charles Trotter at Rock Creek, Idaho – about 12 miles southeast of today’s Twin Falls. Trotter ran the stage station there.

Charlie stayed in the West because, he said, “I love the mountains, the mountain streams, the western atmosphere, and the hospitable people with their western ways, the smoky odor of Indian-tanned buckskin, so prevalent around the camp fires, mingled with the sage-sweetened air, and the ever-present element of risk even to the preservation of life; and even the frequent solitude has its fascination.”

Early in the winter before Walgamott arrived in Idaho, Trotter had a run-in with a horse thief named William Dowdell (sometimes spelled "Dowdle"). According to a later report in the Idaho Statesman (September 20, 1877), Dowdell had served a one-year prison term for stealing a U. S. Government horse.

Just out of prison for that offense, Dowdell rode into the Rock Creek area on another stolen horse. Trotter recognized the animal and had Dowdell detained. Convicted and sent back to prison, Dowdell vowed revenge.

He appeared at Rock Creek station on September 17, not long after he got out. Trotter was down with typhoid fever and hadn’t come in that morning. After some quick drinks at the bar, Dowdell wandered outside and began taking pot-shots at passers-by and other targets. He reportedly wounded the local blacksmith so badly people thought the man would die. [Vintage photo of Rock Creek Station.]*

At that time, Walgamott held a clerk’s position at the Rock Creek store. Charlie doesn’t say what he was doing when the shooting started, but he finally went to the front door to see what was going on. When a shot through the door casing just missed him, Walgamott grabbed a pistol kept near the counter and shot Dowdell dead. (Charlie would have been about nineteen at the time.)

Langford rode the stage into Rock Creek that same afternoon. In his diary, he described the drunken “funeral procession” the locals had arranged: “Frequent potations had exhilarated the entire company to such a degree that no attempt was made to preserve regularity of motion or direction.”
They did eventually bury the body. An inquest declared Charlie fully justified in the shooting. In fact, according to Langford, “The entire settlement manifested their approval of Wohlgamuth’s [sic] timely shot.”

Walgamott lived in the Mountain West well into the Twentieth Century and published his Reminiscences of Early Days in 1926. In that, and the very similar Six Decades Back, he described many wild events, including the death of Dowdell. However, for his own reasons, Charles identified the retaliatory shooter as simply “a young man who was in charge at the store.”

* The Idaho State Historical Society holds the copyright on this photo and charges a usage fee. (As a member, I know the organization needs the money, but since my blog generates no income, I am not in a position to pay.)
References: Jim Gentry, In the Middle and On the Edge, College of Southern Idaho (2003).
N. P. Langford, Vigilante Days and Ways, Montana State University (1957).
Charles S. Walgamott, Six Decades Back, The Caxton Press, Caldwell, Idaho, 1936. Re-released in 1990.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Governor, U. S. Senator, and Wool-grower Frank Gooding [otd 9/16]

Idaho Senator and Governor Frank R. Gooding was born September 16, 1859 in England. He was 8 years old when his parents emigrated to the U. S. and settled in Michigan. In 1877 Frank moved to California and then, within a year or two, to Ogden, Utah. There, he worked at the Union Pacific depot before moving to Ketchum, Idaho, in 1881. Frank set up a thriving business to supply firewood and charcoal for the nearby smelter.
Philadelphia smelter, near Ketchum.
Ketchum-Sun Valley Historical Society.
Extension of an Oregon Short Line branch railroad into Ketchum in 1884 fueled a mining boom. However, that faded within four years due to low silver prices. Frank then established a sheep ranch on the plains west of Shoshone. Although his flock suffered some damage in the severe winter of 1889-90, he quickly recovered and would soon be “regarded as the most successful sheep-raiser in the state.”

Years of careful study made Gooding an expert on the subject of sheep and sheep raising such that, as the Illustrated History put it, “His opinions on anything connected with the subject are received as authority.” When a group of sheepmen formed the Idaho Wool Growers’ Association in 1893, Frank became its first President. He would hold that office two more times.

In 1899, voters elected Gooding to the state Senate, where he was selected as President pro temp. He followed that with a successful campaign for Governor, serving from 1905 to 1909. During his terms, he did well with many “motherhood and apple pie” issues: rehabilitation of juvenile criminals, better veteran’s benefits, schools for the handicapped and mental patients, improved general education, and so on.

His stands on timber, land, and irrigation projects were less well-received, at least in part because of conflict of interest concerns. (This in an era when such standards were far looser than they are today.) Still, those issues did not prevent his election to a second term. Another Republican, James H. Brady [blog, June 12], succeeded him.

U. S. Senator Gooding.
Library of Congress.
The incumbent U.S. Senator, Weldon B. Heyburn, yet another Republican, was up for re-election when Gooding left office. Heyburn’s dogged advocacy for Idaho’s economic mainstays – mining and agriculture – assured his popularity, so Gooding made no attempt to move on to that position.

When Heyburn died in October 1912, the legislature elected the still-popular James Brady to fill the rest of the term. Then, in 1914, the 17th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution required direct, popular election of Senators: Brady won that election also.

When Brady too died in office, in January 1918, Gooding ran for the remainder of the term, but lost. When he ran again in 1920 for the full term, he won. Frank fought steadily for high tariffs to protect American products – and not just wool, but across the board. Re-elected in 1926, he died in office in June 1928.

Frank and his brother Fred (another successful sheep rancher) gave their name to the town and county of Gooding.
References: [Blue], [B&W], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“Frank Robert Gooding,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
Robert C. Sims, Hope A. Benedict (eds.), Idaho’s Governors: Historical Essays on Their Administrations, Boise State University (1992).

Friday, September 15, 2017

Senator and Partners Found D. L. Evans Bank in Albion, Cassia County [otd 9/15]

On Thursday September 15, 1904, State Senator David Lloyd Evans convened a group of leading businessmen in Albion, Idaho. Cassia County needed a bank, and they proposed to start one in what was then the county seat.
D.L. Evans bank clerk, Albion, early 1900s.
D. L. Evans Bank.

When their intention was originally announced, the Albion Times, quoted in the Idaho Register, Idaho Falls (August 12, 1904) said, “This is an institution that is badly needed in Cassia county and no doubt it will do a good business.”

The bank, called the D.L. Evans Bank after the Senator, began in a one-story wood frame building but expanded into a two-story stone structure just three years later.

By the time “D.L.” helped found his namesake bank, he already had a fine record of accomplishment. In 1871, his widowed mother sold the family farm near Brigham City, Utah, where David was born. Her brood of sons and stepsons needed more room for their own places. The family therefore moved to a homestead near Malad City, Idaho. David was sixteen years old.

After study at the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah), D.L. taught school for a number of years. He also helped with the family farm, and continued to do so even as he pursued other interests.

In 1882, he served a term in the Idaho Territorial Legislature, representing Oneida County. Evans probably found that experience stressful because the governor raised the issue of “suppressing polygamy,” a direct threat to D.L.’s Mormon beliefs.

Two years later, D.L. and his brother Lorenzo bought a co-operative store in Malad that became the “Evans Co-op.” The Co-op’s building is now on the National Register of Historic Places.  Eight years later, a group of “prominent businessmen” founded the J. N. Ireland Bank [blog, May 15]. While the other founders besides Ireland are not named in available records, it seems likely that David, and probably his brother, were among them. (Some years later, D.L. would be president of that bank.)

D.L. Evans, ca 1928.
Evans family archives.
In 1899, voters again elected David to the legislature, this time for the state of Idaho. House members then selected him to be Speaker. Four years later, he was elected to the state Senate in a very close election. It was towards the end of his term when he led the establishment of the bank in Albion. He would serve in the Senate again, five years before his death in July 1929.

The Albion bank remained in the same facility for sixty years, finally moving to a new building in 1970. Nine years later, the company opened a branch bank in Burley.

The company’s headquarters are now also in Burley, and they have over two dozen branches and lending offices. These include locations in Pocatello, Twin Falls, Ketchum, Boise, Nampa, and more.

Today, the Evans descendants continue the tradition of family banking: The bank company’s President and Chief Executive Officer are, respectively, grandson and great-grandson of David Lloyd Evans. Moreover, family members – including David L. Evans, IV – hold a substantial number of positions on the current Board of Directors.
References: [Blue], [Hawley]
Lisa Davis Jensen, “History of Winnefred (Gwen) Lloyd Roberts Evans, Daniel L. Roberts, David Rees Evans,” Welsh Mormon History, Dr. Ronald Dennis (ed.).
Our History, D. L. Evans Bank, Burley, Idaho.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Ketchum Freighter, Rancher, and Businessman Horace Lewis [otd 9/14]

H. C. Lewis. J. H. Hawley photo.
Freighter, mine owner, and businessman Horace Caleb Lewis was born September 14, 1858 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After graduating from the University of Minnesota he moved to Helena, Montana to work in a hardware store.

A year later, in 1880, his father moved to Ketchum, Idaho to open a store. Horace soon followed, and he and a partner opened a lumber business near the town.

As the Wood River mines boomed, Lewis dealt in mining supplies as well as lumber for a time before operating a small freight outfit. Then, in 1884, the Oregon Short Line railroad extended its tracks into Ketchum, and Horace sensed a major opportunity. He founded the Ketchum Fast Freight Line, which made regular runs to mining camps in Bayhorse, Bonanza, Challis, Clayton, and Custer.

His Line also ran scheduled stagecoaches, but the “crown jewels” of his haulers were the huge freight wagons assembled by his own construction crews. These giant vehicles with enormous wheels (the rear pair stood seven feet tall) carried all kinds of goods – massive machinery, petticoats, whiskey, and more – into the mountains and brought out ore and bullion.

This was quite a feat, considering the state of the “roads.” Some parts of these tracks were little more than two ruts among the rocks and sagebrush, many stretches were barely wide enough for the wagons, and they encountered several acute grades. With five or six big wagons hitched together behind a “jerkline” of perhaps twenty mules, hairpin curves on the necessary switchbacks could be a harrowing challenge.

Even so, reports indicate that the Line had one season where it shipped seven hundred thousand pounds of bullion out to be loaded onto OSL cars. Over time, Lewis also invested in mining properties himself, and founded the First National Bank of Ketchum.

The freight and stagecoach business went into a lull after about 1895, but Lewis revived it during the Thunder Mountain rush of 1900-1907. Thunder Mountain is buried deep in the incredibly rugged Salmon River wilderness, over forty miles east of McCall. The mines never really showed much profit, but Lewis did all right hauling freight and passengers.

Later he took up ranching near Ketchum while continuing his business interests in town and around the region. As the mountain mines played out, there was less and less freight to be hauled. The lumbering trains of giant wagons were discontinued in 1909, two years before Lewis died.

Big Hitch ore wagons. Tourism photo.
As time passed, so did the old wagons … except for a few that sat in storage for a half century. Eventually, some surviving wagons were given to the city of Ketchum, with the proviso that they be paraded through the streets annually as a tribute to area pioneers.

Thus, in 1958, boosters initiated “Wagon Days” in the Ketchum-Sun Valley area. Each Labor Day, the region’s frontier heritage is celebrated with concerts, antique shows, re-enactments, a carnival, readings of cowboy poetry, and other special events.

The highlight of the weekend is the Big Hitch Parade, and the highlight of the parade is the Lewis Ore Wagons: Six giant, century-old vehicles hitched in tandem behind a 20-mule jerkline … 200 feet of authentic Idaho history rumbling through the streets.
References: [Hawley]
Ketchum History and Information, City of Ketchum.
David Sneed, “Idaho Freight Wagons,” Wheels that Won the West Publishing, Flippin, Arizona (2005-2010).
Sun Valley-Ketchum Tourism.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Boise Residents Officially Celebrate the Arrival of Train Service [otd 9/13]

On September 13, 1887, crowds gathered at the rough plank structure that served as the Idaho Central Railway depot. They came to celebrate the recently-completed branch line that connected Boise City to the Oregon Short Line (OSL) station in Nampa.

The tracks had arrived earlier in the month and several loads of passengers and freight had already taken advantage of the new connection. [Click here to see a photo taken on the arrival day.]*

By the time OSL rails reached central Idaho, nearly five years before, residents of Boise City knew that the main line would not pass through their town. The elevation change between the plains to the south and southwest and the Boise Valley was simply too much. Without extensive, and costly cut and fill work, the grade would have been too great for the locomotives of the day. Instead, the tracks ran through Kuna, Caldwell, and on across the state.

Thwarted by topography, Boise leaders sought alternatives. A branch from the closest OSL station, fifteen miles away at Kuna, was rejected because even the best route passed over substantial grades. The longer stretch from Nampa had no such grade, especially if the rails stayed on the bench that lay roughly 60 feet above the river plain.

Incorporated in 1886, the Idaho Central Railway began construction in July 1887. Workers finished laying track in early September and soon the first two-car train chugged into town from Nampa. Locating the tracks and depot on the bench caused no end of trouble. Townspeople had to build more than a mile of road, with two bridges to span legs of the Boise River. Then they had to cut a manageable incline to climb up onto the bench. Rain turned the dirt track into a quagmire.

Almost immediately, the depot drew business away from downtown: some modest shops, several warehouses, and a small hotel. Still, despite its relatively isolated connection, the branch line quickly developed a booming traffic flow. Unwilling to see their town drain away toward the depot, Boise City leaders pushed for a closer line.

Finally, in 1893, construction crews split a new sub-branch off from the spur line three miles west of downtown Boise. From there, they headed about 1.5 miles to the edge of the bench, descended a ramp at the face, and bridged the river. The rails ran along Front Street, within walking distance of downtown.

Front Street Depot, Boise City, ca 1895.
Library of Congress.
The railway company built a fine stone depot at the corner of Tenth and Front streets, and the number of service and switching tracks grew considerably. As could be expected, residential tracts moved elsewhere, to be replaced by hotels, restaurants, and saloons. The area nearest the rail yards became a typically grubby warehouse and factory district.

Thus matters remained for over a quarter century. Finally, in 1925, Boise got its “hearts desire” – a place on the Union Pacific main line, made possible by more powerful locomotives and better construction equipment.

* The Idaho State Historical Society holds the copyright on this photo and charges a usage fee. (As a member, I know the organization needs the money, but since my blog generates no income, I am not in a position to pay.)
References: [B&W]
Johnny Hester, Reinventing Boise: Changing Influences on Boise’s Growth Pattern … , Boise State University (2009).
Carrie Adell Strahorn, Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage, The Knickerbocker Press, C.P. Putnam & Sons. (1911).
Thorton Waite, “On the Main Line at Last,” The Streamliner, Vol. 11, No. 1, Union Pacific Historical Society, Cheyenne, Wyoming (1997).

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Idaho Medical Association Hold Its First Organizational Meeting [otd 9/12]

On Tuesday, September 12, 1893, a number of Idaho physicians arrived in Boise City from all over the state. They had assembled to organize a state professional medical association. One historian has commented that “the state was overrun with quacks” at the time. A letter from Dr. Carol Lincoln Sweet to physicians statewide prompted the meeting, which was held at the new City Hall.
Boise City Hall, first occupied in May 1893.

A New Yorker with a degree from Albany Medical College, Sweet moved to Boise City in 1890 to set up a practice. The professional situation he found disturbed him greatly. Although there had been some vague talk about the deplorable medical environment, no one had done anything about it. Then, in June 1893, Sweet sent out his letter and received an enthusiastic response.

“A Crusade Against Quacks,” was one of the sub-headlines the Idaho Statesman (August 31, 1893) used to announce the planned organizational meeting. A medical society would “advance the interests of the profession … and … take steps to protect the public against the inroads of quackery.” The article quoted the Pacific Medical Journal, which asserted that Idaho had become  “a dumping ground for the poorly educated and the rejected applicants of other state examining boards.”

The doctors' two-day conclave featured technical presentations and fostered camaraderie among the attendees. Twenty-nine charter members organized the Idaho State Medical Society. For their first president, they elected Moscow physician Dr. William W. Watkins. Watkins graduated from the Washington University (St. Louis, Missouri) medical program in 1872. For eight years, he practiced at a town south of St. Louis before moving into that city. Personal health problems led him to move to Moscow in 1887.

Besides his Medical Society service, Dr. Watkins was a member of the American Medical Association and served on the University of Idaho Board of Regents. He was also president of the Moscow Chamber of Commerce. Sadly, in 1901, an apparently insane man went on a rampage and shot Watkins, a local merchant, and a deputy sheriff before a posse shot and killed the shooter. Watkins died immediately, while the deputy died two days later.
Dr. Watkins. Idaho Statesman, 1901.

Five years of study and lobbying by the Society finally led to passage of an acceptable medical practice regime for the state. However, not until 1949 did the legislature create the Idaho State Board of Medicine, which provided a focal point for licensing and regulating medical practitioners in the state.

Like all professional organizations, the Society – later the Idaho State Medical Association – encourages its members to keep their skills current. Resources include programs of scientific papers at its meetings, seminars and continuing education courses, equipment reviews and recommendations, and more.

In 1967, the organization adopted its current name, Idaho Medical Association. In addition to programs for members, the Association sponsors a range of programs to encourage Idaho students who are interested in the medical professions. That includes a Medical Education Scholarship Trust.

At their 2010 Annual Meeting, the Association highlighted a severe shortage of “primary care” physicians in Idaho. They noted that “Idaho is ranked 49th in the nation for physician-to-population ratio,” and that many physicians are approaching retirement. The Association passed a resolution to “facilitate the development of an Idaho Primary Care Scholars Program.” That program would include mentoring as well as a possible expansion of the scholarship trust.
References: [B&W], [Illust-State]
“Deaths and Obituaries: William W. Watkins, M. D.,” Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 37, Chicago (July-December 1901).
Arthur Hart, “Building Delays Frustrate City,” The Idaho Statesman, January 11, 1993.
IMA's History: A Legacy of Leadership, Idaho Medical Association web site.
“Dr. Watkins and Deputy Sheriff Murdered,” Idaho Statesman (August 5-6, 1901)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Caldwell Banker, Newspaperman, and Developer Albert Steunenberg [otd 9/11]

A. K. Steunenberg.
J. H. Hawley photo.
Newspaperman and banker Albert Keppel Steunenberg was born September 11, 1863 in Knoxville, Iowa, about twenty-five miles southeast of Des Moines. After high school, “A.K.” – as he was later known to friends – served an apprenticeship as a printer, advancing to journeyman class after a few years.

He also showed a talent for more than the mechanics of the trade, developing solid abilities as a writer and editor.

In 1886, for reasons that are not entirely clear, he moved to Caldwell, Idaho. Although A. K. then had little money, he saw an opportunity at the “moribund” Caldwell Tribune. He persuaded his brother Frank to follow him West and they purchased the struggling newspaper. Frank had previous experience as a publisher and the Tribune did well under their management.

Around 1893, they sold the newspaper and the following year A.K. joined with a group of partners to establish the Commercial Bank of Caldwell. Within a few years, the Steunenberg’s had interests in a number of businesses in Caldwell and around the state. A.K. handled most of the day-to-day operations, while Frank became heavily involved in state politics.

The Illustrated History, published in 1899, noted that the bank had flourished “and sells exchange throughout the United States and Europe.” By 1903, the bank had outgrown the old building, so they had a new one built. The partners also reorganized the bank company and increased its capital.

Within a few years, the firm opened banks in St. Anthony (that town’s first), Glenns Ferry, and Paris. (Paris is about ten miles southwest of Montpelier, Idaho.) Two other banks were established in Oregon. A.K. himself had a fine mansion built in Caldwell for his growing family.
Commercial Bank of Caldwell, A.K. at rear window.
Steunenberg family archives.

Irrigation projects had always particularly interested A.K. and Frank: They invested in many ventures in the Boise Valley. They were also early investors in Ira Perrine’s central Idaho project. That eventually led to the construction of Milner Dam and the founding of Twin Falls [blog, May 7].

Then a traumatic event altered the course of A.K.’s life. He had never sought political office – serving on the Caldwell city council and once as mayor only when pressed to do so. Frank, however, progressed from the legislature to Idaho Governor, serving two consecutive terms in 1896-1900. During his second term, he incurred the wrath of the Coeur d’Alene miners’ union.

On December 30, 1905, a bomb planted by union hit man Harry Orchard murdered Frank at his own front gate. Orchard was quickly caught and persuaded to confess. (The linked “Idaho Meanderings: Steunenberg, Trial of the Century, Labor, Legal, Political History” blog specializes in information related to that event.)

A.K. and his brother had always been very close; they and their families shared important anniversaries and celebrations. A.K., like many Idahoans, held union leaders ultimately responsible for the assassination. He did everything in his power to see that they were brought to justice. Unfortunately, surely worn down by grief, Albert Keppel Steunenberg died in mid-March, 1907, at the age of 44.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
J. Anthony Lukas, Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town … , Simon & Schuster (July 6, 1998).

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Fur Trader David Thompson Builds Kullyspell House [otd 9/10]

David Thompson, artist’s rendering.
New World Encyclopedia.
On September 10, 1809, fur trader and geographer David Thompson selected a spot on Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille to build a trading post for the British-Canadian North West Company.

He chose a site only a few miles from the mouth of the Clark Fork (12-14 miles across the lake from today’s Sandpoint). Thus, canoes, rafts, and other vessels could reach the post via the river or from any place on the lake. The structures his men assembled were the very first ever built by Anglo-Americans in the future state of Idaho.

London-born to Welsh parents in 1770, Thompson arrived in Canada at age 14, as an indentured apprentice to the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). Toward the end of that apprenticeship, David was able to hone his skills in mathematics, navigation, and surveying.

Thompson quit the HBC in 1797, after HBC management ordered him to discontinue his survey work and focus on trading. He took a position with the rival North West Company. David’s new employers encouraged his surveying, which included verifying locations along the Canadian border with the United States.

In 1798, Thompson surveyed Turtle Lake, located about ten miles north of today’s Bemidji, Minnesota. He judged that a creek there could be considered the source of the Mississippi River, an important consideration in the boundary negotiations between the U. S. and Great Britain. His determination is now considered incorrect, but he was not off by that much. (And prior to that, no one really had any idea where the source might be.)

In 1804, Thompson was made a full partner in the North West Company. Word that U.S. President Thomas Jefferson had dispatched the Corps of Discovery to explore the Pacific Northwest spurred the Company to greater effort there. Starting in 1807, Thompson explored and surveyed west of the Divide – especially the Columbia River watershed. Kullyspell House was just one of several trading posts he built or helped establish in Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Western Canada.

Company management grew even more alarmed when they learned of plans by the American John Jacob Astor [blog, July 17] to exploit the fur riches of the Pacific Northwest. They declined a partnership offer from Astor, but apparently left the door open for further negotiations.

Early in the summer of 1811, Thompson headed east to Montreal; he needed a rest. Along the way, he received orders to go back and see what the Americans were up to. Oddly enough, he apparently gained the impression that Astor and the North West Company were, in fact, already partners. When Thompson reached the Pacific outlet of the Columbia in July, he found the Americans occupying a completed base at Astoria.
Astoria, 1813. Sketch by clerk Gabriel Franchère.
After examining Astoria and consulting with his (he thought) new partners, Thompson headed east to report. By then, Kullyspell House had proven to be a bust; too little income for its considerable upkeep. He closed it down and shifted the area’s operations to a newer post, Spokane House (9-10 mile northwest of today’s Spokane).

Thompson never returned to the West. Today, he is considered the greatest New World geographer ever. He surveyed roughly a fifth of the North American land area, and his maps remained a primary benchmark for over a century. He died in February 1857.
References: [B&W], [Brit]
Bob Gunter, “Kullyspell House,” (1998-2010).
James P. Ronda, Astoria and Empire, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1990).
David Thompson, David Thompson’s Narrative, 1784-1812, Champlain Society, Toronto (1962).

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Indians Attack Utter Wagon Train, Survivors Resort to Cannibalism [otd 9/9]

On September 9, 1860, a wagon train rumbled along the Oregon Trail, leaving its campsite on the western side of Castle Creek (about 30 miles west of today’s Mountain Home, Idaho). Most of the emigrants were from Wisconsin, and the nominal leader was Elijah P. Utter*.
Attack on circled wagons.
Retouched still shot from an old Western movie.

They turned northwest and ascended some high ground. An ominous cloud of dust turned into a mass of Shoshone and Bannock warriors, singing war songs. The emigrants circled the wagons and prepared to defend themselves, while the Indians screamed and waved blankets, trying to stampede the stock.

Heavy fire began on both sides, with the warriors riding around the enclosure, rousing great swirls of dust. Donald Shannon, who has researched the Utter disaster extensively, said in an Idaho Public TV interview, “This was one time that Hollywood sort of got it right.”

After an hour or so, the attackers drew off and signed for a parley: no harm done, we want to be friends … all we want is food. Caught far from water, the pioneers agreed and fed quite a few who entered the wagon circle. Then the Indians disappeared. The whites rolled out of their defensive position. Continuing along the Trail, they did not take the most obvious direct route to reach the river. The Indians reappeared, threatening the train from a distance.
Area of Utter Massacre. D.H. Shannon image.

The emigrants began their descent to the half-mile-wide plain that spread for over a mile along the river. Almost immediately, the Indians resumed their attack and killed three men. The whites struggled into a circle again, at a location far from water. This time the warriors pressed the attack. They continued into the evening, and then yelled and fired at any movement during the night.

After a second day of siege, the emigrants made a desperate attempt to break out. They left half the wagons behind for the Indians to loot, but that failed to entice all the attackers away. Only when the whites abandoned all the wagons and other possessions did the Indians cease their attacks.

If anything, the horrors suffered by the emigrants after that were worse, but the details are gruesome … and beyond the scope of this article.

In the end, 25 of the 44 emigrants died in the attack or from starvation later. Some unfortunates resorted to cannibalism to survive. Additionally, four children were abducted – three of them soon died and the other never returned to his family. No other Indian attack on the Oregon and California trails caused greater casualties and suffering.

* “Utter” was the preferred family spelling of this Germanic name. Many early accounts gave the name as “Otter,” which suggests that the Old World spelling was “Ütter.” The Ü (u-umlaut) is pronounced rather like the English “ou” or “oo.” (But not quite … my old-school German teacher insisted on the proper, somewhat guttural sound.) Thus, people recording verbal accounts might perhaps be excused for writing it down as “Otter.”
References: [B&W], [Hawley]
Donald H. Shannon, The Utter Disaster On The Oregon Trail, Snake Country Publishing, Caldwell, Idaho (1993).