Friday, November 10, 2017

Alexander Toponce: Freighter, Stockman, Stage Line Operator ... and More [otd 11/10]

Alexander Toponce, energetic immigrant entrepreneur, was born November 10, 1839 in Belfort, France … about thirty miles west of Basel, Switzerland. The family came to the U. S. in June 1846. As a younger son, Alex labored hard on the farm but received no education and had no prospects of any kind. He spurned the family farm at age ten, and headed west at fifteen. Alex recalled, “I found lots of French people in St. Louis.”

For almost a decade, Toponce “whacked bulls” for a freight line, rode express mail, drove a stagecoach, and prospected for gold in Colorado.
Freight Wagon. Reminiscences.
In 1863, Alex sold what little he owned to finance a freight venture. He joined a band of like-minded men (and one woman) for a trip to the Montana gold fields. Alex said, “I had the honor of being elected captain of the train.”

Except for various short trips out of the area, Toponce spent the rest of his life in Idaho, southern Montana, and northern Utah.

Alex did much better prospecting in Montana than he had in Colorado and used the proceeds to go into the freight business full time. Over the next twenty-odd years, his freight line grew to be “one of the largest … in the Northwest.” But that was not enough for him. In 1867, Toponce transacted his first big cattle deal, using the animals to haul freight into Montana and then selling them to local meat markets and stockmen.

He also had contracts to supply meat to the construction crews building the transcontinental railroad. Alex said that on the last day of track-laying he “threw a shovel full of dirt on the ties just to tell about it afterward.” He could not recall what the dignitaries said at the Golden Spike Ceremony, but, he wrote, “I do remember that there was a great abundance of champagne.”

In 1871, Toponce acquired a cattle herd that had been trailed from Texas as far as Denver. Alex completed the drive to land he had leased on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. His ranch supplied the reservation, the gold camps, and any other market where Toponce could make a buck. At various times, he owned cattle in Utah and Nevada, and even drove some into California. He sold the Fort Hall outfit in 1879.
Alexander Toponce. Reminiscences.

Along with his freight line and cattle, Toponce built roads, ran a stagecoach company, and invested in mining properties from near Bellevue to north of Challis. He eased out of the wagon freight business in 1883-1886 as the completion of railroads across Idaho made long hauls unprofitable.

Alex himself did not ease back, however. At various times, he owned a piece of a canal company and grist mill in Utah, and a charcoal kiln in Wyoming. Seeing empty grazing land in Wyoming, he ran a considerable sheep outfit there. In 1892, the railroad shipped “twelve double-decked cars” full of sheep for him.

He also found time to serve a term as mayor of Corinne, supply ties to the railway company, own a butcher shop, and more. In 1914, he sold the rights to a hydropower site he stilled owned in Idaho. He finally began to slow down a few years later, and took the time to prepared his Reminiscences. His wife arranged publication after his death in May 1923.
References: “Construction: Pacific States,” Electrical World, Vol. LXIV, McGraw Publishing Company, Inc., New York (July 4 to December 26, 1914).
“Railroad Transfer of Sheep,” The Standard, Ogden, Utah (Nov 11, 1892).
Dan L. Thrapp (ed.), Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1991).
Alexander Toponce, Reminiscences of Alexander Toponce, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman (1971).

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