Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Attorney and Teton Valley Developer Benjamin Driggs [otd 01/31]

Benjamin, Senior.
Driggs Family Archives.
Teton Valley pioneer and attorney Benjamin W. Driggs, Jr., was born January 31, 1858 in Pleasant Grove, Utah, about ten miles north of Provo. His father had been among early converts to the LDS church, suffered through the expulsion from Nauvoo, and trekked to Utah in 1852. Besides owning and, sometimes, operating a store in Pleasant Grove, the senior Driggs guided, did blacksmith work, and fought Ute Indians in central and southern Utah

Benjamin, Jr. had a bevy of siblings since his father, per then-current Mormon doctrine, had more than one wife. (He later served six months in prison for this practice.) On his own, Benjamin Jr. gathered the wherewithal to study at the University of Utah and Brigham Young College (now University). He then attended the University of Michigan Law School.

After graduating in 1886, he practiced law in Provo for two years before moving to Salt Lake City. He would remain in practice there for about fifteen years.

Benjamin also became interested in locating range suitable for stock raising. With much of northern Utah and southeast Idaho already claimed for farm and ranch settlements, he looked further north. In the spring of 1888, he responded to favorable reports about the Teton Valley by inspecting the area himself. Settlers closer to the river advised them to avoid the valley because it was known as “a rendezvous for horse thieves and outlaws.”

Colonists would later learn that the warning had some merit, but it did not deter them. Ben persuaded his younger brother Don, who was not yet married, to start cutting and hauling logs to a site that looked promising for a town.

By the end of 1889, the Valley contained a small colony of Mormon pioneers, including several Driggs family members. Benjamin himself took up a homestead and built a cabin, even though for many years he only spent part of the summer in the Valley. For a time, the structure served as the area’s only mercantile store.

In 1891, he processed a petition to acquire a post office for the new settlement. Because so many names on the petition were Driggs – three brothers and a cousin, along with Benjamin – that name was assigned to the new office. Brother Don became the first postmaster. A decade later, the local Mormons had established the Driggs Ward, with a school and meeting hall, as part of the Teton Stake.
Driggs, ca 1918. J. H. Hawley photo.

By that time, Benjamin was spending more and more time in the Valley. He moved his family and law practice there in 1903-1905. As de facto village attorney for Driggs, in 1910 he handled the incorporation paperwork for the town. Soon, the railroad arrived in the village, and it mushroomed: from a population of around 200 in 1910 to about 1,500 in 1918.

When the legislature established Teton County in 1915, Driggs became the county seat and Benjamin was elected as the first county Prosecuting Attorney. He was re-elected to that position in in 1922. In 1926, Caxton Printers, of Caldwell, published the first edition of Benjamin’s History of Teton Valley, Idaho. He passed away in July 1930.
                                                                                 
References: [Hawley]
B. W. Driggs, History of Teton Valley, Idaho, Louis. I. Clements and Harold S. Forbush (Eds.), Eastern Idaho Publishing Company, Rexburg (1970)
“Benjamin W. Driggs Answers Last Call,” Deseret News, Salt Lake City, Utah (Oct. 2, 1913).

Monday, January 30, 2017

Frontier Missionary and Peacemaker Father Pierre-Jean de Smet [otd 01/30]

Father De Smet, 1860-65.
Library of Congress,
Brady-Handy Photograph Collection.
Roman Catholic priest Pierre-Jean de Smet was born in Belgium, January 30, 1801. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1821 and trained as a Roman Catholic missionary with the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. His first missionary work to the Indians was among the tribes along the lower Missouri.

In 1840, an Indian guided Father de Smet further west, where he met some Flathead Indians at Pierre’s Hole (today’s Teton Valley, Idaho). Encouraged by his missionary efforts there and in Montana, he returned with a group the following year.  On that trip, the Bartelson-Bidwell emigrant party accompanied de Smet’s missionaries as far as Soda Springs [blog, Aug 8]. The Bidwell expedition was the first company of Americans to emigrate to California by wagon train.

Father de Smet’s group reached Fort Hall after nearly four months on the trail. Glad of the respite, de Smet stopped to rest and repair equipment. The factor even sold him supplies at bargain prices, a major concession since everything had to be laboriously packed in from their base on the Pacific Coast.

After a few days, they continued into Montana. There, the Catholics built St. Mary’s Mission, 25-30 miles south of today’s Missoula. That fall, Father de Smet traveled even further west at the invitation of Dr. John McLoughlin, Chief Factor of the Columbia Division of the Hudson’s Bay Company [blog, Oct 19].
Kalispel teepee and canoe on the Pend Oreille, ca. 1860.
Bonner County Historical Society.

On his way to Fort Colville, Father de Smet encountered a band of Kalispel Indians. Though lacking in height, the good Father possessed an impressive physical presence and abundant charisma. His three-day sojourn planted more seeds. Word of the “Black Robe’s” mission quickly spread among the tribes of North Idaho.

When he returned in the spring, he met with more Kalispels, as well as Indians from the Kootenai and Coeur d’Alene tribes.

Fulfilling a promise made by Father de Smet during those meetings, Father Nicholas Point and Brother Charles Huet soon came among the Couer d’Alenes to build a mission church. Their choice of location proved inauspicious: floods inundated the site in the spring. Father de Smet selected a new location about 8 miles west of the later town of Kellogg.
Sacred Heart Mission church, Cataldo, Idaho, 1957.
Library of Congress.

The Mission of the Sacred Heart was moved to near today's Cataldo, in 1846. Four years later, Father Anthony Ravalli arrived to design and build a new church for the mission.

Constructed with simple hand tools, the timber-frame structure contained no nails and took three years to complete. It is the oldest building in the state. (Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961, it was among the sites automatically included when the National Register of Historic Places was created in 1966.)

Father de Smet spent the rest of his life striving, with little long-term success, to maintain peace between whites and the tribes of the Northern Plains. For his day, de Smet traveled an incredible amount: The equivalent of over seven times around the Earth, soliciting funds and new recruits. He passed away in St. Louis, in May 1873.
                                                                                 
References: [Brit] [Hawley]
Robert C. Carriker, Father Peter John De Smet: Jesuit in the West, University of Oklahoma Press (September 1998).

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Entrepreneur, Fur Trader, and Fort Hall Founder Nathaniel Wyeth [otd 01/29]

Nathaniel Wyeth, 1840.
Illustration for Harper's Magazine, 1892.
Entrepreneur Nathaniel J. Wyeth was born January 29, 1802, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Despite strong ties to Harvard on both sides of the family, the young Wyeth chose to go directly into business rather than attend college. He was highly successful in the ice business, rising to a general manager’s position.

However, pamphleteering by advocate Hall J. Kelley convinced Wyeth that he could make his own fortune by exploiting opportunities in the “Oregon Country.” (That region included today's Pacific Northwest, plus portions of British Columbia.) In early 1832, Wyeth organized a venture to pursue fur trading and trapping in the Rocky Mountains.

Unfortunately, the men he recruited in New England proved unsuitable, and six deserted even before Wyeth’s party started west from Missouri. Then, when they reached the trapper rendezvous, seven more men refused to continued with the expedition.

Wyeth’s party also had the bad luck to observe one of the most intense conflicts ever reported between trappers and hostile “Blackfeet” (actually Gros Ventre) Indians: the Battle of Pierre’s Hole [blog, July 18]. After visiting the Hostile’s redoubt the next day, Wyeth wrote, “It was a sickening scene of confusion and Blood[s]head. One of our men who was killed inside their fort we found mutilated in a shocking manner.”

Wyeth himself took some minor part in the battle, but his party of “Yankees” did not. Thus, his statement about “our men” was a sort of “editorial” license. His men did care for several wounded, one of whom died in their camp.

Wyeth was hard-working and conscientious, but in the end his lack of Western experience – and further bad luck – ruined this first expedition. Still sure there was profit to be had in the fur trade, Wyeth put together another attempt in 1834. This time he also transported supplies west to be sold, under contract, to another trapping company.

As recounted in my December 20 blog about Trapper Osborne Russell, Wyeth’s customer reneged on the  contract. Undeterred, he then built Old Fort Hall, in Idaho, to sell his supplies directly to the trappers and Indians.

Still, this venture also failed, largely because more-established competitors, the British-Canadian Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in particular, had a strangle-hold on the business. Within a couple years, Wyeth sold his Fort to the HBC.
Fort Hall, ca 1849. Library of Congress.
For the next 20 years, Old Fort Hall was the most important Euro-American trading post in Idaho. Tens of thousands of Oregon Trail pioneers passed by the Fort on their way to the Pacific Coast.

In 1845, the Joel Palmer party [blog, August 23] passed by. Palmer observed, “The bottoms here are wide, and covered with grass. There is an abundance of wood for fuel, fencing, and other purposes. No attempt has, as yet, been made to cultivate the soil. I think the drought too great; but if irrigation were resorted to, I doubt not it would produce some kinds of grain, such as wheat, corn, potatoes, &c.”

Wyeth returned to the ice trade, paid off his considerable debts, and eventually went into business for himself. He left a substantial fortune when he passed away in August 1856. (Ironically, about the time Old Fort Hall was finally abandoned.)
                                                                                 
References: [B&W]
H. M. Chittenden, The American Fur Trade of the Far West, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1986)
Nathaniel J. Wyeth, Don Johnson (ed.), The Journals of Captain Nathaniel J. Wyeth's Expeditions to the Oregon Country 1831-1836, Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield, Washington (1984).
Joel Palmer, Journal of Travels over the Rocky Mountains, 1845-1846, reprinted, Reuben Gold Thwaites (ed)., in Early Western Travels, Vol.  XXX, Arthur H. Clark Company, Cleveland (1906).

Saturday, January 28, 2017

William A. Foster, Boise Fireman and Long-Time Fire Chief [otd 01/28]

Chief Foster.
Boise Fire Department.
Boise Fire Chief William A. Foster was born on January 28, 1870, in Grinnell, Iowa. The family relocated to the high plains of northwestern Kansas when William was about fifteen years old. Then, in 1890, he moved to Idaho. He worked as a teamster hauling lumber for a time and then went into the freight business for himself.

After that, Foster spent five years representing a lumber company before moving out of state for a couple years. He returned to Boise in 1899-1900.

For awhile after 1894, Foster had served as a member of the Boise City volunteer fire brigade. That organization had been formed in 1876, although records also point to an earlier volunteer unit. He returned to that duty after his brief hiatus out of state.

In late 1901, the city decided to fund a fully paid Fire Department. The new Department took over the following summer [blog, June 2]. It started with part-time leadership, a core of firemen, and a body of firefighters who were paid by the calls they answered. Early accounts state that Foster became part of the new, professional Department in 1903. That was the same year the Department got a full-time Chief.

Foster advanced steadily through the ranks, learning new skills as the department upgraded its equipment. Aside from the normal increases in population, and city acreage, these improvements were required because Boise was also growing UP – with its first “skyscraper” (six stories) in 1910 [blog, Jan 9]. In 1912, Foster was promoted to Assistant Chief, having been promoted to Captain some years earlier.

The Department added more equipment over the next several years, and motorized some of the horse-drawn rigs. Foster was promoted to the Chief’s position in 1917. Within a couple years or so, the Department employed nearly forty men, serving in four fire stations scattered throughout the city.
Chief’s car, 1912. Foster on left – then Assistant Chief.
Boise State University.

Idaho was then much more of a "farm state" than it is even today. Unfortunately, America's agricultural economy suffered greatly between the two World Wars, even before the Great Depression. (Much of the problem is blamed on excessive expansion to meet demand during World War I.) Naturally, Boise felt the pain along with the state.

As a result, Foster presided over a period when budgets were especially tight. Firefighters had to accept pay cuts, and crew numbers were pared to the bone. One entire fire station was closed in 1924. Yet fires still happened, and over the years the city, grudgingly perhaps, paid for a few new pumpers and ladder trucks.

During the Thirties, the Department began to give more attention to fire prevention. They initiated educational programs and sent fire inspectors out to advise property owners about particular problem spots. In 1938, the city created a formal office of Fire Inspector.

Chief Foster led the Department through all these profound changes until his retirement in 1939. He passed away in March 1958.
                                                                                 
References: [Hawley]
“The Department’s History,” Boise Fire Department, CityofBoise.org (1999-2010).
“Foster 60th Anniversary,” Idaho Statesman (Oct 2, 1952).
Arthur Hart, Fighting Fire on the Frontier, Boise Fire Department Association (1976).

Friday, January 27, 2017

Educator, Attorney, and Supreme Court Justice John Rice [otd 01/27]

Judge Rice.
John Campbell Rice Foundation photo.
January 27, 1864, Idaho Supreme Court Justice John Campbell Rice was born on a farm in Cass County, Illinois, about thirty miles west of Springfield. After high school, he attended Illinois College, in Jacksonville (not far south of where Rice was born). He graduated in 1885 and began teaching mathematics at the college.

Three years later, he enrolled in law school, first at Michigan State University and then Cornell University. He received his law degree from Cornell in 1890.

John T. Morrison, a fellow student at Cornell, had previously met Presbyterian minister William Judson Boone. Boone moved to Caldwell, Idaho in 1887, and Morrison followed him there during the summer of 1890.

John Rice joined Morrison in Caldwell that fall, and they became partners in a law practice. When Boone founded the College of Idaho [blog, Nov 5], the partners both served as instructors there for two years. Rice taught Greek and mathematics, and later, economics.

Some years later, they found themselves in an odd position. The legislature upgraded Caldwell from “town” to “city” status. But the old town Board of Trustees successfully challenged the designation, and the election of a Mayor and City Council. John Morrison, the newly appointed City Attorney, was also a town Trustee and recused himself when the new Council appealed the District Court ruling. So the Council hired Rice, who won the appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court. (Idaho Statesman, June 25, 1897).

In 1897, Rice was elected to the Idaho House of Representatives. During his term he served as chairman of the judiciary committee. That legislature passed an Act to authorize the creation of a state Board of Arbitration to handle labor disputes. Another Act provided for the creation of irrigation districts to regularize the allotment of water rights.

After that, he was elected to the Caldwell city council, and served as mayor in 1902. His time as mayor corresponded roughly to the period when he relinquished the presidency of the Commercial Bank of Caldwell. Rice, along with several partners, including Albert K. Steunenberg [blog, Sept 11], had founded the bank in 1895. He resumed the presidency in 1907 and continued in that position until at least 1920.

He had other active business connections in Caldwell and around the state. Besides holdings in western Idaho, he helped organize the First National Bank of Saint Anthony, all the way across the state.
College of Idaho campus, ca. 1900. College of Idaho.
Rice also continued his involvement with the College of Idaho, although he no longer taught there. He had been among the principals when the College was incorporated in 1893 as a legal entity, separate from the Presbyterian Church. Rice remained a Trustee of the College through its darkest days in the Great Depression. (He was, in fact, chairman of the Board of Trustees when he died.)

Rice was first elected to the Idaho Supreme Court in 1916, and remained there until 1923. He thus served through the turmoil related to World War I, and the implementation of national Prohibition under the Eighteenth Amendment. He was also there when voters amended the state constitution to expand the Supreme Court from three members to five.

After another period in private practice, he was appointed to be a district court judge, a position he held when he passed away in November 1937.
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Louie W. Attebery, The College of Idaho, 1891-1991: A Centennial History. © The College of Idaho, Caldwell (1991).
“John T. Morrison,” Reference Series No. 404, Idaho State Historical Society (September 1996).
"Necrology: John Campbell Rice,” Cornell Alumni News, Ithaca, New York (December 16, 1937).

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Rancher, Canal Manager, and Ada County Sheriff James Bennett [otd 01/26]

Sheriff Bennett.
Ada County Sheriff’s Office.
Ada County Sheriff James A. Bennett was born January 26, 1865 in Leavenworth, Kansas. The family moved to farm country 40-50 southwest of St. Louis, Missouri when James was a few years old. He grew up in that area and garnered what education he could from the common schools there.

James came to Idaho in 1886. This was a period of high optimism for stock-raising in Idaho. For example, the Idaho Statesman gushed (October 9, 1886) that the cattle business “has grown to wonderful proportions of late years.” As proof, it went on, readers should consider that “Millions of dollars are invested in stock in Idaho, and the returns from this source excel all others combined.”

A couple years earlier, the Oregon Short Line completed its tracks across Idaho, which further boosted stock raising. Sheep holdings particularly benefited, since sheep raisers rarely drove large flocks to distant markets. Now they didn’t have to.

Bennett easily found work and, in 1888, he claimed a homestead in Ada County, some of which he still owned thirty years later. Along with his stock raising and farming, he worked for some of the regional irrigation companies. Hawley’s History noted that “For eleven years he was headgate keeper and ditch walker for the Ridenbaugh ditch.”

The Ridenbaugh Canal runs along the Boise Bench, today passing through the residential and business districts of southwest Boise. The Bennett Lateral is a feeder canal in that area.

That feeder was first identified publicly in 1902. The Idaho Statesman reported (June 27, 1902) on Ada County government business concerning “what is known as the Bennett Lateral.” The item said, “It is therefore ordered by the County Board of Commissioners that measuring devices and weirs be placed in said canal.”

Bennett’s first wife, Maggie, died from tuberculosis (Idaho Statesman, October 21, 1898) and he remarried two years later. Maggie had come from an old pioneer family, with property in the Wood River area. In 1903, James was appointed executor so he could settle the estate, including payment of back taxes.
Ridenbaugh Canal. Nampa and Meridian Irrigation District.

He then purchased a lot about five miles southeast of Boise. Later, James built a home of “generous proportions … well back from the highway in a cluster of large maples and with a terraced lawn and flower gardens in front.”

He was elected Ada County sheriff in 1908. Bennett had a busy two-year term, during which the office gained a third deputy and the county jail got a new floor. Besides dealing with a rumored Tong war in the Oriental community, the sheriff also had to appear as a witness in a case before the Idaho Supreme Court. At the end of his term, Bennett returned to irrigation work and farming.  (Election laws then precluded a second consecutive term.)

In the late 1910s, he served as superintendent of the Nampa and Meridian Irrigation District, a unit that served over 4,000 water users. Today, that District owns the century-old water rights of the original Ridenbaugh Canal.

In 1942, Bennett moved to Meridian, where he was elected a Justice of the Peace. Ill health eventually forced him to resign, and he died in 1947.                                               
                                                            
References: [Hawley]
“Brooks v. Orchard Land Co.,” The Pacific Reporter, Vol. 121, West Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (1912).
“History,” Ada County Sheriff’s Office, online.
J. Orin Oliphant, On the Cattle Ranges of the Oregon Country, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1968).

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Millionaire Banker, Business Leader, and Developer John Vollmer [otd 01/25]

John P. Vollmer, ca. 1875.
Vollmer Family Archives.
Wealthy developer John P. Vollmer was born on January 25, 1847, in Wurtemburg, Germany. The family emigrated to the U.S. when John was about four years old, settling in Louisville, Kentucky. From there, in 1855, they moved to Indianapolis, Indiana.

After some years in a German-speaking private school, Vollmer attended the Indianapolis college that is now Butler University.

During the Civil War, he saw action as an under-age soldier serving a brief stint in an Indiana Volunteer regiment.  After a short span as an apprentice clerk in a small retail business, he went to work for a large book company in Indianapolis. He spent several years there, advancing to a Chief Clerk's position.

Looking for greater opportunities, Vollmer relocated to Walla Walla, Washington in 1868. There, he managed a distillery producing “high wine” – a clear 100-120 proof alcoholic beverage, suitable for aging or infusing with other flavor elements.

John P. moved to Lewiston in 1870 and opened a grocery and wholesale liquor business. Three years later his growing temperance convictions led him to quit selling liquor, but he soon greatly expanded the mercantile side. He operated a wide range of enterprises that eventually owned over a score of outlets in various Idaho towns as well as in Washington state.

Vollmer initiated or backed many progressive improvements in the region, including: the first north Idaho telegraph line, telephone service four years later, and the Lewiston Water and Light Company. Other developments included several major irrigation systems, and construction of a “conservatively estimated” mile’s worth of Lewiston buildings. He was also a Trustee of the Lewiston State Normal School.

He had affiliations with steamboat and railway companies, and led the organization of substantial banks in Lewiston, Grangeville, and Genesee. Through the banks, and by direct investment, he owned many thousands of acres of prime farm land, said to require “two hundred and forty-eight miles of fencing.”

Since Vollmer acquired much of his acreage via foreclosures, he was not universally admired. The Illustrated History of North Idaho stated that Vollmer had “as few enemies probably, as any man living, of his active, agressive [sic] temperament and extensive business interests.”

That statement is a considerable departure from what subscription histories of that period normally said in their biographies. Almost invariably they praised a pioneer’s “excellent qualities” and noted that the person was “highly esteemed by all.” (The exact words varied, but not the fulsome sentiment.)
Vollmer Mansion, Lewiston. Vollmer Family archives.
Still, while he was clearly seen as a hard-headed man of business, Vollmer seems to have had a more enlightened side – absent from many of the “robber barons” of his day. Thus, he and his wife were known for their literary interests, and their home was considered a center of Lewiston refinement and gentility. His various biographers always saw fit to mention “his fine private library.”

In 1914, people around the state, and beyond, urged him to run for Idaho Governor on the Progressive Party ticket. Although tempted, Vollmer, who was then 67 years old, withdrew from consideration because, he said (Idaho Statesman, April 14, 1914), “My physician advises me that a campaign might endanger my health.”

He passed away in 1917.
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Illust-North], [Illust-State]

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Freighter and Rancher “Doc” Rankin – A Legend in His Own Time [otd 01/24]

"Doc” Rankin. H. T. French photo.

William Allen “Doc” Rankin was born January 24, 1836, in Lafayette, Indiana. Several ancestors in his paternal line fought in the American Revolution, later being plantation owners in Virginia. Although Doc’s family moved to the Midwest (to Iowa after Indiana), they retained strong family ties to Virginia.

Thus, because his forebears were “old line” Virginians, the young man sympathized with the South during the Civil War. When the war began, Rankin was in Iowa farming and raising stock. In fact, he fit the demographic for one typical kind of “Copperhead” – "agrarians" with Southern roots. Copperheads were Northerners who opposed the war.

Rankin therefore began to procure horses and recruit like-minded men for the Southern forces. However, Iowa apparently became too “hot” for him in 1863, so he and five other men headed west. Along the way, they stopped at Fort Bridger, where Rankin made the first of many western acquaintances: old Jim Bridger himself.

After a winter in California, Doc entered the freighting business. He then “spent twelve years in driving his outfit across the deserts of the West and over pretty nearly all the trails that then led from one center of population to another.”

His draft animals and equipment wore down, of course, hauling heavy loads on primitive roads over rugged mountains. To avoid losing part of a freighting season, Rankin made time to recoup his outfit by spending several winters in California.

Rankin came to know “many of the ablest and most famous men of the West.” That included prominent politicians such as Brigham Young and George Hearst (later a U. S. Senator from California, and father of publisher William Randolph Hearst).
Freight outfit in the Sierras, ca 1866. Library of Congress.

When Congress suspended coinage of silver dollars in 1873, miners decamped in droves from the silver mines of Nevada. Rankin’s freight business followed them to the gold fields of California, mainly in the Bodie area. Despite its rich and notorious reputation, the Bodie gold strikes proved short-lived, and rapidly tapered off after about 1880. His business declining, Doc moved to Boise in 1881.

For the next eight years, Rankin engaged in various enterprises to make a living. Thus, a year after he got there, the Idaho Statesman (March 18, 1882) thanked Doc for “a fine salmon trout. He brought in a load of fine fish Sunday, for which he found ready sale. He expects to be here again next week, after which he will visit this market once a week, if possible.”

Finally, in 1889, he took up a homestead two miles southwest of Boise. He  remained there for the next quarter century. When H. T. French published his History in 1914, Doc’s biography said, “The street car line runs out Rankin street named in his honor, right past his door.”

Rankin took an active interest in the affairs of the Democratic Party in Idaho. However, he never ran for political office here, perhaps soured by an experience in Nevada, where he was reportedly “deprived of his rightful seat” in the legislature by election fraud. Still, in 1912, at the age of seventy-six, Doc was still serving as a precinct chairman for the party (Statesman, April 7, 1912).

When Old Doc passed away in 1917, the Idaho Statesman (December 16, 1917) said that during his years of traveling, “He came to be thoroughly familiar with the entire country, and was often referred to as an authority on road conditions of the West.”
                                                                                 
References: [Brit], [French] 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Church Leader, Suffragette, and Temperance Advocate Rebecca Mitchell [otd 01/23]

Activist Mitchell.
J. H. Hawley photo.
Mrs. Rebecca Mitchell was born January 23, 1834, in Macoupin County, Illinois, 30-50 miles south of Springfield. Little is known of her early life. After she was widowed, she completed her education, first in local schools (which she attended with her own children) and then at the Baptist Missionary Training School in Chicago. For a time, she served as a missionary and church worker in Illinois.

However, the settled cities and towns of Illinois apparently offered too little scope for Mitchell’s missionary zeal. With limited resources, she looked to the “Wild West,” where gunfights were still common, “Judge Lynch” sometimes dispensed frontier justice, and churches were few and far between. In June 1882, she landed in Idaho Falls, then still called Eagle Rock.

Being almost destitute when she arrived, Mitchell made do with quarters in a weathered “board shanty.” She quickly set out to visit every family dwelling in the little settlement. For many years, the area had grown slowly, but the arrival of the railroad three years earlier had caused a surge. Rebecca’s enthusiasm matched perfectly with a genuinely-felt need among the locals.

On the Sunday after her arrival, she conducted the first Sunday school classes at her rude home. Organized schools were just getting started in the region when she arrived, often as the effort of a few families. Mrs. Mitchell sparked progress along those lines, organizing a day school.

Aside from occasional small remittances from family, she was entirely self-supporting, and found that costs were unexpectedly high in the little frontier town. Still, in a memoir published many years later (Idaho Falls Times, October 13, 1908), she offered proof that “the Lord will provide.” She had, she said, just spent her last nickel, when the father of a day school pupil called to pay his son’s tuition … well before the due date.
Eagle Rock Baptist Church.
Bonneville County Historical Society.

Mitchell’s efforts to promote a church had begun as soon as she arrived. She sought funds locally and also wrote to Baptist organizations in the East. Donors in the New England states were particularly generous. The Anderson brothers – among the earliest Eagle Rock pioneers – donated the necessary land. Locals dedicated a new Baptist Church in November 1884.

For a time, the church provided space for a larger school as well as a library.  Mitchell continued to teach until other schools and teachers became well established. After that, she concentrated more on her church and social work.

Mrs. Mitchell strongly supported the temperance movement, organizing the first local Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She also lectured all over the state and at national conventions, being known as an effective and entertaining speaker. Thus, the Idaho Falls Times reprinted (February 22, 1894) an item from the Weiser Signal about Mrs. Mitchell’s presentations in the Weiser area: “Her lectures are interesting and she always has a well attended house.”

Mitchell even spent one winter in Boise pushing for various reform laws and aiding in the advocacy for women’s suffrage. She also served as the chaplain of the Idaho House of Representatives … through 1934, the only women to have ever held that position.

Naturally, she also supported many causes in Eagle Rock, being “a prominent member of the Village Improvement Society.” Upon her passing, on September 30, 1908, several communities around the state held memorial services and promulgated resolutions of remembrance and honor.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W], [Hawley]
Mary Jane Fritzen, Eagle Rock, City of Destiny, Bonneville County Historical Society, Idaho Falls, Idaho (1991).
“Golden Jubilee Edition, 1884-1934,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (September 10, 1934).

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Large Cattle Drives Ravage Idaho Range and Herds, Railroad Needed [otd 01/22]

On January 22, 1881, the Idaho Statesman described the substantial herds being driven over Idaho rangelands, both from the states to the west and by in-state stockmen. Counts taken on the main trail in Wyoming, and estimates from other routes, suggested that during the previous year perhaps a quarter million head had been driven into Wyoming from Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.
Cattle after they reach Wyoming, 1880s.
Wyoming Tales and Trails, online.
By far the largest drives originated in eastern Oregon, with some from Washington. The Statesman article, with a follow-up five days later, described the problems this caused for resident stockmen: the drives were stripping bare a wider and wider swath of trail forage, local cattle were swept into the moving herds and lost, or ranchers had to assign riders to identify and recover their own stock.

The Statesman writer said, “The transit of these immense herds across the stock ranges of central Idaho is an evil of the first magnitude to our farmers and small stock growers.”

Some commentators suggested that stockmen in northern Oregon and in Washington route their herds across the Idaho Panhandle. They claimed the distance to Cheyenne via the northern route was actually less, when the diversions required to avoid major mountain ranges were taken into account. The forage was also supposed to be better.

Whatever the accuracy of these statements, few drovers followed the suggestion, staying with the route through southern Idaho. Thus, in the Statesman’s opinion, “If the same number of cattle should be driven for two or three years more they will consume all the grass in the Snake river valley.”

A related but growing problem was the tendency of some stockmen to over-graze their own range. The presence of trail herds only aggravated that situation. This kind of competition raised the potential for clashes among cattlemen, even without the increasing presence of sheep bands.

The Statesman concluded, “The only practicable remedy for this, and the only hope of the afflicted is in the advent of the railroad, which will take the cattle at or near the points where they are purchased and collected.”
Laying track in the West. National Archives.

Fortunately, that remedy was not too much longer in coming. Less than three months after the newspaper articles, investors organized the Oregon Short Line Railroad. They planned to run the "shortest possible rail line" to connect Granger, Wyoming, to Huntington, Oregon.

OSL tracks reached the Idaho border during the summer of 1882 and were halfway across the state by the end of the year. Towns like Shoshone, Gooding (then called Toponis Station), and Bliss soon became gathering points for cattle and sheep to be shipped east out of Idaho.

The line had almost made it to the Oregon border by the end of the following year. Stockmen in western Idaho began to plan for shipments on the new line. Herds that might have gone to Winnemucca, or other points in Nevada, could now be shipped locally.

The coming of the railroad did not, however, totally end long drives within or across the Territory. As late as 1889-1890, some stockmen found it more economical to drive herds deep into Wyoming before consigning them to rail cars.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W]
J. Orin Oliphant, On the Cattle Ranges of the Oregon Country, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1968).

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Visionary Developer Benjamin Shawhan and New Plymouth [otd 01/21]

Benjamin P. Shawhan, cofounder of the town of New Plymouth, Idaho, was born January 21, 1862, in Keokuk County, Iowa, about thirty miles southwest of Iowa City.
East Hall, Morgan Park Military Academy. Chicago in Postcards.

He graduated from the Morgan Park Military Academy (a prep school) in Chicago, read law for a year, and then attended Beloit College in Wisconsin.

He then went to Kansas and became a partner with his father in an implement business. After a year of that, he helped found a new bank in Clay County, Kansas, 50-60 miles west of Topeka. He continued in the banking business until about 1889, when he and his new wife moved to New York City.

After three years at a big mortgage bank, Benjamin’s health deteriorated, so they relocated to the Payette, Idaho area. There, he became interested in the prospects for irrigated agriculture. Right away, Shawhan promoted and managed a major irrigation project for the Payette Valley Irrigation Company.

The canal diverted flow from the Payette River at a point above Emmett. Following first along the base of the ridge to the south, the canal eventually clung to the bench, with a height above the river valley increasing from 25-30 feet to over fifty. All told, the main canal twisted through around forty miles of cuts and fills.

The Company then needed to induce settlers to take up land to furnish customers for the water system. To accomplish this, Shawhan teamed up with irrigation advocate William E. Smythe. Smythe had become an exponent of irrigated agriculture after observing, first hand, the devastation caused by a Nebraska drought. He spearheaded the design of a planned town, to be called New Plymouth.
New Plymouth, today. Google Map satellite view.

The town was founded on cooperative principles, with an absolute prohibition of alcohol sales. The layout consisted of a huge horseshoe, with individual farm and home plots as well as commonly-held ground for parks and public buildings.

Colonists completed much of the early construction work during the winter of 1895-96. Besides grading nearly ten miles of streets, they also planted thousands of shade trees. Shawhan provided irrigation water for the plots, and the firm was soon renamed the Co-operative Irrigation Company.

In 1898, Shawhan was selected as the “Idaho Vice President” by the Board of Directors of the “Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition” to be held in Omaha that summer. He was then made an ex-officio member of the Commission appointed by the Idaho Governor (Idaho Statesman, January 28, 1898) to plan an exhibit for the fair.

The History of the fair praised the Idaho contributions: “The fruit display in the Horticultural building was one of the best, while the exhibit of grain, wool and grasses in the Agricultural building attracted much attention.”

In 1909, voters elected Shawhan to the first of two consecutive terms in the Idaho state Senate. During his time there, the state authorized a commission to plan Idaho’s participation in the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle [blog, Mar 29], and provided funds for a school for the deaf, dumb and blind in Gooding. It also passed a direct-primary election law to replace party selection conventions.

After retiring from the legislature, Shawhan moved on to other irrigation projects. He also retained much land under cultivation in the Payette River valley. During the 1920s, he took part in several agricultural extension service field trials. Shawhan passed way in September 1937.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W], [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
James B. Haynes, History of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition of 1898, The Committee on History, Exposition Board, Omaha, Nebraska (1910).
Ronald T. Shawhan, “The Descendants of Daniel Shawhan III,” The History and Genealogy of the Shawhan and Related Families, Volume I, rootsweb.ancestry.com (2000).

Friday, January 20, 2017

Mining Investor, Attorney, and Boise County Prosecutor Harry Fisher [otd 01/20]

Attorney Fisher. H. T. French photo.
Attorney Harry Leroy Fisher was born January 20, 1873, on a farm in Daviess County, Missouri, 40-60 miles east of St. Joseph’s. He taught school there and also for a time in Ada County after coming to Idaho in 1891. Fisher then spent a year or two prospecting around the Boise Basin. From time to time, he also worked as a farm laborer.

For some years, along with his other jobs, Harry read law in private law offices in Missouri as well as Idaho. Then, in 1894, he enrolled at the Stanford University law school. Two years later, he returned to Idaho and was admitted to the bar.

Harry also kept his interest in mining. The Idaho Statesman reported (December 19, 1901) that he had leased a lode mine northeast of Idaho City. The article went on, “Mr. Fisher will drift on the hanging wall of the north ledge and hopes, when he gets opposite the big shot in the south ledge, to strike rich ore.”

Three year before, he had started a practice in Idaho City, the county seat of Boise County. He did well enough there that he was elected Boise County Prosecutor in 1902 and again in 1904. Along with that office, Fisher also ran for a position on the Idaho City Board of Trustees. During the latter election, such was his local renown that he won by a 3-to-1 margin.

Reporting on one sensational murder case he prosecuted, the Idaho World newspaper said, “The way he has carried this case all through entitles him to great credit and the hearty congratulations of every good citizen in the county.” His performance was considered even more remarkable because he was pitted against the “experienced and able” James H. Hawley [blog, Jan 17].

In 1907, Fisher moved to Boise, where he would live for the rest of his life. Although he never again held public office, he did occasionally work as a special assistant. For example, the Idaho Statesman reported (October 30, 1913) on an assault trial in which “Robert M. McCraken and Harry L. Fisher, as special prosecutors, represent the state.”

In 1922, Fisher successfully pleaded cases before the Idaho Supreme Court, including one for damage inflicted on his client’s crops by stock that invaded his land from a neighboring sheep company. Fisher won, and the court required the sheep company to pay for the full amount of the farmer’s losses as well as all court costs.
Superior, Montana, ca 1930. Vintage postcard.

Besides his active legal practice, he still invested widely in irrigation and mining ventures. Thus, a Spokane newspaper, the Spokesman Review, reported (Feb 26, 1933) that the Board of Directors “of the Oregon Creek Mining company was reelected at the annual meeting in Boise, Idaho, last Tuesday. Its members are Harry L Fisher … ”

Fisher was the President of the company. Three months later (May 21, 1933), the Spokesman Review headlined, “$700 Gold dug in Six Hours.” This nice return came from a Oregon Creek holding south of Superior, Montana … about forty miles northwest of Missoula and near the Idaho border.  Fisher passed away in March 1940.  
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Hawley]
I. W. Hart, ex officio reporter, “John B. Kellar vs Hugh Sproat and The McMillan Sheep Company,” Reports of cases argued and determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho, Vol. 35, Bancroft-Whitney Company, San Francisco (1922).

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Teacher, Rancher, and Nez Perce County Commissioner Charles Leeper [otd 01/19]

Charles Leeper.
Illustrated History photo.
Nez Perce County pioneer Charles A. Leeper was born January 19, 1850, in Marion County, Indiana, on the outskirts of Indianapolis. Some time before 1870, the family moved to northwest Missouri, where the father ran a farm and served as a low-level judge. Charles spent some time at the University of Missouri, in Columbia.

Leeper came out to Idaho in 1876. He apparently looked over a number of areas around the Territory. He then settled in Salmon, where he found a job as a schoolteacher. A fast learner of Western ways, Charles also served as a scout during the Indian wars in 1877 and 1878.

With the Indian threat suppressed, gold camps in central Idaho boomed. Among those was Bonanza, located deep in the mountains about 25 miles west and a bit south of Challis. The hamlet had been platted in 1877, but hardly grew until 1879. Leeper followed the rush into the town and taught school there. On the side, he may have also grubstaked prospectors to build up a stake. (Teachers’ salaries were notoriously poor, and sometimes problematic in payment.)

Somehow, anyway, Leeper prospered: In 1883, he moved to north Idaho and bought a 320-acre ranch located about five miles southeast of Lewiston. At that time, prospectors were pouring into the Coeur d’Alene Mountains, chasing the gold that had been discovered there in 1882 [blog, March 5]. Locals also talked enthusiastically about the railroad reaching Lewiston … soon. (Their optimism was unwarranted, however.)

Charles combined stock raising and farming, growing grain to fatten his herds of cattle. Eventually, according to the Illustrated History, he would own “more cattle than any other one man in Nez Perces County.”

Leeper also took an active interest in politics. Voters handily elected him to the county commission in 1886. Two years later, Charles seemed to have won election to the Territorial Council. However, at that time, Nez Perce and Latah counties were paired administratively, and Leeper lost the subsequent court battle as to who had won the combined election. He was again elected to the Nez Perce County Commission in 1892, and for a third term in 1900. During his final term, Leeper chaired the Commission.
Cattle Grazing. Library of Congress.

Also in 1900, pioneers organized the Nez Perces County Pioneer Association, open to individuals who had settled in the county during 1877, or before. Charles A. Leeper became a Founding Member, with a note that he had “settled” in the area in 1876. It seems probable that he had invested in property there before returning to Salmon, and Bonanza, to enlarge his personal resources. As noted above, he did not begin living permanently in the county until 1883.

Aside from his political activities, Leeper continued to expand his property holdings, and his herd. Thus, the  Idaho Statesman, in Boise quoted (June 1, 1897) an item from the Lewiston Tribune: “This has been a busy week in Lewiston for cattlemen, and the town has been thronged with the ubiquitous cowboy.” The article mentioned Leeper as one of several stockmen shipping cattle to outside markets via steamboat.

Charles also ran stock on range near the mouth of the Salmon River, perhaps to his regret. The Idaho Statesman reported (July 7, 1902) that he had “lost about 125 head of cattle through the operations of thieves.”

In 1903, when the Illustrated History was published, Charles owned over fifteen hundred acres of land. Sadly, Leeper died some time in the following five years or so.
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Illust-North]
George Elmo Shoup, "History of Lemhi County," Salmon Register-Herald (Series, May 8 - October 23, 1940).

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Freighter, Lumber Man, Rancher, and Mining Investor Josiah Hill [otd 01/18]

On January 18, 1844, Coeur d’Alene pioneer Josiah Hill was born in New Brunswick, Canada. Like others in that part of the country, his father was from the state of Maine.
Clipper ship in Cape Horn ice, Currier & Ives print.
Library of Congress.

In about 1864, he traveled around Cape Horn to San Francisco and then to Seattle. He looked for opportunities there, but then returned to California. For three years, Josiah worked in the lumber industry, drove a stagecoach, and had various other odd jobs.

In 1870, Josiah started working his way east, with a variety of stops along the way. He then spent about two years in New Brunswick, during which time he got married.

Hill returned to the west in 1876. There, he engaged briefly in lumbering. Then, for about three years, he handled the freight stock – horses, mules, and oxen – for the Comestock Lode mines in Nevada. When those mines began to fade, he and a partner bought the animals and equipment, and hauled freight for the strikes around Bodie, California.

He sold that operation in 1881. For the next five years, Josiah had a succession of business dealings in Seattle, Portland, and Spokane. The final years involved a construction project with the Northern Pacific Railroad, with an associated logging operation.

He moved to what became Wardner, Idaho in 1886. Expanding from some lumber contracts in Kellogg, he soon built a sawmill in the region.  The Illustrated History said, “When the town of Wardner consisted of one tent, Mr. Hill was here and has remained here since that time.”

With a base in the town, he operated a local stage line, handled a freight and passenger transfer service, and soon opened a livery stable. By about 1900, his son Roy was a partner in that business.

Hill also partnered with his brother in a ranch near Kellogg. That holding drew the two of them into some expensive litigation. Mine tailings washed downstream by the Coeur d’Alene River ruined a considerable portion of their property. At the end of September, 1903, they filed suit for damages against the mining company.

As could be expected, the company used every legal tactic their lawyers could devise to delay the process and make the suit go away. The company even went so far as to divest itself of its Idaho property, transferring them to a “foreign corporation.” They also moved the company records out of state, to Spokane, Washington.

Josiah proved to have more staying power than they expected, however: Five years later, the Mining and Scientific Press (October 31, 1908) reported, “The famous tailings suits of Josiah Hill, J. S. Hill, and others against the Standard Mining Co. have been settled out of court.”
Early Kellogg. University of Idaho Digital Collections.
Ironically, Josiah later invested in various mining interests himself. In 1918, he was the president of the Hill Mining & Milling Company, Kellogg, with interests in the Coeur d’Alenes. Three years later he became Vice President of a mining company with claims on Big Creek, two or three miles southeast of Kellogg.

Hill passed away at Kellogg in September 1923.
                                                                                 
References: [Illust-North]
“Elgin and Ogden Company Formed,” Spokane Chronicle (July 18, 1921).
“General Mining News: Idaho,” Mining and Scientific Press, Vol. 97, No. 18, Dewey Publishing Company, San Francisco (October 31, 1908).
Sol. Hasbrouck, “Hill vs Morgan,” Reports of cases argued and determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho, Vol. 9, Bancroft-Whitney Company, San Francisco (1906).
Sidney Norman, Northwest Mines Handbook, Vol. One, Northwest Mining Association, Spokane (1918).
Grant Horace Smith, Joseph V. Tingley, The History of the Comstock Lode, 1850-1997, University of Nevada Press, Reno (1998).

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Iconic Lawyer, Boise Mayor, Governor, and Historian James H. Hawley [otd 01/17]

Lawyer Hawley. Illustrated History, 1899.
Lawyer, Governor, Mayor, and Historian James Henry Hawley was born in Dubuque, Iowa, on January 17, 1847. His mother died when James was an infant and he grew up with his maternal uncle. In 1861, the family moved to California, where Hawley learned of the fabulous gold discoveries in Idaho Territory.

The following year, caught up in the excitement, Hawley hurried to Florence. He moved on to the Boise Basin in the spring of 1863. In the Basin, besides work in the gold fields, he also acted as an agent and distributor for the Idaho City newspaper that became the Idaho World.

In 1864, Hawley returned to California, where he studied at the City College of San Francisco and also read law in the city. After a year or so, he went to sea and “knocked around” the Orient for awhile before returning to the Boise Basin in 1868.

James continued his law studies and was also elected to the Territorial Legislature at the age of 23. The following year he was admitted to the Idaho bar. He served in the Territorial Council (equivalent to the state Senate) in 1874, and was elected Boise County commissioner in 1876. According to biographer McClane, Hawley did commence a full time law practice after his marriage in 1875.

Starting in 1878 he served two terms as District Attorney in the second Territorial judicial district. After his second term, he moved to Hailey and practiced law there from 1884 to 1886. In 1885, he was appointed to a four-year term as U.S. District Attorney for the Territory.

Before that term ended, he ran for election as Delegate to the U. S. Congress, but lost to Fred T. Dubois [blog, May 29]. After that, he briefly had a law office in Blackfoot. The Idaho Register reported (March 27, 1891), “James H. Hawley, Esq., of Blackfoot, took in the boom of Idaho Falls Saturday last, and made some small investments.”

That was short-lived, however; by early 1892 Hawley had established his permanent home in Boise

Although he handled legal cases related to mining, and spent over forty years in irrigation law and water-related litigation, Hawley became famous for his work in criminal law. In the early Twentieth Century, it was said that he had acted on one side or the other of “more murder cases than any other member of the bar in the United States."
Hawley, older and more “laid-back.”
McClane, Sagebrush Lawyer.

In 1892, Hawley provided legal counsel for the Coeur d’Alene miners’ union, but in 1899 he served as special state prosecutor in the actions involving union violence against the mining companies.

Later, he acted as special prosecutor during the cases resulting from the assassination of former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg.

He also spent six years defending cowboy-gunman “Diamondfield” Jack Davis against a charge of murdering two sheepmen in 1896. Although another man confessed to the killings, oddities in the Idaho legal system blocked Jack’s release until 1902 [blog, Dec 17].

Hawley was elected Boise mayor in 1902, and Idaho Governor in 1910. He was defeated in a second run for that office and in two runs for the position of U.S. Senator (in 1914 and again in 1918). His four-volume History of Idaho was published in 1920. He passed away in August 1929.
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
John F. McClane, A Sagebrush Lawyer, Pandick Press, Inc., New York (1933).
Edwin H. Peasley, Twelfth Biennial Report of the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society of Idaho, Boise (1930).

Monday, January 16, 2017

Geologist, Mining Engineer, and State Mine Inspector Robert Bell [otd 01/16]

Inspector Bell. J. H. Hawley photo.
On January 16, 1864, mining engineer Robert N. Bell was born in Yorkshire, England. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1877-1880 and worked first on a farm in Wisconsin. After a year or two there, he moved to Montana and joined a railroad construction crew near Bozeman, Montana. When that was completed, Bell found work in a nearby coal mine.

He moved to Salmon, Idaho in 1884 and began prospecting in the surrounding mountains. Two years later, he and a partner made a valuable find near Shoup, Idaho, 20-25 miles northwest of Salmon. Hawley’s History of Idaho said that, “During this period he completed a course in geology and mineralogy through the International Correspondence School of Scranton, Pennsylvania.”

Bell soon combined his studies with personal observations and began to publish authoritative articles in a wide variety of industry and scientific journals. His knowledge of Central Idaho geology and mineral potential attracted the attention of key mining companies and investors. He spent fifteen years working at various mines and acting as a consultant in the industry.

During that period, the office of State Mine Inspector was elective. He first ran for that position in 1900 and missed election “by less than two hundred votes.” He ran again in 1902 and was handily elected. Voters re-elected him for the next two terms, each time with larger and larger majorities. He decided not to run again in 1908, apparently because he wanted time to develop a fruit ranch he had purchased in the Weiser area.

Bell ran again in 1910 and won by a wide margin. He held the position through 1920, then chose not to run after that. Besides his annual reports as Mine Inspector, Bell authored several monographs on Idaho mining resources and on the state industry. Mine safety was first among the Inspector’s responsibilities, but he was also expected to be a spokesman for the mining industry.
North Idaho Mine. Historic Wallace.

In 1917-1918, most Coeur d’Alene mines had cut lead-silver production and laid off many workers. The Spokane Chronicle asked Bell (January 15, 1918) to assess the situation. He briefly explained the market forces involved and asserted that a turnaround should come soon. The newspaper headlined its item: “Lead is Coming Back to Normal.”

Bell took an active role in national and regional professional organizations, including the Mine Inspectors Association of America, the Idaho Mining Association, the Utah Society of Engineers, and the American Institute of Mining Engineers. He was also a member of the National Geological Society and the Boise Commercial Club.

During his second long stretch as Mine Inspector, Bell moved to Boise and invested in considerable real estate. That included a ten-acre estate four miles from downtown, where he built an elaborate home and installed “many modern improvements.” He chose not to run for re-election in 1920, citing “small remuneration” as his reason. The Idaho Statesman article that announced (July 18, 1920) his decision to retire praised Bell’s work to promote mine safety and better underground working conditions.

He lived near Boise until his death in December 1935.
                                                                                 
References: [Blue], [French], [Hawley]
“Shoup and Ulysses,” Reference Series No. 386, Idaho State Historical Society (1980).

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Wanderer, Painter, and Sculptor Charles Ostner Gets Paid [otd 01/15]

Artist Ostner. J. H. Hawley photo.
On January 15, 1869, the Idaho legislature appropriated $2,500 to reward artist Charles L. Ostner for the equestrian statue of George Washington he had recently presented to the state.

Born in Baden, Germany in 1828, Ostner emigrated to the U.S. around 1848-1850. Stories that pose him as an untutored natural genius are just that … stories. In reality, Charles received an early grounding in art at the University of Heidelberg and made a living as a sculptor before coming to Idaho.

He settled first in California and began raising a family around 1852. Family members recalled that the artist had itchy feet, and often settled his wife and children someplace and then traveled extensively. Gold camps and other pioneer settlements held a deep fascination for him, yet there is no solid evidence that he prospected himself.

In 1862, gold excitement in Idaho attracted him to the Territory. By 1864, he had moved his family to the Garden Valley area. There, he had a small ranch and operated a toll bridge over the South Fork of the Payette River.

Historian Arthur Hart noted Ostner’s propensity for taking advantage of attention-grabbing events to sell his art, and the shoe seems to fit. H. T. French’s History presents the “untutored hobbyist” myth and what is almost certainly a fanciful tale about the George Washington statue. This major work supposedly grew out of deep-felt admiration for the “Father of our country.”

The story began with an almost mystical selection of the perfect yellow pine. The carving itself then required four years of winter nights – the only spare time he had – in freezing conditions, the only light provided by home-made tallow candles held in the trembling, crudely-wrapped fingers of his son. This fable even had a nice added touch: Ostner’s only model was the likeness of Washington printed on a postage stamp.
Ostner statue on the capitol grounds,
Ostner’s wife - center - and two daughters at the base.
J. H. Hawley photo.

Charles finished the statue in 1868, then moved his family to Boise and “gave” the bronzed figure to the state. No doubt the inspiring story of this untutored genius, persevering through such terrible trials, got wide circulation. Some proposed a handsome award of $7 thousand, but the young Territory could only afford $2,500.

After that, Ostner used Boise as a home base for his wandering ways. Hawley’s History of Idaho said “Mr. Ostner continued to make Boise his home throughout his remaining days but traveled largely during that period, going on trips to various parts of the world."

Still, a trip to the Nome, Alaska gold rush, when he was over 70 years old, was said to have cured his “wandering heel” and he stayed in Boise after about 1900.

His work included paintings on canvas, drawings, and a wide variety of lithographic masters. “Idaho’s Pioneer Artist,” passed away in 1913.

The statue stood on the capitol grounds until 1934 when it was moved indoors, refurbished, and covered in gold leaf. The figure still has a place in the newly-renovated Idaho capitol building.
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Hawley]
Arthur Hart, “Idaho History: Charles Ostner was an artist, miner and wanderer,” Idaho Statesman (July 4, 2010).
James H. Hawley, Eleventh Biennial Report of the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society of Idaho, Boise (1928).

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Miner, Builder, Real Estate Developer, and Ferryman John Silcott [otd 01/14]

Ferryman Silcott. J. H. Hawley photo.
Clearwater ferry operator John M. Silcott was born January 14, 1824 in Loudoun County, Virginia, just west of Washington D. C.. The family moved to Ohio about four years later.

He grew up in Zanesville and as a young man worked as a carpenter, boat builder, and crewman on keelboats and river steamers. During the Mexican War, he worked at a government supply depot, after which he moved to New Orleans.

In 1849, he joined the eager rush to California. Silcott quickly discovered that his carpentry skills were in great demand, so he pursued his trade in San Francisco and Sacramento. With a solid stake, he and three partners bought proven claims in northern California. John prospected gold fields there and in southern Oregon until about 1858, when he followed the rush into British Columbia.

The Canadian venture did not pan out, and the cost of the expedition sent him back to carpentry when he ended up in Walla Walla, Washington. Again he did very well as the town expanded. In 1860, he moved to the old Nez Perce mission on Lapwai Creek, where the Indian agent had him erect a new building for the Agency. Silcott then stayed on there as a sub-agent.

Many years later, the Lewiston Teller related the story of “the first Christmas celebration in the Lewiston valley,” hosted by “Old Uncle John” Silcott. He invited “every white man within fifty miles” to a his party. The repast was short on traditional dishes – wild goose replaced turkey – but rich and bountiful nonetheless. Concoctions blended with “medicinal” alcohol from a five gallon container no doubt masked any possible shortcomings in the cuisine.

Not to be outdone, William Craig, an old mountain man turned settler, then hosted the first New Years celebration. But, the Teller said, “a dire situation arose.” Guests at the Christmas party had guzzled all the alcohol. Luckily, two new, and still sober, arrivals volunteered to rush off to Walla Walla for ten gallons of whisky. The paper noted that, “They made the trip and broke the record for rapid freight service.”

The following year, Silcott built a ferry across the Snake River downstream from Lewiston. He benefited greatly from the surge in area traffic with the gold discoveries around Pierce, Elk City, and Florence. Encouraged, he built another ferry connecting Lewiston with the north shore of the Clearwater River. He also leased a ferry on the Spokane River.
Old western ferry. Library of Congress.
Silcott acquired land around Lewiston and helped plat the town. His real estate ventures did well, although not as well as they might had not newcomers “jumped” many of his lots. He also claimed a homestead on the north side of the Clearwater and built a home near the ferry landing.

In 1882-1885, Silcott sold off all his ferry holdings except the Lewiston-Clearwater vessel. He continued to run that ferry until a year or two before his death, successively lowering the fares to just cover his expenses.

Old Uncle John died in 1902 and was buried on the Clearwater homestead beside his Nez Perce wife, Jane, who had died in 1895.
                                                                                 
References: [Hawley], [Illust-North], [Illust-State]
“Lewiston (Silcott) Ferry,” Reference Series No. 759, Idaho State Historical Society (1982).