Friday, April 20, 2018

Educator, Newspaperman, and Rexburg Patriarch Arthur Porter, Jr. [otd 04/20]

Arthur Porter, Jr. as a young man.
Porter family records.
Arthur Porter, Jr. – college professor, businessman, public servant, and religious leader – was born April 20, 1876 in Auckland, New Zealand. Mormon converts, the family moved to Utah in 1885.

Arthur, Jr. grew up there and went on to school at Brigham Young College in Logan. After earning his B.S. degree in 1896, he served as a missionary in Switzerland. While there, he took classes at the University of Geneva.

Even a minimal summary of Porter's multiple careers describes a life of incredible activity and achievement. He first taught in Utah and then in Preston, Idaho. However, in 1902, he began his long association with Rexburg and what is today Brigham Young University-Idaho (BYU-Idaho). At what was then Ricks Academy, he started out teaching mathematics and geography, as well as vocal music.

Starting with the 1905 school year, Porter was assigned to teach science classes: physics, chemistry, physiology, geology, and botany. Five years later, he added geometry and German to his teaching load. However, after one year of that, he was allowed to teach just German. (Porter acquired German as a child because his mother often conversed with him in that language.)  Before his resignation from the full-time faculty over a decade later, in 1916, he also taught theology.

Off and on for another dozen years he taught there part-time. That included the period when the Academy became Ricks Normal College (in 1918) and then just Ricks College five years later. During this period, the school weathered a storm when the church closed many academies as a cost-cutting measure. Because it offered a wide range of college-level classes, Ricks escaped the axe. Porter was among those who argued for the school’s continuance. He would be heavily involved in the non-teaching affairs of the College for many, many years. He would later remark, “I have participated in every crisis that the school has passed through in the past 55 years.”

Arthur got his introduction to the newspaper business during his brief sojourn in Preston. He was a partner in running the Preston Standard. Porter sold his interest when he moved his family to Rexburg. Then, in 1908, he purchased a Rexburg newspaper that he would continue to publish for over forty years. Porter also owned farm property and engaged in extensive real estate activities. For a time, one of his companies owned a Rexburg hotel.
Arthur Porter with grandchildren, ca. 1947. Porter family records.

Porter's sense of civic duty led him into public service. Over the next half century he would: lead innumerable county and city committees and associations, serve six years on the Rexburg city council then later six years as mayor, serve two terms in the state House of Representatives, and end with four years as county Superintendent of Schools. He closed his public career only after a failed bid for a state Senate seat in 1954, when he was seventy-eight years old.

As if all that weren't enough, Porter remained very active in the LDS church for most of his life, as: missionary, Sunday school superintendent, stake Counselor, LDS hospital board member, and frequent and long-term committee member or leader.

Arthur Porter, Jr. died at the end of 1967. Rexburg's Porter Park is named in his honor, as well as the Arthur Porter Room (Special Collections) at BYU-Idaho.
                                                                                 
References: [French]
David L. Crowder, Arthur Porter Jr., Community Builder, Man of Vision, Arnold Press, Rexburg, Idaho (© David L. Crowder, 1986).
David L. Crowder, The Spirit of Ricks: A History of Ricks College, Ricks College Press, Rexburg, Idaho (1997).
John Powell (ed), "Arthur Porter, Jr. Papers," Arthur Porter Special Collections, Brigham Young University - Idaho, Rexburg (2003)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Grand Opening for Exotic and Modern Egyptian Theater [otd 04/19]

On April 19, 1927, crowds began to gather outside the brand new Egyptian Theater at least an hour before it was supposed to open, at 7:00 pm. Boise's first movie "palace" had created an expectant buzz in the city.
Egyptian Theater, ca. 1928*. City of Boise.

Of the five other movie houses in town, the Pinney Theater was the largest and fanciest. Former Boise mayor James Pinney [blog, Sept 29], a theater enthusiast, opened the Pinney in late 1908. Designed initially for stage plays, within a decade movie productions predominated.

As the grande damme of downtown venues, the Pinney got preference for the prestigious first-run movies. For example, the theater offered the first exclusive, limited engagement in Boise of The Birth of a Nation (Idaho Statesman, April 10, 1916). This highly controversial, but wildly popular movie by D. W. Griffith is considered historically important as the first true “feature” film.

However, the "Roaring Twenties" were in full swing, and moviegoers craved something modern for a venue. To some, the Pinney seemed stodgy and old-fashioned. The other four theaters in town were smaller and generally conventional in design. Boiseans were ready for the exotic.

Sensing an opportunity, in April 1926, three Boise businessmen – Leo J. Falk, Harry K. Fritchman and Charles M. Kahn – incorporated a company to satisfy that desire. Two of them were especially well known to locals. Boise City was just five years old when Nathan Falk, Leo's father, opened a store there. Born in Boise in 1882, Leo ended up directing the extensive family holdings after his father died in 1903.

Fifteen years older than Leo, Fritchman was already a successful businessman when he relocated to Boise. He continued that success in Idaho, and served as Boise Mayor in 1911. Kahn moved to Boise from Portland in 1899 and established a thriving law practice. Prominent in the local Jewish community, Kahn served a term as City Attorney starting in April 1907.
Interior décor, Egyptian Theater. Theater photo gallery.

The partners contracted with the well-known architectural firm of Tourtellotte & Hummel to design a spectacular venue. At the time, "Egyptian" motifs were all the rage, so the architect visited several examples. That included Grauman’s Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles, which had opened four years earlier. The designer then immersed himself in pertinent references and offered his own interpretation.

After almost a year of work, the doors finally opened on the 19th of April. Patrons found themselves in a bright lobby, tiled nearer the doors but with lush carpeting further in. Water fountains burbled somewhere. The walls looked like cut stone, with frescos embellished in bright blues, reds and greens.

Warner Bros. publicity poster.
The Egyptian opened with the movie Don Juan, starring the hugely popular John Barrymore. The release gave Boise theatergoers something else new: The first feature film with prerecorded – via the "Vitaphone" – sound effects and music (no dialog).

Today, the Egyptian is the only theater that has survived from that era. It went through several names in its history, before returning to the original. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. At considerable cost, a recent restoration addressed various building code issues while retaining the historic decor.

* The photograph was identified as "undated," but the marquee says: "Monte Blue in Across the Pacific." That silent film was released in 1926, so this showing would have almost certainly been in 1927 or 1928.
                                                                                 
References: [French]
Arthur Hart, "Idaho history: [Boise Movie Theaters]," Idaho Statesman (September 13 and 20, 2009).
"Don Juan," The Internet Movie Database.
"Across the Pacific," The Internet Movie Database.
Sue Paseman, "The Mysterious East Meets the Pragmatic West," Historical Essay, Boise State University (Dec 2004).

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Rancher, Horse Breeder, and Sheriff Sam F. Taylor [otd 04/18]

Samuel F. "Sam" Taylor was born April 18, 1848 in Kentucky. Like his cousin, James Madison “Matt” Taylor [blog Dec 10], Sam traced his lineage back to Englishman James Taylor, who emigrated to Virginia in 1635. James Taylor’s descendants included two U. S. Presidents: James Madison and Zachary Taylor (second cousins to Sam and Matt). Sam’s family moved to Lafayette County, Missouri when he was a year old.
Making hay, the old way. Library of Congress.

In 1870, Sam finished a college degree in Kentucky and then joined cousin Matt in Eagle Rock (today's Idaho Falls). The town grew up around Matt's toll bridge and Sam helped with a hay contract for the stage line.

In a letter written many years later, Sam said, “There was nothing there then but Matt Taylor’s family and what help they had around, and men that worked for the stage line; … There was no farming done, no tame hay, no stock in the country; lots of good grass and we just had to cut the wild grass wherever it could be found. I had four four-horse teams and ten men; lots of this hay had to be hauled twenty-five miles, and we were all summer until frost filling the contract.”

After completing the order, Sam and his brother Ike trailed cattle into the area from Missouri, first for Matt's ranch, and then for one of their own. They were among the first to import thoroughbred stock to help upgrade the Territory's herds. According to local historian Barzilla Clark, "These Taylor brothers originated the SI stock brand, the first brand used in this valley, and well known for many years thereafter."Besides his ranch, Sam also partnered in a meat market.

In 1884, Taylor was elected to the first of two terms as county sheriff. He performed his job quietly and with what the Illustrated History called “signal ability.” Along with those duties, Sam opened a livery stable in 1885-1886. He was a member of the first school board organized in Eagle Rock, and President of the first county fair in 1887. Right after that, Sam served a term in the last Territorial legislature and was a member of the constitutional convention that led to Idaho statehood.

The livery business moved Sam into breeding top-grade trotting horses. He bred many fine horses and one went on to excel in Eastern races. A New York Times headline for July 27, 1894 read "Ryland T. Surprises the Talent in the Races on the Grand Circuit."
Bay trotter, Currier & Ives image, ca. 1883. Library of Congress.

The article noted that "the talent" – racing aficionados – had never seen that much speed from the bay gelding, which was "bred in Idaho" and carried the "SI" brand. But this time out the horse had "stepped ... the best mile that has been trotted this year and the fastest one even seen at Cleveland."

Later, Sam moved his family to a ranch near Mackay. While he lived there, Custer County voters elected him to a term in the state House of Representatives.

In 1911, Sam moved to Ontario, Oregon (a few miles south of Payette, Idaho), partly for his wife’s health, and to be near their married daughter. Sam returned regularly to Idaho Falls on business for five or six years after that. The change certainly helped his wife’s health, for she lived until 1928. Sam passed away there in 1935.
                                                                                 
References: [Illust-State]
Barzilla W. Clark, Bonneville County in the Making, Self-published, Idaho Falls, Idaho (1941).
"Golden Jubilee Edition, 1884-1934," Idaho Falls Post-Register (September 10, 1934).
"A New Trotting Champion," The New York Times (July 27, 1894).

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Nampa Incorporates and Forms City Government [otd 04/17]

On April 17, 1891, the village of Nampa, Idaho was officially incorporated and proceeded to form a municipal government. The town – there's no consensus on the origin of the name – owes its existence to the Oregon Short Line Railroad, which ran its tracks through the area in late 1883. Because a direct line into Boise City involved severe grades, the OSL stayed west of that city, following Indian Creek.
Steam locomotive at water tower.
State of California photo.

The railroad established a small transfer station at Kuna, where the tracks crossed the main road between Boise and Silver City. However, those early steam locomotives had an insatiable thirst for water: They had to refill roughly every ten miles. Thus, the spot that became Nampa was marked only by a watering station at first.

Nine miles beyond that station, developers had laid out the town of Caldwell. The skulduggery involved in that site choice is beyond the scope of this item. However, the crux of the matter was construction of a branch line from that town into Boise City. That seemed to be a real possibility by the end of 1884. However, for reasons that are not entirely clear, the OSL – actually, the Union Pacific – suddenly “pulled the plug” on that project in the spring of 1885.

Enter Alexander Duffes, a businessman born in Utica, New York, who had prospered in Canada. In 1884-1885, he decided to sell off his mercantile business and travel in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. Upon his return, in Portland, he ran into James McGee, a Caldwell real estate man.

Duffes had retained his real estate holdings and was apparently ripe for possible land investments. McGee advised him to check out the area around the watering station between Caldwell and Kuna. Duffes did so, and found the potential encouraging. He continued east, but soon returned with his wife and son, and claimed a homestead (160 acres) at the site in 1885.

Early the following year, Duffes and McGee formed the Nampa Land and Improvement Company. They sold lots in the normal way, but Duffes, a deeply religious man, also donated improved building sites for several churches and for a schoolhouse. At about the same time, the Union Pacific resurrected the Boise City spur line project, this time using a shorter route from Nampa. Crews completed construction of the branch to Boise City in September 1887 [blog, Sept 13].
Nampa, ca. 1918. J. H. Hawley image.

A simple wood-frame structure provided a way station for passengers at the new stop. Several years later, the railroad funded a considerable expansion of the depot (Idaho Statesman, February 28 and August 19, 1892).

Incorporation of the town in 1891 roughly coincided with the completion of an extensive irrigation system for the surrounding farm land.

That fueled steady growth ... to about 800 people in 1900, when the train station serviced ten passenger trains every day. Three years later, Nampa received a fine new railway station. News reports noted (Idaho Falls Times, August 14, 1903) that “It is said to be one of handsomest on the line.” Today, that structure houses the Canyon County Historical Museum.

Early on, Nampa became known as the “Junction City,” sparked by the spur line to Boise. The town got another connection in 1898, when a line was completed into Murphy [blog, August 7]. Later, another company ran tracks north from Nampa, reaching McCall in 1914.

Nampa still remains an important railway shipping point for the extensive agricultural production in the area. The city has grown to around 75 thousand residents.
                                                                                 
References: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Canyon County Historical Society, "Our Town,” City of Nampa web site.
“Idaho Central Railroad,” Reference Series No. 216, Idaho State Historical Society.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Congress Authorizes Fort Sherman Construction in North Idaho [otd 04/16]

Gen. William T. Sherman, ca. 1865.
Library of Congress.
On April 16, 1878, the U.S. Congress authorized the construction of a fort on Lake Coeur d'Alene at what would eventually become the city of that name. The action had been recommended by General William Tescumseh Sherman.

The General had traveled through the area the year before, not long after the end of the Nez Percé War. Sherman sought answers to why the Army had had so much trouble with the Nez Percé and other Indian uprisings (the Custer disaster was only a year in the past). More importantly, he wanted to head off any re-occurrence.

Assessing the region, the General decided that a fort on Lake Coeur d'Alene would allow troops to keep an eye on the tribes in the Idaho Panhandle. From there, they could also reinforce units watching the Yakimas in Washington and the Nez Percé along the Clearwater River. Sherman’s experience during the Civil War no doubt alerted him to the advantages of having the lake and the Spokane River close at hand to move troops more quickly.

The installation began life as Camp Coeur d'Alene, a few months after Congress provided the funding. Within about a year, the post was fully manned, and the name changed to Fort Coeur d'Alene. That same year, the Army contracted for the construction of the first steamboat to operate on the Lake [blog, Apr 4]. The steamer primarily hauled feed for the Fort’s animals, but could also carry troops if needed.

As often happened, a town – Coeur d'Alene City – soon grew up near the Fort. The combination of the Fort, and the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in the region, fueled considerable growth in the area.

The fort’s garrison was called out during the Bannock War of 1878, but nothing came of that. The Fort experienced a bit of excitement in 1887, shortly after a new commander took over from Colonel Frank Wheaton. Wheaton, in collusion with his quartermaster and his adjutant, had resorted to “unconventional” means to run the fort: Among a host of transgressions, they had allowed civilians – for a fee – to use the Army steamer to transport goods.

A court of inquiry concluded (The Evening Star, Washington, D.C., July 2, 1887) that “while the actions of the accused may have had their origin in a zealous desire to create a military post for which no adequate appropriation had been made, the methods and processes were deplorable … ”

Yet, in the end, the administration did not pursue the matter. Nor did the incident seem to hurt Wheaton’s career – he became a Brigadier General in 1892, and a Major General five years after that.
Fort Sherman, ca. 1895. Museum of North Idaho.

The post name changed to Fort Sherman in 1887. The only real "action" the troops saw was during the 1892 disputes in the mining districts. Then, the soldiers were sent to establish martial law in Wardner and the other mining towns.

The final deployment from the Fort was in 1898, when the garrison joined the buildup for the Spanish-American War. For a variety of reasons, the Army abandoned the facility in 1901. When the government auctioned off the land in 1905, a small portion was set aside for a park and cemetery. Today, the area is part the Museum of North Idaho & Fort Sherman.
                                                                                 
Reference: [French], [Illust-North]
Larry R. Jones, "Fort Sherman," Reference Series No. 355, Idaho State Historical Society (1969).
Ezra J. Warner, Generals In Blue - Lives of the Union Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge (1964).

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Fur Trade Leader Donald Mackenzie Navigates Hells Canyon [otd 04/15]

Donald MacKenzie, ca. 1840s.
Chautauqua County Historical Society,
Westfield, New York.
On April 15, 1819, fur trade leader Donald Mackenzie reported his "successful" ascent of the Snake River through what is today called Hells Canyon: "The passage by water is now proved to be safe and practicable for loaded boats, without one single carrying place or portage; therefore, the doubtful question is set at rest forever. Yet from the force of the current and the frequency of rapids, it may still be advisable, and perhaps preferable, to continue the land transport."

Born in 1783 near Inverness, Scotland, Mackenzie emigrated to Canada in 1800. Shortly after that, Donald hired on as a clerk for the North West Company (NWC), a British-Canadian fur dealer. He had thus amassed considerable experience in the fur trade when John Jacob Astor [blog, Jul 17] recruited him as a Pacific Fur Company (PFC) partner in 1810.

The following year, Mackenzie crossed into Idaho for the first time, as a member of the Wilson Price Hunt party [blog, Oct 5]. Then that group split up. Donald led a small band that trekked from south-central Idaho, through the Boise Valley, and then north into Nez Percé country on the lower Salmon River.

Unfortunately, the War of 1812 ruined Astor's venture. Mackenzie was one of three British-Canadian partners who engineered the bargain-price sale of the PFC base at Astoria to the NWC. By exaggerating the threat posed by a British warship (which did not arrive for months after the transfer), they squelched any thought of moving the base further inland.

After dissolution of the PFC, Mackenzie had to find a new position. Astor at first blamed his losses on one of the other British-Canadian partners, so Mackenzie stayed on with him briefly. However, the two had a falling out when Astor learned more about Mackenzie's role in the sell-out. Since two of his brothers worked for the NWC, the Scot accepted a position with that firm.

Starting in 1816, the Company placed him in charge of the "Snake Brigade," a band of trappers and support personnel that worked the Snake River watershed. Although managers doubted that the venture would make much money, if any, Mackenzie soon proved the potential of the region. Profits for his 1817-1818 campaign were particularly fine.

At the start, Brigade operations were based at Astoria. Mackenzie decided they needed a staging area closer to their trapping grounds. Thus, in the summer of 1918, he and fellow-trader Alexander Ross built Fort Nez Percé on the Columbia River several miles south of the mouth of the Snake. (About 25 miles west of today’s Walla Walla, Washington.)
Hells Canyon. U.S. Forest Service photo.

His goal in trying Hells Canyon was to avoid the arduous climb over Oregon's Blue Mountains. Still, Mackenzie admitted, "There are two places with bold cut rocks on either side of the river, where the great body of water is compressed within a narrow compass, which may render those parts doubtful during the floods."

"Doubtful" indeed! Today, Hells Canyon is considered a world class whitewater destination for kayakers and rafters. It includes at least two Class V (just short of lethal) rapids during high water. The mind boggles at the thought of traversing the canyon in clunky dugout canoes. And, as a matter of record, the fur companies never tried to ship supplies or pelts through the canyon.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W]
James P. Ronda, Astoria and Empire, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1990).
Alexander Ross, Kenneth A. Spaulding (ed.), The Fur Hunters of the Far West, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman (1956).
John English (ed.), "Donald McKenzie," Dictionary of Canadian Biography, University of Toronto (2000).

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Army Leader and Western Explorer Benjamin Bonneville [otd 04/14]

U.S. Army General Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonneville was born to bourgeoisie parents on April 14, 1796, near Paris, France. His father, perhaps sensing how the political winds were blowing, sent the family to the U.S. in 1803. (Napoleon would crown himself Emperor of France in 1804). He joined them some years later.
West Point, early print, bef. 1835. Library of Congress.

A precocious student, Benjamin graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point when he was nineteen years old. Bonneville's career, and reputation, underwent a series of ups and downs, too convoluted to describe here in full. He served at duty stations that ranged from the Northeast to posts in Arkansas and Oklahoma territories, and the new state of Missouri.

When Bonneville arrived in Missouri, the Western fur trade seemed to be in full swing. Moreover, the “Oregon Country” – the Pacific Northwest, including British Columbia – had attracted the interest of religious missionaries as well as curious settlers. Bonneville, now a captain, came to share their enthusiasm.

He persuaded the Army to grant him a leave of absence to pursue a fur trade venture that would allow him to explore the region. His superiors saw this as a “win-win” situation: Bonneville could study the “joint occupancy” lands of the Oregon County, and it would cost the government nothing (not even a captain’s salary).

Bonneville then found private investors to finance his fur trade venture. Unfounded rumors of a “secret mission” have surfaced occasionally, but there is no doubt that Bonneville took his role as trader seriously. He spent three years, from the spring of 1832 to the spring of 1835, running a fur trade business while collecting information about the Oregon Country.

Along the way, he and his trappers and traders covered most of (future) Idaho south of the Salmon River. Thus, in the fall and winter of 1832, his main body camped in the Lemhi Valley near where that river flows into the Salmon. Two years later, after returning from Oregon, Bonneville’s party wintered along the upper reach of the Bear River in southeast Idaho.

Unfortunately, while the captain was an outstanding leader, he was no businessman; the venture lost money. Still, Washington Irving's account of his "adventures," based on Bonneville's personal journals, made his reputation as a western explorer.

However, because his request for an extension had gone astray in the Army files, he appeared to have severely overstayed his leave. Not only that, his formal reports, with maps, also disappeared. He had been struck from the Army roles and there was some doubt that he would regain his commission.

Benjamin Bonneville.
Library of Congress.
He was reinstated, finally, in 1836. Bonneville served in the Mexican War (1846-1848), and later saw duty at Fort Vancouver, back in Oregon Country. He began a brief retirement in 1861. However, experienced officers being in short supply, Bonneville was soon recalled to Civil War duty and rose to the rank of Brevet Brigadier General. He retired again in 1866 and died twelve years later.

With no visible evidence beyond the Irving account, some historians dismissed the notion that he had made major contributions as an explorer. Then, finally, researchers found Bonneville's documentation. His real achievements are, probably, somewhere between the breathless impression created by Irving and the dismissive attitude of the doubters.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W], [Brit]
H. M. Chittenden, The American Fur Trade of the Far West, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1986).
Washington Irving, Edgeley W. Todd (ed.), The Adventures of Captain Bonneville U.S.A., in the Rocky Mountains and the Far West. Digested from his journal. University of Oklahoma Press (1961).
Edith Haroldsen Lovell, Benjamin Bonneville: Soldier of the American Frontier, Horizon Publishers, Bountiful, Utah (1992).

Friday, April 13, 2018

Newspaperman and Pure Food Enforcer James Wallis [otd 04/13]

J. H. Wallis. Photo from Rytting biography.
Newspaperman and pure food crusader James Hearknett Wallis was born April 13, 1861 in London, England. The family moved to a town near Liverpool when he was twelve. Four years later, James converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Having apprenticed in the printer’s trade, Wallis found work at a newspaper in Liverpool, where he met his future wife.

In 1881, James and his prospective bride emigrated to the United States as part of a Mormon party, and were married in Salt Lake City. After six months in Salt Lake, he and his new wife moved to Paris, Idaho. There, he served as Editor and publisher of the Paris Post, a newspaper started the year before by officers of the LDS Bear Lake Stake. Over the next twenty years, Wallis left and then returned to manage the Post several times.
Linotype machine, Rexburg Standard, ca. 1906. Rytting biography.
In fact, for nearly thirty years, Wallis would operate (and sometimes own and then sell) a bewildering succession of Idaho newspapers: the Montpelier Post, the Sugar City Times, the Rexburg Standard, and more. He also dabbled in the Utah newspaper business.

Many newspapers of that day served as unabashed advocates for specific political parties and candidates. In that context, Wallis decided to go into public service himself. He also studied law and earned a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Nebraska in 1896. Among his public-service jobs, his years as Idaho State Dairy, Food and Sanitary Commissioner had the most impact.

Three years after passage of the Federal Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, Governor James Brady [blog, Jun 12] appointed Wallis to head the Sanitary Commissioner. (It was perhaps no coincidence that Brady was a newspaper man himself.) Wallis found plenty of problems and attacked them aggressively. No longer could meat markets display cuts in open trays, with no protection from flies or wind-blown contaminants. Milk had to be properly handled, and dairy barns had to be kept as clean and neat as possible.
Railroad dining car, 1905. Library of Congress.

Wallis became famous nationally for his activities. The New York Times printed (June 1, 1913) a long interview with the Commissioner, who proudly extolled his methods. On several occasions he had even "stopped a through train and forced the dining car chef to throw most of the food out onto the right of way."

As for substandard milk, Wallis said, “We just seize it and sell it for pig feed or destroy it.”

But, as could be expected, Wallis also stepped on a lot of toes. Eventually, his enemies found an opening. The details are beyond the scope of this article, but in October 1914, Wallis was forced to resign for “misappropriation of state funds” – five charges for amounts from $10 to a $50 over-payment of vacation time to an employee. He eventually paid a fine for the over-payment charge. The Idaho Statesman reported (May 5, 1915) that “even the judge and prosecutor [felt] that Wallis had been more careless than sinning.”

Still, the Statesman later noted (September 28, 1916) that the state of Utah had hired him to help with their food safety efforts. That also got him back into the newspaper business. Except for excursions related to LDS activities, he lived in Utah until his death in August 1940.
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Illust-State]
"Fly Man Boosts Buzzless Boise," The New York Times (June 1, 1913).
Gloria Wallis Rytting, James H. Wallis: Poet, Printer, and Patriarch, R & R Enterprises, Salt Lake City (1989).

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Eastern Idaho Physician and Hospital Builder Edwin Cutler [otd 4/12]

Dr. Cutler. H.T. French photo.
Edwin Cutler, M.D., was born April 12, 1868, in American Fork, Utah, midway between Provo and Salt Lake City. After high school, he attended Brigham Young University and then the University of Utah. He graduated in 1889, and taught school in a number of Utah districts. Over the next decade, he also served at times as a school principal or superintendent.

Cutler moved to Idaho in 1900 to become Principal of the Oneida Stake Academy, in Preston. He spent two years there before pursuing his ambition to become a physician. In 1906, he received his M.D. degree from what H. T. French’s History identified as the College of Physicians and Surgeons, in Chicago. At that time, the College was being integrated into the University of Illinois system.

Edwin first returned with his degree to Preston, where he joined his brother’s practice. After a year there, he moved to Shelley, about ten miles south of Idaho Falls. Founded in 1892, “Shelley Siding” had soon become an important loading point for agricultural products from the surrounding homesteads [blog, Jul 9].

Dr. Cutler quickly discovered that the only hospital in the entire region was a new private facility in Idaho Falls. Two local physicians established that hospital the same year Edwin arrived in Shelley. Once he had settled into his practice, Dr. Cutler set up a similar service in Shelley. He continued the unit even after the Idaho Falls doctors built a 25-bed facility.

As a prototypical “country doctor,” Cutler covered great distances to make house calls. During the earliest years, he traveled by horse-drawn buggy in good weather and via a one-horse sleigh during the winter. In 1909, he bought an automobile, reportedly the first in Shelley. However, he continued to use horse-drawn transport on outlying tracks not suitable for motor vehicles. Local lore asserts that, between the two World Wars, Dr. Cutler delivered three-quarters of the babies born in the Shelley area.

He built that reputation despite suffering a scary event during the fall of 1916. Somehow, Cutler was involved in the explosion of a boiler at his home in Shelley. His injuries persisted for awhile, but in its “State News: Shelley” the Idaho Statesman reported (February 9, 1917) that “Dr. Edwin Cutler … is now recovering rapidly.” However, even then he must have had some lingering effects because late that year he traveled to Salt Lake City for an operation on his arm.

To keep himself current, Dr. Cutler regularly attended medical-education clinics and maintained membership in local, state, and national medical associations. When the LDS Hospital was built in Idaho Falls, Dr. Cutler closed his private institution and joined the executive staff of the new facility. In conjunction with that work, he also acted as local surgeon for the Oregon Short Line (Union Pacific) Railroad.
LDS Hospital, Idaho Falls, ca. 1930.
Bonneville County Historical Society.

Cutler also invested in farmland and was active in civic affairs. He served three years on the village council in Shelley, with a year as its chairman. He also served as a health officer and school trustee, and was an active member of the local Chamber of Commerce. Cutler was a bishop in the Shelley Latter Day Saints church and served in various stake offices. He was also a leader in the local troop of the Boy Scouts of America.

Dr. Cutler apparently remained on call to his patients until at least 1946. He passed away three years later.
                                                                                 
References: [Defen], [French]
“Golden Jubilee Edition, 1884–1934,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (September 10, 1934).
“Largest Family," Alumni Quarterly & Fortnightly News, Vol. 6, No. 10, University of Illinois (February 15, 1921).

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Narrow Gauge Railway Tracks Reach Eagle Rock (Idaho Falls) [otd 4/11]

In 1879, the Engineering and Mining Journal contained the following brief item: "Ogden, Utah, April 11 – The Utah & Northern Railway has been completed to Eagle Rock Bridge, Snake River, Idaho, 210 miles north of this point. Regular trains will begin running there April 15th."
Western steam train. Library of Congress.
A decade earlier, the eastern and western legs of the transcontinental railroad had worked their way toward each other. Even then, settlers in Montana began agitating for their own rail service. Years would pass, however, before the region had a direct line to the east.

Still, a couple years after the Golden Spike Ceremony in 1869 [blog, May 10], developers laid plans to extend a branch line north to Montana. To complete such a spur, they incorporated the Utah Northern Railroad Company. Construction began at Brigham City, Utah, in August 1871. Tight finances meant that track-laying progressed slowly. Thus, Utah Northern rails did not cross the Idaho border until May, 1874. To save money, the company laid narrow gauge track (a 36-inch span versus standard gauge at 56-1⁄2 inch). The narrower road bed and bridges substantially reduces construction costs, especially in mountainous terrain.

Unfortunately, by then, the affects of the Panic of 1873 had pushed the poorly-capitalized company to the brink of extinction. They managed only brief spurts of construction over the next four years – laying 10-12 miles of track north from Franklin.

Meanwhile, a change took place at a key location along the railroad’s expected route. At that time, Taylor’s Bridge at Eagle Rock (today’s Idaho Falls) was the only span across the Snake River. Surveys showed that the same location provided the best place for a railroad bridge. “Matt” Taylor and two partners had built the existing toll bridge, suitable for wagon traffic, in 1865 [blog, Dec 10 ].

The railroad would, of course, supplant heavy freight wagon traffic through the area. Taylor decided to get out of the toll business while he could still get a good price. In 1872, he sold his share to the Anderson Brothers – Robert (one of the original bridge partners) and John (generally known as “Jack” or “J.C.”).

The financial woes experienced by the Utah Northern made Taylor’s action somewhat premature. Not until late 1877 did a solution to those problems appear. Promoter Jay Gould, major partner in the Union Pacific Railroad, then took an interest in the project. He and several other UP partners bought control of the venture, and provided a major infusion of new financing. The reorganized company – now called the Utah & Northern Railway – resumed track laying in March 1878.
Eagle Rock Bridges, ca. 1880. Utah State Historical Society.

The rails made it through the Southeast Idaho mountains and out onto the Snake River plain in late 1878. They crossed the Blackfoot River around Christmas and, as noted above, reached Eagle Rock in April 1879. Construction of a railroad bridge began immediately; the first train crossed the span on July 1

The railroad had an immediate impact on settlement in the area. Less than three weeks after that first train crossed, new arrivals settled on land about thirty-three miles north of Eagle Rock. In fact, the Owyhee Avalanche, in Silver City, Idaho, reported (May 10, 1879), “A correspondent of the Salt Lake Tribune says that Blackfoot is deserted and a stampede has taken place in the direction of Eagle Rock … ”

Just over eight years after the rails reached Eagle Rock, the company converted the entire line to standard gauge trackage [blog, July 24].
                                                                                 
References: [B&W], [French]
Barzilla W. Clark, Bonneville County in the Making, Self-published, Idaho Falls, Idaho (1941).
Mary Jane Fritzen, Eagle Rock, City of Destiny, Bonneville County Historical Society, Idaho Falls, Idaho (1991).
"Railway Extension in Idaho," Engineering and Mining Journal, Vol. XXVII, Scientific Publishing Company, New York (April 19, 1879).

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Cattle Growers Meet in Shoshone, Discuss Disease and Over-Grazing [otd 04/10]

The April 10, 1886 issue of the Owyhee Avalanche in Silver City, Idaho reported on the Annual Meeting of the Idaho Territorial Stock Growers' Association. The meeting took place in Shoshone. The Association had been organized about three months previously at that same location.
Idaho Hotel, Silver City. Owyhee Directory.

The first documented Idaho stockmen's association began in 1878, when cattlemen held a convention in Silver City to discuss their business. (The Owyhee Cattlemen's Association – still in operation today – dates its founding from this period.) Five years later, the Avalanche reported (July 7, 1883) another Silver City meeting and said that area stockmen were "now busily engaged in drawing up bylaws, rules, etc."

Other areas also saw the need for such concerted efforts. In 1885, the Avalanche reprinted (March 28, 1885) an item from the Shoshone Journal, which said, in part, "The first annual meeting of the Idaho Cattle Growers' Association will be held at Shoshone, on Wednesday, April 1, 1885, and members of all associations of stock growers in Idaho are cordially invited to be present."

The announcement identified George L. Shoup, Lemhi cattleman and later U.S. Senator from Idaho [blog, Apr 1], as the Association's President. Members were directed to submit their brand information so “a full and complete brand book” could be issued. At that time, brands had to be registered with the Recorder of the stockman’s county of residence. However, no mechanism existed to consolidate the county records into one reference.

Participants at the 1885 Annual Meeting apparently concluded that growers needed a more broadly-based organization. Thus, early the following year, the Avalanche reported (January 23, 1886) that stockmen had formed a new organization: "The association was organized under the name of 'Idaho Territorial Stock Growers' Association,' about sixty five of the heaviest stock raisers having been admitted to membership."

The new Association largely adopted the by-laws of the previous organization, which were "copied (with a few exceptions) word for word." Members selected Thomas Sparks, American Falls cattleman, as president. George Shoup was a member of the Executive Committee. The article concluded, "The purposes for which the territorial association was formed are good, and will strike the mind of all stock men as just the thing long desired."

Having completed their organizational business, the Association then held the Annual Meeting that the newspaper reported on April 10th. The Avalanche noted that, "it was well attended by stock men from Wyoming, Nevada, and Utah, and also from the various stock owners in the counties of this territory."

Among other business, the Association passed several resolutions. One urged Congress to redress "the want of quarantine laws against importing diseased cattle into this territory."
Western cattle roundup, 1887-1892. Library of Congress.

Another deplored overgrazing and stated: "Resolved, That the members of this association will not work at the round-ups with men who recklessly place cattle or other stock upon ranges already fully occupied, and when the rights of range tenure have been previously fully recognized."

Unfortunately, competition for land – including that from "tramp" stockmen, who used the range and moved on without paying taxes – thwarted their good intentions. Two years later, the Avalanche observed (May 26, 1888) that the poor state of grazing in Owyhee County was because “the ranges have all been, and are now overstocked.” In fact, they went on, the too-large herds “have worn it [the range] out, in fact, killed it.

Mother Nature, in the form of deadly winter weather, soon taught a lesson from which some never recovered.
                                                                                 
References: Mike Hanley, with Ellis Lucia, Owyhee Trails, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1973).
Adelaide Hawes, Valley of Tall Grass, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1950).

Monday, April 9, 2018

Americans and British-Canadian Fur Trappers Meet Along Portneuf River [otd 04/09]

Peter Skene Ogden.
Oregon Historical Society.
On April 9, 1826, Peter Skene Ogden, for whom the Ogden River is named, wrote in his journal, "About 10 a.m. we were surprised by the arrival of a party of Americans and some of our deserters of last year, 28 in all."

Ogden led the Snake Brigade, a band of trappers and support personnel working for the British-Canadian Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) [blog, Jan 1]. The column had left Fort Nez Perces (near later Walla Walla, Washington) in November 1825 to trap first in eastern Oregon. They entered Idaho in mid-February and trapped the Boise River, then the lower Wood River area.

On March 12, Ogden wrote, “We are now encamped within 100 yards [of] where the Pacific Fur Company traders lost a man by the upsetting of one of their canoes.”

That incident [blog, Oct 28] occurred in 1811, and Ogden's reference to it places the party about fifteen miles west of today’s Burley, on the north side of the Snake River Canyon. They soon crossed the river, scouted the Raft River and continued on to American Falls. The Brigade reached the lower part of the Portneuf River at the beginning of April. Ogden knew this country well: “a finer country for beaver never seen.”

On Ogden’s first venture into the area, in 1825, the Brigade had trapped many watersheds in southeast Idaho, including the Blackfoot and Bear rivers, along with the Portneuf. However, they had also encountered trapper parties working for American firms based in St. Louis, Missouri.  The men Ogden referred to as “deserters” had succumbed to the temptation of the vastly better fur prices offered by the Americans.

Previously unfettered by competition, HBC prices amounted to economic servitude: minimal allowances for furs received, inflated prices for anything their “employees” wanted or needed. Trappers and camp keepers did well to break even. The Company didn’t mind carrying their debts on the books because profits more than covered any losses if the debtor was killed, died, or fled the country.

Soon though, the Company would be forced to increase what they paid to attract the men back. (They could afford to do so and still make a profit because their bases were much closer to beaver country, and supplied in part by cheaper ship transport.) Considering all that, Ogden was not pleased to encounter more American intruders at his Portneuf River campsite.
Jim Bridger. National Park Service.

The Americans represented the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, the HBC's only serious competitor at that time. Thomas Fitzpatrick and James "Jim" Bridger led the Americans. Their two bands had joined forces after a swarm of Blackfeet raiders attacked them. Although the whites had "won" the encounter, losing three horses for six Indians killed, they could not easily hunt for beaver with so many hostiles around.

After some trading, the parties separated, each hoping to find beaver country they could have to themselves. The Canadians doubled back over their Idaho route as they returned to Oregon. Considering the competition and some unseasonably-bad weather, Ogden concluded that matters could have been worse: “Had we not been obliged to kill our horses for food, the success of our expedition would have yielded handsome profits.”

Intense competition between the Americans and the HBC continued for another decade.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [B&W]
J. Cecil Alter, Jim Bridger, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman (1962).
"Jim Bridger in Idaho," Reference Series No. 245, Idaho State Historical Society (1972).
John English (Ed.), Dictionary of Canadian Biography, University of Toronto (© 2000).
Peter Skene Ogden, T. C. Elliott (ed.), "Peter Skene Ogden's Journal – Snake Expeditions," Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society (1910).

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Physician, Drug Store Owner, and Rancher John Plumer [otd 04/08]

Dr. John J. Plumer, a pioneer physician in De Lamar and then Hailey, Idaho, was born April 8, 1860 in Edina, a rural corner of Missouri about 150 miles northwest of St. Louis. John received his pre-college education in a small town in Iowa, about fifty miles north of Edina. He then attended Starling Medical College in Columbus, Ohio. (After multiple mergers, the institution became today’s College of Medicine of The Ohio State University.) John received an M.D. degree in 1882.

For a couple years, Dr. Plumer practiced medicine near where he grew up in Iowa. He then moved to Dodge City, Kansas. John arrived in the famous “Queen of the Cowtowns” at a time when its wild history was almost over. In fact, the cattle drives ended in 1886, leaving behind a sleepy little farm town. After a few years there, the doctor moved on to Baker City, Oregon.
Delamar Mine, ca. 1895. Owyhee Directory.

Around 1890, Dr. Plumer became physician and surgeon for the De Lamar Mining Company. He practiced in De Lamar, Idaho, about five miles west of Silver City. The first mines had been located in this area in the mid- to late-1880s. In 1891, the De Lamar Mining Company, incorporated in London, England, consolidated about forty properties under their control. For many years, the company operated some of the most productive mines in the region.

The company allowed Plumer to carry on a private practice, and he soon served "many patrons" in the area. He was also proprietor of the only drug store in De Lamar. In 1897, John married a young lady whose family lived in Boise County (they were married in Idaho City.)

Three years later, Plumer ran successfully for the office of Idaho state Treasurer and the couple moved to Boise. He served one term, from 1900 through 1902. Even so, in the summer of 1901 Plumer and a partner bought out a medical practice in Hailey. Then the partner handled the practice full time while Plumer finished out the rest of his term.
Main Street, Hailey, ca 1905.
Hailey Historic Preservation Commission.

Dr. Plumer’s practice in Hailey flourished and he soon attained the means to invest in "several fine ranches in Blaine County," and "a beautiful home." He also had other financial investments, and became an officer – President, than just a Director – of the Idaho State Bank of Hailey.

Unfortunately, the bank failed in August 1910. Plumer and several other officers were subsequently arrested on charges stemming from irregularities in the bank’s affairs. The doctor posted bond and later testimony showed that he had had nothing to do with the irregularities, so his charges were dropped. Two other officers did spend time in the penitentiary.

The H. T. French biography noted that, as a young man, John had been "an expert in trap shooting ... winning numerous prizes." After moving to Idaho, he began to win prizes in Pacific Northwest shooting contests. Having become owner of considerable ranch property in Idaho, each year he planned "a vacation to engage in bird hunting."

People in Hailey knew Plumer as a genial man with a fine bedside manner: a classic old-fashioned country/small town doctor. Famously, he used to say, “It isn’t the potatoes that are bad for you – it’s what you put on them. And it isn’t the whiskey that’ll kill you – its what you mix with it.”

Plumer passed away in October 1934 after suffering a long illness. Today, his home is on a walking tour sponsored by the Hailey Historic Preservation Commission.
                                                                                                                  
References: [French], [Illust-State]
"Deaths," Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 103, No. 19 (November 10, 1934).
“Dr. J. J. Plumer Home,” Historic Old Hailey, Blaine County Historical Museum, Hailey, Idaho (2007).
A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, Owyhee Avalanche Press (January 1898).
“[Plumer News],” Idaho Statesman, Boise, Idaho (July 1901 – October 1934).]

Saturday, April 7, 2018

School Superintendent and Probate Judge Thomas Jeffreys [otd 04/07]

Judge Jeffreys. Illustrated History.
Thomas M. Jeffreys, Probate Judge and Washington County Superintendent of Public Instruction, was born April 7, 1852 in Yamhill County, Oregon. The family had moved there from Missouri in 1845. Three years later, after the U. S. and Great Britain resolved the status of the “Oregon Country” [blog, June 15], Congress created Oregon Territory.

Attracted by opportunities in Idaho, his father Woodson took up land along the Weiser River in 1864. Woodson soon persuaded his brother Solomon to follow him, and they partnered in a cattle company [blog, Feb 11]. However, because the area had no schools, Woodson left his family in Oregon for awhile. Thomas, for one, had apparently proven to be an apt student.

That is perhaps why pioneers built the first school in the Weiser area soon after Thomas and the rest of the family arrived. Thomas worked as a farm and ranch hand for awhile, and then the parents sent him off to the University of Kentucky. He graduated from their "law and commercial departments" in 1876, when he was twenty-four.

Back in the Weiser area, Thomas taught school for a number of years. His abilities impressed the community and, when the legislature created Washington County in 1879, Thomas was elected as the first Superintendent of Public Schools. Moreover, when the chosen country Treasurer failed to provide the necessary bond, the remaining commissioners appointed Thomas to also fill that position.

For some reason, Jeffreys found it difficult to settle into a steady job. Besides teaching, he worked as a cowboy, farm hand, drug store clerk, and bookkeeper. In 1884 and 1885, he acted as Weiser City Agent for a sewing machine company.

Then, under Democratic President Grover Cleveland, in 1885, he secured an appointment as Weiser City postmaster. That job lasted only a year, however. After that, he tried his hand at investing in mining ventures. Initials assays from one property showed considerable promise for silver, but it does not appear to have developed into a major operation. In 1889, Jeffreys acquired some land and began his own farm-ranch operation up the Weiser River near Salubria.

Thomas had also developed an interest in public service. In 1881, voters elected him as Washington County Representative in the Territorial legislature. He also served the County for several more terms as Superintendent of Public Instruction. By dint of hard work (more on that in a moment), Thomas became an excellent speaker. Organizers selected him to give a speech for the 1890 Fourth of July celebration. The Idaho Statesman described the resulting oration as “masterly.”
Early Weiser City. Weiser Musuem.

In 1896, voters elected him as Probate Judge. In fact, his political ambitions kept him in public office for years. Judge Frank Harris [blog, Jun 28] had occasion to join Thomas on the election trail … and discovered that Jeffreys “lacked confidence in himself.” He never spoke extemporaneously, Harris wrote. Instead, Thomas carried carefully-prepared remarks which he would “read with great force and eloquence, to the utmost displeasure of his fellow campaigners who had to endure it every evening during the campaign.”

But voters must have liked the speech; they kept re-electing him as Probate Judge. Jeffreys also remained very active in Democratic Party operations at the county level. In August, 1911, the Judge was busy handing out fines for violations of Idaho’s food sanitation laws. He died, however, less than three months later. (His wife had passed away in April.)
                                                                                                                     
References: [Brit], [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Frank Harris, "History of Washington County and Adams County," Weiser Signal (Newspaper series, 1940s).

Friday, April 6, 2018

Investor and Mining Millionaire Amasa Campbell [otd 04/06]

Amasa Campbell. Illustrated History.
Mining investor and executive Amasa B. Campbell was born April 6, 1845 in Salem, Ohio, about twenty miles southwest of Youngstown. In 1862, he took a clerk’s job at a firm engaged in grain and wool commission trading. After five years there, he worked two or three years in the west for the Union Pacific Railway.

During this period, Amasa developed an interest in Western mining prospects. For over a decade after 1871, he followed the industry in Utah, Colorado and Idaho. Biographers most often associated his name with activities in Utah, although no specific properties were identified.

It appears that his efforts provided him a solid hands-on knowledge of the business, but generated no substantial income. Accounts strongly suggest that Amasa decided – correctly – that the real money flowed to those on the investment and development side of the mining business.

He therefore returned east in 1882, and took up financial activities in Youngstown. Over the course of about five years, Campbell studied and learned the ins-and-outs of the investment business while cultivating a circle of potential investors. During this period he and another Youngstown businessman, John A. Finch, led the formation of a syndicate of capitalists who were ready to purchase and operate likely mining properties.

With that foundation, Campbell and Finch relocated to North Idaho in 1887 and began investing in the Coeur d'Alene mining district. They started with the Gem mine, located about four miles northeast of Wallace. The partners also developed the Standard Mine, further up the canyon and, in 1891, organized the Hecla Mining Company, which is still in operation today.
Gem, Idaho mine, 1899. University of Idaho Special Collections.

After marrying a Youngstown lady in 1890, Amasa established a home in Wallace. From there, he could oversee his investments in the region and search for other promising ventures. Thus, in 1893, the partners invested successfully in Slocan District mines in southeastern British Columbia.

Amasa’s wife Grace delivered their only child, a daughter, in May 1892. Not long after that, striking union miners fired on replacement workers at the Frisco Mine [blog, July 11], about a half mile from the Gem. Perhaps influenced by growing union discontent, Amasa moved his family to Spokane in 1898. Finch apparently moved there about the same time.

Amasa remained heavily involved in his Idaho properties and was such a fixture there that the governor offered him a position on the University of Idaho Board of Regents. Campbell declined, fearing he could not give that job the attention it deserved.

Campbell owned mines in British Columbia, timber tracts in western Washington, and shares of many businesses in  Spokane. And his Idaho interests were not confined to the Coeur d’Alene lead-silver districts. The Idaho Statesman quoted (January 22, 1902) the Grangeville Free Press, which said the Finch & Campbell gold mine located about forty miles southeast of Grangeville “is remarkable for the ore tonnage that has been exposed.”

When a railroad began an extension toward Salmon, in Lemhi County, it attracted much attention from mining interest. The Statesman noted (July 15, 1909) that “Among these are Finch & Campbell, the well-known Coeur d’Alene operators.”

The Spokane mansion he had built in 1898 is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is now a museum open to the public. Campbell died in February 1912.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Illust-State]
Hugh W. Johnston, "Amasa B. Campbell Papers, 1905-1922," Archives Manuscript 38, Eastern Washington State Historical Society, Spokane (1987).
Nelson Wayne Durham, History of the City of Spokane and Spokane County Washington, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago (1912).

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Aircraft Carrier Boss and Decorated Naval Hero Dixie Kiefer [otd 04/05]

Captain Dixie Kiefer.
U. S. Navy photo.
U. S. Navy Commodore Dixie Kiefer, winner of the Navy Cross and other medals, was born April 5, 1896 in Blackfoot, Idaho. The family moved around while Dixie was young: The 1900 Census shows the family in Spokane. In 1910, his widowed mother Christena was listed as head of the household, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

It was from there that Dixie received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. He graduated from the Academy in 1918. Kiefer first served aboard the patrol ship USS Corona, which operated out of Brest, France, and acted as a convoy escort.

After the war, Dixie learned to fly and, in 1924, performed the first nighttime catapult launch of an aircraft. He took off from the battleship USS California with only the ship's searchlights for illumination. Kiefer continued his association with naval aviation between the two World Wars.

In February 1942, Dixie became Executive Officer of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. The following May, the Yorktown fought in the Battle of the Coral Sea, considered a tactical defeat for the Americans, but a strategic win. American aircraft mauled two Japanese fleet carriers so badly that they were unavailable for the pivotal Battle of Midway. Coral Sea also left the Yorktown badly damaged. However, extraordinary exertions by the crew and shipyard workers at Pearl Harbor quickly returned the ship to duty.

Thus, Dixie served as Yorktown’s Executive Officer at Midway in June 1942. The ship went down fighting for the victorious American forces, and Kiefer received the Navy Cross (second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor) "for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service." Forced to jump into the sea, Kiefer smashed an ankle and foot, one of ten major battle wounds he suffered in his career.

During his recuperation, the Navy produced a documentary film about the battles of an unidentified (under wartime security) fleet carrier called The Fighting Lady. Producers used mostly actual field footage, along with a few scripted scenes. Kiefer played “Captain Dixie,” in some of those scenes. The carrier was, in fact, a brand new Yorktown, commissioned in January 1943, after being renamed to commemorate the ship lost at Midway.

Ticonderoga shortly after Kamikaze strike. U.S. Navy photo.
Promoted, Captain Kiefer was assigned to command the new fleet carrier USS Ticonderoga. During attacks on Formosa in January 1945, multiple Kamikaze hits badly damaged the vessel.

Kiefer himself suffered a smashed arm and 65 pieces of shrapnel in his body. The Ticonderoga returned to combat after repairs, but Kiefer was not in command because he had not yet fully recovered.

Promoted to Commodore, that spring he took command of the Quonset Point Naval Air Station (10-15 miles south of Providence, Rhode Island). As usual, Dixie quickly earned the respect and affection of the officers and enlisted men under his command.

Commodore Kiefer's arm was still in a cast when the airplane he was riding in crashed in heavy fog near Beacon, New York, in November 1945. Special memorial services were held for Kiefer and the others killed in the crash, then Kiefer's body was moved to Arlington National Cemetery for burial.

Besides the Navy Cross, Kiefer received the Silver Star, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Purple Heart.
                                                                                                                                     
References: Arlington National Cemetery Records.
Walter Lord, Incredible Victory, Harper & Row, Publishers, New York (1967).
James A. Mooney (Ed.), Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Dept. of the Navy (June 1991).
Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy, Navy Department, Government Printing Office, (January 1, 1917).
Clark G. Reynolds, On the Warpath in the Pacific: Admiral Jocko Clark and the Fast Carriers, U.S. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland (October 30, 2005).

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Steamer Accident Kills Five on the Coeur d Alene River [otd 04/04]

On April 4, 1887, the steamer Spokane pulled away from the dock at Kingston, Idaho. (That's about seven miles west of Kellogg.) The little boat chugged along the winding course of the Coeur d'Alene River. The Spokane had been built in 1882 for trade on the Snake River below Lewiston. Several transfers later, she was operating as an excursion steamer on Lake Pend Oreille. In 1887, a new owner moved the boat south to Lake Coeur d'Alene and modified it to handle freight as well as passengers.
Small steamer. Library of Congress.

She joined three other steamboats operating on the Lake. The U. S. Army built the first steamer in 1879 to haul feed for the animals at Fort Sherman [blog, Apr 16]. Coeur d'Alene City, which quickly appeared near the Fort, grew explosively after prospectors discovered gold and silver in the Coeur d'Alene River watershed. To exploit the traffic into the mines, entrepreneurs built two steamers during the winter of 1883-1884.

The owners reaped fine profits transporting passengers and goods up the river. The Old Mission at Cataldo proved to be the most reliable “head of navigation.” However, favorable water levels sometimes allowed boats to reach Kingston, about eight miles further upstream. That represented a considerable savings in time, effort and cost, given the rough roads of the time.

Unfortunately, the Spokane’s operator in April 1887, Capt. Nelson Martin, was not familiar with the river’s twists and turns. A former stage line owner, this was his first trip on the route. The boat reached a spot where the current split around a small island. The Captain perhaps waited too long to pick a branch to use, or simply miscalculated how quickly the vessel could turn. A surviving passenger stated that, “She was running very fast.” Whatever the cause, the hull thumped into a mass of driftwood. A probable over-reaction sent the little craft careening crosswise of the strong current … and it capsized.

Five of the approximately twenty passengers drowned in the accident. Three were prominent figures of the time: a Deputy U. S. Marshall, a former City Clerk of Spokane, and a mining investor from Maine. Authorities jailed Captain Martin and his engineer, but the two were soon released. New owners raised the boat and operated it for many years as the Irene.

Coeur d’Alene steamers enjoyed this first “heyday” – with almost limitless business, and profits – only until the railroads laid new tracks deep into the mining districts. After 1891-1893, lake and river traffic supported only one or two big vessels, and a bevy of smaller (40-60 feet) boats.
Steamer Flyer on Lake Coeur d’Alene, ca 1910.  Hult reference.

However, starting in 1899-1900, logging company money poured into the area to exploit the huge stands of Idaho timber. By 1910, Coeur d'Alene City had over ten thousand residents. Best estimates suggest that around fifty steamers operated on the Lake and its tributaries. Ten or so could accommodate hundreds of passengers: Recreational excursions became a huge source of traffic.

This second boom lasted longer than the first, but it too began to wane by around 1920. Railroad spurs grabbed more freight, and people began to prefer automobile travel. By the mid-1920s, only a handful of the big boats still operated, and the last disappeared in 1938.

Today, hundreds of personal watercraft ply the lake, and area resorts operated a few excursion boats. Still, a diesel-power people corral cannot quite capture the glamor and excitement of a classic steamer.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Illust-North]
“By Request,” Lewiston Teller, Lewiston, Idaho (April 14, 1887).
Ruby El Hult, Steamboats in the Timber, The Caxton Printers Ltd., Caldwell, Idaho (© Ruby El Hult, 1952).