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).

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