Monday, May 14, 2018

Boise Founder, Idaho Legislator, and Rancher Henry Riggs [otd 05/14]

Henry Chiles Riggs, one of the founders of Boise City, was born May 14, 1826 in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, about thirty miles due east of Lexington. At the age of twenty, he joined the First Missouri Mounted Volunteers and saw action during the Mexican War.
H. C. Riggs. J. H. Hawley photo.

In 1850, Riggs traveled by wagon train to California, where he operated a hotel. He returned to Missouri to get married in 1852, but brought his bride back to California two years later. From there, they moved to Corvallis, Oregon, and then followed the rush to Idaho in early 1863. That June, Major Pinkney Lugenbeel began planning for a fort along the Boise River. Riggs and some other businessmen knew that wherever he sited the fort was likely to be a good spot for a town.

After Lugenbeel made his decision [blog, July 4], Riggs hurried down from Idaho City to meet a supply train coming in from Walla Walla. Reviewing the episode many years later, the Idaho Statesman, said (March 21, 1909), “At that time the cabin owned by Tom Davis and one near the site of the post were built but not occupied, so Mr. Riggs has the distinction of stretching the first tent and occupying it as the first citizen of the town.”

Riggs and the supply wagon master tacked up a sign and quickly attracted customers from the flow of emigrants along that stretch of the Oregon Trail. Thus, the Statesman noted, “Within 10 days a population was there, and the new town established.”

By then, Congress had created Idaho Territory. In May 1864, they reduced it to something near its present size and shape. At that point, Boise County encompassed the present county, plus, basically, everything west to the border, and south from around today’s Arrowrock Dam to the Snake River. Voters elected Riggs as a Representative for Boise County to the second territorial legislature. Henry then went to Lewiston and introduced two key pieces of legislation, both of which passed after considerable, and often heated, debate.
Boise City, 1864. Arn Hincelin painting.

One Act moved the Territorial capital from Lewiston to Boise City, effective December 24, 1864. The second split off the western two-thirds of Boise County to form a new county. Perhaps seeking a non-controversial name, legislators chose to call the new entity “Ada County,” from the name of Henry Riggs’ daughter. After his term in the House, voters also sent Riggs to two consecutive terms in the Territorial Council.

Later in the decade, Riggs began to invest more in properties along the Payette River. He finally moved his family to a ranch there in 1871. Still, one of the couple’s children was born in Boise in August 1872. He remained along the Payette for around thirty years, raising cattle and helping develop the town of Emmett.

Henry began to reduce his activities as he approached his late seventies. In 1902-1903, he (and presumably his wife) took a leisurely year-long trip with a loop from Missouri through New Mexico to California, returning by way of Oregon. Then an illness led to erroneous reports of his death, which the Statesman quickly had to retract (June 20, 1904).

He remained active until early 1909, when the family moved him to the hospital at the Soldiers’ Home in Boise. He died there on July 3rd.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“Boise is the Best of All Says H. C. Riggs,” Idaho Statesman, Boise (April 29, 1903).
Ruth B. Lyon, The Village That Grew, printed by Lithocraft, Inc, Boise (Copyright Ruth B. Lyon, 1979).
“Henry Chiles Riggs, Sr. : May 14, 1826-July 3, 1909,” Reference Series No. 595, Idaho State Historical Society.

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