Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Miner, Rancher, Bank Founder, and Legislator Joseph Ireland [otd 05/15]

J. N. Ireland. H. T. French photo.
Joseph N. Ireland, co-founder and namesake of the J. N. Ireland Bank, was born May 15, 1839 in Calvert County, Maryland. That's on Chesapeake Bay about twenty miles southeast of Washington. His father died when Joseph was eight, and at fourteen he went to Baltimore to learn saddle-making.

Many Marylanders had strong southern sympathies when the Civil War broke out. Ireland’s reminiscences give no indications, but it seems he might not have wanted to “take sides,” because he emigrated west in 1862. The wagon train he joined split in the vicinity of Old Fort Hall. Ireland stayed with the part that headed for Montana.

Joseph enjoyed considerable success in the Montana gold fields, starting near Bannack (15-20 miles west of today’s Dillon). Then, in the summer of 1863, they got word of major discoveries in Alder Gulch. Within a month of the discovery, stampeders, Ireland among them, founded the town of Virginia City. Ireland later recalled how difficult it could be to keep what one had earned: “There was no law in the country. … Highwaymen were numerous, even operating by day.”

Ireland was tough enough, and smart enough, to prosper despite the difficulties and danger. In late 1863, he and his partners traveled east and made a substantial bank deposit in Omaha. Joseph returned to Idaho the following spring and began building stagecoach stations under contract to Ben Holladay [blog, Aug 11].

By around 1870, cattle raising had taken root in eastern Idaho, so Ireland started a ranch in the general area of Fort Hall. Like Con Shea and David Shirk, he started in the cattle business by driving herds of longhorns up from Texas [blogs, September 24 and October 14]. In 1875, he moved his operation to near Malad City, where he would remain for thirty years. Two years later, he returned to Baltimore to marry his first wife. (He would be widowed in 1888, and remarry in 1905.)

In 1883, Ireland and a partner “experimented” with raising sheep as well as cattle, trailing a herd of over nine thousand in from California. They took heavy losses on the drive and during the first year on the range. However, once they learned the ropes, they began to realize substantial profits from their operation.

In 1888, voters elected Joseph to the Territorial Council, a legislative body roughly equivalent to a state Senate. Four years later, he and some other prominent Malad City businessmen founded a new bank. Because Joseph was the oldest of the founders, they named the institution the J. N. Ireland Bank.

In late 1897 or early 1898, Ireland sold his ranch and invested in the First National Bank of Pocatello. When failing eyesight forced his retirement from day-to-day business in 1905, he moved to that city. Shortly after moving there, he joined with four other investors to found the American Falls Realty and Water Works Company.
J. N. Ireland Bank, Malad, Idaho, ca. 1908. Photo courtesy of Ireland Bank.
Over the next few years, he attained director or vice president positions for several different banks, with locations ranging from Blackfoot, Idaho, south to Ogden, Utah. He retained his interest in the Ireland Bank in Malad, and was a director for it also. Ireland passed away in May 1928.

Today, the J. N. Ireland Bank company, still independent, operates about a dozen branch banks, mostly in small southeast Idaho towns. In fact, Pocatello is by far the largest city where they have banks, and the company has two branches there.
References: [Blue] [French]
J. N. Ireland Bank, Home Page.
 “The Malad Valley,” Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah (April 7, 1887).


  1. Hi, I just found this blog. I would love to use this image in a piece I am writing about my Mormon ancestors who lived in Malad

  2. Hi Naomi. If you want to use the photo of J. N. Ireland, feel free -- the H. T. French "History" was published in 1914, so the image is out of copyright. I have seen the photo of bank itself here and there, but if you want to use that, it would a good courtesy to contact them directly. Better yet, they sent me a wonderful high-resolution original (300 dpi) that shows much more detail than the web version. Good luck with your piece.

  3. I currently reside in the house he and his wife lived in in Pocatello and am quite fascinated with the history behind this self-made man.
    As a footnote, I'd add that he was Methodist (at least during the time he wrote in the MT histories), not LDS- or at least his grave denotes that. Here's a link:
    Great article!