Thursday, May 3, 2018

North Idaho Rancher and Businessman Chester Coburn [otd 05/03]

C. P. Coburn. [Illust-State].
Pioneer businessman and rancher Chester P. Coburn was born May 3, 1832 in central Vermont. He spent three years working in New York before, in 1852, he caught a boat for the route across Nicaragua to California. He apparently barely made expenses in the gold fields, so he began spending more and more time running a store. That led him into stock raising.

In late 1861, reports circulated about exciting gold discoveries in the Florence Basin of Idaho. Coburn sold his holdings and followed the rush. He again tried his hand in the gold fields but apparently re-learned an old lesson: Selling goods and services to hopeful miners is more profitable and reliable than being one.

Chester soon settled in Lewiston and established a livery stable. He also handled horses for Hill Beachy at the Luna House hotel. He was there in October 1863, when Beachy sensed odd behavior by a man who came into the hotel and bought several tickets for the morning stage to Walla Walla. Coburn then helped Beachy uncover evidence of the murders of packer Lloyd Magruder and four other men [blog, Oct 11].

By the following year, most of the mining excitement had moved south to the Boise Basin and Owyhee Country. Rather than follow that boom, Coburn sold his stables and located a ranch southeast of Lewiston. In 1865, he trailed a herd of 150-180 cattle from Oregon to his property. He soon expanded the operation to include a dairy business and a meat market.

Although the mining excitement had dwindled in the north, farming and stock raising expanded to fill the economic loss. Lewiston maintained its favored position as the head of navigation for north Idaho, and grew steadily. In 1870, Coburn, who was then a Deputy U. S. Marshal, was tasked to perform the decennial census for the area stretching from Elk City to Rathdrum. The paltry expense allowance did not come close to repaying his cost to cover such dangerous country, where there were few roads and no bridges.

By around a year after the census, the school-aged population had outgrown the haphazard quarters they had occupied earlier. At that time, Coburn was serving as school board President. He successfully canvassed property holders and businessmen for a plot of land and the resources to build a new, larger facility.

During the Nez PercĂ© War of 1877, Coburn joined the Lewiston “Home Guard” unit, but they were not called upon for active duty. Although he never ran for office himself, he was very active in North Idaho politics. He traveled to numerous conventions in Boise at substantial personal cost in time and money.
Bridge at Lewiston, completed 1899. [Illust-North].

Around 1890, Coburn claimed land along the Salmon River and ranched there for the next eight years. Then he and his wife retired to a Lewiston home they had owned for thirty years.

In May 1898, when soldiers of the First Idaho Regiment mustered for duty in the Spanish-American War [blog, Mar 14], Coburn presented the Lewiston contingent with a battle flag. Two years later, he was elected as the first Vice President of the Nez Perces County Pioneer Association.

“Regarded as one of Idaho’s most valued citizens,” Coburn passed away in October 1911.
References: [Illust-North], [Illust-State]


  1. My name is Rebecca (Coburn) Gardner. Going by research I've done, Chester would be my great-great-great grandfather (Chester, Albert, Ralph, Ralph, Michael, Me). Do you have any more information regarding his family and their where-about today? Thank you.

  2. I have his wife's name, and the names of their seven children (including Albert), but I have no further information about the family or where they might live now.

  3. The old Coburn house is still standing on 5th Avenue in Lewiston, Idaho. Here is some information on Chester's wife, Martha Jane nee Chauncey:
    Martha came to Lewiston in 1863, much of the way on horseback, and lived at the Luna House. She attended the first session of the territorial legislature and the inaugural ball. In the Lewiston Morning Tribune (December 3, 1939), Martha was reported to have “carried many of the old territorial papers when the statehouse was transferred to Boise… [she] rode a side-saddle all the way to Boise, along what is now know as the North & South Highway.” At the meeting of the Business & Women’s Club meeting the Tribune article reported, she “displayed a violin made from the wood of the old statehouse.” See the Lewiston Morning Tribune, September 16, 1951, Section 2, p. 1.