Monday, July 23, 2018

Gambler Patterson Shoots and Kills Ex-Sheriff Pinkham [otd 07/23]

Sumner Pinkham.
Idaho City Historical Foundation.
On Sunday, July 23, 1865, businessman and ex-sheriff Sumner Pinkham took a hired carriage from Idaho City to a resort about two miles west of town. Locals often enjoyed a relaxing dip in the pool fed by the warm springs out back. According to some, Pinkham and a few friends were soon in the bar singing raucous anti-Secesh songs. Yet others would dispute even that apparently simple fact.

A native of Maine, Pinkham had joined the rush to California gold in 1849 and then knocked around the towns there and possibly in Oregon for the next decade. He moved to the Idaho gold camps in 1862. When Idaho became a Territory, Pinkham’s Radical Republican politics – he was an ardent Abolitionist –won him appointment as Boise County’s first sheriff.

However, a massive influx of Southerners had aligned the voter roles to favor Democrats, and the next election turned Pinkham out. Ferdinand “Ferd” Patterson was among those Southerners.

From Tennessee, apparently, he too had tried his hand in California, then in Oregon, and finally in Idaho. Records indicate that by the time Patterson reached Idaho, he had killed at least two men in gun fights, but got off on “self-defense” pleas. Moreover, charged for assault on a disreputable female companion in Oregon, he had simply skipped bail. Although he had done some prospecting, Patterson was primarily a professional gambler.

As the Civil War neared its end, Ferd complained bitterly about the South’s impending defeat. He and Pinkham had already exchanged hot words. Then, with the war over, the ex-sheriff rubbed salt in Southern wounds by staging a 4th of July parade in which pro-Union men marched through the streets, singing patriotic and anti-Secesh songs.

Ferd Patterson.
Idaho City Historical Foundation.
On July 23, Patterson entered the resort bar while Pinkham was paying his bill. At this point, Ferd apparently ignored the ex-sheriff and went on to the warm pools. Then, witnesses concurred, Patterson exited the resort while Pinkham stood outside waiting for a carriage back into Idaho City. Here, witnesses agreed on only two points: Patterson said the word “draw” in some (disputed) context, then taunted Pinkham as an “Abolitionist son-of-a-bitch.”

Who drew first was also in dispute. Patterson certainly shot quicker, before Pinkham got off one inaccurate response and then took a second bullet. Ferd fled to avoid any immediate retaliation, but quickly surrendered when officers caught up with him about fourteen miles away, on the road to Boise.

As usual in such affrays, witnesses gave muddled and contradictory testimony, and friend and foe alike expected an acquittal. After being freed by reason of “self-defense,” Patterson left the region for Walla Walla, fearing he wasn’t safe in Idaho City.

He did not, however, go far enough.  The following February, a man shot Patterson full of holes while he visited a barbershop. Most in the region saw the shooting as vengeance for the Pinkham killing. The shooter claimed that Patterson had threatened him, and the first trial ended in a hung jury.

During the wait for a new trial, the man walked away from jail. Authorities arrested him a few months later in San Francisco, but he was released before he could be extradited (Idaho Statesman, November 1, 1866). He then disappeared from history.
References: [B&W]
Boise County, Idaho.
Bill Gulick, Outlaws of the Pacific Northwest, Caxton Press, Caldwell Idaho (2000).
Arthur A. Hart, Basin of Gold: Life in Boise Basin, 1862-1890, Idaho City Historical Foundation (© 1986, Fourth printing 2002).
N. P. Langford, Vigilante Days and Ways, Montana State University (1957). Original publication in 1890.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Rexburg Banker, Business Investor, and Landowner Ross J. Comstock [otd 07/22]

Long-time Rexburg pioneer Ross J. Comstock was born on July 24, 1875 in a remote part of northeast Missouri. The Comstocks had been among the earliest emigrants to New England, settling in Connecticut around 1637. Thus, several of Ross’s forebears fought for the Colonies during the American Revolution. His line moved to Missouri about the time of the Civil War.
Ross J. Comstock. [Hawley]

He said little about his early life, other than that he was on his own as a teenager. Thus, he married young, in 1893. Comstock also developed an interest in banking. He was perhaps drawn to Rexburg after rail service reached there in late 1899 [blog, November 22].

Comstock arrived some time in 1900 and began making business contacts. In 1903 he invested in a mining company and an electric power plant. Then, in December, he and some of the same investors established the First National Bank of Rexburg. Comstock was the cashier. Two years later, he helped form the Idaho State Bankers’ Association. During this time, he also served as a Director for the Fremont County Bank in Sugar City.

But he also continued his interest in mining investments, and, in 1907, added a share in a Rexburg implement company to his portfolio. That same year, he helped arrange a consolidation between a hydroelectric power company in Sugar City and a Rexburg outfit that used coal-fired generation.

In keeping with all his other interests, in the summer of 1910 Comstock led the formation of  a “League of Commercial Clubs,” encompassing town clubs from Blackfoot to Ashton. The intent was to spur joint efforts to promote all of the Upper Snake River Valley. Ross became the League’s first president. About six week later, he became president of the First National Bank of Rexburg.
First National Bank of Rexburg. Rexburg Historical Society.

Comstock did not slow down in the new decade. He helped organize a Fremont County Fair Association, and ran the Crystal Lake Irrigated Lands Company on the side. Besides other customers, the company provided water to farmland that Ross owned. Plus, in 1915, he helped found the First National Bank of Ririe. By 1919, he would be president of that bank.

During World War I, Comstock served on the county committee organized for broad-based support of the war effort. Even that wasn’t quite enough. He also chaired the Building Committee for the Rexburg Presbyterian Church. A new building was dedicated in the spring of 1918, at which time Ross was recognized as an Elder of the church.

After the war, as mentioned in several other blog items, the farm sector suffered a severe, and long-lasting recession. Thus, Comstock played a major role in creating two companies to funnel Federal loans to hard-pressed farmers and ranchers. In 1922, Ross was elected president of the Idaho State Bankers’ Association. He then presided over the 1923 Annual Meeting, which was held in Idaho Falls.

But in August 1924, the Idaho Statesman announced the closure of three eastern Idaho banks: one in Montpelier, plus the First National Bank of Rexburg and the First National Bank of Ririe. Comstock was, of course, then president of those two banks.

The three joined a host of banks nation-wide that failed because their business depended almost entirely upon farming and ranching. Ross encountered some short-term hostility for his part in the disaster, but people eventually understood that the banks had been crippled by forces beyond anyone’s control.

Still, Comstock left banking and never went back. He turned to dealing in real estate and insurance, plus management of his other investments. Ross J. Comstock passed away from pancreatic cancer in July 1947.
References: [Hawley]
“Comstock Heads Idaho Bankers,” Coastal Banker, Coastal Banker Publishing Company, San Francisco, California (June 1922).
“[Comstock News],” Idaho Statesman, Boise; Idaho Falls Times, Times-Register, Daily Post, Post-Register, Idaho Falls; Deseret News, Salt Lake Herald, Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City; Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah (October 1900 – July 1947).
David L. Crowder, Rexburg, Idaho: The First One Hundred Years, The Caxton Printers, Ltd., Caldwell, Idaho (1983).

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Ammunition Innovator and Manufacturer Richard, "Dick," Speer [otd 07/21]

Dick Speer.
Beal & Wells photo.
Lewiston industrialist Richard A. "Dick" Speer was born July 21, 1915 in Cedar Falls, Iowa. His father, who started out as a farmer and nurseryman, took up "manufacturing and engineering pursuits" before Richard's birth. Thus, after a year at a teachers' college, Richard landed a job in the engineering department of the Maytag Corporation.

In 1939, he began taking courses at the University of Washington in Seattle while working nights as a tool and die maker for the Boeing Aircraft Company. He would have been exempt from military service as a skilled craftsman, and also as a student. His employers and teachers would have surely discouraged Speer from enlisting for World War II.

In 1947, he moved to Lewiston, Idaho, to work with his brother, Vernon, who had founded the Speer Products Company there. The company manufactured jacketed bullets and sportmen's gun supplies, including devices to aid those who wanted to load their own ammunition. The company also produced handbooks to guide such “reloaders.” Some consider those manuals to be a “Bible” for reloading. They have been revised over the years to reflect greater knowledge of the parameters and technology involved.

Two years later, Richard left to establish his own firm, the Speer Cartridge Company. Histories of the company suggest that Dick already had the idea for a new venture when he left Boeing. At the time, hunters often could only find standard mass-production lines of ammunition. Competition shooters, and other who wanted to load their own, had few reliable sources.

Speer decided he could be that producer. The processes he designed did make high-quality cartridges, but only if the raw materials were up to standard. Unfortunately, he could not find any consistently reliable source for the most important component – brass for the cartridge case itself. Too often, much of a production run failed to meet specifications and had to be rejected.

So Speer refined his niche, noting that the big manufacturers avoided selling primers to reload dealers – ammunition reloaded by hobbyists cut into their sales. To help design a better primer, Speer hired Dr. Victor Jasaitis, a chemist who specialized in explosives. Jasaitis was a Lithuanian refugee, driven to the U. S. by the Soviet occupation of his homeland.

In a somewhat fortuitous coincidence, the escalation of the Korean War created a demand for military-grade primers just as Speer turned his attention to that line. After the war, the company continued to manufacture primers for both governmental and civilian use.
Modern CCI ammunition.
Cabelas catalog image.

Early on, some confusion developed about the difference between Speer bullets (made by brother Vernon's company) and Speer cartridges. Thus, in 1956, Dick established Cascade Cartridge, Incorporated, or CCI®.

To stay ahead of the competition, Speer pushed innovative designs for all the company's products. As usual for a small company in this day and age, it eventually became a subsidiary of a large manufacturing conglomerate.

In 1968, Speer and his wife “retired” to a place in Virginia near Chesapeake Bay. Less than ten years later, Dick filed for the first of a series of patents for the “Apollo Wizard” tennis ball serving machine. In late 1982, he received the patent for a version that imparted “spin” to the ball. Dick eventually sold the company he established to make the machines. He passed away in May 1994.

Today, CCI still makes products in Lewiston, and new plants have been built elsewhere. They are still considered one of the most innovative companies in the ammunition business.
References: [B&W]
CCI Ammunition.
Ashby Koss, "The Making of Cascade Cartridge Incorporated (CCI): Dick Speer Filling the Industry Gap," Associated Content, Yahoo! Incorporated (January 08, 2008).
Nelda Knemeyer, "Obituary: Richard A. Speer, Ammunition Maker," Daily Press, Newport News, Virginia (May 12, 1994).
Richard A. Speer, “Ball Projecting Device Capable of Providing Spin,” U. S. Patent No. 4,345,578, United States Patent Office, Washington, D. C. (August 24, 1982).

Friday, July 20, 2018

Poor Roads and Blistering Weather Hobble Traffic to the Idaho Gold Camps [otd 07/20]

On July 20, 1863, The Oregonian reported, “Increased facilities are offering daily for transportation to the Boise mines. We are informed that John Slavin & Co. have established a stage line to run from the Dalles to Bannock City.”

Mining around Bannock City, soon to be re-named Idaho City, was then on the upswing compared to placer fields over the ridge along Grimes Creek. Where Grimes had little water, streams around Idaho City still provided a good flow.

However, the stage line announcement was, at best, premature. Of course, emigrants on the Oregon Trail did get wagons across Idaho and then the Blue Mountains in Oregon. However, the trip took a horrific toll on their draft animals. Even freighters, who knew the road and its dangers, lost stock.
Stagecoach on Steep Grade. U. S. Forest Service photo.

The Oregonian published (August 8, 1863) a letter from the gold country that said, “There is a terrible mortality existing among the teams on the Boise road, and the dead cattle line the road from Burnt river to the Boise basin, so that more than two weeks since I was told by a gentleman returned from there that he was not out of sight of them the whole distance.”

Steep grades and the rutted track were not the worst problem, the correspondent went on: “The alkali dust on the Burnt and Snake rivers is deadly in its effects on the heated and toiling oxen, and sometimes they fall down dead when the yoke is taken off them.”

No transport company could afford to lose stock at those rates. So, for much of 1863, pack trains – horses and mules – carried substantial amounts of supplies to the Idaho mines. But when weather conditions were favorable, teamsters brought freight wagons from depots in Umatilla and Walla Walla. They were very careful, however, to husband the strength of their animals.

As one might expect, the slow pace of these freight trains did not suit eager prospectors. So-called “saddle trains” catered to that impatience. John Hailey, who would play a prominent role in Idaho history [blog,  August 29], is credited with the first saddle train operation, in 1863. Hailey later wrote, “On the 18th day of April, I left Walla Walla with a saddle train of sixteen passengers and four pack animals for Placerville in the Boise Basin. This was the beginning of the saddle train business in the Boise Basin mines.”

Hailey and his partner, William Ish, ran a profitable passenger operation through the summer, although they did have to reduce their fare as competitors appeared. And, he said, “By September, the travel to the Basin was almost over for the season, so we engaged in packing.”
John Hailey. Library of Congress.

Ish & Hailey did not attempt even a partial stagecoach run until spring of the following year. They first ran the stage about fifty miles, from Umatilla to the west side of the Blue Mountains. That early in the season, the road beyond that would not support the stage, so the company’s saddle trains took over. They did build (future) stage stations, which allowed saddle passengers to eat, rest, and change to fresh horses.

They had the stage route from Umatilla to Placerville “ready for passengers about the 1st of June, 1864.” It does not appear the Slavin & Company operation, mentioned above, ever materialized. The Ish-Hailey outfit did  have one competitor on routes over the Blues, but traffic over the next few years remained high enough to support both.
References: John Hailey, History of Idaho, Syms-York Company, Boise, Idaho (1910).
“To the Mines,” The Oregonian, Portland (July 20, 1863).
Oscar O. Winther, The Old Oregon Country: a History of Frontier Trade, Transportation and Travel, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California (1950).

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Shoemaker, Contractor, and Probate Judge Thomas A. Johnston [otd 07/19]

Versatile pioneer and Probate Judge Thomas A. Johnston was born July 19, 1848 in Ontario, Canada. At the age of thirteen he was apprenticed to a shoemaker. Around 1868, he crossed over into the U. S. to work in a shoe store in northern New York. He was then briefly attracted to the oil boom in western Pennsylvania, but moved on to Nebraska in the summer of 1869. 
Thomas A. Johnston. [French]

Besides operating a shoe shop, he tried his hand at farming near a small town about 23 miles northeast of Grand Island. Of the next seven years or so, he spent one as a “drummer” (traveling salesman) for a wholesale shoe company. Around 1876, he decided that Rawlins, Wyoming, offered better prospects for his shoe business.

Rawlins held him until early 1882, when he went to work for the Oregon Short Line Railroad. The OSL was then laying track westward into Idaho, crossing the border during the summer. Johnston helped build the needed railway stations and shops. Finally, in November 1884, OSL tracks reached Huntington, Oregon, and connected with a line from Portland. The major work done, Johnston returned to Rawlins and his shoe store.

However, during his stint with the OSL, Thomas became acquainted with Pocatello station. As the point where the OSL and the Utah & Northern rails crossed, a thriving town was bound to grow there. The fact that the spot was inside the Fort Hall Indian Reservation complicated matters, however. The railroads had paid the tribes for a track right-of-way, but that allowed little room for a station, much less a town.

So they had bought enough additional land to build a small depot. Later, they squeezed a hotel onto the plot. But that wasn’t enough and squatter cabins soon spread beyond the company land. Finally, in the spring of 1888, a new agreement provided enough land for more growth. At that point, Johnston closed his shoe store in Rawlins and moved to the new town.

Actually, he left the shoe business for good and ran a cigar shop. Meanwhile, a town was incorporated and, by 1890, had an estimated population of about 3,000. Surely sensing that the area would continue to grow, Johnston closed his cigar store and engaged in carpentry and general building construction. Two years later, the legislature acknowledged the town’s growth from a village to a city “of the first class” and authorized city elections.

In 1895, Johnston won a close election for Police Judge, an office charged with enforcing city ordinances. Thomas continued his construction business, perhaps because the judgeship did not pay that well. Voters re-elected him to the position for the next five years, although the 1899 election was again close (he won by less than 50 votes out of about eleven hundred).
Pocatello, 1895. Bannock County Historical Society.

The election in late 1900 saw Johnston move up to the position of Probate Judge, although he won by only 10 votes. Thomas, of course, had only a “common school” education and had never studied law. An Idaho Legal History Society article noted that such men were “schooled in life” and got elected because they were highly respected in the community.

The Probate Judge position offered enough income so Johnston could close his construction sideline. And he was, indeed, respected enough to be re-elected for the next twelve years. He chose to retire voluntarily at the end of 1912. Such was his influence by then that he essentially hand-picked his successor.

Johnston passed away on the last day of 1914.
References: [B&W], [French]
“Early Probate Judges Schooled in Life,” Idaho Legal History Society, Boise, Idaho (Fall 2010).
Progressive Men of Bannock, Bear Lake, Bingham, Fremont and Oneida Counties, Idaho, A. W. Bowen & Co., Chicago (1904).
“[TA Johnston News],” Idaho Statesman, Boise; Idaho Falls Times, Idaho Falls; Deseret News, Salt Lake City; The Journal, Logan, Utah (April 1895 – January 1915).

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Trappers Clash with Indians at the Battle of Pierre’s Hole [otd 07/18]

On July 18, the great mountain man rendezvous of 1832, at Pierre's Hole, was breaking up. The only Idaho location where the fur companies held their annual conclave, Pierre's Hole is known to us today as the Teton Valley.
Teton Valley – view of the three Tetons from the west.

While they were preparing to hit the trail, one trapper party noticed a column of Indians approaching. The band consisted of 150-200 individuals, including many women and children. Perhaps fifty to sixty qualified as warriors. The Gros Ventre, which these were, were allies of the notoriously hostile Blackfeet tribe. Although the Gros Ventre shared neither lineage nor language with the Blackfeet, Americans almost invariably lumped the two together.

The presence of entire family groups meant this was not a war party, and a chief rode out to parley under signs of peace. Two men, both of whom harbored virulent hatred for "the Blackfeet," went out to meet him. One, a Flathead Indian, had lost many relatives and friends to incessant Blackfeet attacks. A Blackfeet war party had also killed the father of the other intermediary, Métis Antoine Godin.

The two met the chief with all the usual signs of accommodation, and Godin accepted the other's proffered handshake. Then, in what was clearly a pre-planned moved, the Flathead shot the chief dead. One of them then grabbed the chief's bright red blanket and they raced triumphantly back to the trappers' camp.

It's not clear if the Gros Ventres knew how many whites they were up against. There is general agreement that the families began throwing up a crude palisades of soil and deadfall timbers.

By some accounts – and many were recorded – warriors began organizing an attack on the small band that had instigated the treacherous killing. Other witnesses said the Gros Ventres only formed a skirmish line to delay any further attack by the whites.

Soon however, the distinction became moot. More trappers and their Indian allies (Nez Percés and Flatheads) arrived to reinforce the first group and a hot exchange of fire ensued. Captain William L. Sublette tried to organize a general attack on the Gros Ventre's position.

Most held back, so the Captain pushed ahead with a smaller party. They retreated after several men, including Sublette himself, were wounded, and another was killed. Zenas Leonard, one of those who gave an account of the battle, helped carry one wounded man out of danger. This, he said “met my approbation precisely, for I was glad to get out of this unpleasant situation under any pretext.”
Mountain Man. Frederic Remington.

Without overall leadership or proper discipline, the trappers and their allies could not mount a tight, organized siege. Someone suggested fires to burn the crude fort. Although Indian allies objected to destroying all the possible loot, the whites began to gather fuel. Then a (false) rumor spread that more Blackfeet were attacking the main trapper encampment. Many trappers rushed off, allowing the Gros Ventre to flee during the night.

Four whites were killed during the battle, along with seven of their allies. They found nine slain warriors inside the fort, along with a couple dozen dead horses, and most of the Gros Ventres baggage. Writer Washington Irving said, "The Blackfeet afterward reported that they had lost twenty-six warriors in this battle."
References: [B&W]
H. M. Chittenden, The American Fur Trade of the Far West, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1986).
W. A. Ferris, Leroy R. Hafen (ed), Life in the Rocky Mountains, Old West Publishing Company, Denver (1983).
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).
Zenas Leonard, Milo Milton Quaife (ed.), Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard, written by himself, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1978).
“Pierre’s Hole Battleground," Reference Series No. 745, Idaho State Historical Society.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Fur Trade and Real Estate Multimillionaire John Jacob Astor [otd 07/17]

J. J. Astor. Library of Congress.
John Jacob Astor, who became America’s richest man, was born July 17, 1763 in Waldorf (near Heidelberg, Duchy of Baden, before the creation of Germany). He was born into a lower middle class family: His father was a butcher.

With no prospects at home, Astor left as a teenager. He spent four years in London, where he learned to speak English (with a heavy accent). Then, in 1784, John Jacob emigrated to the new United States.

He learned the fur trade and opened a shop in New York before 1790. Over the next decade, he expanded the fur business and used it to build an international shipping network, dealing also in teas and sandalwood. Then reports from the Lewis and Clark Expedition about the fur riches available in the Rocky Mountains drew his attention.

He created the American Fur Company, with the Pacific Fur Company (PFC) as a subsidiary. In 1810, the PFC launched a two-pronged thrust. First, Astor’s ship, the Tonquin, carried a team to the mouth of the Columbia River, where they established a base, called Astoria. Second, a party led by Wilson Price Hunt trekked west from St. Louis, Missouri.

The Hunt party became the second group of fur trappers from the U. S. to enter Idaho, crossing Teton Pass in October 1811 [blog, Oct 5]. All but five of Hunt’s men continued on to Astoria. Those five remained behind to trap in eastern Idaho. Later, more trappers returned to Idaho from Astoria.

Thus, between then and 1813, the PFC tasked a dozen men to trap across southern Idaho. One man fled Idaho with Robert Stuart’s column when it passed through carrying dispatches for Astor [blog, September 5]. Of the rest, one died from an accident, a second sickened and died, seven were known to have been killed by Indians, and two simply vanished.

But other expeditions fared much better. It was the War of 1812 against Great Britain that ruined Astor’s first western venture. Astoria became the property of the rival North West Company, and many of his employees went to work for that firm. Even so, first-hand reports from Astor's expeditions spurred a fur trade war that would last over a quarter century.

Although Astor dissolved the Pacific Fur Company, his American Fur Company continued to compete in the west and around the Great Lakes. By 1830, his Company was the most powerful American fur trade competitor throughout the region, including Idaho.

Hard work and determination built Astor’s fortune, but he also had the ability to spot trends and position his enterprises to exploit them. In an 1833 letter, he wrote, “I very much fear beaver will not sell very soon unless very fine. It appears that they make hats of silk in place of beaver.”
New York City, ca 1840. Library of Congress.
The following year, Astor withdrew from the fur trade, and the shipping interests that were so much a part of it. After that, he invested in many industries – railroads, insurance companies, hotels, and more. However, for Astor “the next big thing” was real estate, especially New York City real estate. As the City grew, so did Astor’s net worth.

When he died in 1848, he was by far the wealthiest man in the United States. In fact, when fortunes are compared to the national economy of their day, Astor ranks as the third or fourth richest American ever. By that measure, he is outranked only by John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt, with Andrew Carnegie inserted by some analysts. (Bill Gates trails by a couple of spots.)
References: [Brit]
Peter W. Bernstein, Annalyn Swan (eds.), All the Money in the World, Random House, Inc. in collaboration with Forbes magazine (2007).
H. M. Chittenden, The American Fur Trade of the Far West, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1986).
Axel Madsen, John Jacob Astor: America's First Multimillionaire, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York (2001).

Monday, July 16, 2018

Fruitland Physician and Army Medical Veteran Crispin Wright, M. D. [otd 07/16]

The biography of physician Crispin Wright in French’s History of Idaho states that he was born July 16, 1882 in Chatham, Virginia (about 43 miles southeast of Roanoke). That date may be off by a couple days, but it does provide an opportunity to discuss a young man who made a notable impression in just two or three years.
Dr. Crispin Wright.[French]

After high school, Wright enrolled at the Virginia Military Institute for the 1900-1901 term. However, in 1902 he switched to the University College of Medicine in Richmond to pursue a medical degree. He continued there into the 1905 term, but then had to withdraw due to poor health.

After a period of recuperation, Wright took a job with the U. S. Forest Service. He spent a good many months working in what is now the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. But in 1909, he enrolled at the Medical Department of the University of Denver. He completed his M. D. degree in 1910 and immediately began an internship at Denver’s St. Luke’s Hospital. That summer, he also got married, with a ceremony in Colorado Springs. They had a son the following spring.

They moved to Fruitland, Idaho in the summer of 1911. By the time French’s History was published in 1914, Crispin had already made an impact. Not only was he local Health Officer, he was Deputy Health Officer for all of Canyon County. Wright had also completed the process to obtain a license to practice in Oregon, to go along with his licenses for Colorado and Idaho.

Finding himself far from the activity of Boise, Dr. Wright joined with physicians in the region to create the Idaho-Oregon District Medical Society in late 1915. Members included doctors from Ontario and three other Oregon towns, as well as three towns in Idaho. Crispin was also active in local politics. In September 1916, he was named the Democratic Party Committeeman for the South Fruitland precinct.

Sadly, in February 1917, his wife died. She was just 34 years old. A few months later, Dr. Wright applied for a position in the Army Medical Corps. Oddly enough, while he waited for a reply, he attained another responsibility. Earlier in the year, the legislature had split off a new county, Payette, from Canyon County. On June 1, the governor appointed Dr. Wright to fill the County Coroner’s position, pending elections in the fall.

But before the month was out, Crispin received word that he had been recommended for a commission in the Medical Corps. He quickly made arrangements for his son to live with a brother back in Virginia. That fall, he traveled east with the First Idaho Field Hospital to join the newly-constituted 41st Infantry Division. Elements of the division began sailing to France in late November. The trip across on the over-crowded troopship was grim, with rampant sickness and one death due to pulmonary tuberculosis.
Troopship USS Madawaska. U. S. Navy photo.

In early January 1918, the medical contingent began operating a hospital in south-central France. The weather was “bitterly cold” and only part of their medical supplies had arrived. Worse yet, they were swamped with thousands of sick soldiers, many of whom were contagious and had to be quarantined.

It’s hardly a surprise that Lieutenant Crispin Wright, M. D., became a victim himself. He was sent back to the U. S. at the end of April on the troopship Madawaska and transferred to an Army hospital near Ashville, North Carolina. He died there in February 1920 from pulmonary tuberculosis.
References: [French]
“[News for Crispin Wright],” Ontario Argus, Ontario, Oregon; Idaho Statesman, Boise (November 1915 – June, 1917).
“Obituary Record,” Virginia Medical Monthly, Medical Society of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia (March 1920).
Report of the Surgeon General, U. S. Army, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (1920).
The Kynewisbok [Yearbook] of the University of Denver, Denver, Colorado (1911).

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Naturalist John Kirk Townsend Describes Fort Hall Area [otd 07/15]

Naturalist Townsend.
Oregon Historical Society.
On July 15, 1834, naturalist John Kirk Townsend described the site selected by Nathaniel Wyeth for the Fort Hall trading post [yesterday's blog].

Townsend wrote, "This is a fine large plain on the south side of the Portneuf, with an abundance of excellent grass and rich soil. The opposite side of the river is thickly covered with large timber of the cottonwood and willow, with a dense undergrowth of the same, intermixed with serviceberry and currant bushes."

The Philadelphia-born Townsend was one of two naturalists who accompanied Wyeth's second trip west of the Rockies. He had been invited along by Thomas Nuttall, a well-known naturalist who had resigned a position at Harvard University to join the expedition. The much younger Townsend – he was 25, Nuttall 48 – had a growing reputation as an ornithologist. The year before, he had collected a previously-unknown species, which was later called the Townsend's Bunting.

The primitive conditions of the march made sample preservation difficult. Even so, Townsend recorded many detailed observations, not just of birds but also other natural history features. About a week before the party reached the Fort Hall site, he recorded his first observations about Idaho birds.

Camped near Beer (Soda) Springs [blog, July 8], he wrote, "in a thicket of common red cedars, near our camp, I found, and procured several specimens of two beautiful and rare birds which I had never before seen – the Lewis woodpecker and Clark's crow, (Picus torquatus and Corvus columbianus.)"
Audubon Society image,

The naturalist was known as an expert marksman. Thus, as construction of the fort began, he joined the hunting party Wyeth sent out. Townsend decided to test the claim that a shot directly to the forehead would not harm a bull buffalo. Using a double-barrelled weapon, he planted one bullet to the forehead, then killed the “monster” when it turned to escape. He found his first 0.8-ounce (350 grain) slug “completely flattened against the bone” having not produced “the smallest fracture.”

Townsend left Fort Hall with Wyeth's party early in August. He wrote, “We crossed the main Snake or Shoshone river, at a point about three miles from the fort. It is here as wide as the Missouri at Independence, but, beyond comparison, clearer and more beautiful.”

His Narrative records many natural history features observed as they marched west across Idaho. On August 19, after a “hard days travel," they descended into the Boise Valley and camped along the river, which he described as "a beautiful stream."

He also wrote, "it is literally crowded with salmon, which are springing from the water almost constantly. Our mouths are watering most abundantly for some of them."

He recorded nothing about birds until they reached the Columbia River in Oregon. There, Townsend commented, “The mallard duck, the widgeon, and the green-winged teal are tolerably abundant in the little estuaries of the river. Our men have killed several, but they are poor, and not good."

The descriptions that Townsend, and Nuttall, made of southern Idaho flora and fauna were the first recorded by trained observers. Based at Fort Vancouver, the ornithologist traveled extensively in Oregon and southern Washington, collecting numerous bird specimens.

He took ship in 1836 and returned to Philadelphia by way of Hawaii and Cape Horn. To defray costs, Townsend sold over ninety specimens to John J. Audubon. In fact, Townsend collected over one-seventh of the species shown in Audubon's famous Birds of America book. Townsend died in 1851, apparently poisoned by an arsenic-based specimen preservative he had concocted.
References: John Kirk Townsend, Narrative of a Journey across the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River (1839), reprinted, Reuben Gold Thwaites (ed)., in Early Western Travels, Vol. VIII, Arthur H. Clark Company, Cleveland (1905).
“John Kirk Townsend (1809-1851),” The Oregon History Project, Oregon Historical Society (2002).

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Fur Trader Nathaniel Wyeth Selects Old Fort Hall Site [otd 07/14]

On July 14, 1834, Captain Nathaniel J. Wyeth wrote in his journal: "Went down the river about 3 miles and found a location for a fort."

This event occurred on Wyeth's second fur trading and trapping expedition west of the Rockies, discussed in my blogs for January 29 and December 20. After his customer at the rendezvous reneged on their contract, he took his unsold supplies on into Idaho. By then, defections had reduced his column from seventy to about forty men.

Explaining this move to his long-suffering backers, Wyeth wrote, "I shall proceed about 150 miles west of this and establish a fort in order to make sale of the goods which remain on my hands."

Old Fort Hall, interior. Library of Congress.
He selected a spot on the sandy plain a few miles from what was then the confluence of the Portneuf and Snake Rivers. They built the original structure from the abundant cottonwoods. Each log was sunk about 30 inches into the ground and stood 15 feet above the surface. The work proceeded well, considering that Wyeth had to send off a hunting party of a dozen men. Others had to maintain a guard against the hostile Blackfeet Indians. The finished fort consisted of a roughly 80-foot square with 8-foot square bastions at two diagonal corners.

The job was completed on August 4, and the next day trapper Osborne Russell [blog, Dec 20] wrote “the ‘Stars and Stripes’ were unfurled to the breeze at Sunrise in the center of a savage and uncivilized country over an American trading Post.”

On the 6th, Wyeth wrote, "Having done as much as was requisite for safety to the Fort and drank a bale of liquor and named it Fort Hall in honor of the oldest partner of our concern, we left it." Twelve men remained at the Fort while the rest continued on to Fort Walla Walla  in Washington.

Initial prospects for the Fort seemed promising. However, costs for resupply proved too high for Wyeth's venture to make a profit. He finally sold the site to the rival Hudson's Bay Company, which took over operation during the summer of 1838.

Business with religious missionary parties grew in importance after that. Then, more and more wagon trains full of settlers passed through after the first small party in 1841. That flow soon became the major source of income for Fort Hall. The fur trade dwindled to a minor sideline.

The discovery of gold in California boosted traffic to vastly greater levels, peaking at around 60 thousand in 1852 alone. Most of them – 80-90 percent – went to California, but substantial numbers also ended up in Oregon. Amusing today, but deadly serious then, early “boosters” for the two destinations fought a propaganda war near the Fort. Each offered glowing accounts, and sometimes promised inducements, to persuade trains to come their way.
Wagons on the Oregon Trail. Utah State Historical Society.

At first, the native inhabitants, mostly Shoshone and Bannock tribes, actually welcomed travelers. That changed, however, as they saw the emigrants taking more and more game and cutting a wider swath through the forage grasses along the Trail. As the decade passed, friction between Indians and emigrants escalated.

The increased danger of attack made operations at Fort Hall more and more costly. Finally, changes in the Trail route reduced emigrant traffic. The HBC abandoned (Old) Fort Hall in 1856.

Fourteen years later, the U.S. Army built a new Fort Hall, but it was located about 25 miles away from the old site.
References: [B&W]
“Fort Hall,” Reference Series No. 121, Idaho State Historical Society (January 1968).
Osborne Russell, Aubrey L. Haines (ed.), Journal of a Trapper, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1965).
John D. Unruh, Jr, The Plains Across, University of Illinois Press, Urbana (1979).
Nathaniel J. Wyeth, Don Johnson (ed.), The Journals of Captain Nathaniel J. Wyeth's Expeditions to the Oregon Country 1831-1836, Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield, Washington (1984).

Friday, July 13, 2018

Stagecoach Robbery, and Murder, in Portneuf Canyon [otd 07/13]

On the afternoon of July 13, 1865, the stagecoach traveling south from the Montana gold fields towards Salt Lake City reached a point about ten miles southeast of today's Pocatello. They entered a stretch of Portneuf Canyon favored by bandits because heavy willow thickets crowded the road.
Portneuf Canyon, ca 1872. National Archives.
Two of the seven passengers had reportedly boarded at Taylor's Crossing (today's Idaho Falls) while the others got on in Virginia City. Among them, the men carried gold generally valued at $60-75 thousand ($4-5 million at today's prices) plus at least $5,000 in cash. The exact details of the robbery that happened next have been distorted over time, but the bloody nature of the event remains.

One key discrepancy involves what “participant” Frank Williams was doing on the coach. Later narratives asserted that he was actually driving the stage. But the contemporaneous Idaho Statesman account (July 22, 1865), gleaned from an earlier Utah newspaper item, said, “The passengers booked for Boise were Frank Williams (a former stage driver) …” [and others]. That article also identified the driver as one Charley Parks, whom later accounts claimed was the “shotgun messenger.”

Suddenly, a heavily armed man leaped onto the road and ordered the driver to “Halt!” Then, according to the same report, six more bandits sprang from the brush along the sides. Wanting to protect their treasure, several passengers drew revolvers and fired. The blast of return shots wounded the driver and killed or mortally wounded four passengers. One of the murdered men was merchant David Dinan (sometimes referred to as Dignan). East Idaho pioneer Alexander Toponce recalled, "My friend Dignan had twenty-seven buckshot in his body."

In the confusion, Frank Williams and another passenger, James B. Brown, escaped into the thick brush. The bandit fusillade missed the last passenger, a man named Carpenter, but he was covered in blood from those who had been shot. A few more men appeared, leading horses, and the robbers galloped off. They left the severely wounded driver and Carpenter, figuring both would soon die. After the robbers disappeared, Carpenter freed two stagecoach mules, helped the driver onto one, and they rode for help.

Unfortunately, the greater part of eastern Idaho – 10 million sparsely-inhabited acres – had virtually no conventional law enforcement at the time. Driven to desperation by the rampant crime, citizens formed vigilance committees. Thus, it was the vigilantes, along with agents from the stage line, who pursued the perpetrators.

Investigators first carefully checked the two passengers who had somehow fled unscathed through a fusillade of shots. When Brown was cleared, suspicion focused on Williams, who had since left the area. The vigilantes trailed him first to Salt Lake and then into Colorado.
Florida Educational Technology Clearinghouse.

Watchers observed that the man was throwing money around with abandon – far beyond the means of an ordinary stagecoach employee. Then Williams must have spotted the surveillance because he abruptly fled toward Denver. Caught on the trail, he quickly confessed his role, which was to tip off the gang when the stage carried a big haul.

Williams named his accomplices, who he claimed had told him there would be no violence. Unmoved by the man's purported remorse, the vigilantes hanged him, and pinned a warning note to the body. They then tracked down five of the men Williams had identified and unceremoniously strung them up too.

The fate of the remaining 2-4 bandits is unclear, although two may have met their fate for other crimes. Investigators had much less success with the loot, which the crooks apparently spent even faster than the clueless Williams.
References: Barzilla W. Clark, Bonneville County In The Making, (Idaho Falls 1941).
J. V. Frederick, Ben Hollady, the Stagecoach King, Arthur H. Clark Company, Glendale, California (1940).
N. P. Langford, Vigilante Days and Ways, Montana State University, Bozeman (1957). Original publication in 1890.
Alexander Toponce, Reminiscences of Alexander Toponce, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman (1971).
R. Michael Wilson, Great Stagecoach Robberies of the Old West, a TwoDot® Book, Morris Book Publishing (2007).

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Strong Earthquake Rocks Central Idaho [otd 7/12]

In the early afternoon of July 12, 1944, a quick double-punch of earthquakes hit south-central Idaho. Later analysis placed the epicenter about forty-two miles west, and slightly south, of Challis, Idaho. Oddly enough, the quake was apparently not noticed there – at least the Challis Messenger carried no report.

The magnitude 6-7 quake severely impacted the Seafoam Ranger Station, located about ten miles north of the estimated epicenter. Witnesses there thought the station building might collapse, and several said “they were unable to walk.” They also observed drastic rock dislocations, a slumped canyon wall, and one- to three-inch cracks running several hundred yards along the forest service road. At Cascade, 45-50 miles to the west of the epicenter, the quake toppled two chimneys.

Newspapers in southwest Idaho and over into Oregon had many reports, although none mentioned such dramatic affects. At Garden Valley, about fifty miles distant, people simply reported feeling a tremor. Yet at Idaho City, a few miles further from the epicenter, the County Clerk said the county building shook "noticeably." McCall was about sixty miles northwest of the epicenter. There, witnesses distinctly felt the shock and a housewife said her kitchen floor “danced.” None of these locations reported any damage.

Epicenter and locations where reports originated.
At Fairfield, 70-75 miles south, witnesses reported swaying structures, swinging light fixtures, and rattling dishes. Again, there was no damage in that area. In Emmett, the tremor caught two workmen trying to handle a barrel of chilled water. Each suspected a prank as water sloshed onto one and then the other. The story claimed that the two "almost came to blows" before they figured out what was going on.

Residents in Nampa, Caldwell, Payette, and Weiser mentioned no such drama, but said they distinctly felt the tremors. Ontario, Oregon and another village about fifty miles further west also reported feeling the shocks. Observers in Helena, Montana, about 220 miles away, reported a minor tremor about the same time, but that may have been a local quake.

As might be expected, Boise produced numerous stories. Jolts strong enough to dump dishes on the floor sent some people rushing into the streets. At one fire station, the firemen themselves joined the general rush when their building began to sway and shake. Calls swamped switchboards at police stations, fire departments, and newspapers offices, wondering if there’d been an explosion.

A few folks even wondered if there had been an air raid. Quite a leap of imagination: Allied troops had staged the "D-Day" landing in Europe about six weeks earlier, and the U. S. Navy had crushed Japanese forces at the "Battle of the Philippine Sea" less than a month earlier.

A dental patient bolted from her chair at the first movement. Elsewhere, furniture scooted around and clocks stopped. One woman saw an empty rocking chair suddenly began to sway back and forth. Having no other clues, she found the sight “the most frightening experience of her life.” Some witnesses thought they were ill, and having a sudden dizzy spell. At least one older man remarked, "I thought I was having a heart attack when my chair started shaking."

Seismographs across the West recorded the shock, including stations in Salt Lake City, Spokane, and Pasadena. A seismologist at the University of Utah opined that had the epicenter been closer to a city with larger structures, "it would have toppled a lot of chimneys."
References: "Central Idaho Earthquake," Daily Bulletin, Blackfoot, Idaho (July 12, 1944).
“Idaho Earthquake History,” Earthquake Information Bulletin, Vol. 4, N. 2, U.S. Geological Survey (March - April 1972).
“Newspaper Articles for 1944 Central Idaho Earthquake,” University of Utah Seismograph Stations.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Labor Clash in Coeur d'Alene Silver/Lead Mines Kills at Least Twelve [otd 07/11]

On the morning of Monday, July 11, 1892, striking union miners and a crew at the Frisco Mine exchanged gunfire. This lead-silver mine is located about four miles northeast of Wallace, Idaho. The crew consisted of replacement workers imported by the mining company and guards to protect them.
Frisco Mill, ca. 1890. University of Idaho Digital Archives.

The conflict had started early in the year, when the mine owners reduced the wages paid to lower-skilled workers. Their jobs could be learned “in a few days,” the owners pointed out, and it was hardly fair to pay them the same as an experienced lode miner. But many union men were sure this was just the opening wedge for broader cuts. So they called a strike. After much negotiation, with no resolution in sight, the companies imported replacements and a protective force.

Although the replacement workers received the (new or old) standard wages, the union claimed that was just a temporary ruse. Most of the crews were short-handed, perhaps because of the extra costs for guards. June passed in an uneasy semi-truce, with much name-calling between union men and company supporters. Occasionally, fist fights broke out between union men and replacement workers.

Finally, the building pressure of the various confrontations, and days with no paycheck, pushed the strikers over the edge. Armed union men began to gather late Sunday evening in the vicinity of the Frisco mine. Shots rang out around 5:00 a.m. the next morning. Reporting on the flareup, the Illustrated History of North Idaho declared, "it is said by both sides that the shooting was not intended at first to do other execution than to frighten the men out of the mine."

Unfortunately, with so many tempers on edge, an exchange of warning shots quickly escalated into a "pitched battle." Caught in the open, the union attackers pulled back. Then, circling up the hill, they slid a charge of "giant powder" down the emptied water-supply flume and blew up the Frisco ore mill.

Badly outnumbered and fearing the attackers would begin bombarding their positions with explosives, the defenders surrendered. In the end, three men on each side were killed. Managers on the spot agreed that the strike-breakers would be sent away. Emboldened, the army of union men then marched to mines in Gem and Wardner and forced the same conditions on them.
Senator Heyburn. Library of Congress.

The next day, a considerable band of armed men assaulted the non-union men as they waited for a boat to carry them out to Coeur d’Alene City. One man was badly wound, but recovered. Many others were reported missing, having probably vanished into the mountain wilderness. ‪Weldon B. Heyburn‬, later U. S. Senator from Idaho, reported directly to the Governor about the incident (Idaho Statesman, July 14, 1892). Witnesses told him that twelve bodies had been recovered from Fourth of July Canyon, about 15 miles southeast of Coeur d’Alene City: “They were riddled with bullets.”

The union denied any involvement in this violence, and it may well have been a “free lance” mob outburst. Authorities made many arrests related to the original violence as well as the aftermath. However, none of the prisoners spent much time in jail: Trials overturned all the arrests on technicalities or for lack of evidence.

In fact, the union was never held accountable for the property destruction, and no one was punished for any of the deaths.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-State], [Illust-North]

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

First Structures Completed at Naval Ordnance Plant in Pocatello [otd 07/10]

On July 10, 1943 workers completed construction of the first usable structures for the Naval Ordnance Plant (NOP) about three miles north of Pocatello, Idaho. The Navy had authorized the Plant in the spring of the previous year. With more facilities completed later in the year, officials commissioned the NOP in early August, 1943.

Early in World War II, planners had to consider the possibility of attacks on the West Coast when they selected a site to refurbish big naval guns. Pocatello offered the proper transport connections to Coastal bases. Not only was it a major railroad junction, but a segment of transcontinental highway ran through the town. And, off to the northwest, the region offered plenty of open space.

Refurbished battleship gun.
Idaho State University Special Collections.
The most impressive structure at the NOP was the big gun shop. It was 840 feet long, 352 feet wide, and over seven stories tall. Inside, skilled mechanics and machinists could reline and refurbish the very largest battleship guns in the U. S. Navy. Repeated firing wears out the bore of any artillery piece. In particular, distortion of the rifling – the grooves that force shells to spin – severely degrades the gun’s accuracy. Only a specially-design facility, with massive tools and equipment, could handle the huge naval cannon.

Later they added three giant storage buildings – 605 feet long by 352 feet wide – where guns could be mounted and the mounts could be exercised. Besides these out-sized facilities, the site included smaller shops and storerooms, plus quarters for civilian and military personnel. In all, the station encompassed fifty buildings, most of them of permanent construction.

Refurbished guns had to be tested before they were shipped back to the fleet for re-installation. To provide a test range, the Navy commissioned a second site, located 50-60 miles northwest of Pocatello on what was generally called "the Arco desert." Except for three large, roughly cone-shaped buttes, that area is a mix a level plains and low, rolling hills.

On November 20, 1943, the Navy’s first tests were run on some small-caliber guns that had been refurbished. The commandant, Captain Walter E. Brown, told reporters that repairs on big battleship guns would begin “soon.” Captain Brown received an armed forces Legion of Merit award for his work in getting the NOP operational.

The test site eventually contained 27 buildings, including powder magazines, warehouses, a variety of shops, an administration building, and quarters for the operating personnel. Ordnance operators first did short-range proof tests, using a protective blockhouse and large reinforced-concrete targets. They also performed tests of the mounted guns, firing them into a vast cleared area to the north of the command complex.

After the War, the Ordnance Plant saw less and less activity, with a commensurate reduction in the civilian work force. The Pocatello Plant was decommissioned and sold in the mid-Fifties.

Officials "re-purposed" the remote test range in 1949, transferring ownership of the facilities to the Atomic Energy Commission, which called it the National Reactor Testing Station.
Test Shot Toward Big Southern Butte. U.S. Navy photo.

Still, during the Vietnam War the Navy again used the site for test-firing 16-inch battleship guns. By then, the northern range contained many new facilities so test operators fired the guns into the side of Big Southern Butte.

After numerous transformations in mission, the former test area functions today under the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the Idaho National Laboratory.
References: “Naval Ordnance Plant, Pocatello, Idaho,” Idaho Digital Resources, Idaho Commission for Libraries.
"Pocatello, Idaho," Building the Navy's Bases in World War II, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (1947).
Susan M. Stacy, Proving the Principle, DOE/ID-10799 (2000).

Monday, July 9, 2018

Shelley Businessman and Theater Owner Francis Davis [otd 07/09]

Theater owner and Mormon Bishop Francis M. Davis was born July 9, 1883 in Provo, Utah. He first found regular employment when he was just twelve years old. After several years in various unskilled jobs, he began working as an accountant. He spent seven years in that line before becoming a traveling salesman. His route took him into Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

In 1906-1909, Davis served LDS missions in England and Germany. When he returned to the States, he again worked as an accountant. Three years later, he married Mary Ellen Shelley. About that time, perhaps because an accountant’s salary was inadequate for a family man, Davis went back to work as a traveling salesman.

John F. Shelley, ca. 1890.
Shelley Public Library.
Mary’s father, John F. Shelley, was among those who founded two villages near Idaho Falls. In 1892 and 1893, he began developing a spot about ten miles down the river from the “big town.” Besides a home and barn, Shelley also built a store, which became part of "Shelley Siding" on the railroad.

Francis Davis and Mary moved to Shelley two years after they were married.

In Shelley, Davis started as Credit Manager for Shelley Mercantile Company and worked his way up to Assistant Manager. Eventually he would serve on the Board of Directors for the Mercantile as well as the Shelley Light & Power Company and the Shelley Mill & Elevator Company. He would also serve all three companies as Secretary and Treasurer.

In 1915, Davis was made a Bishop of the Shelley LDS church. He also developed an interest in the growing motion picture – “movie” – business. Until then, the only available commercial entertainment was in Idaho Falls, which had hosted traveling road shows since the 1880s. The first movies appeared there in 1907. By the end of 1915, Idaho Falls had four movie theaters.

Virginia Theater, 2008.
Cropped from photo at Wikimedia Commons,
submitted by Sociotard.
In 1918, Francis built the Virginia Theatre, which was equipped with the latest features current at the time. Within a few years, the facility would make the transition from silent films to talkies.

Around 1936, Davis began allowing the Shelley Chamber of Commerce to use the theater for a Christmas children’s show. (The Kiwanis took over sponsorship after awhile.) The tradition continued for at least twenty years after Francis sold the Virginia to his son Ralph in 1946.

Davis became a very prominent leader in the LDS Church, both in Shelley and in Idaho Falls. He served as President of the LDS Temple in Idaho Falls for about fourteen years, starting around 1950. As such, he officiated at a remarkable number of weddings between then and about 1963. Not infrequently, he would perform more than one on a given day , and a few times three, four, or even more.

In November 1967, around 6 p.m. on the day before Thanksgiving, F. M. Davis was killed in a one-car accident. His car plunged into an empty canal at a curve in a rural road. Whether he lost control or had a fatal health event was not reported.

Although the Virginia Theater closed for awhile, it is now very active. By today’s standards, it is rather small as a movie venue, so they focus mostly on stage plays and improvisational theater.
References: [French], [Hawley]
“Auto Accident Kills Francis M. Davis,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (Nov 23, 1967).
“Golden Jubilee Edition, 1884–1934,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (September 10, 1934).

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Trapper Osborne Russell Observes "Beer Springs" (Today's Soda Springs) [otd 07/08]

In July of 1834, fledgling mountain man Osborne Russell wrote, "We travelled down this river and on the 8th encamped at a place called the Sheep Rock, so called from a point of the mountain terminating at the river bank in a perpendicular high rock."
Sheep Rock, sometimes called Soda Point
… near Soda Springs, Idaho.
He then noted: "The Sheep occupy this prominent elevation (which overlooks the surrounding country to a great extent) at all seasons of the year."

Osborne Russell was born June 12, 1814 in Maine. So far as is known, he received very little formal schooling. Yet at some point he learned to write clearly and accurately, with a better than average vocabulary. He ran away to sea as a teenager, but picked the wrong captain: Most of the crew jumped ship in New York and young Osborne went with them.

Russell then spent a couple years with a fur company in Wisconsin and Minnesota before joining Nathaniel Wyeth's Columbia River Fishing and Trading Company [blogs, Jan 29 & Dec 20]. After attending the mountain man rendezvous in southwest Wyoming, Wyeth's party continued west in early July.

On July 8, Russell continued, "On the right hand or East side of the river about 2 miles above the rock is 5 or 8 mineral Springs, some of which have precisely the taste of soda water."

Trappers knew these springs well; they called them "Beer Springs." A party led by Captain Benjamin Bonneville had visited the springs less than a year before [blog, Nov 10]. He claimed that his men "threw themselves into a mock carouse." He went on to say, "It was a singular and fantastic scene, suited to a region where everything is strange and peculiar."

Russell said, "This place which now looks so lonely, visited only by the rambling Trapper or solitary Savage will doubtless at no distant day be a resort for thousands of the gay and fashionable world, as well as Invalids and spectators."

Nine years later, an expedition led by Second Lieutenant John C. Frémont visited the springs. He noted that “A traveller … at every step is arrested by something remarkable and new.” They analyzed the water in one spring and found it heavily loaded with dissolved solids … ten times a level that is considered “very hard.”

The feature became a well-known landmark on the Oregon Trail.  Abigail Scott (later, Duniway) [blog, July 29] was one of many who commented on the springs. In 1852, she wrote, “About 11 o'clock we came to the Soda Springs; They are a great curiosity.”

Osborne Russell’s prediction about a “fashionable” resort was off only in the timing. In 1887, the Union Pacific Railroad built the Idanha Hotel in Soda Springs. The resort hosted travelers for over thirty years. However, the hotel burned down in 1921 and they did not rebuild it. That was probably because the more heavily developed Lava Hot Springs lay 15-20 miles to the west.
Idanha Water bottle label. Soda Springs, Idaho.

In addition to the resort, the Natural Mineral Water Company began bottling "natural" soda water, also in 1887. (They were probably part-owner of the hotel, but the records are somewhat uncertain.) The Company shipped Idanha Water all over the world, and won both national and international awards.

Today, Alexander Reservoir covers most of the springs Russell observed. However, the town of Soda Springs does feature a man-controlled geyser powered by a geothermal source of natural carbon dioxide.
References: [Hawley]
Osborne Russell, Aubrey L. Haines (ed.), Journal of a Trapper, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1965). [Original imprint produced in 1914 by Syms-York Company, Boise, and republished in 1921.]
Soda Springs, Idaho, Idaho online.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Miner, Store Owner, and Dairyman Francis Marion “Frank” Davis [otd 07/07]

Francis Marion Davis was born on July 7, 1838 near Monmouth, Illinois, about 55 miles west and a bit north of Peoria. He lost his father when he was a boy, so he and his brother Thomas lived with and worked for a farm family there. Thomas is covered in my blog for January 2. As explained in that article, the young men headed west in 1860, probably in the spring.
F. M. “Frank” Davis. [Illust-State]

Whatever their initial plans were, at some point they learned of the new gold discoveries in what would become northern Idaho [blog, October 2]. They joined a large party traveling to the gold country. Victims of a swindle in central Idaho, they arrived at Elk City in July 1862 on pack animals with almost no supplies. By then, all the best prospects had been claimed, and many were already played out.

So they went to Walla Walla for supplies and prospected in Oregon and then in the Boise Basin. After awhile, they decided they could do better supplying the camps with fresh vegetables. So they claimed land in the Boise Valley and planted crops. Profits from their early sales of onions, cabbages and potatoes proved that their plan was sound.

Thus, they were there in July 1863 when Major Pinkney Lugenbeel picked a site for his fort [blog, July 4]. A few days later, a group of pioneers gathered in the Thomas Davis cabin to platt a town near the fort. Oddly enough, six lots were assigned to “F. M. Davis” but none to Tom. (Davis almost always went by “F. M.” or “Frank,” rather than Francis.) That was most likely a formality since it’s known that Frank remained a partner in Tom’s fruit ranch for several years.

In 1864, the brothers and two other partners imported seven thousand apple trees for the ranch. That investment paid off handsomely when the trees began to bear fruit. In 1870, Frank purchased a stock of merchandise and opened a hardware store on Main Street. That might have been when he sold his interest in the apple farm. However, he only seems to have kept the store for about a year.

That was because he was also running, with a partner, a business that dealt in milk and butter. In 1873, he took sole ownership of the dairy concern, which flourished under his management. Thus, in late 1875 and early 1876, he purchased a quarter section of land near the city and established a full dairy operation.

A year later, the Idaho Statesman reported that Frank had sold “a splendid piece of property” on Grove Street. That was probably to finance improvements to his farm. By 1880, he was heavily advertising his “choicest quality” milk and butter. Nor was that just advertising fluff. According to reports, he had “an enviable reputation for the excellence of his dairy products.”
Dairy Herd, ca. 1890. National Archives.

With the business going so well, in 1884 Frank had a fine new home built for his family. That fall, the Statesman editor visited the place and declared that it was “the best and most costly farm residence in the county.” Observers were equally impressed with his barns and other equipment for a modern, first-class dairy.

Francis “Frank” Davis passed away rather suddenly in March 1891. While not so well off as his brother, he left an estate that would be valued at about $2 million in modern terms. He was held in such high regard that, thirty years after his death, memorials still lauded his “sterling worth” and his prominent role as an Idaho pioneer.
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“[F. M. Davis News],” Idaho Statesman, Boise (May 1870 – March 1891).
“First Platt of Boise City,” Eighth Biennial Report of the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society of Idaho, Boise (1922).
“Will of Francis M. Davis,” Probate Court of Ada County, State of Idaho, Record Book [hand-written], Boise, Idaho (1891).