Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Gooding College President and Methodist Minister Charles Wesley Tenney [otd 07/31]

Charles Wesley Tenney, LL.D., was born in Vancouver, Washington on July 31, 1873. His father, Horace Dewey Tenney from Vermont, pioneered in Washington by way of California in 1863. Horace became a member of the Sons of the American Revolution through his great-grandfather, Josiah, who served three years with the Third Massachusetts Regiment. Charles graduated from Willamette University, Salem, Oregon, in 1898, with a Bachelor’s degree (Ph.B). He immediately enrolled at the Oregon Law School.

However, during his time at Willamette, Tenney had also been designated a Deacon in the Methodist Episcopal Church. Thus, after a year at the Law School he was called to teach at the Montana Wesleyan College in Helena, Montana. Charles arrived as Professor of Civics and Economics for the fall semester (Helena Independent, September 14, 1899).
Helena, ca 1908. Library of Congress.
After two years, Tenney was placed in full control of the college, although he was not given the top title. Then, in August 1903, Charles was ordained in the ministry, and was thereafter referred to as the President of the College. In 1908, he obtained his Master’s degree from George Washington University, in Washington, D. C.

Tenney remained President of the College until 1913, when he became Rural School Inspector for the state of Montana. He held that position into 1917, and then became Superintendent of Schools at Libby, Montana. During the summer of that year, Charles taught classes on rural school organization and leadership at Syracuse University. He also gave summer institute lectures at two schools in South Dakota (Anaconda Standard, April 16, 1917).

In 1918, Tenney was called to the Presidency of Gooding College, located south of Gooding, Idaho. The Methodist Episcopal Church established the College in 1917. The school had moved from temporary quarters into new buildings at the end of November. Before the church assigned Tenney there in September 1918, the school was apparently headed by a Vice President.

Charles was formally installed as President on March 21, 1919, in a program that included Idaho Governor D. W. Davis [blog April 23] and former governor and future U. S. Senator Frank R. Gooding. The school offered a Bachelor of Arts degree, being particularly strong in the fine arts.

In 1927, Charles received an LL.D. from Helena’s Intermountain Union College, a predecessor to Rocky Mountain College. Dr. Tenney would see Gooding College through a period of growth, followed by its decline. Unfortunately, the Great Depression crippled the College, as it did many other small schools. By the mid-1930s, Charles had come under pressure to add non-academic classes (“manual arts,” presumably) to the curriculum. He resigned as of the end of the 1934-1935 school year (The Oregonian, April 17, 1935).
Gooding College. National Register of Historic Places
Gooding College folded in 1938, and the property was donated to the state of Idaho in 1941. The buildings housed a tuberculosis hospital for over twenty years after 1946. The main structures were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. More recently, part of the property has been converted to a bed and breakfast.

Dr. Tenney worked at the Institute of Religious Studies on the University of Idaho Campus for about a year. He then spent about four years as an “office employee” for a religious correspondence school, working from Portland, Oregon.

Starting in about September 1940, Charles served as a “supply pastor” in and around the city. The following year, he became the regular pastor at Bennett Chapel, a small Methodist church in East Portland. Tenney finally retired from active ministry in late 1943. He passed away in November 1947.
References: [Defen]
“Ailment Fatal to Educator,” The Oregonian, Portland (November 30, 1947).
“Educational News – Idaho,” Journal of Education: New England and National, Volume 89, Boston (January 2, 1919).
"Gooding College," National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service (1983).

Monday, July 30, 2018

Chief Pocatello Signs "Box Elder" Peace Treaty [otd 07/30]

On July 30, 1863, Shoshone Chief Pocatello signed the Treaty of Box Elder. In return for promises of food and other compensation for the game and land preempted by whites, the Chief agreed to cease his attacks on Oregon Trail travelers and southeast Idaho settlers.

Chief Pocatello sculpture*.
[Portneuf] Valley Pride project.
The man whom whites called "Pocatello" was born in 1815-1825 somewhere in the Grouse Creek area of Utah, 35-40 miles south of Oakley, Idaho. He grew up to become a strong-minded, decisive chief.

The tribe migrated seasonally through Idaho and Utah: north to the Snake, east to the Portneuf and Blackfoot rivers, and then south along the Bear River. Sometimes, they wintered near the Great Salt Lake. They encountered no serous difficulties with the mountain men who shared their territory after about 1825.

Osborne Russell [blog, December 20], for example, lived with the local Indians during the winter of 1840-1841. They passed the time in conversation where “The principal topic which was discussed was the political affairs of the Rocky Mountains: The state of governments among the different tribes, the personal characters of the most distinguished warriors Chiefs, etc.”Russell does not mention either “Pocatello” or “Tondzaosha,” the name the chief actually went by. Evidently Pocatello had not yet attained a leadership position.

During the early years of the Oregon Trail emigration, Indians were far more often helpful than hostile to the travelers. They traded amicably for food, horses, guide work, and more. Emigrants did note, sometimes ruefully, that Indians were canny traders.

But then the California gold rush brought hordes of travelers through the region. Also, Mormons began to settle there, pushing the Indians off the land. What started the trouble is impossible to say, and matters little: counter-attack followed attack, atrocity matched atrocity.

By around 1860, the chief had a reputation as a "bad" Indian, and whites blamed him for many attacks he had nothing to do with. Then, on January 29, 1863, Volunteer troops under Colonel Patrick Connor slaughtered several hundred Shoshones at the Battle of Bear River (also called the "Bear River Massacre").

Shoshone Leaders. Utah State Historical Society.
Pocatello's band had no involvement in the Battle. Still, the heavy losses shocked every Shoshone and the pressure that followed forced the chief to sign the Box Elder treaty. Five years later, the Bridger Treaty of 1868 pushed the Shoshones onto the Fort Hall Indian Reservation [blog, June 14].

Indifference, and probably some corruption in the Indian Agency, basically nullified the promises made in those treaties. In 1878, all the broken promises, and other grievances, finally sparked the Bannock War [blog, June 8]. Although some Shoshones fought in that conflict, Pocatello took no part. By then, deeply weary and discouraged, the chief had withdrawn from an active leadership role. He died in 1884.

A final word about the name, which lives on as the city in southeast Idaho. It's origin is completely lost in time. We do know it's not Shoshone-Bannock: Neither language has an "L" sound. Pocatello's daughter asserted that the name had no meaning, implying it was just a nonsense term.

Yet white's called him that even before 1860, and neither trappers nor emigrants were much given to overt creativity. We do know newcomers frequently learned tribal and individual names from outsiders first, and often from enemies. That suggests possible word corruptions from Spanish, French, Nez Perce, Paiute, Piegan, or any of the other language-speakers the Shoshones regularly met. We'll probably never know for sure.

* Sculptor JD Adcox
References: Brigham D. Madsen, Chief Pocatello: The "White Plume," University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City (1986).
Brigham D. Madsen, The Northern Shoshoni, The Caxton Printers, CaIdwell, Idaho (1980)..
“The Name Pocatello,” Reference Series No. 37, Idaho State Historical Society (May 1966).
“Pocatello’s [Shoshoni] Band,” Reference Series No. 818, Idaho State Historical Society (184).
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)..

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Newspaperwoman and Women’s Suffrage Advocate Abigail (Scott) Duniway [otd 07/29]

On July 29, 1852, Oregon Pioneer Abigail Jane Scott wrote in her party's journal, "Three miles brought us to Goose Creek; There is grass enough here for a small party of cattle; The water is not very good, being warm and muddy."
“Emigrants Crossing the Plains,” Henry Bryan Hall engraving.
Library of Congress.

Goose Creek was an important watering place on the Oregon Trail, located near where Burley is today. Abigail's father, John Tucker Scott, had assigned her primary responsibility for keeping a daily journal of the trip. She was 18 years old.
Their story supports the point that, by and large, poor families did not emigrate to the western Territories. They either had to already own much of the outfit – wagons, draft animals, and other equipment – or purchase it. The cost of provisions for the long journey added to their initial outlay.

The Scott train reached Idaho in mid-July. Her first impressions were mixed: "We encamped near the Bear River and find good grass; The mosquitoes are troublesome in the extreme; passed four graves."

At "The Cedars," future site of Milner Dam, the Snake River constricts into a cleft half as wide and twice as deep as before. Abigail wrote, "The river here runs through a rocky kanyon. The current is remarkably swift and the water tumbles over the rocks with a roaring noise; ... Huge piles of rock rise up in bold array around me with often a cedar nodding at their tops."

Here, the party experienced a tragedy when the men drove their small band of cattle down to the river for a vital drink. The herd bolted across the river and, sadly, a "worthy young man" drowned in the process of recovering them.

In fact, death was a constant companion of the Oregon Trail pioneers. Just after the train left Idaho, Abigail wrote, "There are two graves near our camp, of a recent date; We have seen several graves every day for the past week but I have beene rather negligent, and consequently took no note of them; Some of our folks are yet quite sick."

Abigail Scott Duniway.
Library of Congress.
In Oregon, Abigail taught school briefly before marrying Benjamin C. Duniway in 1853. When an accident restricted Ben to light work, Abigail supported the family in various ways. Mainly she worked as a writer, lecturer, and editor of the New Northwest newspaper, which she started in 1871. She made the paper a vehicle for advocating women's rights.

Duniway lectured all over the Northwest, including many appearances in Idaho. Also, from about 1886 until 1894, Abigail helped run a livestock ranch in Idaho's Pahsimeroi Valley. Although she deferred to Idaho leaders, she always took a proactive approach in her advocacy of women's rights.

She visited Boise two months after the legislature overwhelmingly passed a resolution to put a women's suffrage amendment on the ballot in 1896. In a public lecture, she praised the men who had passed the measure and asked, “Will you, women of Idaho, sit supinely by, and let your proffered opportunity go by default because of your own apathy, or will you help those men, by becoming your own standard bearers … ?”

Her message helped energize support groups to push the amendment all over Idaho. The measure passed easily that fall [blog, Nov 3].

Duniway was less successful in Oregon, where she lived after 1894. That state finally did grant women the right to vote in 1912. Abigail died in 1915, too early to celebrate passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
References: [French]
Ellen Druckenbrod, Abigail Scott Duniway & Idaho's Woman Suffrage Movement, Boise Public Library, Boise, Idaho (2005).
Abigail Scott Duniway, Path Breaking, James, Kerns & Abbott Co., Portland, Oregon (1914).
Abigail Jane Scott, "Journal of a Trip to Oregon," Covered Wagon Women, Vol. 5, Kenneth L. Homes, David C. Duniway (eds.), University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1997).

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Cowboys Drive Cattle Across Idaho into Wyoming and Nevada [otd 07/28]

On July 28, 1876, cowboy cook William Emsley Jackson wrote in his diary, "Three emigrant teams passed us while in camp – are being rushed right along now. Five herds of cattle between here and Georgetown."
Working chuckwagon.

Georgetown, Idaho is located about 12 miles north of Montpelier, in the southeast corner of the state. Jackson's diary emphasizes the point that, by the mid-1870s, stockmen were driving large cattle bands east across Idaho. The drive for which William Emsley Jackson cooked was one of two herds belonging to G. W. Lang and a Mr. Shadley. They had purchased about four thousand head in Oregon and split them into two more-manageable drives.

Idaho had been an importer of live cattle in the early years of the decade, starting with herds from Oregon and California. They also trailed large bands of cheap Texas cattle into the Territory. That continued even as late as 1873.

Yet as early as 1870, a stockman had driven two thousand surplus sheep from Oregon into Montana. In 1874, Oregon drovers trailed hundreds, if not thousands of cattle across Idaho to ranges and markets in Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska. By then, or 1875 at the latest, Idaho stockmen also had surpluses. Newspaper reports show they were driving herds to Winnemucca, Nevada for shipment to California.

The Washington and Oregon herds generally followed one of two routes across Idaho. One roughly back-tracked the southern Oregon Trail along that side of the Snake River. The other route crossed the Snake early, veered south of Boise, and turned east towards Fairfield and south of Arco (neither of which existed then). From there, they continued to the ford that crossed the Snake north of Eagle Rock (today's Idaho Falls).

Jackson joined the drive in May. Unfortunately, he lost the booklet he started with, so his actual day-to-day observations don't resume until the latter part of June. The herd was then 20-25 miles west of today's Twin Falls. On July 8th, the drive reached the Raft River, where they camped.
Cattle on the move, National Park Service.

Six days later, they crossed the Portneuf River. Jackson wrote, "Two emigrant wagons passed us before we got out of camp." He then described the area and concluded, "it is a beautiful country, though I should judge it is too wet and owing to the altitude, too cold for a farming country. I understand this to be the Indian reservation. There are thousands of acres of good hay land in this valley that never saw a sickle."

After passing Georgetown on the 28th, the Lang-Shadley herd went on by Montpelier. Jackson said, "The principal occupation of the people of this region is stock raising."

A later observation confirmed that Idaho cattle were also being trailed east. Out on the Laramie Plain in Wyoming, Jackson wrote, "We pass a herd of about 500 cattle from Marsh Valley, Idaho. Their destination was Laramie."

A few months later, the Idaho Statesman announced (February 24, 1877), that stockman Edward Pinkham was planning a cattle drive from his ranch near the mouth of the Payette River. He intended to "start as early as the grass will permit, and probably drive as far as the Laramie valley."

Late that year, the Statesman (December 11, 1877) noted that, "Mr. Pinkham sold out his band at fair prices." However, Pinkham felt he might have done better had he grazed the herd over the winter so they could regain the weight lost on the drive.
References: William Emsley Jackson, J. Orin Oliphant (ed.), William Emsley Jackson's Diary..., Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield, Washington (1984).
David L. Shirk, Martin F. Schimdt (ed.), The Cattle Drives of David Shirk, Champoeg Press, Portland, Oregon (1956).
J. Orin Oliphant, On the Cattle Ranges of the Oregon Country, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1968).

Friday, July 27, 2018

Construction Manager, Entrepreneur, and Prolific Bridge Builder James H. Forbes [otd 07/27]

Pioneer Idaho bridge builder James Hunter Forbes was born July 27, 1862 near Cincinnati, Ohio. His parents were both Scottish emigrants. With only a common school education, James began his working life as a farm laborer. However, after 1884, he spent about three years as a stonemason at various locations in Kansas.
James H. Forbes. [French]

Next, he found a job with a firm that specialized in bridge building. After perhaps ten years of that, Forbes went into business for himself, both directly and as a subcontractor. His first major job in Idaho came in 1902. He handled a subcontract to build a bridge across the Boise River to Eagle Island, about 10 miles downriver from Boise City.

Forbes followed the Eagle bridge job with a direct contract to build a dam and headgates for the Canyon Canal on the Payette River. He also then fulfilled another subcontract to build a wooden wagon bridge across the Payette River at Emmett. Besides some follow-up on that project, he won a contract to install a sewage system for the city. The city also granted him the franchise for an electric light plant. Forbes held his interest in the plant for about eighteen months before selling it.

With so much work coming his way, Forbes moved to Caldwell. He also began to specialize more in building bridges. Perhaps his largest early contract, beginning in 1905 or 1906, called for putting up bridges for the interurban railway, running from Boise out to beyond Caldwell. In January 1907, the Idaho Statesman reported that Forbes had “just completed the erection of the steel bridge over the Boise River near Caldwell. Besides this bridge, 30 pile bridges and three on concrete piers have been built.”

Forbes had a preference for steel truss bridges and his expertise with that design as well as other types won him many contracts as the low bidder. In 1910, he erected two bridges over the Payette River, one near New Plymouth and another about 8 miles down-river from Emmett. That same year, he built a Boise River bridge about 5 miles  southeast of downtown. The stated purpose of the bridge was to allow cattle and sheep drives to cross the river without going through the city itself.

Besides his construction work, Forbes served one term on the Caldwell City Council and briefly held a vice presidency in a Caldwell bank. But he focused mainly on bridges, even handling at least one contract in eastern Oregon. In 1929, when he was over 66 years old, he landed a contract for five bridges on the highway between Jerome and the Intercounty Bridge (now the Perrine Bridge).

In 1931, Forbes opened the Homedale Feed and Commission Company as a sideline. However, five years passed before he shut down the construction outfit and sold off its specialized equipment. He then began selling real estate, using the Homedale store as a base. James kept working after his wife died in 1938. He did sell off the feed company the following year.
Midvale Bridge, Weiser River, built by Forbes. Library of Congress.

On June 5, 1947, Forbes placed an ad as selling agent for a prime 80-acre farm with a “modern six room house” and a “new barn.” He died ten days later from injuries suffered in a car accident. He was just six weeks short of his 85th birthday.

A survey in 1981-1982 found around 25 steel truss bridges – still standing and many of them still in use – built in Idaho by Forbes. Two in Washington County – including the Midvale Bridge – were considered “most notable” in the submission for Historic Registry inclusion.
References: [French], [Hawley]
“[James Forbes News],” Idaho Statesman, Boise; Caldwell Tribune, Caldwell, Idaho; Billings Gazette, Billings, Montana (June 1900 – June 1947).
Kenneth C. Reid, Metal Truss Bridges of Idaho, National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form, Boise, Idaho (August 10, 2000).

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Reynolds Distributes First Issue of The Idaho Statesman, in Boise [otd 07/26]

Statesman inaugural issue.
On Tuesday, July 26, 1864, the first issue of the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman, a small four-column publication, came off the presses in Boise City. The newspaper debuted that day because of some enthusiastic, and practical, advocacy by a team of Boise businessmen.

Statesman founder James S. Reynolds told an 1870 Census taker he had been born in New York State, in 1830. However, the Illustrated History of the State of Idaho had information that he was born in Maine, and had worked “in the lumber camps of the Pine Tree State.” In any case, he later made his way to Oregon by way of California. At The Dalles, he met two brothers, Thomas and Richard Reynolds (who bore no relation to James). These young men owned a printing outfit and knew how to use it.

At that time, the Boise Basin gold fields were booming. The men compared notes and decided that a newspaper in Idaho City could be a money-making venture. So off they went, getting as far as Boise City on July 15, 1864. There, they stopped at the Riggs & Agnew store to ask about the best way to get their heavy load to their destination.

Henry C. Riggs and James D. Agnew, two of the founders of Boise City, grew very excited when they learned what the threesome intended. They quickly gathered a group of fellow businessmen to propose that the Reynolds site their newspaper in their small hamlet on the Boise River. They surely must have also pointed out that Idaho City already had three established newspapers.

Just eleven days later that first issue hit the streets. The publication included generally standard fare: news of the Civil War, Territorial political conventions, many advertisements, and so on. It also contained a slam at the editor of a rival newspaper, the Boise News in Idaho City. The brief item described him as “a large sized brick.”

They had only been able to find a two-room log cabin to house their venture, but made do. James Reynolds served as editor, giving the paper a Republican, abolitionist, and pro-Union bent. Oddly enough, the Reynolds brothers, from Missouri, and many of the paper's backers and readers held Southern sympathies.
Statesman building, 1866. Idaho Statesman archives.

Still, the partners managed to work together and the newspaper became a resounding success. Early subscriptions ran $1 for a week, $3 for a month, or $20 for a year. However, when they had details of “a great battle” in the war, they would immediately publish an “extra” for individual sale. As a bonus, they would “send a man on a fleet horse” into the gold country “where they sold for from fifty cents to a dollar.”

About two years after that first issue, the Reynolds brothers sold their share to James and moved back to Missouri. In 1869, Reynolds tried to sell the paper, but the deal fell through. Three years later, he finally found a buyer, former judge Milton Kelly.

Kelly changed the paper to a daily in 1888, which has been its main schedule ever since. A year later, he sold the Statesman to a group led by livestock dealer Calvin Cobb. Cobb operated the paper until his death in 1928. Under his leadership, the newspaper became less and less partisan, but still held its generally-acknowledged position as the "lead" newspaper for the state of Idaho.

The Statesman remained under local ownership until 1963, when it became part of a large newspaper holding company.
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Rocky Barker, “It's the Statesman's 145th anniversary! From Lincoln to Obama, we have been there,” The Idaho Statesman, Boise (July 26, 2009).
“James S. Reynolds, ca. 1830-September 14, 1897,” Reference Series No. 593, Idaho State Historical Society (1981).
Idaho Statesman, Official Web Site.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Long-Time U. S. Senator Frank Church [otd 07/25]

Senator Church. Library of Congress.
U.S. Senator Frank Forrester Church was born July 25, 1924 in Boise. He was a third generation Idahoan. His grandfather and namesake came to Placerville, Idaho in 1870-1872. In 1893, he was appointed to a four-year term as chief assayer at the U. S. Assay Office in Boise [blog, May 30]. Frank, Jr. operated a sporting goods store in Boise.

Future senator Frank III started school at Stanford University, but left to enlist in the U. S. Army the following year. After the war, despite a bout with cancer, he completed his education, obtaining a law degree from Stanford in 1950.

He opened a Boise law practice, but quickly embarked upon his real goal. He wanted to be a professional politician like his hero, William A. Borah [blog, June 29]. In 1952, Church ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature. Yet he succeeded four years later in a bid for a U. S. Senate seat.

Church would be re-elected to the Senate for three more terms. Thus, this short essay can only touch the highlights of his career. Although only a freshman Senator, he helped shepherd the Civil Rights Act of 1957 into law, and continued to support other civil rights legislation. Appointed to the Special Committee on Aging in 1967, Church became Chairman of that group five years later. He thus actively sponsored and promoted medical, housing, and other programs for the elderly.

He supported the limited early U. S. involvement in Vietnam, but then led the successful fight to end our heavier role in the conflict. Church also gained much notoriety for his aggressive investigation of the Central Intelligence Agency. His committee certainly found much to condemn, and much that needed fixing. However, corrective measures imposed by Congress had many unintended consequences. For example, agents who seek information from knowledgeable locals – "Humlnt" or Human Intelligence – must often deal with unsavory, even reprehensible characters. New Congressional guidelines made such contacts difficult, if not next to impossible.

Many have asked how Church, with his mostly liberal views, spent four terms in the Senate from what is acknowledged to be a conservative state. His help to the elderly was definitely a plus. Also, despite caricatures to the contrary, Idahoans have a tradition of embracing some liberal (so-called) causes. For example, only three states preceded Idaho in granting women the right to vote (almost a quarter century before the Nineteenth Amendment).

Church opposed a liberal position that would have been a "third rail" issue in Idaho: gun control. He was also very careful in how he handled agricultural legislation. But perhaps more than anything else, the Senator was a master of "pork barrel" politics. He funneled money to the state far in excess of what its minor population might otherwise warrant.
Wilderness area, Idaho. Bureau of Land Management photo.
Finally, some of his environmental positions resonated with many voters. (Some, however, found them elitist, and complained about the loss of jobs.) The Frank Church/River-of-No-Return Wilderness Area in central Idaho is so named in his honor.

In 1976, Church pursued the Democratic Party nomination for President. Although he won four primaries, he chose to end his candidacy. About that same time, Church helped secure Senate passage of treaties to end U. S. ownership of the Panama Canal. His advocacy of those accords, plus other issues, allowed Congressman Steve Symms to defeat Church’s bid for re-election in 1980. Church died of pancreatic cancer in April 1984.
References: Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
Special Collections: The Frank Church Papers, Boise State University (1988)
“Frank Forrester Church,” Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress.
Stephen F. Knott, “Congressional Oversight and the Crippling of the CIA,” History News Network, George Mason University (November 4, 2001).

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Railroad Begins Narrow Gauge Track Conversion in Eastern Idaho [otd 07/24]

On Sunday July 24, 1887, multiple crews assembled at intervals along the 262 miles of narrow-gauge track between Pocatello, Idaho and Garrison, Montana. They worked for the Utah & Northern Railroad (U&N RR) Company. This event crowned a lengthy effort to prepare for the moment.
U&N RR train, Beaver Canyon, Idaho, ca 1885.
Idaho Museum of Natural History.

The U&N RR first completed its line across eastern Idaho and into Montana in 1879-1880. The company had made an early decision to run narrow gauge. Narrow gauge railroads are much cheaper to build than standard gauge, especially in mountainous country. Clearly, crews have to move less material to make cuts, fills, and tunnels, and to lay the road bed. Plus, bridges don’t have to be as wide. Less obviously, narrow gauge trains can turn through tighter curves. This allows the tracks to bend around obstacles that would have to be removed for standard gauge.

However, narrow gauge trains carry a smaller payload, and they are (obviously) incompatible with standard gauge systems. Both the Union Pacific and the Oregon Short Line railroads ran standard gauge. Thus, goods moving between the systems had to be bodily transferred from one to the other. Operators had some tricks to improve the process, but it still added time and expense to all their shipments.

The problem became more acute as shipping volume rose. In 1886, the line purchased ten new engines from the Brooks Locomotive Works. These more powerful machines weighed a third more than the U&N's older stock, and over-stressed the lighter narrow gauge rails, particularly on some curves.
Brooks-built steam locomotive, ca. 1890.
Grant County [Oregon] Historical Museum.

To prepare for the conversion to standard gauge, management dispatched crews to widen the roadbed, including all the cuts, fills, and bridges. In some areas, new bed had to be laid to straighten out curves too tight for standard-gauge trains. Workers performed most of these tasks while regular train service continued. Work to widen and strengthen the bridges began in September 1885. By the spring of 1887, it was reported that standard gauge ties had been distributed along most of the route to be changed.

The next step had to be completed in small stages. One team moved along a segment of old line, tearing up the light narrow-gauge rails and short ties. Behind them, another group laid full-length ties and the new, heavier rails. They would fully anchor one rail, while the other got just enough spikes for short-term operation. This had to be completed before the next scheduled train came through.

Next, however, they had to complete the actual switch from narrow to standard width all at once, to avoid a major interruption in service. Hence, on July 24, the U&N gathered enough crews to change the entire line after the last scheduled train passed over the narrow gauge track. One report said that the company had recruited around a thousand men for the final push.

Records indicate that the conversion began at 2:00 o'clock the next morning: pull spikes, move rail over, drive new spikes, then on to the next rail. The whole job was done by the early afternoon of July 25, with no break in service.

As soon as reports reached Pocatello that the first section was done, the Superintendent of the Idaho Division started north with a short special train. The changeover was then celebrated with stops at each station along the way.
References: [B&W]
Merrill D. Beal, Intermountain Railroads: Standard and Narrow Gauge, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho
George Woodman Hilton, American Narrow Gauge Railroads, Stanford University Press (1990).
“[Gauge Conversion News],” Idaho Statesman, Boise; Idaho Register, Idaho Falls; Great Falls Tribune; Salt Lake Herald (September 1885 – July 1887).

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, audubon.org

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).