Friday, August 31, 2018

Ray Hunt: Legendary Trainer of Horses (and Riders) [otd 8/31]

Tribute photo. Richard Beal’s Blog.
Renowned horse trainer Ray Hunt was born August 31, 1929 in Paul, Idaho (about 4 miles north of Burley). A few years later, the family moved to Mountain Home. A child of the Great Depression, he knew the hard, grinding farm labor of that era. His father also raised work horses, which he hired out to farms and ranches in the area. Ray learned to ride bareback and dreamed of becoming a cowboy.

He got his chance the spring when he was twenty years old. The famous TS Ranch in northern Nevada basically “gave him a tryout,” and he landed a job there despite his lack of experience. Another hand warned him that the hard work had just begun. Ray worried until he discovered it was “not the kind of [hard] work I was used to.” He then learned the job from the ground up. Along the way, his interest turned to training horses for all-around range and corral work.

Movies and TV shows notwithstanding, normal training need not require brutally “breaking” the animals. The methods Ray learned – traditional on the ranges of Nevada, southern Idaho, and southeast Oregon – involve a staged approach. The trainer introduces a young horse to successively more coercive tack, and expects more complex behavior. Still, the overall aim was to subdue the subject, and more “strenuous” methods might be applied for particularly recalcitrant stock.

With a growing family of his own, Ray moved to California and began training colts, shoeing horses, and doing “day work” for ranchers who knew he was a top hand. In late 1960 or early 1961, he met Tom Dorrance, whose ability to train “difficult” horses was well known in ranching circles. Dorrance practiced a form of “natural” training that traced back to nineteenth century England. The hit movie The Horse Whisperer featured a simplified-for-Hollywood version of such gentler methods.

Ray started with a special affinity with horses, yet even he took awhile to adapt. He could handle – stay on – a rough horse better than most, but this was different. The rider had to sense, understand, and accept the horse’s needs and desires. Eventually, he evolved a soft approach to, as he put it, “make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy.”

Owners began bringing “impossible” horses to him. Soon he had so much problem-horse business, he couldn’t keep up with his regular work. Also, he found that he could “fix” a horse, but the problems sometimes returned once they were out of his hands. That led him to the conclusion that a lasting answer might require him to fix the riders too – to get them to understand and respect the horse’s point of view.

Around 1971, the volume of work – and the need to train both horse and rider – led Ray into the full-time training clinic business. After that, for almost forty years, Hunt ran clinics, wrote books, and offered videos to show riders and owners how to get the most out of their horses … without overt coercion or punishment.

Ray remained active until near the time of his death in March 2009. By then, he received more requests for clinics than there were hours in a day, and had to turn many down. Conventional recognition came his way – Top Hand Award, Western Horseman of the Year in 2005, etc. – but Hunt’s true legacies are the modern trainers who now practice natural training methods and the many riders he influenced personally.
References: Linda Boston Franke, “Ray Hunt: A Legend in His Own Time,” Ranch & Country Magazine (2009).
“Ray Hunt, 1929-2009,” Western Horseman (January 2005). [Retitled and reprinted after his death in 2009.]
Ray Hunt: Master of Communication.
Ray Hunt, Millie Hunt, Roy Hunt, Think Harmony with Horses, Pioneer Publishing Company (June 1995).

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Idaho Cattle Baron and Nevada Governor John Sparks [otd 8/30]

Idaho-Nevada cattleman and later Nevada Governor John Sparks was born August 30, 1843 in Winston County, Mississippi, 60-80 miles northeast of Jackson. The Sparks family became moderately wealthy by developing raw land into successful farm-ranch operations, selling at a good profit, and then moving on to a new location. In the late 1850s, they established a ranch in Texas. John thus grew to manhood in the early Texas ranch/cowboy culture.
Early cattle drive. Library of Congress.

He reportedly served as a Texas Ranger on patrols against Comanche Indians during the Civil War. After the war, Sparks worked cattle on several big drives. In 1872, he served as trail boss on a drive that delivered a herd to where the Utah-Nevada border meets southern Idaho.

John and his brothers then moved a large herd into Wyoming. A develop-sell-move strategy worked well for awhile, but played out toward the end of the decade as the amount of undeveloped land in Wyoming dwindled. Thus, in 1881, John and his brother Tom brought another herd from Texas into Idaho to stock range near American Falls.

Tom stayed on to run a ranch there for around forty years while John formed a partnership with established cattleman John Tinnin. They put together a spread that straddled the Idaho-Nevada border. By 1886, Sparks-Tinnin range stretched from the Snake River, centered around today’s Twin Falls, south into the mountains of northern Nevada. On perhaps 3,000 square miles of land, they, according to the Albion Times, ran “in the neighborhood of 100,000 head of cattle.”

The herd count may have been somewhat of an exaggeration, but no one could really say. On the open range, it was virtually impossible to get anything like an exact number. It’s also important to note that the size of the range used, approaching 2 million acres, was vastly in excess of what the company actually owned. They only bothered to hold title to the small portions that had reliable water supplies.

During the warmer months of the year, most of the stock grazed in Idaho. Then cowboys pushed them south for the cold months of winter. Thus, Sparks lived at one of his Idaho ranch headquarters for the good weather, but built a family home in Nevada, near the main railroad line.

Governor Sparks.
Nevada Historical Society.
Over the next few years, Sparks expanded his acreage and also invested in other holdings. These saved his business when the severe winter of 1889-1890 devastated the company’s herds. In a reorganization that followed, Sparks bought out his original partner – saving Tinnin from having to declare bankruptcy. He then acquired a new partner, long-time cattleman Jasper Harrell. Thereafter, the ranch operated as the Sparks-Harrell company

During the 1890s, the range became more and more crowded. This heightened friction between neighboring outfits, whether cattle or sheep. Then, in 1896, a cowboy shot two sheepherders who had encroached onto what Sparks-Harrell considered its range [blog, February 4 and others].

Although Sparks soon learned who had done the shooting, he remained silent to protect against retaliation by sheepmen. He also paid liberally for the defense of “Diamondfield” Jack Davis, the man falsely accused of the killings. Eventually, Davis was freed, while the actual shooter made a successful self-defense plea (also financed by Sparks-Harrell).

In 1902, Sparks was elected Governor of Nevada. He was re-elected in 1906, but did not complete the second term, passing away in 1908.
References: Byron DeLos Lusk, Golden Cattle Kingdoms of Idaho, Master’s thesis, Utah State University, Logan (1978).
J. Orin Oliphant, On the Cattle Ranges of the Oregon Country, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1968).
“John Sparks,” Sunset Magazine, 1903.
Alexander Toponce, Reminiscences of Alexander Toponce, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman (1971).
James A. Young, B. Abbott Sparks, Cattle in the Cold Desert, University of Nevada Press, Reno (2002).

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

"Uncle" John Hailey: Miner, Stage Line Pioneer, Stockman, Public Servant, and Historian [otd 8/29]

John Hailey. Library of Congress.
John Hailey – Idaho stockman, miner, stage line operator, politician, and historian – was born August 29, 1835 in Smith County, Tennessee, 30-40 miles east of Nashville. The family moved to Missouri in 1848, and John set out on his own from there in 1853. He joined a wagon train to Oregon, where he tried his hand at many tasks and slowly built up a stake.

After distinguished duty in the Rogue River Indian War of 1855-1856, he took up ranching, raising sheep and horses. Then the Idaho gold discoveries offered a better opportunity. In 1862, Hailey sold his sheep to finance his part of a venture packing supplies from Oregon into the Boise Basin.

He and his partner, William Ish, also ran “saddle trains” into Idaho. A saddle train rented riding horses to people who didn’t want to invest in an animal themselves. They soon became one of the most successful operators in that line of work. Ish & Hailey managed to run trains early and late in the season, when their competitors refused to chance the heavy mountain snow. John’s “secret” was a stable of powerful draft horses. These were marched ahead of the train, without packs, to break trail. The pair initiated stagecoach service from Umatilla into the Basin in 1864.  Ish sold his interest to Hailey the following year.

He made a considerable success of that enterprise, augmented by a lucrative mail subcontract from Ben Holladay [blog, August 11]. In 1870, Hailey sold the stage line at an impressive profit and started a substantial livestock and meat market business in the Boise City area. However, in the late 1870s, he encountered some financial reverses – these included having to make good on several co-signed obligations.

He recouped much of the loss by returning to the stagecoach business in 1878, but saw that too decline as the railroad marched across Idaho. While the stage line still prospered, in 1879, Hailey claimed land that shortly became a fast-growing mining town. John called the village “Marshall,” but the townspeople soon changed that to honor the founder.

In time, John would own interests in several productive Wood River mining properties. He also returned to the ranching business, raising top-grade cattle and horses. When he later returned to Boise, his animals were special enough to win awards at the Ada County Fair.
Wood River Area. [Illust-State]
Hailey had a long-standing interest in politics and public service, but had to be persuaded to accept election as Territorial Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1872. (Delegates have no vote on the floor, but can serve on committees and vote on issues at that level.) Both political parties wanted him to fill the position for the next term but Hailey declined.

In 1880, John served a term on the Territorial Council – equivalent to a state Senate – and was elected president of that body. Four years later, he again served as Idaho Delegate to Congress. In 1899, the governor appointed "Uncle John" to be Warden of the Idaho State Penitentiary.

In 1907, upon the founding of the Idaho State Historical Society, Hailey was made its first Secretary and Librarian [blog, March 12]. At the request of the Legislature, he wrote a history of the state. John did it, he said, to correct “the many misstatements published about Idaho in early days, and particularly concerning the character and conduct of the good people of those days … ”

“Uncle John” Hailey passed away in April 1921.
References: [Illust-State]
“John Hailey (1835-1921),” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
John Hailey, History of Idaho, Syms-York Company, Boise, Idaho (1910).
“John Hailey: August 29, 1835-April 10, 1921,” Reference Series No. 543, Idaho State Historical Society (1971).
John H. Hawley, Eighth Biennial Report of the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society of Idaho, Idaho State Historical Society, Boise Idaho (1922).

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Car Customizer Boyd Coddington ... "King of the Hot Rods" [otd 8/28]

Boyd Coddington. Sons of Boyd web site.
Boyd Leon Coddington, the famous car customizer known as the “King of the Hot Rods,” was born August 28, 1944 in Rupert, Idaho. Like many boys in the Fifties, Boyd was mad about cars. Back then, kids who grew up on a farm – Boyd’s father ran a dairy  – learned to do for themselves, not look for a store-bought solution when stuff broke.

Boyd’s first car was a Chevy pickup. He told an interviewer (Los Angeles Times, December 2, 1996) that he traded a shotgun for the vehicle when he was thirteen years old. But he had to trade back because he’d done the deal without his dad’s permission. He later scrounged up some money to get it back. Boyd said, “That truck kind of started everything.”

Trade school study at Idaho State University and in Salt Lake reinforced that early imprinting. Experience made him an auto mechanic, training honed his machinist skills, but natural aptitude turned him into an artist in car customization.

In 1968, Coddington moved to California and landed a machinist’s job at Disneyland. At night, however, he built hot rods. Soon, word-of-mouth spread through the Southern California hot rod subculture: A Boyd Coddington custom job was special, in ways that might be difficult to capture in words, but were instantly recognizable.

A Coddington rod glowed with a clean, polished look, where every factor contributed to the overall effect. Nor was this beauty just “skin deep.” Open the hood, slide underneath, whatever … you found the same near-obsessive attention to detail. A master machinist, Boyd made sure every component fit perfectly. He became famous for a “billet” approach to parts: take a hunk of metal and “carve” it with lathe and milling machine until you had what you needed.

Boyd finally opened his own shop and went full time in the late Seventies. Instantly recognizable with his bushy beard and favorite Hawaiian shirts, he attracted aficionados whenever he appeared at any car-related event.

Eventually, celebrities and wealthy “car nuts” began paying fabulous sums – once over a half million dollars – to have Boyd turn out rods designed specifically for them. Yet Boyd and his crews earned every penny of those large sums – with endless hours of work and rework, striving for automotive and artistic perfection. A number of fine customizers learned the business in Boyd’s shop, and then went on to build their own successful careers.

Boyd and his creations earned an incredible range of awards: “America’s Most Beautiful Roadster” (7 times – an unprecedented feat, and he once won it back-to-back), the Daimler-Chrysler Design Excellence Award (twice), voted “Man of the Year” by Hot Rod Magazine in 1988, inducted into the Grand National Roadster Show Hall of Fame, and on and on.
Coddington-modified car. Sons of Boyd.

Starting in 2004, Boyd received yet another peculiarly modern stamp of approval – he hosted the reality show American Hot Rod. During the program, the shop crew built custom cars within certain specified parameters and time limits. The pressure on the set – the actual shop – was real, and intense. Coddington routinely pushed his people into working long, exhausting days, and nights, to meet his standards of artistic perfection.

A long-time diabetic, Boyd died in February 2008 from complications after surgery.                                                                                                                                      
References: The Boyd Coddington Story, Boyd Coddington web site.
Dennis Hevesi, “Boyd Coddington, 63, King of Hot Rods, Dies,” The New York Times (March 1, 2008).
Dan Lienert, “The Hot Rod King,” Forbes Magazine (June 1, 2004).
“Our Father: Boyd Coddington,” Sons of Bob.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Helpmate, Education Advocate, and Philanthropist Kathryn Albertson [otd 8/27]

Kathryn (McCurry) Albertson was born August 27, 1908 in Boise, Idaho. After high school, she matriculated at the College of Idaho, a private, liberal arts institution in Caldwell. Kathryn never said publicly why she chose the small, struggling college, but being close to home probably had a lot to do with it. (At the time, southwest Idaho had no public four-year college.)

In any case, she did choose tiny College of Idaho. There, in chemistry class, Kathryn met a hard-working young man named Joseph A. Albertson [blog, Oct 17]. Joe had a job as a clerk at a Safeway store. At the time, students called the College “Dr. Boone’s marriage mill,” affectionately referring to the school’s founder and first President, William Judson Boone [blog, Nov 5].

Joe and Kathryn only added to the legacy. On New Years Day 1930, the Reverend Boone wrote in his diary, “Marry Katheryn [sic] McCurry to Joseph A. Albertson. 52 present, very fine and very pretty.”

While Kathryn ran their home, Joe’s hard work and knack for the business brought steady advancement at Safeway stores. Eventually, he supervised over a dozen outlets. But, as with all innovators, Albertson had his own ideas on how to run a better store. By 1939, Joe and Kathryn were ready to pursue his dream.

In July, Joe and two business partners opened the first Albertson’s Store on Boise’s State Street. The company had opened three stores by the end of 1940.

Kathryn involved herself enough with the stores to earn the affectionate nickname “Mrs. A” from employees. The grocery store, and then supermarket, and then “super-store” company grew steadily. They took the company public in 1959 – investors and mutual funds soon made the stock a favorite in their portfolios.

The couple showed their philanthropic bent early, enthusiastically promoting war bonds and scrap drives during World War II. Contributions large and small flowed to a wide variety of civic projects and institutions, including the College of Idaho. In 1966, they created the J.A. & Kathryn Albertson Foundation to manage their extensive charitable activities.

One outstanding example of their benevolence began in 1979. The Albertsons donated land near the Boise River with the stipulation that it be developed into a park within ten years. The deadline approached, but the city couldn’t afford to do anything. So Joe took charge and paid to have the work done. The result – Kathryn Albertson Park – was built as a minimalist, eco-friendly park for walkers only. It’s considered one of the best city parks of its kind anywhere. (Kathryn generally shunned publicity, so we don’t know how she felt about the name on the park.)
Water feature, Kathryn Albertson Park. City of Boise photo.

In 1991, the College of Idaho officially changed its name to Albertson College of Idaho to honor years of generous donations from Joe and Kathryn. College administrator also wanted to emphasize for other potential donors that they are not part of the state’s public school system. Joe passed away two years later.

Kathryn, if anything, increased the foundation’s good works after Joe’s death. She also carried on his vision for Albertson Corporation, and in 1998 company leaders recognized her as the first Director Emeritus, a lifetime position on the Board of Directors. She passed away in April 2002.

Their memories carry on through the Foundation, Kathryn Albertson Park, and the accomplishments of all those they helped. In 2007, after another substantial bequest from the Foundation, their alma mater returned to just The College of Idaho name.
References: “Kathryn Albertson,” Quest magazine, College of Idaho (Summer 2002).
Louie W. Attebury, The College of Idaho, 1891-1991: A Centennial History, © College of Idaho, Caldwell (1991).
Biography: Kathryn Albertson, J. A. & Kathryn Albertson Foundation
Merle Wells, Arthur A. Hart, Idaho: Gem of the Mountains, Windsor Publications, Inc., Northridge, California (1985).

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Hotel Owner/Operator and "Hospitality" Industry Pioneer Frank Blackinger [otd 8/26]

Hotel owner and operator Frank J. Blackinger was born August 26, 1855 in Buffalo, New York. His father Valentine had come to America from Bavaria in 1839. Around ten years later, he traveled to “the old country” and married, then immediately returned to New York. The family emigrated to Oregon in 1862. Two years later, his father opened a butcher shop in the settlement that became Silver City. He also opened a grocery store and, in 1864, brought his family to Idaho.

War Eagle Hotel. Directory of Owyhee County.
Five years after that, Valentine purchased the War Eagle Hotel. Frank worked in the hotel and the butcher shop for a number of years, and then found a job as a cowboy. The Owyhee Avalanche newspaper reported (October 18, 1873): “V. Blackinger, of the War Eagle Hotel, has returned from Oregon, having succeeded in purchasing some 400 head of cattle in Powder River and Grande Ronde valleys. He left his son Frank behind to bring up the drove which they will winter at Rabbit Creek.”

Frank focused on raising cattle and horses for more than a decade after that. Although he did not take part in the Battle of South Mountain against the Bannock Indians in 1878 [blog, June 8], he supplied horses for many of the volunteers who did. Frank’s father sold the hotel that year, worked in Boise City for three years, and then moved to Bellevue and opened a meat market. Frank continued to handle the stock ranch there for several years. The only son who survived to adulthood, he began to advance in the world as his attractive sisters married “coming” pioneers.

Thus, in 1872, sister Mary Ann married Hosea Eastman, a wealthy mine owner. Three years later, Eastman and another well-off mining investor, Timothy Regan [blog, Nov 14], became co-owners of the Idaho Hotel in Silver City. Regan bought full ownership in 1877 and, the following year, married Frank’s sister Rose. When the Regans moved to Boise City in 1889, Frank became hotel manager.

Blackinger wedding picture.
Blackinger family archives.
In 1899, Blackinger married a popular Silver City schoolteacher and shortly thereafter the couple moved to Boise City. There, he and his brother-in-law opened the firm of Regan and Blackinger, which ran the Capitol Hotel. Regan engaged in a wide range of investments, while Frank specialized in the hotel, bar, and restaurant business.

In 1907, the firm sold the Capitol to the Idaho Brewing Company and Frank chose not to remain on to manage the operation for the new owners. He did, however, consult with his successor every so often and put in appearances “for old times sake.” (Apparently, the aging Capitol was a favorite of “old-timers” who had known Frank and his father in Silver City.)

A year after he left the Capitol Hotel, Blackinger purchased the buffet restaurant at the Overland Building and ran that for about eight years. When that closed down, Frank leased the restaurant at the Idanha Hotel and renovated it. Then, in 1917, Frank bought “the lease, furnishings and business of the Grand Hotel.” He did not own the property itself.

Blackinger was still identified as the proprietor of the Hotel Grand in 1925. A couple years after that, apparently, his eyesight began to fail and his wife assumed more management duties. Frank went totally blind after seven or eight years and the couple sold the hotel business around 1933. She died in September 1942, Frank less than six month later.
References: [Hawley]
“[Frank Blackinger News],” Idaho Statesman, Boise (July 1899 – March 1943).
Nancy DeHamer, “Hosea Eastman, Timothy Regan, and Frank Blackinger,” Reference Series No. 728, Idaho State Historical Society (1971).
Dick D’Easum, The Idanha: Guests and Ghosts of an Historic Idaho Inn, Caxton Printers, Ltd. (1984).
A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, Owyhee Avalanche Press (January 1898).

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Screenwriter Talbot Jennings: From Mutiny on the Bounty to the The Sons of Katie Elder [otd 8/25]

Talbot Jennings, ca 1935
Screenwriter Talbot Lanham Jennings was born August 25, 1894 in Shoshone, Idaho. The family moved first to Caldwell and then Nampa. He graduated from Nampa High School and started at the University of Idaho (UI). However, he left to join the Army, where he fought in five major World War I battles as part of the field artillery.

After the war Jennings married, worked a couple years, and then returned to the University. In 1924, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in English. He went on to earn an M.A. from Harvard and then studied at the Yale School of Drama.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.
In 1934, Jennings moved to Hollywood and almost immediately landed a plum assignment: to help salvage the screenplay for the grand MGM epic, The Mutiny on the Bounty. Talbot worked with two experienced writers and the three shared the Oscar nomination for the resulting script. The 1935 film, starring Clark Gable and Charles Laughton, won the Best Picture Oscar. That version is still – despite its historical inaccuracies – generally considered the best dramatic treatment of the story.

Talbot received another big job the next year: the film adaption of Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. John Gallagher, who wrote the Jennings obituary for Variety magazine, asserted that the result was “certainly the best adaptation of Shakespeare in Hollywood history.” The film garnered four Oscar nominations, although the screenplay was not so honored.

The writer next created the screenplay for Pearl S. Buck’s classic novel, The Good Earth. Jennings missed another Oscar nomination, but the film received five nominations altogether, winning for Best Actress and Best Cinematography. From 1936 to about 1940, Jennings worked for both Paramount and MGM, writing scripts for a number of big-name productions, with major stars: John Barrymore, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Henry Fonda, Dorothy Lamour, George Raft, Spencer Tracy, and others.

After that, he worked as a freelance writer, and his skills remained in demand in Hollywood for twenty years. Stars and co-stars in the productions he wrote for read like a who’s who of Hollywood stardom: Lee J. Cobb, Ava Gardner, Stewart Granger, Jack Hawkins, Susan Hayward, Janet Leigh, Virginia Mayo, Joel McCrea, George Montgomery, Agnes Moorehead, Maureen O’Hara, Tyone Power, Basil Rathbone, Michael Rennie, Robert Ryan, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor, Orson Welles, and on and on.

In 1946, he wrote the screenplay for the lush romantic drama, Anna and the King of Siam, starring Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison. Jennings received his second Oscar nomination for the scrip; the film garnered five nominations in all, winning two.
Paramount Pictures.

In 1959-1961, Talbot wrote four scripts for television episodes. He closed his career in 1965 with the story for the John Wayne movie, Sons of Katie Elder. Besides Wayne, he added Dean Martin, George Kennedy, and Dennis Hopper to his list of stars.

The Internet Movie Database lists 24 films or TV productions for which he wrote, plus five where he is shown as “uncredited.” He generally specialized in historical and western themes, for which his scripts were considered “more realistic than most.”

In 1960, Talbot also wrote a script for a film to commemorate the Idaho Territorial Centennial of 1963. It’s not clear if such a film was ever produced, however.

Jennings passed away in May, 1985.
References: Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
John A. Gallagher, “Obituary: Talbot Jennings,” Variety, New York (June 12, 1985).
“Talbot Jennings,” Internet Movie Database.
“Talbot Jennings Script Collection, 1926-1960,” Manuscript Group 186, University of Idaho archives (1960).

Friday, August 24, 2018

Educator, Cultural Promoter, and Purple Heart Winner Sofia (Demos) Adamson [otd 8/24]

Youthful Sofia Adamson.
Educator and philanthropist Sofia (Demos) Adamson was born August 24, 1916 in Pocatello, Idaho. Her parents were Greek immigrants. The family later moved to Los Angeles, where Sofia’s mother reportedly “became the first Greek actress to perform in a Hollywood motion picture.”

Sofia’s father died in 1928, so her mother turned to dressmaking and other sewing work to support the family. Sofia began her life of service early, being identified with many extracurricular activities at Los Angeles High School. After graduation, she attended  the University of California at Los Angeles. She graduated from UCLA in 1937, with a B.A. in education. The 1937 yearbook listed senior “Sofia De Mos” as president of the Delta Phi Upsilon honorary society.

According to family tradition, she met her future husband on Saint Sofia’s Day, September 17, in 1938. She married George Athos Adamson the following year. As it happened, George was then a professor at the Adamson School of Industrial Chemistry, located in Manilla, the Philippines. He was also Dean of the school’s College of Engineering. George’s cousin had founded the institution in 1932. Soon, they expanded the curriculum, and the school was granted university status – as Adamson University – in 1941.

After Sofia married George, the couple returned to the Philippines. She is credited with founding the school’s College of Education. In 1941, war clouds loom in the Far East – Japanese troops were heavily engaged in China and had occupied parts of Indochina. Sofia was recruited as a clerk-typist in General Douglas MacArthur headquarters (thereby freeing up a soldier to fight).  Her main job was to type up the General’s orders, including a mimeograph stencil master, for distribution to the units he commanded.

When the Japanese occupied the Philippines, Sofia was not interred with the other Americans because she was married to George, a Greek. When Allied troops liberated Manila, friendly fire inflicted wounds that would require years of successive surgeries to alleviate. (Over fifty years later, she received a Purple Heart in recognition of her former service.)

After the war, Sofia and George moved to Pasadena, California. There George conducted a very successful engineering business, while Sofia began a lifetime of enthusiastic and effective volunteer work. That included much service for Greek Orthodox churches in the Los Angeles area, as well as the International Christian Scholarship Foundation.

USC Pacific Asia Museum. Museum photo.
Sofia worked hard to promote the arts, being co-founder of the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena. She also founded, in 1971, the Philippine Arts Council at the Museum. She contributed time and money to numerous civic betterment programs in Pasadena and around Los Angeles.

Her autobiography, Gods, Angels, Pearls & Roses, released in 1985, was published in the U. S., Greece, and the Philippines. Over twenty years later, it was still “a steady seller in the [Pacific Asia] Museum Store.”

She received awards too numerous to list in full: a Gold Award for Excellence in Community Service from UCLA, an honorary Doctorate of Education from Adamson University, a Gold Crown Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pasadena Arts Council, a Boy Scouts Distinguished Citizen Award, and more.

George’s death in 2003 did not lessen Sofia’s commitment to philanthropy and volunteerism. Recalling her involvement with the Pacific Asia Museum, her obituary noted, “She remained a Founding Trustee for life and made her last contribution in person just 5 days before she passed away.” (In 2013, the museum affiliated with the University of Southern California and is now called the USC Pacific Asia Museum.)

Sofia passed away in May 2007.
References: About Adamson University, History and News, Adamson University, Manilla, The Philippines (2010).
Sofia Adamson, Gods, Angels, Pearls & Roses, American International Publishing, El Monte, California (1985).
“In Memoriam: Sofia Adamson,” Museum News Archive, Pacific Asian Museum, Pasadena, California (Summer 2007).
“Obituary: Sofia Adamson,” Pasadena Star-News, Pasadena, California (May 22, 2007).
“USC and Pasadena’s Pacific Asia Museum to Form Alliance,” Press Release, University of Southern California, Los Angeles (November 19, 2013).

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Traveler Joel Palmer Tackles Notorious Three Island Crossing [otd 8/23]

Joel Palmer. Oregon Historical Society.
On August 23, 1845, the small wagon train led by pioneer Joel Palmer approached the notorious Three Island Crossing, near today’s Glenns Ferry, Idaho. In his Journal, Palmer wrote, “The difficulties attending the crossing of this stream had been represented as being almost insurmountable; but upon examination we found it an exaggeration.”

Palmer was born in Canada to American Quaker parents. During the War of 1812, the family moved to New York state. Joel later formally became a U. S. citizen. In 1836, he moved to Indiana, where he served two terms in the legislature.

Somewhat skeptical about glowing descriptions of Oregon, he decided to make a scouting trip to verify, he said, “by personal observation, whether its advantages were sufficient to warrant me in the effort to make it my future home.”

Palmer kept very good notes along the way. After providing a description of many features around the Soda Springs, he said, “Companies wishing to remain for a length of time at the springs, would pursue a proper course in driving their cattle over the river, as good grazing can thereby be had.”

Much of Palmer’s text concerned the nature of the trail itself. The “sandy plain” east of the Fort Hall bottomland proved to be “very heavy traveling.” Beyond the Fort, they crossed a succession of creeks, some of which were dry, or nearly so. Commenting on the country around Goose Creek, he said “The road we traveled was very dusty, and portions of it quite stony.”

Palmer took a careful and systematic approach to fording the Snake River at Three Island Crossing. He described in great detail the track to follow to minimize the force of the current and safely negotiate potholes in the river bottom. “We commenced crossing at eleven o'clock, A.M., and at one o'clock, P. M., we effected the passage of the stream, and were so fortunate as to land our goods free from all damage.”

Six days later, Palmer wrote, “We traveled … to Bois river, a stream of forty or fifty yards in width, and abounding in salmon; its banks are lined with Balm of Gilead timber. The bottoms here are two or three miles wide, and covered with grass.”

The “Balm of Gilead” poplar was probably more familiar to Palmer than the very similar black, or “cottonwood,” poplar that actually grows along the Boise river.

The travelers reached The Dalles about five weeks after the Crossing. While the party skirted the south flank of Mount Hood, Palmer made the first recorded climb of that mountain. Palmer traveled extensively through the settled areas and found them to his liking.
Rev. Henry Spalding.
National Park Service.

He even made his way to Reverend Spalding’s mission at Lapwai [blog, November 29]. There, he and some companions traded for Nez Perc├ęs horses. Palmer wrote, “They have made considerable advances in cultivating the soil, and have large droves of horses, and many of them are raising large herds of cattle.”

Palmer and a party of other men returned east in the spring of 1846. His Journal, published the following year, proved to be a very popular Trail guidebook.

After seeing to the publication, Palmer returned to Oregon, this time with his wife and family. He later played a significant role in the development of the state of Oregon, serving in both houses of its legislature. He died in 1881.
References: [Brit]
Joel Palmer, Journal of Travels over the Rocky Mountains, 1845-1846, reprinted, Reuben Gold Thwaites (ed)., in Early Western Travels, Vol.  XXX, Arthur H. Clark Company, Cleveland (1906).
“Joel Palmer (1810-1881),” Oregon Biographies, Oregon History Project, Oregon Historical Society (2002)
“Notable Oregonians: Joel Palmer – Pioneer/Writer,” Oregon Blue Book, State of Oregon (2009).

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Freighter, Stockman, and Legislator William Allison [otd 8/22]

W. B. Allison. H.T. French photo.
Salubria stockman and Idaho legislator William B. Allison was born August 22, 1845 in Glasgow, Ohio, about 60 miles south of Akron. The family moved twice before coming to Idaho: to Illinois in 1854, and Iowa the following year.

In 1863, the Allison’s settled in the Boise Valley, where William’s father Alexander took up a homestead. He apparently also filed a homestead through one of his sons because the Illustrated History said his farm encompassed 320 acres. That same year, William B. found work as a freighter, helping to drive a wagon train from Omaha to Salt Lake City. For the next five years, he freighted in Idaho, and three more times drove trains into the Rockies from the Omaha supply depots.

In 1868, William claimed a homestead in the Salubria Valley. In November of that year, he also got married. The following year, Alexander moved the rest of the Allison family to a spot about a mile north of where the son had settled. For over twenty years, William and his growing family lived in a log home while raising top-grade Hereford cattle, Berkshire hogs, blooded horses, and sturdy mules. Then, in 1891, he replaced the old structure with a larger, more modern dwelling.

The core of his acreage would soon become a part of the village of Salubria. However, after the railroad reached the Salubria Valley in 1899-1900, Cambridge Station quickly grew into a town.

By the end of the century, William owned over five hundred acres of excellent farm and ranch land. His farmland furnished produce for local consumption, and he also raised grain to improve the diet of his stock. His holdings would eventually expand to over eight hundred acres.

He took a strong interest in politics and in 1879 was persuaded to serve a term in the Territorial legislature. While there, he introduced the bill that split Washington County from Ada County. (Weiser became the new county seat.) He did not again venture into elective office until 1893, when he served a term in the State House of Representatives. Three years after that, he was elected Assessor for Washington County.

For years Allison was a staunch Republican. However, like many farm-country people he took up the Silver Republican cause in 1896. The Idaho Statesman reported (August 16, 1896) on the county-level convention, which selected Allison as a delegate to the state Republican convention. The article said, “The convention, by a vote of 20 to 2, passed a resolution indorsing [sic] the course of the state Republican party in supporting the cause of silver regardless of party lines. … The delegates selected are all strong silver men.”

He returned to his first adherence when the Silver Republican party folded.
Cambridge Station. Cambridge Commercial Club.

Salubria was still considered a viable town when Allison passed away in 1914. However, by then Cambridge had drawn much of the important business away. In fact, the only Salubria Valley newspaper had moved to Cambridge right after the Station opened.

Allison had been very active with the Masons, so his funeral service was held in the Cambridge Masonic Hall. The railroad ran a special train from the main junction at Weiser so Lodge members could attend the funeral. The service was declared to be “the largest ever seen in Cambridge.”
References: [Blue], [French], [Illust-State]
“W. B. Allison Passes Away,” The Midvale Reporter (October 8, 1914).

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Dr. Edward E. Maxey and Research on Spotted Fever [otd 8/21]

Dr. Maxey. H. T. French photo.
Prominent Boise physician Edward E. Maxey, M.D, was born August 21, 1867, in Irvington, Illinois, about sixty miles east of St. Louis, Missouri. His father, also a physician, served in the Civil War and then moved the family to Caldwell in 1887.

In 1891, Edward graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Chicago, and followed up with post-graduate work.

After his studies, he returned to Caldwell to join his father’s practice. For some reason, he then tried to open an office in Walla Walla, Washington, but gave that up after just a couple of months. He then returned to Caldwell and opened his own practice. While there, he acted as a Resident Surgeon for the Oregon Short Line Railroad. He also served as Coroner for the city of Caldwell. When the legislature split Canyon County off from Ada County in 1892, Maxey was appointed as the first county Coroner. He then ran for and was elected to the position.

Dr. Maxey moved to Boise in 1902, but was apparently associated with the Canyon County Coroner’s position for several years after that. He wrote and signed the post mortem report for Albert K. Steunenberg [blog, Sept 11] after Albert's death in 1907.

Wanting to keep up with the latest techniques, Maxey took a number of “sabbaticals” from his practice for additional study. Thus, in 1904, he spent six months taking medical courses in New York and then at Johns Hopkins University. (Earlier, he spent six weeks in Chicago for the same purpose.) Then, in 1908, he went overseas to Vienna, Berlin, and London to further his medical education. He returned to Boise early in 1910 and opened a practice as an eye, ear, nose and throat specialist.

Dr. Maxey was a Charter Member of the Idaho State Medical Society, serving several terms as its Secretary and a term as President in 1901. He was also a member of the American Medical Association, several organizations related to his specialty, and acted as Surgeon General for the Idaho National Guard. During World War I, he served as a major in the U. S. Army. Then in his fifties, Dr. Maxey supervised a base hospital in Wyoming.

Along with his general and then specialist practice, Dr. Maxey took an active interest in medical research. He was one of several physicians in the Boise Valley who began the systematic study of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever [blog, March 30]. Collectively, these Idaho doctors gave the first clinical description of the disease, and provided some idea of how it spreads – the “vectors.”
Maxey’s Spotted Fever Map. Reproduced in Hammersten.

In the summer of 1899, Maxey presented a paper on the disease at a medical conference in Oregon. A few months later, the manuscript of that presentation became the first paper about the disease to be published in a medical journal.

Nine years later, he presented a paper at a Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Symposium sponsored by the Idaho Medical Association. During the intervening years, research had suggested ticks as a primary vector for the infection. Maxey collected a considerable body of data from all across Idaho. He found that around 92 percent of the reported cases affected people who lived “an outdoor life.” In 1913, Maxie wrote a chapter on the disease for a well-known medical reference book.

Dr. Maxey moved his practice to Aberdeen, Washington, on Grays Harbor, in 1925. He had a heart attack and died in his office there at the end of August 1934.
References: [French], [Illust-State]
“[Dr. E. E. Maxey News],” Idaho Statesman, Boise; Tribune, Caldwell, Idaho (July 1892 – September 1934).
James F. Hammarsten, “The Contributions of Idaho Physicians to Knowledge of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever,” Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association, Vol. 94 (1983).
Ed. E. Maxey and (unreadable), Post Mortem Findings at Examination of A. K. Steunenberg, hand-written report, Caldwell, Idaho (March 18, 1907).
Marshall W. Wood, “Spotted fever as reported from Idaho,” Report of the Surgeon General, U. S. Army, 1896, Government Printing Office (1896).

Monday, August 20, 2018

Wildfire -- "The Big Burn" -- Ravages North Idaho [otd 8/20]

On August 20, 1910, serious forest fires in and around Northern Idaho “blew up” into arguably the worst wildfire in U. S. history. More than anything else, weather conspired to set the stage for this catastrophe, starting as winter rolled into spring. April brought record temperatures to the Bitterroot Range along the Idaho-Montana border.

May … June … July … barely any rainfall and unprecedented heat turned the great forests into gigantic tinderboxes. By early August, scores of fires burned in the Coeur d’Alene National Forest and across the border in western Montana. Lacking manpower, despite the recruitment of thousands of new firefighters, the Forest Service asked for, and received, help from the Army.
High winds leveled some trees before they could burn.
Library of Congress.

Depending upon your definition of what constitutes a separate fire, the area still had two to three thousand blazes burning by August 17-19. Yet, after weeks of brutal effort, officials felt they were finally turning the corner.

All that changed on the 20th when an eruption of hurricane-force winds roared in from the west. Within minutes after the blast hit, sparks turned into flames, thickets of smoldering brush became boiling infernos, and burning trees virtually exploded. Crown fires roared up hillsides and over ridges in seconds, it seemed.

Within no more than hours, all those separate fires in northern Idaho and western Montana became one monstrous conflagration – “the Big Burn.” Walls of flame engulfed vast expanses of forest that had hardly been touched before.

Firefighters armed only with hand tools – shovels, axes, hoes, crosscut saws, and perhaps a few buckets – could do little to affect their own fate. Fickle wind shifts killed blocks of men by the dozen, by the score, or horrifically alone. Sometimes men desperately fighting the inevitable won: a providential blast turned the flames aside and spared them. Men threw themselves into the streams; better to drown than be burned alive.

Where there was no fire, ash and black smoke created a surreal landscape and darkened the sky. Reportedly, smoke blocked the sun a hundred miles into Canada, in Denver, and even as far east as New York state.
Wildfire devastation in Wallace. Library of Congress.
Finally, after perhaps 36 hours of aptly-named Hell, the wind relented and light rain began to fall. Residents of Wallace could hardly believe their luck; relief came in time to save all but a third of their town. A number of other villages weren’t so fortunate.

By most accounts, 85 people died in the flames: seven “civilians” and 78 firefighters. No one even tried to count the toll levied on the animals living in the forest. Over three million acres of forest burned, an area almost the size of Connecticut. Thousands upon thousands of tree that escaped the flames died from the intense heat and loss of foliage. Loggers salvaged perhaps ten percent as lumber, the rest was slowly cleared and burned.

A full discussion of the Big Burn and its aftermath is beyond the scope of this article. But it has been persuasively argued that the Big Burn saved the U. S. Forest Service. Created just five years before [blog, February 1], many saw the Service as a “useless” expense, with “no practical use.” But now, newspaper were filled with accounts of heroic crews fighting, and sometimes dying, to quell the inferno. Supporters leveraged that publicity to expand the Service and promote its fire-fighting mission.

However, to this day, experts are still debating how to best manage fires in our national forests and other public lands.
References: Timothy Egan, The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America, Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt, New York (2009).
John Galvin, “The Big Burn: Idaho and Montana, August 1910,” Popular Mechanics (July 30, 2007).
Javi Zubizarreta, “August 20: The Day the Fires Burned,” Outdoor Idaho, Idaho Public Television (2010).

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Philo Farnsworth, Inventor of the First Practical Television Recorder [otd 8/19]

Inventor and television pioneer Philo T. Farnsworth was born August 19, 1906 in Beaver County, Utah. The family moved to a farm near Rigby, Idaho during World War I. There, Philo set off on the path that would earn him the designation as “the father of television.”

Farnsworth accomplished much in his lifetime, despite seemingly endless fights in patent court. (In his lifetime, he was granted around 165 patents.) The whole story is beyond the scope of this article (but is readily available). Here, I will focus on a few interesting points.

A stack of popular science magazines in the attic of their new home helped Philo learn more about electricity and electro-mechanical devices. Primitive “tele-vision” – distant transmission/viewing of images – was one of the fascinating topics of the day.
Farnsworth, right,
with his former high school teacher.
Philo T. Farnsworth Archives.

By the time he entered Rigby High School, Philo had already exhibited a firm grasp of practical physics, especially electrical phenomena. As the story goes, he devised a better way to record images for transmission while plowing a field in regular back-and-forth rows (lines). However, the complete account involves rather more than that simple idea.

His science teacher at Rigby High School, Justin Tolman, soon recognized the young man’s aptitude and encouraged his pursuit of knowledge. It was he who first learned of Philo’s new approach.

Back then, typical television “cameras” employed a mechanically rotating disk to focus snippets of an image onto a photocell, which converts photons (light) into flowing electrons … electricity. Without going into all the physics, the electrical response shows how bright the light is. The electrical signal is then transmitted through some distance to a display system. Since Philo’s innovation involved the recorder, not the display, we’ll simply take the viewer as a given.

By the time Philo was ready to reduce his ideas to practice, around 1926, mechanical television systems had been demonstrated in this country and in England. But mechanical cameras are bulky and require a high degree of precision in their manufacture. In operation, they tend to be noisy, and dust, wear, or mechanical malfunctions hopelessly cripple the synchronization between recorder and display.
Farnsworth’s conceptual sketch. Philo T. Farnsworth Archives.

Farnsworth’s accomplishment was to devise a way to electronically record the picture. His innovation combined several crucial features. Instead of directing snippets of light onto a small photocell, the camera captured the entire picture on a plate coated with photosensitive material. He placed this photosensor inside a vacuum-sealed cylinder, so the electrons generated flew off (were emitted) into empty space.

Philo's device then focused the electrons emitted from a small region – we now call it a pixel – onto an electrode that measured the electrical signal. A simple controller selected pixels one after another to form a line of dots crossing the photosensor horizontally. As in the plowed-field analogy, a series of parallel dot-lines growing from top to bottom covered the entire screen.

Because the device operated electromagnetically – no moving parts at all – the entire picture could be recorded many times each second … and practical “electronic” television was born. In 1927, Farnsworth filed for a patent on his device, and then demonstrated it publicly for the first time.

Ideas similar to Farnsworth’s design had been considered by others, but he was the one who put all the pieces together, and made it work. He passed away in March 1971. Today, the city of Rigby bills itself as the “birthplace of television,” and sponsors the Farnsworth TV & Pioneer Museum.
References: [Brit]
Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
Donald G. Godfrey, Philo T. Farnsworth: the Father of Television, University of Utah Press (2001).

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Desert Land (Carey) Act Signed to Encourage Irrigation in the West [otd 8/18]

On August 18, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the Desert Land Act of 1894, better known as the Carey Act. Sponsored by Wyoming Senator Joseph M. Carey, the Act was meant to improve the success rate for the settlement of the public lands. The law specifically addressed the millions upon millions of acres in the western states that required irrigation for productive farming – the so-called “arid lands.”
Joseph M. Carey.
Wyoming State Archives.

Individuals and irrigation cooperatives had already exploited most of the land that could be watered with smaller systems of canals and impoundments. Many larger projects funded by farmer cooperatives or hopeful investment firms had failed, and discouraged further risk-taking on that scale.

The Act authorized the Federal Land Office to transfer up to a million acres of arid public lands to individual states that established approved reclamation programs. States would cover expenses by charging fees and selling the land at nominal prices, with the real incentive being the expected increase in tax revenue.

Acceptable state programs would be able to certify acreage as meeting the requirements of the Act, inspect and approve irrigation projects executed by private investment firms, and oversee the ultimate transfer of properly-irrigated 160-acre plots to individual settlers.

Development companies proposed, designed, and built suitable irrigation projects. They profited by selling water to the settlers, at rates determined in negotiations with the state reclamation office. The development company did not “own” the land itself – technically. However, these firms could place liens on the land and the associated water rights to protect their capital investments … so the effect was basically the same.

Settlers usually paid a flat entry fee ($1 in Idaho) and an almost trivial cost per acre. Owners had to then dig a feeder ditch to connect with the nearest main canal. Once water became available, they followed a schedule for bringing a set minimum of their holdings into cultivation. In three years, if they met all criteria – including construction of a “habitable dwelling” on the property – they received title to the land.

Of course, developers seldom waited out the years it might take before cumulative water sales covered their large initial investments. Once settlers held much of the land, an operating canal company or joint water district bought the system and the collective water rights from the developer.
Milner Dam, 1905. One of the first Carey Act projects in Idaho.
Library of Congress.

The Idaho legislature quickly established the position of State Engineer and tried to assemble the administrative infrastructure to support Carey Act projects. A few years passed before the state refined the process, but then interest picked up substantially. Thus, in the first ten years after passage of the Act, Idaho developers started just 10 or 11 projects. Then, in 1905-1907, they added 14 new ones.

The emergence of so many new projects led Congress to add another million acres to Idaho’s allotment in May 1908. Two days after that authorization, they added yet another millions acres, while also increasing Wyoming’s allotment by a million.

With that much land available, development exploded: In 1908 through 1910, developers initiated forty new Carey Act project in Idaho. No other state approaches Idaho in the exploitation of the Carey Act and later related legislation. By one reckoning, 60% of all U.S. acreage irrigated by Carey Act projects is in Idaho.
References: [French], [Hawley]
“Canals & Irrigation,” Digital Atlas of Idaho, Idaho State University.
The Cary Act in Idaho, Idaho State Historical Society (2004).
 “Carey Act of of August 18, 1894 (28 Stat. 422),” Code of Federal Regulations, U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (2012).

Friday, August 17, 2018

Mountain Man, Explorer, and Survivor John Colter [otd 8/17]

On August 17, 1806, discharged Army Private John Colter headed up the Missouri River with his two new partners, Forest Hancock and Joseph Dickson. Captains Lewis and Clark had released him early from his enlistment because the Corps of Discovery no longer needed him. Clark wrote, “We were disposed to be of Service to any one of our party who had performed their duty as well as Colter had done.”

In particular, Colter was considered one of the best, if not the best hunter in the entire Corps. He also showed a knack for exploring wild country and then quickly relocating the main party. During the Expedition’s long winter at Fort Clatsop, Colter ranged further and further afield in search of elk to feed the men.
Early Three Forks sketch. Montana Historical Society.

Hancock and Dickson had met the Expedition a few days earlier. During the trip downriver to the Mandan Indians villages, located about 40  miles northwest of today's Bismarck, North Dakota, they persuaded Colter to join them. Colter and his two partners ascended the Missouri to Three Forks, Montana.

They trapped there for awhile, but then the partnership dissolved. Colter started east and, in the spring of 1807, encountered a Missouri Fur Company (MFC) flotilla headed upriver. The ex-soldier agreed to join them. They built a trading post, called Fort Raymond, 55-60 miles northeast of present-day Billings, Montana.

Several other members of the Corps had also hired on with the MFC. They perhaps told the company president, Manuel Lisa, about Colter’s pathfinder skills. Lisa sent Colter to locate more prime beaver country. Although winter approached, Colter set off in late 1807, headed south and west.

Historians have recreated his general route from later verbal reports. He apparently skirted the highest mountains at first, perhaps as far south as north-central Wyoming. He then turned west from roughly today’s Dubois, over the Continental Divide, and on to Jackson Lake.
Teton Valley – view of the three Tetons from the west.

Confronted with the Tetons, Colter may well have sought directions from local tribesman, as did the Wilson Price Hunt party some four years later. He crossed Teton Pass into what we know as Idaho’s Teton Basin. Turning north and then east, Colter traversed parts of today’s Yellowstone Park before returning to the Fort in early spring.

Skeptics greeted his descriptions of wild thermal features with the rather derisive sobriquet “Colter’s Hell.” It is now generally accepted that, while Colter may have observed some activity in the Park area, his accounts probably referred to a thermal basin near today’s Cody, Wyoming.

Colter continued to explore and, in 1809, he experienced the event for which he is surely most famous: Colter’s Run. Captured by Blackfeet, with his companion slaughtered on the spot, the Indians stripped him naked for some “fun,” figuring they could easily run him down. Incredibly, he not only escaped, he killed the most persistent of his pursuers.

Another close call the following year convinced Colter his luck was running out, and he left the Rockies. While in St. Louis, he visited with William Clark, who recorded many of Colter’s observations. Clark used the notes to produce a regional map that was considered the best available for at least a half century. Honored today as the first “Mountain Man,” Colter died two or three years later.
References: Stephen E. Ambrose, Undaunted Courage, Simon & Shuster, New York (1996).
Burton Harris, John Colter: His Years in the Rockies, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1993).
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Gary E. Moulton (ed.), The Definitive Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (2002).
Merrill J. Mattes, Colter’s Hell & Jackson’s Hole, Yellowstone Library and Museum Association and the Grand Teton Natural History Association in cooperation with the National Park Service, U.S. Dept. of the Interior (1976).

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Captain Relf Bledsoe: Indian Fighter, Businessman, Prospector, Mine Manager ... and More [otd 8/16]

Capt. Beldsoe. Oregon Historical Society
Indian fighter, business leader, and public servant Relf Bledsoe was born August 16, 1832 in Henderson County, Kentucky. That small county is located along the Ohio River, about a hundred miles west and a bit south of Louisville.

The family resettled first to Missouri and then Texas. In 1850, Bledsoe moved to California. He apparently had a knack for mining management, because by the age of twenty-two, he had attained a position as a mine Superintendent in southern Oregon.

Financial trouble for the company ended his employment, but he quickly found himself involved in the 1853 Rogue River War. Courageous almost to a fault, Bledsoe proved to be a superb Indian fighter, quickly rising to the rank of Captain in the Second Oregon (Volunteer) Infantry.

He reportedly participated in twenty close-action Indian fights, but never sustained any wounds. His adversaries were probably convinced that he had such “big medicine,” their bullets could not touch him. After the war, he served several years as an Indian Agent, but finally settled on raising cattle.

Bledsoe certainly knew who made money in a gold rush. When prospectors discovered gold in Idaho, he opened or partnered in mercantile stores in Elk City and then Florence. In 1862, he served on the joint Council for Idaho and Nez Perce counties.By then, Bledsoe was known as a man of steel nerves, and not to be trifled with. A fellow pioneer told of how Relf had calmly made notorious gunman George Ives “back water” outside his store in Florence. (Some months later, Ives was hanged by vigilantes for cold-blooded murder.)

Then a band of prospectors discovered gold in the Boise Basin. Indians killed one of the discoverers, George Grimes, and small troops of volunteers set out to quell the unrest. Bledsoe assumed a leadership role and enhanced his reputation as an Indian fighter.

Relf judged the mass of prospectors pouring into the Basin and traveled to the Territorial capital in Olympia. There, he lobbied successfully for the creation of Boise County, with Idaho City (then called West Bannock) as county seat. That was in January 1863; less than two months later, Congress established Idaho Territory, with a capital at Lewiston.
Placerville, ca 1884. History of Idaho Territory.
Bledsoe also helped found the town of Placerville. In addition to his mercantile interests, he continued to develop mining properties: He is credited with bringing the major lodes around Atlanta into production in 1876-1877. Relf also played a significant role in establishing toll roads into the mines, which allowed heavy mill equipment to be brought in. 

Bledsoe served in a variety of city and county offices, including some time as a probate judge. In the late 1880s, supporters urged the President to make Relf the Territorial Governor, but the appointment went elsewhere.

The Illustrated History, published in 1899, said “When the present shall have become the past, his name will be revered as one of the founders of the state of Idaho, and as one of the heroes who carried civilization into the wild districts of this great region.”

In 1907, excitement about the assassination of former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg convulsed Idaho. Then-Governor Frank Gooding received a flood of death threats, presumably because he pushed the prosecution of the suspected conspirators. As one of his bodyguards, Gooding selected (in the words of author Anthony Lukas), “Relf Bledsoe, a legendary seventy-five-year-old gunfighter and former probate judge.”

Bledsoe passed away three years later.
References: [Illust-State]
John Hailey, History of Idaho, Syms-York Company, Boise, Idaho (1910).
J. Anthony Lukas, Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town … ,” Simon & Shuster, New York (1998).
Merle W. Wells, Gold Camps & Silver Cities, Bulletin 22, Idaho Department of Lands, Bureau of Mines and Geology, Moscow, Idaho (1983).