Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Caldwell Banker, Newspaperman, and Developer Albert Steunenberg [otd 9/11]

A. K. Steunenberg.
J. H. Hawley photo.
Newspaperman and banker Albert Keppel Steunenberg was born September 11, 1863 in Knoxville, Iowa, about twenty-five miles southeast of Des Moines. After high school, “A.K.” – as he was later known to friends – served an apprenticeship as a printer, advancing to journeyman class after a few years.

He also showed a talent for more than the mechanics of the trade, developing solid abilities as a writer and editor.

He moved to Caldwell, Idaho, in 1886. Although A. K. then had little money, he saw an opportunity at the “moribund” Caldwell Tribune. He persuaded his brother Frank to follow him West and they purchased the struggling newspaper. Frank had previous experience as a publisher and the Tribune did well under their management. Three years after A. K. arrived, he helped form the Caldwell Board of Trade (basically, a chamber of commerce), serving as its first secretary.

They sold the newspaper around 1893. A. K. bought farm land about four miles from the city, but the following year he joined with a group of partners to establish the Commercial Bank of Caldwell. Within a few years, the Steunenberg’s had interests in a number of businesses in Caldwell and around the state. That included placer gold sites along the Snake River, a coal mine west of Driggs, and a hydroelectric power plant near Bear Lake. A.K. handled most of the day-to-day operations, while Frank became heavily involved in state politics.

The Illustrated History, published in 1899, noted that the bank had flourished “and sells exchange throughout the United States and Europe.” By 1903, the bank had outgrown the old building, so they had a new one built. The partners also reorganized the bank company, increased its capital, and renamed it the Caldwell Banking & Trust Company.

Within a few years, the firm opened banks in St. Anthony (that town’s first), Glenns Ferry, and Paris. (Paris is about ten miles southwest of Montpelier, Idaho.) Two other banks were established in Oregon. A.K. himself had a fine mansion built in Caldwell for his growing family.
Commercial Bank of Caldwell, A.K. at rear window.
Steunenberg family archives.

Irrigation projects had always particularly interested A.K. and Frank: They invested in many ventures in the Boise Valley. For a time, A.K. was Treasurer of Caldwell’s Pioneer Irrigation District. They were also early investors in Ira Perrine’s central Idaho project. That eventually led to the construction of Milner Dam and the founding of Twin Falls [blog, May 7].

Then a traumatic event altered the course of A.K.’s life. He had never sought political office – serving on the Caldwell city council and once as mayor only when pressed to do so. Frank, however, progressed from the legislature to Idaho Governor, serving two consecutive terms in 1896-1900. During his second term, he incurred the wrath of the Coeur d’Alene miners’ union.

On December 30, 1905, a bomb planted by union hit man Harry Orchard murdered Frank at his own front gate. Orchard was quickly caught and persuaded to confess. (The linked “Idaho Meanderings: Steunenberg, Trial of the Century, Labor, Legal, Political History” blog specializes in information related to that event.)

A.K. and his brother had always been very close; they and their families shared important anniversaries and celebrations. A.K., like many Idahoans, held union leaders ultimately responsible for the assassination. He did everything in his power to see that they were brought to justice. Unfortunately, surely worn down by grief, Albert Keppel Steunenberg died in mid-March, 1907, at the age of 44.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“[AK Steunenberg News],” Caldwell Tribune, Caldwell, Idaho; Idaho Statesman, Boise (July 1889 – March 1907).
J. Anthony Lukas, Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town … , Simon & Schuster (July 6, 1998).

1 comment:

  1. Evan:
    Thank you for your fine post regarding A.K. Steunenberg and your much appreciated plug of my blog. Here are a few other links on the blog to related stories: http://steunenberg.blogspot.com/search?q=A.K.

    And here is a link to the College of Idaho archives that has a letter written by A.K. shortly after Frank's assassination. I think it gives one some sense of A.K.s feelings of devastation over the loss of his brother: http://www.collegeofidaho.edu/aboutaci/archives/GLC/photos.asp?photoid=147&photonumber=1

    Regards, John