Friday, November 30, 2018

Boise Banker, Developer, and Geothermal Promoter Christopher W. Moore [otd 11/30]

Boise banker and businessman Christopher Wilkinson Moore was born in Toronto, Canada, on November 30, 1835. His parents, both immigrants from Ireland, tried to make a go of it farming near Toronto and then moved to a place about 35 miles southwest of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That too proved inadequate, so in 1852 the family emigrated to Oregon and claimed a farm about seven miles south of Salem. 
Christopher Moore. [Illust-State]

Moore got his start in business dealing in livestock, and then running freight into Washington Territory and Canada. After gold was discovered in what became Idaho, he and a partner, Benjamin M. DuRell, freighted into the Clearwater gold country.

They ventured into the Boise Valley in 1863, expecting to sell their merchandise and return to the coast. However, they saw the commercial potential of Boise City, located on the Oregon Trail and midway between the gold camps of the Boise Basin and the Owyhee mines.

By the spring of 1865, the partners had outlets in Boise City, Ruby City and Silver City. They soon went beyond merchandise sales. In Boise, they began doing gold assays and acting as an informal bank, making loans and holding gold in a big safe.

Then, in 1867, Moore, DuRell, and three other investors founded the First National Bank of Idaho. (One of the other investors was Territorial Governor David W. Ballard.) DuRell was selected as president, Moore as cashier. It was the first nationally-chartered bank in Idaho, and only the second west of the Mississippi. The firm prospered, and played a significant role in the development of southwestern Idaho. DuRell sold his shares and left the bank after five years. Various reorganizations followed, and Moore became president in January 1889. He would hold that position for the rest of his life.

Moore continued to invest outside his bank job, acquiring considerable farm and ranch property, as well as mine holdings in the Silver City area. Also, in 1870, he and another group of investors incorporated the “Idaho Telegraph Company.” It’s unclear how well that venture fared and it may have been absorbed when the Western Union Telegraph Company ran their own lines through the Territory.

Around 1890, Moore acquired an interest in a company formed to deliver water to customers in Boise. The details of the competition that followed are beyond the scope of this blog. However, in May 1891, the Idaho Statesman reported “a consolidation … between the two great water companies.” The new firm was called the Artesian Hot and Cold Water Company and Moore was the company president.

Their immediate plan was for a grand hotel and health spa supplied with hot water from nearby geothermal wells. The “Natatorium” they built is still a noted Boise landmark. But they also hoped to supply hot water to other businesses, and to homes. That proved to be a “hard sell,” even though the company offered very attractive prices.
C. W. Moore Mansion. [Illust-State]

So Moore had a hot water line extended to his mansion on Warms Springs Avenue. The geothermal heating system that went into operation in February 1892 is believed to be the first such residential unit installed in this country.

Christopher W. Moore passed away in September 1916, but the geothermal network that he and his partners pioneered is still in use today.

The bank he helped found proved to be equally lasting, although its corporate descendant now operates as part of a large bank holding company. First National itself endured a two-month suspension of operations early in the Great Depression, but bounced back stronger than ever.
References: [Illust-State], [French]
“Boise Natural Hot Water Heating System,” Reference Series No. 500, Idaho State Historical Society, Boise (1977).
Eloise H. Anderson, Frontier Bankers, The Caxton Printers, Ltd., Caldwell, Idaho (1981).
“[Christopher Moore News],” Idaho World, Idaho City, Idaho Statesman, Boise, Owyhee Avalanche, Silver City, Idaho (March 1865 – September 1916).

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Reverend Henry Spalding Establishes Presbyterian Mission at Lapwai [otd 11/29]

Henry Harmon Spalding.
National Park Service.
On November 29, 1836, Henry Harmon Spalding established a Presbyterian mission among the Nez Percés Indians. The initial location was on Lapwai Creek about 10 miles east of today's Lewiston. Two years later Spalding moved the mission to a spot on the Clearwater River near the mouth of Lapwai Creek.

Born in New York state, Henry was in his early thirties when he built the mission. After graduation from Western Reserve College (now part of Case Western Reserve University), he entered a seminary in Cincinnati. Spalding left, however, when he was appointed as a missionary to the Nez Percés.

Eliza (Hart) Spalding, born in Connecticut, was three or four years younger than Henry. The family moved to Oneida County, New York, in 1820. Henry and Eliza met through a mutual acquaintance and corresponded for a year or so before they met. Their common interest in missionary work matured the relationship and they married in 1833.

Three years later, Henry and Eliza traveled west with Marcus Whitman and his wife Narcissa [blog, Aug 12]. They accompanied an American Fur Company supply column led by Thomas Fitzpatrick, whom Whitman had met the year before. Thus, along the way, the couples attended the 1836 fur trade rendezvous on the Green River, in Wyoming. There, they caused a sensation because, while they were not the first missionaries to attend a rendezvous, they were the first who brought their wives.

The missionaries continued on to the Columbia River, obtained supplies from Fort Vancouver, and then separated. The Whitmans built a mission near today’s Walla Walla, Washington, while the Spaldings established theirs at Lapwai. It was difficult and costly to supply the Lapwai mission, so the settlement developed slowly.

That improved somewhat when, toward the end of 1838, the missionaries opened a blacksmith shop. During the heat of one summer, Spalding turned the natives to digging ditches for irrigation. Thus, the mission is credited with the first irrigated farming in what would become the state of Idaho. Crops grown included potatoes, another first.
Nez Percé Bible. University of Idaho Special Collections.

Spalding also procured a printing press and began publishing materials in the Nez Percés language, including the Bible. When Oregon pioneer Joel Palmer [blog, August 23] visited the mission in 1846, he noted that some Indians had learned to read, and print, well enough to make copies of some Bible passages.

Unfortunately, Henry had strict Puritanical notions of morality: Polygamy (fornication, to him), liquor, and gambling were all equally sinful. His tactless denunciations angered the Indians, and created friction with other missionaries who took a more gradual approach to converting native ways. That was perhaps why Palmer found the mission short of help to handle the work that needed to be done.

The 1847 massacre – ironically, also on November 29 – at the Whitman mission in Washington caused a suspension of both operations. Spalding was on his way to visit the mission when the killings occurred. Henry escaped death only through the intervention of a Roman Catholic priest … a crowning irony since Spalding was vehemently anti-“Papist.”

The Spaldings moved to Oregon, where they settled for a time. Eliza died in 1851 and Henry remarried two years later. He again served as missionary to the Nez Percés after about 1859, and resumed activities at Lapwai in 1862.

After a sojourn in the East around 1870, Spalding returned in 1871 to build a new school among the Nez Percés. He died in August 1874.
References: [B&W], [Brit], [Illust-North]
Malcom Clark, Eden Seekers: The Settlement of Oregon, 1818-1862, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York (1981).
“Lapwai Mission,” Nez Perce National Historical Park, National Park Service.
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).
“Spalding’s Mission,” Reference Series No. 945, Idaho State Historical Society (January 1993).

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

“Rufus” Reid and Agnes Just Perpetuate Century Ranch Heritage [otd 11/28]

Robert “Rufus” Reid.
Family Archives.*
On November 28, 1906, twenty-year-old Agnes Just married Robert E. “Rufus” Reid in Blackfoot, Idaho. Agnes was the youngest child and only surviving daughter of Nels and Emma Just.

Born in Denmark in 1847, Nels A. Just was ten years old when his family came to the United States. They had already converted to the LDS Church, and aimed to settle in Utah. The Justs traveled as part of one of the so-called “handcart” companies and arrived at Salt Lake in September 1857.

Emma Thompson was born in England in 1850. Also Mormon converts, the family emigrated to the U. S. in 1854. Both the Thompsons and the Justs joined the ill-fated “Morrisite” splinter group and suffered through its eventual dissolution. By the late 1860s, Nels had worked at various jobs, including running freight into Montana.

Emma married a soldier in 1865. After his discharge, the couple moved around as her husband found work. According to Bonneville County historian Barzilla Clark, “During the winter of 1866-67, we find her cooking at the stage station at Taylor’s Bridge.” (Taylor's Bridge eventually became today's Idaho Falls.)

From there, they went to Montana where, unfortunately, her husband abandoned her. After the birth of their son, she returned to live with relatives in the Blackfoot area. Divorced, Emma married Nels in 1870. They settled along the Blackfoot River and began raising livestock. Some of these he sold under contract to the Army at Fort Hall. Nels would also figure prominently in later irrigation efforts.

Besides Fred from her first marriage, the couple raised four sons of their own, and then Agnes. Agnes attended Albion Normal School to qualify for a teaching certificate. On one of her trips home, she met “Zeke” Reid (Robert Ezeckiel went by Bob, Zeke, or Rufus at various times), who then worked for her father.

Agnes taught a few years before marrying Rufus in 1906. After the marriage, they moved in with Nels and Emma at the homestead ranch along the Blackfoot River. Nels died in 1912, while Emma lived until 1923.
Rufus and Agnes in 1907. Family Archives.*

Agnes Just Reid became the mother of five sons. Still, raising them and helping run a farm-ranch operation wasn’t enough. She also became a noted Idaho article writer, columnist, and poetess.

After she became well known, The Deseret News profiled her (October 24, 1948). The writer observed, “Mrs. Reid has a knack of telling common things beautifully. Her poetry is not the modeled lacy petal, flowery poetry which is read simply for its phrasing quality and is forgotten because it lacks depth.” Instead, her “pen is strong and forceful … [and leaves] a wealth of pure gold to ponder until the reader, remembering, makes it part of himself.”

The Reid sons in their turn, acquired various portions of the old homestead.

As part of the state’s Centennial celebration, the Idaho State Historical Society prepared a list of “Idaho Century Farms and Ranches.” The specific criteria state that the farm or ranch must have been “owned and operated in Idaho by the same family for at least 100 years, with 40 acres of the original parcel of land maintained as part of the present holding.”

As of 2004, the list contained nearly one hundred ranches established during the Territorial period, along with 175 farms, many of which also raised livestock. Four of the ranches trace their roots back to the original holding established along the Blackfoot by Nels and Emma Just.

* Family archives: Presto Press, Presto Preservation Association. Used with permission.
References: [French]
Barzilla W. Clark, Bonneville County In The Making, Self-published, Idaho Falls (1941).
Idaho Century Farms and Ranches, Idaho State Historical Society (2004).
Agnes Just Reid, Letters of Long Ago, Fourth Edition, Cedar Creek Press, Boise, Idaho (1997).

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Pure Food, Dairy & Oil Commissioner William C. Howie [otd 11/27]

Commissioner Howie.
H. T. French photo.
Attorney William Clarence Howie, Idaho Food, Dairy & Oil Commission President, was born November 27, 1860, in Davis County, Iowa. He graduated from high school in Bloomfield, the county seat, which is located about 15 miles south of Ottumwa. In 1883, William graduated from a Normal School in Bloomfield and moved to Nebraska to teach.

Howie also read at a couple of law offices. The senior partner at his second stay later became a Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court and, later yet, Dean of the Nebraska State Law School. After being admitted to the Nebraska bar, Howie practiced in the state for about eight months.

Howie moved to Idaho in late 1890 and opened a practice in Mountain Home. At that time, Elmore County had been in existence less than two years. Mountain Home became the county seat in February 1891. About that time, the city and county began a growth spurt that lasted over twenty years.

In addition to a thriving legal practice, Howie filled a number of public offices in the area. That included service on the Mountain Home library board as well as the school board. According to the Illustrated History, he “was a prominent factor in the building of the splendid public-school building.”

Howie also held an appointment as U. S. Commissioner for the district around Mountain Home. Beyond the local activities, Howie served on the committee that determined the location of the state industrial school at St. Anthony.

Beginning in 1904, he served as President of the Idaho Food, Dairy, and Oil Commission (Idaho Statesman, December 13, 1903). This latter position involved major responsibilities. Before strong food and drug laws were in place, adulteration of oils – such as those used to make oleomargarine – with cheaper substitutes was a substantial problem all over the country.

Toward the end of Howie’s five-year term, the commissioners recommended that the duties of the commission be reorganized (Idaho Statesman, November 12, 1908). Dairy-related functions belonged under an agricultural board, while food matters should be included in the duties of the state Board of Health. Those changes were indeed made within a couple years.

Howie invested in several regional irrigation projects as well as various Mountain Home businesses, helping to organize the Stockgrowers State Bank.
Grubber patent drawing, Official Gazette.

Practicing in Mountain Home in the early years of the Twentieth Century, Howie’s name is also linked to a crucial pioneer activity. In 1909, he represented the assignee of a deceased inventor who received a U.S. Patent for a “Sage-Brush Grubbing Machine.” Then and for at least a half century after, developers sought better ways to remove sagebrush to prepare land for agriculture.

The following year, in connection with his Land Commissioner position, he found himself on the wrong side in court.  An indictment named him as part of a conspiracy to commit land fraud. However, the evidence soon showed that Howie himself had acted in good faith. Some jurors apparently still wanted to convict the three other men named in the indictment, but all were ultimately pronounced “not guilty.”

During World War I, Howie served as Secretary of the Home Service committee established in Elmore County by the American Red Cross. He died from an attack of influenza in February 1919.
References: [French], [Illust-State]
“978,118 Sage-Brush Grubbing Machine,” Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, Vol. CLXI, December 1910, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (1911).
Ella G. Caldwell, “The Work of the Elmore County Red Cross,” Elmore County Idaho, Mountain Home (2010).
“Counties and County Seats,” Reference Series No. 10, Idaho State Historical Society (1991).

Monday, November 26, 2018

Idaho State University President Miles Reed [otd 11/26]

President Reed.
Idaho State University photo.
Miles F. Reed, president of the Academy of Idaho, precursor to Idaho State University, was born November 26, 1872 about 20 miles south of Dubuque, Iowa. Reed’s parents moved to Idaho in 1889 and he attended high school at an academy in Grangeville.

After his graduation in 1892, Reed taught in Idaho’s rural schools for a time. From 1891 to 1897, Miles also served in the Idaho National Guard, rising from a Private to the rank of First Lieutenant. He left the regiment when he enrolled at the University of Idaho, and therefore did not see action in the Philippines the following year.

He graduated in 1901 with a Bachelor of Science degree and immediately found a job at the Lewiston State Normal School. After just a year there, he returned to the University to head their Preparatory School and serve as an instructor in education.
Academy of Idaho, ca. 1910. USGenWeb project photo.

In 1902, the state authorized the formation of the Academy of Idaho in Pocatello [blog, Mar 11]. It’s first president – initially called the Principal – was John W. Faris, who had been Superintendent of Pocatello schools for a time. Like most other Idaho colleges, the Academy had to run a prep school for a number of years. Even so, Faris moved aggressively to enhance the college-level curriculum. He also initiated a summer institute for working teachers along with standard summer classes.

Faris resigned in 1907. His expansionist approach had led to much criticism from those who saw a strictly limited role for the school. The continuing need for preparatory classes played a role in the selection of Miles Reed to replace Faris. (Also in 1907, Reed received a Master’s degree from Columbia University.)

If the board expected a more modest approach from their new president, they were sorely disappointed. Reed knew from first-hand experience that the state desperately needed more qualified pre-college teachers. In short supply to begin with, the meager salaries paid meant that turn-over was a constant problem.

Thus, Reed expanded the summer institute Faris had begun and took action to further address the critical teacher shortage. In this latter aim, he incurred the enmity of officials at Albion State Normal School. Reed also wanted to make the Academy a full-fledged college, able to offer bachelor’s degrees. That campaign led only to a new name: the Idaho Technical Institute (ITI).

Although supporters had failed in their bid to be designated a “college,” they had escaped the limited expectations implied by the “Academy” label. Students and citizens in Pocatello responded with “the biggest celebration in the history of the city.” (Reported in the Idaho Statesman, March 18, 1915.) There was also a program of speeches, which culminated with the “presentation of a gold watch to President Miles F. Reed in appreciation of the fight he made for the school.”
Reed Gym. ISU photo.

In 1904, while working at the University, Reed served as President of the Idaho State Teachers’ Association. A year after he moved to the Pocatello school, he became Chairman of the Educational Council of Idaho.

Reed died of a heart attack in November 1918. His dream of full college status for the Academy/Institute was not realized until 1947. It received university status in 1963. Today, Reed Gymnasium, a sports pavilion and student recreation center, commemorates his role in the history of ISU.
References: [French]
Diane Olson, Idaho State University: A Centennial Chronicle, Idaho State University, Pocatello (2000).

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Tough Talk and Action Versus Snake War Violence [otd 11/25]

Governor Lyon. Library of Congress.
The Owyhee Avalanche newspaper (Silver City, Idaho) for November 25, 1865 reported some “good talk” (their expression) by the Territorial Governor about the on-going Indian unrest.

Paraphrasing Governor Caleb Lyon [blog, Nov 14] the article said, [He] “says he will either fight or feed them, and for this purpose has requested, with all hopes of success, two regiments of cavalry. He says he does not expect to reduce them to a state of peace, except by offering them the terms of peace or death; and if they will not quietly accept the one, the other will be forced upon them.”

Preliminaries to what the newspapers called the “Snake War” had simmered and flared ever since the 1862 gold rush into the Boise Basin. In an attempt to counter the violence, in July 1863 the Army built Fort Boise, which sparked the growth of Boise City [blog, July 4]. That provided some protection along the Oregon Trail, but did little to quell raids on isolated ranches.

The conflict grew worse the following year, which spurred the formation of various ad hoc civilian volunteer companies. A fight in July 1864 resulted in the death of rancher Michael Jordan, a member of the party that originally discovered gold in the area [blog, May 18]. The Idaho Statesman in Boise reported (August 23, 1864) on “the probability of an extensive Indian war.”

In early 1865, the volume of complaints rose even more with the increased traffic along the freight and passenger routes between northern California and the Silver City area. In July, the Army established Camp Lyon, about 17 miles northwest of Silver City. However, commanders assigned too few troops to stop the depredations. Thus, the Idaho Statesman reported (October 12, 1865) that the operator of “The Chico Stage Route” had lost many horse and much of his hay supply to Indian raids. The losses were so bad “that it will be an impossibility for him to run his line of stages this winter.”

Two week later, the Statesman reported that a “Mr. Cox” had been shot and killed by Indians just twenty miles or so from Camp Lyon.

Finally, with the end of the Civil War in the East, the Army was prepared to respond to Governor Lyon’s request. The same November 25th issue of the Avalanche reported, “two Companies of Regulars, lately from the East, have been ordered from Walla Walla to” Camp Lyon. However, even these Regular Army troops did not do that well initially, including a repulse at the Battle of Three Forks (in Oregon) [blog, May 27].
General George Crook, ca 1875.
Library of Congress.

Frustrated at the lack of progress, in late 1866 the Army assigned the job to Lieutenant Colonel George Crook. Crook had gained valuable Indian fighting experience in northern California and the Pacific Northwest before distinguishing himself in the Civil War. He went on to even greater fame as an Indian fighter after leaving Idaho and Oregon.

Even the intelligent and determined Crook found no instant solution to the Indians’ guerrilla tactics in country they knew intimately. Still, 18 months of unrelenting pressure and attrition finally forced the tribes – Bannock, Shoshone, and Northern Paiutes – to accept confinement on reservations. These impositions, by the way, delayed a final reckoning for less than a decade.
References: [B&W]
Gregory Michno, The Deadliest War in the West: The Snake Conflict, 1864-1868, Caxton Press, Caldwell, Idaho (2007).
“The Snake War,” Reference Series No. 236, Idaho State Historical Society.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Nampa Businessman, Investor, Novelist, and World Traveler Fred G. Mock [otd 11/24]

Idaho pioneer, author, and world traveler Fred G. Mock was born November 24, 1861 on a farm in Cumberland County, Illinois, about sixty miles south of Champagne. Fred left home when he was twelve or thirteen years old. He never explained why.

For the next fifteen years or so, Mock “knocked around” Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Colorado. He took work where he could find it, but also made time to complete a sixty-day course at a business school. 
Fred G. Mock. [Hawley]

 He arrived in Boise a few months after Idaho became a state. Mock again found work were he could for awhile. Then he and a partner opened a real estate and title business in Nampa … and soon bought the Nampa Leader newspaper. Three or four year later, they reorganized their holdings, after which Mock was identified solely with the Leader.

In late 1894, Fred married Mennah Nettleton, who became an active partner in everything Fred set out to do. In fact, the two proved to have a knack for investing in successful companies and properties. Mock sold the Leader in the spring of 1899 to focus on the couple’s investment endeavors. Mennah birthed a child in January 1901, but their son lived only a few hours.

In 1903, Mock and a half dozen partners established the Bank of Nampa, with Fred as president. He continued in that position for about four years.

Fred also found time for other activities. He served several years as Treasurer for the city of Nampa and three terms as a Deputy Assessor for Canyon County. He was active in various business and social clubs, especially the Masons. Mock was the first Grand Master for the Lodge in Nampa and also served as Grand Master for all of Idaho.

Beyond all that, in 1905 Mock published a novel, Blue Eye, which was favorably reviewed in the New York Times. He also wrote the lyrics for a popular song that debuted on the New York stage.

The Mocks lived in Portland, Oregon for several years after Fred stepped down as president of the Bank of Nampa in 1907. When they returned to Nampa, the couple began a series of automobile trips all along the Pacific Coast. Fred also wrote another novel, A Romance of the Sawtooth, published in 1917. Produced by the Syms-York Company [blog, July 6], it is believed to be the first novel published in Idaho.

Some time after a 1922 motor trip that covered western Canada, the Mocks decided to broaden their horizons. They began to travel internationally by cruise ship. Some trips we know mostly from Fred’s later interviews and lectures, while others made headlines.
Liner Empress of Scotland ca 1920. Archives, Canadian Pacific Line

Thus, in 1926, they left New York City, with considerable fanfare, on a world tour aboard the luxury liner Empress of Scotland. The ship headed east to Mediterranean stops, India, and the Far East. They returned to New York after visits to Hawaii, the West Coast, Panama, and Havana.

Yet even with all their travel, Fred was occasionally lured into other duties. He served several years as president of a Nampa building and loan association and, in 1928, was the Nampa coordinator for national “Forestry Week.”

Fred’s wife Mennah died the summer of 1929, and that may have interrupted his touring some. However, in May 1932 he married again and the couple departed on a world tour the following December. They probably cut back on their world traveling in the mid- to late-Thirties when the tensions leading to World War II rose.

Fred continued to give talks – live and on radio – about his travels when he was well over eighty years old. He passed away in October 1956.
References:  [French], [Hawley]
Jann G. Marson, Jr., “Platen Press Printing in Idaho,” Idaho Center for the Book Newsletter, Boise State University (April 2000).
“[Fred Mock News Items],” Idaho Statesman, Boise; The Oregonian, Portland (June 1891 – October 1956).

Friday, November 23, 2018

Unsuspecting Cowboy Shot and Killed at Fort Hall by Angry Bannock [otd 11/23]

On November 23, 1877, a Bannock Indian, Tambiago by name, shot and killed cattleman Alexander Rhoden at the Fort Hall Indian Agency. Alex was born around 1852 in northeast Missouri, near the Nebraska border. In 1865, the family moved to near Omaha.
Alexander Toponce. Reminiscences.

Later, Rhoden came to Idaho and went to work for cattleman Alexander Toponce [blog, Nov 10]. Toponce, who recalled the spelling as “Rodin,” said the Missourian had been working at the ranch for a number of years before the shooting. The young drover was delivering some of Toponce’s cattle under contract to the Agency.

Accounts suggest that the shooting grew out of the uneasy relationship between whites and Indians at the time. A proclamation by President Andrew Johnson had designated the Fort Hall Reservation in 1867 [blog, June 14]. About a year later, most of the Shoshone and Bannock bands in Idaho finally agreed to resettle there, persuaded by glowing promises from Federal negotiators.

As happened all too commonly, the Agency did not keep its end of the bargain. Most tribesmen hardly noticed the failure to provide seed, instructions on farming, and other craft training. They could easily live without these elements of assimilation anyway. But their very survival depended upon the promised allotments of food and warm clothing.

Unable to live on the skimpy-to-nonexistent supplies provided by the Indian Agent, bands began to roam far and wide outside the reservation. Upset by these excursions, the Agent complained to tribal leaders, which created an atmosphere of frustration and discontent.

The Bannocks generally wandered the most, and therefore earned an extra level of nagging from the Agent. Soon, Bannock leaders began to suspect that the Agent was favoring the Shoshones in his already-sparing allotments.

The existence of this feeling among the Indians was confirmed by an Army officer who inspected the reservation. In his report he wrote, “The Bannocks are regarded by officers of the army and civilians as friendly and peaceable towards the whites. They are, however, very much opposed to their Agent, Mr. Danilson; this opposition I learn is provoked by his discrimination in favor of the Shoshones.”

Of course, the inspector could not stay long enough to verify the Bannocks’ suspicions. But in this tense atmosphere, an unknown white angered the Indians anew: One account said he raped a Bannock girl, but other reports suggest horse theft or some other crime.

Tribesmen had no way to specifically identify the offender, so they knew white authorities would do nothing. A frustrated brave stormed out and shot two teamsters, neither of whom, it is generally agreed, had anything to do with the initial offense. The teamsters eventually recovered from their wounds.
Group of Bannock, 1878. Library of Congress.

After more disputation, the shooter was arrested. As he was brought to, or passed through Fort Hall, Tambiago “snapped” at this one-sided display of justice ... and shot Rhoden. Again, it’s unclear whether Tambiago was the brother or just a good friend of the accused man. Authorities finally caught and arrested Tambiago. Tried and convicted of murder, he was hanged the following year, the first man hanged at the Idaho Territorial Penitentiary.

In his Reminiscences, Toponce remarked, “The Indian who killed Rodin had no grudge against him. He simply wanted to kill a white man and Alex was the first one he saw.”

A week or so after the shooting, Toponce shipped the young man’s body back to Nebraska for burial.
References: George Francis Brimlow, The Bannock War of 1878, The Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1938).
“Killed By An Indian,” Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah (December 1, 1877).
Alexander Toponce, Reminiscences of Alexander Toponce, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman (1971).

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Branch Railroad Arrives in Rexburg, Headed for Yellowstone [otd 11/22]

On November 22, 1899, tracks of the St. Anthony Railroad Company were completed into Rexburg, Idaho. The goal of the Company, which had been incorporated in May, was to extend a rail line from Idaho Falls to St. Anthony. Reporting on the Rexburg arrival, the Fremont County Journal said, “All afternoon the construction train was puffing back and forth through town.”
St. Anthony in 1907.
Vintage postcard displayed at

The tracks reached St. Anthony the following spring. Over the next several years, the railroad built branch lines to communities to the east and west of the main line. By about 1918, Fremont County would have, according to J. H. Hawley, “more than a score of railway stations.” Eventually the company would be acquired by the Oregon Short Line Railroad.

During its period of growth, the Company found itself at odds with the United States government. Construction crews had cut timber for ties and bridges from public lands accessible from their right-of-way.  In this, they cited a Federal statute that allowed a “duly organized” railroad company “the right to take, from the public lands adjacent to the line of said road, material, earth, stone, and timber necessary for the construction of said railroad.”

The closest suitable timberlands were 20 to 25 miles distant. Interpreting the intent of the law liberally, the company obtained the necessary material from those stands. Federal administrators disputed their right in this case and demanded they pay over $20 thousand for timber illegally cut from public lands. A lower court denied the Federal claim, as did a circuit court of appeals. Determined, authorities then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. After much legal nit-picking about the meaning of the word “adjacent,” the High Court reversed the judgement. The railroad company had to pay the charges.
West Yellowstone train depot, ca. 1910. National Park Service.

In 1905, leading investors in the St. Anthony railroad felt the time was ripe to extend the tracks to the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park [blog, Mar 1]. The work proceeded slowly, for various reasons, not the least of which was the heavy snowfall encountered in the mountains between Ashton and the town of West Yellowstone. In fact, each season opened with a major effort to clear anywhere from six to thirty feet of snow off the tracks.

The first passenger train reportedly reached the entrance depot in June 1909. The Idaho Falls Times noted (April 20, 1909) that the railroad had already taken heavy bookings in anticipation of that event. They expected that “attendance at the park for 1909 will be more than double last season.”

Rail traffic through Idaho to Yellowstone enjoyed a boom between the World Wars. Much of that was fueled by national publicity orchestrated by the Union Pacific Railroad (which by then had absorbed the OSL). One ad touted a “reduced fare” for the Boston to Yellowstone round trip. Clearly aimed at the well-off, the “reduced” amount would be equivalent to over $9,000 today.

Still, the campaign was successful and, in 1925, the company built a huge tourist dining hall in West Yellowstone. That and the other terminus buildings are now on the National Register of Historic places.

However, rail traffic plunged after World War II, and by 1960 the town no longer had passenger service. Today, trains still operate as far north as Ashton, Idaho, with some branch lines around the region; however, much branch trackage has also been abandoned or ripped up.
Reference: [B&W], Hawley]
“United States vs. St. Anthony Railroad Company, 192 U.S. 524,” Record of U. S. Supreme Court Cases, Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C. (1904).
“West Yellowstone History,” West Yellowstone Tourism Business Improvement District, West Yellowstone, Montana  (2010).

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Wilson Price Hunt Fur Trade Party Reaches Boise Valley [otd 11/21]

In November 1811, Wilson Price Hunt recorded in his journal, “On the 21st at daybreak we saw ahead of us a river that flowed to the west, its banks lined with cottonwood and willow trees. Some Indians who had pitched camp there had many horses and were far better clothed than those whom we had seen recently."

Hunt’s party thus became the first whites to report seeing the Boise Valley. (A smaller group led by Hunt’s associate Donald Mackenzie had probably seen it earlier, but the details of Mackenzie’s route are uncertain.) As noted before, Hunt’s expedition represented John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company [blog, Oct 5].
Snake River canyon below Caldron Linn. Idaho Tourism.

They had built dugout canoes and attempted to voyage down the Snake River, but lost a canoe and one French-Canadian boatman at Caldron Lynn [blog, Oct 28]. Although the immediate prospect looked grim, Hunt did not give up right away. The next day, he wrote, “For thirty-five miles I went along the banks of the river, which continues to carve a passage northwest through the mountains. Its bed is no more than sixty to ninety feet wide, it is full of rapids, and its course is broken by falls ten to forty feet high. Except at two spots where I went down to get water, the banks are precipitous everywhere.”

So the explorers abandoned their canoes, cached the goods they couldn’t carry, and started walking across Idaho. To make foraging easier, Hunt divided the group into several smaller parties. Hunt’s contingent generally followed the north bank of the Snake, barely avoiding starvation by trading with local Indians for dogs and dried salmon.

Finally, somewhere near today’s Glenns Ferry, tribesmen advised Hunt to leave the river and head more directly north and west. That route indeed proved shorter, but they found no water. Before light rains after two days relieved their thirst somewhat “several Canadians had begun to drink their urine.”
Boise River, fall. Idaho Tourism.

The next day was November  21st, when they reached the Boise River. They traded with several Indian bands for food and a couple of horses. Hunt said, “They told us that farther upstream beaver were plentiful, though in the vicinity of our camp there were very few.”

Hunt’s party spent a few days resting and trying to puzzle out a route based on confusing advice from the Indians. Finally, they headed generally northwest and then, in the vicinity of present-day Weiser, turned north into the mountains. From there, Hunt’s party staggered through some of Idaho’s worst country, where many peaks rise to eight or nine thousand feet. Low on food, they were lashed by snows squalls mixed with rain. Finally, they were forced to turn back, returning to the Weiser area about three weeks after they had left it. Hunt said, “Ice floated on the river and the weather was extremely cold.”

Knowing they didn’t have enough supplies to last through the winter, Hunt’s party finally headed due west to where guides said they could cross the Snake River. It took them most of three days to get across using one crude raft made from horsehide. They marched away from the river on the day before Christmas, only to struggle through more mountains in eastern Oregon.

They finally reached the Columbia just under a month after they left the Snake, and were happy to reach Astoria a few weeks after that. The Astorians had learned a good deal about the beaver country west of the Rockies, but the Pacific Fur Company would not benefit from that knowledge.
References: Wilson Price Hunt, Hoyt C. Franchère (ed. and translator), Overland Diary of Wilson Price Hunt, Ashland Oregon Book Society (1973).
Washington Irving, Astoria, or Anecdotes of an enterprise beyond the Rocky Mountains, G. P. Putnam and Son, New York (1868). Author’s revised edition.
James P. Ronda, Astoria and Empire, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1990).

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Women’s Suffrage Advocates Hold First Idaho Convention [otd 11/20]

On November 20, 1895, supporters held the first women’s suffrage convention in Idaho. In general, the western states had been much more supportive of women’s suffrage than those in the East. Wyoming had written it into the Territorial Constitution in 1869 and carried that over into statehood in 1890. The state of Colorado passed a similar amendment in 1893.
Suffragettes collecting petition signatures.
Library of Congress.

Nationally, however, advocates made little progress. The 1892 Republican party platform paid the notion lip service, but nothing came of that provision. Moreover, the History of Woman Suffrage said, “No Democratic national platform ever has recognized so much as the existence of women … ”

In 1894, canvassers in New York State collected some 600 thousand petition signatures in support of a women’s suffrage amendment: Constitutional delegates rejected the idea by almost a 2-to-1 margin.

That same year, Idaho politicians supported women’s suffrage in their party platforms and on the campaign trail. Thus, when the legislature convened in early 1895, the Senator for Ada and Canyon counties introduced a resolution for a constitutional amendment to enfranchise Idaho’s women. A two-thirds majority was required to place the measure on the ballot for the next election. It passed unanimously in the Senate and with just two dissenting votes in the House of Representative.

Still, conventional wisdom held that “popular indifference” would doom the measure – opponents would be sure to vote while the rest of the electorate wouldn’t bother. Determined to change that, advocates convened that first convention in Boise, meeting at the home of the President of the Boise Equal Suffrage Club.
Suffrage leaders, including Susan B. Anthony -- seated right of center, in spectacles --
meeting with Utah organizers. Utah State Historical Society photo.
In addition to the usual slate of officers and an advisory board, the women designated county presidents from all across the state. The women then laid out a campaign to insure passage of the amendment. They even received a telegram with advice from Miss Susan B. Anthony: “With hope of carrying amendment, educate rank and file of voters through political party papers and meetings; women speakers cannot reach them.”

To bolster their campaign, supporters held a second, much more heavily attended convention in July 1896. Outsiders also came to lend their support, including Abigail Scott Duniway. Abigial Jane Scott had crossed Idaho in 1852, when she was eighteen years old, as an Oregon Trail emigrant [blog, July 29]. She had since become a nationally-known advocate for women’s rights.

The Idaho Statesman observed (July 5, 1896), “The equal suffrage convention held here last week was a pronounced success, and the result will be beneficial in the campaign that will soon be upon us.”

Hiram T. French related an episode that illustrates the women’s determination. Organizers sent the announcement for a planned local event to their usual contact in a small North Idaho mining town. However, that person had moved, so the letter of instructions sat unclaimed at the Post Office.

When two speakers arrived to make the presentation, nothing had been arranged. Undeterred by the slip-up, the women hurriedly found a hall and then hired boys to assemble two huge woodpiles near the primary mine facilities. Lit just in time for the shift end, the roaring bonfires attracted “a large audience” to the talks. According to the account, one miner remarked afterwards, “If women can manage like that, they ought to vote.”

As described elsewhere [blog, Nov 3], the measure passed handily.
References: [Brit], [French], [Hawley]
Susan B. Anthony, Ida H. Harper (eds.), The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol IV: 1883-1900, The Hollenbeck Press, Indianapolis (© Susan B. Anthony, 1902).

Monday, November 19, 2018

Boise Attorney, Businessman, and Education Leader Oliver Haga [otd 11/19]

Attorney Haga. H. T. French photo.
Boise lawyer and education advocate Oliver O. Haga was born November 19, 1872 in Luverne, Minnesota (in the extreme southwestern corner, 25-30 miles east of Sioux Falls, South Dakota).

At the age of twenty, he had a job as school Principal in Wisconsin. In 1894, he graduated from Indiana’s Valparaiso University. (He later received a master’s degree from the school.)

After graduation, he moved to Idaho as the school Principal in Salmon City. He spent two years there, two years in a similar position at Glenns Ferry, and became Principal of Boise High School in 1898. His tenure followed a period of dramatic growth in the Boise student population. In 1894 and then again two years later, Boise City had added new facilities to its system.

For many years, Haga had filled his spare time reading law in local attorneys' offices. During the summers, he traveled East to study in various law schools. Thus, concurrent with his move to Boise, he qualified for the Idaho bar. In time he would earn the right to argue cases in the Supreme courts of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Indiana, as well as Federal courts in those states … and the U. S. Supreme Court.

In 1901, Oliver resigned from the Boise school to go into the law full time. He joined Judge James H. Richards, a former Boise mayor, in the firm of Richards & Haga. In little more than a decade, Richards & Haga developed a client list that included the Idaho branches of some of the largest financial and investment companies in the United States. Haga himself became a nationally-known authority on irrigation and water law, a hugely important specialty in the arid Western states.

In early 1926, Haga was appointed as one of two Idaho members of the Advisory Commission for the The SesquiCentennial International Exposition. The Exposition, a world’s fair held in Philadelphia, commemorated the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It opened at the end of May, was officially dedicated on July 4th, and ran through November.

Haga developed extensive business and property holdings in the Boise Valley, across southern Idaho, and even into Montana. As a sideline, he owned a ranch in the Boise Valley, where he bred registered shorthorn cattle. Later, he sold that operation and went into wheat farming. In 1930, he helped form a regional association of grain farmer co-operatives and served on its Board of Directors for at least five or six years.
BJC Administration Building, ca 1955.
Albertsons Library Digital Collections.

Haga never lost his interest in education. He had a long tenure on the Boise school board, including several years as board president, and also served on the Board of Trustees of the Idaho Industrial Training School. The Training School was a rehabilitation center for juvenile offenders.

From 1934 through 1939, Haga responded to an educational crisis in his adopted home town: the preservation of the fledgling Boise Junior College. The detailed story is beyond the scope of this blog. To summarize: Oliver not only Chaired the Board of Directors that managed the school, but he also shepherded a “junior college bill” through the legislature. That law, signed in February 1939, provided for more reliable school funding [blog, Feb 7].

Haga remained on the college board of directors until his death in 1943. Eight years later, the BJC Administration Building was designated the Oliver O. Haga Hall.
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Erastus Long Austin, Odell Hauser, The Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition, Reprint Edition, Arno Press, Inc., New York (1976).
Eugene B. Chaffee, Boise College, An Idea Grows, Printing by Syms-York Company, Boise (© Eugene B. Chaffee 1970).

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Nez Percés Indian Reservation Opened to White Settlers [otd 11/18]

On November 18, 1895, “surplus” lands on the Nez Percés Indian Reservation were thrown open to claims by white settlers. This action crowned a long campaign to force assimilation upon the Nez Percés and other Indian tribes.
Nez Percés encampment near Lapwai, 1899.
Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.

The original 1855 treaty between the U.S. and the Nez Percés essentially confirmed the Indians’ sovereignty over much of their extensive ancestral homeland in the Pacific Northwest. However, that treaty lasted just eight years. Then prospectors found gold in what would become Idaho. Some of the discoveries were clearly inside the Nez Percés reservation, which led to a new treaty that drastically reduced the allotted lands [blog, Jun 9].

Most of the Nez Percés bands rejected the agreement, yet whites officials – with the usual self-serving cynicism – billed it as an all-encompassing document. Continued flagrant violations of both treaties eventually led to the Nez Percés War of 1877 [blog, Jun 17]. After that, all of the various bands of the tribe were forcibly placed on reservations – mostly in Idaho but some in Washington.

Soon, the Nez Percés adapted. The schools filled with Indian children, cultivated plots expanded, and native handicrafts found their way to market. Yet much had not changed, perhaps because the Nez Percés did not put that much emphasis on accumulating material possessions. Indian cowboys grazed growing herds of cattle and bands of horses, making good use of the lush rangeland. Women and youngsters moved across the countryside, gathering camas roots and the other usual bounties from the earth.

Unfortunately, as settlement increased around the reservations, the “empty” lands inside the boundaries became an issue. An item from the Idaho County Free Press (June 18, 1886) captures the prevailing white attitude: “The land is of no use to them for they cannot and will not utilize it. … As long as it is reserved from white occupation it will remain as useless as though located in the desert of Sahara.”

Senator Dawes. Library of Congress.
An unlikely alliance between land-greedy settlers and the national “do-gooder” community found a solution. The  1887 “Dawes” or “Severalty” Act provided that lands on many Indian reservations would no longer be held communally. Instead, individual Indians would own plots patterned after the traditional Euro-American family farm.

Although the law made some provision for grazing, its clear intent was to force tribesmen to become small farmers. Then, the do-gooders were sure, they would assimilate into white society as “stout yeomen of the soil.” White settlers would, of course, make productive use of the acreage left over after these allotments.

Government officials arbitrarily assigned a value to the “excess,” bought it from the tribe, and distributed the proceeds among the individual tribesmen. The land office then made these “purchased” plots available for white homesteaders. Some years passed before the details were ironed out in Idaho, but the resulting transfer finally happened in 1895.

Authorities did nothing to keep claimants out, so most had moved onto the land well before the legal opening. A special correspondent for Boise’s Idaho Statesman (November 19, 1895), writing from Lewiston, was rather disappointed. Yes, he wrote, “there was no lawlessness, no suffering from the snows of winter or the intense heat of midsummer.” But as a result “all the romance which is supposed to attach to occasions of this kind was lost.”
References: [Illust-North]
M. Alfreda Elsensohn, Eugene F. Hoy (ed.), Pioneer Days in Idaho County, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1951).
Francis Haines, The Nez Percés: Tribesmen of the Columbia Plateau, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman (1955).
Thomas R. Wessel, “Agriculture, Indians, and American History,” The American Indian: Past and Present, 6th Edition, Roger L. Nichols (Ed.), University of Oklahoma Press (2008).

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Horses Thieves Trailed, Captured, and Jailed – Escaped, Caught Again [otd 11/17]

On Saturday, November 17, 1883, three different newspapers across Idaho published stories about a trio of captured horse thieves. That timing arose from the more-leisurely newspaper publication schedules back then. The Owyhee Avalanche (Silver City, Idaho) and the Blackfoot Register were both weeklies, issued only on Saturdays. The Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman (Boise) had issues on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
Watching the horses. Library of Congress.

The raiders began their depredations the previous month when they stole a considerable band of horses near Fort McDermitt, Nevada. That’s along the Nevada-Oregon border about seventy miles north of Winnemucca. They reportedly left Nevada with about 75 animals. Many of them belonged to a stockman named Jeremiah “Jerry” Hearn. He was originally from Massachusetts and brought his bride, Margaret, to the area in 1881.

Edward F. Mullaney, whose brother had lost horses to the thieves, trailed the bandits as they made their way across the southeast corner of Oregon into Idaho. (We know only a few of the pursuers’ names, probably because the composition of the posse changed along the way.)

In Idaho, the thieves added about 40 horses belonging to stockman Con Shea [blog, Sept 24] to their herd. They then pushed through the mountains to the east, emerging, it is supposed, somewhere south of today’s Murphy. Based on the eventual size of the stolen herd, it’s likely they gathered more horses on the high plains there. The raiders finally crossed the Snake River near the mouth of the Bruneau River.

The crooks next dodged there way east. They would have needed to avoid the new Oregon Short Line tracks, since by this time the railroad was running regular mixed trains over the line. They finally pushed their herd into the Lost River area, some sixty to seventy miles west of Eagle Rock (today’s Idaho Falls). Apparently not concerned about any possible pursuit, the thieves now “laid over four or five days” (Blackfoot Register). While there, they stole 45-50 horses belonging to rancher Edward Hawley.
Robbers’ approximate path (Green line). Overlay on historical map.
Rested up, and still unaware of any posse, the thieves moseyed through East Idaho before turning north into Montana. Along the way, they “picked up” another 15-20 horses. The pursuit closed in near the town of Bannack, about eighteen miles west of Dillon.

Events then turn a bit murky. The three apparently sent someone into Bannack for supplies, but were tipped off that a posse was after them. The crooks quickly abandoned their loot and “lit out.” They were soon caught, however, and jailed in Dillon.

Amusingly, the three “simultaneous” news articles had different snapshots of these events. The Statesman and the Register noted that the crooks were in jail pending extradition paperwork from Idaho and Nevada. The Avalanche, on the other hand, knew that the prisoners had already broken out of jail.

The three were recaptured in December and returned to Nevada for trial. The Reno Evening Gazette reported (March 21, 1884) their convictions, under the names of Lee, Stimson, and Dan Bowden. The latter was a gunman well known in southern Idaho and northern Nevada. Lee, apparently, had been “recently released” from the Idaho Penitentiary. The court sentenced Stimson to four months in the county jail, while the other two received long prison terms.
References: [B&W]
Blackfoot Register; Idaho Statesman, Boise; Owyhee Avalanche, Silver City, Idaho (November 17, 1883).
“Horse Thieves … ,” Owyhee Avalanche (November 10, and December 22, 1883).
“Horse Thieves,” Idaho Statesman (November 24, 1883).
“Cattle Stealing Gangs,” Reno Evening Gazette, Reno, Nevada (March 21, 1884).

Friday, November 16, 2018

Idaho Falls Dedicates a New City Hall and Fire Station [otd 11/16]

On November 16, 1930, Idaho Falls officials dedicated a new City Hall. It replaced the old city building, which had been in use since before 1911.

Idaho Falls, aka “Eagle Rock,” aka “Taylor’s Bridge,” originated when James Madison “Matt” Taylor and his partners opened a toll bridge at the spot in 1865 [blog, Dec 10]. Settlement was very slow at first. When Matt’s cousin Sam Taylor [blog, Apr 18] arrived in June 1870, he recalled, “There was nothing there then but Matt Taylor’s family and what help they had around, and men that worked for the stage line; no settlers at all.”
Idaho Falls train yard. Bonneville County Historical Society.

The stage station finally experienced a growth spurt after the Utah & Northern Railroad arrived in April 1879: Eagle Rock grew as newcomers settled in the region, especially north along Henry’s Fork. Then, in 1887, the town suffered a significant loss of population when the railroad shops moved to Pocatello. In fact, according to the Illustrated History, “at least sixty other buildings, mostly dwellings, were removed.”

Still, continued settlement in the area gave people confidence about the future. That confidence proved justified, especially after the construction of several large irrigation systems in the area spurred even more settlement. Eagle Rock organized into a village structure in 1889 and selected a board of five trustees.

Two years later, the town’s name changed to Idaho Falls. Not until 1895 did the Board formally designate a Chairman. By around 1899, the population of Idaho Falls was almost back to the level it had been before the railroad shops moved. Thus, a year later,, the town was large enough to be a “city of the second class,” with a Mayor and council.

Sometime during this period, the Board procured a specific City Hall. This structure, on the southwest corner of Broadway and Capital Avenue, would remain in use until the new City Hall was dedicated. For five or six years after 1911, part of the building also served as the Bonneville County courthouse. The county then erected a new courthouse building, which is still in use today.

Around 1928, “five and dime” retailer S. H. Kress offered a premium price for the property that housed the police and fire stations. With the old City Hall showing its age, the Council saw the offer as a way to finance a replacement. They accepted, and fire and police units became tenants for awhile.

With money in hand, the city began planning a new structure, one that would allow the consolidation of the city offices with the police and fire stations. With additional revenue from the municipal hydro-power plant, the council did not need to call for a bond election. For $9,000, the city purchased a lot that was then owned by the Idaho Falls Elk’s Lodge.

City Hall drawing.
Idaho Falls Historic Preservation Commission.
Construction proceeded in phases after purchase of the property. Although much remained to be done at the time, the city offices moved into the completed fire station structure in August 1929. After that, work proceeded rapidly, leading to the formal dedication noted above.

Over the years, parts of the interior were modernized, and a foyer with skylights was remodeled into additional offices. However, "the lobby retains its distinctive tiles and decorative detail."

City Hall still serves Idaho Falls well today and its façade looks pretty much like it did eighty years ago.
References: [Illust-State]
Mary Jane Fritzen, Eagle Rock, City of Destiny, Bonneville County Historical Society (1991).
“Golden Jubilee Edition, 1884–1934,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (September 10, 1934).
“Idaho Falls City Building,” Idaho Falls Downtown Development Corporation (2012).

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Idaho Falls developer and Construction Leader William Keefer [otd 11/15]

William Keefer. J. H. Hawley photo.
Idaho Falls developer and builder William W. Keefer was born November 15, 1852 in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, 40-60 miles southwest of Harrisburg. Although he was a carpenter by trade, as a young man he spent two years teaching school.

In about 1873, he found work in the west. He ended up leading a construction crew building bridges and depots for the Utah & Northern Railroad in northern Utah and southeast Idaho

Financial problems slowed and then halted track-laying in southeast Idaho from 1874 into early 1878. Work resumed in March 1878, and the rails marched steadily north. They reached Eagle Rock (today’s Idaho Falls) about a year later [blog, Apr 11]. Then the company began to construct a full inventory of railroad shops and a passenger station in the little town, so Keefer focused on that work.

The completed shops provided locomotive repair and maintenance facilities, and were equipped so the company could build various types of rail cars there. When crews completed the railway structures, Keefer decided to settle in Eagle Rock rather than continue with the railroad.

The town experienced something of a building surge at the time, so Keefer found plenty of work. Along with his construction business, he began investing in prime real estate, with an eye toward development. It helped that the town was platted in 1884.

By the mid-1880s entrepreneurs had formed irrigation companies to build diversion dams and canals for cultivated agriculture. That sparked “Eagle Rock’s Building Boom,” according to the Idaho Register (April 4, 1885). The item noted that Keefer and a partner had just completed one project and had started a “soda water manufactory and sample room.” Later that year, the Register reported (Noember 21, 1885) that Keefer was making many improvements to his brewery: “nearly quadrupling his present capacity for making beer.”

The growth in farming to supplement stock raising helped “cushion the blow” when the railroad company moved its shops to Pocatello in 1887. Although the population suffered a severe drop, the town survived.

Matt Taylor’s original wooden bridge across the Snake River [blog, Dec 10] deteriorated beyond any reasonable repair effort after almost a quarter century of use. Thus, in 1890, commissioners hired Keefer to construct masonry piers for a new steel bridge next to the old one. When no one bid on the structure itself, Keefer went ahead and completed the job. The bridge would serve the city until 1907.

Broadway, looking east, ca 1912. H. T. French photo.
Throughout the Nineties, Eagle Rock/Idaho Falls (the name changed in 1891) kept growing: many churches, two or three banks, a hotel, and more. Keefer by no means handled all these projects, but he apparently had parts of many.

In 1909, Keefer and his twin sons, Fred and Frank, began construction of a dam to impound the Snake right at the town. The dam and a retaining wall diverted a substantial part of the flow to a new hydroelectric power plant. The plant went operational in 1912. Today, the dam and diversion wall are what tourists consider the “falls” of Idaho Falls.

Besides his development work, William Keefer served two years as county coroner, ran for county sheriff at least once, and served two terms on the Idaho Falls city council. He passed away in March 1940.
References: [Hawley]
Barzilla W. Clark, Bonneville County in the Making, Self-published, Idaho Falls, Idaho (1941).
Mary Jane Fritzen, Idaho Falls, City of Destiny, Bonneville County Historical Society, Idaho Falls (1991).