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).

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