Wednesday, September 18, 2019

William J. McConnell: Vigilante, U.S. Marshal, Merchant, and Governor [otd 9/18]

W. J. McConnell. McConnell,
Early History of Idaho.
On September 18, 1839, William J. McConnell, third governor of the state of Idaho, was born in Commerce, Michigan, about twenty-five miles northwest of Detroit. He moved to California in 1860 and engaged in mining and other work for a couple years. He spent the following year in Oregon, where he taught school and perhaps worked in a store.

McConnell followed the major gold rush into Idaho’s Boise Basin in 1863. Schooled by his experience in California, the young man recognized the opportunity offered by the excellent bottomland along the Payette River. Thus, he did not stay with the scramble of hopeful prospectors. Instead, McConnell and a few other settlers began raising vegetables, which they sold – at fabulous prices – to those same miners.

All was not profits and prosperity, however. The wild new Territory lacked any vestige of effective law enforcement. Shootings, knifings, and robberies were commonplace, and men with gold routinely disappeared on the tracks that linked the various camps.

Finally, when thieves made off with 8-10 horses and mules belonging to McConnell and his neighbors, he and two friends went after the robbers themselves. They returned with the animals a couple weeks later. No one inquired about the fate of the crooks.

William and the Payette Valley settlers then organized a regional Vigilance Committee, modeled on those established in California the decade before. When McConnell later prepared his History of Idaho, he made no apologies for their actions. He simply observed that they had no choice because “no effort was being made by those whose duties it was to enforce the law.”

Reports from the time indicate that the vigilantes did succeed in reining in the criminals, and the Committee disbanded. Popular opinion of their efforts was very positive: McConnell was appointed a Deputy U. S. Marshal, his term starting in 1865. After two years in that duty, he left the state for Oregon and California.

McConnell returned to Idaho in 1878, after the extensive farm lands of Latah County opened up . He established a general store there and became a major factor in the area’s growth.
McConnell General Store, Moscow.
Latah County Historical Society.

When leaders convened a Constitutional Convention to enhance the appeal for statehood, McConnell represented the county in that body. Among other issues he championed, McConnell was instrumental in writing Moscow into the constitution as the location for a state-supported university. (Although he later helped organize the institution, it’s not clear if he was ever formally a member of the Board of Regents.)

After statehood, he became one of Idaho’s first two U.S. Senators. He served the abbreviated term needed to get the new state into the normal election cycle.

He did not stand for a full senatorial term, but ran instead for Governor … was elected, and then re-elected. McConnell served at a critical time in Idaho history. Much of the new state’s administrative structure was in a state of flux, and the “Panic of '93” – a worldwide depression – blighted the economy. Still, his administration made several vital contributions, perhaps the most important being the vote for women’s suffrage in 1896 [blog, Nov 3].

McConnell remained in public service for the rest of his life. After his second term as governor, President William McKinlay appointed him to be a high-level Inspector for the Office of Indian Affairs. Then, in 1909, President Howard Taft made him a Special Agent for the General Land Office. McConnell held that position until he passed away in March 1925.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
W. J. McConnell, Early History of Idaho, The Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1913).
Robert C. Sims, Hope A. Benedict (eds.), Idaho’s governors: Historical Essays on Their Administrations, Boise State University (1992).

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Walgamott Slays Liquored-Up Gunman at Rock Creek Store [otd 9/17]

On September 17, 1877, traveling bank examiner Nathaniel Langford recorded an incident that highlighted the rather casual violence of those frontier days. Oddly enough, the surviving participant in the action chose not to connect himself with the event in the reminiscences he published later in life.
N. P. Langford, ca 1870.
Minnesota Historical Society.

Charles Walgamott came west from Iowa in August 1875, when he was seventeen years old. He joined his sister and brother-in-law Charles Trotter at Rock Creek, Idaho – about 12 miles southeast of today’s Twin Falls. Trotter ran the stage station there.

Charlie stayed in the West because, he said, “I love the mountains, the mountain streams, the western atmosphere, and the hospitable people with their western ways, the smoky odor of Indian-tanned buckskin, so prevalent around the camp fires, mingled with the sage-sweetened air, and the ever-present element of risk even to the preservation of life; and even the frequent solitude has its fascination.”

Early in the winter before Walgamott arrived in Idaho, Trotter had a run-in with a horse thief named William Dowdell (sometimes spelled "Dowdle"). According to a later report in the Idaho Statesman (September 20, 1877), Dowdell had served a one-year prison term for stealing a U. S. Government horse.

Just out of prison for that offense, Dowdell rode into the Rock Creek area on another stolen horse. Trotter recognized the animal and had Dowdell detained. Convicted and sent back to prison, Dowdell vowed revenge.

He appeared at Rock Creek station on September 17, not long after he got out. Trotter was down with typhoid fever and hadn’t come in that morning. After some quick drinks at the bar, Dowdell wandered outside and began taking pot-shots at passers-by and other targets. He reportedly wounded the local blacksmith so badly people thought the man would die. [Vintage photo of Rock Creek Station.]*

At that time, Walgamott held a clerk’s position at the Rock Creek store. Charlie doesn’t say what he was doing when the shooting started, but he finally went to the front door to see what was going on. When a shot through the door casing just missed him, Walgamott grabbed a pistol kept near the counter and shot Dowdell dead. (Charlie would have been about nineteen at the time.)

Langford rode the stage into Rock Creek that same afternoon. In his diary, he described the drunken “funeral procession” the locals had arranged: “Frequent potations had exhilarated the entire company to such a degree that no attempt was made to preserve regularity of motion or direction.”
They did eventually bury the body. An inquest declared Charlie fully justified in the shooting. In fact, according to Langford, “The entire settlement manifested their approval of Wohlgamuth’s [sic] timely shot.”

Walgamott lived in the Mountain West well into the Twentieth Century and published his Reminiscences of Early Days in 1926. In that, and the very similar Six Decades Back, he described many wild events, including the death of Dowdell. However, for his own reasons, Charles identified the retaliatory shooter as simply “a young man who was in charge at the store.”

* The Idaho State Historical Society holds the copyright on this photo and charges a usage fee. (As a member, I know the organization needs the money, but since my blog generates no income, I am not in a position to pay.)
References: Jim Gentry, In the Middle and On the Edge, College of Southern Idaho (2003).
N. P. Langford, Vigilante Days and Ways, Montana State University (1957).
Charles S. Walgamott, Six Decades Back, The Caxton Press, Caldwell, Idaho, 1936. Re-released in 1990.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Governor, U. S. Senator, and Wool-grower Frank Gooding [otd 9/16]

Idaho Senator and Governor Frank R. Gooding was born September 16, 1859 in England. He was 8 years old when his parents emigrated to the U. S. and settled in Michigan. In 1877 Frank moved to California and then, within a year or two, to Ogden, Utah. There, he worked at the Union Pacific (UP) depot.

Two factors then perhaps combined to draw him to Idaho. First, by 1879, the UP had decided to extend a branch rail line across Idaho. At about that same time, silver was discovered in the Wood River valley, setting off a huge rush into the area [blog, April 26]. Several mining towns, including Ketchum, sprang into existence.
Philadelphia smelter, near Ketchum.
Ketchum-Sun Valley Historical Society.
The Oregon Short Line Railroad, a subsidiary of the UP, began laying track in the summer of 1881. Some time during the year, Frank moved to Ketchum and set up a thriving business to supply firewood and charcoal for the nearby smelter.

Extension of an OSL branch railroad into Ketchum in 1884 fueled an even greater mining boom. However, that faded within four years due to low silver prices. Frank then established a sheep ranch on the plains west of Shoshone. Although his flock suffered some damage in the severe winter of 1889-90, he quickly recovered and would soon be “regarded as the most successful sheep-raiser in the state.”

Years of careful study made Gooding an expert on the subject of sheep and sheep raising such that, as the Illustrated History put it, “His opinions on anything connected with the subject are received as authority.” When a group of sheepmen formed the Idaho Wool Growers’ Association in 1893, Frank became its first President. He would hold that office two more times.

In 1899, voters elected Gooding to the state Senate, where he was selected as President pro temp. He followed that with a successful campaign for Governor, serving from 1905 to 1909. During his terms, he did well with many “motherhood and apple pie” issues: rehabilitation of juvenile criminals, better veteran’s benefits, schools for the handicapped and mental patients, improved general education, and so on.

His stands on timber, land, and irrigation projects were less well-received, at least in part because of conflict of interest concerns. (This in an era when such standards were far looser than they are today.) Still, those issues did not prevent his election to a second term. Another Republican, James H. Brady [blog, June 12], succeeded him.

U. S. Senator Gooding.
Library of Congress.
The incumbent U.S. Senator, Weldon B. Heyburn, yet another Republican, was up for re-election when Gooding left office. Heyburn’s dogged advocacy for Idaho’s economic mainstays – mining and agriculture – assured his popularity, so Gooding made no attempt to move on to that position.

When Heyburn died in October 1912, the legislature elected the still-popular James Brady to fill the rest of the term. Then, in 1914, the 17th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution required direct, popular election of Senators: Brady won that election also.

When Brady too died in office, in January 1918, Gooding ran for the remainder of the term, but lost. When he ran again in 1920 for the full term, he won. Frank fought steadily for high tariffs to protect American products – and not just wool, but across the board. Re-elected in 1926, he died in office in June 1928.

Frank and his brother Fred (another successful sheep rancher) gave their name to the town and county of Gooding.
References: [Blue], [B&W], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“Frank Robert Gooding,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
Robert C. Sims, Hope A. Benedict (eds.), Idaho’s Governors: Historical Essays on Their Administrations, Boise State University (1992).

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Senator and Partners Found D. L. Evans Bank in Albion, Cassia County [otd 9/15]

On Thursday September 15, 1904, State Senator David Lloyd Evans convened a group of leading businessmen in Albion, Idaho. Cassia County needed a bank, and they proposed to start one in what was then the county seat.
D.L. Evans bank clerk, Albion, early 1900s.
D. L. Evans Bank.

When their intention was originally announced, the Albion Times, quoted in the Idaho Register, Idaho Falls (August 12, 1904) said, “This is an institution that is badly needed in Cassia county and no doubt it will do a good business.”

The bank, called the D.L. Evans Bank after the Senator, began in a one-story wood frame building but expanded into a two-story stone structure just three years later.

By the time “D.L.” helped found his namesake bank, he already had a fine record of accomplishment. He was born in 1854, on the family farm near Brigham City, Utah. But his widowed mother sold that property in 1871 because her brood of sons and stepsons needed more room for their own places. The family then moved to a homestead near Malad City, Idaho.

After study at the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah), D.L. taught school for a number of years. He also helped with the family farm, and continued to do so even as he pursued other interests.

In 1882, he served a term in the Idaho Territorial Legislature, representing Oneida County. Evans probably found that experience stressful because the governor raised the issue of “suppressing polygamy,” a direct threat to D.L.’s Mormon beliefs.

Two years later, D.L. and his brother Lorenzo bought a co-operative store in Malad that became the “Evans Co-op.” The Co-op’s building is now on the National Register of Historic Places.  Eight years later, a group of “prominent businessmen” founded the J. N. Ireland Bank [blog, May 15]. While the other founders besides Ireland are not named in available records, it seems likely that David, and probably his brother, were among them. (Some years later, D.L. would be president of that bank.) That same year, D. L. helped capitalize a mining and smelting company in Utah, apparently to extract and process silver.
D.L. Evans, ca 1928.
Evans family archives.

In 1899, voters again elected David to the legislature, this time for the state of Idaho. House members then selected him to be Speaker. Four years later, he was elected to the state Senate in a very close election. It was towards the end of his term when he led the establishment of the bank in Albion.

Evans remained very active in the Democratic Party, but he did not run for office for many years after that Senate term. Still, when a state Board of Eduction was created in 1913, D.L. was appointed to the first Board. And in 1920 and 1922, Evans was “boomed” as a candidate for governor, but was not nominated.

He did serve in the Senate again, five years before his death in July 1929.

The Albion bank remained in the same facility for sixty years, finally moving to a new building in 1970. Nine years later, the company opened a branch bank in Burley.

Today, the Evans descendants continue the tradition of family banking: The bank company’s President and Chief Executive Officer are, respectively, grandson and great-grandson of David Lloyd Evans. Moreover, family members – including David L. Evans, IV – hold a substantial number of positions on the current Board of Directors.
References: [Blue], [Hawley]
“[DL Evans News],” Idaho Statesman, Boise; Idaho Register, Idaho Falls; Tribune, Caldwell, Idaho; Deseret News, Tribune, Salt Lake City, Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah (July 1892 – July 1929).
Lisa Davis Jensen, “History of Winnefred (Gwen) Lloyd Roberts Evans, Daniel L. Roberts, David Rees Evans,” Welsh Mormon History, Dr. Ronald Dennis (ed.).
Our History, D. L. Evans Bank, Burley, Idaho.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Ketchum Freighter, Rancher, and Businessman Horace Lewis [otd 9/14]

H. C. Lewis. J. H. Hawley photo.
Freighter, mine owner, and businessman Horace Caleb Lewis was born September 14, 1858 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After graduating from the University of Minnesota he moved to Helena, Montana to work in a hardware store.

A year later, in 1880, his father moved to Ketchum, Idaho to open a store. Horace soon followed, and he and a partner opened a lumber business near the town.

As the Wood River mines boomed, Lewis dealt in mining supplies as well as lumber for a time before operating a small freight outfit. Then, in 1884, the Oregon Short Line railroad extended its tracks into Ketchum, and Horace sensed a major opportunity. He founded the Ketchum Fast Freight Line, which made regular runs to mining camps in Bayhorse, Bonanza, Challis, Clayton, and Custer.

His Line also ran scheduled stagecoaches, but the “crown jewels” of his haulers were the huge freight wagons assembled by his own construction crews. Sixteen feet long, with seven-foot wheels at the back, the wagon box had about the same volume as a standard modern dump truck.* They could handle loads up to nine or ten tons. (The famed Conestoga wagon topped out at six tons.) They carried all kinds of goods – massive machinery, petticoats, whiskey, and more – into the mountains and brought out ore and bullion.

This was quite a feat, considering the state of the “roads.” Some parts of these tracks were little more than two ruts among the rocks and sagebrush, many stretches were barely wide enough for the wagons, and they encountered several acute grades. With five or six big wagons hitched together behind a “jerkline” of perhaps twenty mules, tight curves could be a harrowing challenge.

Even so, reports indicate that the Line had one season where it shipped seven hundred thousand pounds of bullion out to be loaded onto OSL cars. Over time, Lewis also invested in mining properties himself, and founded the First National Bank of Ketchum.

The freight and stagecoach business went into a lull after about 1895, but Lewis revived it during the Thunder Mountain rush of 1900-1907. Thunder Mountain is buried deep in the incredibly rugged Salmon River wilderness, over forty miles east of McCall. The mines never really showed much profit, but Lewis did all right hauling freight and passengers.

Later he took up ranching near Ketchum while continuing his business interests in town and around the region. As the mountain mines played out, there was less and less freight to be hauled. The lumbering trains of giant wagons were discontinued in 1909, two years before Lewis died.

Big Hitch ore wagons. Tourism photo.
As time passed, so did the old wagons … except for a few that sat in storage for a half century. Eventually, some surviving wagons were given to the city of Ketchum, with the proviso that they be paraded through the streets annually as a tribute to area pioneers.

Thus, in 1958, boosters initiated “Wagon Days” in the Ketchum-Sun Valley area. Each Labor Day, the region’s frontier heritage is celebrated with concerts, antique shows, re-enactments, a carnival, readings of cowboy poetry, and other special events.

The highlight of the weekend is the Big Hitch Parade, and the highlight of the parade is the Lewis Ore Wagons: Six giant, century-old vehicles hitched in tandem behind a 20-mule jerkline … 200 feet of authentic Idaho history rumbling through the streets.

* Thanks to Hansen Wheel & Wagon Shop, which has restored several Lewis freight wagons, for the dimensions. Of course, being hand-built, the boxes vary somewhat in size.
References: [Hawley]
Ketchum History and Information, City of Ketchum.
David Sneed, “Idaho Freight Wagons,” Wheels that Won the West Publishing, Flippin, Arizona (2005-2010).
Sun Valley-Ketchum Tourism.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Boise Residents Officially Celebrate the Arrival of Train Service [otd 9/13]

On September 13, 1887, crowds gathered at the rough plank structure that served as the Idaho Central Railway depot. They came to celebrate the recently-completed branch line that connected Boise City to the Oregon Short Line (OSL) station in Nampa.

The tracks had arrived earlier in the month and several loads of passengers and freight had already taken advantage of the new connection. [Click here to see a photo taken on the arrival day.]*

By the time OSL rails reached central Idaho, nearly five years before, residents of Boise City knew that the main line would not pass through their town. The elevation change (over 500 feet) between the plains to the south and southwest and the Boise Valley was simply too much. Without extensive, and costly cut and fill work, the grade would have been too great for the locomotives of the day. Instead, the tracks ran through Kuna, Caldwell, and on across the state.

Thwarted by topography, Boise leaders sought alternatives. A branch from the closest OSL station, fifteen miles away at Kuna, was rejected because even the best route passed over substantial grades. The longer stretch from Nampa had no such grade, especially if the rails stayed on the bench that lay roughly 60 feet above the river plain.

Incorporated in 1886, the Idaho Central Railway began construction in July 1887. Workers finished laying track in early September and soon the first two-car train chugged into town from Nampa. Locating the tracks and depot on the bench caused no end of trouble. Townspeople had to build more than a mile of road, with two bridges to span legs of the Boise River. Then they had to cut a manageable incline to climb up onto the bench. Rain turned the dirt track into a quagmire.

Almost immediately, the depot drew business away from downtown: some modest shops, several warehouses, and a small hotel. Still, despite its relatively isolated connection, the branch line quickly developed a booming traffic flow. But that only exacerbated the problem. All that potential new business was bound to encourage more and more firms to move closer to the source. Unwilling to see their town drain away toward the depot, Boise City leaders pushed for a closer line.

Finally, in 1893, construction crews split a new sub-branch off from the spur line three miles west of downtown Boise. From there, they headed about 1.5 miles to the edge of the bench, descended a ramp at the face, and bridged the river. The rails ran along Front Street, within walking distance of downtown.

Front Street Depot, Boise City, ca 1895.
Library of Congress.
The railway company built a fine stone depot at the corner of Tenth and Front streets, and the number of service and switching tracks grew considerably. As could be expected, residential tracts moved elsewhere, to be replaced by hotels, restaurants, and saloons. The area nearest the rail yards became a typically grubby warehouse and factory district.

Thus matters remained for over a quarter century. Finally, in 1925, Boise got its “hearts desire” – a place on the Union Pacific main line, made possible by more powerful locomotives and better construction equipment.

* The Idaho State Historical Society holds the copyright on this photo and charges a usage fee. (As a member, I know the organization needs the money, but since my blog generates no income, I am not in a position to pay.)
References: [B&W]
Johnny Hester, Reinventing Boise: Changing Influences on Boise’s Growth Pattern … , Boise State University (2009).
Carrie Adell Strahorn, Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage, The Knickerbocker Press, C.P. Putnam & Sons. (1911).
Thorton Waite, “On the Main Line at Last,” The Streamliner, Vol. 11, No. 1, Union Pacific Historical Society, Cheyenne, Wyoming (1997).

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Idaho Medical Association Hold Its First Organizational Meeting [otd 9/12]

On Tuesday, September 12, 1893, a number of Idaho physicians arrived in Boise City from all over the state. They had assembled to organize a state professional medical association. One historian has commented that “the state was overrun with quacks” at the time. A letter from Dr. Carol Lincoln Sweet to physicians statewide prompted the meeting, which was held at the new City Hall.
Boise City Hall, first occupied in May 1893.

A New Yorker with a degree from Albany Medical College, Sweet moved to Boise City in 1890 to set up a practice. The professional situation he found disturbed him greatly. Although there had been some vague talk about the deplorable medical environment, no one had done anything about it. Then, in June 1893, Sweet sent out his letter and received an enthusiastic response.

“A Crusade Against Quacks,” was one of the sub-headlines the Idaho Statesman (August 31, 1893) used to announce the planned organizational meeting. A medical society would “advance the interests of the profession … and … take steps to protect the public against the inroads of quackery.” The article quoted the Pacific Medical Journal, which asserted that Idaho had become  “a dumping ground for the poorly educated and the rejected applicants of other state examining boards.”

The doctors' two-day conclave featured technical presentations and fostered camaraderie among the attendees. Twenty-nine charter members organized the Idaho State Medical Society. For their first president, they elected Moscow physician Dr. William W. Watkins. Watkins graduated from the Washington University (St. Louis, Missouri) medical program in 1872. For eight years, he practiced at a town south of St. Louis before moving into that city. Personal health problems led him to move to Moscow in 1887.

Besides his Medical Society service, Dr. Watkins was a member of the American Medical Association and served on the University of Idaho Board of Regents. He was also president of the Moscow Chamber of Commerce. Sadly, in 1901, an apparently insane man went on a rampage and shot Watkins, a local merchant, and a deputy sheriff before a posse shot and killed the shooter. Watkins died immediately, while the deputy died two days later.
Dr. Watkins. Idaho Statesman, 1901.

Five years of study and lobbying by the Society finally led to passage of an acceptable medical practice regime for the state. However, not until 1949 did the legislature create the Idaho State Board of Medicine, which provided a focal point for licensing and regulating medical practitioners in the state.

Like all professional organizations, the Society – later the Idaho State Medical Association – encourages its members to keep their skills current. Resources include programs of scientific papers at its meetings, seminars and continuing education courses, equipment reviews and recommendations, and more.

In 1967, the organization adopted its current name, Idaho Medical Association. In addition to programs for members, the Association sponsors a range of programs to encourage Idaho students who are interested in the medical professions. That includes a Medical Education Scholarship Trust.

At their 2010 Annual Meeting, the Association highlighted a severe shortage of “primary care” physicians in Idaho. They noted that “Idaho is ranked 49th in the nation for physician-to-population ratio,” and that many physicians are approaching retirement. The Association passed a resolution to “facilitate the development of an Idaho Primary Care Scholars Program.” That program would include mentoring as well as a possible expansion of the scholarship trust.
References: [B&W], [Illust-State]
“Deaths and Obituaries: William W. Watkins, M. D.,” Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 37, Chicago (July-December 1901).
Arthur Hart, “Building Delays Frustrate City,” The Idaho Statesman, January 11, 1993.
IMA's History: A Legacy of Leadership, Idaho Medical Association web site.
“Dr. Watkins and Deputy Sheriff Murdered,” Idaho Statesman (August 5-6, 1901)

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

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).

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Fur Trader David Thompson Builds Kullyspell House [otd 9/10]

David Thompson, artist’s rendering.
New World Encyclopedia.
On September 10, 1809, fur trader and geographer David Thompson selected a spot on Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille to build a trading post for the British-Canadian North West Company.

He chose a site only a few miles from the mouth of the Clark Fork (12-14 miles across the lake from today’s Sandpoint). Thus, canoes, rafts, and other vessels could reach the post via the river or from any place on the lake. The structures his men assembled were the very first ever built by Anglo-Americans in the future state of Idaho.

London-born to Welsh parents in 1770, Thompson arrived in Canada at age 14, as an indentured apprentice to the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). Toward the end of that apprenticeship, David was able to hone his skills in mathematics, navigation, and surveying.

Thompson quit the HBC in 1797, after HBC management ordered him to discontinue his survey work and focus on trading. He took a position with the rival North West Company. David’s new employers encouraged his surveying, which included verifying locations along the Canadian border with the United States.

In 1798, Thompson surveyed Turtle Lake, located about ten miles north of today’s Bemidji, Minnesota. He judged that a creek there could be considered the source of the Mississippi River, an important consideration in the boundary negotiations between the U. S. and Great Britain. His determination is now considered incorrect, but he was not off by that much. (And prior to that, no one really had any idea where the source might be.)

In 1804, Thompson was made a full partner in the North West Company. Word that U.S. President Thomas Jefferson had dispatched the Corps of Discovery to explore the Pacific Northwest spurred the Company to greater effort there. Starting in 1807, Thompson explored and surveyed west of the Divide – especially the Columbia River watershed. Kullyspell House was just one of several trading posts he built or helped establish in Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Western Canada.

Company management grew even more alarmed when they learned of plans by the American John Jacob Astor [blog, July 17] to exploit the fur riches of the Pacific Northwest. They declined a partnership offer from Astor, but apparently left the door open for further negotiations.

Early in the summer of 1811, Thompson headed east to Montreal; he needed a rest. Along the way, he received orders to go back and see what the Americans were up to. Oddly enough, he apparently gained the impression that Astor and the North West Company were, in fact, already partners. When Thompson reached the Pacific outlet of the Columbia in July, he found the Americans occupying a completed base at Astoria.
Astoria, 1813. Sketch by clerk Gabriel Franchère.
After examining Astoria and consulting with his (he thought) new partners, Thompson headed east to report. By then, Kullyspell House had proven to be a bust; too little income for its considerable upkeep. He closed it down and shifted the area’s operations to a newer post, Spokane House (9-10 mile northwest of today’s Spokane).

Thompson never returned to the West. Today, he is considered the greatest New World geographer ever. He surveyed roughly a fifth of the North American land area, and his maps remained a primary benchmark for over a century. He died in February 1857.
References: [B&W], [Brit]
Bob Gunter, “Kullyspell House,” (1998-2010).
James P. Ronda, Astoria and Empire, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1990).
David Thompson, David Thompson’s Narrative, 1784-1812, Champlain Society, Toronto (1962).

Monday, September 9, 2019

Indians Attack Utter Wagon Train, Survivors Resort to Cannibalism [otd 9/9]

On September 9, 1860, a wagon train rumbled along the Oregon Trail, leaving its campsite on the western side of Castle Creek (about 30 miles west of today’s Mountain Home, Idaho). Most of the emigrants were from Wisconsin, and the nominal leader was Elijah P. Utter*.
Attack on circled wagons.
Retouched still shot from an old Western movie.

Having gotten a late start, the train was well behind the last of the “normal” groups when it reached the Fort Hall area. From there, a party of dragoons provided an escort as far as Rock Creek. There is some uncertainty as to why the troops returned east without waiting for the expected escort from further west. Whatever the case, a troop did not come to meet them for the simple reason that they thought the traveling season was over.

After leaving Castle Creek, the train turned northwest and ascended some high ground. An ominous cloud of dust turned into a mass of Shoshone and Bannock warriors, singing war songs. The emigrants circled the wagons and prepared to defend themselves, while the Indians screamed and waved blankets, trying to stampede the stock.

Heavy fire began on both sides, with the warriors riding around the enclosure, rousing great swirls of dust. Donald Shannon, who has researched the Utter disaster extensively, said in an Idaho Public TV interview, “This was one time that Hollywood sort of got it right.”

After an hour or so, the attackers drew off and signed for a parley: no harm done, we want to be friends … all we want is food. Caught far from water, the pioneers agreed and fed quite a few who entered the wagon circle. Then the Indians disappeared. The whites rolled out of their defensive position. Continuing along the Trail, they did not take the most obvious direct route to reach the river. The Indians reappeared, threatening the train from a distance.
Area of Utter Massacre. D.H. Shannon image.

The emigrants began their descent to the half-mile-wide plain that spread for over a mile along the river. Almost immediately, the Indians resumed their attack and killed three men. The whites struggled into a circle again, at a location far from water. This time the warriors pressed the attack. They continued into the evening, and then yelled and fired at any movement during the night.

After a second day of siege, the emigrants made a desperate attempt to break out. They left half the wagons behind for the Indians to loot, but that failed to entice all the attackers away. Only when the whites abandoned all the wagons and other possessions did the Indians cease their attacks.

If anything, the horrors suffered by the emigrants after that were worse, but the details are gruesome … and beyond the scope of this article.

In the end, 25 of the 44 people in the train died in the attack or from starvation later. Some unfortunates resorted to cannibalism to survive. Additionally, four children were abducted – three of them soon died and the other never returned to his family. No other Indian attack on the Oregon and California trails caused greater casualties and suffering.

* “Utter” was the preferred family spelling of this Germanic name. Many early accounts gave the name as “Otter,” which suggests that the Old World spelling was “Ütter.” The Ü (u-umlaut) is pronounced rather like the English “ou” or “oo.” (But not quite … my old-school German language teacher insisted on the proper, somewhat guttural sound.) Thus, people recording verbal accounts might perhaps be excused for writing it down as “Otter.”
References: [B&W], [Hawley]
Donald H. Shannon, The Utter Disaster On The Oregon Trail, Snake Country Publishing, Caldwell, Idaho (1993).

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Daredevil Cyclist Evel Knievel Attempts Snake River Canyon Jump [otd 9/8]

On Sunday, September 8, 1974, motorcycle stunt rider Robert Craig (Evel) Knievel launched his jet-powered “Skycycle” across the Snake River canyon at a spot near Twin Falls, Idaho. Idaho was Evel’s second choice to the Grand Canyon. As a Sport Illustrated writer put it, the U.S. Park Service had “refused to grant him permission to kill himself on federal property.”
Knievel in the Snake River canyon.
Sport Illustrated cover.

Perhaps the most successful professional daredevil of all time, Robert was born in 1938, in Butte, Montana. A high school dropout, he picked up his nickname – originally “evil” – during a teenaged stint in jail for reckless driving. He relished the image, but later used the “Evel” spelling to distance himself from outlaw motorcycle vibes.

A gifted natural athlete, Knievel pursued several action sports, including pro rodeo, ice hockey, ski jumping, and motocross. He arranged what is said to be his first public motorcycle stunt in 1965. He tried a forty-foot jump over two mountain lions and a cage filled with rattlesnakes. His crash damaged the snake pen and sent some of the reptiles slithering toward the spectators. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, the show itself was apparently a resounding success.

So he decided to go into the motorcycle daredevil business. He tried it with a troupe for awhile, but went solo in the fall of 1966. As Knievel’s jumps – at county fairs, car shows, and other events – got longer, his fees slowly increased.

That was also when his string of injuries – some of them quite severe – began. Yet wild crashes and survivable (barely) injuries fueled his publicity campaign. Finally, on December 31, 1967, his spectacular jump over the Caesar’s Palace fountain, and equally flamboyant crash, won him national recognition: “the guy’s obviously nuts, but … Wow!”

After weeks of recuperation, Evel went right on jumping, earning larger and larger fees. Although he succeeded on the vast majority of his jumps, the ever-present element of danger attracted hordes of fans. And Knievel didn’t disappoint, mixing in enough crashes and injuries to set several Guinness World Records.

Evel’s fame reached “fever pitch” in the Seventies. His image graced everything from lunch boxes to tricked-out bicycles. Sensible people deplored the craziness. But all across the country, uncounted numbers of young boys tried to emulate his stunts with their bicycles, and many ended up in the hospital. The kids didn’t just not care how dangerous it was, they wanted it to be risky: “I can jump six trash cans.” [Not!]

Skycycle descending on its chute.
Evel Knievel Official Web Site.
Yet feeding such an image forced Knievel onto a treadmill. He needed a topper … like jumping the Grand Canyon. Rebuffed on that notion, Evel looked for another spot and finally chose the Twin Falls location: over 500 feet deep and a quarter mile wide, with scary drop-offs on both side.

Unfortunately, after a long build-up, he couldn’t pull off the jump. The Skycycle’s steam-powered takeoff started all right, but then his parachute deployed way too early. He almost made it across anyway, but ended up floating down into the canyon.

This spectacular misfire did no damage to Knievel image, and he continued to draw fans. Even when he stopped jumping himself in the late Seventies, his name drew crowds to the show starring his son Robbie. After something of a lull, he regained and then kept his marketability into the year of his death in late 2007.

Knievel is a member of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame and one of his motorcycles is on display at the Smithsonian. 
References: Stuart Barker, Life of Evel Knievel, St. Martin's Press (2008).
Owen Edwards, “Daredevil,” Smithsonian Magazine (March 2008).
Evel Knievel Official Web Site.
Steve Rushin, “Seeing All The Good In Evel,” Sports Illustrated (November 29, 1999).

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Boise Banker, Businessman, and School Advocate Horace E. Neal [otd 09/07]

Boise businessman Horace Edwin Neal was born September 7, 1859 in Van Buren County, Iowa, about 100 miles southeast of Des Moines. He was still a small child when the family moved to a farm near the Missouri River in southeast Nebraska. Horace pieced together several years of college classes, taught school for three years, and then worked for several years in Kansas and eastern Colorado.
H. E. Neal. [Illust-State]

Horace and a younger brother, W. Scott Neal, moved to Boise in 1890 and started a business dealing in insurance and real estate. Scott continued with that business for many years, but in 1891 Horace became one of the founders of the Capital State Bank of Idaho. He served first as Assistant Cashier and then, in 1894, as Cashier, a job he held for over a decade.

Horace also had interests outside the bank. At the same time that company was founded, he helped open a chapter of the Young Men’s Christian Association, serving as the organization’s secretary. Unfortunately, that attempt only lasted three or four years before it dissolved. (A new, successful YMCA was formed in 1900, but Neal was then too busy with other activities to take part.)

After being first appointed as Boise City Treasurer in 1893, Neal was then elected to the position. He held the job through 1899. He was also Treasurer of the Independent School District of Boise City for awhile, and would remain a member of the Board of Trustees for many, many years. He and his wife (he married a Boise woman in 1893) were active members of the Methodist Church. Horace taught Sunday school and was at one time President of the state Sunday School Association.

Neal also branched out into other businesses, including investments in oil exploration, mining, a lumber company in Oregon, and a long-distance telephone service. In 1902, he and a group of investors formed the Fairview Investment Company, which successfully developed what is now known as the Fairview District of Boise.

In 1906, delegates at a National Irrigation Congress were given a tour of the Capital State Bank. They were greatly impressed, and knowledgeable observers proclaimed it to be one of the “great banking institutions of the West.” But trouble was brewing.

The details of the “Panic of 1907” are beyond the scope of this article. But the general loss of confidence in the U. S. financial system hit the Capital State Bank hard, and it failed to open for business on January 21, 1908. An independent auditor stated that the bank’s assets fully covered every depositor. But it would take time to convert those assets to cash, if need be; people must be patient. Sadly, that wasn’t good enough and the bank never opened its doors again.
Bank Run in New York, 1907. Library of Congress.
A scapegoat needed to be found. Officials soon arrested Neal, charging him with multiple counts of forgery. Eighteen months of expensive legal maneuvering followed before prosecutors admitted defeat and dropped all charges against Horace. By the fall of 1909, he was back in the insurance and real estate business.

Neal also maintained his interest in the education of young people. He continued to serve on the school boards for the county as well as the Methodist Church. He was also Director of the Ada County Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs for a time. Although his company handled real estate loans, he never went back into the banking business.

Horace E. Neal passed away in February of 1932.
References:[Illustrated State]
Robert F. Bruner, Sean D. Carr, The Panic of 1907: Lessons Learned from the Market's Perfect Storm, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York (2007).
“[H. E. Neal News],” Idaho Statesman, Boise (April 1891 – February 1932).
W. C. Jenkins, “The Capital State Bank of Idaho,” The Irrigation Age, Vol. XXI, No. 11, Chicago, Illinois (September 1906).
The Copper Handbook: A Manual of the Copper Industry of the World, Vol. IX, Horace J. Stevens, Houghton, Michigan (1909).

Lewiston State Normal School President George Knepper [otd 9/7]

President Knepper. J. H. Hawley photo.
Lewiston State Normal School President George E. Knepper was born September 7, 1849 in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, 40-60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Later the family moved to Illinois.

George did well with a “common” education, finding a job as a teacher while also doing farm work. Later, he taught part-time and served as a school administrator to help finance an A.B. degree and then a Master’s. (He would earn a Ph.D. from a Kansas university in 1904.)

Meanwhile, in Idaho, businessman James Reid coaxed a bill through the legislature to create the Lewiston State Normal School. Backers hoped to alleviate a severe teacher shortage in the state. In 1893, Reid was selected as president of the institution’s Board of Trustees. He knew Knepper through membership in the Masonic Lodge and recruited him as the school’s first President.

Then contractor problems delayed construction of a facility on the bluff overlooking Lewiston. Knepper scrambled to lease space in town, and classes began in January 1896 [blog, Jan 6]. Besides his administrative duties, Knepper taught pedagogy, math, and commercial law. The promised main building was finally dedicated during the summer.

Still, Knepper worried most about money to keep the school going. The 1897 legislative appropriation was so stingy, he removed the school’s only telephone and pared salaries and ancillary costs to the bone. The next session, two years later, added only $1,000 to the allocation. Although enrollment, and income from student fees, had increased, the school remained desperately short of funds.

Knepper turned to the local community. Lewiston responded with a needed piano and contributions to buy books for the beginnings of a library. At-cost donations of labor and materials also helped fund badly needed dormitories in 1897.

Knepper also appealed to the student body, urging and sometimes requiring their participation in programs to enhance the school’s sense of community. They responded to his enthusiasm, giving recitations, entertaining with musical shows, playing sports, and more.

Despite its financial problems, the Normal School grew rapidly. On a visit to Boise, Knepper spoke enthusiastically to the Idaho Statesman about their gains. The paper reported (September 29, 1901) that, “This year they have a new department of chemistry, with a very complete laboratory and a special equipment of the most modern and efficient make.”

Then, in 1902, James Reid – Knepper’s good friend and sponsor – died. Within a year, the Board asked (demanded, really) that Knepper resign. No one ever discovered a credible reason for his dismissal.
Lewiston Normal in 1915. Lewis-Clark State College.

Ironically, all his lobbying had finally persuaded the legislature to substantially increase the school’s funding, which he was not there to enjoy. Despite many ups and downs, the college grew, changing its name to Lewis-Clark State College in 1971.

Knepper found employment as president or dean at a succession of small colleges in the midwest until about 1911. That year, he returned to Kendrick, Idaho (18-20 miles east of Moscow), where his son Ralph ran a newspaper. After teaching in the area for several years, he moved to Boise to serve as Secretary for the Masonic Lodge of Idaho.

He passed away, aged 90, in Salmon, where he had gone to live with Ralph.
References: [Hawley]
Keith C. Petersen, Educating in the American West: One Hundred Years at Lewis-Clark State College, 1893-1993, © Lewis-Clark State College, Confluence Press, Lewiston, Idaho  (1993).

Friday, September 6, 2019

Opening Day for Boise Junior College, Precursor to Boise State University [otd 9/6]

On September 6, 1932, Boise Junior College greeted its first students, 41 men and 37 women. BJC can actually trace its roots back to 1892, when the Episcopal church started St. Margaret's School. For forty years, St. Margaret's offered a “classical education” to girls in Boise.
Opening day, BJC. Boise State University photo.

By 1910, Boise was the largest city in Idaho. Other towns like Caldwell and Nampa further skewed the state’s population toward the Boise River valley. Yet, for reasons too complex to discuss here, the area had no publicly-supported college. Repeated studies recommended some sort of institution for the area, but nothing happened.

By 1932, the demand had become a crescendo. And now, finally, that call benefited from the burgeoning nationwide “junior college movement.”

Many people saw traditional four-year schools as “overkill” for students who just wanted to improve their employment prospects. And the lower costs for a junior college were a better fit for the hard times of the Great Depression. Thus, Episcopal Bishop Middleton S. Barnwell decided to expand St. Margaret's as a co-educational two-year institution. However, he let local leaders know his trial run would probably last only two years.

The school clearly tapped into a real need: enrollment jumped to 125 for the second year. When the trial period ended, the Chamber of Commerce formed Boise Junior College Incorporated, a private non-profit corporation.

Unfortunately, BJC Inc. could barely keep its head above water financially. A $60 per semester student tuition provided the only reliable funding. Funds from a program of Corporate membership fees and an annual Jamboree (sponsored by the Boise women’s clubs) plummeted after an initial rush of enthusiasm.

Boise leaders joined others who were pushing a state law to create public junior college districts. Finally, in February 1939, the governor signed a bill that allowed regions to create local districts with the power to levy taxes [blog, Feb 7]. A Boise Junior College District measure passed by almost a 90% margin and BJC enrollment leaped to over 400 students in the fall.

However, the Episcopal diocese needed to reclaim St. Margaret’s Hall to house nurse training for their St. Luke’s Hospital. Fortunately, voters soon passed a bond election to finance a BJC relocation. The school moved to its present campus in late 1940.
Administration Building, Boise Junior College, 1941.
Boise State University photo.

Then World War II reduced student and faculty numbers by over two-thirds, which almost closed the school. Fortunately, it survived … to be swamped by a deluge of students anxious to get a college education under the justly-celebrated G.I. Bill. Within a couple years, enrollment rose to around a thousand students, with 53 full-time faculty.

By the late Fifties,  the region stretching from Mountain Home to Weiser contained roughly 30% of Idaho’s population, and locals now sought a four-year institution. Years of campaigning led to the creation of Boise College in 1965, with a brand new four-year curriculum. At first the expanded institution received no state funding. However, four years later, it became Boise State College, a part of the state system of higher education.

Demands for postgraduate studies steadily rose in Boise and, by the early 1970s, the school had implemented programs for a Masters in Business Administration and in Elementary Education. Finally, in February 1974, the institution became Boise State University. Today, BSU has the highest enrollment of any school in the state.
References: Glen Barrett, Boise State University: Searching for Excellence, 1932-1984, Boise State University (1984).
Eugene B. Chaffee, Boise College: An Idea Grows, Syms-York Company, Boise (© Eugene B. Chaffee, 1970).
This is Boise State, Boise State University Communications and Marketing (2011).

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Astorian Fur Trade Party Led by Robert Stuart at American Falls [otd 9/5]

On September 5, 1812, fur trader Robert Stuart wrote in his journal, “The whole body of the stream is here scarcely 60 feet wide, but immediately above expands to the breadth of half a mile, with little or no current and the banks sufficiently covered with Willows to afford a plentiful supply of food for the incredible numbers of furred animals who inhabit its borders.”
American Falls before dam construction. Library of Congress.

Stuart's note referred to the Snake River as it constricted into the cascades at Idaho's American Falls. Stuart and the six men with him camped about three miles above the Falls. The band worked for the Pacific Fur Company, an affiliate of John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company (AFC) [blog, July 17]. The men carried dispatches from Astoria, the company’s base at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Stuart had traveled to Astoria by sea and had never seen (the future) Idaho before this trip. However, Ramsey Crooks and at least two of the other men with Stuart had explored it during the earlier Wilson Price Hunt east-to-west crossing [blog, October 5 and others]. The men’s misfortunes began less than a week after they re-entered Idaho in mid-August: An Indian guide, who had seemed trustworthy, stole their best horse and disappeared.

After that, other problems plagued them: oppressive summer heat, mosquitos and other insect pests, lack of reliable water sources, and a rugged countryside almost devoid of trails. A fifty-mile stretch between today’s Bruneau and Buhl was particularly bad. It’s now known as the Bruneau Desert, with one feature called Deadman Flat. On one day, after eighteen grueling miles, they stumbled upon “a small patch of grass.” (This might have been near Tuana Springs, 4-5 miles southwest of today’s Bliss.) Looking ahead, they saw nothing but arid, rocky ground, so they decided to stop and let their horses rest and feed.

Stuart and Crooks are credited with the earliest descriptions of much of what became the Oregon Trail. Pioneers trudging the Trail at mid-century would endure the same conditions, but they at least had a marked track to follow.

The returning Astorians found the area above American Falls more agreeable. Stuart wrote: “The country passed since yesterday morning has improved greatly – the sage, and its detestable relations, gradually decrease, and the soil, though parched, produces provender in abundance.”

Robert Stuart, by unknown artist.
Robert Stuart House Museum.
They next trekked up the course of the Portneuf River, and then crossed a regional divide to Soda Springs. Along the Idaho-Wyoming border, disaster struck: A band of Crow Indians ran off all their horses. Forced to walk, they could not escape the mountains before heavy snows caught them. They spent the winter in a crude camp on the North Platte River about twenty-five miles upstream from Scotts Bluff.

Several months later, they built canoes and floated down the river. The Astorians reached an outlying trading post in mid-April, 1813, and learned “the disagreeable news of a war between America & Great Britain.”

The War of 1812 ruined Astor’s venture in the Far West, but not his overall fur trade empire. Stuart went on to become an influential leader in the AFC. When the company established a major post on Mackinac Island, in northern Michigan, Stuart was placed in charge.

After that post closed in 1835, Stuart moved to Detroit. He played a prominent role in the development of Michigan, before his death in 1848.
References: [B&W]
O. C. Comstock, “Sketch of the Life of Hon. Robert Stuart,” Report of the Pioneer Society of the State of Michigan, Vol. III, Robert Smith Printing Co., Lansing (1881 issue, reprinted 1903).
Robert Stuart, Kenneth A. Spaulding (ed.), On The Oregon Trail: Robert Stuart’s Journey of Discovery, University of Oklahoma Press (1953).
Stuart House Museum, Mackinac Island, Michigan.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Dentist, Rancher, Banker and Oakley Mayor John Lowe [otd 9/4]

Mayor Lowe. H. T. French photo.
Dentist and Oakley Mayor John O. Lowe was born September 4, 1877 in Willard, Utah, 10-12 miles north of Ogden. Soon, the family moved to Cassia County, Idaho. In fact, John missed by just a few months being eligible as a south Idaho “Oldtimer” when they formed an association forty years later. You had to be (Idaho Statesman, October 3, 1921) among the “residents of this Territory prior to January 1, 1880.”

John went to school in Cassia County and graduated from Albion Normal School in 1897. He then began teaching in the area.

However, after only a year, he enlisted with the First Idaho Regiment (National Guard) for service in the Spanish-American War. Corporal Lowe participated in all the engagements experienced by the First Idaho in the Philippines. There, the troops saw combat action against Filipino revolutionaries in a number of battles and skirmishes from February through April, 1899. The regiment, and John, mustered out in the fall of that year.

In 1901, Lowe entered medical school in Chicago, but illness – an aftermath of his service in the tropics – forced him to withdraw. After a year to recuperate, he enrolled at Northwestern University and graduated with a doctorate in dental surgery in 1906.

He returned to Oakley to set up a practice. John missed the June meeting of the Idaho Dental Board, but was in Boise for the December session. At that time, the Idaho Statesman (Dec 27, 1906) interviewed him about matters generally in the Oakley area. The paper reported, “The high price of sheep this fall and winter, coupled with the high price for hay, he says, has induced many of the sheep men around Oakley to dispose of their herds.”

Lowe’s credentials were approved and his practiced thrived. Still, his reply to the Statesman signaled his interest in more than just dentistry. Over time, he accumulated property in various Cassia County locations, including some prime ranch acreage near Burley. Platted in 1905 and incorporated in 1909 [blog, July 19], Burley would soon become the largest town in the county.

The Lowe family took an active interest in politics, and John O. was no exception. He became mayor of Oakley in 1909. In that position, he directed “infrastructure” improvements in the village, encouraged local business development, and presided over a major agricultural fair. By 1914, Lowe held a Director’s position for the Farmers Commercial Savings Bank in Oakley (his father was a major investor in the bank).

In 1918, the county seat for Cassia County moved to Burley, by far the fastest-growing town in the county. John O. moved his family into Burley within a year or so. He still retained his many business interests in and around Oakley.
First National Bank of Burley, ca 1919. J. H. Hawley photo.

Besides his Oakley banking interests, Lowe was a minor official for the First National Bank of Burley. At that time, Idaho prohibited the creation of branch banks (as did 17 other states). That encouraged the formation of too many small, under-capitalized independent units. Thus, in 1921 and 1922, Burley joined the nation in a long run of bank failures and consolidations. Although Dr. Lowe apparently did not suffer too much financially, he cut his banking involvement after about 1922.

Lowe retired from active dental practice in the 1930s and passed away in December 1939.
References: [Blue], [French], [Hawley]
Marcus Nadler, Jules Irwin Bogen, The Banking Crisis: the End of an Epoch, reprint edition, Arno Press, Inc., New York (1980)

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Emigrant Elizabeth Porter on the Oregon Trail [otd 9/3]

On Saturday, September 3, 1864, Oregon-bound pioneer Elizabeth (Lee) Porter wrote in her diary, “Morning: 12 head of cattle gone, found 5 head. Hunted all day for the rest but found no cattle. Beautiful valley here and lots of ranches. We are four miles below the city.”

Boise City, established little more than a year earlier, was already a thriving community of over sixteen hundred residents. It was, in fact, by far the largest town they had seen since leaving the vicinity of Omaha. The family – Elizabeth, husband Andrew, and five children – had left their previous home in Iowa in late April.
“Emigrants Crossing the Plains,” Henry Bryan Hall engraving.
Library of Congress.

Porter does not say how many wagons were in the train they were with, but it was apparently rather small. They crossed the Continental Divide in late July, and followed the Lander Cutoff into Idaho in early August. They had better luck than many in southeast Idaho. Shortly after the train crossed the (future) border, she commented, “Good camp here. Plenty of grass.”

After fording the Snake River, the pioneers followed Goodale’s Cut-off (more accurately, the Jeffers-Goodale Cut-off) northwest across the “desert” to the Three Buttes. Porter wrote, “Traveled until midnight over rough roads and lots of sage brush. Roads very bad. Rocks all the way.”

The train then skirted the north side of the lava wastes we now call Craters of the Moon. She said, “Came 15 miles today over the roughest road we have had, very rocky.” Worn down by the ordeal, they chose to lay over for the afternoon. The next day they camped on the Little Wood River near today’s Carey. From there, the train turned west and traversed the southern Camas Prairie. On August 27th, Elizabeth said, “Came two miles and stopped on Little Camas Prairie.”

They reached the plains southeast of Boise City by crossing the final band of high ground, which Porter declared to be “worse than the mountains.” They did find, “Ranches all along here. Vegetables for sale.”

Two years before, when Tim Goodale guided a large emigrant train along the route, only Indians occupied this region. That had changed dramatically when prospectors found gold in the nearby mountains in late 1862 [blog, Oct 7].

After a hard twenty miles with “no grass or water for cattle,” the Porters dropped into the Boise Valley and camped along the river about three miles above the city. Elizabeth said, “No grass of any account here, looks like civilization.” The next day they crossed the river and passed through Boise City. That evening they camped where Porter recorded her observations for September 3rd.

By that time, Boise City’s newspaper, the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman was a bit over five weeks old [blog July 26]. Had the emigrants purchased a copy, the main front page article would have reported on the start of the Republican (Union) Party convention at “Packer John’s Ranch.” The conventioneers had to select a candidate for Territorial Delegate to Congress, along with men to run for other offices.

The emigrant party laid over all of Sunday and until noon the following day. The family entered Oregon on September 8, and reached their destination about 10 miles northeast of Corvallis on September 20, 1864. A year later, they claimed a heavily forested tract west of Corvallis. There, Elizabeth became the first teacher for the county school while her husband logged and split fence rails. She died in July 1898.                          
References: [B&W]
"Census of 1864,” Reference Series No. 130, Idaho State Historical Society.
“Goodale’s Cut-off,”  Reference Series No. 51, Idaho State Historical Society.
John Hailey, History of Idaho, Syms-York Company, Boise, Idaho (1910).
Elizabeth Lee Porter, “Iowa to Oregon, 1864,” Covered Wagon Women, Vol. 5, Kenneth L. Homes, David C. Duniway (eds.),  A Bison Book, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1997).