Saturday, January 19, 2019

Teacher, Rancher, and Nez Perce County Commissioner Charles Leeper [otd 01/19]

Charles Leeper.
Illustrated History photo.
Nez Perce County pioneer Charles A. Leeper was born January 19, 1850, in Marion County, Indiana, on the outskirts of Indianapolis. Some time before 1870, the family moved to northwest Missouri, where the father ran a farm and served as a low-level judge. Charles spent some time at the University of Missouri, in Columbia.

Leeper came out to Idaho in 1876. He apparently looked over a number of areas around the Territory. He then settled in Salmon, where he found a job as a schoolteacher. A fast learner of Western ways, Charles also served as a scout during the Indian wars in 1877 and 1878.

With the Indian threat suppressed, gold camps in central Idaho boomed. Among those was Bonanza, located deep in the mountains about 25 miles west and a bit south of Challis. The hamlet had been platted in 1877, but hardly grew until 1879. Leeper followed the rush into the town and taught school there. On the side, he may have also grubstaked prospectors to build up a stake. (Teachers’ salaries were notoriously poor, and sometimes problematic in payment.)

Somehow, anyway, Leeper prospered: In 1883, he moved to north Idaho and bought a 320-acre ranch located about five miles southeast of Lewiston. At that time, prospectors were pouring into the Coeur d’Alene Mountains, chasing the gold that had been discovered there in 1882 [blog, March 5]. Locals also talked enthusiastically about the railroad reaching Lewiston … soon. (Their optimism was unwarranted, however.)

Charles combined stock raising and farming, growing grain to fatten his herds of cattle. Eventually, according to the Illustrated History, he would own “more cattle than any other one man in Nez Perces County.”

Leeper also took an active interest in politics. Voters handily elected him to the county commission in 1886. Two years later, Charles seemed to have won election to the Territorial Council. However, at that time, Nez Perce and Latah counties were paired administratively, and Leeper lost the subsequent court battle as to who had won the combined election. He was again elected to the Nez Perce County Commission in 1892, and for a third term in 1900. During his final term, Leeper chaired the Commission.
Cattle Grazing. Library of Congress.

Also in 1900, pioneers organized the Nez Perces County Pioneer Association, open to individuals who had settled in the county during 1877, or before. Charles A. Leeper became a Founding Member, with a note that he had “settled” in the area in 1876. It seems probable that he had invested in property there before returning to Salmon, and Bonanza, to enlarge his personal resources. As noted above, he did not begin living permanently in the county until 1883.

Aside from his political activities, Leeper continued to expand his property holdings, and his herd. Thus, the  Idaho Statesman, in Boise quoted an item from the Lewiston Tribune: “This has been a busy week in Lewiston for cattlemen, and the town has been thronged with the ubiquitous cowboy.” The article mentioned Leeper as one of several stockmen shipping cattle to outside markets via steamboat.

Charles also ran stock on range near the mouth of the Salmon River, perhaps to his regret. The Idaho Statesman reported that he had “lost about 125 head of cattle through the operations of thieves.”

In 1903, when the Illustrated History was published, Charles owned over fifteen hundred acres of land. Sadly, Leeper died from rheumatic fever in April 1906.
References: [French], [Illust-North]
“[Leeper News Items],” Idaho Statesman, Boise, The Teller, Lewiston, Idaho (June 1897 – April 1906).
George Elmo Shoup, "History of Lemhi County," Salmon Register-Herald (Series, May 8 - October 23, 1940).

Friday, January 18, 2019

Freighter, Lumber Man, Rancher, and Mining Investor Josiah Hill [otd 01/18]

On January 18, 1844, Coeur d’Alene pioneer Josiah Hill was born in New Brunswick, Canada. Like others in that part of the country, his father was from the state of Maine.
Clipper ship in Cape Horn ice, Currier & Ives print.
Library of Congress.

In about 1864, he traveled around Cape Horn to San Francisco and then to Seattle. He looked for opportunities there, but then returned to California. For three years, Josiah worked in the lumber industry, drove a stagecoach, and had various other odd jobs.

In 1870, Josiah started working his way east, with a variety of stops along the way. He then spent about two years back in New Brunswick, during which time he got married.

Hill returned to the west in 1876. There, he engaged briefly in lumbering. Then, for about three years, he handled the freight stock – horses, mules, and oxen – for a major outfit serving the Comstock Lode mines in Nevada. When those mines began to fade, he and a partner bought the animals and equipment, and hauled freight for the strikes around Bodie, California. On the side, he owned a sawmill to furnish lumber to camps in the area.

He sold those operations in 1881. For the next five years, Josiah had a succession of business dealings in Seattle, Portland, and Spokane. The final years involved a construction project with the Northern Pacific Railroad, with an associated logging operation.

He moved to what became Wardner, Idaho in 1886. Expanding from some lumber contracts in Kellogg, he soon built a sawmill in the region.  The Illustrated History of North Idaho said, “When the town of Wardner consisted of one tent, Mr. Hill was here and has remained here since that time.”

With a base in the town, he operated a local stage line, handled a freight and passenger transfer service, and soon opened a livery stable. By about 1900, his son Roy was a partner in that business. Over time, Josiah also accumulated interests in several mining properties, quite likely as payment for debts.

Hill also partnered with his brother in a ranch near Kellogg. That holding drew the two of them into some expensive litigation. Mine tailings washed downstream by the Coeur d’Alene River ruined a considerable portion of their property. At the end of September, 1903, they filed suit for damages against the mining company.

As could be expected, the company used every legal tactic their lawyers could devise to delay the process and make the suit go away. The company even went so far as to divest itself of its Idaho property, transferring them to a “foreign corporation.” They also moved the company records out of state, to Spokane, Washington.

Josiah proved to have more staying power than they expected, however: Five years later, the Mining and Scientific Press (October 31, 1908) reported, “The famous tailings suits of Josiah Hill, J. S. Hill, and others against the Standard Mining Co. have been settled out of court.”
Early Kellogg. University of Idaho Digital Collections.
Ironically, Josiah eventually became much more heavily involved in mining activities himself. In 1918, he was the president of the Hill Mining & Milling Company, Kellogg, with interests in the Coeur d’Alenes. Three years later he became Vice President of a mining company with claims on Big Creek, two or three miles southeast of Kellogg.

Hill passed away at Kellogg in September 1923.
References: [Illust-North]
“Elgin and Ogden Company Formed,” Spokane Chronicle (July 18, 1921).
“General Mining News: Idaho,” Mining and Scientific Press, Vol. 97, No. 18, Dewey Publishing Company, San Francisco (October 31, 1908).
Sol. Hasbrouck, “Hill vs Morgan,” Reports of cases argued and determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho, Vol. 9, Bancroft-Whitney Company, San Francisco (1906).
Sidney Norman, Northwest Mines Handbook, Vol. One, Northwest Mining Association, Spokane (1918).
Grant Horace Smith, Joseph V. Tingley, The History of the Comstock Lode, 1850-1997, University of Nevada Press, Reno (1998).

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Iconic Lawyer, Boise Mayor, Governor, and Historian James H. Hawley [otd 01/17]

Lawyer Hawley. Illustrated History, 1899.
Lawyer, Governor, Mayor, and Historian James Henry Hawley was born in Dubuque, Iowa, on January 17, 1847. His mother died when James was an infant and he grew up with his maternal uncle. In 1861, the family moved to California, where Hawley learned of the fabulous gold discoveries in Idaho Territory.

The following year, caught up in the excitement, Hawley hurried to Florence. He moved on to the Boise Basin in the spring of 1863. In the Basin, besides work in the gold fields, he also acted as an agent and distributor for the Idaho City newspaper that became the Idaho World.

In 1864, Hawley returned to California, where he studied at the City College of San Francisco and also read law in the city. After a year or so, he went to sea and “knocked around” the Orient for awhile before returning to the Boise Basin in 1868.

James continued his law studies and was also elected to the Territorial Legislature at the age of 23. The following year he was admitted to the Idaho bar. He served in the Territorial Council (equivalent to the state Senate) in 1874, and was elected Boise County commissioner in 1876. According to biographer McClane, Hawley did commence a full time law practice after his marriage in 1875.

Starting in 1878 he served two terms as District Attorney in the second Territorial judicial district. After his second term, he moved to Hailey and practiced law there from 1884 to 1886. In 1885, he was appointed to a four-year term as U.S. District Attorney for the Territory.

Before that term ended, he ran for election as Delegate to the U. S. Congress, but lost to Fred T. Dubois [blog, May 29]. After that, he briefly had a law office in Blackfoot. The Idaho Register reported (March 27, 1891), “James H. Hawley, Esq., of Blackfoot, took in the boom of Idaho Falls Saturday last, and made some small investments.”

That was short-lived, however; by early 1892 Hawley had established his permanent home in Boise

Although he handled legal cases related to mining, and spent over forty years in irrigation law and water-related litigation, Hawley became famous for his work in criminal law. In the early Twentieth Century, it was said that he had acted on one side or the other of “more murder cases than any other member of the bar in the United States."
Hawley, older and more “laid-back.”
McClane, Sagebrush Lawyer.

In 1892, Hawley provided legal counsel for the Coeur d’Alene miners’ union, but in 1899 he served as special state prosecutor in the actions involving union violence against the mining companies.

Later, he acted as special prosecutor during the cases resulting from the assassination of former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg.

He also spent six years defending cowboy-gunman “Diamondfield” Jack Davis against a charge of murdering two sheepmen in 1896. Although another man confessed to the killings, oddities in the Idaho legal system blocked Jack’s release until 1902 [blog, Dec 17].

Hawley was elected Boise mayor in 1902, and Idaho Governor in 1910. He was defeated in a second run for that office and in two runs for the position of U.S. Senator (in 1914 and again in 1918). His four-volume History of Idaho was published in 1920. He passed away in August 1929.
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
John F. McClane, A Sagebrush Lawyer, Pandick Press, Inc., New York (1933).
Edwin H. Peasley, Twelfth Biennial Report of the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society of Idaho, Boise (1930).

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Geologist, Mining Engineer, and State Mine Inspector Robert Bell [otd 01/16]

Inspector Bell. J. H. Hawley photo.
On January 16, 1864, mining engineer Robert N. Bell was born in Yorkshire, England. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1877-1880 and worked first on a farm in Wisconsin. After a year or two there, he moved to Montana and joined a railroad construction crew near Bozeman. When that was completed, Bell found work in a nearby coal mine.

He moved to Salmon, Idaho in 1884 and began prospecting in the surrounding mountains. Two years later, he and a partner made a valuable find near Shoup, Idaho, 20-25 miles northwest of Salmon. Hawley’s History of Idaho said that, “During this period he completed a course in geology and mineralogy through the International Correspondence School of Scranton, Pennsylvania.”

Bell soon combined his studies with personal observations and began to publish authoritative articles in a wide variety of industry and scientific journals. His knowledge of Central Idaho geology and mineral potential attracted the attention of key mining companies and investors. He spent fifteen years working at various mines and acting as a consultant in the industry.

During that period, the office of State Mine Inspector was elective. He first ran for that position in 1900 and missed election “by less than two hundred votes.” He ran again in 1902 and was handily elected. Voters re-elected him for the next two terms, each time with larger and larger majorities. He decided not to run again in 1908, apparently because he wanted time to develop a fruit ranch he had purchased in the Weiser area.

Bell ran again in 1910 and won by a wide margin. He held the position through 1920. Besides his annual reports as Mine Inspector, Bell authored several monographs on Idaho mining resources and on the state industry. Mine safety was first among the Inspector’s responsibilities, but he was also expected to be a spokesman for the mining industry.
North Idaho Mine. Historic Wallace.

His report for 1917 noted that high metal prices during the first nine months of the year had stimulated the search for new ore bodies. Lead production from the Coeur d’Alene mines did well due to the demands for wartime production (bullets and batteries).

However, lead prices evidently softened toward the end of the year, and a reporter asked Bell to assess that market. Oddly enough, Bell blamed the pullback on the “prohibitive” price – seven to eight times normal – of linseed oil, an essential ingredient of most paints at the time. That had forced many firms to severely cut production. Since paint manufacturers used nearly half of all the lead produced, demand for the metal also fell. Bell asserted that when linseed oil “returns to a rational price,” high demand would resume.

Bell took an active role in national and regional professional organizations, including the Mine Inspectors Association of America, the Idaho Mining Association, the Utah Society of Engineers, and the American Institute of Mining Engineers. He was also a member of the National Geological Society and the Boise Commercial Club.

During his second long stretch as Mine Inspector, Bell moved to Boise and invested in considerable real estate. He chose not to run for re-election in 1920, citing “small remuneration” as his reason. The Idaho Statesman article that announced (July 18, 1920) his decision to retire praised Bell’s work to promote mine safety and better underground working conditions.

He lived near Boise until his death in December 1935.
References: [Blue], [French], [Hawley]
Robert N. Bell, “Idaho Mines Produce $50,000,000,” Idaho Statesman, Boise, Idaho (December 31, 1917).
“Lead is Coming Back to Normal,” Spokane Chronicle, Spokane, Washington (January 15, 1918).
“Shoup and Ulysses,” Reference Series No. 386, Idaho State Historical Society (1980).

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Painter, Sculptor, and Wanderer Charles Ostner Gets Paid [otd 01/15]

Artist Ostner. J. H. Hawley photo.
On January 15, 1869, the Idaho legislature appropriated $2,500 to reward artist Charles L. Ostner for the equestrian statue of George Washington he had recently presented to the state.

Born in Baden, Germany in 1828, Ostner emigrated to the U.S. around 1848-1850. Stories that pose him as an untutored natural genius are just that … stories. In reality, Charles received an early grounding in art at the University of Heidelberg and made a living as a sculptor, sketch artist, and photographer before coming to Idaho.

He settled first in California and began raising a family around 1852. Family members recalled that the artist had itchy feet, and often settled his wife and children someplace and then traveled extensively. Gold camps and other pioneer settlements held a deep fascination for him, yet there is no solid evidence that he prospected himself during these earlier years.

In 1862, gold excitement in Idaho attracted him to the Territory. By 1864, he had moved his family to the Garden Valley area. There, he had a small ranch and operated a toll bridge over the South Fork of the Payette River.

Historian Arthur Hart noted Ostner’s propensity for taking advantage of attention-grabbing events to sell his art, and the shoe seems to fit. H. T. French’s History presents the “untutored hobbyist” myth and what is almost certainly a fanciful tale about the George Washington statue. This major work supposedly grew out of deep-felt admiration for the “Father of our country.”

The story began with an almost mystical selection of the perfect yellow pine. The carving itself then required four years of winter nights – the only spare time he had – in freezing conditions, the only light provided by home-made tallow candles held in the trembling, crudely-wrapped fingers of his son. This fable even had a nice added touch: Ostner’s only model was the likeness of Washington printed on a postage stamp.
Ostner statue on the capitol grounds,
Ostner’s wife - center - and two daughters at the base.
J. H. Hawley photo.

Charles finished the statue in 1868, then moved his family to Boise and “gave” the bronzed figure to the state. No doubt the inspiring story of this untutored genius, persevering through such terrible trials, got wide circulation. Some proposed a handsome award of $7 thousand, but the young Territory could only afford $2,500.

After that, Ostner used Boise as a home base for his wandering ways. Hawley’s History of Idaho said “Mr. Ostner continued to make Boise his home throughout his remaining days but traveled largely during that period, going on trips to various parts of the world."

One such trip was to Washington, D.C., where he unsuccessfully bid on memorial statues of General John Rawlins and Admiral David Farragut. His name doesn’t surface again until 1881, when he discussed his mining investments near Challis, Idaho.

Finally, a trip to the Nome, Alaska gold rush, when he was over 70 years old, was said to have cured his “wandering heel” and he stayed in Boise after about 1900.

His work included paintings on canvas, drawings, and a wide variety of lithographic masters. “Idaho’s Pioneer Artist,” passed away in 1913.

The statue stood on the capitol grounds until 1934 when it was moved indoors, refurbished, and covered in gold leaf. The figure still has a place in the Idaho capitol building.
References: [French], [Hawley]
“[Bonanza Mine],” Weekly Miner, Butte; Idaho Statesman, Boise (April 6, 1880; October, 29, 1881).]
Arthur Hart, “Idaho History: Charles Ostner was an artist, miner and wanderer,” Idaho Statesman (July 4, 2010).
James H. Hawley, Eleventh Biennial Report of the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society of Idaho, Boise (1928).
“[Statuary],” Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia; National Republican, Washington (December 28, 1872; January 15, 1873).

Monday, January 14, 2019

Miner, Builder, Real Estate Developer, and Ferryman John Silcott [otd 01/14]

Ferryman Silcott. J. H. Hawley photo.
Clearwater ferry operator John M. Silcott was born January 14, 1824 in Loudoun County, Virginia, just west of Washington D. C.. The family moved to Ohio about four years later.

He grew up in Zanesville and as a young man worked as a carpenter, boat builder, and crewman on keelboats and river steamers. During the Mexican War, he worked at a government supply depot, after which he moved to New Orleans.

In 1849, he joined the eager rush to California. Silcott quickly discovered that his carpentry skills were in great demand, so he pursued his trade in San Francisco and Sacramento. With a solid stake, he and three partners bought proven claims in northern California. John prospected gold fields there and in southern Oregon until about 1858, when he followed the rush into British Columbia.

The Canadian venture did not pan out, and the cost of the expedition sent him back to carpentry when he ended up in Walla Walla, Washington. Again he did very well as the town expanded. In 1860, he moved to the old Nez Perce mission on Lapwai Creek, where the Indian agent had him erect a new building for the Agency. Silcott then stayed on there as a sub-agent.

Many years later, the Lewiston Teller related the story of “the first Christmas celebration in the Lewiston valley,” hosted by “Old Uncle John” Silcott in 1860. He invited “every white man within fifty miles” to a party. The repast was short on traditional dishes, but rich and bountiful nonetheless. Concoctions blended with “medicinal” alcohol from a five gallon container no doubt masked any possible shortcomings in the cuisine.

Not to be outdone, William Craig, an old mountain man turned settler, then hosted the first New Years celebration. But, the Teller said, “a dire situation arose.” Guests at the Christmas party had guzzled all the alcohol. Luckily, two new, and still sober, arrivals volunteered to rush off to Walla Walla for ten gallons of whisky. The paper noted that, “They made the trip and broke the record for rapid freight service.”

The following year, Silcott built a ferry to cross the Snake River downstream from Lewiston. He benefited greatly from the surge in area traffic with the gold discoveries around Pierce, Elk City, and Florence. Encouraged, in 1862 he built another ferry connecting Lewiston with the north shore of the Clearwater River. At one point, he also leased a ferry on the Spokane River.
Old western ferry. Library of Congress.
Silcott acquired land around Lewiston and helped plat the town. His real estate ventures did well, although not as well as they might had not newcomers “jumped” many of his lots. He also claimed a homestead on the north side of the Clearwater and built a home near the ferry landing.

In 1882-1885, Silcott sold off all his ferry holdings except the Lewiston-Clearwater vessel. He and two partners built “a double deck wharf and warehouse” along the Lewiston waterfront that was judged to be “convenient for use at any stage of the water in the river.” (Lewiston Teller, October 5, 1885). He continued to run that ferry until a year or two before his death, successively lowering the fares to just cover his expenses.

Old Uncle John died in 1902 and was buried on the Clearwater homestead beside his Nez Perce wife, Jane, who had died in 1895.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-North], [Illust-State]
“Lewiston (Silcott) Ferry,” Reference Series No. 759, Idaho State Historical Society (1982).

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Engineer, Developer, and Boise Mayor Ernest G. Eagleson [otd 01/13]

Ern Eagleson. J. H. Hawley photo.
Engineer and Boise Mayor Ernest George Eagleson was born January 13, 1864 near Cadiz, Ohio, 30-35 miles southeast of Canton. The family moved to Iowa and then Nebraska.

By 1881, “Ern,” as he was usually called, had gone to work as an engineering assistant for a railroad. A few years later, he attended a Normal school before continuing at the University of Nebraska. He graduated from their engineering program in 1889.

During the next four years, he worked as a railway construction engineer and then as a mining engineer in Wyoming. In the meantime, Ern’s parents moved to Boise City in 1891. Two years later, the Boise mayor appointed Ern to be City Engineer. He would serve four terms (eight years) in that position, although not in consecutive stints.

Eagleson found plenty of other work in the Pacific Northwest, including projects for mining companies, railroads, and irrigation districts. He also invested in real estate, with a substantial tract on the bench west of the Boise River plain. All this property needed was water to mushroom in value.

About the time his first term as City Engineer ended, a long-standing canal project seemed to be gaining momentum. Originally conceived over a decade earlier, the system would divert water onto the bench from upstream on the river, about seven miles southeast of Boise. However, financial panics, mismanagement, and bad luck had repeatedly delayed the work. By this time, ownership of the necessary water rights had become clouded, so in early 1896 Ern located one further up the river.

The battle among competing developers was soon joined, and parts of the dispute ended up in the Idaho Supreme Court. Finally, Eagleson could proceed with the engineering and construction work. The first water flowed into the New York Canal in 1900 [blog, June 20]. Over the next decade, Ern held the position of Ada County surveyor for a time, and spent six years as U.S. Surveyor General for Idaho. In 1914, Eagleson served a term as President of the Idaho Society of Professional Engineers.

Eagleson was elected Boise mayor in 1919. Commenting on Ern's two-year term, J. H. Hawley said that Boise development proposals could be “studied from the standpoint of a civil engineer who can correctly estimate upon municipal engineering problems and also from the standpoint of the business man.”

Eagleson lost a close bid for re-election in 1921, but ran again in 1925 and was elected. He was thus mayor when a Varney Airlines plane landed at Boise’s hurriedly-constructed municipal airport with a load of airmail from Pasco, Washington. That flight initiated the first commercial airmail service west of the Mississippi, and only the second in the country. (The first was based in Detroit [Detroit Free Press, February 15, 1926].) A photo in the Idaho Statesman shows Eagleson shaking hands with the pilot, while the Boise postmaster stands by with a mailbag to be carried on to Elko, Nevada.
Early airmail fleet, Boise. City of Boise.
Varney was one of several pioneer airlines that eventually combined to become today’s United Airlines.

Eagleson continued to work in Boise, and was spry enough at age 86 to give a long, enthusiastic interview about the wonders of Idaho to a bemused reporter (Idaho Statesman, Boise, May 1, 1950). He passed away in 1956. Eagleson Road and Eagleson Park subdivision carry on his name.
References: [Hawley]
“The Beginning of the New York Canal,” Reference Series No. 190, Idaho State Historical Society (March 1972).
“City Takes on Carnival Airs for Air Mail,” Idaho Statesman, Boise Idaho (April 7, 1926).
“Corrected List of Mayors, 1867-1996,” Reference Series No. 47, Idaho State Historical Society.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Boise’s Dr. Mary E. Donaldson: Pioneer in Medicine and Elder Care [otd 01/12]

Dr. Donaldson. H. T. French photo.
Mary Elizabeth Donaldson, M.D., was born Mary Craker on January 12, 1851 in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, about forty miles northwest of Madison. After graduating from high school, she taught grade school for four years. She married at twenty and had a child who died young. The marriage didn’t work out and they were divorced soon afterwards.

In the mid-1870s, she turned to caring for a very sick brother, and they moved to Idaho in search of a more healthful climate. To support them during this period, Mary Elizabeth again found work as a teacher. Although the brother also contracted diphtheria, she succeeded in nursing him back to health.

In late 1878, Mary Elizabeth married Thomas L. Johnston, an early Idaho pioneer. Her efforts as a nurse strengthened her desire to take a more serious role in medicine. Mary's new husband supported that interest, and she enrolled in the University of Wooster, in Cleveland, Ohio. She received her M.D. degree in 1892, quite an accomplishment at a time when there were hardly any women physicians.

The Johnstons then moved to Oregon, where Dr. (then) Johnston established a sanitarium in Milton (8-10 miles south of Walla Walla, Washington). Her facility was a spa-like institution meant to prevent and cure disease through proper diet and exercise. Although its methods separated them somewhat from traditional medical practices, her approach proved very popular.

She followed that with a similar facility in Portland. The October 13, 1894 issue of The Oregonian newspaper carried a “voluntary testimonial” that praised the treatments available at the Portland Sanitarium. One of those who co-signed the statement was Abigail Scott Duniway, a well-known suffragette who ran a ranch in Idaho for a time [blog, July 29].

Johnston next extended her coverage to Boise, Idaho. An item in the Idaho Statesman (June 28, 1896) mentioned that a local architect had submitted plans for what came to be the Idaho Sanitarium. The facility opened in 1897 and proved to be even more popular than her units in Oregon.  In fact, her flourishing private practice allowed her to give free or reduced-rate services to those in need.
Idaho Sanitarium, H. T. French photo.

Unfortunately, Thomas Johnston died in September 1898. Mary Elizabeth stayed in Boise and in 1912 she married Captain Gilbert Donaldson, a well-known Boise businessman and philanthropist. Attendees at the ceremony included, in the words of historian H. T. French, “some of the most notable men and women of the state and many others whose names are household words in Idaho.”

In 1881, long before she became a doctor, Mary Elizabeth had occasion to travel in the East. In Philadelphia, she visited an institutional home for elderly men and women. With the backing of influential friends of her new husband, such an institution was built in Boise, and called the Donaldson Home for the Aged. It was one of the first, if not the first of its kind in Idaho.

In addition to those accomplishments, Dr. Donaldson found time to promote various service organizations, push the cause of prohibition, and raise five orphaned children. She also helped found and promote a national women’s rights organization, and regularly contributed articles to its publications.

Dr. Donaldson continued in active practice into the 1920s. In the early Thirties, the couple moved to California, where Gilbert died in 1934. Mary Elizabeth passed away in Napa, California in 1941.
References: [French], [Hawley]

Friday, January 11, 2019

Noted Microbiologist and Vitamin B-12 Researcher Dr. Mary Shorb [otd 01/11]

Dr. Shorb. University of Maryland.
Dr. Mary Shorb, noted microbiologist and vitamin B-12 investigator, was born January 11, 1907 in Wahpeton, North Dakota, about 35 miles south of Fargo.

The family moved to Caldwell, Idaho when Mary was about three years old. There, William Judson Boone, founder and President of the College of Idaho [blog, Nov 5] became a close family friend. Early field trips with Dr. Boone, a skilled botanist, sparked Mary’s interest in biology.

Mary graduated from Caldwell High School, then entered the College of Idaho. There, faculty mentors led her to major in biology, with a minor in home economics … a direction that presaged her later interest in nutrition and the diseases of food animals. She received a B.S. degree in 1928. After two dead-end jobs, she decided to pursue an advanced degree. She married her childhood sweetheart, Doys Shorb, in 1929 and earned a Sc.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1933.

Even with her doctorate, she could only find another dead-end job, so after the birth of a daughter, she stayed home. Two other children followed. However, World War II created a shortage of technically trained people. In 1942, she took a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Two years later, Shorb moved to a position in the USDA dairy products division. Her job was to culture the Lactobacillus lactis Dorner (LLD) bacteria used to ferment milk into yogurt. The bacterial growth media was a mixture of tomato juice and liver extract. “Everyone knew”  that the extract was necessary, but thought no more about it. Shorb pondered the matter and made a crucial creative leap.

Medical practitioners used that same liver extract to treat pernicious anemia. The original treatment, discovered in 1926, involved massive consumption of the liver itself. Prior to that discovery, the disease was almost invariably fatal. Yet even in 1944, after years of study, no one had identified the extract’s active ingredient. Researchers had no direct way to tell if a sample even contained the substance, much less the amount present.
Shorb in the lab, ca 1948.
University of Maryland.

Shorb's observations led her to the hypothesis that the bacterial growth rate might depend upon how much of the unknown “active ingredient” was present in the extract. After a struggle to gain token funding, she quickly and easily verified her hypothesis. More money was soon provided so she could refine her LLD assay method for the anti-anemia “factor.” After that, researchers needed only three months to isolate its crystals from two different sources. We know the substance as vitamin B-12. Dr. Shorb and Dr. Karl A. Folkers, a Merck Company chemist, shared the 1949 Mead Johnson Award for their B-12 work.

That same year, the University of Maryland made Dr. Shorb a full research professor. She rewarded them, and the world, by authoring or co-authoring nearly sixty journal articles on antibiotics, bacteriology, animal growth, and more.

Shorb received a long list of awards and honors: a 1957 Sigma Xi Research Award, Outstanding Woman of Maryland in 1951, Distinguished Alumnus of the College of Idaho in 1966, an honorary Doctorate of Science from the College in 1979, member of Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame in 1987, and so on. She is further remembered at the University of Maryland by the Shorb Lectureship, with original funding from Merck & Company.

Mary retired in 1972. She and her husband then indulged their love of travel before health problems curtailed that. She passed away in August 1990.
References: Richard A. Ahrens, “Mary Shaw Shorb (1907 - 1990),” The Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 123, No. 5 (May 1, 1993) pp. 791-796.
“Mary Shaw Shorb (1907 - 1990),” Maryland Women's Hall of Fame Online.
“Papers of Mary S. Shorb,” University of Maryland Archives.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Town of Franklin Accepts Being in Idaho and is Formally Incorporated [otd 01/10]

Lorenzo Hill Hatch. Family Archives.
On January 10, 1873, the Idaho Territorial legislature passed a “special act” to incorporate the village of Franklin. The Act defined the boundaries of the town, specified that it should have a mayoral form of government, and decreed that it should hold its first election “on or before the first Monday in August, A.D. 1873.” At that election, Mormon Bishop Lorenzo Hatch became the first mayor.

Franklin had begun as a normal extension of the Mormon colonies pushing north from Salt Lake and other already-settled areas. Outposts had appeared in Utah’s Cache Valley around 1855 and several towns, including Logan, were established by 1859.

In April 1860, thirteen Mormon families brought their animals and wagons to a spot not quite twenty miles north of Logan. The mountains provided wonderful scenic views, but the plains between interested them most. An abundance of streams flowed onto the flats. They could graze stock on the foothills while raising food and forage crops near the available water.
Franklin plains with mountain backdrop.

The settlers laid out a town and, about two months later, named it Franklin, in honor of LDS Apostle Franklin D. Richards. The village eventually came to be recognized as the first permanent settlement in the state of Idaho. Soon after laying out the town, the settlers dug irrigation ditches to divert water from the Cub River and its tributary creeks. Before the year was out, there would be around sixty families in residence.

The colonists also erected a log schoolhouse and recruited a pioneer’s daughter to start classes in the fall. Except for the missionary schools for Indian children in the Panhandle, the Franklin school thus set another first for Idaho. In 1863, Brigham Young moved Thomas Preston, the first Bishop of Franklin, to a post near Bear Lake and assigned Lorenzo Hatch as Franklin’s second Bishop.

At first, everyone, including the Idaho Territorial government, thought that Franklin and the other Mormon colonies were in Utah. Inhabitants there even voted in Utah elections. In fact, Charles C. Rich, founder of Paris, Idaho, and father of Amasa [blog, Oct 25], served in the Utah Territorial legislature.
Hatch House, Franklin, built in 1872.
Franklin Historic District.

Finally, in early 1872, an official survey defined the correct Idaho-Utah border: it runs about a mile south of Franklin. Despite this, people in the region continued to act like they were in Utah. For example, later that year their representatives attended a Utah constitutional convention, hoping to frame a document that would lead to Utah statehood. (It didn’t. Their memorial never even made it out of committee.)

Within a year or so, however, they reconciled themselves to their “new” status, especially after the legislature granted Franklin’s incorporation. In 1874, a narrow gauge railroad began service between Ogden and Franklin.

But the impact of the financial “Panic of '73” stalled further construction, so the town became a major terminus for stage lines and thousands of freight wagons running back and forth to Montana. That sparked a period of great commercial prosperity. Perhaps because of the local Mormon influence, Franklin apparently avoided the general lawlessness and violence often associated with being the “end of track.”

The tracks continued north in 1878, and Franklin was again simply a commercial center for livestock, dairy, and grain producers in the area. It was estimated to have a population of about 600 in 1918, roughly what it has today.
References: [B&W], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Jo Ann F. Hatch, Willing Hands: A Biography of Lorenzo Hill Hatch (1826-1910), Kymera Publishing Company, Pinedale, AZ (1996).
JMerlin R. Hovey, "An Early History of Cache County," Logan Journal, Logan, Utah (January 1923).
“Idaho's Boundary Dispute with Utah (1860-1872),” Reference Series No. 1016, Idaho State Historical Society (1993).

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Boise Builder, Real Estate Developer, and Mayor Walter E. Pierce [otd 01/09]

Mayor Pierce. City of Boise.
Boise Mayor Walter E. Pierce was born January 9, 1860, in Bell County, Texas, between Waco and Austin. Indian unrest in that area forced the family to move to Kansas, where Walter’s father died that fall. The family spent the period of the Civil War and a couple years afterward near Vicksburg, Mississippi, before returning to Kansas.

With little education beyond “a course in a business college,” Walter found what work he could in Missouri and Kansas: sheep herder, hotel operator, railroad contractor, and, finally, real estate developer. Perseverance and natural talent eventually brought him notable success. However, falling farm prices and other outside factors crippled the Kansas economy in the late 1880s, so Pierce began to look elsewhere.

In Morton County, Kansas, Pierce had met John M. Haines and Lindley H. Cox. The three established the firm of W. E. Pierce & Company and moved to Boise City in 1890, shortly after Idaho became a state. Pierce and the firm would be a driving force in the city’s development for over half a century.

Walter quickly hit his stride as a real estate and business developer. He played a role in the Boise Rapid Transit Company, which built the city’s first electric trolley line in 1891. He soon rose to prominence in the city and was elected Mayor of Boise in 1895. Despite considerable nay-saying, he initiated the first street-paving program as well as other civic improvements that were later lauded as “the right thing to do.”

The Illustrated History, published in 1899, said “He was the most progressive mayor that Boise ever had, and under his management an immense stride was taken toward a more brilliant future.”
Idaho Building, ca 1918. J. H. Hawley.

In 1910, Pierce spearheaded construction of what many would later call Boise’s first skyscraper, the Idaho Building. The Idaho Statesman observed that the six-story structure, tall for its day, “towers above its neighbors like a mountain peak.”

Pierce and his company also expanded the interurban railway system to encompass most of the Boise Valley. They knew well that rail service added significant value to their real estate holdings and allowed them to turn properties over much more quickly. (The interurban system was dismantled in 1928, after automobiles became more common.)

Pierce also became interested in some mining properties along the Gold Fork River, about sixteen miles south of McCall. He and two associates incorporated the Gold Fork Mining Company (Idaho Statesman, January 19, 1916) and planned to dredge in the area. However, the advent of World War I caused manpower shortages and increased costs, so little seems to have come from that investment. 

Still, Pierce’s primary developments continued to be home and building construction. The Hotel Boise, completed in 1930, was among the most important. It’s Historic Place nomination noted that the “reinforced concrete, eleven-story edifice was the tallest commercial structure in Boise for a generation.”

In 1947, Pierce sold a home he had built in 1914 to the state of Idaho for use as a Governor’s Mansion. Four years later, Pierce passed away and was buried in Boise’s Morris Hill Cemetery. The fine house served as the Governor’s home for over forty years until it no longer met the state’s needs and was sold at auction.
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Arthur Hart, “Idaho history: 1910 was a big building year for Boise,” Idaho Statesman (April 11, 2010).
Kyle True, “Walter E. Pierce House,” Boise Architecture Project, online (2009).

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Outdoorsman, Writer, Photographer, and Game Warden Otto Jones [otd 01/08]

Outdoorsman Otto Jones.
J. H. Hawley photo.

Photographer and journalist Otto M. Jones was born January 8, 1886 on a ranch near Dillon, Montana. Two years later, the family relocated to a sheep ranch about twelve miles northwest of Boise City. They moved into the city about 1892.

Rather than attending high school in Boise, Otto went to a military academy in Virginia for a year and then spent two years in prep school at Washington State College (now University). He traveled around a bit, and then settled for two years in Ashland, Oregon. During this period, Jones began making his living as a writer, publishing articles on hunting, fishing, and other outdoor sports.

In 1909, Otto returned to Boise, where he began to collect photographs of outdoor life and scenery to illustrate his articles. By 1902, his stock of photos had “more than twenty-five hundred negatives” on file. The Library of Congress catalog notes that several hundred of his vintage images are archived in their files.
Fisherman and lady photographer on Big Creek. Otto M. Jones photo, Library of Congress.
Jones was an outstanding skeet shooter, winning or placing high in many city and regional matches. He also served as an official for professional boxing and wrestling bouts. (Professional wrestling was then "straight," not a show.) His sports knowledge and credibility were such that the Idaho Statesman reported (April 26, 1916), “One of the best drawing cards for the Friday night wrestling match … will be the referee, Otto Jones.”

Otto’s sporting articles, with photographs, appeared in national publications, such as Field & Stream magazine. He also submitted material to the Idaho Statesman in Boise. For a time, he “owned” a page or two of the Sunday edition. His spread for Sunday, April 21, 1918 was about “Motor Touring” in the West. His text surely invoked nostalgic memories for many still-living pioneers. His comments about the old mining camps ring true today. He said, “These fast disappearing camps fairly teem with sentiments and reveries for the traveler who halts long enough in his whirling pilgrimage to explore and conjecture as to the life of the ghost towns … ”
Shotgun Rapids, Salmon River, Idaho. Otto M. Jones photo, Library of Congress.
In January 1919, Idaho Governor D. W. Davis appointed Jones to be the top state Fish & Game Warden. As game warden, Jones published an appraisal of wild game conservation in the West. Although he had only estimates, the impact of large predators on the game population was a major concern. He did have numbers for predation of domestic livestock, which were often turned loose to graze on mountain and forest rangeland. A kill rate of 4-5% amounted to hundreds of thousands of animals each year. In hindsight, one may conclude that the predator population was kept artificially high by the presence of so much relatively easy prey.

But most ranchers trailed their herds onto fenced lowland pastures to be fed through the winter. At that point, attacks on game animals would increase substantially. Jones recommended a more effective program for predator control, but also had harsh words for ranchers whose herds over-grazed the mountain forage: “It is foolish to expect wild animals to subsist on ranges that have been eaten into the ground by domestic stock during the summer months.”

Jones held the Idaho Game Warden position into 1923. After that, he continued to freelance and also held educational and contract photography positions in Oregon and Washington. He passed away in August 1941 from an apparent heart attack.
References: [Hawley]
“First Idaho Game Law when Buffalo Ran Wild,” Idaho Statesman, Boise (March 11, 1919).
“Otto M. Jones, Photographer, Dies at Home,” The Seattle Times, Washington (August 27, 1941).    
Otto M. Jones, “Problems Encountered in Big Game Conservation,” Bulletin of the American Game Protective Association, Vol. 11, No. 2, New York, New York (April 1922).   
"Sports Magazine is Planned," Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon (July 24, 1924).

Monday, January 7, 2019

Fur Trader and Pioneer Cattleman Johnny Grant [otd 01/07]

Johnny Grant.
National Park Service photo.
On January 7, 1833, John Francis “Johnny” Grant was born in Alberta, Canada. At the time, his father, Richard, was a clerk working for the British-Canadian Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). John’s mother died when he was eighteen months old. Richard took a furlough and escorted Johnny and his siblings to live with a grandmother in Quebec.

The Company soon promoted Richard to a Chief Trader position at a post in central Canada. He moved to the Columbia District in the Pacific Northwest around 1840. Two years earlier, the HBC had bought Idaho’s Old Fort Hall [blog, January 29]. Richard took over management of the Fort in 1842. When traffic increased on the Oregon Trail, he began trading fresh stock for worn-out emigrant cattle.

Around 1845, Richard decided to bring his children west. If his aging mother took sick or died, there would be no one to look after Johnny and the others. Arrangements and their travel took awhile, but John Francis arrived at Fort Hall early in the summer of 1847.

For various reasons, Johnny did not get along with his father at first and moved out on his own when he felt able – in about 1850. He took very well to "mountain man" life. Still a teenager, he even acquired an Indian “wife,” a woman who had run away from an abusive Indian husband. And he made many friends among the small remaining community of white fur trappers as well as the various tribes in the area.

Along with that, Johnny supported himself by dealing with Trail emigrants. In his memoir, Grant said, “Every summer we went on the road to trade with these newcomers at Soda Springs. I traded for lame cattle and they were always the best, because somehow the best got lame the quickest.”

As time passed, he reconciled with his father. When Richard’s resignation from the HBC became effective in 1853, they worked together to build up a fair-sized herd. These bands were the first significant cattle holdings in what would become the state of Idaho.
Cattle allowed to drink. Library of Congress.
In 1857, Johnny wintered in the Deer Lodge Valley of Montana, and then returned to Idaho. (By this time Richard’s health had deteriorated and he retired from the business.) For a time, he sold horses and cattle to the U. S. Army forces sent to assert Federal authority in Utah Territory. Grant returned to Montana in 1859 and built a ranch in the Deer Lodge area.

John generally got along well with the native inhabitants, and one of his Indian wives (he apparently had several) was sister to Tendoy, a powerful chief of the Lemhi Shoshones. However, clashes between whites and Indians had become more common, and it seems likely Johnny moved to Montana to avoid getting caught up in those disputes. Grant continued to build up his cattle and horse herds in Montana.  However, when his wife died in 1866, he sold his holdings to stockman Conrad Kohrs and moved back to Canada. He died there in 1907.

Starting from the herd established by Grant, Kohrs became one of the first Montana “cattle kings.” In 1870, his crews drove two thousand head of cattle across Idaho and then turned east through Wyoming into Nebraska. The Kohrs ranch operated successfully into the next century. Its core facilities form the basis for today’s Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site.
References: [B&W]
John N. Albright, Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, Historic Resource Study, National Park Service, (March 6, 1999: last update).
John Francis Grant, Lyndel Meikle (ed.), Very Close To Trouble: The Johnny Grant Memoir, Washington State University Press, Pullman (1996).
“John Grant Biographical Sketch,” Provincial Archives of Alberta, (online resource).

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Army Scout, Yellowstone Park Protector and Ashton Postmaster Felix Burgess [otd 01/06]

Army scout and Fremont County postmaster Felix Burgess was born January 6, 1847 in Reading, Pennsylvania. His father, an immigrant from northern France, moved the family from Reading to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1856. After a brief time there, they moved on to Sauk Rapids, a town about 60 miles northwest of Minneapolis.
Scout Burgess. [French]

For reasons he never explained, Felix ran away from home when he was about ten years old. He was taken in by an Army captain at Fort Ripley, about 40 miles north of the family home. Thus, Burgess began his long career as an Army scout in the Dakota Indian War of 1862. Captured by a band of Indians, he was rescued just before he could be tortured to death. Despite the close call, he continue as a scout in northern Minnesota and in the Dakotas for about five years.

Burgess was next transferred to Fort Vancouver, in Washington Territory. He almost certainly took part in the Snake War, in western Idaho and eastern Oregon when Lieutenant Colonel George Crook was placed in charge [blog, November 25]. He then followed Crook to Arizona to battle Apache Indians.

He had a brief peaceful period in 1874, scouting for the geographical survey team led by Lieutenant George M. Wheeler. But for the next fifteen years or so, he would take part in conflicts with Indian tribes in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Finally, in the summer of 1891, Burgess joined the Army contingent in charge at Yellowstone National Park [blog, March 1]. His main job was to track down poachers, who by this time were having a severe impact on the Park’s elk and buffalo herds. Thus, in 1893, he was featured in a watercolor created by Frederic Remington used as the basis for an illustration for the article “Policing Yellowstone,” published in Harper’s Weekly.

The following year, in March, Felix Burgess made a contribution to the Park’s future that echoes down to the present day. He caught a notorious poacher literally “red handed.” Coincidentally, a staff writer for the magazine Forest and Stream was visiting the Park just then.
Burgess Finding a Ford. Frederic Remington

The resulting publicity sparked legislation that made poaching in the Park a Federal crime. Before that, the Army could only confiscate the poacher’s gear (a legally questionable practice, actually) and expel them from the Park. Penalties under the new law included up to two years in prison and a $1,000 fine (over $29,000 in today’s values).

Besides his Army duties, Burgess also served two years as a Deputy U. S. Marshall for the district of Wyoming. He stayed with the Army until 1899 when, now over fifty years old, he decided it was time to settle down (he had married in 1892). He first tried farming on land northwest of St. Anthony, Idaho, but quickly found that that was not for him. He then opened a store along the main stage route about six miles northeast of St. Anthony.

In early 1905, Felix was appointed postmaster for an office in Squirrel, a tiny settlement about twenty miles northeast of St. Anthony. However, in late 1906, the railroad built a station that quickly became the village of Ashton. Within about a year, Burgess opened a hotel in the new town. Then, in December 1909, he was appointed postmaster for Ashton, a position he held until the spring of 1915.

Burgess operated a grocery store in Ashton until November 1919. He then sold that and he and his wife moved to Ocean Beach, a coastal suburb of San Diego, California. Felix passed away there in January 1921.
References: [French]
“[Felix Burgess News],” Daily Pioneer, Deadwood, South Dakota; Teton Peak-Chronicle, St. Anthony, Idaho; Idaho Statesman, Boise; San Diego Union, San Diego, California (July 1878 – January 1921).
Collections, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (retrieved, December 2018).
Glade Lyon, Ashton, Idaho: The Centennial History, 1906-2006, Waking Lion Press, West Valley, Utah (2006).
Catherine McNicol Stock, Robert D. Johnston (eds.), The Countryside in the Age of the Modern State, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York (2001).

Lewiston Normal School Receives its First Students [otd 1/6]

On Monday, January 6, 1896, Lewiston State Normal School – today’s Lewis-Clark State College – opened its doors to receive its first students. That event was a key milestone on the long path to establishing a teacher’s college in the town.
Young students with teacher, ca 1892. Arizona State University.

The second session of the Territorial Legislature, in 1864, passed a “common” school law, but the system developed slowly at first. In fact, most of the earliest local schools were private ventures, or established by churches. Still, by 1880 the system had grown enough that the legislature created two formal school districts, one in Boise City, the other in Lewiston.

A decade later, schools statewide had grown even further, and many regions began to experience a shortage of qualified teachers. In fact, far too many teachers were hired simply because they would accept the meager salaries offered. Local school boards turned a blind eye to their lack of training.

That pressure continued to build, and received further impetus in 1892 when the University of Idaho greeted its first students [blog, Oct 3]. The public school system failed to provide even one student who was qualified to begin college-level classes. (The University would continue to offer prep-school classes for over twenty years.)

Thus, the 1893 Idaho legislature authorized a Normal school in Lewiston: “Normal” schools taught the “norms and standards” of primary-school teaching. To gain support from the southern counties, that same session authorized a Normal school in Albion. Neither school, however, received any state funding at that time.

Anxious to exploit the opportunity, Lewistonians donated some mostly-vacant land on the hill that overlooked the town itself. Then private citizens dug into their own pockets for some early planning and site preparation. However, not until 1895 did the legislature issue bonds to fund construction, and the building was not completed until May of the following year.

While they waited for their building, school administrators leased the second floor of a store in town and remodeled it into space suitable for Normal school classes. It was here the three faculty members, two men and a woman, greeted 46 students on January 6. Between them, the three taught a basic curriculum: English, Latin, history, civics, physiology, commercial arithmetic, mathematics, elocution, pedagogy, commercial law, and physical education.
Lewiston State Normal School, before 1917. J. H. Hawley Photo.
Soon, the Normal School’s graduates were spread all over the state. They had to be well prepared with a broad and thorough education. Until the 1920s, one-room schools served well over half of Idaho’s primary students. In those districts, the lone Lewiston (or Albion) Normal-trained teacher was often the only person who actually knew how a school should be set up and run.

However, in the late 1920s the “Normal School” concept began to give way to a new “teacher's college” approach. By 1935, only five old-style Normal schools remained in the U. S. … and two of those were in Idaho. But financial and political infighting prevented any change in their status. Finally, in 1943, the legislature granted them four-year status: They were the last two-year teachers’ schools to make the change.

Operating as North Idaho College of Education, the school still faced opposition. It was shut down in 1951, but – plagued by a calamitous shortage of qualified teachers – the state re-opened it four years later as Lewis-Clark Normal School. It finally became Lewis-Clark State College in 1971.
References: [French], [Hawley]
Keith C. Petersen, Educating in the American West: One Hundred Years at Lewis-Clark State College, 1893-1993, Confluence Press, Lewiston, Idaho (© Lewis-Clark State College, 1993).

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Silver City Merchant and Postmaster M. M. Getchell [otd 1/5]

Meserve Getchell.
Directory of Owyhee County.
On January 5, 1868, Postmaster Meserve M. Getchell was born in Baring, Maine, on the Canadian border and perhaps 25 miles inland from the Bay of Fundy. Mr. Getchell had a distinguished ancestry: his great-grandfather fought in the American Revolution and his mother was a Mayflower descendant.

He grew up on a farm, then found work in a sawmill as a teenager. Wanting something better, he clerked for a short while, then moved south into New Hampshire. After less than a year of working in a shoe factory, he decided to head west.

Getchell arrived in Silver City during the summer of 1889. By then, both mining and stock raising drove the economy of Owyhee County; Silver City was a thriving community. Meserve landed a job as a clerk in the drug store and also assisted an uncle at the post office. Late that year, the uncle bought the Idaho Hotel and Getchell took a position as clerk there.

Around 1892-1893, Meserve herded sheep on range north of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation. (Records don’t say, but it’s possible Getchell’s uncle received a flock in the transaction for the hotel.) He then returned to Silver City and worked in a mill while also helping out at his uncle’s hotel.

In late 1893, Meserve received a temporary appointment to fill the postmaster’s position in Silver City. The following year, President Grover Cleveland made the appointment official for a full term. Meserve had clearly done a fine job: Cleveland, a Democrat, would not ordinarily appoint a staunch Republican to such a position. (Meserve later served as chairman of the Republican Central Committee for Owyhee County.)
Silver City Post Office, Courthouse next door.
Directory of Owyhee County.
Not content with just the postal business, Getchell stocked his shop with candy, tobacco products, stationery, and other notions. He also hired his younger brother Asher to help with the operation. In 1897, President William McKinley, a Republican, appointed Meserve for another term as postmaster

The following year, Meserve also became part owner of the Idaho Hotel. He had to find new help at the post office shop, since Asher went to work in the drug store. In fact, Asher remained in the drugstore business for over thirty years, including stays in Boise City and then Twin Falls.

Meserve married in 1891, but their one child died in 1893 and his wife passed away four years later. He remarried in 1898. Mining around Silver City peaked about 1900 and then began a steady decline. (Most of the mines would be closed by 1912.)

In late 1905, Meserve received a surprise. Another Silver City businessman had politicked behind the scenes to block Getchell’s reappointment as postmaster and get the job for himself. The Idaho Statesman observed that all this had happened “before Mr. Getchell knew any one was after his job.”

After the other man was appointed, Meserve sold his store and residence and shortly thereafter moved to Seattle. There, along with his brother-in-law, he invested in a sand and gravel business. Census records show that by 1910 Merserve was the company President, and that he and his wife had made a home for Getchell’s parents.

Getchell remained as President of the sand and gravel business until his death in April 1923, at the fairly early age of 55.
References: [Illust-State]
A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, Owyhee Avalanche Press (January 1898).
“Owyhee County,” Reference Series No. 336, Idaho State Historical Society.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Major Fire Devastates the Silver Mining Town of Wardner [otd 1/4]

On January 4, 1890, a major fire broke out in a laundry behind a popular restaurant in the village of Wardner, Idaho, about a mile south of Kellogg. The small fire department and “hundreds” of volunteers responded quickly, but for some reason they did not have enough water available to check the flames. This being the dead of winter, firefighters heaved snow as fast as they could. Unfortunately, that failed to stop the fire, which continued for four hours.
Mining Town Fire damage, 1893. National Archives.

The town owed its existence to the discovery of rich lead-silver lodes in the fall of 1885. The site was originally called “Kentuck,” but the Postal Service disallowed that name for a local post office. So about six months after the founding, it was renamed for railroad executive James F. Wardner. Over the next two or three years, it experienced “phenomenal growth,” especially after developers ran a rail line into the mining area.

In the summer of 1886, new telephone lines connected Wardner to the outside world, encouraging further growth. For a time, it seemed like the only limit was how fast nearby mills could deliver lumber to eager builders.

Witnesses said the fire moved rather slowly along the block after the laundry and restaurant became fully involved. (Later, this invoked bitter complaints that even a moderate improvement in the water supply would have allowed the volunteers to stop the fire’s spread.) After consuming several business structures, the flames ate through the telephone office and then a connected block of four buildings.

Citizens battled the fire for hours, then the flames began to threaten the main business district. Desperate, firefighters used “giant powder” to blast a substantial hotel and several nearby structures, but even that failed. They backed off again and totally demolished another large mercantile store, which finally provided a large enough gap to halt the flames.

The fire and counter-measures destroyed four large buildings, including the three-story Grand Central Hotel. Eighteen smaller office buildings and stores – including a jewelry, cigar emporium, barber shop, and tailor’s suite – were also lost. In addition to the telephone facility, the post office went up in smoke (officials did manage to save the mail itself, apparently).

Last but not least, the town lost two restaurants and four drinking establishments. Later, the Owyhee Avalanche in Silver City, Idaho reported (January 18, 1890) on the “very disastrous fire” and said that “Twenty-five of the business houses were destroyed, entailing a loss of $100,000.”
Wardner, 1904. Kellogg in the distance. U.S. Geological Survey.

With regional mines booming, locals quickly replaced the losses. The 1890 U.S. Census enumerated about 860 people in Wardner, out of a total Shoshone County population of 5,882. In April 1891, county commissioners approved articles of incorporation for the town. Wardner continued to grow through the following decade, despite on-going labor-management disputes and violence [blog, Apr 29], and dips in metal prices.

Published in 1903, the Illustrated History of North Idaho proclaimed, “At this writing, conditions in the Coeur d'Alene country are quite favorable. All the mines are at work in full blast; the relations between the employers of labor and their employees are, perhaps, as pleasant as they have ever been in the district; … and the rate of output is greater than ever before.”

Of course, that did not last. Today, Wardner does not exist as a town. It is simply a residential adjunct to Kellogg, and tourism largely drives the rather weak local economy.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-North]