Thursday, May 23, 2019

State Senator, Stockman, Mayor, and Special Agent George A. Day [otd 05/23]

State Senator George Addison Day was born May 23, 1867 in Draper, Utah, about sixteen miles south of Salt Lake City. After an early education in the “common schools,” he spent 1886 to 1889 at the Brigham Young Academy. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, he was then sent to open the Stake Academy of Cassia County, Idaho. They began in a log cabin, but finer buildings were built as the enrollment grew.
Stake Academy Building. Vintage Postcard.

Day settled in Oakley and was married there a year later. Over the next several years, he established himself as a cattle rancher. Then, in 1897, he was called to missionary work and sent to Charleston, South Carolina. A year later, he became president of that missionary conference until released from his duties in late 1899.

Day returned to Oakley and continued to buy land to expand his cattle operation. Then he was elected to the Idaho Senate that convened in January 1903. That legislative session accomplished quite a lot, including new buildings at the Academy of Idaho (today’s Idaho State University), and improvements at the Albion Normal School.

George’s re-election campaign must have been painful because political operative Fred Dubois [blog, May 29] led the Democratic Party on a determined anti-Mormon campaign. But whatever support that gained among some groups of voters backfired in Day’s case. A Republican, George benefitted from the huge block of LDS voters who voted against Democratic candidates.

The 1905 legislature again accomplished a great deal, including more support for higher education. They also reorganized the state land department. Day probably played a role in those changes. He had been put in charge of the southeast Idaho field office of the land board some months earlier.

During a third consecutive term in the Senate, Day was even more heavily involved with the land commission. In fact, a year or so after his last Senate term, he became Commissioner of the land office for the entire state. Day was very successful in that position. Thus, in the summer of 1910, he reported that a sale near Hollister had benefitted greatly from “competitive bidding” to “run up” the prices of the state land being sold. Day would remain Commissioner until August 1916.

For about six years after his retirement from the land board, Day focused more on his cattle ranch. Still, he found time to be active in several local and regional cattlemen’s associations and served as mayor of Oakley for a term starting in 1920.
George A. Day. [Hawley]

Next, while Day kept his operations in Cassia County – probably handled by a son – he also became a Special Agent for the Bureau of Investigation (today’s FBI). At that time, a major mandate for the Bureau was to investigate land fraud cases. Thus, Day’s experience in the land office would serve him well in his new position.

He was assigned to a one-agent office in Boise. Then, in July 1924, the Bureau closed their one-agent offices as an economy measure. George was transferred to Portland.

Day remained there for about three years, and then appeared next in Seattle. This was about the time his first wife died; he remarried about seven months later. In Seattle, the city directories never identified Day as a Special Agent, and he told the 1930 census taker he was engaged in stock raising and farming. One cannot escape the notion that Day had gone undercover in some way during this period.

Day was back in Oakley by 1932, when he was approaching 65 years of age. As late as 1944, when he was over 77, he still had business interests in Boise. George Addison Day passed away in October 1953.
References: [Brit], [Hawley]
Wayne R. Boothe, A History of the Latter-Day Saint Settlement of Oakley, Idaho, Master’s Thesis, Brigham Young University (July 1963).
“[George A. Day Newspaper Items],” Idaho Statesman, Boise; Oakley Herald, Idaho (March 1907 –  June 1944).
“President George A. Day,” The Southern Star, Southern States Mission, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Chattanooga, Tennessee (December 17, 1898).

Cornerstone Laid for Idaho Soldiers Home in Boise [otd 05/23]

On May 23, 1893, dignitaries gathered in Boise City to lay the cornerstone for the new Idaho Soldiers’ Home. Meant to care for Union Army veterans of the Civil War who were “aged and in want,” the Home was completed the following year.
Union soldiers, ca. 1862. Library of Congress.

Idaho, of course, wasn’t even organized when the War started, and provided no Volunteer units for the conflict. However, by the time Idaho became a state, several thousand veterans had settled there. Not too surprisingly, 70 percent of them came from the midwestern states. (Nearly 85 percent came from the Midwest, Pennsylvania, or New York.)

Thus, the Idaho legislature appropriated funds for a soldiers’ home, and designated acreage from Federal land grants to create an operating endowment fund. The Act also authorized the governor to appoint a Board of Trustees. The appropriation stretched further after Ada County citizens donated the money to buy forty acres of land where the home could be sited. Builders completed the structure in November, 1894.

Officials staged a formal opening in May 1895. By then, the legislature had authorized funds for more buildings, including a hospital. Two years later, the state modified the eligibility requirements to include veterans of the Mexican War and National Guard soldiers who were disabled in the line of duty. That provided a “side door” for some who fought for the losing side of what some still called, in 1901, “the war of the rebellion.”

Idaho Soldiers Home, ca. 1914. H. T. French photo.
Fire damaged the main building in October 1900 and took the life of one resident veteran. The structure was rebuilt, reportedly better than ever. Certainly, it was different. The original Home had been built in the style, more or less, of a French chateau, with numerous gables and conical turrets at the front corners. The new design sported an onion-shaped dome that dominated the center front of the building, and the corner turrets had been reshaped. (The results seem rather akin to a Russian-Orthodox church.)

Another fire in October 1917 caused major damage. The state made arrangements to house the residents at Boise Barracks, which then had only minimal use. The aged veterans found their “temporary” quarters comfortable enough, but commented that they never felt like home. Because the country and the state were on a war footing, it took quite a long time for the old home to be rebuilt: It was not reopened until 1920 (Idaho Statesman, May 10, 1920). Perhaps to reduce costs, the repairs did not include the exotic domes and turrets.

As time, and old soldiers, passed, more and more residents of the Home were veterans of the 1898 Spanish-American War, then World War I, and so on. Age also took its toll on the building and finally, in 1966, officials dedicated a new “Boise Veterans Home” a half mile east of the capitol building.
Statuary in Veterans Memorial Park.

Eventually, city workers leveled the structures at the old site and created Veterans Memorial Park. Besides the usual recreational areas, the park contains monuments to war dead in several conflicts, those Missing in Action, and prisoners of war. It also has commemorative plaques for veterans’ groups and various military activities.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Nancy DeHamer, "Idaho Soldiers Home," Reference Series No. 713, Idaho State Historical Society (1985).
Rod House, Steve Barrett, and Wilma Jager, Civil War Veterans in Idaho, Idaho State Historical Society (2006).
"News of the States: Tuesday, October 9," Colfax Gazette, Colfax, Washington (October 12, 1900).

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Coeur d’Alene and Other Indian Reservations Opened to Homesteading [otd 05/22]

President Taft. Library of Congress.
On May 22, 1909, President William Howard Taft issued a proclamation that opened "unreserved" agricultural, grazing, and timber lands on the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation to white settlement under the homestead laws. The order also opened lands on the Flathead Reservation in Montana and the Spokane in Washington.

The Coeur d'Alene Indians (variously, “pointed hearts” or “hearts of awls”) were so named by early French-Canadian fur trappers. Purportedly this referred to their hard-hearted trading practices, but other interpretations have been offered. The tribe had few other contacts with whites until 1842, when Roman Catholic priests established a mission in their homeland.

By missionary accounts, their work among the tribe was very successful. However, gold discoveries in northern Idaho, northeast Washington, and across the border in Canada brought a heavy influx of whites into and across tribal lands. The resulting friction touched off the Yakima War in 1856, with another flare-up two years later.

The Coeur d'Alene tribe joined in the 1858 attacks against white incursions, ignoring the advice and warnings from Jesuit missionaries. What is sometimes called the Coeur d'Alene War ended with their defeat at the Battle of Four Lakes. Afterwards, the tribe avoided trouble with whites as much as it could. Continuing provocations often made that difficult.

They resisted an attempt in 1867 to force them onto a small reservation in North Idaho. With more pressing concerns elsewhere, the matter was dropped. Then, in 1873, an Indian Office commission "negotiated" a reserve that spread across the lower reaches of Lake Coeur d'Alene and formed a wedge ending 20-25 miles north of Moscow.

The various negotiations left the tribe with about 400 thousand acres, less than a tenth of what they consider their original ancestral holdings. For a time, these borders worked, generally. In 1871, when German emigrant Frederick Post wanted to build a sawmill on the Spokane River, he agreed to purchase the necessary tribal land for what became the town of Post Falls [blog, Dec 30].
Coeur d’Alene Tribal Territory.

However, when a railroad wanted to run tracks through the reservation in 1888, Congress granted the required right of way without bothering to negotiate with the tribe. (The Act said the company had to pay for the right of way, but left it to the Secretary of the Interior to decide how much.) The discovery of vast silver lodes in the Coeur d'Alene Mountains brought new white pressure into the area. Towns grew at Kellogg, Wallace, Wardner, and other locations.

The tribe lost more land in 1892 and 1894, leaving less than 350 thousand acres. Then Taft's proclamation of 1909 allowed whites to settle on lands not specifically allotted to individual tribal members.

The Idaho Statesman in Boise reported (June 15, 1909), “At this time there is a great deal of interest all over the country in the opening of … the Coeur d’Alene Indian reservation in the state of Idaho … The Coeur d’Alene contains some valuable timber. There are some quarter sections which are reputed to be worth as much as $20,000. There is also some agricultural land upon this reservation which is very valuable, being located in the rich wheat belt of the north.”

When the first drawing was held on August 9, around 105,000 applications had been submitted for the three thousand homesteads available on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation.

The Coeur d'Alene Tribe does still retain sovereign rights within the reservation boundaries – police power, tribal courts, business regulatory oversight, and so on.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-North]
Charles J. Kappler, Indians Affairs: Law and Treaties, Vol. 1, Government Printing Office, Washington (1903).
"Sovereignty," Coeur d’Alene Tribe, official web site.
William Howard Taft, "Proclamation 874 – Opening Lands in the Flathead, Coeur d'Alene, and Spokane Indian Reservations," National Archives (May 22, 1909).

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Richard Z. Johnson: Developer, Legislator, and Territorial Attorney General [otd 05/21]

R. Z. Johnson. Illustrated History.
Richard Z. Johnson, who served in the Idaho Territorial Council and as Attorney General, was born May 21, 1837 in Akron, Ohio. Johnson had ancestors on both sides who fought in the American Revolution. The family had moved from Vermont to Akron three or four years before Richard was born.

He received a law degree from Yale in 1859, then practiced for five years in Minnesota. While there, he served two terms as City Attorney in Winona, about 25 miles northwest of LaCrosse.

Then, after a brief stay in Nevada, he moved to Owyhee County, Idaho. For several years there, he ran a Ruby City law office in partnership with one William H. Davenport. Ruby City, located less than a mile north of Silver City, was then the county seat. Johnson probably switched to Silver City when it became the county seat in January 1867. Within a few years, the partnership was dissolved and Johnson ran a solo practice.

He spent over a decade based in Silver City, but handled cases in Ada County as well as Owyhee. However, a financial crisis in 1875 crippled large-scale mining operations around Silver City. The growth of cattle raising in the region could not offset the decline in the mines.

Finally, in November 1878, Johnson purchased a home in Boise City and moved there permanently. In Boise, his “remarkable powers of concentration” and commanding intelligence earned him a part in most of the important litigation argued in that district. He was also renowned for his skills as an orator in pleading cases.

For a time, Johnson was a member of the Boise City Council and won election to the Territorial Council – equivalent to the state Senate – in 1880. Beginning in 1885, he served on the commission formed to revise and regularize the Territory’s legal code. Then, in 1887, he was selected for the first of two terms as the Attorney General.

Deeply interested in education, he promoted passage of a law creating an independent school district for Boise, and served fifteen years on the Board of Education. Johnson was also one of the first Regents of the University of Idaho and served for several years on its Board of Trustees. Upon his retirement from that position, the University awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Aside from his extensive law practice and political activity, for awhile Johnson owned a horse ranch along the Payette River. However, he sold that off in early 1880. The Idaho Statesman observed that Johnson had “too extensive a law practice to give his attention to raising horses.”
Johnson & Johnson law office. Illustrated History.

Johnson also invested in Boise real estate. That included construction of a large brick office building where he and his son practiced as the firm of Johnson & Johnson. Professionally, he served for a time as president of the Idaho State Bar Association. Up to the time of his passing, he owned the largest law library in the state.

In 1889, Johnson, his wife, and one son traveled to Europe, where they visited Lindau, his wife’s birthplace. (The town is on Lake Constance, along the Swiss-German border, about 55 miles east and a bit north of Zurich.) A decade later, the couple began spending more and more time in Europe. They eventually bought a villa in Lindau and spent many summers there.

Johnson retired from active practice around 1910 and they moved permanently to the villa. Richard died while traveling in Bavaria in September 1913 and was buried in Lindau.
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“Richard Z. Johnson: May 21 1837-September 10, 1913,” Reference Series No. 581, Idaho State Historical Society (1981).
“[R. Z. Johnson News Items],” Idaho Statesman and Owyhee Avalanche (Sept 1865 - Oct 1913).

Monday, May 20, 2019

Choirmaster, Musical Leader, and Operatic Composer Eugene Farner [otd 05/20]

Eugene Adrian Farner, who initiated Boise’s annual “Music Week,” was born May 20, 1888 in New York City. A child prodigy, he played his first public violin solo at the age of eight. He later became the director for his high school’s orchestra and continued to direct it for three years after he graduated at seventeen. Throughout all his years of regular schooling, Eugene also studied music under private tutors, “some of whom were noted musicians.”

In 1910, Farner opened a studio in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He also served as choir master for the St. Luke's Episcopal Church. Two years later, Episcopal Bishop James B. Funsten persuaded Farner to move to Boise and take a position as musical director and choir master at St. Michael's Cathedral. Except for fourteen months military service during World War I, he held that position for over a decade.
Music Week, Boise High School, 1939. City of Boise.

Beyond his church duties, Farner studied and composed operatic music. He also served as Director of the Boise Civic Festival Chorus and Orchestra and was active in other music-related organizations. In 1919, Farner conceived and promoted a city-wide music celebration, one in which local musicians performed for their neighbors. He envisioned the event as an amalgam of a music festival and a “Week of Song.” Festivals tended to have limited sponsorship and participation. And they charged for admission. Of course, a “week of song” offered only various forms of singing: church choirs, barbershop quartets, and the like.

Music Week offered a broad mix of musical forms and was as inclusive as Farner could make it. Nor did they charge admission. Farner ran that first “Week” in May, 1919. Among the many events, he directed singing by the Boise Civic Festival Chorus, “with full orchestral accompaniment.” The Idaho Statesman noted (May 11, 1919) that many organizations had joined together, hoping “to make the oratorio production and music-and-pageantry week a big thing in the life of Boise.”

The celebration did prove very popular, and has continued to this day. Records indicate that leaders added the first Broadway musical production to the repertoire in 1959.
Boise Music Week. BMW photo.
It is perhaps significant that a newspaper report after the 1958 Week bemoaned dwindling public interest. Organizers even considered skipping a year or two until interest picked up. The stage play was a big hit, and is still a feature of the event.

The celebration is billed as the nation's first such non-commercial city-wide musical event. Even the historian of National Music Week, Charles Tremaine, wrote in 1925 that Boise’s “claim to priority is hereby acknowledged.” However, he also noted that, since no one else knew about the festival at the time, “it is not believed to have influenced the Music Day in Dallas or the general development of Music Week.”

Tremaine credits the heavily promoted 1920 Music Week in New York as “furnishing [the] chief impetus” for National Music Week.

And that fuels an intriguing speculation. New York-born Farner had many musical contacts in the City and probably corresponded with them regularly. (He moved back to the New Jersey-New York area in the mid-Twenties.)

Might Farner’s Music Week success in Boise have sparked interest in his home town? We’re unlikely to ever know.
References: [Hawley]
Judith Austin, “Music Week,” Reference Series No. 700, Idaho State Historical Society (1970).
Edward Ellsworth Hipsher, American Opera and Its Composers, Da Capo Press, New York (1978).
"Guide to the Music Week Records: 1913-1986," Collection Number MS 50, Idaho State Historical Society (2008).
C. M. Tremaine, History of National Music Week, National Bureau for the Advancement of Music, New York (1925).

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Skinner Toll Road Connects Silver City to California Supply Route [0td 05/19]

On May 19, 1866, with great fanfare in the Owyhee mining camps, the Skinner Toll Road opened for business. The new road vastly improved stagecoach and freight wagon traffic into Silver City and the other nearby mining towns.
Silas Skinner. Skinner Family Archives.

Silas Skinner, from the Isle of Man, followed the rush after the May, 1863 discovery of gold along Jordan Creek in the Owyhee Mountains [blog, May 18]. He prospected for a time, but the cost of supplies shocked him. Merchants sympathized, but pointed out that they paid huge shipping costs to stock their shelves.

Goods reached the area over two main routes. The older route started in Oregon and back-tracked the Old Oregon Trail as far as Boise City. Wagons then traversed thirty to forty miles of rough road to reach the Snake River. After paying the toll to cross the river by ferry, the freight road followed Reynolds Creek deep into the mountains. The final two miles leading to the pass over to Jordan Creek rises over a thousand feet … greater than a 10 percent grade.

By around 1865, more freight rolled directly out of northern California and cut across the southwest corner of Oregon. The track hit the Idaho border 70-80 miles north of Nevada. From there, travelers might head northeast over the high ground to drop onto the Snake River plain and then on into Boise. Traffic for Silver City turned east and then southeast. Before the Skinner Road, pack trains and wagons from the west could only pick their way along the stream beds leading into the mountains.

Skinner and his partners actually obtained two franchises, applicable to the two tracks into the high mountains. They made some improvements to the Reynolds Creek road, and even purchased an existing toll road to complete their holdings in that direction. However, that north-facing route suffered badly from winter storms. It was impassable at times, and costly to maintain.

To connect with the California traffic, Skinner’s workmen hacked a new road down the Jordan Creek ravine to Wagontown, near the base of the main grade. From there, the Creek wanders south for 10-15 miles before turning back to the north. Skinner basically shortcut across the loop to rejoin the Creek further west. Once they were out onto the more level terrain, builders encountered only one other place where they had to make a difficult cut with pick and shovel.
Freight wagons near Silver City. Commercial Directory.
Their route was not only shorter, it was better protected against weather from the north. The Owyhee Avalanche announcement on the 19th said, “The Ruby City and Jordan Valley toll-road is now in good order for teams, empty or loaded. … It is built on the north side of the creek, thus giving it the full benefit of the sun to keep it dry.”

The toll road made money for Skinner and his partners right from the start. Its presence also encouraged settlement in the lower plains along the Idaho-Oregon border. Over time, Skinner diversified his holdings, raising cattle and horses on range near the stage stop he and his wife ran about ten miles west of Silver City. He also sold parts of his road franchise, apparently being totally out of that business by about 1875. By 1878, Owyhee County had purchased all the Idaho portions and opened them as public roads.
References: Mike Hanley, with Ellis Lucia, Owyhee Trails: The West's Forgotten Corner, Caxton Printers, CaIdwell, Idaho (1973).
A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, Owyhee Avalanche Press (January 1898).
Stacy Peterson, “Silas Skinner’s Owyhee Toll road,” Idaho Yesterdays, Idaho State Historical Society (Spring 1966).
David L. Shirk, Martin F. Schimdt (ed.), The Cattle Drives of David Shirk, Champoeg Press, Portland, Oregon (1956).
“The Skinner Road,” Reference Series No. 427, Idaho State Historical Society (May 1966).

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Prospectors Discover Gold in the Owyhee Mountains [otd 05/18]

O.H. Purdy. Commercial Directory.
On the morning of May 18, 1863, a band of twenty-nine men broke camp and marched south and west from Reynolds Creek over a regional divide.

Early that month, the group had set out from Placerville, in the Boise Basin. They were chasing rumors that Oregon Trail emigrants in the Forties had observed gold signs in southwest Idaho. After crossing the Snake River, they followed along it to the mouth of Reynolds Creek (which they named) and turned into the mountains.

According to the account given later by party member Oliver Hazard Purdy, scouts had observed “what appeared to be a large stream, judging from the topographical formation of the mountains, which were well timbered.”

Purdy, born west of Rochester, New York, had been a Forty-Niner in California at the age of twenty-five.  After several years of indifferent success there, he taught school in Oregon. In 1863, he follow the rush to the Boise Basin, where he joined the Reynolds Creek band.

The explorers picked their way south through rough country and over a succession of small streams. Finally, about 4 o’clock, they curved eastward into the broad base of a canyon that narrowed as it cut deeper into the high country. Leaders decided the shallow bowl at the mouth of the canyon offered a better camping spot than anything they might find further up.

Most of the men began to unpack their mules. One man, however, saw some likely-looking gravel and scooped a batch into his gold pan. Excitement exploded when his pan showed something like a hundred “colors.” Everyone dropped what they were doing and spread out along what they called “Discovery Bar.”

Further prospecting along Jordan Creek, named for one of their party, confirmed that they had found more than an isolated pocket. The men spent ten days following the creek deep into the mountains and locating claims. Then they got together and organized a mining district. That settled, they returned to Placerville. (Over a month would pass before Major Pinkney Lugenbeel picked a site for Fort Boise, which sparked the founding of Boise City. [blog, July 4])

Their finds set off a major stampede into Idaho’s Owyhee Mountains. A letter-writer in Placerville commented (Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, July 17, 1863), "The rush this spring to the Boise mines was frantic … But violently as it raged, it was but a small matter compared to the rush from Boise to Owyhee."

By mid-summer, hopeful miners had scattered all over the area, and two rough towns had already sprung into being. One of them, Ruby City, almost immediately became the county seat for Owyhee County. Then, before the end of the year, entrepreneurs founded Silver City.
Early Silver City. H. T. French photo.

They called it that because prospectors discovered that the real wealth of the Owyhees was not gold. It was silver, with lodes said to be richer than any others known except the best of those around Virginia City, Nevada. Silver City grew rapidly and supplanted Ruby City as the county seat less than four years later.

The presence of so many miners quickly sparked a vibrant stock-raising industry in the area. Michael Jordan, for whom the creek was named, started one of the first ranches. He was, unfortunately, killed by Indians in 1864. (O. H. Purdy was also killed by Indians, in 1878.) When the mining furor died down, cattle and sheep ranching became the life-blood of the Owyhees.
References: [French], [Illust-State]
A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, Owyhee Avalanche Press (January 1898).
“The Owyhee country,” Reference Series No. 200, Idaho State Historical Society.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Historic True Crime

For those of you who enjoy both history and "true crime" stories, check out my newly-revised post on the South Fork Revue: Murder on the Olympic Peninsula.

This is one of the cases handled by pioneer criminologist Luke S. May in 1922. As mentioned on the other blog, I could not include all of his cases in my book about him ... so I plan to post some of those "extra" online.

Second Major Fire Devastates Idaho City [otd 05/17]

The Illustrated History (published 1899) observed, “The second great fire of Idaho City, on the 17th of May, 1867, did not spare St. Joseph's as the first had done.”

The statement referred to the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, which survived a fire that devastated Idaho city in 1865. Fathers Toussaint Mesplie and A. Z. Poulin had been sent by the Roman Catholic Archbishop in Portland to establish a presence in the mining camps. Originally from France, Mesplie had spent years as a missionary among the Indians of Oregon. The Canadian-born Poulin had been associated with the Diocese of Montreal before being sent to the West.
Gold miners with riffle box. Library of Congress.

The Fathers had arrived less than nine months after prospectors established the first mining camp in the Boise Basin. Workmen started construction of the church during the summer of 1863.

The Fathers actually built four churches in the Basin that summer and fall, St. Joseph’s being the first and the largest. Builders had the structures ready by Christmas, 1863. Father Poulin led Christmas masses in Idaho City while Father Mesplie hurried between the smaller churches in three other towns. There were no Protestant churches in the Basin at the time, so, according to newspaper accounts, the Catholic services “were filled to overflowing.”

The following spring, an Idaho City merchant and (apparently) part-time minister erected a Methodist church down the street from St. Joseph’s. The fire in 1865 torched that church and most of the town, but ad hoc firemen saved the Catholic church, a popular theater, and a few other structures. News reports said that people in Boise City could see the huge column of smoke from the fire.

That fire had started, reportedly, in a “hurdy-gurdy” house, which – in the American West, at least – featured girls who would dance with the patrons for a small fee. Accusations of arson flew about, but nothing came of that. Looting, however, was rampant. For years, prospectors continued to find stashes of stolen goods believed to have been hidden away after the fire.

Early histories gave no source for the 1867 fire. Flames were first seen on the roof of a saloon on Main Street, but that did not appear to be where it had started. Although townspeople had organized a Hook & Ladder company a month or so before the fire started, high (almost gale force) winds made their efforts almost hopeless.

In the end, the flames destroyed a major part of Idaho City, even more than had been lost in the 1865 fire. H.T. French noted that every hotel in town was burned to the ground. Yet the flames again spared the Jenny Lind Theater and the offices of the Idaho World newspaper.
St. Joseph’s church, Idaho City. Library of Congress.

In 1867, the Boise Basin placer mines were still highly productive. Owners who had managed to save part of their inventory were soon back in business. Locals also quickly rebuilt St. Joseph’s. A couple months after the fire, the Idaho World reported,  “It is not quite completed, but it already presents the finest appearance of any building in the city … ”

A few months later, newcomers might not even have known that the town had suffered through a big fire. Several structures build after this second fire are still in use today, including St. Joseph’s church.

Idaho City experienced another fire the following year, but the damage was not nearly so great.
References: [French], [Illust-State]
Hubert Howe Bancroft, Frances Fuller Victor, History of Washington, Idaho, and Montana: 1845-1889, The History Company, San Francisco (1890).
Arthur A. Hart, Basin of Gold: Life in Boise Basin, 1862-1890, Idaho City Historical Foundation (© 1986, Fourth printing 2002).
“Idaho City in Ashes,” Idaho Statesman, Boise, Idaho (May 21, 1867).

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Snake River Steamboat Shoshone Makes Trial Run [otd 05/16]

On May 16, 1866, the stern-wheel steamboat Shoshone made its first trial run on the Snake River. The Oregon Steam Navigation Company had built the vessel in a rough temporary shipyard near the confluence of the Boise and Snake rivers.
Shoshone look-alike.* Oregon Historical Society.

Unfortunately, Idaho at that time had virtually no manufacturing infrastructure. Every piece of machinery – boilers, engines, and so forth – had to be hauled from Oregon by freight wagon over the Blue Mountains. Their “shipyard” had no foundry, so a blacksmith hammered out all the small metalwork on a hand forge.

To make matters worse, there was no sawmill near the construction site. Loads of pine planks, some whipsawed by hand, had to be dragged out of the mountains. Work began in October 1865, but poor roads and bad weather caused long delays. Records suggest that all the delays and the freight charges tripled the final cost of the steamer. But finally, in May, the Shoshone floated on the waters of the Snake.

The Company intended to haul freight upstream from Olds’ Ferry, where the wagon road dropped out of the Oregon mountains to the Snake. (It’s also just above the constriction into Hells Canyon.) The Shoshone could carry the equivalent of 60 or more wagon loads, and save weeks getting freight to its most distant planned destinations. It seemed like a can’t-miss investment.

About a week after the trial run (May 24, 1866), the company ran an advertisement in the Idaho Statesman: “Steamboat Navigation on Snake River – the new steamer Shoshone … We can transport from 100,000 to 300,000 pounds per trip.”

However, the project experienced unexpectedly high expenses, starting with hefty labor costs to transfer goods on and off the ship. Also, supplying the boat with firewood proved expensive because there were/are no large forests near the river. And finally, maintenance costs proved to be far greater than expected.

Despite steady losses, the Company pursued its scheme for about three years. Then the directors decided to transfer the Shoshone to the lower Snake and the Columbia. The captain they assigned to run Hells Canyon in 1869 walked away when he saw the first really big whitewater, Copper Ledge Falls (now covered by a man-made lake).
Wild Sheep rapids, a Class-V during spring run-off:
mishaps are life-threatening. National Park Service.

The captain who arrived the following spring repaired some weather damage, reinforced the forward hull, and shot the falls. The boat made it, although part of the prow broke away. After temporary repairs, the sternwheeler continued through some of the most challenging whitewater on the planet.

The sternwheeler’s arrival at Lewiston created a sensation. Their bow debris had preceded them downstream and convinced observers that the Shoshone was no more. From there, the ship chugged downstream to The Dalles, where workers made more permanent repairs.

After about three years on the upper Columbia River, the company transferred the ship to the lower river and sold her. Still unlucky, in late 1874, the Shoshone hit a rock and sank in the Willamette River. The new owners salvaged her machinery, but let a farmer have the hull for a crude barn.

*The Tenino: Columbia-Snake river sternwheeler, same length as the Shoshone, 25 vs 27-ft wide, a foot greater draft, comparable twin-engine (steam) design.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Darcy Williamson, River Tales of Idaho, The Caxton Printers, Ltd., Caldwell, Idaho (1997).

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Miner, Rancher, Bank Founder, and Legislator Joseph Ireland [otd 05/15]

J. N. Ireland. H. T. French photo.
Joseph N. Ireland, co-founder and namesake of the J. N. Ireland Bank, was born May 15, 1839 in Calvert County, Maryland. That's on Chesapeake Bay about twenty miles southeast of Washington. His father died when Joseph was eight, and at fourteen he went to Baltimore to learn saddle-making.

Many Marylanders had strong southern sympathies when the Civil War broke out. Ireland’s reminiscences give no indications, but it seems he might not have wanted to “take sides,” because he emigrated west in 1862. The wagon train he joined split in the vicinity of Old Fort Hall. Ireland stayed with the part that headed for Montana.

Joseph enjoyed considerable success in the Montana gold fields, starting near Bannack (15-20 miles west of today’s Dillon). Then, in the summer of 1863, they got word of major discoveries in Alder Gulch. Within a month of the discovery, stampeders, Ireland among them, founded the town of Virginia City. Ireland later recalled how difficult it could be to keep what one had earned: “There was no law in the country. … Highwaymen were numerous, even operating by day.”

Ireland was tough enough, and smart enough, to prosper despite the difficulties and danger. In late 1863, he and his partners traveled east and made a substantial bank deposit in Omaha. Joseph returned to Idaho the following spring and began building stagecoach stations under contract to Ben Holladay [blog, Aug 11].

By around 1870, cattle raising had taken root in eastern Idaho, so Ireland started a ranch in the general area of Fort Hall. Like Con Shea and David Shirk, he started in the cattle business by driving herds of longhorns up from Texas [blogs, September 24 and October 14]. In 1875, he moved his operation to near Malad City, where he would remain for thirty years. Two years later, he returned to Baltimore to marry his first wife. (He would be widowed in 1888, and remarry in 1905.)

In 1883, Ireland and a partner “experimented” with raising sheep as well as cattle, trailing a herd of over nine thousand in from California. They took heavy losses on the drive and during the first year on the range. However, once they learned the ropes, they began to realize substantial profits from their operation.

In 1888, voters elected Joseph to the Territorial Council, a legislative body roughly equivalent to a state Senate. Four years later, he and some other prominent Malad City businessmen founded a new bank. Because Joseph was the oldest of the founders, they named the institution the J. N. Ireland Bank.

In late 1897 or early 1898, Ireland sold his ranch and invested in the First National Bank of Pocatello. When failing eyesight forced his retirement from day-to-day business in 1905, he moved to that city. Shortly after moving there, he joined with four other investors to found the American Falls Realty and Water Works Company.
J. N. Ireland Bank, Malad, Idaho, ca. 1908. Photo courtesy of Ireland Bank.
Over the next few years, he attained director or vice president positions for several different banks, with locations ranging from Blackfoot, Idaho, south to Ogden, Utah. He retained his interest in the Ireland Bank in Malad, and was a director for it also. Ireland passed away in May 1928.

Today, the J. N. Ireland Bank company, still independent, operates about a dozen branch banks, mostly in small southeast Idaho towns. In fact, Pocatello is by far the largest city where they have banks, and the company has two branches there.
References: [Blue] [French]
J. N. Ireland Bank, Home Page.
 “The Malad Valley,” Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah (April 7, 1887).

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Boise Founder, Idaho Legislator, and Rancher Henry Riggs [otd 05/14]

Henry Chiles Riggs, one of the founders of Boise City, was born May 14, 1826 in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, about thirty miles due east of Lexington. At the age of twenty, he joined the First Missouri Mounted Volunteers and saw action during the Mexican War.
H. C. Riggs. J. H. Hawley photo.

In 1850, Riggs traveled by wagon train to California, where he operated a hotel. He returned to Missouri to get married in 1852, but brought his bride back to California two years later. From there, they moved to Corvallis, Oregon, and then followed the rush to Idaho in early 1863. That June, Major Pinkney Lugenbeel began planning for a fort along the Boise River. Riggs and some other businessmen knew that wherever he sited the fort was likely to be a good spot for a town.

After Lugenbeel made his decision [blog, July 4], Riggs hurried down from Idaho City to meet a supply train coming in from Walla Walla. Reviewing the episode many years later, the Idaho Statesman, said (March 21, 1909), “At that time the cabin owned by Tom Davis and one near the site of the post were built but not occupied, so Mr. Riggs has the distinction of stretching the first tent and occupying it as the first citizen of the town.”

Riggs and the supply wagon master tacked up a sign and quickly attracted customers from the flow of emigrants along that stretch of the Oregon Trail. Thus, the Statesman noted, “Within 10 days a population was there, and the new town established.”

By then, Congress had created Idaho Territory. In May 1864, they reduced it to something near its present size and shape. At that point, Boise County encompassed the present county, plus, basically, everything west to the border, and south from around today’s Arrowrock Dam to the Snake River. Voters elected Riggs as a Representative for Boise County to the second territorial legislature. Henry then went to Lewiston and introduced two key pieces of legislation, both of which passed after considerable, and often heated, debate.
Boise City, 1864. Arn Hincelin painting.

One Act moved the Territorial capital from Lewiston to Boise City, effective December 24, 1864. The second split off the western two-thirds of Boise County to form a new county. Perhaps seeking a non-controversial name, legislators chose to call the new entity “Ada County,” from the name of Henry Riggs’ daughter. After his term in the House, voters also sent Riggs to two consecutive terms in the Territorial Council.

Later in the decade, Riggs began to invest more in properties along the Payette River. He finally moved his family to a ranch there in 1871. Still, one of the couple’s children was born in Boise in August 1872. He remained along the Payette for around thirty years, raising cattle and helping develop the town of Emmett.

Henry began to reduce his activities as he approached his late seventies. In 1902-1903, he (and presumably his wife) took a leisurely year-long trip with a loop from Missouri through New Mexico to California, returning by way of Oregon. Then an illness led to erroneous reports of his death, which the Statesman quickly had to retract (June 20, 1904).

He remained active until early 1909, when the family moved him to the hospital at the Soldiers’ Home in Boise. He died there on July 3rd.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“Boise is the Best of All Says H. C. Riggs,” Idaho Statesman, Boise (April 29, 1903).
Ruth B. Lyon, The Village That Grew, printed by Lithocraft, Inc, Boise (Copyright Ruth B. Lyon, 1979).
“Henry Chiles Riggs, Sr. : May 14, 1826-July 3, 1909,” Reference Series No. 595, Idaho State Historical Society.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Movie and Television Costume Designer Eddie Stevenson [otd 05/13]

Susan Hayward costume,
David and Bathsheba, 1951.
Edward Stevenson Collection, ISU.
Long-time Hollywood costume designer Edward Manson Stevenson was born May 13, 1906 in Pocatello, Idaho. Stevenson spent over thirty years designing movie costumes before switching over to television in 1955. Along the way, he created wardrobes for a host of Hollywood’s biggest stars: Susan Hayward, Maureen O'Hara, Shirley Temple, Ginger Rogers, Edward G. Robinson, and many others.

Eddie credited an aunt who ran a millinery store with sparking an early interest in fabrics. He also said his first experience was at Pocatello High School, where he designed costumes for a couple of operettas. Unable to cope with Pocatello’s climate – he suffered from a “chronic respiratory ailment” – Stevenson moved to southern California in 1922.

Even before he graduated from Hollywood High School his abilities were recognized. He landed a job as a sketch artist, drawing images described in words by designers, writers, or actors. That led to some early design work of his own. Eddie’s first credit in the Internet Movie Database came in 1924. He provided “additional costuming” for The White Moth, a silent film released in 1924.
Barbara La Marr, star of The White Moth.
Edward Stevenson Collection, ISU.

Over the next several years, Eddie found steady work. However, not until 1929 did his name carry enough weight to get screen credits. That year, he received designer credit for five movies, and is known to have worked for two others.

Stevenson’s career took off in the Thirties. He was part of over eighty productions, and worked with some of the superstars of the industry: Barbara Stanwyck (five times), James Cagney (twice), Joan Fontaine (five), Cary Grant, and others. One of those “others” was Lucille Ball. Eddie first worked with her in 1936 … many years later he would serve as her preferred designer.

During his long career, Stevenson had a hand in over two hundred movies. Those include some of the grandest Oscar-winning Hollywood productions: Citizen Kane, The Devil and Daniel Webster, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, and Suspicion. Many more of the films he worked on received Oscar nominations: The Magnificent Ambersons, It’s a Wonderful Life, I Remember Mama, The Spiral Staircase, and so on.
Lucille Ball in her “little black dress.”
Edward Stevenson Collection, ISU.

Eddie received his first two personal Oscar nominations in 1950, for The Mudlark and for David and Bathsheba.

Not long after that, Stevenson had to have cataract surgery. Still, despite the visual handicap, he continued as a designer, with some of his best work ahead of him. In fact, he finally won an Oscar in 1960: He shared the award for The Facts of Life, which starred Lucille Ball.

By then, Stevenson designed almost exclusively for Ms. Ball, having started with her for the I Love Lucy television series. That continued with The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour and two made-for-TV movies. In all, he designed costumes for over one hundred TV episodes.

Stevenson said that TV posed special design challenges compared to movies, mainly because of the small screen. Of course, up until the mid-Sixties, most shows were broadcast in black and white. That meant he also had to consider how a color combination would look for the actual broadcast. Despite those challenges, Eddie enjoyed the fast-paced tempo of TV production, which he said reminded him of his early days in movies.

Eddie had begun working with Ball for the Here’s Lucy show when he had a heart attack and died in December 1968.
References: Trent Clegg, A Brief Biography of Edward Manson Stevenson (1906-1968), Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Idaho State University, Pocatello.
"Ex-Pocatellan Designs Comedy Clothes for 'I Love Lucy' Television Series," Idaho State Journal (January 15, 1957).
"Filmography: Edward Manson Stevenson," Internet Movie Database,

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mine Owner and Long-Time State Senator J. Howard Sims [otd 05/12]

Howard Sims, ca. 1955.
Beal & Wells photo.
Mine owner and State Senator James Howard Sims was born May 12, 1904 in Salmon, Idaho. His father James came to Idaho from Texas in the 1880s, settling along the lower Wood River. In 1888, he moved north of Shoshone. Howard’s mother was born in Oregon; she and James were married in 1893 near Bellevue. Three years later, the couple moved to the Salmon area.

For over twenty years, James engaged exclusively in mining, and young Howard (he seldom used his first name) learned that business at an early age. His father bought a cattle ranch in 1917, so Howard also became versed in that life.

He graduated from Salmon High School in 1922. Howard had an appointment to attend the U. S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, but chose to stay in Idaho. (Probably a wise decision. The Naval Limitations Treaty, signed in February 1922, forced the U. S. to scrap twenty-six existing or under-construction warships.)

After working with his father in mining and ranching, Howard began his own mining venture in 1924. He likewise moved into ranching about 1930. Father and son actively pursued mining prospects throughout the Thirties and early Forties. The Helena Independent, in Montana, reported (August 6, 1937) on a lease arrangement that involved them both: “The claims … were owned by James Sims of Salmon. Operations will begin August 15, with Howard Sims, state senator, as resident manager.” Despite some optimism at that time, the property, a lead-silver prospect near Gilmore, Idaho, never became a profitable operation.

In fact, Sims recalled that, while their mining and ranching sometimes put them “in the money, … more often we were not.” They did do well in the mid- to late-Thirties with one gold mining operation. But even that ended when the advent of World War II suspended gold mining. The War Production Board sought to shift mining equipment and manpower to the production of essential war materials, especially copper. After the war, Howard added copper, and the strategically important cobalt, to his mining interests.

Howard Sims served his first terms in the Idaho Senate in 1938-1942. He then followed with several consecutive terms in 1956-1964. While there, his mining experience provided valuable input to various committees related to that industry. Oddly enough, despite his previous popularity with voters, Democrat Sims could not ride the 1964 Lyndon Johnson landslide: He was defeated “rather decisively” in his re-election bid.

Sims remained actively engaged in mining into the 1960s. In 1963, his company received an “exploration assistance” grant to search for gold and silver in Lemhi County. (Such subsidies were to be reimbursed from later mining profits.)
Early Pope-Shenon Mine buildings. Idaho Geological Survey.

Also, from 1969 until his death, Sims was an officer of  Salmon Copper Mines, Inc., which had an interest in the Pope-Shenon Mine, in the mountains southwest of Salmon. Very little work was done at the property during his tenure with the company. However, back in 1928, only one other Idaho property produced more copper than the Pope-Shenon mine.

Sims spent six years on the executive board of the Idaho Mining Association. In the late 1960s he was the mining expert on the Salmon National Forest Advisory Council. Sims also had an interest in mining claims in Nevada, northeast of Fallon. Those mines produced antimony (when the price was favorable) and silver.

Howard died in an airplane crash near Twin Falls in January 1971.
References: [B&W]
Victoria E. Mitchell, "History of the Pope-Shenon Mine, Lemhi County, Idaho," Staff Report 97-15, Idaho Geological Survey, Moscow (1997).
"U.S. Aid Will go to Idaho Miner," Spokane Daily Chronicle (June 18, 1963).
War Production Board Limitation Order L-208, 7 Fed. Reg. 7992-7993 (Oct 8, 1942, with subsequent amendments.)
"Wind Halts Search for Missing Plane," The Idaho Statesman, Boise (Jan 12, 1971), (Jan 20, 1971).

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Territorial Governor George Shoup Calls for Idaho Constitutional Convention [otd 05/11]

On May 11, 1889, George L. Shoup, Governor of Idaho Territory, issued a proclamation calling for a convention to draw up a constitution for the proposed state of Idaho. His proclamation contained features we would consider unorthodox, and might be thought technically illegal.
George L. Shoup.
National Archives.

Idaho’s status as “just” a Territory had frustrated locals almost from the start. The issue was kept alive by on-going friction between the elected legislature and the officers appointed to the executive and judicial branches, most of whom were outsiders. Of course, the Territory’s population was really too low for statehood, but the supposed minimum had been ignored before.

Hard-nosed politics presented the real roadblock. In 1874, Democrats had wrested political control of Colorado Territory from the Republicans, and thought they could retain it.
Two years later, Congressional Democrats agreed to statehood for the Territory. But they were wrong about keeping control of the new state. In the Presidential election that fall, Colorado’s electoral votes for the Republican candidate ultimately cost the Democrats the White House. The lesson was not lost on either party.

Thus, for over a decade afterwards, Congress admitted no new states to the Union. Finally, elections across the country in 1888 seemed to open the door again. Proponents began to encourage the notion of statehood for Idaho.

But first, Territorial legislators had to resolved two issues: the “Mormon question,” and secession advocacy in North Idaho. They addressed the first by passing legislation – almost certainly unconstitutional – that disenfranchised most members of the LDS church. They blunted the second point by agreeing to give North Idaho the state university, in Moscow.

With those issues out of the way, in early April Governor Edward A. Stevenson issued a proclamation calling for a constitutional convention. Because of the rush, it quickly became apparent that nothing could be accomplished in the way of a convention. Then, at the end of the month, Shoup began his term as Governor [blog, Apr 1].

The difficulty for both proclamations was that the U.S. Congress had not passed “enabling” legislation, authorizing the Territory to write a constitution. That meant the Territorial government could not legally fund any action related to such a document: election of delegates, expenses during the convention, or a ratification ballot.

Precedent suggested Idaho could go ahead and write the document. Many territories had previously ignored the “enabling Act” technicality. The lack of legislative funding authority, however, meant that local governments had to cover all expenses. Unfortunately, many counties could not afford that. Thus, they did not act on Stevenson’s call.

Governor Shoup’s proclamation cleverly circumvented that problem. “If,” he wrote, “… the citizens of any county prefer to elect their delegates by some other equitable method, I am satisfied that the delegates so chosen will be recognized and admitted to seats in the convention.”

In the end, only a handful of counties actually ran elections. In most, the political party organizations – either directly or in local conventions – selected the slates. Each major party picked half; if there was an odd number, the party winning the most recent election received the extra spot. Individuals or the party organizations also paid convention expenses.

Once leaders had a document in hand, the people had to vote on it. Again, local cash funding simply did not exist, so volunteers performed much of the work. The referendum easily passed, setting the stage for the favorable Congressional vote on Idaho statehood in 1890.
References: [B&W], [Hawley]
“Constitutional Convention and Ratification,” Reference Series No. 476, Idaho State Historical Society (1974).

Friday, May 10, 2019

Message Transmitted: Transcontinental Railroad Completed [otd 05/10]

On Monday, May 10, 1869, telegraph operators clattered a message all around the United States, East and West: “D-O-N-E”. That signaled the completion of the transcontinental railroad. The story of the vast national changes the rail line caused has been told and retold, in grand scale.
Meeting of the railroads, 1869. National Park Service.
But perhaps no other region, not directly on the new tracks, felt that impact as much as Idaho, although western Idaho didn’t hear about the event until days later. (Over five years would pass before Boise City and Silver City were linked to the main telegraph system.) The first public news of the link-up appeared in the Owyhee Avalanche in Silver City, Idaho, on Saturday, May 15. Buried on page three was a brief item that began: “Promontory Summit, May 10th – The last rail is laid, the last spike driven.”

Still, even before the Golden Spike Ceremony, the station at Winnemucca, Nevada had become a preferred link from south-central Idaho to California. Its station handled stagecoach and freight traffic in the fall of 1868, and there is some evidence that stockmen were also shipping animals to San Francisco.

Traffic soon increased substantially: Records show that cattlemen shipped over ten thousand head from Winnemucca to San Francisco in 1870-1871.

Further east, Corrine, Utah – about 60 miles north of Salt Lake City – became the transfer point for stagecoach and freight wagon traffic headed north to Montana. The first substantial cattle herds reached the settlement at Taylor’s Bridge (today’s Idaho Falls) within a couple years.

The town of Kelton, Utah – a few miles north of the Great Salt Lake – grew directly from the presence of the railroad. There, stagecoach and wagon traffic to and from Boise City could connect with trains that linked all the way to the East Coast. Before, a trip East to visit family or business associates could easily take a month or two. Now the same might be accomplished in a couple weeks – to us, still a lot, but it vastly reduced the people’s feeling of isolation.

Pioneer Charles Walgamott came west in 1875. He got off the train at Kelton to catch a stagecoach into Idaho. He wrote that Kelton was “ a mere speck in the desert, consisting of some half a hundred houses built around the depot, and large commission warehouses for handling the freight for Idaho. … Large ox and mule teams moved here and there, loaded for the interior, or preparing to load.”
Freight Wagons. Reminiscences of Alexander Toponce (1971).
Charlie was just one of many. The numbers tell the story. When Idaho Territory assumed something near its present shape, in 1864, the legislative census tallied about 19 thousand people. Boise City counted 1,658. But over the next six years, many of the “easy” placer gold fields played out. The 1870 U.S. Census for the Territory enumerated 17,760, a relatively small drop. However, Boise City suffered greatly. It fell to 995 (roughly a 40 percent loss).

Those census takers made their rounds about a year after the rails linked up. Little change could be expected that soon. Ten years, however, made a dramatic difference. The 1880 Census counted over 32 thousand people, an increase of about 84 percent. Boise practically doubled in size. Three years after that, the Territory had its own east-west railroad, and it became a state in 1890.
References: [Brit]
Stephen E. Ambrose, Nothing Like It In the World, Simon & Shuster, New York (2001).
“Census of 1864,” Reference Series No. 130, Idaho State Historical Society.
Fred Lockley, Mike Helm (ed.), Conversations with Bullwhackers, Muleskinners, Pioneers … , Rainy Day Press, Eugene, Oregon (1981).
J. Orin Oliphant, On the Cattle Ranges of the Oregon Country, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1968).
Charles S. Walgamott, Six Decades Back, The Caxton Press, Caldwell, Idaho (1936).

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Grand Opening for Owyhee Hotel in Downtown Boise [otd 05/09]

On May 9, 1910, the Owyhee Hotel in downtown Boise opened for business. Naturally, managers touted their new establishment as the best, with the most modern features and richest d├ęcor in all the Pacific Northwest. The lobby and surrounding balcony, for example, could seat a thousand people for grand events.
Owyhee Hotel, ca. 1920. J. H. Hawley.

Hotels appeared early in the history of Boise City. Among these, the Overland Hotel, located just three blocks from the capitol building, was the place to stay for nearly forty years. Built in 1866, it was where “movers and shakers” scheduled their most important meetings and events. Politicians made important (to them, anyway) speeches from its expansive second-floor porch.

Travelers throughout the Pacific Northwest knew the hotel. They saw it as a civilized oasis between the coast and Salt Lake or Denver. “Meet me at the Overland” provided all the directions needed for a business or social occasion. However, by the turn of the century, the Overland was seriously showing its age, despite multiple renovations and upgrades.

The Idanha Hotel, built a block or so to the northwest in 1901, took over the top spot. (New owners razed the Overland in 1904 and erected a large office building.) The Idanha, new and with all the most modern conveniences of the day, happily filled the void and “ruled the roost” for almost a decade. People famous – Teddy Roosevelt, Clarence Darrow, and William Howard Taft, among them – and not-so-famous just naturally stayed at the hotel when they visited Boise.

However, the Owyhee Hotel quickly challenged the Idanha’s position. The “new kid on the block” had all the latest, most modern features, that huge opulently-decorated lobby, and multiple dining rooms. Of its 250 richly-furnished rooms, 150 had private baths, something many hotels of the period could not match.
Owyhee Hotel, rooftop garden, ca. 1911. sales image.
Plus, the Owyhee boasted a unique feature – and soon its biggest draw – a “roof garden.” There, patrons could enjoy drinks and the latest,“smartest” entertainment. Before air conditioning, this was the place to be on a hot summer evening in Boise.

And the Idaho Statesman (June 9, 1913) reported something totally new for the 1913 season: “a genuine cabaret is to be presented for the first time in Boise.” At the time, cabarets were the coming thing in New York and other big cities. In a classic cabaret, the performers move about the room to interact with their audience. American cabarets downplayed the social and political commentary that was part of the original that appeared in Paris in 1881. Here, they focused on singing and dancing, with snippets of comedy. The cabaret style entertainment proved very popular in Boise, and became a regular feature.

The hotel prospered because it also had much else to offer visitors. Those features arose from the experience and expertise of Eugene W. Schubert: He had managed the Idanha Hotel, the Owyhee’s older competitor, from 1902 until his first retirement in 1908. Thus, with financial backing from prominent Boise businessman Leo J. Falk, the Owyhee took its place among the elite hotels in Boise. Unfortunately, Prohibition dampened enthusiasm for the rooftop entertainment, and that attraction never fully recovered.

Still, the hotel's many other amenities sustains much of its grandeur and success for another half century. Today, economic considerations limit the expansiveness of the hotel’s lineal descendant, the Owyhee Plaza Hotel. The vast lobby/ballroom is gone, as is – sadly – the roof garden. Still, most travelers praise the hotel's classic style and handy downtown location.
References: [Hawley], [Brit]
Dick D’Easum, The Idanha: Guests and Ghosts of an Historic Idaho Inn, Caxton Printers, Ltd., Caldwell, Idaho (1984).
Arthur Hart, “Idaho History: Owyhee Hotel Opened in May 1910,” Idaho Statesman (April 4, 2010).

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Idaho Woolgrower, Businessman, and Legislator Fred W. Gooding [otd 05/08]

Fred Gooding. H. T. French photo.
On May 8, 1856, woolgrower and state legislator Fred W. Gooding was born in Devonshire, England. Fred began work in a factory there at the age of eight, laboring in the morning and attending school in the afternoon.

The family emigrated to the U.S. in 1867 and settled in Michigan. As a young man, Fred worked on a farm in California before returning to the Midwest. There, he took business classes at what later became Valparaiso University in Indiana.

In 1882, he moved to Ketchum, Idaho. After a year or so in the mines, Gooding opened a wholesale-retail butchering business. With the extension of the railroad to Ketchum in 1884, the area boomed [blog, Apr 26] and Fred’s venture prospered along with it. However, the surge died remarkably soon, done in by falling silver prices and labor troubles. Production from the mines dropped abruptly in 1888.

Thus, that same year, Fred moved to a small settlement near the Toponis Railroad station, about fifteen miles west of Shoshone. There, he took up the sheep business. Gooding started in a big way, acquiring nearly four thousand sheep within a couple years. Unfortunately, an unusually severe winter in 1889-1890 ravaged his herds and left Fred heavily in debt. His good credit gave him time to recover and he soon had a new herd and began paying off what he owed.

In 1895, Fred moved to a new residence in Shoshone, but retained his sheep holdings. By around 1898, he owned well over a thousand acres of land, and sometimes had as many as thirty thousand sheep on his ranch. (Toponis, where Fred started out in sheep, became Gooding in 1907 [blog, Nov 1], named in honor of Fred and three brothers.)

Among other business activities, he established the First National Bank of Shoshone, and later became one of the directors of the First National Bank of Jerome. He and two brothers spearheaded construction of a water system for Shoshone, and an electric light plant.
Western sheep shearing. Library of Congress.

Gooding eventually owned over three thousand acres of private range and irrigated farm land. He became one of the largest wool shippers in the region. A charter member of the Idaho Wool Growers Association, he served two terms as the organization’s president.

In 1921, the state “fast-tracked” emergency legislation to create a new commission to oversee the Idaho sheep industry. At its first meeting, the commission elected Fred as its chairman. The measure addressed the fact that, according to the Twin Falls News (February 21, 1921), “Sheep scabies are prevalent throughout Idaho to the extent that the federal government threatened to quarantine Idaho sheep … ”

In additional to several terms in various county offices, Gooding served on the Shoshone city council and as mayor. He also served two terms in the Idaho legislature, holding the position of president pro temp of the Senate after his election in 1909.

Fred developed a strong interest in improving Idaho’s road system as a way to encourage commerce and settlement. In fact, such was his advocacy and leadership in improving Idaho’s road system, he earned the nickname “Good Roads” Gooding. When the governor created the first Roads Commission, he appointed Gooding as its chairman. Fred Gooding passed away in July 1927.
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
James H. Hawley, Eleventh Biennial Report of the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society of Idaho, Boise (1928).
"Site Report - Wood River," Reference Series No. 206, Idaho State Historical Society (1981).