Monday, February 11, 2019

Weiser Rancher, Merchant, and Developer Solomon Jeffreys [otd 02/11]

Solomon Jeffreys.
Illustrated History photo.
Solomon M. Jeffreys was born February 11, 1835, in Jackson County, Missouri, near Kansas City. Ten years later the family traveled the Oregon Trail as part of a large wagon train to Yamhill County, Oregon.

In 1849, Solomon, with father Thomas and brother John, joined the California gold rush. They did well in the gold fields, but the father died on the trip home.

With the stake they had earned, the sons expanded their farm holdings and Solomon started his own place. He later moved east of the Cascades and developed a considerable stock ranch. In 1862, he made a highly profitable cattle drive to the gold fields in Canada.

In 1864, Solomon’s brother Woodson moved to Idaho and took up land along the Weiser River. Apparently he made glowing reports back to Oregon because Solomon joined him the following year. The two partnered in the cattle business as the Jeffreys Brothers Cattle Company. Solomon eventually opened a small store a mile or so from the mouth of the Weiser, serving the stage line along the river.

The area grew slowly, although it did acquire a post office called “Weiser Ranch” in 1866. Woodson Jeffreys and the brother’s friend, Thomas Galloway [blog, June 6], were among the early postmasters. However the “office” was just a drawer in the Jeffreys’ store and the 1870 census found less than 250 residents in what would become Washington County.

In fact, not until 1879 were there enough people to create the new county. Solomon was among those appointed to a temporary Board of Commissioners, tasked with setting up county operations. The fledgling political unit faced one small problem: It contained virtually no towns, not even so much as a hamlet. Thus, two areas faced off for the honor of being county seat – Upper Valley (now Salubria) and Weiser Bridge (now Weiser). Weiser won … aided by some ballot box stuffing and other chicanery, according to local pioneer and historian Judge Frank Harris.

At first, officers ran county business out of their homes, or borrowed space where they could find it. Finally, Solomon Jeffreys gave the county five acres of land near his store. Weiser City began with the sale of lots from the donated acreage. The town did not really grow until the railroad approached. Then, in 1882, the village center moved somewhat closer to the railroad right-of-way near the Snake River.
Western train station, 1884. Glenbow Museum photo.

Solomon’s brother and ranching partner, Woodson, had died the year before. Apparently seeing no future for the cattle business in the area, Solomon had the herd sold off. Thereafter, he joined with several other pioneers to form an irrigation company. Unfortunately, the project was severely under-capitalized and years passed – and the company dissolved and reformed a couple of times – before enough water could be delivered to all who needed it.

A major change hit Weiser in 1890, when a huge fire wiped out the main business district. During the next two or three years of rebuilding, the center of town moved even further west, close to the railroad station. Through all this, Solomon continued to play a substantial role in the Weiser City business community.

Besides a term in the Territorial legislature (1872-1874), Jeffreys also served as a county commissioner, county treasurer, and member of the city council. He died in October 1904.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-State.]
Frank Harris, “History of Washington County and Adams County,” Weiser Signal (1940s).

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