Friday, May 31, 2019

Businessman, Attorney, and Idaho Legislator Lorenzo Thomas [otd 05/31]

Lorenzo Thomas. Family archives.
Idaho legislator, attorney, and businessman Lorenzo R. Thomas was born May 31, 1870 in Staffordshire, England. The family moved to the United States three years later and settled in Salt Lake City.  Then, in 1882, they moved to Eagle Rock (now Idaho Falls), Idaho. As a teenager, Lorenzo went on a mission for the LDS church in England.

Upon his return, he began work in a store in Eagle Rock (the town name changed not too long after that). Thomas showed immediate talent for the retail trade and became manager of the Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI) store in Rexburg at the age of twenty-two.

In 1895, Thomas was elected to the state House of Representatives, serving during the term of Governor William McConnell [blog, Sept 18]. That session of the legislature dealt with a wide range of issues vital to the young state. Early on, they worked out a reapportionment of the state Senatorial and Representative Districts, and restructured several counties in central Idaho.

The legislature also created several offices within the Executive branch. These included a Horticultural Inspector to oversee fruit grading and suppression of insect pests, and a Sheep Inspector to examine herds for possible infectious diseases. They also devised three amendments to the state Constitution. One amendment called for granting women the right to vote, a key milestone in women’s suffrage [blog, Nov 3].

Lorenzo so impressed leaders in Boise that he was appointed Deputy State Treasurer at the end of his term. Then, in rapid succession he became United States Commissioner and then Register of the Federal Land Office in Blackfoot.

Thomas was active in the LDS church, serving many years as a Bishop in Blackfoot. He also belonged to the Blackfoot Commercial Club, served as Director for several regional corporations, and rose to a captaincy in the Idaho National Guard. For a time, he acted as President of the Southeastern Idaho Fair Association.
Blackfoot, Idaho, ca 1898. Illustrated History photo.
Thomas also operated a mercantile business and owned considerable farm land in the area. Not content with all that, Lorenzo studied law, passed the bar exam, and began a successful legal practice

After ten years in the Land Office, Thomas retired to his law practice, interrupted by a term as a Probate Judge in Bingham County. He served as Blackfoot city attorney, and then was elected in 1915 to the first of his four terms in the Idaho Senate. He served two and two, with one term out of office between. During his final Senate term in 1921-1924, Thomas was selected as President Pro Tem.

Besides his political and legal activities, Lorenzo bolstered his farm holdings by supporting key irrigation ventures. Thus, the Idaho Statesman reported (February 15, 1919) that “Senator L. R. Thomas” and two others were trying to “interest the active support of the Pocatello Commercial Club” in an irrigation project in Bannock County.

Although he held no state public office after his final Senate term, he remained active in the Republican Party. As a sign of his commitment to service, Rotary International acknowledged Lorenzo as one of its three oldest District Governors … in 1939, when he was almost seventy years old. He passed away in July 1944.
References: [Blue], [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
"Jottings from Convention Folk," The Rotarian, Rotary International (August 1939).

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Weiser and Boise Physician Joseph R. Numbers, M.D. [otd 05/30]

Weiser mayor and southwest Idaho physician Joseph Reno Numbers was born May 30, 1864 on a farm near Lexington, Ohio, about 50 miles northeast of Columbus. Besides the common schools, Numbers attended prep school at the Ohio Central College (he would have been a classmate of future President Warren G. Harding). He then attended the Eclectic Medical Institute in Cincinnati, and graduated with his M.D. in 1885.  [See blog, February 12, for a discussion of Eclectic Medicine.]
Dr. Joseph R. Numbers [Illust-State]

Numbers practiced for a short time in Kansas and then in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 1888, he moved to Weiser, Idaho, along with his wife (he had married the year before). Joseph prospered in Weiser and, in the summer of 1892, the governor appointed him to a two-year term as Assistant Surgeon for the Idaho National Guard.

Three years later, Numbers became a member of the recently formed Idaho Medical Society. In September 1896, he presented a paper to the society that was later published in the Medical Sentinel journal (Portland, Oregon). The following year, he was appointed to the Idaho State Medical Examining Board. He remained very active in the Medical Society, leading an extensive discussion of important and interesting cases at the 1899 meeting.

The following year, Numbers helped organize the Southern Idaho State Medical Society, an auxiliary of the state society. The annual meeting of the state society met alternately in the north and then south part of the state. Thus, most members (north or south) met with their regional colleagues only once every other year. The Southern auxiliary planned to meet at least twice annually. Coincidentally, that same year Dr. Numbers was elected President of the Idaho State Medical Society.

In 1901, at the end of his term, Numbers sold his Weiser practice and moved to Chicago to do graduate work at the Rush Medical College. Unlike the Eclectic Medical Institute, Rush taught a curriculum of standard medical practice, so Numbers evidently planned to meld both approaches in his practice. Afterwards, he returned to Weiser and partnered with the doctor he had sold his practice to.

In 1907, Numbers was elected to a two-year term as mayor of Weiser. Two years later, he helped organize the Washington County Board of Health, and became secretary of the Board.

In 1910, Dr. Numbers moved his family to Boise, and then went to New York City for further medical education. For a couple years after his return, he apparently split time between his Weiser office and at least some cases in Boise. In the spring of 1911, he was a featured speaker in Boise at a conference on tuberculosis. Then, in August 1913, he moved the family into a home on Franklin Street in Boise and focused on his practice in that city.
Saint Alphonsus Hospital. Library of Congress.

During World War I, Numbers was one of several physicians selected to provide medical examinations for draftees. In May 1920, Saint Alphonsus hospital implemented a major reorganization to better align its operations with recommended national standards and best practices. Dr. Numbers was listed as one of their “visiting staff.”

In 1922, Numbers sold the family home on Franklin Street and moved into a suite next to his offices in the Idaho Building. Three years later, his son, Joseph Reno, Jr., joined him in practice as “Number & Numbers,” physicians. They continued in practice together until late 1939, when the elder Joseph’s wife died. Joseph, Sr. then returned to Weiser to live. He died in early 1942 (in Boise) and is buried in Weiser.
Reference: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“[News for Joseph R. Numbers, M.D.],” Idaho Statesman, Boise; Salt Lake Tribune, Utah (July 1892 – June 1929).
“[Joseph R. Numbers, M.D. – Contributions],” Medical Sentinel, Portland, Oregon (1896, 1897, 1908).

U. S. Assay Office Added to National Register of Historic Places [otd 05/30]

On May 30, 1961, the old U. S. Assay Office in Boise took its deserved place on the National Register of Historic Places.

After the discoveries of 1862, gold – dust, nuggets, and quartz ore – poured out of the mountainous Boise Basin region (east of Boise City). Large amounts of silver from Owyhee County, and elsewhere, soon followed. Gold dust immediately became a preferred medium of exchange, as it always did in gold country. The metal has intrinsic value, of course, and can be doled out in widely varying amounts.
Gold scales. Oregon Historical Society.

However, the dust also suffers from some serious shortcomings. First, transactions require a set of scales and standard weights to measure the dust. Pioneer Charlie Walgamott noted that Chinese miners in south-central Idaho “invariably” carried their own devices, which were very precise and accurate. (A merchant caught with doctored scales would be in big trouble.)

Such transactions were complicated by the fact that not all gold dust was the same. The nominal value was $16 per ounce. However, dust from one placer area might be worth $12 per ounce while that from another might go $19. The circulation of bogus dust caused further doubt in such dealings.

Private assayers provided a stopgap service by melting dust into gold bars of various sizes. Stamped with the weight, value, and assayer identification, these too could be used as a medium of exchange. However, such “currency” did not travel well … generally only as far as the assayers good name.

Thus, by 1864, miners and businessmen alike were agitating for the establishment of a branch mint within Idaho Territory. Failing that, they wanted at least an official assay office. It simply cost too much to ship the precious metals to the Mint in San Francisco. The 1866 Territorial legislature made a formal request for an assay office, but partisan politics and pressing business at the end of the Civil War delayed action until 1869.

In February of that year, Congress authorized creation of an assay office in Boise City. President Grant then appointed former Idaho Chief Justice John R. McBride [blog, Feb 28] to oversee construction and act as the office’s first superintendent.
U. S. Assay Office, ca. 1898. Illustrated History image.

The structure was designed by Alfred B. Mullet, Supervising Architect for the Treasury Department. Mullet design around forty government buildings, including the original San Francisco Mint, the Carson City Mint, and many post offices and customs buildings. The original structure had offices and a laboratory on the ground floor, with living quarters for the Chief Assayer on the second. Construction began in 1870 and the Office received its first official deposits in March 1872.

The Assay Office operated as part of the Treasury Department for over sixty years. It processed several billion dollars (in today’s values) worth of gold and silver during that period. The Office closed in 1933 and the U.S. Forest Service began using the building for office space.

Although the interior was extensively remodeled, the exterior of what became a National Landmark was largely unchanged from the original. The National Register states, under Significance, that the Office was “One of the earliest monumental structures in the Northwest … and has always symbolized the importance of Idaho's mines.”

In 1972, the Idaho State Historical Society became the owner of record. Today, the building houses the Idaho Historic Preservation Office and the Archaeological Survey of Idaho.
Reference: [Brit], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
"Assay Office, Boise," National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service (1961).
“The Old Assay Office in Boise,” Reference Series No. 359, Idaho State Historical Society (December 1974).
Charles Shirley Walgamott, Six Decades Back, The Caxton Printers, Ltd, Caldwell, Idaho (1936).

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Political Operative, U. S. Senator, and Public Servant Fred Dubois [otd 05/29]

Senator Dubois. Library of Congress.
Idaho Senator and political operative Fred Thomas Dubois was born May 29, 1851 in a tiny Illinois town about thirty-two miles south and a bit west of Terre Haute, Indiana. Dubois graduated from Yale in 1872, then worked in a Chicago dry-goods store for about three years.

More inclined toward politics and public service, DuBois wrangled an appointment to a low-level Illinois administrative post. He resigned a year later, shortly before the death of his father, a prominent Illinois politician.

He kept himself busy until 1880, when his brother was appointed resident physician at the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. Fred and his brother were very close, so he decided to move west also. After their arrival, Fred rode on a cattle drive and then worked various jobs around Fort Hall.

Possessed of remarkable political instincts and skills, DuBois began by using family connections to obtain an appointment as U.S. Marshal for Idaho Territory in 1882. The job took him all over the Territory. He then parleyed all those contacts into election as Idaho’s Delegate to Congress in 1887. For the first but not the last time, his campaign promises exploited an undercurrent of anti-Mormon sentiment in the Territory.

DuBois played a key behind-the-scenes role in arranging for the selection of the state’s first U. S. Senate slate [blog, Apr 1]. In the end, DuBois became one of Idaho’s first two Senators, as a Republican. By all accounts, he put his extraordinary political skills to good use there.

Silver mining was then a mainstay of the Idaho economy, so DuBois quite naturally became part of the 1896 Silver Republican Party. Their Presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan, won overwhelmingly in Idaho, but lost nationwide. Meanwhile, a Democratic-Populist party “fusion” ticket won the Idaho legislature, which elected a Populist to replace Dubois in the U. S. Senate.

Dubois returned briefly to his ranch near Blackfoot, and then traveled in the Orient with two friends from the Senate. They stopped in Hawaii, where private U. S. interests had overthrown the indigenous monarchy and were pushing for annexation. The situation only fueled Dubois’ opposition to groups that advocated American expansionism.

As the Silver Republicans withered away nationally, DuBois resuscitated his career with a clever end-run. His skillful manipulation of factions in Idaho’s Democratic Party won him control of that group, which he then led into a fusion with the state’s remaining Silver Republicans. This peculiar amalgam gained control of the Idaho legislature, which then elected Dubois to replace Senator Shoup in the 1900 election.

Filipino rice field, ca 1905. Library of Congress.
For various reasons, DuBois switched to the Democratic Party for his term in the Senate. He particularly opposed the continued American presence in the Philippines. DuBois and other “anti-imperialists” pushed independence for the islands. On the other hand, DuBois supported Republican President Teddy Roosevelt’s proposal to expand national forest reserves, and a program to encourage irrigation projects for arid western lands.

Meanwhile, Idaho’s Republicans had re-unified to gain an overwhelming majority in the state legislature. Thus, DuBois didn’t even bother to run for reelection. (Even with his skills, he probably felt he’d burned too many bridges.) He remained active in Idaho politics until about 1918, but never again ran for public office himself.

DuBois spent the rest of his career in various appointive Federal positions, and sometimes as a lobbyist. Although his wife still operated the Idaho ranch, Dubois spent most of his time in Washington, D. C. He died there in February 1930.
References: [B&W]
Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
Leo W. Graff, Jr., “Fred T. Dubois – Biographical sketch,” Fred T. Dubois Collection, MC 004, Idaho State University  Special Collections, Pocatello.
"Fred Thomas Dubois,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, online.
"Fred Thomas Dubois: May 29, 1851 - February 14, 1930," Reference Series No. 541, Idaho State Historical Society.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Western Film Maker and Adventure Writer Oliver Drake [otd 05/28]

Prolific writer, producer, and director Clarence Oliver Drake was born May 28, 1903 in Boise. While not especially “wild” by that time, Idaho retained much of its Western character: Cowboys rode the range on horseback, and most packed a gun. Stagecoaches still linked outlying towns.
Stage headed for Boise, 1908. Elmore County Historical Research Team.

Oliver reportedly left “the city” at an early age to work on a ranch. However, by 1920, he was picking lemons near Chula Vista, California. Enthralled by silent film entertainment, he began working in the industry in the early Twenties. He apparently acted in several low-budget Westerns, but we know the name of only one: Red Blood and Blue, in 1925.

Drake eventually turned more to the production side: writing, producing, and directing silent films and then talkies. The earliest producer/director credit listed by the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) was Texas Tornado, released in 1932. The IMDb lists a total of 55 films that he produced or directed (14 in which he did both).

Republic Pictures.
He was an even more prolific writer, contributing original stories, scripts, songs and soundtracks for over 130 movies. He is credited with the original story, screenplay, and songs for the 1936 movie Oh Susanna! starring Gene Autry. At that time, Autry was in the second year of what would be a long career as the prototypical “singing cowboy.”

Drake essentially perfected the “B-Western” approach to movies: formulaic – but action-filled – scripts, low-cost performers, and streamlined production. Often disparaged as low-brow “oaters,” such films nonetheless offered good entertainment value to the movie-going public right into the 1950s.

Not blessed with budgets that could afford stars who had “made it,” Drake worked with a number of stars on their way up. These included Sebastian Cabot, Denver Pyle, and John Paine, among others.

In 1949, he directed a film in which Emmy-winning actress/singer Polly Bergen played a cantina singer. Bergen was still active until 2012.  She played an on-going role in the TV series Desperate Housewives and acted in another film after that. She passed away in 2014. In 1956, Drake wrote a small part for Slim Pickens, later noted for cowboy-riding the dropped nuclear bomb in Dr. Strangelove.

Columbia Pictures.
However, the advent of television, with its “free” content, doomed the B-Western. Whereas Drake directed and/or produced 46 movies in 1941 through 1950, he did only 8 over the next twenty years. His last “standard” B-Western was The Parson and the Outlaw, released in 1957.

Ironically, but perhaps fittingly, the film was also the last movie role for Charles “Buddy” Rogers (who played the parson). A musician and band leader as well as an actor, Rogers had entered the movie business about the same time as Drake. Rogers was never a big star, and was perhaps better known as Mary Pickford’s husband for over forty years.

Drake continued to write, both for movies and for television. He wrote nearly thirty TV episodes, including spots for such popular shows as The Adventures of Superman, The Gene Autry Show and Lassie. He also produced or directed at least 16 TV episodes, including some for Sky King and Lassie. His last IMDb movie title appeared in 1970. He ended as he started … with credits as writer, producer, and director. Drake passed away in August 1991.
References: [French]
"Oliver Drake," Internet Movie Database,

Monday, May 27, 2019

Snake Indians Defeat U. S. Army at Battle of Three Forks [otd 05/27]

The afternoon of May 27, 1866, a force of white infantry and cavalry encountered a band of about 500 “Snake” (Shoshone-Bannock-Paiute) Indians at the Three Forks of the Owyhee River. Major Louis H. Marshall had led the U. S. Army Regular infantry out of Boise Barracks in an attempt to “pacify” the tribes. Indian attacks on outlying ranches and passing stagecoaches had intensified as prospectors and ranchers poured into the Owyhee area.
Three Forks of the Owyhee.
Photo posted on by L. A. Price.

The Army had sent the Regulars west in response to what the newspaper called the “Snake War” [blog, Nov 25]. This generally low-level conflict with tribes in southwest Idaho, Nevada, and southeast Oregon had flickered off and on since 1862. Released from the East by the end of the Civil War, the troops arrived in Boise City in late 1865. Totally unused to Indian warfare, the soldiers had little early success.

From Boise, Major Marshall led his infantry across the Snake River and south to Camp Lyon. This Army outpost straddled the Idaho-Oregon border, 16-18 miles west and a bit north of Silver City. From there, the troops moved south and west into Oregon. Around the 23rd, a troop of Oregon Volunteer cavalry had joined Marshall. They soon discovered fairly fresh Indian sign and followed it south, using trails over the plains high above the Owyhee River.

Marshall and the cavalry commander suspected that the Indians at Three Forks were those who had massacred about fifty Chinese a week earlier. They hurried to attack despite the obstacles and dangers. At Three Forks, the river twists through an 800-foot canyon, where the walls are practically vertical in places.

The soldiers had to clamber over loose rocks and through shifting gravel in their descent along a ravine. Heavily outnumbered (about 85 versus 250-300 warriors), they deployed along the west bank and began exchanging fire across the river. They inflicted a few casualties in four hours of fighting, but the Indians easily replaced the perhaps 15-20 wounded and dead who were carted off over the ridge. Even some shots from their mountain howitzer failed to create an opening to advance.

Battle diagram, soldiers entered initially from left.
Overlaid on U.S. Geological Survey relief map.
As the shadows grew long in the canyon, Marshall moved downstream in hopes of outflanking his adversary. However, they lost their cannon trying to ferry it across. In the morning, the Indians ambushed the flanking attempt, killing one soldier. They kept the troops pinned down throughout the day.

Marshall finally realized the futility of trying to attack a superior force in such rugged country. He later wrote that “Ten men can hold a hundred in check and prevent their ascent.”

He ordered a risky night withdrawal. Although they had inflicted more casualties than they took, Marshall’s force had lost its artillery piece and been forced to retreat. Their performance surely did little to inspire fear or respect in their adversary. Nor were civilian observers impressed. Editorial writers were scathing in their criticism of the Army’s ineptitude, poking fun at them for the drowned cannon.

Within a week after the battle, Indian raiders struck at three widely scattered spots and ran off over 120 cattle and horses. All told, they made seven or eight attacks in about a month after the debacle. Finally, in November, the Army appointed a new commander, Lieutenant Colonel George Crook, to prosecute the war [blog, November 25].
References: [B&W]
"Battle of Three Forks and the Owyhee Cannon," Reference Series No. 239, Idaho State Historical Society.
Gregory Michno, The Deadliest War in the West: The Snake Conflict, 1864-1868, Caxton Press, Cakiwell, Idaho (2007).
"The Snake War: 1864-1868," Reference Series No. 236, Idaho State Historical Society (1966).

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Idaho Territory Reduced in Size to Create Montana [otd 05/26]

On May 26, 1864, the U. S. Congress passed legislation that reduced the previously-massive Idaho Territory by creating Montana Territory and splitting off most of future Wyoming. President Lincoln signed the bill two days later. By this action, they solved one of the major problems with the original structure of Idaho Territory.
Original Idaho Territory.
Adapted from J. H. Hawley with future borders tinted in color.

When Congress created Idaho Territory in 1863 [blog, Mar 4], it encompassed today’s Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. It was, in fact, larger than Texas and Illinois combined. Put another way, the direct distance from Fort Laramie, in the southeast corner of the Territory, to the Territorial capital in Lewiston was almost as much as that from St. Louis, Missouri to Washington, D. C.

Aside from the sheer size, geographical reality made the Territory practically ungovernable. The Continental Divide separated two-thirds of all that area from the capital. Most of it was, of course, largely empty of whites. They were concentrated in the rich gold finds around Bannack and Virginia City. Still, over a third of the Territory’s population lived east of the Divide.

The first Idaho Territorial legislature convened on December 7, 1863. The handful of elected officials from east of the Divide had no particular trouble getting to Lewiston. However, when the legislature adjourned in February 1864, deep snow totally blocked the massive ranges to the east and south of the capital.

East-side officials first rode a stagecoach west to Wallula, where they could board a Columbia River steamboat. (Due to ice and low water, the first Snake River steamer would not reach Lewiston until April.) From there, they could proceed to Portland. They then embarked on a coastal ship to San Francisco, where they caught the regular overland stage to Salt Lake City. From there they split, some continuing to Fort Laramie, the others heading north.
Territorial map, 1866. J. H. Colton & Company.

Congress knew of this “ludicrous arrangement.” Even the Eastern newspapers, such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, remarked (March 4, 1864) on Idaho’s problem: “It will be impossible to establish good government there until the Territory is divided. The seat of government is in the extreme northwest corner of Idaho, from which the eastern part of the Territory is cut off by a mountain range, placing it quite beyond the control of the authorities while stationed so far away.”

Fortunately, Federal officials were already devising a solution. The easy answer would have been to partition the area along the Continental Divide. That would have put the border just east of today’s Butte. However, settlers in the Missoula Valley rejected the notion that their government would still be in Lewiston. (The final Idaho-Montana boundary followed the path we see today.)

By early May, 1864, legislators were deep in discussions of a bill to create this new Territory, to be called “Montana.” One final point held up passage, however. The House Committee proposed wording that restricted voting in the first Territorial elections to white men only. The Senate opposed that provision. Finally, after weeks of argument, they settled on the “color-blind” wording that ended up in the Territory’s Organic Act: “all citizens of the United States and those who have declared their intention to become such … shall be entitled to vote at said first election.”

Of course, Montana didn’t get everything Congress split off. They also put Wyoming (more or less) back in Dakota Territory. Note also that Idaho’s southeastern border ran along the 33rd longitude west of Washington, D.C. That changed to the 34th in 1868, giving Idaho its present odd shape.
References: [B&W], [Brit], [Hawley]
"The Creation of the Territory of Idaho," Reference Series No. 264, Idaho State Historical Society (March 1969).
Michael P. Malone, Richard B. Roeder, and William L. Lang, Montana: A History of Two Centuries, Revised Edition, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1991).
“Map of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana,” General Atlas, J. H. Colton & Company, New York (1866).

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Boise Veterinarian, Horse Breeder and State Veterinary Surgeon George Noble [otd 05/25]

Dr. George Edward Noble, Idaho’s first State Veterinarian, was born May 25, 1868 in Nashua, Iowa. (Nashua is about 100 miles west and a bit north of Dubuque.) There are conflicting accounts of his early education, but as a youth he apparently completed a business program at Upper Iowa University (in Fayette, a tiny town about sixty miles northwest of Dubuque).
Vet students learn about horses. Kansas State University Archives.

After “nine terms” of teaching school, George began studies at the Chicago Veterinary College and “qualified for practice as a veterinarian” in 1890. The following year he graduated with a Doctor of Veterinary Surgery degree. Dr. Noble opened a practice in his home town and then, after three years there, married and set up in Osage, Iowa.

He moved to Boise in 1902. For several years, Dr. Noble was the only graduate veterinarian in the state of Idaho. That led to his appointment, in 1905, to the first of three terms as official State Veterinary Surgeon.

The doctor had his work cut out for him, right from the start. Some sheep ranchers objected to his decree that they should dip their sheep a second time, in the fall. Noble’s intent was to eradicate sheep scab, which is highly infectious, and can cause severe weight loss or even death. Dissenters, who disliked the extra cost, claimed a second treatment would damage the wool. But they got no relief from the Governor, Frank R. Gooding, a major sheep raiser himself and considered an expert on the business [blog Sept 16].

And the Vet’s vigilance paid off. Five years later, he returned from a statewide inspection and told the Idaho Statesman (November 29, 1910), “I find conditions most favorable. There is little disease and the stock is looking fine.”

Initially, there was some confusion about his position: Dr. Noble had to take the State Auditor all the way to the Idaho Supreme Court to have his salary paid. In creating the office, the legislature did away with the office of State Sheep Inspector. They intended to transfer those duties – and the relevant compensation – to the Veterinary Surgeon. However, the wording left some doubts. Noble finally did get paid.

In the course of his duties, George naturally traveled all over Idaho. By this, he displayed a highly profession presence to the state’s stockmen and “raised the bar” for the delivery of veterinary services. A 1932 biographer noted that “no man is more familiar with the live stock industry here.”

Dr. Noble led professional development in Idaho by organizing an association of veterinary surgeons. In 1913, he helped found the Idaho Veterinary Medical Association, and served as its first president. For many years he acted as resident secretary for Idaho for the American Veterinary Medical Association.

George also took an active role in the Boise business community, starting with the founding of the Boise Veterinary Hospital. He became a member of the Boise Commercial Club and invested in real estate in and around the city.
Shires in harness. Snake River Shires photo.

During his time in Iowa, George got interested in breeding and racing fine trotters and pacing horse. He decided to continue that in Idaho and soon bought a ranch in Canyon County. He also began to raise registered Shire horses, with which he won numerous State Fair awards. He also bred registered shorthorn cattle.

Dr. Noble later bought more ranch property. At some point he began running sheep, and also devoted part of his property to raising certified alfalfa seed.

George Edward Noble passed away in January 1963, having almost reached his ninety-fifth birthday.
References: [Defen], [[Hawley]
“Noble, State Veterinary Surgeon vs Bragaw, State Auditor,” Pacific Reporter, Vol. 85, West Publishing Company, St. Paul (1906).

Friday, May 24, 2019

Stock Growers Offer Reward to Catch Rustlers and Horse Thieves [otd 05/24]

On May 24, 1889, the Secretary of the Idaho County Stock Growers’ Association posted a notice in the Idaho County Free Press (Grangeville): The Association would pay $100 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of rustlers and horse thieves. The specific wording targeted those who illegally branded or marked the animals.
Branding on the range. Library of Congress.

That reward amounted to about three months pay for a typical cowhand back then, so the stockmen were deadly serious. Horse theft had started hand-in-hand with the discovery of Idaho gold in 1861-62. Cattle herds entered the country within a year or two, and so did rustling.

Ranching in southern Idaho and the Great Basin* offers crucial advantages for stock thieves. First, ranchers must scatter their animals over considerable rangeland because of the rather sparse forage. Ranch headquarters are usually located near the few streams that trickle through the region.

Worse yet, ranching practices of the time almost invited rustlers to help themselves. Early cattlemen basically turned their animals out on the range to fend for themselves. They only saw the whole herd during spring round-up, for castrating young bulls and branding. They might see them again in the fall when they culled out market-ready animals.

The rest of the year, cowboys had little to do except “line-riding” – casually patrolling the vague and generally unfenced boundary of whatever range “the boss” considered his. Thus, barring accidental meetings, rustlers could operate largely undisturbed. By gathering small numbers from several ranches, they could make off with a considerable “take” and leave each rancher unsure that he’d been raided. Finally, because of the rugged terrain, rustlers are seldom far from rough country to hide in.

Rustler struck everywhere. A major incentive for the formation of the Idaho County Stock Growers’ Association, in 1885, was “to prevent the stealing, taking or driving away of horned cattle, sheep or other stock.”

Unfortunately, they and other similar organizations only partially succeeded. Nor has the problem gone away: Ranchers in our region have lost millions of dollars in stock to rustlers over recent years.
Rancher discusses his losses with a deputy sheriff.
Richard Cockle photo, The Oregonian.

Thieves still work many of the same advantages, although the range is now fenced and cattle are gathered for a winter feeding regime. Yet for most of the year, the animals scatter over vast areas and stockmen lack the manpower to patrol extensively. Thieves even foil aircraft surveillance by operating during bad weather.

Riding horses, they steal a couple dozen head and drive them into rough country, eventually loading them onto a stock truck … perhaps fifty miles away. Lawmen know the real problem: “They may end up four states away from us.”

The rustlers obviously have experience handling cattle, and they’ve carefully scouted the country. And they don’t care that their depredations can put a small rancher out of business. Sadly, rustling is probably almost “an inside job.” Law officers and rancher-victims agree: “It’s people who know cows, who know the country.” Or, as one sheriff said, “The people who are the victims of the cattle thefts are going to know [the thieves].”

* Great Basin: Western Utah, a major portion of Nevada, and southeast Oregon.
References: [B&W], [Illust-North]
Jeff Barnard, “Cattle rustling amounts to $1 million loss in Oregon, Idaho, Nevada ” The Associated Press (January 4, 2010).
Richard Cockle, “Modern-day cattle rustlers hit ranches in southeast Oregon,” The Oregonian, Portland (November 23, 2009).
M. Alfreda Elsensohn, Eugene F. Hoy (Ed.), Pioneer Days in Idaho County, Caxton Printers, Caldwell Idaho (1951).

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).