Monday, July 4, 2022

Major Pinkney Lugenbeel Picks Site for Fort Boise [otd 07/04]

Major Lugenbeel, ca 1880.
U. S. Army Archives.
On July 4, 1863 Major Pinkney Lugenbeel formally selected a spot to build a military encampment, which the U. S. Army initially called Camp Boise.

A West Point graduate and Regular Army officer, Lugenbeel had been assigned to train Volunteer recruits in the Pacific Northwest at the start of the Civil War. These partially-trained western Volunteer troops quickly replaced Regular Army units that were transferred east.

Undermanned Army garrisons had done their best to protect pioneers on the Oregon Trail from Indian attacks, with spotty results. The situation became critical when the Regulars transferred out and Volunteer replacements were slow to arrive. Then, in 1862, Boise Basin discoveries added thousands of gold miners to the mix. Additional finds around what became Silver City, in May 1863, exacerbated conflicts with the Indians.

Miners in the brand-new Idaho Territory [blog, March 4] demanded better protection, as did emigrants on the Trail. Federal officials finally ordered Major Lugenbeel to lead a mixed force of Volunteers – Oregon Cavalry and California Infantry – into Idaho and establish a base there.

He selected a spot with good prospects for water and forage, but back from the main channel of the Boise River. Pioneers reported that the river had run a mile wide over the flood plain during the previous season. Not knowing how often this happened, Lugenbeel took no chances. (Nothing like it has happened since.)

The location also had potential as a crossroads between the Oregon Trail and the developing tracks that connected the various mining districts. The day after Lugenbeel chose his location, a correspondent in Placerville sent a letter to The Oregonian (published on July 18, 1863), in Portland. It said, “Maj. Lugenbeel has located the new Fort Boise at a point twenty-five miles from the mouth of Boise, on that stream. The distance from Placerville is thirty miles.”

The writer had the distance to Placerville about right, but his other guess missed badly: The mouth of the Boise River is more like fifty miles from Fort Boise. Long before troops completed the Camp and its support facilities, Boise City sprang into being close by. Less than three months later, the first Territorial Census recorded 725 people in the Boise district. It became the Territorial capital near the end of 1864.

Fort Boise (it’s not entirely clear when the name changed) became the Army’s main base of operations in southern and central Idaho during the Indian wars of 1877-1880. During that period, reports began to refer to the site as Boise Barracks. Major Marshall Wood served as Post Surgeon at the Barracks, starting in 1894. Two years later, he prepared the first systematic reports about Rock Mountain Spotted Fever [blog, June 3].
Commanding Officer’s Quarters, Fort Boise. Library of Congress.

The Barracks served as the Idaho National Guard mustering point for their deployment to the Philippines in 1898. In 1912, the Army left the site and the Idaho National Guard took up occupancy.

Guard units gathered at the Barracks and deployed to the Mexican border in 1916, and assembled for duty in World War I a year later. The Guard moved elsewhere in 1919. Over the years since, various state and federal offices have used parts of the old Fort and some land has gone into private ownership.

In 1972, the Park Service added several of the remaining structures, collectively known as “Fort Boise,” to the National Register of Historic Places.
References: [B&W]
Carolyn Thomas Foreman, “Colonel Pinkney Lugenbeel,” Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 24, No. 4, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City (1946).
“Fort Boise,” National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service (1972).
“Location of Fort Boise and Boise City,” Reference Series No. 1119, Idaho State Historical Society (June 1996).
John D. Unruh, Jr, The Plains Across, University of Illinois Press, Urbana (1979).

Sunday, July 3, 2022

President Harrison Makes Idaho Territory the Forty-Third U. S. State [otd 07/03]

President Benjamin Harrison, ca. 1897.
Library of Congress.
On July 3, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed the bill that made Idaho a state, the 43rd. The signing culminated one of the more convoluted pathways taken by any state to its final admission into the Union.

Idaho became a Territory in March 1863. That was largely because political leaders in Washington Territory wanted to be rid of all those voting-age prospectors in the Idaho gold fields [blog, March 4].

Lewiston was selected as the initial capital more or less "by default." However, legislators from the populous Boise Basin and Silver City areas moved the capital to Boise City at the end of 1864. Thus, for years to come, Panhandle residents – Lewiston, Grangeville, and further north – fought to to escape the “tyranny” of the southern Idaho counties.

Yet the Territory might have become a state within just a year or two, despite its almost totally undeveloped infrastructure. The first Territorial governor, William Wallace [blog, Oct 31], had gone East to Washington, D. C., as Idaho’s Delegate to Congress. (Delegates have no vote on the floor, but can serve on committees and vote on issues at that level.)

The man who replaced him, Caleb Lyon, wanted to do even better. If he could somehow promote Idaho statehood, he hoped to be rewarded with a seat in the U. S. Senate. After all, Nevada had been granted statehood in 1864, although it had fewer people than Idaho at the time. But the Republican-controlled Congress rejected the notion because Democrats had become the dominant party in Idaho by then.

In the period 1872-1876, North Idahoans mounted yet another strong campaign for annexation to Washington. That failed, but they raised the issue again in 1882. Diehards pushed this option especially hard during the campaign to gain statehood for Washington. However, separatist sentiment among the general population had largely waned by then. Washington became a state in 1889, without any additions from North Idaho.

Idahoans also felt pressure from the south. In 1869-70, Nevada politicians had opened a campaign to annex the major mining districts in the Owyhee area near Silver City. To gain support further north, they even went so far as to propose that Idaho be split between Nevada and Washington Territory. That proposal also failed.
Territorial capitol building, completed 1886.
Illustrated History of the State of Idaho.
In 1886, northerners combined with Nevada politicians to resurrect the Territorial-split notion. The first part of the scheme, adding the north to Washington, actually passed Congress in March 1887. Luckily, Idaho had a “secret weapon” in Governor Edward A. Stevenson. He had, of course, been appointed by President Grover Cleveland. Moreover, the governor’s cousin*, Adlai E. Stevenson, was then Assistant Postmaster General of the United States. (He would serve as Vice President during Cleveland’s second term.) Cleveland heeded the Idaho Governor’s plea to veto the bill.

Idaho settlement had increased dramatically after the Oregon Short Line Railway completed tracks across the southern part in 1884. Thus, by around 1888, proponents had launched a serious campaign to attain statehood for the Territory. As noted in my blog for May 11, they were unable to push “enabling legislation” through Congress, but went ahead with a constitutional convention in 1889. After all the earlier political fireworks, the statehood vote in 1890 seemed almost anti-climactic.

* At best they were fourth or fifth cousins. But in that era, emigrant families counted their connections back through many, many generations. There was no such thing as a “distant” cousin; they were simply “family.”
References: [B&W]
“Caleb Lyon’s Statehood Scheme,” Reference Series No. 377, Idaho State Historical Society (July 13, 1966).
“Centennial of Idaho's Admission to Statehood,” Reference Series No. 928, Idaho State Historical Society (April 1989).
“Idaho Before Statehood (1860-1890),” Reference Series No. 108, Idaho State Historical Society (July 1966).
“Idaho State Admission,” Reference Series No. 916, Idaho State Historical Society (1989).

Saturday, July 2, 2022

“Ironclad Oath” Loyalty Provision and Idaho Political Infighting [otd 07/02]

On July 2, 1862, the U. S. Congress passed what was called the “Ironclad Oath” law. The law required Federal officials and employees to swear, not just that they would not, but that they had never supported the Confederacy. This “test oath” led to bitter political turmoil in Idaho.
President Lincoln. Library of Congress.

The Civil War was in full swing when Congress passed the law. Lincoln’s “coat tails” had carried many Republicans to victory in the previous elections. When members from the seceded states withdrew, Republicans ended up with substantial majorities in both Congressional branches.

Many members were so-called “Radical Republicans,” who were vehemently anti-slavery. They sought not just to abolish slavery, but to impose the most severe possible punishments on slave-holders and their supporters. Expansive interpretations of the Ironclad Oath provided one means for them to retain power and punish their enemies.

The full extent of the Radical’s impact on post-war southern Reconstruction is confusing, and beyond the scope of this blog. They did bring educational opportunities, land ownership, and (temporary) political power to the the Freedmen. However, some Radicals also used it to promote their personal financial interests and “power trips.”

Radical politics in general, and the Ironclad Oath in particular, inflamed matters in Idaho Territory.  As noted in various other blog articles [Oct 31, for example], Territorial voters have no direct say in the executive or judicial branches of their government. The U. S. President, with approval by the Senate, appoints the Governor, judges, and other officials.

Mid-way through the Civil War, and thereafter, many Democrats fled the South to escape the War’s destruction, and then the excesses of Reconstruction. They controlled Territorial legislative elections in Idaho for over a decade after 1864. The test oath became the focus of one of their earliest disputes with governors appointed by Radical politicians in Washington. Radicals wanted to apply the Oath to exclude ex-Confederates and Southern sympathizers from all elective offices.

Idaho’s Democrats would have none of that. In 1866, both legislative houses passed a law that said elected Territorial legislators – “civil officers” – need only take the oath specified in the Organic Act that created Idaho Territory. That is, they had to swear “to support the Constitution of the United States, and faithfully to discharge the duties of their respective offices.” They argued that the national Ironclad Oath law applied only to Federal (or Federally-appointed) officials.

Governor Caleb Lyon, who knew where his (Radical) bread was buttered, did his best to ignore the bill. He did not veto it, but he didn’t sign it either. Technically, the Act then became Territorial law “by default.” But then the original document, still unsigned, disappeared, leaving the matter somewhat in limbo.
Governor Ballard. Library of Congress.

The next legislature wanted to leave no doubt. They passed the same act again. A new Governor, David W. Ballard, vetoed it, but the legislature easily overrode him. The Ironclad Oath generally receded in importance in Idaho politics after that. Of course, other divisive issues would still cause rancorous disputes between the legislature and the Governor’s office.

In 1867, the U. S. Supreme Court had ruled that some narrow applications of the Ironclad Oath were unconstitutional. Even so, the national law remained a suppressive tool in many jurisdictions until Radical Reconstruction began to ease in about 1877. Test oath opponents tried to repeal the law numerous times over the next several years. They finally succeeded in 1884.
References: [B&W], [Hawley]
“The Fight Over the Iron Clad Oath, 1865-1867,” Reference Series No. 381, Idaho State Historical Society (July 18, 1966).
John Hope Franklin, Reconstruction After the Civil War, University of Chicago Press (1994).
Michael A. Ross, “Loyalty Oaths,”  Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, David S. Heidler, Jeanne T. Heidler (eds.), W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York (2000).

Friday, July 1, 2022

Idaho Legislature Passes a Driver’s License Law [otd 07/01]

On July 1, 1935, after protracted debate, the Idaho legislature approved a law that required car and truck drivers to obtain a state license. Oddly enough, the licensing process did not require a driver’s examination. The motivation for this new law was not revenue, apparently. The three-year license cost just 50 cents ($8-10 in today’s money).
Car accident, ca 1919. Library of Congress.

As the number of automobiles on the nation’s roads increased after about 1900, so did the frequency of accidents and traffic fatalities. Towns and states had laws meant for horse-drawn vehicles, but these were inadequate to insure safe auto traffic. In fact, many jurisdictions saw cars as a source of revenue. The New York Times complained (August 18, 1907), “In dealing with the automobile speed problem, the police are not attempting to save human life, but to collect money.”

Massachusetts was the first state to license drivers, in 1903. By 1910, most of the populous states in the Northeast had license laws. The one exception was New York (it did begin licensing chauffeurs in 1910). However, New York City joined the general licensing trend in 1917.

Localities or states had required licenses for the motor vehicles themselves almost from their first appearance. Idaho passed such a law in 1913. An article in the Idaho Register (Idaho Falls, April 11, 1913) noted that the legislature had decided that “motor vehicles are a luxury … [so] those who are so fortunate as to possess cars should pay for the privilege.”

License fees varied according to the horsepower of the vehicle, starting at $15 for less than 30 horsepower, rising to $40 for more that 50 horsepower. The Register wryly observed, “There is likely to be a decided shrinkage in horse-power, and cars which have been bragged on as 40 horse-power will likely be classed as lower power cars.”

However, there was no such documentation for drivers, so so-called “scorchers” had only to keep paying fines when snared by a speed trap. Only if the speeder forgot, and got caught in the same jurisdiction, would a traffic court know he was a repeat offender. (And maybe not even then, if the constable and judge were different.)

It should come as no surprise that car salesmen were among the worst offenders. Prospective buyers wanted to know how fast a vehicle could go. A “demonstrator” interviewed for the Times article above said, “I cannot sell a car if I let some rival come along and pass me on the road.”
Many Cars Along Broadway, Idaho Falls, 1930s. Bonneville County Historical Society.
Finally, in 1935, Idaho and five other states passed license laws. Thirty states and the District of Columbia preceded them. As suggested above, many objected to the driver’s license proposal. The main complaint seemed to be that it would be too expensive to administer such a program, and it probably wouldn’t save any lives. During the debate, the originally-proposed $1 fee was cut in half. Although the law imposed no penalties on bad drivers who figured in multiple accidents, the feeling seemed to be that “at least now we’ll know who they are.”

Over a decade passed before new legal provisions required drivers to show proof of “financial responsibility,” the early form of today’s auto insurance requirement. Idaho began requiring a driver’s license examination in 1951. It was among the last half-dozen states to do so.
References: “Idaho’s Motor Vehicle History,” Idaho Department of Transportation.
Timeline: 1800s, 1900s, The Center for Transportation and the Environment, North Carolina State University, Raleigh (2009).
“Driver Licensing,” Highway Statistics to 1995, U. S. Department of Transportation (April 1997).

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Banker, Rancher, and U. S. Senator John Thomas [otd 06/30]

Senator Thomas. Library of Congress.
On June 30, 1928, Idaho Governor H. Clarence Baldridge appointed banker and rancher John W. Thomas to fill the U. S. Senate seat vacated by the death of Frank R. Gooding [blog, September 16]. The appointment arose partly from the fact that Thomas was considered Gooding's political protégé.

Thomas was born January 4, 1874 in Phillips County, Kansas, 60-70 miles north of Hayes. He attended a Normal school in central Kansas. John then taught for several years and spent five years as a school Superintendent. From 1906 to 1909, he served as Register of the Land Office in Colby, Kansas.

In 1909, Thomas moved to Gooding, Idaho, where he engaged in banking and invested in real estate. At that time, Frank Gooding had just completed two terms as Idaho Governor. (Custom then dictated that the governor should serve only two consecutive terms.) Thomas and Gooding became associated through their common interests in banking, ranching, and politics.

Thomas was mayor of Gooding in 1917-1919, when Gooding lost in his first run for a U. S. Senate seat. Gooding succeeded in 1920 and was reelected in 1926. By then, Thomas was a member of the Republican National Committee. Thus, when Gooding died two years into his term, the Thomas appointment followed naturally.

Concerning the appointment, the Governor was reported to say, “For a number of years Mr. Thomas was closely associated with the late Senator Gooding and seems to be the logical man to carry on the splendid fight Gooding waged for the economic development of Idaho.”

The subsequent special election confirmed his seat for the remainder of the term.

Being Senators from a farm state, both Thomas and William E. Borah [blog, yesterday] voted for the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. The Act had originally been proposed as relief for American farmers. However, by the time it passed, the Act also contained sky-high tariffs on hundreds of non-farm products. Countries all around the world retaliated with higher duties on American products. While Smoot-Hawley did not cause the Great Depression, economists generally agree that the Act made it far worse.

During this term in the Senate, Thomas chaired the Committee on Irrigation and Reclamation. In August 1932, a union representative at the Hoover Dam construction site sent him a letter that began, "We believe that a great injustice is being perpetrated against the workers at Boulder Dam in the general lowering of working and living conditions.”

Hoover Dam, 1942. National Archives.
They asserted that the contractor had set wages below area averages, ignored state safety codes, and charged exorbitant prices for goods and services. It is not clear how John replied, and the issue soon became moot for him. That fall, the Democratic landslide led by Presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt swamped his re-election bid.

Thomas spent the rest of the decade attending to his business and ranching interests. But he also remained active in Republican Party politics. Thus, in 1936, he supported Borah’s strong presidential bid, which ended when party leaders brokered the nomination of Alf Landon. Then, as chairman of the Idaho delegation, Thomas insured that some of Borah’s key ideas were included in the party platform.

In 1940, Senator Borah died in office and Thomas was appointed to fill that vacancy. Again, he won the special election to confirm the appointment. This time his bid for reelection in 1942 succeeded and he began a full six-year term. Ironically, he did not complete that term, himself dying in office in November 1945.
References: [Hawley]
Boulder Dam Workers, Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum, Boulder City, Nevada (2005).
“John Thomas,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, online.
“[John W. Thomas News],” Idaho Statesman, Boise (July 1928  – June 14, 1936).

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

U. S. Senator William E. Borah, the “Lion of Idaho” [otd 06/29]

W. E. Borah, ca. 1898.
Illustrated History.
Senator William Edgar Borah, celebrated "Lion of Idaho," was born June 29, 1865 in Wayne County, Illinois and later moved to Kansas. Tuberculosis cut short his formal education at the University of Kansas, so he read law for a Kansas firm and passed the bar there in 1888. During those times, steady railroad promotion fueled considerable growth in Kansas, yet the young lawyer headed further West in 1890.

With his cash running low, Borah heeded advice heard on the train and settled in Boise City. Even then an excellent orator, and good looking, as early as 1891 Borah ran for public office – Boise City Attorney. He only lost by three votes.

Borah's legal practice flourished, covering many important cases. He served as a Special Prosecutor in the 1907 trial of “Big Bill” Haywood, accused of conspiring to assassinate ex-Governor Frank Steunenberg. In that role, he faced off against Clarence Darrow, already a famous labor lawyer. Still, observers commented favorably on Borah’s forceful and fluent style during cross-examination and summation. Thus, although the State lost the case, it gained national attention for Borah. He carefully and successfully nurtured that notoriety.

As a Silver Republican, his Congressional bids in 1896 and 1903 failed. Then Borah returned to his original Republican roots, and used his new-found celebrity status. In 1907, he won election to the Senate. He would hold that seat for the rest of his life.

In the Senate, his oratorical skills regularly attracted crowded galleries when people heard he was about to speak. Even those who disagreed with him conceded his powerful eloquence and strong convictions, which earned him the "Lion of Idaho" sobriquet.

His forceful persuasion earned him much credit, or blame depending upon a person's views, for keeping the U. S. out of the League of Nations. Borah was often labeled an isolationist because of that stance, yet many of his positions contradict that image. At the very least, he saw (correctly) that the treaty ending World War I was “unjust” and could only lead to future trouble. Borah mostly opposed "entangling alliances" and what he considered impositions upon America's sovereignty.

Borah and wife, ca 1895. Kansas State Historical Society.
In fact, Borah's views often seemed wildly contradictory, even to those in his own party. Although he distrusted "big government," he was generally ready to use Federal power to curb monopolistic trusts. Suspicious of social programs that cast government as what we might call "big brother," he nonetheless helped establish the Department of Labor with better child labor oversight.

News media of the times turned a blind eye to Borah's one consistent failing: his tangled affairs with women. Regional historians now generally concede that he probably left Kansas because he had "gotten a young woman in trouble" and was "asked" to leave. In Boise, contemporaries attested that he almost obsessively frequented the city's "ladies of the evening."

Questions have been raised even about his marriage to Mary McConnell, daughter of Idaho Governor William J. McConnell. Despite Borah’s strong sex drive, the couple never had any children. Rumors, never actively denied, circulated that Borah had gotten Mary pregnant while they were courting, and that a poorly-done abortion left her unable to have children. Yet recently-available letters and diaries confirm that Borah fathered a child by another man's wife.

In 1936, Borah ran a vigorous national campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination. When that failed, he returned to Idaho and was easily re-elected to his Senate seat. He died in office in January 1940.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“William Edgar Borah, June 29, 1865 – January 19, 1940,” Reference Series No. 538, Idaho State Historical Society (1971).
Waldo W. Braden, “William E. Borah’s Years in Kansas in the 1880’s,” Kansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 4 (November, 1947).
Stacy A. Cordery, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, From White House Princess to Washington Power Broker, Viking Press, New York (2007).
Douglas O. Linder, “Biographies: William E. Borah,” Famous American Trials: Bill Haywood Trial, University of Missouri-Kansas City, School of Law (2011).

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Rancher, Mining Investor, and Probate Judge Frank Harris [otd 06/28]

Judge Harris, ca 1898.
Illustrated History.
Judge and state Senator Frank Harris was born June 28, 1854 in Placerville, California, 25-30 miles east of Sacramento. In the 1870s, he read law in two different firms in Eureka, California. Frank moved to Idaho in 1880 and established a home in Weiser.

Harris immediately qualified for the Idaho bar. One of his earliest cases was to draw up the articles of incorporation and bylaws for an irrigation company. Many farmers who had settled along the Weiser River pooled their resources to form this company. They hoped to build a canal system to get water onto their homesteads. Work began in the spring and summer of 1881.

The shareholders soon discovered they were severely under-capitalized, and sold out to a new firm. Those initial water rights changed companies several times before a reasonable system of ditches was finally completed. Then the arrival of the Oregon Short Line Railroad "made" Weiser City.

The initial impact of the railroad was largely negative. Harris later wrote, "Weiser took on a sudden change, but not for the better. They were composed of a motly [sic] mob of tinhorn gamblers, pimps, burglars, pickpockets, prostitutes and every variety of mankind that was low and despicable."

Fortunately, the riff-raff left when construction moved on, and Weiser prospered in a more lasting, substantial way. In 1889, the county selected Harris as a delegate to the convention that wrote the constitution for the proposed state of Idaho. In 1892, the Democratic Party convention nominated Frank for Lieutenant Governor, but Republicans swept every state executive branch office. Four years later, he was elected to the state Senate.

Harris was nominated for Lieutenant Governor again in 1904, but lost to the Republican landslide behind the presidential election of Teddy Roosevelt. In 1918, he was nominated to run unopposed on the Democratic ticket for Prosecuting Attorney of Washington County. But Harris then discovered that voters had placed numerous “Nonpartisan League” candidates at the head of the state Democratic ticket.
Downtown Weiser, ca 1908. Vintage Postcard.
The League was a rural/agricultural movement that proposed radical changes in American farm and financial policies. Harris branded (Idaho Statesman, September 10, 1918) the League’s founder a “trouble maker from North Dakota” and angrily rejected the nomination. (Many other traditional Democrats took similar stands.)

In 1922, Frank ran for the state Senate, and won. Ten years later – at the age of 78 – he was elected a Probate Judge.

Harris had a home in Weiser City and also owned a ranch near town. For many years he involved himself with mining interests and handled numerous cases of mining litigation and business. Judge Harris thus knew, better than most, all the ways that ignorant investors could be separated from their money.

In the 1940s, he published a series of articles in the Weiser Signal about the history of Adams and Washington counties. Naturally, he discussed the prospects for new mineral discoveries. That included glowing reports of "immense deposits" of copper ore laced with fabulous amounts of gold and silver in the Seven Devils region.

Concerning these claims, Frank wrote, "I hesitate to accept at one-hundred percent or even at a greater discount, this report. I am inclined to believe it was made for the consumption of a new crop of eastern suckers."

Judge Harris passed away in April 1944.
References: [Blue], [Defen], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“Frank Harris, "History of Washington County and Adams County," Weiser Signal (1940s).