Sunday, March 3, 2024

Civil War Veteran, and Soda Springs Developer George W. Gorton. [otd 03/03]

Cavalry veteran and far-sighted businessman George Washington Gorton was born March 3, 1846 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He traced his lineage back to Samuel Gorton, one of the original (albeit controversial) founders of Rhode Island. His great-grandfather, Thomas Gorton, was a captain in the Rhode Island regiment that fought in the Revolutionary War battles of White Plains, Trenton, and Princeton.
George W. Gorton [Illust-State]

George’s parents moved from Rhode Island to Scranton a year or two before he was born. In the summer of 1863, Gorton, aged seventeen, joined the Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment. During George’s early Civil War service, the regiment mainly scouted and raided near the coast to the east and south of Richmond, Virginia.

But then they joined the breakthrough at Petersburg in 1865. The regiment played a significant role in the cavalry pursuit that, on April 9, put troops on the Lynchburg Road west of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. A regimental history said, “The Eleventh had the honor of opening the attack in the final battle.”

Confederate attacks soon drove the lightly-armed cavalrymen back. However, their delaying action allowed heavy formations of Union infantry to arrive, cutting off the only escape route. Lee’s formal surrender followed a few hours later.

After the war, Gorton drifted west and, in 1870, he was living in Malad City, Idaho. He had a job with the company that operated the famous Oneida Salt Works, which reputedly produced “The purest in the world!” He married in 1877 and moved to Soda Springs and, by 1880, was a supervisor at the salt works.

Gorton had taken an early interest in local politics. Thus during the 1880s, he served on the regional Grand Jury, and at various times as County Commissioner, Treasurer and Assessor. Also, in 1888, he was elected for one term in the Territorial House of Representatives. Late the following year, he was appointed a Deputy U. S. Marshal.

When he left his position with the salt company is not clear, but in 1889 he purchased the inventory and property of a defunct Soda Springs mercantile firm. The business prospered under his management and Gorton was able to broaden his real estate investments. Sadly, in late 1890, a diphtheria epidemic hit the family and four of the couple’s daughters died in a period of two weeks.

George continued his interest in local politics and again served as County Commissioner around 1893-1894.
Multi-Station Shearing Machine. Library of Congress.

Besides Gorton’s Wholesale and Retail Supply Store, and real estate, George also invested in the sheep industry. In the spring of 1896, he and a partner purchased a “sheep shearing machine,” and had it set up on a ranch north of Soda Springs. The system they bought contained twenty-five shearing stations, where the shearers used mechanical cutters powered by a central steam engine.

Before that, there had been a great deal of interest in the technology, which had been in use for many years in Australia. Various prototypes had been demonstrated around the United States, without much success. Gorton’s acquisition was certainly the first purchase of a commercial unit (made in England) in Idaho, and quite likely in this country.

Sadly, Gorton’s health began to deteriorate the following summer. His doctor suggested a “rest cure,” first in Boise and then in San Diego, California. While this “bought some time,” George passed away in San Diego in January 1899. His body was returned to Soda Springs for burial.
References: [Illust-State]
Samuel P. Bates, History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, Vol. III, Pennsylvania State Printer, Harrisburg (1870).
Samuel Greene Arnold, History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Applewood Books, Carlisle, Massachusetts (1859).
“[News Items for George W. Gorton],” Blackfoot Register, Blackfoot; Idaho Statesman, Boise, Idaho; Salt Lake Herald, Utah (July 1868 – January 1899).
Progressive Men of Bannock, Bear Lake, Bingham, Fremont and Oneida Counties, Idaho, A. W. Bowen & Co., Chicago (1904).

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Hatch Act of 1887 Authorizes Agricultural Experiment Stations [otd 03/02]

On March 2, 1887, the U. S. Congress approved the Hatch Act of 1887, named for William Henry Hatch, U.S. Representative from Missouri and chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture. The Act authorized grants to support agricultural experiment stations in the states. In most cases, such stations would be set up and administered by the "land grant" colleges spurred by the Morrill Act of 1862.
Agricultural experiment plots. Library of Congress.
In Idaho, leaders established an on-campus experiment station at the University of Idaho (UI) even before classes began – although several years passed before they had land for experimental plots. Professors in the new Agricultural Department offered to answer questions from farmers and ranchers across the state. People could even send in samples of insect pests from their fields, and University experts would try to recommend ways to combat the infestations.

However, an early attempt to form "substations" – and thereby qualify for more Hatch grants – failed miserably in the 1890s. Apparently, the University simply didn’t know enough about how to staff the stations with experts suited to local needs.

In 1898, they replaced that effort with a program of traveling institutes, which proved extremely useful, and popular. In little more than a decade, the team of experts and their demonstration paraphernalia required a train of six rail cars to transport them around the state.

The program benefited the presenters as well as the attendees: Traveling faculty observed first-hand those areas and agricultural products that needed more help than they could provide.

After awhile, the university made the extension service a separate adminstrative unit. Before this, the UI President not only ran the University, he was head of the College of Agriculture, which also operated the experiment station. The President recommended (Idaho Statesman, December 28, 1902) that, “the two departments should be divorced and the presidency of the university and agricultural college should not be coupled with the responsibility for the work of the agricultural station.”

With that change, and what they learned from the institute program, the University reactivated the substation system in 1906. The first of the new stations, near Caldwell, soon settled into long-term studies of irrigation techniques and tests of crop varieties suitable to Idaho’s climate and soil.

Administrators remained flexible, however; in 1914 H. T. French described a station near Gooding that no longer existed when Hawley published his History in 1920.
Potato cellar, Aberdeen Experiment Station, 1932. UI archives.

Guided by experience and changing conditions, administrators developed a policy whereby each station was designed to address specific regional farm and ranch issues. Thus, the Sandpoint Station, established in 1912, focused on crops that would grow well in the cooler, wetter climate of North Idaho. That same year, the Aberdeen Station began testing potatoes, grains, forage crops, and other plants suitable for irrigated or dry farming in that area.

The Stations also tied into truly international efforts. Hawley noted that “United States Consuls and special agents” of the U. S. Department of Agriculture had been instructed to search the world for plant varieties suited to Idaho’s high altitude and arid climate. He wrote that, “Farming is being reduced to a science and crop failures will soon become a thing of the past.”

Today, the University of Idaho maintains twelve research and extension centers spotted across the state, along with the main campus Center. Their work encompasses all areas related to farming and ranching: water use, soil conservation, animal and plant breeding, pest and disease control, animal care, and even food safety and innovation.
References: [French], [Hawley]
Keith C. Petersen, The Crested Hill: An Illustrated History of the University of Idaho, University of Idaho Press, Moscow (1987).
University of Idaho Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station Home.

Friday, March 1, 2024

President Ulysses S. Grant Creates Yellowstone National Park [otd 03/01]

Geyser cone, Fire Hole Basin, 1871.
W. H. Jackson photo, Library of Congress.
On March 1, 1872, President U. S. Grant signed the bill that authorized creation of Yellowstone National Park.

As far back as 1825, American fur trappers had become familiar with the geothermal wonders of this area. It has been established, however, that "Colter's Hell" – a geothermal area first reported by Mountain Man John Colter – was east of the future Park.

In August of 1836, Mountain Man Osborne Russell [blog, Dec 20] trapped many streams feeding into Yellowstone Lake and the river. His Journal records a graphic impression of the geothermal features: “We fell into a broken tract of country which seemed to be all on fire at some distance below the surface.”

To cross one stretch, they followed an elk trail, where “Our horses sounded like travelling on a plank platform covering an imense [sic] cavity in the earth whilst the hot water and steam were spouting and hissing around us in all directions.”

One horse’s hind hoof broke through and released a jet of steam, but they otherwise crossed safely. Russell said, “The whole place was covered with a crust of Limestone of a dazzling whiteness formed by the overflowing of the boiling water.”

In 1871, Dr. Ferdinand Hayden made an extensive survey of the region. He urged William H. Clagett, Delegate to Congress from Montana Territory, to find a way to preserve the area’s wonders for future generations. Clagett, later President of Idaho’s Constitutional Convention, introduced legislation to establish Yellowstone National Park – generally considered the first national park in the world.
Stagecoach and hot springs in Yellowstone.
Photo credited at to Milwaukee Public Museum.
Creation of the Park had an immediate impact in eastern Idaho. Within a year, a wagon road led into the western portions of the designated park area. Soon, excursion parties began shuttling into the Park, entering from Idaho or from central Montana to the north

After 1880, railroad companies began major advertising campaigns to lure tourists to the Park. Easterners could take the Northern Pacific into Montana, or ride a Union Pacific branch line to Eagle Rock (today's Idaho Falls) or the Market Lake station a few miles further north. From there, they would stage into what became the town of West Yellowstone, Montana. Excursion coaches then took them through the Park.

West Point graduate Hiram M. Chittenden (he retired as a Brigadier General) made a significant, but perhaps less-known contribution to the Park. The Army Corps of Engineers assigned him to duty there in 1891-1892 and again in 1899-1905. During those times, he oversaw construction of the road layout that is largely still in use today. His crews also laid deep beds of crushed stone to replace the old rutted dirt tracks.

UP Yellowstone Route tourist decal, ca. 1930.
Early in the Twentieth Century, the railroad extended its tracks first to Ashton, Idaho and then, in 1909, all the way to West Yellowstone. The Union Pacific, parent company for the branch line, advertised its Park excursions all over the country. The Trenton, New Jersey, Evening Times carried (May 25, 1910) a typical blurb: “A vacation outing you will never forget. Yellowstone National Park is the wonder region of America. … direct to Yellowstone Station, at the very edge of the park … ”

As automobiles grew in popularity, rail traffic declined and the lines were eventually discontinued.

Today, a substantial portion of tourists traveling the Interstates through Idaho, and stopping at its motels, list Yellowstone National Park as their destination.
References: [B&W], [Brit], [Hawley]
Rae Ellen Moore, Just West of Yellowstone, Great Blue Graphics, Laclede, Idaho (© 1987, Rae Ellen Moore).
Osborne Russell, Aubrey L. Haines (Ed.), Journal of a Trapper, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1965).
West Yellowstone History, West Yellowstone Tourism Business Improvement District (2010).

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Idaho Territory Fends Off One Last Partition Attempt [otd 02/29]

On February 29, 1888, Congressional Delegate Fred T. Dubois sent the following telegram to Milton Kelly: “House committee on territories to-day reported unanimously against any division of Idaho. This ends the fight.”

Judge Kelly. Illust-State photo.
Milton Kelly was the operator-editor of the Idaho Statesman, published in Boise. He was born near Syracuse, New York, in 1818. He became a lawyer in 1845 and practiced for many years in Wisconsin. Kelly moved to Placerville, Idaho in 1863. He then represented Boise County in the first Idaho Territorial legislature.

In April 1865, President Lincoln appointed him an Associate Justice for the Territorial Supreme Court. Six years later, he moved to Boise City and bought the Statesman.

Kelly actually showed remarkable restraint when he inserted the telegram text in the next day’s issue. His brief editorial about it did advise the partition supporters to “help build up Idaho instead of trying to tear it to pieces.”

As noted in several of my blog articles, many residents of North Idaho did not want to be part of Idaho Territory. That became especially true in Lewiston after the south “stole” the capital away to Boise City in 1864. The northerners hoped to become part of Washington, or perhaps a totally new territory.

The partition notion also had another root. The Republican-dominated U. S. Congress made Nevada a state in October 1864, even though its population fell well below the preferred minimum for statehood. (As a state, the region offered a Representative and two Senators who were “safely” Republican.)

To “bulk itself up,” in 1866 and 1868 the new state added major chunks of Utah and Arizona territories. Anti-Mormonism bolstered the Utah acquisition. And clearly the mining camps in the wedge that became southern Nevada benefited from being part of a state rather than a weak Arizona Territory.

Emboldened, starting around 1869 Nevada officials tried to carve a chunk out of southern Idaho. Thus, in January of 1870, Nevada Senator William Stewart introduce a bill to add all of Idaho south of the Snake River to his state. News moved slowly in those days. (Boise had to wait five years before it had a telegraph link to the outside.) Even so, nine days after the bill was introduced, protesters held a mass meeting in Idaho City to denounce it.

The bill hung around the halls of Congress for some time, but apparently died in committee, finally. Attempts to give the Panhandle to Washington, in 1874 and 1882, also failed. Backers of these ploys were simply no match for the political savvy of the Idaho leaders and their allies in Congress. Although the partitionists seemed to be close to their goal at times, the Territory remained intact.
Delegate Fred Dubois.
Library of Congress.

The Nevada annexation scheme surfaced yet again in 1886. By that time, miners had exhausted the best silver lodes in Nevada, and the state’s population was plummeting. (It lost almost a quarter of its people between 1880 and 1890). Adding the growing population of southern Idaho could offset the decline.

Led by Idaho’s shrewd and politically astute Delegate, Fred T. Dubois [blog, May 29], the Territory and its allies fought back in Washington, D. C. Internally, they made concessions to North Idaho – guaranteeing a university there [blog, Oct 3], and so on. This eroded northern support for partition. Shortly after Dubois sent his triumphant telegram, Idaho began to prepare for statehood.
References: [B&W], [Illust-State]
“Constitutional Convention and Ratification,” Reference Series No. 476, Idaho State Historical Society.
“Good News from Washington,” Idaho Statesman, Boise (March 1, 1888).

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

John R. McBride, U. S. Representative and Chief Justice for Idaho Territory [otd 02/28]

Judge McBride.
Photo from
On February 28, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln – just 45 days before he was shot by John Wilkes Booth – appointed John Rogers McBride as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Idaho Territory. The appointment typified the patronage system of the times, but the result turned out to be a happy exception to the norm.

Although Territorial governance followed the same structure as the Federal system, voters in the Territory had no say over the executive and judicial branches: The President appointed the Governor and a panel of three judges. One of the three was designated as the Chief Justice.

In those early days, appointees to positions in Idaho were almost never residents of the Territory. They usually came from the more settled Midwest, or the East. For many, the transition to the “Wild West” came as a major cultural shock, and quite a few fled after getting one good look. To make matters worst, the salaries were miserably poor.

James H. Hawley, who was elected as state Governor in 1910, lived through that era [blog, Jan 17]. In his History, he observed that the system supplied judges that were "lawyers of only mediocre ability or political henchmen, who received their appointments as a reward for services to the party, rather than for their legal ability."

Emigrant train, ca 1846. Library of Congress.
This could have been similar. A loyal Republican, McBride got the appointment after being defeated in a bid for re-election to Congress. However, unlike many who came later, he knew the West. His family had emigrated to Oregon in 1846, when John was thirteen years old. He studied law while also serving as a school superintendent in Yamhill County, and was admitted to the Oregon bar in 1857.

In 1860, Oregon voters elected him to the state Senate. Two years later, he won election to the U. S. House of Representatives, where he was awarded some worthwhile committee assignments. However, his 1864 re-election bid failed, whereupon he received the Idaho Judgeship.

Commenting on this appointment, Hawley wrote: "an able jurist and an honest man, Judge McBride most favorably impressed himself upon the litigation of the territory and ... was beloved by the bar of the state and highly esteemed by all of its people."

McBride soon got down to business, traveling all over the Territory. The Idaho Statesman reported (August 10, 1865) one example: “Judge McBride, after a full hearing and a very thorough investigation, issued a peremptory mandate ordering Slocum to pay over to Dr. Smith, the Territorial Treasurer, about $14,000 … ” In this case, Slocum, the Treasurer for Boise County, had found some pretext to withhold “a large amount of funds” from the Territorial treasury. McBride made him pay up.

McBride was the only one of the first four Chief Justices appointed to the Territory who served most of the usual term – the others lasted an average of under 11 months. McBride resigned in July 1868 to establish a private law practice in Boise. He was soon called back into public service to supervise the construction of the U. S. Assay Office in Boise City [blog, May 30]. He then served as Superintendent while the Office was being readied for business.

In 1872, McBride moved to Salt Lake City and established the firm of Sutherland & McBride. After eight years in Utah, he relocated his law practice to Spokane. He passed away there in July 1904.
References: [French], [Hawley]
Jonathan Edwards, An Illustrated History of Spokane County, State of Washington, W. H. Lever, San Francisco (1900).
"McBride, John Rogers," Biographical Directory of the U S. Congress, online.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Pocatello Brewer and Soft Drinks Bottler Robert Hayes [otd 02/27]

Robert Hayes.
J. H. Hawley photo.
Pocatello businessman Robert J. Hayes was born February 27, 1861 in Oswego, New York. The family moved to Chicago about six years later. Hayes struck out on his own at age sixteen, making his way west by “night herding” – tending draft animals – for a freight outfit. He then landed a job with the Union Pacific Railroad, first in Cheyenne, Wyoming, then in Rawlins.

After three years of that, Hayes returned to night herding, working for a freight line that operated between Helena, Montana, and Fort Benton. For a time, he held a contract to furnish the Northern Pacific with wood. Then, for about six months, he operated a pack train out of Bozeman.

Unable to find steady work, he took odd packing jobs in California and Arizona. Meanwhile, the Utah & Northern Railroad, a UP subsidiary, built a narrow gauge railroad across Eastern Idaho into Montana. To support that operation, the company built yards and a set of shops in Eagle Rock (later Idaho Falls). In 1884, Hayes hired on at the shops.

However, after two years, he moved to Blackfoot to take a position as Deputy Sheriff. During his two-year tenure in Blackfoot, the railroad relocated its shops from Eagle Rock to Pocatello. That change fueled even more explosive growth in that junction town.

Sensing opportunity, Hayes also moved to Pocatello. There, he partnered with Nathan G. Franklin and went into the business of bottling soda water. Such drinks were growing rapidly in popularity at that time. The firm of Franklin & Hayes got in on the ground floor; there plant was one of the first, if not the first built in southern Idaho.
Franklin & Hayes Brewery, Pocatello, 1907.
Bannock County Historical Society.
They soon developed a full line of soda waters and soft drinks. In time, they also built a brewery and added beer to their product line. The business was not without danger. The Idaho Statesman reported (October 9, 1900) that Franklin had been hit by a soda bottle explosion “and it is feared the sight of his right eye is destroyed.”

The partnership flourished, shipping beverages to many points in Idaho as well as into Utah, Wyoming, and Montana. According to Hawley's History of Idaho, the company "grew to be one of the largest of the kind in the state, with one of the best equipped plants."

Hayes was very active in Republican party politics, being Chairman of the Pocatello Central Committee for a time. He also served on the Bannock County Board of Commissioners and chaired that body for awhile. Despite his prominence within the party, Hayes never ran for any higher political office.
Franklin & Hayes letterhead. eBay memorabilia image.

Although he sometimes hunted and fished, Hayes generally favored less strenuous activities. He enjoyed music and the theater, and was, according Hiram T. French, “very fond of lectures and a good speech.”

Hayes was perhaps plagued by poor health. Although he was only in his early fifties, he retired from active participation in the soda and beer business about 1914. Or, perhaps, he saw the coming of prohibition, which would ruin the most profitable part of their business. The partners had already been fined $500, each, for some violation of the local option liquor laws (Idaho Statesman, April 12, 1913).

Hayes passed away in August 1918.
References: [French], [Hawley]

Monday, February 26, 2024

Idaho Supreme Court Justice George Stewart [otd 02/26]

Idaho Supreme Court Justice George Harlan Stewart was born February 26, 1858 in Connersville, Indiana, about fifty miles east of Indianapolis. He was something of an intellectual prodigy: George leaped through a “common” education to himself teach at country schools in his late teens.
Law School at Valparaiso, ca 1880. Valparaiso University Archives.

After several years, he entered Northern Indiana Normal school, in Valparaiso. (In 1900, the school became Valparaiso College, now University.)

George completed their “scientific” course in 1879, at the age of twenty-one, and immediately entered the school’s law department. He graduated in 1881 and was soon admitted to the Indiana bar.

In 1882, Stewart opened a law office in Fowler, Indiana, 15-20 miles northwest of Lafayette. After four or five years there, “on account of failing health,” he moved to a small town in southwest Nebraska. For the next several years, he made a name for himself. Not only did his practice flourish, but he was also elected as county Prosecuting Attorney.

Stewart moved to Idaho in 1890, and immediately involved himself in Republican Party activities. He opened a practice in Boise City with a partner who had over a quarter century of experience with Idaho law. It’s perhaps no surprise that he was elected to the state Senate in 1893. Two years later, he ran for the office of Boise City Mayor, against developer Walter E. Pierce [blog, January 9]. Stewart lost the razor-thin election, 438-436.

George soon partnered with another rising young attorney, William E. Borah. (Borah went on to become a six-time U. S. Senator from Idaho [blog, June 29].) In 1896, the sitting Judge of the Third Judicial District resigned and the governor appointed Stewart to replace him.

When election time came two years later, Democrats and a major faction of Silver Republicans united to nominate a “fusion” candidate to fill the District Judge position. The Prohibitionist Party made no selection, while the Populist candidate withdrew in favor of the Fusion nominee. (One rather wonders what sort of “deal” they cut.) Thus, loyal Republican Stewart faced what appeared to be an insurmountable challenge. Yet, such was Stewart’s reputation, and political skill … he won handily.
Judge Stewart. H. T. French photo.

In 1899, Governor Steunenberg selected Stewart as judge for the trial of union miners involved in bombing the Bunker Hill & Sullivan ore mill. (The judge for the district that included Shoshone County declined to serve.) Despite the high emotions and drama of those trials, George emerged with his reputation as a jurist not just intact, but enhanced.

Thus, running on his very successful district court record, Stewart was elected to the state Supreme Court in 1906. Historian Hiram T. French noted, "In due course he became chief justice during the last two years of his term."

Despite some questions about his health, he was re-elected "by a good majority" in 1912. French wrote his History during the course of that term and said, "His present term bids well to copy fair his past."

That was not to be, however. Stewart suffered a stroke in March of 1914 while he was presiding over the district court in Moscow. He recovered enough to return home but the consensus was that he might never be strong enough to resume his duties.

In May, he entered a sanitarium in Portland, where it was hoped their program of fresh air, light exercise and constant nursing care would restore him to full health. Sadly, he suffered two more small attacks during the summer. He died from a final massive stroke on September 25, 1914.
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
"Idaho Jurist Dies," The Oregonian, Portland, Oregon (September 26, 1914).
[Stewart newspaper items], Idaho Statesman, Boise (March 27, May 12, July 21, 1914).