Thursday, July 25, 2024

Long-Time U. S. Senator Frank Church [otd 07/25]

Senator Church. Library of Congress.
U.S. Senator Frank Forrester Church was born July 25, 1924 in Boise. He was a third generation Idahoan. His grandfather and namesake came to Placerville, Idaho in 1870-1872. In 1893, he was appointed to a four-year term as chief assayer at the U. S. Assay Office in Boise [blog, May 30]. Frank, Jr. operated a sporting goods store in Boise.

Future senator Frank III started school at Stanford University, but left to enlist in the U. S. Army the following year. After the war, despite a bout with cancer, he completed his education, obtaining a law degree from Stanford in 1950.

He opened a Boise law practice, but quickly embarked upon his real goal. He wanted to be a professional politician like his hero, William A. Borah [blog, June 29]. In 1952, Church ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature. Yet he succeeded four years later in a bid for a U. S. Senate seat.

Church would be re-elected to the Senate for three more terms. Thus, this short essay can only touch the highlights of his career. Although only a freshman Senator, he helped shepherd the Civil Rights Act of 1957 into law, and continued to support other civil rights legislation. Appointed to the Special Committee on Aging in 1967, Church became Chairman of that group five years later. He thus actively sponsored and promoted medical, housing, and other programs for the elderly.

He supported the limited early U. S. involvement in Vietnam, but then led the successful fight to end our heavier role in the conflict. Church also gained much notoriety for his aggressive investigation of the Central Intelligence Agency. His committee certainly found much to condemn, and much that needed fixing. However, corrective measures imposed by Congress had many unintended consequences. For example, agents who seek information from knowledgeable locals – "Humlnt" or Human Intelligence – must often deal with unsavory, even reprehensible characters. New Congressional guidelines made such contacts difficult, if not next to impossible.

Many have asked how Church, with his mostly liberal views, spent four terms in the Senate from what is acknowledged to be a conservative state. His help to the elderly was definitely a plus. Also, despite caricatures to the contrary, Idahoans have a tradition of embracing some liberal (so-called) causes. For example, only three states preceded Idaho in granting women the right to vote (almost a quarter century before the Nineteenth Amendment).

Church opposed a liberal position that would have been a "third rail" issue in Idaho: gun control. He was also very careful in how he handled agricultural legislation. But perhaps more than anything else, the Senator was a master of "pork barrel" politics. He funneled money to the state far in excess of what its minor population might otherwise warrant.
Wilderness area, Idaho. Bureau of Land Management photo.
Finally, some of his environmental positions resonated with many voters. (Some, however, found them elitist, and complained about the loss of jobs.) The Frank Church/River-of-No-Return Wilderness Area in central Idaho is so named in his honor.

In 1976, Church pursued the Democratic Party nomination for President. Although he won four primaries, he chose to end his candidacy. About that same time, Church helped secure Senate passage of treaties to end U. S. ownership of the Panama Canal. His advocacy of those accords, plus other issues, allowed Congressman Steve Symms to defeat Church’s bid for re-election in 1980. Church died of pancreatic cancer in April 1984.
References: Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
Special Collections: The Frank Church Papers, Boise State University (1988)
“Frank Forrester Church,” Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress.
Stephen F. Knott, “Congressional Oversight and the Crippling of the CIA,” History News Network, George Mason University (November 4, 2001).

Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Railroad Begins Narrow Gauge Track Conversion in Eastern Idaho [otd 07/24]

On Sunday July 24, 1887, multiple crews assembled at intervals along the 262 miles of narrow-gauge track between Pocatello, Idaho and Garrison, Montana. They worked for the Utah & Northern Railroad (U&N RR) Company. This event crowned a lengthy effort to prepare for the moment.
U&N RR train, Beaver Canyon, Idaho, ca 1885.
Idaho Museum of Natural History.

The U&N RR first completed its line across eastern Idaho and into Montana in 1879-1880. The company had made an early decision to run narrow gauge. Narrow gauge railroads are much cheaper to build than standard gauge, especially in mountainous country. Clearly, crews have to move less material to make cuts, fills, and tunnels, and to lay the road bed. Plus, bridges don’t have to be as wide. Less obviously, narrow gauge trains can turn through tighter curves. This allows the tracks to bend around obstacles that would have to be removed for standard gauge.

However, narrow gauge trains carry a smaller payload, and they are (obviously) incompatible with standard gauge systems. Both the Union Pacific and the Oregon Short Line railroads ran standard gauge. Thus, goods moving between the systems had to be bodily transferred from one to the other. Operators had some tricks to improve the process, but it still added time and expense to all their shipments.

The problem became more acute as shipping volume rose. In 1886, the line purchased ten new engines from the Brooks Locomotive Works. These more powerful machines weighed a third more than the U&N's older stock, and over-stressed the lighter narrow gauge rails, particularly on some curves.
Brooks-built steam locomotive, ca. 1890.
Grant County [Oregon] Historical Museum.

To prepare for the conversion to standard gauge, management dispatched crews to widen the roadbed, including all the cuts, fills, and bridges. In some areas, new bed had to be laid to straighten out curves too tight for standard-gauge trains. Workers performed most of these tasks while regular train service continued. Work to widen and strengthen the bridges began in September 1885. By the spring of 1887, it was reported that standard gauge ties had been distributed along most of the route to be changed.

The next step had to be completed in small stages. One team moved along a segment of old line, tearing up the light narrow-gauge rails and short ties. Behind them, another group laid full-length ties and the new, heavier rails. They would fully anchor one rail, while the other got just enough spikes for short-term operation. This had to be completed before the next scheduled train came through.

Next, however, they had to complete the actual switch from narrow to standard width all at once, to avoid a major interruption in service. Hence, on July 24, the U&N gathered enough crews to change the entire line after the last scheduled train passed over the narrow gauge track. One report said that the company had recruited around a thousand men for the final push.

Records indicate that the conversion began at 2:00 o'clock the next morning: pull spikes, move rail over, drive new spikes, then on to the next rail. The whole job was done by the early afternoon of July 25, with no break in service.

As soon as reports reached Pocatello that the first section was done, the Superintendent of the Idaho Division started north with a short special train. The changeover was then celebrated with stops at each station along the way.
References: [B&W]
Merrill D. Beal, Intermountain Railroads: Standard and Narrow Gauge, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho
George Woodman Hilton, American Narrow Gauge Railroads, Stanford University Press (1990).
“[Gauge Conversion News],” Idaho Statesman, Boise; Idaho Register, Idaho Falls; Great Falls Tribune; Salt Lake Herald (September 1885 – July 1887).

Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Gambler Patterson Shoots and Kills Ex-Sheriff Pinkham [otd 07/23]

Sumner Pinkham.
Idaho City Historical Foundation.
On Sunday, July 23, 1865, businessman and ex-sheriff Sumner Pinkham took a hired carriage from Idaho City to a resort about two miles west of town. Locals often enjoyed a relaxing dip in the pool fed by the warm springs out back. According to some, Pinkham and a few friends were soon in the bar singing raucous anti-Secesh songs. Yet others would dispute even that apparently simple fact.

A native of Maine, Pinkham had joined the rush to California gold in 1849 and then knocked around the towns there and possibly in Oregon for the next decade. He moved to the Idaho gold camps in 1862. When Idaho became a Territory, Pinkham’s Radical Republican politics – he was an ardent Abolitionist –won him appointment as Boise County’s first sheriff.

However, a massive influx of Southerners had aligned the voter roles to favor Democrats, and the next election turned Pinkham out. Ferdinand “Ferd” Patterson was among those Southerners.

From Tennessee, apparently, he too had tried his hand in California, then in Oregon, and finally in Idaho. Records indicate that by the time Patterson reached Idaho, he had killed at least two men in gun fights, but got off on “self-defense” pleas. Moreover, charged for assault on a disreputable female companion in Oregon, he had simply skipped bail. Although he had done some prospecting, Patterson was primarily a professional gambler.

As the Civil War neared its end, Ferd complained bitterly about the South’s impending defeat. He and Pinkham had already exchanged hot words. Then, with the war over, the ex-sheriff rubbed salt in Southern wounds by staging a 4th of July parade in which pro-Union men marched through the streets, singing patriotic and anti-Secesh songs.

Ferd Patterson.
Idaho City Historical Foundation.
On July 23, Patterson entered the resort bar while Pinkham was paying his bill. At this point, Ferd apparently ignored the ex-sheriff and went on to the warm pools. Then, witnesses concurred, Patterson exited the resort while Pinkham stood outside waiting for a carriage back into Idaho City. Here, witnesses agreed on only two points: Patterson said the word “draw” in some (disputed) context, then taunted Pinkham as an “Abolitionist son-of-a-bitch.”

Who drew first was also in dispute. Patterson certainly shot quicker, before Pinkham got off one inaccurate response and then took a second bullet. Ferd fled to avoid any immediate retaliation, but quickly surrendered when officers caught up with him about fourteen miles away, on the road to Boise.

As usual in such affrays, witnesses gave muddled and contradictory testimony, and friend and foe alike expected an acquittal. After being freed by reason of “self-defense,” Patterson left the region for Walla Walla, fearing he wasn’t safe in Idaho City.

He did not, however, go far enough.  The following February, a man shot Patterson full of holes while he visited a barbershop. Most in the region saw the shooting as vengeance for the Pinkham killing. The shooter claimed that Patterson had threatened him, and the first trial ended in a hung jury.

During the wait for a new trial, the man walked away from jail. Authorities arrested him a few months later in San Francisco, but he was released before he could be extradited (Idaho Statesman, November 1, 1866). He then disappeared from history.
References: [B&W]
Boise County, Idaho.
Bill Gulick, Outlaws of the Pacific Northwest, Caxton Press, Caldwell Idaho (2000).
Arthur A. Hart, Basin of Gold: Life in Boise Basin, 1862-1890, Idaho City Historical Foundation (© 1986, Fourth printing 2002).
N. P. Langford, Vigilante Days and Ways, Montana State University (1957). Original publication in 1890.

Monday, July 22, 2024

Rexburg Banker, Business Investor, and Landowner Ross J. Comstock [otd 07/22]

Long-time Rexburg pioneer Ross J. Comstock was born on July 22, 1875 in a remote part of northeast Missouri. The Comstocks had been among the earliest emigrants to New England, settling in Connecticut around 1637. Thus, several of Ross’s forebears fought for the Colonies during the American Revolution. His line moved to Missouri about the time of the Civil War.
Ross J. Comstock. [Hawley]

He said little about his early life, other than that he was on his own as a teenager. Thus, he married young, in 1893. Comstock also developed an interest in banking. He was perhaps drawn to Rexburg after rail service reached there in late 1899 [blog, November 22].

Comstock arrived some time in 1900 and began making business contacts. In 1903 he invested in a mining company and an electric power plant. Then, in December, he and some of the same investors established the First National Bank of Rexburg. Comstock was the cashier. Two years later, he helped form the Idaho State Bankers’ Association. During this time, he also served as a Director for the Fremont County Bank in Sugar City.

But he also continued his interest in mining investments, and, in 1907, added a share in a Rexburg implement company to his portfolio. That same year, he helped arrange a consolidation between a hydroelectric power company in Sugar City and a Rexburg outfit that used coal-fired generation.

In keeping with all his other interests, in the summer of 1910 Comstock led the formation of  a “League of Commercial Clubs,” encompassing town clubs from Blackfoot to Ashton. The intent was to spur joint efforts to promote all of the Upper Snake River Valley. Ross became the League’s first president. About six week later, he became president of the First National Bank of Rexburg.
First National Bank of Rexburg. Rexburg Historical Society.

Comstock did not slow down in the new decade. He helped organize a Fremont County Fair Association, and ran the Crystal Lake Irrigated Lands Company on the side. Besides other customers, the company provided water to farmland that Ross owned. Plus, in 1915, he helped found the First National Bank of Ririe. By 1919, he would be president of that bank.

During World War I, Comstock served on the county committee organized for broad-based support of the war effort. Even that wasn’t quite enough. He also chaired the Building Committee for the Rexburg Presbyterian Church. A new building was dedicated in the spring of 1918, at which time Ross was recognized as an Elder of the church.

After the war, as mentioned in several other blog items, the farm sector suffered a severe, and long-lasting recession. Thus, Comstock played a major role in creating two companies to funnel Federal loans to hard-pressed farmers and ranchers. In 1922, Ross was elected president of the Idaho State Bankers’ Association. He then presided over the 1923 Annual Meeting, which was held in Idaho Falls.

But in August 1924, the Idaho Statesman announced the closure of three eastern Idaho banks: one in Montpelier, plus the First National Bank of Rexburg and the First National Bank of Ririe. Comstock was, of course, then president of those two banks.

The three joined a host of banks nation-wide that failed because their business depended almost entirely upon farming and ranching. Ross encountered some short-term hostility for his part in the disaster, but people eventually understood that the banks had been crippled by forces beyond anyone’s control.

Still, Comstock left banking and never went back. He turned to dealing in real estate and insurance, plus management of his other investments. Ross J. Comstock passed away from pancreatic cancer in July 1947.
References: [Hawley]
“Comstock Heads Idaho Bankers,” Coastal Banker, Coastal Banker Publishing Company, San Francisco, California (June 1922).
“[Comstock News],” Idaho Statesman, Boise; Idaho Falls Times, Times-Register, Daily Post, Post-Register, Idaho Falls; Deseret News, Salt Lake Herald, Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City; Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah (October 1900 – July 1947).
David L. Crowder, Rexburg, Idaho: The First One Hundred Years, The Caxton Printers, Ltd., Caldwell, Idaho (1983).

Sunday, July 21, 2024

Ammunition Innovator and Manufacturer Richard, "Dick," Speer [otd 07/21]

Dick Speer.
Beal & Wells photo.
Lewiston industrialist Richard A. "Dick" Speer was born July 21, 1915 in Cedar Falls, Iowa. His father, who started out as a farmer and nurseryman, took up "manufacturing and engineering pursuits" before Richard's birth. Thus, after a year at a teachers' college, Richard landed a job in the engineering department of the Maytag Corporation.

In 1939, he began taking courses at the University of Washington in Seattle while working nights as a tool and die maker for the Boeing Aircraft Company. He would have been exempt from military service as a skilled craftsman, and also as a student. His employers and teachers would have surely discouraged Speer from enlisting for World War II.

In 1947, he moved to Lewiston, Idaho, to work with his brother, Vernon, who had founded the Speer Products Company there. The company manufactured jacketed bullets and sportmen's gun supplies, including devices to aid those who wanted to load their own ammunition. The company also produced handbooks to guide such “reloaders.” Some consider those manuals to be a “Bible” for reloading. They have been revised over the years to reflect greater knowledge of the parameters and technology involved.

Two years later, Richard left to establish his own firm, the Speer Cartridge Company. Histories of the company suggest that Dick already had the idea for a new venture when he left Boeing. At the time, hunters often could only find standard mass-production lines of ammunition. Competition shooters, and other who wanted to load their own, had few reliable sources.

Speer decided he could be that producer. The processes he designed did make high-quality cartridges, but only if the raw materials were up to standard. Unfortunately, he could not find any consistently reliable source for the most important component – brass for the cartridge case itself. Too often, much of a production run failed to meet specifications and had to be rejected.

So Speer refined his niche, noting that the big manufacturers avoided selling primers to reload dealers – ammunition reloaded by hobbyists cut into their sales. To help design a better primer, Speer hired Dr. Victor Jasaitis, a chemist who specialized in explosives. Jasaitis was a Lithuanian refugee, driven to the U. S. by the Soviet occupation of his homeland.

In a somewhat fortuitous coincidence, the escalation of the Korean War created a demand for military-grade primers just as Speer turned his attention to that line. After the war, the company continued to manufacture primers for both governmental and civilian use.
Modern CCI ammunition.
Cabelas catalog image.

Early on, some confusion developed about the difference between Speer bullets (made by brother Vernon's company) and Speer cartridges. Thus, in 1956, Dick established Cascade Cartridge, Incorporated, or CCI®.

To stay ahead of the competition, Speer pushed innovative designs for all the company's products. As usual for a small company in this day and age, it eventually became a subsidiary of a large manufacturing conglomerate.

In 1968, Speer and his wife “retired” to a place in Virginia near Chesapeake Bay. Less than ten years later, Dick filed for the first of a series of patents for the “Apollo Wizard” tennis ball serving machine. In late 1982, he received the patent for a version that imparted “spin” to the ball. Dick eventually sold the company he established to make the machines. He passed away in May 1994.

Today, CCI still makes products in Lewiston, and new plants have been built elsewhere. They are still considered one of the most innovative companies in the ammunition business.
References: [B&W]
CCI Ammunition.
Ashby Koss, "The Making of Cascade Cartridge Incorporated (CCI): Dick Speer Filling the Industry Gap," Associated Content, Yahoo! Incorporated (January 08, 2008).
Nelda Knemeyer, "Obituary: Richard A. Speer, Ammunition Maker," Daily Press, Newport News, Virginia (May 12, 1994).
Richard A. Speer, “Ball Projecting Device Capable of Providing Spin,” U. S. Patent No. 4,345,578, United States Patent Office, Washington, D. C. (August 24, 1982).

Saturday, July 20, 2024

Poor Roads and Blistering Weather Hobble Traffic to the Idaho Gold Camps [otd 07/20]

On July 20, 1863, The Oregonian reported, “Increased facilities are offering daily for transportation to the Boise mines. We are informed that John Slavin & Co. have established a stage line to run from the Dalles to Bannock City.”

Mining around Bannock City, soon to be re-named Idaho City, was then on the upswing compared to placer fields over the ridge along Grimes Creek. Where Grimes had little water, streams around Idaho City still provided a good flow.

However, the stage line announcement was, at best, premature. Of course, emigrants on the Oregon Trail did get wagons across Idaho and then the Blue Mountains in Oregon. However, the trip took a horrific toll on their draft animals. Even freighters, who knew the road and its dangers, lost stock.
Stagecoach on Steep Grade. U. S. Forest Service photo.

The Oregonian published (August 8, 1863) a letter from the gold country that said, “There is a terrible mortality existing among the teams on the Boise road, and the dead cattle line the road from Burnt river to the Boise basin, so that more than two weeks since I was told by a gentleman returned from there that he was not out of sight of them the whole distance.”

Steep grades and the rutted track were not the worst problem, the correspondent went on: “The alkali dust on the Burnt and Snake rivers is deadly in its effects on the heated and toiling oxen, and sometimes they fall down dead when the yoke is taken off them.”

No transport company could afford to lose stock at those rates. So, for much of 1863, pack trains – horses and mules – carried substantial amounts of supplies to the Idaho mines. But when weather conditions were favorable, teamsters brought freight wagons from depots in Umatilla and Walla Walla. They were very careful, however, to husband the strength of their animals.

As one might expect, the slow pace of these freight trains did not suit eager prospectors. So-called “saddle trains” catered to that impatience. John Hailey, who would play a prominent role in Idaho history [blog,  August 29], is credited with the first saddle train operation, in 1863. Hailey later wrote, “On the 18th day of April, I left Walla Walla with a saddle train of sixteen passengers and four pack animals for Placerville in the Boise Basin. This was the beginning of the saddle train business in the Boise Basin mines.”

Hailey and his partner, William Ish, ran a profitable passenger operation through the summer, although they did have to reduce their fare as competitors appeared. And, he said, “By September, the travel to the Basin was almost over for the season, so we engaged in packing.”
John Hailey. Library of Congress.

Ish & Hailey did not attempt even a partial stagecoach run until spring of the following year. They first ran the stage about fifty miles, from Umatilla to the west side of the Blue Mountains. That early in the season, the road beyond that would not support the stage, so the company’s saddle trains took over. They did build (future) stage stations, which allowed saddle passengers to eat, rest, and change to fresh horses.

They had the stage route from Umatilla to Placerville “ready for passengers about the 1st of June, 1864.” It does not appear the Slavin & Company operation, mentioned above, ever materialized. The Ish-Hailey outfit did  have one competitor on routes over the Blues, but traffic over the next few years remained high enough to support both.
References: John Hailey, History of Idaho, Syms-York Company, Boise, Idaho (1910).
“To the Mines,” The Oregonian, Portland (July 20, 1863).
Oscar O. Winther, The Old Oregon Country: a History of Frontier Trade, Transportation and Travel, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California (1950).

Friday, July 19, 2024

Railroad Town of Burley Incorporated [otd 7/19]

The town of Burley, Idaho, was incorporated on July 19, 1909. The village had grown explosively since being platted four years earlier, and many businesses supported the growing farm population. That included a new Bank of Commerce, founded in the spring of 1909 with former Boise Mayor James H. Hawley as Vice President.
Burley, ca 1918. [Hawley]

The location, near where Goose Creek emptied into the Snake River, was a familiar landmark on the Oregon Trail. Other than the river itself, the creek represented the last reliable water source before Rock Creek. Guidebooks warned emigrants that they faced a hard day's travel over rugged terrain. In a moderately poor year, they might find no water whatsoever.

Goose Creek water and grass also attracted stockmen and settlers. By 1900, the area had a number of homesteads. Then developer Ira Perrine [blog, May 7] spearheaded the construction of Milner Dam and its irrigation system, which spurred the creation of Twin Falls.

In late 1904, the Minidoka and Southwestern Railroad Company began construction of a branch line from Minidoka through Twin Falls to Buhl. The next year Perrine and five partners platted a town near where the tracks crossed the Snake River. They called the town Burley, after David E. Burley, an agent for the Oregon Short Line Railroad Company.

After a relatively slow start, the village developed rapidly. Its first bank, the Burley State Bank, was organized in 1906 and, as noted above, the Bank of Commerce in 1909. Then the First National Bank of Burley opened in 1913. The population stood at about 900 in 1910, but had increased to about 2,000 three years later. Four years after that, it had grown to an estimated 2,500.

French's History of Idaho (1914), emphasized the town's rapid development into a substantial, modern municipality: "The streets are well lighted, the cluster lights being used in the down town section. Burley owns and operates its own electric light, heat and power system and has the benefit of exceptionally low rates. There have just been installed municipal waterworks, which cover the entire town. A trunk sewer has also been constructed."

Six years later when Hawley produced his History, he mentioned those advances and more: "Burley ... has two weekly newspapers, three banks, a good public school system, six churches, an elaborate system of rural telephones, a sugar factory, well-stocked stores of all kinds, good hotels, and more hogs are shipped from this place than any other point on the Oregon Short Line in Idaho."
Train stop on the Minidoka-Buhl line. Twin Falls Public Library.

When the Territorial legislature created Cassia County many years earlier, the only towns of any consequence in the region were Albion and Oakley. For various reasons, Albion got the nod as county seat.

Just a year after Burley incorporated, it had a population two-and-a-half times that of Albion. Still, an attempt in 1912 to move the seat to Burley failed. Determined, folks in the area decided to push for their own (new) county, of which they would be the county seat (Idaho Statesman, November 13, 1912). Although the legislature did carve out six new counties in the next session, Burley’s scheme failed.

By 1918, the town's population was four times that of Albion and a vote moved the county seat to Burley, where it still is. In fact, today Burley is a thriving city of around 10 thousand while Albion contains only a few hundred people. Although the railroad is no longer an economic powerhouse, it still plays an important role in transporting the area's farm products.
References: [B&W], [French], Hawley]
Cassia County History, Cassia County web site.
Kathleen Hedberg, Cassia County, Idaho: The Foundation Years, The Caxton Printers (© Cassia County Commissioners, 2005).