Monday, February 24, 2014

Geography Makes Idaho Territory Ungovernable, Should be Split

On February 24, 1864, newspapers all over the East carried “bullets” of information on what happened that day in Congress. The item from the New York Tribune was typical: “Mr. Grimes (Un., Iowa), presented a petition from the citizens of Idaho praying for a division of that territory, one portion being inaccessible to the other, which was referred to the Committee on Territories.”

It’s not clear why James W. Grimes, the Union (Republican) Senator from Iowa, presented the “petition” from Idaho. Born in New Hampshire, Grimes graduated from Hampton Academy in that state, and then studied at Dartmouth College. He moved to Iowa in 1836, when he was just twenty years old. Two years later, he served the first of two terms in the House of Representatives for Iowa Territory. During this period, he studied law and was admitted to the bar.

After Iowa became a state in 1846, Grimes served in its House of Representative, and then as governor (1854-1858). Elected to the U. S. Senate in 1859, he served there for ten years.
Senator Grimes. Library of Congress.

At least two possible connections between Grimes and Idaho Territory exist. First, James Tufts, Speaker of the Idaho Territorial Council, was from New Hampshire, like Grimes, and became a lawyer in Iowa. Before moving on to Nebraska, he would have overlapped with the term of Governor Grimes.

Second, Granville Stuart, a pioneer destined to be known as “Mr. Montana,” had lived in Iowa from 1838 to around 1852, and his family still lived there.

In any case, the Journal of the Senate provided further details on what Grimes submitted. The memorial requested “a division of the Territory of Idaho, by formation of a new Territory embracing the headwaters of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, with the Rocky Mountains as the dividing line.”

Meanwhile, lobbyists from the east side of Idaho Territory had already been at work. One of them was Idaho Chief Justice Sidney Edgerton, who had been hired to push the idea of a split with his influential contacts in Congress. Edgerton, of course, knew Lincoln personally. Also, being from Ohio himself, he was a friend of Ohio Congressman James M. Ashley, who happened to be chairman of the House Committee on Territories.

These future Montanans had plans that differed a bit from those of the Idaho legislature.

References: Michael P. Malone, Richard B. Roeder, and William L. Lang, Montana: A History of Two Centuries, Revised Edition, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1991).

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Idaho’s Magnificent Shoshone Falls Announced to the World

On January 25, 1864, the San Francisco Evening Bulletin published an article that began, “A detachment of troops recently scouting in the valley of the Snake or Lewis fork of the Columbia, discovered a waterfall which, it is said, is entitled to the distinction of being the greatest in the world. The entire volume of Snake river pours over a sheer precipice 198 feet high, 98 feet higher than Niagara.”

Given that description, the troops had observed Shoshone Falls, located about four miles northeast of today’s town of Twin Falls. The numbers given are somewhat skewed: The falls are around 212 feet high, and that’s only about 45 feet higher than Niagara Falls. (The combination of falls at Niagara is much wider, however.)

The first white men thought to have visited the falls, in 1818-1822, were French-Canadian trappers working for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Because of that, mountain men from the U. S. sometimes referred to them as the “Canadian Falls.”

Writer/artist George Gibbs provided the first documented description of the falls, and drew a sketch. Gibbs was with the Regiment of Mounted Rifles, which marched over the Oregon Trail in 1849 as a show of force against the Indians. Gibbs and the Army lieutenant who saw the falls with him decided to call them “Shoshone Falls,” which stuck.

Yet even with that earlier report, the falls had “always been enveloped in mystery.” Travelers might get near enough to hear “ the roaring of these falls,” but they seldom had the time or inclination to investigate further. As the Bulletin noted, “Very few, if any, of the tens of thousands of adventurers that have crossed the plains ever looked upon the great falls.”

In fact, even John C. Fremont, “the Pathfinder,” does not mention seeing the falls when he marched through in September 1843. His column cut across the flats south of the canyon and camped on Rock Creek, well away from the canyon.
Shonshone Falls, ca 1868. Library of Congress.
“It was said,” the Bulletin went on, “that there were a series of falls and rapids, making a descent of 700 feet in 7 miles, and the sound gave color to the report.”

Actually, the Snake drops over a thousand feet in the 24-25 miles of course between “The Cedars” (today’s Milner Dam) and below Shoshone Falls. The bulk of that – about 400 feet – occurs in the last three miles, where the Snake goes over the Twin Falls and then Shoshone.

The article said, “Some day they will be visited by the tourist and pleasure seeker, and looked upon as frequently and familiarly as Niagara is to-day.”

References: [Brit]
John C. Frémont, Report Of The Exploring Expedition To The Rocky Mountains ... The Senate Of The United States, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC. (1845).
“The Great Waterfall Of The Snake River,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, California (January 25, 1864).
Raymond W. Settle (ed.), The March of the Mounted Riflemen, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1989).

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Roman Catholic Priests Offer the First Christmas Services in the Boise Basin

On December 25, 1863, the only public Christmas services held in the Boise Basin were those offered by the Roman Catholics. Recall that, back in September, Catholic Fathers Toussaint Mesplie and A. Z. Poulin had been busy building churches in four different Basin towns. On Christmas, Father Mesplie celebrated Mass at the little church in Placerville, hurried to Pioneerville for another, and then continued to Centerville to hold a third.

Meanwhile, Father Poulin performed a series of Christmas services at the larger church, St. Joseph’s, in Idaho City. The Illustrated History of the State of Idaho later said, “As the Catholic churches were at that time the only ones in the Boise basin we need not be surprised to read in the newspaper accounts of that first Christmas in Idaho, that they were filled to overflowing.”

With buildings erected almost entirely from pine boards, these early mining towns were extremely susceptible to fire. Less than two years after that first Christmas, a major fire burned most of the structures in town. Strenuous efforts by the locals barely saved St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic church.
St. Joseph's Altar. Library of Congress

But the church was not spared two years later, when another blaze swept through town, urged on by strong winds. Most of the church fixtures also went up in smoke, but they were able to save some.

Still, within a couple months, the Idaho World (formerly the Boise News) reported, “Prominent among the frame edifices in Idaho City is the new Catholic chapel, upon the site of the church destroyed by the May fire, on East Hill. It is not quite completed, but it already presents the finest appearance of any building in the city, and is a credit to the place, to its architects and builders altogether.”

Some months later, celebrants could again enjoy Christmas services at a new St. Joseph’s, with at least a few vestments and altar pieces to provide a link to that first church. St. Joseph’s is still in use today.

References: [French], [Illust-State]

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Idaho Territorial Legislature Meets for the First Time

On Monday, December 7, 1863, the legislature for Idaho Territory began its first session, meeting in Lewiston. As noted earlier, the Republicans (Union Party) held a majority in both the Council and the House of Representatives.

Members chose Joseph Miller, representing the Second District, as President of the Council, after nine ballots. Histories of the time provide little information about Mr. Miller, other than that he was from Boise County.

The House chose James Tufts as their Speaker, although he had been elected from the sparsely-settled eastern side of the Territory. However, as a practical matter, Tufts might well have had the most relevant experience for the job.

Born in New Hampshire in 1829, James went to college in Vermont, then became a lawyer in Iowa. Between 1859 and 1862, he was a Probate Judge, and also served terms in the legislatures of Nebraska Territory and then Dakota Territory. Tufts also had experience as a U. S. Commissioner in Dakota Territory.

Later, when Congress split Montana off from Idaho, Tufts was appointed the Secretary of that Territory. For a time, he was Acting Governor there. He moved back to Nebraska around 1870 and lived there until his death in 1884.

This first legislature had a lot to do, and there were only eighteen men to handle the work: seven in the Council, eleven in the House. Among their first actions was to recruit some help. The Council created an administrative staff that included a Secretary and Assistant Secretary, a Sergeant-at-Arms, and a Doorkeeper. The House’s staff included a Chief Clerk and Assistant Clerk, a Sergeant-at-Arms, and a Doorkeeper.
First Legislative Hall. J. H. Hawley photo.

The Organic Act stipulated that the first session of the legislature could continue for 60 days. (After that, “no session in any one year shall exceed the term of forty days.”) The Act placed constitutional restrictions on what laws could be enacted, but contained relatively few specific stipulations. One provision did say, “whereas slavery is prohibited in said territory by an act of Congress of June nineteenth, eighteen hundred and sixty-two, nothing herein contained shall be construed to authorize or permit its existence therein.”

The legislative agenda would eventually include enactment of a criminal code, practices for civil proceedings (lawsuits), probate actions (processing wills and estates), and other basic legal structure. Already, they faced a backlog of requests to incorporate several towns, and numerous applications for franchises for toll operations (roads, bridges, and ferries). Also, since much of Idaho’s vast expanse was unorganized, the legislature would spend considerable time creating a host of new counties.
They would be busy.

References: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Michael P. Malone, Richard B. Roeder, and William L. Lang, Montana: A History of Two Centuries, Revised Edition, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1991).

Friday, November 29, 2013

Newspapers Report More Results from the Election in Idaho Territory

On November 29, 1863, the Lewiston Golden Age published an “Extra” with the results of the Territorial elections. (The item was reprinted in The Oregonian a few days later.) The headline was “Union Ticket Triumphant.”

At that time, they already had most of the totals from west of the Divide. This report contained “election returns from the precincts east of the Bitter Root mountains.”

The article first gave the result for Delegate to Congress: “Cannady’s majority east of the Bitter Root mountains is 251, which reduces Wallace’s majority to 339, as near as we can come at it until the returns are opened and counted.”

The Age added a postscript to the extra: “Since the above was put into type a letter has been received by the express from Fort Laramie, stating that Wallace’s majority at that place is 474, swelling his majority throughout the Territory to 813. Bully for Laramie!”

In reality, the census had enumerated only 218 people in the Laramie District, and less than half of them were eligible to vote. This ballot-box stuffing was apparently perpetrated by Territorial Marshal Dolphus Payne, but fortunately it did not affect the election for Delegate. Still, as could be expected, Democrats would repeatedly use the notorious “Laramie Fraud” to beat up Republican candidates in future campaigns.

Concerning the other elections, the Age said, “The following persons are elected to the Legislature from the eastern portion of the Territory: “East Bannock, W. C. Rheam [sic, Rheem], (Union), Councilman … ”

When combined with the other Districts, the results gave the Republican (Union) Party a majority in both the Council and the House of Representatives. However, Democrats would win the next election decisively, and held the legislator for many years afterwards.

With that turnaround, plus the splitting away of Montana Territory six months later, only three of the men chosen in that first election played any later role in Idaho government. Council member Stanford Capp served a second term on the Council, in 1872. Lyman Stanford, also on that first Council, was later sheriff of Owyhee County.
Judge Kelly. [Illust-State]

Milton Kelly, Representative from Boise County, played a much more prominent role after his term. Born near Syracuse, New York in 1818, Kelly became a lawyer in Wisconsin and then moved to California in 1861. He next followed the gold camps into Oregon and Idaho, settling in Placerville, Boise County, in 1863 … just in time for the election.

In 1865, President Lincoln, shortly before he was assassinated, appointed Kelly to the Supreme Court of Idaho Territory as an Associate Justice. He spent six years on the Court, assigned to the District based in Lewiston. He then moved to Boise City, where he purchased the Idaho Statesman newspaper. After seventeen years, in 1889, failing health led him to sell the paper. He passed away three years later.

References: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, Owyhee Avalanche Press, Silver City, Idaho (January 1898).
“Idaho Election Returns,” The Oregonian, Portland (December 4, 1863).
“Laramie Fraud,” Reference Series No. 154, Idaho State Historical Society (February 1966).

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Newspaper Tries to Educate Its Readers About Idaho Gold Country

On November 23, 1863, the San Francisco Evening Bulletin reprinted an article from the Boise News in Bannock City (today’s Idaho City). The item began, “Many persons in Oregon, California and elsewhere are at fault as to the particular locality of these mines, as evinced by numerous blunders in letter writing, etc., that have come under our notice.”

The writer proposed to definitively explain where the Boise Basin towns were located, and how one might get to them. He wrote, “Bannock city is situated on a point formed by the junction of Moore’s and Elk creeks. Moore’s creek heads in a spur of the Rocky mountains, and flows nearly in a southeasterly direction, and empties into Boise river from the north side.”

He cataloged several Basin towns known at that time and then said, “Boise city is situated on Boise river, near the mouth of Moore’s or Grimes’s creek (we are not informed as to which name the stream assumes below the junction).”

The creeks join “some 12 or 13 miles below this city.” His distance estimate was high by only a mile or so, and that may reflect changes in the course of the road. Below the junction today, the stream is called Mores Creek. The writer said, “Those curious to know of our whereabouts may easily do so by [first] finding old Fort Boise on the map.”

Portion of Oregon Territory. Map issued by J. H. Colton & Co., New York, ca 1856.
The Hudson’s Bay Company had abandoned its Fort Boise after about 1855, but it still appeared as an important landmark in Oregon Trail guidebooks of the time. Remnants of the fort – which had been damaged by a flood – were located near where the Boise River emptied into the Snake.

With the map in hand, the curious person could “then trace Boise river up 65 miles.” That would have led to a spot about ten miles up-river from the new Fort Boise, and Boise City – neither of which would appear on any map published in 1863, or before. From there, the writer said, “Strike off in a northeasterly direction 30 miles. With that, he figured, the seeker “may very nearly put their fingers on Bannock city.”

The writer’s words provided a remarkably accurate set of directions for finding the town.

References: [B&W]
“Location Of The Boise Mines,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, California (November 23, 1863).

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Richness of Owyhee Mines Not Over-blown, Location Given

On November 17, 1863, The Oregonian published news of the so-called Owyhee mines, especially quartz mines that might produce both gold and silver. The item began, “During the past two months, considerable importance has attached to the district of what is generally termed the Owyhee river mines. Reports, many of them exaggerated if not entirely without foundation in reality have been freely circulated and as freely repeated.”

In The Oregonian’s view, such wild stories served only to drive up the prices of mining stocks. The article went on, “Hitherto, we have sought to avoid giving currency to the stories – as far as compatible with the duties of responsible journalism – preferring to await the receipt of authentic information upon a matter of such interest to the venturesome miners who risk so much.”

However: “We yesterday conversed with a gentleman of the utmost reliability – whose judgement is seldom warped by the sanguine hopes that afflict a majority of our fortune hunters.”

This level-headed individual first described the location of the primary Owyhee mining region: It is “twenty-five miles from the river of that same [name], being located on the hills above Jordan Creek, thirty miles from Snake river, sixty-five from Boise City, … and about 150 miles from Humboldt, in a north-westerly direction, and in the same range with Washoe, Humboldt, and South Boise.”

These and his other distance estimates were acceptable. However, the notion that the Owyhee mines were “in the same range” with other rich quartz-mining regions was rather odd, and erroneous. Unfortunately, snowy weather had limited his exploration, but he saw enough and “returned, satisfied with his trip, to prepare for the coming of spring.”

Overall, he had found rich lodes, “some of which have yielded assays of $3,000 silver ore, besides a fair proportion of gold. … There were over 200 miners at Boonville [sic] when our informant left.”
Colonel Dewey. [Illust-State]

One of those miners was probably “Colonel” William H. Dewey. Born in Massachusetts, Dewey followed the rush to California and then to Idaho “in the fall” of 1863, when he was about forty years old. Known as “a born miner,” Dewey came to own numerous mining claims, then later added real estate and railroad development. He eventually became one of Idaho’s first millionaires.

The Oregonian also learned that “There are no placer diggings on the hills, the bed-rock in many places being near the surface of the hill. For about eight miles along Jordan Creek, however, the gold is fairly evenly distributed, and miners are taking out from one to four ounces per day to the man, with sluices."

Returns of $15 to $60 a day for each member of a sluice team were considered very good. The item concluded, “We have been promised more reliable details … which we shall give our readers as soon as received.”

References: [Hawley]
“Gold and Silver Quartz Mines Near The Owyhees,” The Oregonian, Portland (November 17, 1863).
A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, Owyhee Avalanche Press, Silver City, Idaho (January 1898).
Merle W. Wells, Gold Camps & Silver Cities: Nineteenth Century Mining in Central and Southern Idaho, 2nd Edition, Bulletin 22, Idaho Department of Lands, Bureau of Mines and Geology, Moscow, Idaho (1983).