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).