Idaho History June 10, 2018

Dr. Wilson Foskett – White Bird, Idaho


Dr. Wilson Foskett on his horse.
Photo courtesy Grangeville Bicentennial Museum

source: “Windy Stories: Storytelling Traditions from the Salmon River Idaho” By Marjorie H. Bennett (Google Books)
[h/t SMc]
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White Bird, Idaho County

source A Guide to National Register of Historic Places, Idaho County
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Dr. Wilson Foskett Home and Drugstore

White Bird. Idaho County. Idaho

National Register of Historic Places

Drugstore view #2 looking west
All photos taken by Suzanne Julin April, 2004. Original negatives on file at the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office

The Dr. Wilson Foskett Home and Drugstore is in White Bird, Idaho, a village of about 100 people in Idaho County, at the southern end of the Idaho panhandle. White Bird is located in a narrow mountain canyon drained by White Bird Creek, which empties into the Salmon River about a mile south of the town. The house was built in 1902, and an addition to the rear was added between 1914 and 1918. The drugstore was probably constructed between 1910 and 1914, about seventy feet to the south. In about 1926, the drugstore was moved to sit immediately adjacent to the house, and a passage was cut between the two buildings.

… The area saw nonIndian settlement beginning in the 1860s after gold was discovered in nearby mountains. White Bird’s post office opened in 1890, and a flurry of commercial development followed. By 1915, the town’s population had reached about 400, and it served as a trade center for the surrounding area.

Wilson Foskett and Family

Wilson Abner Foskett became one of White Bird’s most prominent citizens and an important figure in the Salmon River valley. Born in Warsaw, New York in 1870, Foskett attended Rush Medical School in Chicago. He graduated in 1897 and came West shortly afterwards, stopping briefly in Butte, Montana. By 1899, he was practicing in White Bird. He boarded at a White Bird hotel operated by Francis and Mary Margaret Taylor. There the doctor met Loris Taylor, the hotel-keepers’ daughter, who was twelve years his junior and a talented violinist.

Loris Taylor and Wilson Foskett married at her parents’ home on the first Sunday in November 1902. The newspaper article announcing their wedding described it as an “impressive marriage ceremony” and noted that the groom was “the popular and successful physician of that town, but… well-known all over the county, where he has hosts of friends.” The article said that the couple would move into “the beautiful new home just completed.” A photograph taken about two years later shows the couple in front of that home on Lot 8, Block G of Fenn’s Addition. Wilson and Loris Foskett stand by the property’s picket fence with their first child, Lawrence, who was born in 1903. Two other children followed: Erna was born in 1907, and Andy in 1912.

Dr. Wilson Foskett as a Pioneer Physician

For a time, Dr. Foskett saw patients in an office in his home, and at one point had an office in a separate building north of the house. About 1914, he built a drugstore about seventy feet south of his home. A small room at the rear of the drugstore, which has been removed, served as an office and examining room. A skylight provided illumination, and his children sometimes scaled the exterior of the structure and watched their father examining patients. In order to provide medications to his patients, Dr. Foskett became certified as a pharmacist and compounded his own prescriptions. Loris Foskett operated the drugstore and also assisted her husband in the care of his patients who came to White Bird to receive his services.

For the most part, however, Dr. Foskett practiced medicine outside the town as a matter of necessity. He faced situations familiar to medical practitioners in other isolated areas of the American West in the early twentieth century. The sparse populations of widespread areas lived at significant distances from medical care. In cases of accident, sudden illness, or childbirth, a long trip to the doctor’s office by horseback or wagon over rough roads was out of the question; instead, a physician went to those who needed his services. Dr. Foskett’s patients were on far-flung ranches and in small communities in the surrounding mountains and the Salmon River valley. He rode horseback to call on them, and several ranchers kept a spare horse for him so that he could change to a fresh mount as necessary. In the dark, he traveled by the light of a lantern made from a tin can and a candle. These trips could be dangerous; one night his horse slipped and threw him over a bluff, but the new raincoat he was wearing caught on a bush. His fall broken, he was able to climb back up the bluff and retrieve his horse.

Dr. Foskett’s patients were dependent on his ability and his willingness to reach them when he was needed. He cared for one woman through the birth of six children in her ranch home; the woman did not come into White Bird for fifteen years and relied upon the doctor coming to her. The doctor was resourceful about conducting his practice under unusual circumstances. One anecdote about Foskett says he rode horseback thirty-two miles to treat a bachelor rancher with a bowel obstruction who lived in a cabin with no windows. In order to have enough light to perform surgery, the doctor instructed a neighbor to cut a hole in the roof. Foskett remained for a day to monitor the recovery of the patient, who survived and never filled in the hastily cut skylight. Foskett’s wife remembered his encountering a man on the trail during a snowstorm; the man was suffering from a tooth abscess, and the doctor pulled the tooth while the patient sat on a rock with the snow whirling around him. As a physician, Wilson Foskett did what he could under the circumstances at hand to serve the populace of the region.

Dr. Foskett expected his wife and children to share in his dedication to his patients. The family’s social life, confined primarily to church activities, was often disrupted when the doctor was called out on a case. Ranchers strung telephones from their properties into the Foskett’s drugstore, giving area residents greater ability to reach the physician, and a local switchboard was also installed. Once the doctor was available by telephone, his family could not sit down to a meal together because someone needed to be on the switchboard. His daughter later wrote that she “believed we had the worst kept house in the country because the whole family had to sacrifice to save lives. Our home was totally devoted to that cause and it wasn’t easy for any of us.”

By the early 1920s, the development of the economical automobile began to affect the way rural patients and their physicians interacted. Doctors could reach patients and hospitals more quickly and more comfortably. People who considered the care they received from their local practitioner inadequate could travel to other areas and consult with doctors they considered more skilled or experienced.9 One study of rural medicine suggests that the car “changed rural medicine almost as much as Robert Lister’s antiseptic surgery.”

This transition acquired particular significance in the history of Dr. Foskett’s career. Travel in the rugged Salmon River region had always been an issue for him and his patients. Wilson Foskett was not an experienced horseman when he came to the West, but necessity made him one. He became a skilled rider and developed a deep appreciation for good horses and their ability to take him where he needed to go. However, the availability of cars and the development of automobile roads in the area helped convince him-rather reluctantly-that travel by modern transportation would be more efficient and convenient than his normal horseback or horse and buggy travel. After acquiring a car, he began taking his teen-aged daughter, Erna, on calls with him, perhaps preparing her to follow him in his medical career.

When Foskett was called out on Sunday, April 13, 1924, however, he left Erna behind because she had to go to school the next morning. He drove to the Louis Reeves ranch at the fork of Squaw and Papoose creeks near Riggins, Idaho. The Reeves’ daughter, Mrs. Lark Alkire, was in labor that was probably premature, because the infant girl he delivered weighed only three pounds. After a long night, the doctor began the drive back to White Bird. He stopped briefly in the village of Lucile, where a relative of the Alkire family urged him to eat breakfast and rest before continuing home. Concerned about other patients and not wanting to alarm his wife by his tardiness, the doctor declined.

Loris Foskett began to worry when her husband did not return as soon as she had expected, and she asked the driver of the mail stage to watch for him. Within a short time, the driver spotted evidence of an accident at the edge of the Salmon River in a box canyon near Slate Creek. Dr. Foskett’s body was located at about 10:30 AM on April 14 on a bank of the river. His car had gone off a high embankment and plunged into the Salmon; he was thrown from the automobile before it entered the deep water. News reports concluded that he had fallen asleep at the wheel. Two days later, hundreds of people traveled by car, buggy, and horseback to attend Wilson Foskett’s funeral. A newspaper report said they had come “to view, for the last time, the remains of the physician who had attended every family in the valley during the past 26 years of his residence in Whitebird.” Two weeks later, a local newspaper published an announcement headed, “Wanted—Doctor for Whitebird; Apply at Once.” Area residents needed to locate a physician to replace Dr. Foskett, the article said; the nearest doctor was at Grangeville, twenty miles away. 15 Wilson Foskett’s death left a serious vacuum in this Salmon River region.

The configuration of buildings comprising the Dr. Wilson Foskett Home and Drugstore presents an illustration of the history of the career and family of its owner. According to Sanborn Maps and a photograph taken about 1904, the original house was rectangular, with a one-story, lean-to extension on the north side. Between 1914 and 1918, an addition to the west, holding the washroom, pantry, and woodshed, was added. 16 The drugstore, a rectangular building with a rear extension that has been removed, was originally located to the south of the house. The joining of these two buildings was a direct result of Dr. Foskett’s fatal car accident.

Wilson Foskett’s death created a particular crisis in his family. Loris Foskett was widowed at 42. Erna and Andy were in high school, and Lawrence was in college at the University of Idaho. Dr. Foskett’s practice had never been financially lucrative; particularly in the early days, many of his patients had paid him in produce, meat, wood, and hay, rather than cash. The distraught widow needed to support herself and her children. Mrs. Foskett was not qualified to continue to provide prescriptions, but she converted the drugstore to a confectionary and soda fountain and sold sundries. Thus, the Foskett drugstore became a commercial enterprise, rather than one developed primarily to support a medical practice. As the children grew up and left home, Mrs. Foskett supplemented her income by taking in boarders, particularly the town’s schoolteachers. About two years after the doctor’s death, in an attempt to make her life easier, family members moved the drugstore building to a location immediately adjacent to the house. They cut a wide entrance between the house’s living room and the midsection of the drugstore, allowing Loris Foskett to have immediate access to both her home and her business. In 1929, she married Fred Otto, one of her boarders, and he helped her remodel elements of the interior of the house so that it could better serve as a boardinghouse.

About 1942, Loris Foskett Otto sold the house and drugstore to the Barritt family, and she and her husband moved to Spokane, Washington. The Barritts utilized both the house and the attached building as a residence; the commercial use of the structure ended. After the 2004 death of the last member of the Barritt family to live in the house, the property was acquired by Joseph James Wisenor of White Bird, and is now vacant.

[Note: the above document is dated 3/11/2005, the building is now an Antique Store.]

Drugstore and house view #3 looking southwest

Photographic Documentation: Dr. Wilson Foskett Home and Drugstore, White Bird, Idaho County, Idaho. All photos taken by Suzanne Julin April, 2004. Original negatives on file at the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office

excerpted from: United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service
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Dr. Foskett Drug Store and Home Abt. 1986

(click for original photo)
Submitted by: Deb Starr

source: Idaho County GenWeb
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Foskett Home and Drugstore


Idaho State Historical Society

Dr. Wilson Foskett was a physician who practiced in White Bird, Idaho from 1899 until his death in 1924. He married Loris Taylor in 1902 and they had three children. Dr. Foskett built this Victorian style house, one room of which served as his office. Between 1910 and 1914, Dr. Foskett added a second building about 70 feet to the south of the house that served as a drugstore.

Being the only physician in this isolated area, Dr. Foskett served his far-flung residents by horseback. Because of his unwavering dedication, he was universally respected and gained almost legendary status. By the early 1920s, Dr. Foskett abandoned horseback travel and, whenever possible, visited his patients by automobile. On April 13, 1924 he presided over the birth of a baby near Riggins. After a long night’s labor, he started the drive back to White Bird. Near Slate Creek, his car left the road and plunged into the Salmon River, killing the doctor.

Upon Dr. Foskett’s death, his wife converted the drugstore into a confectionary and soda fountain where she sold sundries. She also took in boarders. In order to facilitate her operation of the two businesses, the drugstore building was moved in 1926 to its present location, immediately adjacent to the house, and the two buildings were connected. In 1929 she married Fred Otto and they remodeled the interior of the house.

source: A Guide to National Register of Historic Places, Idaho County
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Foskett Wilson A. 1870 -1924

(click for original image)

“There is a Foskett Monument along side Highway 95 near Slate Creek”

source: Idaho GenWeb
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(related stories)

Rattlesnake Kills Old Jewett

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Double Tragedy at Whitebird Results in Death of John Nevins

Free Press, Thursday, August 23, 1917

Mentally Deranged, Arthur Freeman Shoots Down John Nevins, Popular Business Man and Citizen – Then Kills Self.

A sad tragedy was enacted at Whitebird last Saturday when John Nevins, well known Salmon river business man, banker and leading citizen was shot to death by Arthur Freeman, laborer of the river country, who took his own life after killing Nevins. Laboring under the delusion that he was avenging a wrong, Freeman shot down in cold blood this popular citizen and brought a cloud of grief to the entire county. The shooting occurred at noon as Nevins was on his way home and resulted in the almost instant death of the victim of perturbed mind as letters left by Freeman plainly indicated he had been brooding over an imaginary grievance for some time.

Killed on His Way Home

Nevins had left his place of business along about the noon hour and was on his way to his home when just opposite the Methodist parsonage Freeman walked across the street and covered Nevins and a .38 special army Colt. Rev. Anderson, who was the only witness to the tragedy, stated Nevins was reading a paper at the time. Freeman covered him with the gun and had no chance to realize his position. Freeman uttered some words and Nevins apparently made a reply but the conversation of both was inaudible. Freeman, who was less than ten feet from his victim immediately fired two shots, one bullet entering the left shoulder of Nevins and passing through the back, the other the left arm. Nevins fell and struggled to get up but Freeman was at once upon him and fired at close range, a bullet entering just below the right eye and the other shot the right temple. Freeman then walked to the Methodist church steps, about fifty feet from where Nevins fell and fired a bullet into his own brain, dying several hours after.

Lives But Briefly

Immediately after the shooting, Rev. Anderson rushed down to the office of Dr. Foskett and in company with the Doctor and others, returned to give attention to Mr. Nevins, who passed away several minutes after the arrival. Freeman was carried to the home of his sister, Mrs. Meyers but never regained consciousness, passing away several hours after the shooting.

Victim of Deranged Mind

Upon the body of Freeman was found a letter dated August 17, and addressed to his sister, making certain requests as to the disposition of his body and referring them to two letters he had written and left in his grip at the home of his sister. These letters, which were dated August 13, showed the murder was a premeditated one and that Freeman had been laboring under an imaginary wrong. In the letter to his people he spoke of the sorrow such a tragedy would bring to them but felt it his duty to kill Nevins. One was addressed to the county attorney and was similar in tone to the one he left his people. According to reports, Freeman has been having more or less trouble with Nevins and other members of the school board, holding them responsible for the non-retention of his sister, Mrs. Meyers, as a teacher of the public schools down there and had acted in a way in times past as to indicate he was not in a normal mental condition. Later he left the country and went to Cascade to work and none suspected when he returned to Whitebird last week that he was bent upon killing Nevins. He had made preparations for his burial, having placed his best clothes out upon the bed and also made suggestions as to his burial. Saturday morning he appeared at the stage barn and assisted in the work, remarked he felt fine and to all was in a normal mental condition.

Nevins Held in High Esteem

The tragedy was a terrible blow to the Salmon river people who looked upon John Nevins as one of their very best citizens. Out of respect for the deceased all the business places of the town were closed following the shooting and here and there could be seen little knots of people bemoaning the fact that the life of so good a man should be taken. No man in the entire river country had as many good and true friends as John Nevins. Your troubles were his troubles, your welfare his welfare, the people, the country and the development and happiness of the community were placed above his personal interests. Coming from good, old Irish stock to this country when a young man, he has experienced all the vicissitudes and hardships incident to a pioneer country and through his kindly way and self-sacrificing spirit made friends from one end of the the river to the other. He was a common man in his way but far above the average in his accomplishments. Working first as a miner and packer, he finally entered the mercantile, business in a small way, running a small store at Slate Creek originally and building up until he finally became the head of a chain of stores up the river known as the Salmon River Stores and recently branched out in the banking business, his business judgment and standing in the community resulting in his selection as president of the Whitebird State Bank. Nevins was known and truly appreciated not only in his home country but Grangeville, Lewiston and other points where he had made many lasting friends. He is survived by a wife and three children, the oldest of which is thirteen.

source: Idaho County GenWeb
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White Bird antique store a historic relic itself

By Laurie Chapman Idaho County Free Press

Travel south from Grangeville on the White Bird grade and at the bottom you will find a tiny, but historic community. Just off Highway 95 is the White Bird community, just a stone’s throw from the site of the White Bird battlefield.

If you make a trek to White Bird, and you have a penchant for antiques, the place to stop would be White Bird Antique Store. Located at 170 River Street, the business is really a relic from the past itself.

Pat and Bruce Ringsmith own the buildings, but it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the home and drugstore of Dr. Wilson Foskett. Long gone, practicing medicine over 100 years old, the story of Dr. Foskett and his unique facility remain.

Suzanne Julin, public historian, wrote the history of the Foskett family and their home and drugstore in a narrative application to the National Register of Historic Places. …

The following is a synopsis of her research.

Wilson Abner Foskett was born in 1870 at Warsaw, New York, she wrote. He attended Rush Medical School in Chicago, graduating in 1897, and by 1899 he was practicing in the community of White Bird. While boarding at the local hotel, operated by Francis and Mary Margaret Taylor, the doctor met his future wife, Loris Taylor.

Loris was the daughter of the inn keepers and the pair married the first Sunday of November, 1902, in her parent’s home. The couple’s first child, Lawrence, was born in 1903, to be followed by Erna in 1907 and Andy in 1912.

The house was constructed in 1902, and the newlyweds moved in directly. Until about 1914, Dr. Foskett was operating out of the home. At that time, the drugstore was constructed about 70 feet from the south of the home. Dr. Foskett had an office at the rear of the building where he saw patients.

Being a rural doctor meant Dr. Foskett not only practiced from his office, but also traveled to his patients as well. For many years, he traveled by horseback and at times by buggy. With the advent of automobile travel, making house calls could be expedited, but not necessarily easier.

On April 13, 1924, Dr. Foskett left home to deliver a baby at the Louis Reeves ranch near Riggins. The doctor worked a long night before making his return home. Unfortunately, it’s believed the doctor fell asleep at the wheel as he was found the next morning on the bank of the river. His car had gone off the embankment and plunged into the Salmon River.

Around 1926, the drugstore was moved to sit adjacent to the home and a passage was built between the two structures. Because Loris was no longer qualified to serve as a pharmacist, she converted the drugstore to a confectionary and soda fountain.

In 1929, Loris remarried to Fred Otto, a man who had been boarding in the home. He helped remodel the home to better serve as a boardinghouse. By 1942, the couple sold the structures and moved to Spokane.

The home is built in Late Victorian architectural style with Queen Anne accents. According to the narrative, the storefront is “almost completely original.”

source: Idaho County Free Press
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White Bird Antiques


Nestled in White Bird, Idaho is a store that has many treasures of old including Antlers, Native American items, Old Western Items and Textiles. We have a spectacular selection of trophy mounts of record bucks and elk.

Pat and Bruce Ringsmith have taken the old drugstore of Doc Foskett and transformed it into a great place to visit.

Please peruse our store online or visit it in person, we promise you will delighted.

170 River Street
White Bird, Id 83554
Store Hours:
Thurs-Sat 11-4 pm
Other Days By Chance

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Dr. Wilson Foskett Home and Drugstore 2013

(click image for original)
Author: Jerrye and Roy Klotz, MD July 1, 2013

source: Wikipedia
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White Bird Grade Sign

(click image for original)
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Old White Bird Road

The contract for the original road, 22 miles (35 km) from the mouth of White Bird Creek at the Salmon River to Grangeville, was awarded in late 1918. Completed in 1921 and first paved in 1938, it rose slightly higher to 4,429 feet (1,350 m), due to the absence of a summit cut. Located to the east, the old road was twice the length and had a multitude of switchbacks ascending a treeless slope. On the present highway, the descent north of the summit is less dramatic as the grade drops less than 850 feet (260 m) in the forest with few curves onto the Camas Prairie towards Grangeville at 3,400 feet (1,035 m).

source: Wikipedia
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Whitebird Switchback Spiral, North and South Highway, Idaho

(click image for original)
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Road to Rival Lewiston Hill

Description of Grangeville – Whitebird Highway

Cost Reach $260,000

How Climb Is Made From Salmon River – Wonderful Scenic Features Are Afforded.

[Lewiston Morning Tribune – Nov 24, 1918]

North Idaho is soon to have another highway which will rival the now famous Lewiston Hill highway as an engineering feature and scenic route. This will be the Salmon River – Grangeville link of the north and south state highway, a contract for the construction of which has just been let to T. J. Hoskins of Ontario, Ore., for the grading and the Security Bridge company of Lewiston for the concrete and bridge work.

The project is 22 miles in length, extending from the Salmon river at the mouth of Whitebird creek to the city of Grangeville. The only means of travel between these two points at the present time is over is narrow precipitous mountain road of heavy grades – some pitches as steep as 25 per cent – and sharp, dangerous turns.

Though it is it a very important mail route, supplying all the Salmon river country for a distance of 90 miles to New Meadows, it is practically no more than a poor trail and almost impossible to auto traffic except under the most favorable weather conditions. The section which this new highway will eliminate is the worst of the whole route from Lewiston to Boise because of its very heavy grades and sharp, dangerous turns.

Leaving the Salmon river at the mouth of Whitebird creek the new highway will follow up Whitebird creek one mile to the town of Whitebird, then take a southeasterly course along the west slope of Whitebird creek with a maximum grade of five per cent and easy, graceful curves to what will undoubtedly be known as “the foot of the ladder” seven miles out from the Salmon river. Here the grater part of the development work to make the necessary climb of 3,000 feet to the summit is worked out. For the next three miles the road swings back and forth across a gently sloping ridge eight consecutive times. At the last round of the ladder, or ten miles from the Salmon river, a vast panorama is unfolded. The whole stretch of road front this point to the Salmon river is in full view – to the east lies Chapman and Whitebird creek canyons with their timbered upper benches, while in the distance and thirty miles away Buffalo Hump with its snow-capped peak, may be seen. To the south beyond Whitebird and the Salmon the Seven Devils are seen fifty miles away and also snow-capped. To the west across the Salmon lies the productive Doumecq and Joseph plains country between the Snake and Salmon.

From the last round of the ladder the route skirts the breaks of Chapman creek for another three miles to the summit where an elevation of 4,393 feet is reached. 3,000 feet above the starting point. Then down from the summit on the Grangeville side the route passes through a timbered hillside of stately yellow pine and spruce for a distance of three miles. Occasional glimpses of the Camas prairie may be had through opening in the trees in this timbered section of the highway. Two short stretches of five per cent grade are used in this three miles, the remainder being very light grade.

At the end of this timbered section, or sixteen miles from the starting point, the whole beautiful grain country of Camas prairie is in full view, looking like a vast checker board. In the foreground lies the Tolo Lake-Grangeville bathing pool, while in the background Cottonwood butte may be seen.

Two miles more of open hillsides and Camas prairie is reached, and from this point to Grangeville, which has an elevation of 3,870 feet, the route passes through the farming section on an average downward grade of two per cent.

To construct this highway requires the excavating and moving of about 220,000 cubic yards of material, 25 per cent of which will be solid rock, the placing of approximately 400 cubic yards of concrete in culverts, nearly a mile of culvert pipe, the construction of one 60-foot span bridge across Whitebird creek and about four miles of guard fence. The cost will be approximately $260.000, of which sum the federal aid department of public roads, the state of Idaho and the two highway districts of Grangeville and Whitebird pay one-third share each.

The surveys for the complete plans of the great highway have been made by Engineer J. J. McCready of Lewiston for the state highway commission and the federal government, and Mr. McCready will probably handle the construction. He was engaged with Engineer C. C. Van Arsdol on the famous Lewiston Hill highway engineering achievement and has since been in the employ of the state.

source: Lewiston Morning Tribune – Nov 24, 1918
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North-South Highway 1919, In between Grangeville and Whitebird


source: Idaho Transportation Department, courtesy Kevin Norwood Idaho History 1860s to 1960s

page updated July 25, 2020