Idaho History Nov 17, 2019

“Sheepherder” Bill Borden

Thunder Mountain, Edwardsburg, McCall, South Fork Salmon River, Idaho

1897 Bill Borden

WarrenSkiMailThunderMtn-aMail Warren to Thunder Mtn Skis and Skiing, Warrens, Idaho

William Borden “Sheepherder Bill” carried mail from Warrens to Thunder Mountain. Bill Patterson storekeeper & postmaster at right, 1897.

Publisher Idaho State Historical Society
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Sheepherder Bill’s Explosive Story

​When “Sheepherder Bill” Borden made the paper, it was rarely good news. In 1902, the June 27 issue of the Idaho Statesman ran the following blurb, which was typical of the mentions about the man: “Bill Borden, better known as Sheepherder Bill, was in police court yesterday on the usual charge of being drunk. He was fined and costed to the amount of $5 and not having the coin, he will languish in the Bastille.”

Borden was a well-known miner in the Thunder Mountain region. He was also well known as a packer, carrying the heaviest backpacks of mail between Warrens and Thunder Mountain. And he was well known as a moonshiner. In his youth he was an ordained minister. Did you notice anything about sheep in all those well-knowns? Why he was called “Sheepherder Bill” is a minor mystery.

It was bad news, again, in July of 1905. It seems that Borden and a man named Barnum were curious about whether or not a piece of fuse was still good. One of them lit it and, yes, it was good. The burning fuse was tossed unartfully away, landing on a box of dynamite. The resulting explosion killed Barnum, and badly injured Borden. The first reports of the incident listed, “Sheepherder Bill, rock blown into side; probably fatal.”

The second report, a couple of days later, credited Mrs. Carl Brown with saving his life.

The best news I found about Borden in early papers was a story in the Statesman in 1907 when he was said to have found a “rich gold find mysteriously near Meadows.”

The bad news held off for a number of years, but the final report was of Sheepherder Bill’s death by a second explosion. His homemade still had blown up inside his cabin in 1932. He had perished in the resulting fire.

source: Speaking of Idaho history posts are copyright 2018 by Rick Just
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Sheepherder Bill

as remembered by Ida Brown

Edwardsburg c. 1908

EdwardsburgBrown-aEdwardsburg, now Big Creek, where the Browns spent one winter.
(pg 41)

On one of their few holidays they had left Betty and gone on a fishing party. While everybody was sitting around a campfire, somebody tinkered with a fuse that was too short for safety. The dynamite exploded. One man was killed and Sheepherder Bill Borden had a hole blown in his chest. Many were peppered with gravel, Ida’s hair was shaken out of its knot and her knees badly bruised. A dog that was along was deafened.

Bill Borden cried to Ida: “Miz Brown, Miz Brown, I’m a dyin!”

“No you’re not!” Ida told him firmly, taking from her shirt pocket the large clean handkerchief she always carried and pressing it into the hole. This checked the bleeding, but nevertheless a man was dispatched to Thunder Mountain, miles away, for a doctor. The doctor couldn’t come, but Ida got her patient to the Edwardses’ and nursed him to recovery. Carl wasn’t hurt by the blast though for months Ida would be prying gravel from his back with a darning needle dipped in peroxide.
(pgs 22-23)

Shiefer ranch, South Fork Salmon River c. 1909
ShieferRanchBrown-aIda and Betty at the Shiefer ranch* in South Fork Canyon
(pg 41)

Before the Browns were really settled, friends from the South Fork started visiting them. There was Sheepherder Bill Borden, somehow related to that well known family, who’d apparently never had anything to do with sheep. Well recovered from the hole in his chest, he could pack more on his back than anybody. More than limber Carl Brown. Once he carried a cookstove over the summits to Big Creek for Mrs. Edwards. On another trip, going in afoot with the Edwardses, he found himself packing young Napier more than seemed necessary. Finally rebelling he unloaded the child and said to Mrs. Edwards: “Ma’am, I think it would be better if we just killed this little boy and you went on home and made yourself another.”

McCall Payette Lake c. 1910
PayetteLakeBrown-aU.S. Forest Service supervisor Julian Rothery at McCall in 1910, Ida Brown and Baby Betty, Herbert Williams a later supervisor.
(pg 41)

A stout drinker, Bill usually ran out of money before he could get himself out of McCall. One Sunday morning Ida, dressing for Sunday school, said to Betty: “If Sheepherder Bill comes here while I’m gone, don’t let your father give him any money.”

Returning, she checked with Betty.

But Betty cried, “What shall I do! Daddy told me not to tell you anything!”

“If he told you not to tell, then don’t,” Ida said, knowing the answer anyhow.

Sheepherder Bill prudently delayed his next trip to town, but by that time he had decided to go to Philadelphia for a visit. He was full of this plan, and explained it in great detail to the Browns. They thought it was indeed a fine idea, and when he left the house they assumed it might be a long time before they saw their friend again. Perhaps he would decide to stay among his relatives in the East.

But Bill got only as near Philadelphia as the out-skirts of McCall. He was found there blissfully drunk. When sober he reconsidered his plan, and felt that having been delayed he might as well not make the trip. A few years later he was burned up when his mountain still exploded.
(pgs 47-48)

Setting a dinner plate for whoever comes also makes one feel part of the country, and Ida was always doing this. People, mostly men of course, from the mountains and the canyons were always dropping in, usually at meal time. On a summer afternoon Boston Brown and Sheepherder Bill came to town. They intended to drop in first at a saloon, briefly. More drinks later than they realized, they set out for Ida’s. However, they didn’t quite make it – they collapsed in the weeds at the edge of her yard and fell asleep. Their sleep was not too sound, for they reared up at intervals and yelled “Yippee”, or they advised listeners to “Let ’er Go Double.”

Some of Ida’s more staid neighbors were shocked and were determined to do something. But Ida earnestly explained that the two men were old friends, they were doing nobody any harm and shouldn’t be bothered.
(pg 57)

source: “The King’s Pines of Idaho; a story of the Browns of McCall” by Grace Edgington Jordan 1961 (21 megs)
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Note * the Shiefer ranch lies across the river from the old Brewer Homestead Site on the South Fork Salmon River (near the Elk Summit to Warrens bridge) and is now a FS campground.

source: Back Country History Project Metsker Atlas South Fork
[h/t SMc]
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Borden, Sheepherder Bill

by Roxanna Allen

William “Sheepherder Bill” Borden claimed he was a descendant of the famous Borden milk products family. He lived in a cabin at the mouth of Porphyry Creek, where he always raised a fine garden. A well-educated man that had a weakness for drink, “Sheepherder” Bill made several stakes and would proceed to drink up all of his profits.

Whiskey would prove to be the ruin of, “Sheepherder” Bill. He was burned in his cabin when his whiskey still blew up, or so it was supposed when the burned cabin was discovered.

excerpted from: The Star-News 8/17/78
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S.F. Salmon River; Porphyry Creek


source: Topo Map of Streams in Valley County, Idaho
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Borden, Bill

Referred to as “Sheepherder Bill”, he had a moonshine still that blew up and he was burned to death in his cabin date about 1932
(p.29 Sheepeater Campaign; Carrey)
Burial Location: S.F. Salmon River; Porphyry Creek

source: Idaho County GenWeb
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Note: On the west side of the Porphyry Bridge across the South Fork of the Salmon river from the mouth of Porphyry Creek, down stream to the north is a small cleared area of about half an acre. At the base of the cliff rocks were stacked probably from clearing the land, and old lilac bushes are growing wild. In a little “cave” in the cliff a pipe runs fresh spring water. No signs of cabin remnants or grave site were present in 2001.
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Link to History Back Country Post Offices
Link to Curley Brewer
Link: Thunder Mountain / Roosevelt History index page
Link: Big Creek / Edwardsburg History index page

page updated October 14, 2020