Category Archives: Weekly History

Idaho History April 15

Henry Rhodes “Bub” (Bob) Meeks, Jr

Idahoan Bob Meeks’ career in crime consisted of one bank robbery

photo caption: Butch Cassidy (seated right), and his famous “Wild Bunch.” Bob Meeks rode with Butch only once, but not with this gang. Provided by Arthur Hart

Butch Cassidy’s foray into Idaho to rob the bank at Montpelier in 1896, with the help of local boys Bob Meeks and Elza Lay, made him a part of Gem State history, and like other Western states, we are quick to claim anybody that famous as one of ours.

Certainly Butch and his “Wild Bunch” have become part of the lore of the Wild West, right up there with Jesse James, the Dalton gang and Billy the Kid. Another name for the informal and constantly changing association of horse thieves and bank robbers who rode with Cassidy was the “Hole in the Wall Gang.”

The Hole in the Wall was a mountain hideout in Johnson County, Wyo., that was already notorious before the Cassidy gang holed up there at the time of the Montpelier robbery. Among those reported to have used this secluded canyon in the 1880s and ’90s were “Laughing Sam” Carey, “Black Jack” Ketchum and “Flat nose” Currie. Meeks, who helped rob the bank at Montpelier in 1896, was not notorious, and this might have been his first crime. In 1897 he was arrested, tried and convicted, and sentenced to 35 years in the Idaho State Penitentiary in Boise.

In August 1901, the State Board of Pardons reduced Meeks’ sentence to 12 years on the recommendation of E.C. Gray, cashier of the bank he had helped rob; Joseph Jones, special agent of the Oregon Short Line Railroad; and Alfred Budge, county attorney of Bear Lake County. The Idaho Statesman was much taken with the story of the robbery and Meeks’ part in it, and published an account of it on Aug. 13, 1901:

“The history of the Meeks case is one of the most exciting in the criminal annals of the state. On the 12th day of July, 1896, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, three men rode into the town of Montpelier. They rode down the main street of the town, their horses going at an easy amble.

“Arriving in front of the Bank of Montpelier the men alighted, tied their horses, and went into the bank. At the door they met Cashier Gray and urgently but politely invited him inside. Getting into the bank, two of the men ordered the employees to come out from behind the counter and line themselves up against the wall. They did so, when one of the men, heavily armed, stood guard over them. One of the men then stepped outside the door and watched the street, the other going inside the counter and securing some $7,000 in cash.

“After the money had been procured, the men started back toward the street, and in a moment all three were again seated on their horses and were riding like the wind out of town.”

Cassidy’s later success as a train robber and resourceful dodger of the law makes it obvious that he was the brains behind the Montpelier bank robbery. The escape from the posse was by a ploy Cassidy would use later after a train robbery near Price, Utah, on April 1, 1897. In both cases Cassidy had staked out extra horses on the escape route so that the horses of his pursuers were outrun by fresh mounts.

Meeks decided that 12 years was still too long to spend in the penitentiary and planned to escape at the first opportunity. His first try, on Christmas Eve 1901, failed; on Feb. 2, 1903, he made the attempt again and was shot in the leg. The wound was so serious that amputation was necessary. Despite the missing limb, on March 16, 1903, he somehow managed to scale a prison wall, and in an apparent suicide attempt dove from the wall after shouting, “Hurrah for hell.”

That Meeks was a sympathetic character is suggested by the fact that in April 1903 his fellow convicts raised the money to bring his mother to see him. He was next judged to be insane and sent to the asylum in Blackfoot, where he escaped, was recaptured and was sent back to Boise, where he served out his time and was released in 1912.

Meeks was in prison during the years when Butch Cassidy and his gang went on to become the legend that has inspired several largely fictional movies, notably “Three Outlaws,” with Neville Brand and Alan Hale in 1956, and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” the famous 1969 film starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday.

source: Arthur Hart Special to the Idaho Statesman June 4, 2016
uploaded here:
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Butch Cassidy and Two Gang Members Rob Montpelier Bank

Montpelier, ca. 1910. Source uncertain: Wyoming Tales & Trails.

On Thursday, August 13, 1896, Montpelier, Idaho sweltered under a blistering afternoon sun. Three riders walked their horses along a street, trailing a pack mare behind them. Had the local jeweler seen them, he might have recognized the three men he’d hired to gather hay on his ranch near the Wyoming border. His wife, who handled the spread while her husband ran his shop, considered them good workers.

Founded by Mormon colonists in 1864, Montpelier grew only modestly until the Oregon Short Line railroad built a station there in 1884. The three riders stopped first at a general store.

The storekeeper thought the three might be sheepherders. Finished, the strangers remounted and walked their horses east along the street. The time was after 3:00 p.m. when they stopped in front of the bank and dismounted. Two men standing on the board sidewalk glanced at them, didn’t recognize the riders, and resumed their conversation.

They paid sudden attention when two of the men, now masked with bandanas, accosted them with drawn revolvers. Terse commands urged them inside, where they found three bank employees and several customers. The robbers ordered everyone except the Assistant Cashier to line up facing the wall.

The blond, stocky leader held them at gunpoint while the taller bandit stuffed all the bank’s cash money into a large sack. After raiding the vault, the man tossed loose silver coins into the bag, then dumped a stack of gold coins into a cloth bank bag. Finished, he carried the loot outside and loaded the bags onto his horse and the pack mare.

The blond robber waited inside until his partner completed the loading. He warned them not to make a fuss for at least ten minutes, then strolled out to mount up himself. The bandits turned their horses toward the edge of town.

The Cashier hurried to tell the deputy sheriff as soon as the hoofbeats subsided. However, the deputy was mostly a process server and owned neither gun nor horse. Still, willing to try, he grabbed a “penny-farthing” – a bicycle with giant front wheel and tiny rear – and gave chase. He soon gave up, but did find that the crooks had galloped east, towards the Wyoming border.

The bandits had planned well. They apparently used the haying job as a cover while they traced the best escape route and located a spot to hide a quick change of horses. Fortunately, the third bandit, who held the horses ready, had not worn a mask. Outside on the street, that might have attracted unwanted attention. The Assistant Cashier got a good look at him.

That man turned out to be Bob Meeks, a member of Butch Cassidy’s notorious “Wild Bunch.” He was the only one caught and convicted for the robbery. The blond leader was surely Butch himself

For some reason, there seems to be no authoritative answer as to how much the bandits got away with. Reports vary widely, from as little as $5 thousand, to around $16 thousand, to over $50 thousand. A figure of about $7 thousand is most generally accepted. Whatever the amount, none of the money was ever recovered.

source: Evan Filby South Fork Companion
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Bub Meeks The Incidental Outlaw

While most of the pioneers who settled the old West were hard working honest people, the history of the West cannot be told without including a smattering of outlaws. My ancestors moved to Utah with the first Mormon trailblazers. Life was grueling for a family with 11 children. Everyone worked from sunup to sundown. There were bare necessities and no luxury in their lives. From this family came the little-known outlaw, Bub Meeks. He was the brother of my grandfather. They were sons of Henry Rhodes Meeks, Sr. History books, newspapers and prison records call “Bob, Robert, Henry Robert, Wilbur” or “Henry Wilbur” but his real name was Henry Rhodes Meeks, Jr.

Great-Uncle Bub rode with Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch gang. Butch and Bub were neighbors in Circleville and Marysville, Utah, on the Sevier River and “cowboyed around” starting when they were about 20. At one time they were in the cattle business together or at least posing as cattle buyers. Some say, “They were buying one cow and stealing 10.” Others say they met as teenagers.

George Leroy Parker aka: Butch Cassidy reportedly had a loosely-knit group of outlaw friends who comprised more or less three gangs with many of the members being interconnected. They were not a large gang of guys that rode around robbing and shooting up the countryside. There really wasn’t an elected leader. From among those we refer to about six of them as “The Cassidy Gang.” “The Hole-In-The-Wall Gang” had approximately 20 and “The Wild Bunch” was made up of all of them encompassing outlaws from the entire three-corner area of Wyoming, Utah and Colorado as well as Idaho. “Hole-In-The Wall” referred to the outlaws that frequented a certain blind canyon near Kaycee, Wyoming. Every well-known outlaw in the West has been linked to Hole-In-The-Wall and Robbers Roost, in Utah.

A story in the Green River Star (paper) October 24, 1979, quotes Henry Len Meeks (son of William) that “they were a loosely grouped band of juvenile delinquents on horseback, robbing banks and trains to earn easy money.” Some documented stories claim that Butch held contests of horsemanship and marksmanship and Uncle Bub was chosen, along with Elzy Lay and H. B. Murdock, to be “lieutenants” based on those abilities. Bub is said to have been involved in holdups in Winnemucca, Nevada, Logan, Utah, Wyoming and Idaho. It would be impossible to sort out which robberies were actually done by Butch Cassidy or his so-called “gang.”

I don’t wish to make this a eulogy to Bub Meeks. He was a criminal. The record is so convoluted that I hope to set it straight. We can never know the whole truth. Bub was quite a character! Remember, it was a different era. Sometimes the only law was hanging on the next guy’s hip. The family members of Bub’s generation said he was “just wild.” He was, indeed, a hellion.

The big cattle ranches (by hook or by crook) were starving out and taking over from the homesteaders. The big outfits were just as ruthless and lawless as any rustler or bank robber. Butch, Bub and Elzy Lay were considered a friend at most ranches. They often worked for the ranchers … and worked hard and honestly. Many ranchers welcomed them into their homes. They were not “good guys,” they were outlaws. The fact that they were popular and often helped poor people does not justify what they did. The Bridger Valley Pioneer (newspaper) stated in about July of 1981 that, (according to Wallace Shurtleff in his book about Bridger Valley, Wyoming), Butch and Bub once rode ten miles to buy some groceries for a misfortunate family who had sickness and trouble. Each member of my extensive family has another Uncle Bub story, learned from Bub or his brothers.


On August 13, 1896, three young men held up the bank in Montpelier, Idaho. Bub held the horses while Butch Cassidy and Elzy Lay (also called “Elza” in some accounts) robbed the bank. Uncle Bub was apprehended a year after the robbery, although he was around the area for the entire year. He had been working at a ranch, which placed him in Cokeville, Wyoming at the time of the Montpelier robbery. The two towns are close together by the old west standards. It was well known who did the Montpelier job but Bub was the only one ever arrested for that crime. The papers reported that he “made no effort to provide an alibi and it was rumored that he was involved in the Union Pacific railroad holdup at the same time and was afraid that it would be discovered and he would get a bigger sentence.”

At Bub’s trial, bank cashier and witness, E. C. Gray, sent a letter telling that the man was short and slight and he did not believe it was Bub. The sheriff’s brother defended him. Letters from detective Joseph Jones, special agent of the Oregon Short Line Railway and Alfred Budge, county attorney for Bear Lake, supported him. The day before the robbery, August 12, many say he was seen in Vernal,200-or-so miles away, where he traded a buckskin horse for a mare. That was a mighty long way horseback.

Letters of support were held back until after the trial.

Nine Jurors asked for clemency. One of Bub’s brothers was believed to be the “unknown man” who provided the horses after the Montpelier Bank Robbery, although he may not have condoned dishonesty, he was Bub’s brother. The Meeks brothers raised blooded horses in those days. Bub’s father owned the much-documented “little sorrel mare” that was trained to follow along loose, with a pack, although I’ve heard family members call her “the little yellow mare.”

She was quite a little racehorse and Butch and Bub won lots of won money racing her. She was turned loose and followed the saddle horses carrying the money after the Montpelier robbery and is mentioned in most accounts. It seems odd that the little mare could not sustain the pace and was left behind. Maybe she just didn’t want to keep up. The next day she came trotting into camp with the $16,500 take. The Idaho Historical Society account states that, “Bob Meeks vaguely remembered some story about Robin Hood rescuing one of his band from the Sheriff of Nottingham’s dungeon. Elza Lay’s shout interrupted Bob Meeks’s musing. What appeared to be a tiny speck in the valley was the little Sorrel mare, to Elza’s keen eyes — and she was alone. Meeks waited impatiently for the packhorse to walk into camp but his partners dozed in the shade. The mare rolled gratefully in the red dust when her sack was removed.” How they knew what Bub was musing is a mystery to me, but it sounds really good. None of those three outlaws ever admitted that they did the heist.

Elzy, Bub and Butch had a common friend, outlaw Matt Warner. Warner had been the original ringleader of the whole bunch. He had killed a man and was awaiting trial for murder in Ogden, Utah. The trio cooked up the Montpelier robbery to get money for his defense. After the robbery they retained attorney Douglas A. Preston, in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Preston hired two Utah attorneys to represent their mutual friend, Warner. Matt was convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter when it was proven that he had shot in self-defense. He had been shot in the leg.

For his crime, Bub was imprisoned in Boise, Idaho in 1897. His sentence was 35 years, commuted to 12 years, later raised again to 35 and changed once more to 20, and then finally dropped. I’ve seen accounts that allege that he was pardoned but don’t believe that to be the case. Others say he was released. A tangled phase of Bub’s life began behind those walls.

What appears to be Bub’s first escape was during a blizzard on Christmas Eve 1901. With 3 years to go, he was up for parole in 1904. Prisoners were allowed to have small knives to do jobs around the yard. While he was on a work detail near the hog pens Bub cut the traces and leapt onto a work horse (old Selam) and “lit out “Several hundred pictures were printed to be mailed all over the surrounding country and posses were formed. He was captured Christmas Day “up the Boise River.” His sentence had previously been reduced to twelve years but the judge was so angry he increased Bub’s sentence to 35 years again. Later it was commuted to 20 years. (That is documented court record). The Boise newspaper declared that, “His prison record had been one of the best and he had been a model prisoner. He was a semi-trusty. He was good natured and jovial and quite popular among his fellow prisoners.

After a rather halfhearted attempt to cut his wrists, Uncle Bub undertook another escape in February 1902. The Idaho Daily Statesman calls him “Robert Meeks.” He sneaked past a grocery wagon, and sprinted 300 yards before Deputy Warden R. Fulton “shot and struck the ‘fleeting prisoner’ below the left knee, shattering the bone and rendering amputation of the limb necessary.” For reasons known only to him, Bub had taken off his shoes and was in his stockinged feet. The prison account states that less than 30 seconds elapsed between when he ran and when he was shot. It goes on to tell how two guards on the towers shouted to halt and when he didn’t comply they opened fire. It states that Warden Fulton was in his office when the alarm was given. He hollered to the guard to watch the prisoner he was conversing with, hurried to the armory and obtained a rifle and joined the fire. “In less than a minute Meeks stumbled and fell about 50 yards from the warden’s house.” That seems to me a short period of time for the warden to accomplish all that.

I’ve seen the prison and the location of the Warden’s house, office and armory and he must have been a fast mover. Family members always insisted that the leg wasn’t that serious but officials supposed that a one-legged bandit would be no more trouble. Little did they know!

Found in his cell, scrawled on the back of a copy of prison rules, Bub had written:

“Just a word or to sum people say I am not a bleaver in god but its not so I am a bleaver in god the people hav trancelated the bible so much that it may have caused a great meny weak minded men to disbleave in god I would like to sea a cristen world for I love everybody please dont scorn my people throu my down foll hive them a true cristen hand and may god bless all nations. My parents gave me good advice and I clear them of all stain I told Mr. Meacham a story about my brain which was not so I was trying to git to talk with som of the leaden men of this state and if I had I would of pulled through all right I think but I hope it will all be for the best and may gods simpethey be with all nations. I will take advanteg of one little play ruthern to impose up on my political friends god bless all that foll in this starm to justefy men’s evil wishes.”

A poem written by Bub goes:

“My head is dizzy my bones thay ache thay punish me hard for meret sake but sutch is life tha all tell me ive suffered with pain till I can hardly sea but after while this pain will cease through the power of god ill be Released if thrue this fake I make my escape hive credit to the lord he did it for my sake. I bleed for self a little just for a stoll my friends might think I am easy if I look weak and git careless.” (As copied)

“… The lines; “released through this fake I make my escape,” “I will take advantage of one little play rather than impose upon my political friends,” “God bless all that fall in this storm” and the last sentence, “I bleed for myself a little just for a stall. My friends might think I am easy if I look weak and get careless,” suggest to me that the suicide attempt was a ploy, as was believed by all at the time.

In 1903 the now one-legged outlaw was watching a prison baseball game from one of the prisons towers and when it was over he took a dive off the tower. The Statesman reported that, “he was working on the tower” and that, “he was sunning himself from the 35-foot tower.” They write, “he wrote a letter, in lead pencil, on the back of a letter.” The story continues, “he yelled “Harrah for H- -l! Harrah for H- -l! Here goes! … and raising his hands above his head, palms outward, he dived for the ground.” It was reported that when they got him to the prison hospital he grabbed a pair of scissors and struggled with the guards and a doctor while trying to stab himself in the heart. Although some prison records show “no injuries” he did have a broken shoulder. His record shows that after the ball game the officials called for him to come down and he replied that he needed a couple of minutes because his leg was numb. He then yanked the ladder up and “shinnied up the tower like a monkey’ before he dived.

The letter he wrote this time read:

“Boys, I wish you all a long and prospers life but I am a little short on that but I have ben wise to that for a long time I have tried, hord to beat the place but made a fale of it I was rite and I hope you boys will admit it I have tried hard to see my People but I can not but send my body to some of my people please when you git through with it may the world prosper love to all nations from Henry Meeks. I ask you one thing did god demand me to suffer or was it my misfortune things has ben translated so much that it puts men in great study. I am a bleaver in hear after and I bleve ther is salvation for oll no matter how you pass off and I bleave I am right “ (As copied).

Bub unceasingly tried to convince authorities that he was insane but never could “pass the test.” The prison adjudged him insane for a brief time and he was evaluated more than once, but authorities decided he was faking.

After his header off the tower the inmates and guards were worried about him and asked his mother to come and talk sense into him. She couldn’t leave her cattle to make the long horseback ride so they took up a collection and bought her a train ticket. She arrived April 3, 1902 and it was reported that he was better for a while. At first he said he wanted to see her and then decided he wouldn’t, but mama prevailed. He was put on 24-hour suicide watch with the inmates being the watchers. Guards and inmates all liked Bub. He had a charming personality, and was polite and well mannered.

The Idaho Daily Statesman of April 22, 1903, states that he was judged insane and sent to the asylum in Blackfoot, Idaho. All of his newspaper and prison records use the name Bob Meeks. I would bet money that he never corrected that misconception. He was very conscious of the shame he had brought on to his Mormon family. The article says, in part, “It was shown that Meeks was afficted’ (spelled that way) ‘(sic) with suicidical’ (spelled that way) ‘mania and otherwise out of mental balance. His removal from the penitentiary will relieve the prison authorities of a great deal of annoyance as he was a very troublesome prisoner.” The doctors decided that he was “crazy like a fox” and quickly returned him to Boise.

His hospital evaluation showed the notations; “Strength – feeble. Attempted suicide some weeks ago … Fractured left leg by gunshot by Pen guard when attempting escape. Leg amputated soon after … Rather dull delusions of persecution … Eloped (escaped) August 9, 1903:

Prison officials, in their reports, described him as “Large, 6’2″ – 200 pounds” … (prison record shows 5’ 11) affable, courteous.” They also described him as “desperate, and ingenious.” He was never regarded as insane at prison or the asylum. They all said he planned these things months ahead. He just didn’t like being confined. At least twice he was transferred from Boise to Blackfoot for evaluation and he once dug through the wall to the stables there … and escaped.

He was gone for 68 hours. Bub escaped at least twice, possibly three times, from the asylum in Blackfoot. All seem to be after his leg had been amputated. In one attempt they say he dove headlong over the wall. I haven’t seen anything more about that attempt or how it ended. Neither of these escapes matches his final breakout, although I have no information on whether he actually got away when he dove over the wall. His final escape was from Blackfoot. There is sketchy documentation of five escapes.

Although actual prison records I’ve seen don’t mention it, the real story is that he ate soap to make himself sick and was hospitalized at the asylum in Blackfoot. I don’t know how he pulled it off but he absconded with the doctor’s coach mare.

After all those attempts, he finally escaped (one-legged) and never went back to prison. He would have served his sentence by 1909 and was eligible for parole in 1904. The Green River Star reported (after the fact) that he tied up a guard and stole the sheriff’s horse, but the account reported at the time, in Idaho, claimed that on August 9, 1903 he stole the doctor’s coach mare and made his final escape. He was reported to have sent the horse back with a note stating that it was the best horse he ever rode.

The law caught up with him at his brother’s ranch in Fort Bridger, Wyoming. He was a physical wreck and officers sent to arrest him claimed it would be inhumane to arrest him. His sentence was mysteriously reduced to conform to time already served. He had, theoretically, completed his sentence for the robbery and was supposed to begin his sentence for jailbreaks and the record just ends there. The record shows that he was released but that was after his escape. He made at least four, most likely five, attempts at escape from prison and the asylum.

Jed Bullock carved him a wooden peg leg just like his own. I was a bit surprised to read the Idaho Historical Society account that nothing was known about what became of “Bob” Meeks after he sort of disappeared from the penitentiary records. He went back to Wyoming, near Lonetree, and lived there until he finally drove himself crazy waiting for the law to come and get him. He was committed and died in the asylum at Evanston, Wyoming. (Funny: our family always referred to it as the “poor farm”). He used to sit in the top of a cedar tree with a rifle, all day, and wait to be arrested. In 2001, I took pictures of the, now dead, cedar tree with the top cut out. His double-decker barn is also still standing.


I think it possible that, because of the prison records having his name wrong, authorities never found out his real name. Is that also why he was not stricken from the LDS Church records? It would be a shame to do so now. He may have been a criminal, but he was still a part of this family and of history.

I read Butch Cassidy’s sister’s account of his life and was shocked that she didn’t know one thing about Bub, or Bob, Meeks. She was much younger, but the families had been neighbors and well acquainted. I would think that her family would have mentioned him if they ever talked about Montpelier. Maybe they didn’t tell his baby sister much about him.

Butch, Elzy and Bub did at least one train robbery. The three purportedly had an agreement not to shoot anybody. On April 21, 1887 they robbed the Castle Gate-Rio Grande. They removed the Castle Gate Coal Company’s $8,800 payroll. Uncle Bub cut the telegraph wires and waited with relay horses. Cassidy and Lay “stuck-up” paymaster Carpenter as he stepped out of the payroll train and walked toward his office. The infuriated Mr. Carpenter pursued them in a commandeered locomotive. They were quickly out of range of the train and rode for Robbers Roost.

After Castle Gate, Butch and Elzy had ridden south and Bub went to Wyoming where he was arrested at Cheyenne for a failed train robbery the year before. It was noted that when arrested he had only 35 cents in cash.

After a robbery at the Fort Bridger Post Office Bub’s brother, William, was imprisoned for eight years for the crime of harboring an outlaw. The outlaw he harbored was not his brother, Bub. Family legend was that it was Butch Cassidy he went to prison for harboring an outlaw but I don’t think that is true. He not only gave fresh horses to Tom McCarty, Ham Lee and Ike Lee, he cooked them dinner. It was brought up at his trial that he didn’t take a dime and only provided a hot meal.

Eight years was a stiff sentence for William being a good neighbor or brother. Although many believe that Bub was one of the bandits (or the only one) he was arrested and let go for that robbery.

After the Castle Rock (or Castle Gate) holdup Joe Meeks (a cousin) allegedly led the posse in the opposite direction. Another story was told that when Cecil Davis, (an ancestor on Grandma’s side) was the marshal, a posse from Mountain View rode up to Bub’s place. He met them with a Winchester and said, “Boys, if you just came to visit come on in. If you came for anything else, turn around and ride out.” I hear they came on in.

Jack Neal recently told me another story I had forgotten. While robbing a bank (Jack thought, in Evanston), Bub asked Butch if he should take the pennies, too. Butch replied, “Hell yes, pennies make the dollars.” They abandoned the gunnysack of pennies near the edge of town presumably due to the weight.

There is no doubt that Uncle Bub was colorful. He was a product of his time, certainly not his upbringing. It was truly the “Wild West.” Many other families have similar stories in their backgrounds. There weren’t that many people around back then.

The stories get confused and I have tried to illuminate only what really happened. It is said that in about 1910 a deputy named AI Scruggs, (or Scraggs) Uinta County, Wyoming, went after Ab Murdock and Bub Meeks for stealing horses and trading them in Vernal, Utah. I had never heard that Uncle Bub returned to his outlaw ways after his amputation and escape but this story points to that possibility. Scruggs detested Murdock and some say he suspected Ab of having an affair with his wife. Scruggs hid along the trail from where he shot and killed Murdock as he and Bub rode past. He summoned a posse and went after Bub. When they caught up with Bub it was at Bub’s sister’s house in Roosevelt, Utah.

The encounter came at the business end of a Uncle Bub’s Winchester looking Scruggs in the face. The posse turned around and Bub allegedly put his little niece on the back of his horse and rode off with her He was confident that they would not shoot the child. When he was out of rifle range he let his niece off and rode for the other side of the Uintas. He got rim-rocked up in Yellowstone canyon and couldn’t go any further horseback. Bub turned the horse loose, hung his saddle on a tree and walked (with a peg leg) over the Uintas to a sheep camp where Jock Anson and Jewel Rusha were herding. He hid out there about a week. Willis Meeks found the saddle in about 1979, still in the tree where Bub hung it in 1910. Bub Meeks’ Winchester is in the Green River, Wyoming museum. He dropped it when he was bucked off his horse between Lonetree and Brown’s Park. Sometime between 1955 – 1985, Joe Davenport found it and carved on it, “Found by Joe Davenport, a rifle that was lost by one of Butch Cassidy’s men.” It was definitely Bub’s rifle. These stories are courtesy of Henry Len Meeks. (Son of Bub’s brother, William).

Wallace Shurtleff tells in his book that one day one of Bub’s neighbors in Bridger Valley was skinning some dead sheep. He skinned 35 sheep and piled the pelts against a sagebrush. Bub knew the pelts were there and who owned them. A man stole the skins and locked them in a shed. Bub found out about it and in the middle of the night he stole them back and stacked them up against the door of the owner.

He knocked on the door and ran. Shurtleff also wrote that one evening he and his father were doing the chores and Bub Meeks rode up and helped out. His father then told Bub to put his horse in a stall and come in for supper. After eating Bub said he had to go into town to see a man. That night, Shurtleff relates, Bub went into Guilds store and asked Mrs. Guild if he had any mail. From there he met Jess Clark and they went to the saloon. He bought Jess a drink and told him to go home. He said he was supposed to stay at Shurtleff’s but had changed his mind.

The next morning Shurtleff’s father received a call during breakfast that the Bridger store, post office and saloon had been robbed of about fifteen hundred dollars. (The Ft. Bridger Post Office robbery mentioned earlier). Sometime after that, Bub was arrested and taken to the Evanston, Wyoming jail. Apparently the charges didn’t stick because he was never convicted. I found Shurtleff story very confusing as he mixed up this arrest with Bub’s escape from the Idaho penitentiary.

Butch Cassidy could not have been killed in Bolivia, because too many people, who knew him well, saw him at Henry Rhodes Meeks’ (senior) funeral in 1921.

A man described by Henry Len Meeks as, “an old rancher” was actually a former member of the gang. This man went straight. His name was Tom Welch and he and a doctor, named Hawk, built the Tomahawk Hotel in Green River, WY. While running after the Tipton robbery, Tom had been shot in the leg. Tom and Butch were as close as brothers for many years. When Tom heard that Butch died in Bolivia he just laughed and said that it could not be, because Butch came to visit him in Green River in 1924 and he saw him at Henry Rhodes Meeks’ (senior) funeral in 1921. I have copies of several letters Bub sent to Tom, which I will include at the end of this story.

Herman Lajuenness, My brother, Howard Meeks’ former father-in-law, took Cassidy on a pack trip in about 1934. I used to stay with another of Herman’s daughters (Kathy) at his home in Ft. Washakie, Wyoming and knew Herman to be truthful. Butch’s sister said that he visited the family in Utah in 1925. Many people believe that IF it was Harry Longabaugh (Sundance Kid) he was with Tom Dilly when they were killed.

Butch visited with many friends after he was reported dead but few ever admitted publicly that they had seen him. Josie Bassett, originally from Brown’s Park, said she visited with him and Elzy in Baggs, Wyoming. Elzy did visit his relatives (Murdocks) nearby at about the time she mentioned. When questioned years later, by Harv Murdock, Josie said, “I know Butch Cassidy a hell of a lot better than I know you. He was here in Baggs in 1930.” She said she saw him two more times, once in Rawlins and once in Rock Springs. Josie’s former daughter-in-law also saw him a few times.

From Butch’s wild-bunch days another old-timer, Tom Vernon, who knew Butch very well, said he saw him in Baggs in about 1905 and Butch had brought him a set of shot-glassed from the St. Louis World Fair in 1904. He still had the glasses stamped with the date and event when he was interviewed by Kerry Boren. He also stayed a few days with Vernon, in Baggs,sometime in the twenties. Tom also saw Butch after that and produced letters for Boren that had been postmarked in Nevada and Maryland. He said that Butch died in Pahrump, Nevada where he had been prospecting. Ann Bassett, Willis said she had been to the grave.

Bert Charter had once helped Butch rob a bank in Telluride, Colorado and had given up the robber-business to ranch in Jackson, Wyoming. His son Boyd Chartersaid that when he was a kid a man who knew his father camped in the trees at their ranch and took him sage chicken hunting, Bert later told Will Simpson, the prosecuting attorney who sent Butch to prison in 1894, that it was Butch.

The true story of how Butch got his name is the one about Tom McCarty’s old shotgun he called “Butch.” Tom was 25 years older than Butch and Bub and family legend says he, “taught all those kids outlawing.” Butch borrowed the shotgun and some of the “boys” went to the duck pond. The kick from the gun knocked him in the water. They started calling him “Butch” after the shotgun. Some accounts say he got the name when he worked as a butcher in Rock Springs, but he definitely had the nickname a long time before that. William Meeks always called him “Leroy.” History neglects to mention that the butcher shop was supplied by William and Bub Meeks. Do you suppose the beef was all their own?

Uncle Bub stayed with Dad’s family for quite awhile after his escape and he loved kids. He was a crack shot (as well as a crackpot)? He could ride like the wind. It is said that he once shot the heels off his mother’s shoes. A family member told me that my grandmother told that it was my grandfather’s (Jock Meeks) boot heels he shot off. Grandma told that there was a falling-out over a white horse that Bub “borrowed,” without permission, from Granddad. She said he would use whatever horse he wanted then bring or send it back but this one was way overdue and when Granddad went to Bub’s camp to get it Bub shot off his heels.

Half of Wyoming had a Butch Cassidy story. All large families have some skeletons in the closets. Ours just wasn’t ever kept a secret. Bub’s generation rarely spoke of it. Many of them never believed he did it but all his brothers and sisters believed. Now we all wish we had asked more questions and listened better. I’d like to know more about this incidental outlaw.

Henry Rhodes Meeks, Jr. 5/9/1869 – 11/11/1912 Buried Lyman, WY
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Bub’s prison letters

The following is all contributed by Richard Popp, who received the information from Kerry Ross Boren of the Outlaw, Lawman, Association. I’ve become acquainted with Boren and he gets his facts pretty straight. He has asked me for permission to use parts of this writing in a book. From having read previous examples of Bub’s prison letters, I think someone must have cleaned up the spelling and punctuation somewhat.

`The following notes were kept in an old trunk in the living room of Tom Welch, former associate of the Wild Bunch who was living, in his 90’s, on Main Street, Green River, Wyoming. Tom allowed me to copy the notes, some written on several creased scraps of paper, some lined, some plain, but would not allow me to have the original notes or for them to leave his possession while he lived. “If you can get them from my family after I am dead, I don’t care what you do with them then” he said, “but don’t mention my name, while I’m alive, in any gawd-damned book.” He meant every word of it.

As a bit of background, these notes were sent to Tom Welch by Henry “Bub” Meeks while he was imprisoned in the Idaho State Penitentiary and the State Hospital South at Blackfoot, Idaho. The following was probably written just before his first escape in December 1901

Dear Tom,
Tom W. visited me the other day and I am going to send this note out with him, which he will give to you. I could have told him what I wanted you to know like before but I don’t want any detail missed up (or messed up) or looked over because I aim to be out and home by Christmas or pay the price for not making it. Do you know the old tree by the hole in the rock on Burnt Fork? Have me a good six shooter there in the old tree where we always left the mail and make it a 44 with two boxes of dry cartridges wrapped up to keep the snow and rain out of them and the same with the 44. Tom W. is going to get me a fresh horse and stake it out where we talked about and I will be home by Christmas. Will you tell Ma to watch out for me and have my things ready and I will try to go there first but can’t stay. I have one man here who watches me all the time and I know he would like to bring me down but I won’t stay any longer than I can, you be sure of that. Don’t fail me Tom for I will be out on schedule. (Signed “Bub”).

This note was probably written prior to his 2nd attempt to escape – February 1903.

Dear Tom,
I guess that Tom W. told you that I didn’t make it. God, this place is hell but I am going to be the warden’s good boy until I can make it again. They have spies all over this place and it will take some doing but will you keep in touch with Tom W. and wait until I go again? I don’t know when it will be but when I can get my chance. I am already watching a way which might work but I won’t say until I am ready. Tell Ma to have Joe fix the old cabin on the upper fork for me in case I make it out. I can’t say anything in my letters or they read it all. You have been a close friend Tom and I hope you will stick by me until I am out. (signed “Bub”)

The following note must have been written between April 1903 (when he was in the hospital) and his final escape in August 1903.

Dear Tom,
It is all set up. By god they won’t stop me this time or if they do I will go down dead before I go back in that prison. They have me in the hospital now and they think a goddammed cripple can’t run but they will find out different soon enough. I have horses enough laid out to get me home but Tom I need a good rifle and six shooter with four or five boxes of cartridges waiting for me at the old tree. If you don’t do it soon Tom they will have me back in the walls and I won’t stand a chance ….Have the guns waiting and don’t fail because I might have a fight of it and I will try to steal one if I can after I get out but a cripple makes a dammed poor thief and I probably will ride hell on for burnt fork and won’t delay… Tom I mean it if I don’t make it this time out I will not live to regret it if I have to do the job myself. They have it in for me in that place Tom and I wouldn’t last another year so one way or another I am going out and I think I can make it from this place so with luck I will be thanking you in the flesh before too long. (Signed “Bub”)

Note: Bub Meeks escaped from the State Hospital at Blackfoot, Idaho on August 9, 1903. I asked Tom Welch if he actually supplied the guns as Meeks asked him to. He smiled and remarked, “Well, he didn’t die in prison. I went to his funeral.”

Although Tom Welch didn’t say so in so many words, he inferred that “Tom W.” mentioned in his notes from Meeks, referred to Tom Widdop, a mutual friend of Meeks and Welch. This later, confirmed to me by George Widdop, brother of Tom Widdop, who said, among other things, “It was my brother, Tom, and Tom Welch who helped Bub Meeks escape from prison. They both rode with Butch once, you know, and they were good friends of Bub Meeks and his family. Hell, I knew Bub Meeks myself, but l thought he was a real hero type, you know, and I used to hang around him all the time until one time I tried to sneak up on him from behind while he watched a rodeo in a meadow at Lonetree. He heard me coming and pulled his gun up under my nose before l knew what happened. Oh, he was mad! He told me in no uncertain terms, “G—damn you, kid, if you ever pull that on me again I will blow your head off” That gun looked like a cannon. Nope, I never tried that again.”

source: Wilma Gaile Meeks, 29 Jul 2013, Message Boards
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1912 Idaho State Penitentiary


(click image for larger size)
source: Copyright Idaho State Historical Society
[h/t SMc]
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The Idaho State Correctional Institution of Boise, Idaho

In the book, “Butch Cassidy, My Brother”, by Lula Parker Betenson, is the following information about Henry “Bob” Meeks:

“On August 13, 1896, Butch Cassidy and Elzy Lay robbed a bank in Montpelier, Idaho. Outside, watching the horses was a third robber, Bob Meeks. After the Montpelier Bank robbery, Butch and Elzy went to work in Huntington, Utah, for Jens Nielson. Bob Meeks, left and was later spotted in Cheyenne by a sharp-eyed railroad detective.

He was arrested and extradited to Idaho and was tried and convicted of the Montpelier Bank robbery. On September 7, 1897, he was sentenced to thirty-five years in the penitentiary in Boise under his given name, Henry Meeks. “The Idaho State Correctional Institution of Boise, Idaho, recorded the following about Bob Meeks.

“We had this gentleman incarcerated under the name of Henry Meeks, received Bear Lake County, Idaho on Nov. 7, 1897 for the crime of Robbery, sentenced to 35 years. He was 28 years old when received, born in Utah, occupation was a rancher. He was ht: 71 in.; comp: dark; hair: black; eyes: lt. hazel. Mr Meeks tried to escape from the penitentiary on two occasions.The first time on 12-24-01; however, was apprehended on 12-25-01. The second time was on 2-23-03 through the front gate; however was shot in the left leg by the guard, and apprehended the same day. Later his leg was amputated. As a result of this he was sentenced an additional 12 years for Escape. He was sent to an insane asylum by the probate court in Ada County on 4-22-03. Mr. Meeks was finally released on 6-6-16.”

source: G. Mathis,
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Henry Rhodes “Bub” Meeks, Jr

Photo added by SMSmith

Added by WY_Snowcap

Birth: 9 May 1869 Provo, Utah County, Utah
Death: 22 Nov 1912 Evanston, Uinta County, Wyoming
Burial: Lyman City Cemetery Lyman, Uinta County, Wyoming

source: Find a Grave


Idaho History April 8

Dave Updyke – First Sheriff of Ada County

Boise City, 1864. Arn Hincelin painting.
[h/t South Fork Companion]
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How Ada County’s first sheriff became a disgraced organized crime leader

[2013] The Idaho territorial sesquicentennial celebration is now properly underway, with ceremonies involving an Abe Lincoln stand-in and more – much of it centered around Boise, which was one of the few stable communities then existing in the new territory.

The bash may be widely taken as an honorific to what happened back then. It should be better taken as recognition of how far Idaho has come since 1863 …. Celebrations of history have a tendency toward whitewash, and that may be liberally applied this year.

Consider pioneer Sheriff David C. Updyke. Ada County (then including what are now Canyon and Payette counties as well) was one of Idaho’s first, established in December 1864. Boiseans looking for law enforcement quickly chose Updyke, electing him early in 1865 as their first sheriff to lead that effort. He was an energetic man, open to confrontation and experienced with using his firearms.

Just what a barely-settled new county needed. Or so they thought.

Updyke was a native of New York, where he got into enough varied trouble as to be strongly advised to take his act elsewhere – far away elsewhere. He moved to California, hearing tales of gold, but too late for the mining rush there, and unhappily settled for work as a stage driver.

When he heard about the first strike in the Boise River Valley (in what wasn’t yet known as Idaho), he raced there to find his fortune. He found just enough metallic scraps to invest in a couple of new businesses in the start-up town of Boise, but Updyke’s thirst for more was still acute.

Enter another group of newcomers from settlements in the north and in Montana, who had been closely allied with the infamous Henry Plummer, the region’s earliest example of an organized crime boss who was briefly an Idahoan but in Montana entered law enforcement and enriched himself and a circle of friends in the process. These friends of Plummer told Updyke they’d stake him and get him the sheriff’s job, provided he used it as Plummer had.

That is how Ada County’s first sheriff became an organized crime ringleader. His most notable crimes included a series of big-money stage robberies using inside information from the stage operators. But there was also plenty of general murder and extortion as well.

Ada County was growing fast enough to short-circuit all that. A band of vigilantes based at Payette and led by William McConnell (decades later an Idaho governor), confronted Updyke and nearly killed him. In August 1865, only five months after Updyke was first elected, the Ada County commissioners were persuaded to hold another election for sheriff.

Updyke was ousted. Soon after, he was on the run, and the following winter another group of vigilantes tracked him to the mining town of Rocky Bar and hanged him.

Nowadays, Idaho has 44 sheriffs at a time, and none in living memory have much resembled David Updyke. Celebrate that.

source: Randy Stapilus, 2013, Idaho Press-Tribune
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Boise Payette Valley 1864

(click image for larger size)
map source: Access Genealogy
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Big Dave Updyke – Crooked Sheriff of Ada County, Idaho

David C. Updyke was born in the vicinity of Cayuga Lake, New York, about 1830. Said to have been raised in an upstanding family that boasted some of the leading citizens of New York, Updyke was a black sheep.

In 1855, he went to California where he was employed for two years by the California Stage Company as a stage driver. Three years later, he sailed to British Columbia to look for another kind of work, but finding nothing there that suited him, he soon returned to California spending two years in Yuba County, then two years in Virginia City, Nevada.

By 1862, word was spreading of the rich gold finds in Idaho and Updyke went first to Florence, then Warren, and by the fall he was in Boise County where he worked a valuable claim on Ophir Mountain.

By 1864, he had saved more than $1,500 dollars and went to Boise City where he bought a livery stable in the center of town. Though Updyke had committed no known crimes up until this point, he had begun to consort with a number of criminals. Before long, the livery stable became the rendezvous site for some of the Old West’s most reckless bands of robbers and road agents.

However, this did not stop David Updyke from being elected Sheriff of Ada County in March, 1864. Though many of his cohorts were ruffians, they were a strong power in the Democratic party and Updyke won the election by a small margin.

Before long, Updyke was suspected of aiding in the circulation of stolen gold dust, as well as participating in a stage robbery near Boise City in 1864. So many rough characters began to hang about Updyke’s stable that many of the citizens began to refer to them as “Updyke’s Gang.” However, he and/or his outlaw friends covered their tracks so well, nothing could be proven.

Soon after his election, he avowed to break up a vigilante organization of about thirty men, which had been formed in the Payette River settlement, some thirty miles from Boise City. This enraged many of the law-abiding citizens who felt the vigilante committees were their only protection from thieving and murdering road agents in the area.

But Updyke cared little about what those law-abiding citizens thought and somehow obtained all the names of the men in the vigilante group, procuring warrants for their arrests. While the proceedings and warrants were all perfectly within the law, Updyke and his “posse” secretly planned to shoot the vigilante leaders and maintain that they had resisted arrest.

The plan was that 15 to 20 armed men would leave Boise City, meet up with more road agents at Horse Shoe Bend, and then proceed with their warrants to the Payette River settlement. However, word leaked to the citizens of Boise City of the plan and they secretly dispatched a messenger to the Payette Vigilantes.

As Updyke’s “posse” left Boise City about 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon to carry out the arrests, the thirty members of the vigilante group were assembling in self-protection. When Updyke and his men reached Horse Shoe Bend, they failed to connect with the country road agents and went on without them.

When the “posse” arrived at Payette River, they were surprised to find themselves outnumbered two to one. Forced to negotiate with the vigilantes, Updyke complied with their demands. The vigilantes agreed to go to Boise City to answer the warrants but they would not allow Updyke or his men to disarm them. After arriving in Boise City and obtaining an attorney, the complaints against the vigilantes were dismissed and they were discharged.

Afterwards, the humiliated vigilantes were obviously very bitter towards Updyke and began to closely watch his every move. The public soon began to believe the “Updyke Gang” was behind nearly every theft, murder and robbery that occurred anywhere in the area.

The next murderous outrage, in which the “Updyke Gang” was concerned, was the stage robbery in Portneuf Canyon, where four of its passengers were killed.

On July 26, 1865, Updyke, along with three other outlaws robbed a gold laden stagecoach of some $86,000 in gold. In the melee, four of the stage passengers were killed, and the stage driver and another passenger were wounded.

The vigilante committee immediately went after the three other outlaws but David Updyke was a different story. Having been duly elected as Ada County Sheriff, the vigilantes were more cautious and waited until the opportune time to punish him for his suspected wrongdoings. On September 28, 1865, the Payette River Vigilance Committee arrested him on a charge of defrauding the revenue and failing to arrest a hard case outlaw named West Jenkins.

However, Updyke made bail and knowing the reputation of the Vigilance Committee, he immediately left town, fleeing to Boise City where he had more influence. However, the citizens there too, were fed up with the criminal elements and began to form groups for the purpose cleaning up the county. By the next spring, Updyke feared for his own safety and accompanied by another outlaw by the name of John Dixon, the two departed Boise on the Rocky Bar Road on April 12, 1866. Unaware that a vigilante party was following them, the two overnighted at an abandoned cabin some thirty miles out of town.

During the night, the vigilantes captured the unsuspecting pair and lead them some ten miles farther down the road to Sirup Creek. The next morning as the vigilantes prepared to hang the men, they questioned Updyke about the whereabouts of the stolen cache. The crooked sheriff only glared at them in contempt, refusing to respond. The vigilantes then hanged both men under a shed between two vacant cabins. Updyke had only $50.00 on his person at the time of his death.

On April 14th, the bodies were found with a note pinned to Updyke’s chest accusing him of being “an aider of murderers and thieves.” The next day an anonymous note appeared in Boise that further explained the committee’s actions. “Dave Updyke: Accessory after the fact to the Portneuf stage robbery, accessory and accomplice to the robbery of the stage near Boise City in 1864, chief conspirator in burning property on the overland stage line, guilty of aiding and assisting escape of West Jenkins, and the murderer of others while sheriff, and threatening the lives and property of an already outraged and long suffering community.”

The gold taken in the July, 1865 has never been found and many think it is buried somewhere in the City of Rocks.

source: Kathy Weiser, Legends of America, updated November 2017.
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see also:

Portneuf Canyon, Idaho Stage Robbery

by Kathy Weiser, Legends of America
— —

see also:

Stagecoach Robbery, and Murder, in Portneuf Canyon

Portneuf Canyon, ca 1872. National Archives.

By Evan Filby, South Fork Companion
(also in Idaho Stagecoach History)
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Southern Idaho 1864

(click image for larger size, then click “+” to zoom in)
Title: “Southern Idaho”
Date Drawn: 1864
Cartographer: George Woodman
Publisher: Unknown
Collection: “An Atlas of Idaho Territory 1863-1890” – Merle W. Wells
source: BSU
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In the Old West, Lust for Wealth Could Be Deadly

But if You’re Interested, There’s $4 Million in Hidden Gold in Southern Idaho

In April 1866, Dave Updyke and John Dixon were hanged by vigilantes under a shed between two abandoned cabins near Sirup Creek in Ada County, Idaho, evidence that Idaho was just as wild as other parts of the Old West – and that being brought up by good parents in a good neighborhood, doesn’t always mean ending up as a good neighbor.

David C. Updyke was the county’s first sheriff.

As an example to others, they pinned a note on his body calling him “an aider of murderers and thieves.”

He was born about 1830 near Cayuga Lake in upstate New York and “raised in an upstanding family that boasted some of the leading citizens of New York,” but was considered the family black sheep.

The West was growing and easterners were headed that way in droves – hoping for a new life and prosperity.

Idaho was a raucous territory in the 1860 – especially after Captain E.D. Pierce led 10 prospectors illegally into the Nez Perce Reservation looking for gold. A month later Wilber Bassett in the group struck gold along Canal Gulch and word spread instantly, igniting the biggest migration in American history. Two years later, gold-rich Boise Basin exploded with 10,000 prospectors flooding in.

One of them was Updyke. He’d been working in California since 1855 as a driver for California Stage Company before looking for other work in British Columbia. Then he returned to California for two years, and then worked in Nevada for two.

When he heard about the Idaho bonanza in 1862, he joined the rush – first to Florence and then Warren. In Boise County, he hit pay-dirt, finding gold on Ophir Mountain. Then the dark side of David Updyke began to emerge – he fell in with bad company.

Having saved $1,500 from his gold mining, he bought a livery stable in the center of Boise City and it became a hangout for unsavory types – one source called them “some of the Old West’s most reckless bands of robbers and road agents.” Locals called them “Updyke’s Gang.”

It didn’t take long for the gang to legitimize their criminal ways – in 1864, they took control of the Boise Democratic Party and elected Updyke as Ada County’s first sheriff. Then the occasional crimes against people and property suddenly become commonplace – farms were plundered and stage coaches held up.

Updyke’s rogues defrauded town businesses by passing gold dust that was actually lead shavings covered with a thin layer of gold, and his bag men would scour the city collecting “taxes” from local businesses, while refusing to investigate when his political pals were accused of crimes.

Then they made a mistake that would set the wheels in motion that would topple the criminal operation – someone stole William J. McConnell’s horse and they found it in Updyke’s stable.

It cost McConnell two days in court to get his stolen property back and his legal fees were more than the horse was worth. That made the easy-going farmer mad.

When he was taunted by Updyke’s men after leaving court, he told them if they ever stole another one of his horses, he’d track them down and “there will be no lawsuit about it.” Days later, McConnell and two neighbors were missing five horses and four mules.

Two weeks later, McConnell and neighbors returned from a search with the stolen animals – but not the thieves. The Payette Vigilance Committee was born. The group comprised some 30 law-abiding citizens in the Payette Valley, located about 30 miles northwest of Boise.

The crime wave continued and citizens became increasingly enraged. The Vigilance Committee responded, but that immediately put a target on their backs as Updyke saw his monopoly on the use of power to enforce “law and order” being threatened.

They had to stop McConnell and company.

In his 1890 book* “Vigilante Days and Ways,” Nathaniel Pitt Langford wrote, “The robbers and murderers of the mining regions, so long defiant of the claims of peace and safety, were made to hold the gibbet in greater terror there than in any other portion of the country.”

In those days, he continued, “The early vigilantes were the best and most intelligent men in the mining regions. They saw and felt that, in the absence of all law, they must become a ‘law unto themselves,’ or submit to the bloody code of the banditti … Every man among them realized from the first the great delicacy and care necessary in the management of a society which assumed the right to condemn to death a fellow man.”

Sheriff Updyke somehow obtained a list of the vigilante group’s names, and led 15 to 20 armed men with arrest warrants to the Payette River settlement to round them up. They would be joined by more road agents along the way at Horse Shoe Bend. But their real plan was to kill them while “resisting arrest.”

Then two things went wrong – the Horse Shoe Bend rendezvous didn’t materialize so Updyke continued without them; and the vigilantes were tipped off, and when the gang arrived at Payette River, about thirty were waiting for them.

Outnumbered two-to-one, Updyke’s men agreed to vigilante demands that everyone return to Boise and take the matter court, with the vigilantes refusing to give up their guns. The charges against them were dropped, but the Updyke Gang continued to rampage.

Then on July 26, 1865, Updyke and three henchmen robbed a stagecoach in Portneuf Canyon between Virginia City, Mont., and Pocatello. The three were hot-tempered Willie Whittmore; outlaw Fred Williams pretending to be as a regular passenger; and Brockie Jack, who had recently busted out of jail in Oregon.

Boulders placed on the road stopped the stage and Brockie Jack shot the lead horses when driver Charlie Parks tried to drive around them. In the ensuing shootout, gambler Sam Martin shot off Whittmore’s left index finger. Then they wounded Charlie who fled into the woods along with Williams and Virginia City saloonkeeper James B, Brown.

Brockie Jack grabbed Whittmore’s rifle and approached the stage. Inside, he found Martin, a Mormon couple Andy Dittmar and his wife, and ex-Confederate soldier Jess Harper dead. Another passenger named L.F. Carpenter on his way to New Orleans pretended to be dead and survived the ordeal.

(Not all accounts of the Portneuf holdup agree on the details.)

Following the carnage, the bandits took off with $86,000 in gold (1865 value) and about $5,000 in cash. Parks and Brown then cut loose the dead horses and drove Carpenter and the bodies to town.

The public finally had enough of Updyke’s crime wave – and so had the Payette Vigilantes. They quickly tracked down the three outlaws but arresting the Ada County sheriff would take longer.

Willy Whittmore, was shot to death in Arizona resisting arrest while on a drinking binge. A week later, Colorado vigilantes caught and hanged Fred Williams. Both men were virtually penniless, with no trace of the gold.

Finally on Sept. 28, the Payette River Vigilance Committee arrested Sheriff Updyke and charged him with “defrauding the revenue and failing to arrest a hard-case outlaw named West Jenkins.”

He made bail, and then fled to Boise for protection among his pals.

The following spring, the renegade sheriff and fellow outlaw John Dixon left Boise and headed east towards Rocky Bar. The vigilantes were right behind them.

On April 13, they caught them at Sirup Creek. Updyke had only $50 – no gold.

The day after they hanged the two men, a notice appeared in Boise that said, “Dave Updyke: Accessory after the fact to the Portneuf stage robbery, accessory and accomplice to the robbery of the stage near Boise City in 1864, chief conspirator in burning property on the overland stage line, guilty of aiding and assisting escape of West Jenkins, and the murderer of others while sheriff, and threatening the lives and property of an already outraged and long suffering community.”

Brockie Jack disappeared and was never heard from again.

William McConnell became a U.S. senator and later was elected Idaho’s third governor. His daughter Mamie married future senator William E. Borah.

Somewhere near the City if Rocks, there’s still more than $4 million (today’s value) in buried gold waiting for someone to find it.

source: Syd Albright, September 18, 2016, CdA Press
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Fred Williams’ role …

Dave Updyke and his outlaw cohorts carefully planned the Portneuf robbery. Camped out at Ross Fork Creek near Fort Hall, the men decided to send Fred Williams ahead to Virginia City, Montana to spy out gold shipments over the Portneuf Stage Route. When he found a scheduled stage that would be carrying gold, he would buy a ticket for himself as an ordinary passenger and tip off the rest of the gang.

On the fourth day of the trip, as the stage stopped for the night at Sodhouse Station, he sneaked out to Ross Fork Camp to tell the others that there were two large strongboxes of gold on the stage. Then he returned without anyone noticing he had gone.

Williams paid a price for his role. During the robbery, his arm was shattered in the shootout from bullets fired by accomplice Willie Whittmore.

(source above)
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* “Vigilante days and ways: the pioneers of the Rockies: the makers and making of Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming” by Nathaniel Pitt Langford 1893
Vol 1 (40 meg)
Vol 2 (20 meg)
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Picket Corral
map source: Access Genealogy
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“The first sheriff they elected in Ada county – the first Monday in March, 1865 – was Dave Opdyke”

Dave Opdyke

[Note: McConnell calls the sheriff “Opdyke” in his book “Early History of Idaho”, 1913.]

In those days the nation was in the throes of civil war, and, though the infant territory sent no troops to battle for the flag, her mountain streams gave up their hoarded wealth when gold was needed most. Thus, all thoughtless of the good they did, her toiling miners, far removed from battle smoke and shrieking shell, did well their part. There is grim humor in the thought that during the darkest days of the rebellion, when to be a Union man in Boise Basin meant danger, sometimes death, yet the energies of Union men and Secessionists alike were directed to amassing gold, which was sent to the United States mints, and became the basis of credit which enabled the nation to maintain its integrity and carry on the war to a successful conclusion.

In those days partisan feeling ran high; political parties then, as now. Democrats and Republicans, maintained their organizations. But the issue on which they divided was not tariff nor free coinage of silver, but, simply Union versus Dis-union. While there were many Democrats in Idaho who were as loyal to the flag as any Republican, they were seldom in evidence, for they soon discovered that silence, on political questions, was conducive to longevity. There were also many civil, quiet southern gentlemen whose sympathies were with the Confederacy, but their conservatism and respect for law and order made them unpopular in party caucuses and conventions, which were largely controlled by the lawless element. It was noticeable in those days that the most violent and bitter Secessionists were not the southern men whose homes were being overrun and property confiscated by the Union armies, but northern copperheads, or barroom politicians.

E. D. Holbrook, who was elected Territorial Delegate to Congress in 1864 and again in 1866, was a fitting representative of the ruling class. Born in Elgin, Ohio, and educated in the public schools of that state, his political preferment was based on his violent hatred of the American flag, and his desire to perpetually enslave the African race. He was an able lawyer, a fluent and logical speaker, and had he lived even a quarter of a century later, would doubtless have been a valuable citizen, but as conditions were then, his influence did much to foster lawlessness.

His highly strung nervous system could not endure the many kinds of stimulants sold by his constituents; he simply went wrong, like many others, from the same or similar cause, and finally, posing as a gun-fighter, his life went out in blood – Charlie Douglas, a gambler and one-time friend, being a quicker or better shot.

There was no railroad across the continent in those days, and no telegraph lines in Idaho. Hence news of events transpiring in the outside world was slow in reaching us. Our main dependence was the Sacramento Union, a daily newspaper published in Sacramento, California, and usually it did not reach us until about two weeks after its publication. When we consider that almost every American citizen in the mining camps had friends or relatives in some one of the armies in the field, engaged in the fearful contest then being waged, it can be understood how anxiously the stage bringing these papers was awaited – and how quickly they were sold for a dollar each.

There was never copies enough to supply the demand, and groups would form around the fortunate ones and listen with bated breath, while he read the story of, mayhap, the Battle of the Wilderness, of Gettysburg, or Lookout Mountain. It was noticeable, on such occasions, that, if the narrative was of a rebel victory, the air was at once rent with cheers for Jeff Davis, and the barrooms were soon filled with jubilant men, clamoring for “booze,” and predicting the speedy recognition of the Southern Confederacy by foreign nations.

On the contrary, if the Union army was victorious, the cheers were for Abe Lincoln, or some favorite Union general; then they usually gravitated, like the others, to some saloon and teased their opponents by sandwiching in between drinks, such songs as “We’ll Rally Round the Flag, Boys,” or “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty, of Thee I Sing.”

On such occasions the partisans of the cause that had suffered defeat were usually discreet enough to keep out of sight of the roisterers; but not infrequently hostilities were precipitated, the results of which were communicated to the patrons of the eating houses the following morning by the waiters, in the stereotyped phrase, “A man for breakfast this morning,” or men, as the case might be, naming the place or places, almost invariably a saloon.

It was understood in early mining days that a camp was not fully equipped until a graveyard was started, and the number of sodless mounds that it contained within a given time was considered an index of the life of the place. It is a strange analogy that life should mean death. Yet it was true. For the life or the liveliness of such places was guaged by the number of saloons, dance halls, etc., and their number determined the amount of liquor sold and that was, almost invariably, what regulated the growth of the cemeteries. In older countries the process is generally slow, but in mining camps, especially in war-times, strong drink such as was sold over the bars aroused the passions of men and led to violence, often death.

Idaho City easily led the other camps in the number of interments. Much has been said and written of the formulas used in the manufacture of a large part of the whiskey sold in mining towns and at the road-houses leading thereto, which, if true, may account for some of the violence it engendered. …

… They were all fine specimens of physical manhood, good horsemen and companionable fellows, ready to relieve an unfortunate by sharing a blanket, or dividing with him, what might be their last dollar. Hence they soon acquired well merited popularity among men of of their class, which enabled them to manipulate the first Democratic nominating convention in Ada County, and secure the election of their choice for sheriff, a nomination on the Democratic ticket being equivalent to an election in those days. At that time few men came to Idaho to engage in politics, hence the number who participated in the primaries and the nominating convention was usually small. Aside from the few who had personal ends to gain, those who voted at the primaries did so in a desultory manner – accepting and depositing the ballots prepared for them by the agents of the night-riders.

If some of those sturdy, honest farmers who crossed the plains from Missouri to settle in Boise or Payette valleys, and who rode, sometimes many miles, to take part in an election, had been told of the manner in which the political machine was run in Ada and Boise counties in those days, they would have doubted the statement if made by their own fathers.

The tickets were all voted, whether Republican or Democratic, under the then territorial form of government, and carried no political significance other than they gave expression as to whether we were in favor of maintaining the Union. The real issue was not political – only in the sense applying to whether the lives and the property of the people within our borders should be protected. Yet, honest men, as was said, sometimes rode many miles to vote what they believed was the same ticket their fathers voted during the days of Andrew Jackson.

These voters wanted to do what they believed was right. They believed they did right, hence they were right, and their hearts were in the right place. Unfortunately, the first sheriff they elected in Ada county – the first Monday in March, 1865 – was Dave Opdyke, who subsequently resigned his position for cause, and was afterward hanged, as was another sheriff in Bannock, in what is now Montana. The laws of men may be repealed or suspended, but the laws of God are eternally operative. It has been truly written “Those who live by the sword, die by it.”

… It was a notorious fact that while many murders were committed in Boise County during the five years when its population was the greatest, not one of the men who committed them suffered the extreme penalty of the law.

… After the first stampede to the Basin was ended the business of the horse ranchers was practically at an end. Hence the professional horse-thieves were compelled to cover a wider field to make their operations profitable. … The favorite place of concealment during such emergencies was the ranch across the river from Boise – now South Boise. …

Sometimes relentless persons would continue the chase into the city, and visiting the sheriff’s office, would appeal to that officer for assistance, which was invariably promised.

Whereupon, the weary riders would ask him and his deputies to take a drink, an invitation which would be considerately accepted, and the party would at once adjourn to the sheriff’s own saloon, and in this social and friendly manner the incident would close.

There is no record of more than one stolen horse being recovered by the owner during the three first years of the mining furore, and the incidents to that event, though attracting little attention at the time, were to be of widespread influence in the near future.

The following synopsis will convey an idea of the peculiar conditions which existed in our frontier at that time, which was during the month of August, 1864:

A man who was engaged in truck-gardening on one of the tributaries of the Payette river, after delivering a cargo of vegetables to the hotels and restaurants in Centerville, proceeded with his pack train down Grimes’ Creek and camped for the night. Although the Basin was then nearly all covered with a growth of fine timber, at the place chosen for his camp there was a large spot of open ground covered with good grass. He had but one packer, or assistant, with him, and after supper, before retiring, they caught and picketed their favorite saddlehorse within a short distance of where they spread their blankets.

Fatigued as they were, and anticipating no danger to themselves or animals, they retired early, and were soon in a sound slumber, from which they awakened in the morning to find that in the night some one had slipped into the camp and stolen the picketed horse. Search was made during the following day which disclosed that two men, who were in Centerville during the previous day, and were noticed admiring the missing animal while it was standing hitched in the street, had disappeared, and a party coming into Boise over the Shaffer Creek road had passed them during the forenoon and upon inquiry, were told that they were headed for Boise Valley.

The pack-train was at once started for the home ranch, arriving there in the night after the farm hands had gone to bed. Arousing them, fresh horses were saddled, and accompanied by one man, the owner started for Boise City, where they arrived at eight o’clock the following morning, having rested themselves and their horses two hours on the trail between Dry Creek and Crane’s Gulch.

A search of the feed corrals and livery stables was immediately made, with the result that, while no trace of the stolen horse was discovered, another one was found in the livery and feed stable which was owned by Opdyke, who was later elected sheriff. The animal, a mare, had been stolen about two months before. She was claimed by a restaurant keeper named Gilkie, who said she had been given to him by John Kelly, the violinist. Everyone knowing Kelly knew he never stole a horse, as he was too lazy, too big and fat to go out on the range and catch one.

They refused to surrender the property, so the owner was obliged to secure the services of a lawyer to recover his horse. Fortunately, A. G. Cook, an attorney whom he had known in Lafayette, Oregon, had located in Boise a short time before, and he kindly volunteered to take the case and make no charge. He and John Deisenroth, a blacksmith owning a shop in town, qualified as bondsmen for the required amount; but notwithstanding the validity of the surety, which was unquestioned, the justice of the peace before whom the case was brought, required the complainant to weigh out gold dust enough to pay the estimated costs before he would issue the writ, the result being that it cost the owner seventy dollars, including a back stable bill which he was obliged to pay to recover the animal which everyone, including the justice and the sheriff, knew was his before any evidence was offered.

This was the culmination of what might have been forseen – the breaking down of the barrier of loyalty to law and order which is an instance of all pastoral people. The evidence was no longer lacking that the farmers and traveling public could expect no protection from the ordinary sources through which justice is administered.

The owner of the horse entered the courtroom of that Boise City justice, little more than a boy in years and experience, but he came out when the case was decided and he had paid the costs, amounting to nearly the full value of the animal, a grim-visaged man. With no word to anyone, except to thank the two men who had gone on his bond, he and his helper led their horses down the street and stopped in front of the stable where a group of tin-horn gamblers and horse-thieves had preceded them from the court-room, announcing that he would like to make a speech to them before leaving. One of their number told him to “fire ahead” – meaning for him to begin – which he did, stating that he was an American citizen, that he recognized “no chiefs,” and that he could catch any man who ever marked those prairies and that the next one who stole a horse from him would be “his Indian” – there would be no law-suit. Waiting a few moments for a reply and none coming, he mounted his saddle-horse and rode away, leading the recovered animal. …

… The county of Ada having been organized, and Opdyke appointed to the sheriff’s office, they [the tin-horn gamblers and horse-thieves] appealed to him for protection [from the Payette Vigilance Committee]. A consultation was held and the situation was thoroughly canvassed. It was here determined that the permanency and effectiveness of the committee depended entirely on a few men, who were both the organizers and the leaders. Foremost among this number, they placed the captain who had led the recent movement against the Washoe Ferry gang.

It was decided that an effective method of suppressing the uprising of citizens on the Payette would be to legally remove one or more of the leaders, the captain having been chosen for the first victim of their experiment.

Warrants were issued for the arrests of all those settlers living in the Payette Valley who were supposed to belong to the vigilance committee. A large number of deputy sheriffs were sworn in to make the arrests ; some of them were good men, and actually believed that the Vigilantes, as they were called, were a bloodthirsty lot of cut-throats. It was not intended that these deputies should have any part in the execution of the real purpose of those who conceived the plan, which was to strike terror into the hearts of the rank and file of the committee by killing a few of its leaders. Accordingly, the Pickett Corral contingent was appointed special deputies to arrest the captain, who was known to be at his home above Horseshoe Bend.

It was proposed that the Pickett Corral officers should separate from the other deputies at the point where the stage road to Boise City diverged from the Placerville road, the place of divergence being near where is now the city of Emmett, and only a short distance from their own headquarters, Pickett Corral, the plan being for them to remain at the stage-station until the following night, when they were to proceed up the river to make the arrest. Arriving late at night, they were to arouse the captain and his men after the plan adopted by them in gaining entrance at Washoe Ferry. No quarter was to be given to either the captain or those with him. Since no witnesses were to be left alive to tell a tale differing from that planned to be told by the posse, who were to say that resistance having been offered, it was necessary for them to resort to the use of their shot-guns.

The departure from such a small place as Boise was, at that time, of so large a force of men, mounted and armed, could not fail to excite considerable comment among the population, and soon all kinds of rumors were afloat. Such an extraordinary procedure as the sheriff’s appointment of deputies belonging to an organization so well and unfavorably known as the Pickett Corral band caused grave apprehension.

His object was suspected by a party of men who had assembled at the sutler store soon after the departure of the sheriff’s troop. It was remarked by one of the number present that it was a pity that such a disreputable lot of scoundrels should be dignified by the name of deputy sheriffs and permitted to advance upon any man’s house in the night, without warning; that if the captain of the vigilantes knew they were coming it might be quite different.

George W. Hunt, who in after years became distinguished as a railroad builder, was present in the store at the time, and at once announced his willingness to attempt the passage of the trail across the foothills to Horseshoe Bend, if he could secure a horse. Quartermaster Hughes, who was stationed at Boise Barracks, being present, immediately responded that he had the best saddle horse in the territory at that time, and he would cheerfully place him at Mr. Hunt’s disposal. It was soon settled that the attempt should be made, and within an hour the daring rider headed his mount for the unbroken snow on the hill trail, bent on an errand of mercy, without hope of reward, other than the consciousness of being, perhaps, instrumental in saving human life.

Only those who have faced the terrible sameness of snow-covered hills, without human habitation, for eighteen miles, can realize the dangers the rider encountered that day. In many places a slip of the horse’s feet would have meant precipitation into a gulch, with perhaps broken limbs, without hope of rescue. The horse proved all his owner claimed and the terrible journey was made without accident, in time to give the warning the rider carried.

Upon being informed of the intended visit, the captain sent a messenger to a neighboring ranch with the news and asking the early presence of two men prepared to take a ride. The messenger was absent less than an hour when he returned with the information that the men required would follow him as soon as horses could be fed and saddled. During the interim, while awaiting their arrival, preparations were made for departure and in less than two hours from the time the news reached the ranch, a party of four mounted men rode away – the captain observing that it would be a pity to impose on such a distinguished party of deputy sheriffs by requiring them to ride so far to serve papers in such inclement weather, that it would be proper to meet them at least half way.

They accordingly proceeded down the river, expecting at any moment they would appear, but a hitch had occurred in the original plan, the special deputies being held until the arrests were made in the lower valley, which caused a delay of twenty-four hours. Consequently the man whom they were detailed to arrest and his friends rode the entire distance before the posse was prepared to start and as they approached the Junction House, seeing a row of guns ranged against the side of the house under the front porch, they realized that the crisis had arrived.

The house was but a few feet back from the main road along which they were riding, and there being no windows on that side, the inmates had no warning of their approach until they were immediately in front of the door, when one of the deputies jerked it open and reached for his gun. The movement, however, was anticipated, and the sharp command “drop it,” had hardly passed the leader’s lips when the hand and arm were withdrawn and the door was as violently closed as it had been opened. No other words were uttered, nothing was said about the warrants or arrests and the horsemen proceeded on their way to the next house, where it was learned that the sheriff’s party had returned to Boise with a large number of prisoners, supposed members of the vigilance committee. The special deputies who were supposed to do the deadly work were so crestfallen at their failure that they were ashamed to report to headquarters, and to avoid being gibed, crossed the river to the ranch of an acquaintance and went on a protracted debauch.

The prisoners taken to Boise were promptly arraigned and as promptly discharged, there being no evidence that they had violated any law, and before their arrival it was generally understood that their arrest was to be only an incident of the object to be accomplished. Thus ended a disgraceful fiasco, the expense of which was paid by the taxpayers of Ada County. …

… During the remainder of the year nothing occurred to disturb the tranquility that followed the foregoing events. But when spring arrived, and travel to and from the mines was resumed, the Paiute Indians, who occupied the country south and west of Owyhee, made several incursions into the Snake river, Boise and Payette valleys, murdering settlers, killing cattle, and driving off bands of horses. As the small force of infantry, which was then garrisoned at Boise Barracks, was unable to pursue and punish the invaders, a citizens’ meeting was called in Boise City to devise measures to meet the emergency.

At that meeting it was resolved to issue a call for volunteers and also an appeal to the business men and citizens generally, for contributions to equip a company. A resolution was also adopted, providing that the volunteers should elect their own captain and furthermore, the men who served as volunteers should, on their return from the field, be allowed to retain, as their own, in compensation for their services, the horses and equipment used while in service. After the adoption of the foregoing resolution and the appointment of the necessary committee, an adjournment was taken until eight o’clock the next evening, at which time the committee on volunteers reported the enrollment of sixty names. The committee on finance reported subscriptions amounting to forty-five hundred dollars.

After a thorough canvas of the subject, it was concluded that the money available would be sufficient to outfit and equip forty men, but as only small bands of Indians were usually engaged in the predatory raids, the foregoing number, it was thought, would be able to teach them a salutary lesson. The volunteers assembled the next day and chose Dave Opdyke as their captain, and he at once proceeded to select forty men out of the sixty enrolled. Saddle-horses, pack-animals and all the equipment of frontier warfare were speedily purchased, and four days after the first call for volunteers was issued, a troop of forty well mounted, well armed men crossed Boise river, en route, as was supposed, to the country occupied by the hostiles.

Two weeks after their departure a messenger arrived in Boise with dispatches from the officer in command, conveying the information that the company was camped on Snake river about forty miles from Boise City and that the officers and men were in excellent health. They had spent much time in gaining proficiency with fire-arms by shooting at a mark, and having removed the sage brush from a level piece of river bottom, had prepared a race track and were testing the speed of their saddle horses. They had, up to the time the messenger left, escaped being molested by the Indians and expected to return to Boise soon, as they thought the hostiles learning of their approach, had abandoned the territory and gone to Nevada.

That such a message was sent to the expectant citizens of Boise has been denied, but the fact remains that they spent most of the time during their absence in camp, as stated, and returned without having seen an Indian. Of course, as per agreement, the horses and equipment furnished by the citizens, had become the property of the returned volunteers and the war-worn veterans immediately disbanded.

A few days subsequent, a disagreement arose between one of the returned men and a farmer, concerning the ownership of a horse – the arbitrament of which was submitted to a justice of the peace. During the taking of testimony which followed, several of the men were examined under oath, all but one telling the same story.

The one whose evidence differed radically from the others, was enrolled on the rosters of the company as Raymond, and was only eighteen years old, and while he was in size almost a full grown man, yet he was only a laughing boy, but recently from a home where his big blue eyes and curly locks were, no doubt, a mother’s pride. He was a boy in whose defense any man not a coward would have fought, no matter what the odds.

After the hearing was concluded the principals and witnesses in the case, leaving the court-room, congregated on the street to discuss the trial and several of those who had testified opposite to young Raymond gathered about him and accused him of swearing falsely; finally one of the number slapped him on the face, whereupon Raymond backed against the wall of a building and drawing his revolver, stood in a position of defense.

One of his accusers exclaimed “Shoot, d__n you, shoot,” to which he replied: “No, I don’t want to shoot, but I am a boy unable to fight men and do not intend to be beaten.” After which announcement, a tinhorn gambler named Johnny Clark, who had gone out with the volunteers, drew a revolver and shot Raymond down. A surgeon, Ephriam Smith, who had approached the scene of the shooting in time to hear the conversation and witness the tragedy, made a hasty examination of the wounded boy, and realizing that he had but a few moments to live, turned to the crowd and said, “Gentlemen, this is a d__d outrage.”

Whereupon Opdyke, who was present, taking the doctor by the arm led him aside and warned him to keep still, as this, meaning the shooting of Raymond, was only a beginning. The young man, after the examination by the surgeon was completed, said to the bystanders, “I did not draw my gun on Johnny Clark, did I?” To which several replied, “No.” He then concluded, “I think it was a cowardly act for him to shoot me in this manner; I hate to be shot down like a dog for telling the truth.” These were the last words he uttered.

The murderer was at once arrested as a matter of form, and as a precaution to prevent the people from taking his punishment into their own hands, a preliminary examination was held during the evening of the same day, at which all the ex-volunteers, who were present, testified that the man who was shot had drawn his pistol first and that the shooting done by Clark was in self-defense.

However, the cry for vengeance was so pronounced that the court decided to hold the accused, thinking, no doubt, that many who witnessed the difficulty would soon leave the city and that also public sentiment would undergo a change, as it frequently does in such cases. To protect the prisoner from violence arrangements were made with Major Marshall, who was at that time commandant at Boise Barracks, to confine him in the military guard-house until the storm had blown over.

But such forethought came too late. The straw had been added which was to break the camel’s back. The good people of Boise were aroused by the pistol-shot that caused the death of poor Raymond.

Word was industriously but secretly circulated during the following day among the business and professional men, announcing that a meeting would be held at a place named, the following night at nine o’clock sharp, for the purpose of considering the advisability of effecting an organization similar to the one which had accomplished such a salutary reformation in the Payette Valley.

The proposed meeting convened at the time and place designated and without delay it was unanimously resolved to organize a committee to be known as “The Boise City Vigilance Committee,” and they at once proceeded to adopt a constitution and by-laws similar to those of the Payette committee The organization was completed and officers elected at the first meeting, after which the case of the last murder, that committed by Clark, was taken up and discussed.

It being the unanimous opinion of those present that the murder was in cold blood and it being further agreed that, judging by the conduct of the officers and the perjured testimony of the witnesses at the preliminary hearing, it was the intent to give the prisoner his liberty at an early day, a resolution was therefore offered and unanimously adopted, to the effect that the crime committed by Clark entitled its perpetrator to the penalty of death and an executive committee was named to carry the decree into effect, with authority to call out the full membership, if necessary for the purpose.

The military guardhouse in which the prisoner was confined was a stone structure located on the lower side of the square, around which the officers* quarters, commissary buildings and barracks were erected. In one end of the building was a row of cells, with bunks for the inmates, the remainder of the building being used for a guard-house, where several men were continually stationed, ready to respond to any call from the sentinel, who continuously paced his beat in front.

As will be understood, the self-imposed task of the vigilance committee, that of taking from the guard-house the prisoner Clark, was not one easy of accomplishment, since capturing the guard might result in fatalities which must be eliminated.

A sergeant was continually present in charge of the men in the guard room, and as these non-commissioned officers were indignant in consequence of having to guard civilian prisoners, the executive committee experienced but little difficulty in persuading the officer, who was to be on duty the night chosen, to permit the removal of the prisoner, arrangements were made accordingly.

Some months previous, a company of Oregon volunteers, on their way to garrison Fort Hall, had left in the hospital at Boise barracks one of their number who was unable to march. He had recovered from his illness and was reported fit for duty on the afternoon prior to the proposed capture of the guard-house, and the sergeant not wishing to have a sentinel of his company captured on his post, placed the convalescent volunteer on duty at the time of the expected attack.

The volunteer was only about twenty years of age and his illness was caused by homesickness, as much as by malaria. He went on guard duty that night at twelve o’clock, unsuspicious of danger or surprise, and began his tramp within its limits, with mind far removed from Boise City and the Barracks. Only a short time after his watch began and while he was in the act of turning to retrace his steps on his lonely beat, several men darted around the corner of the guard-house and before he could make an alarm he was seized and thrown to the ground, where his captors proceeded to bind his limbs and gag him. They then entered the guard-room, where the inmates being asleep, they had no difficulty in taking possession; opening the cell where Clark was confined they brought him with them outside, locked the door, securing the sergeant and all his men, with the exception of the sentinel on the outside, and then took their way along the foot of the hill to the westward, taking their prisoner with them.

Soon after their departure the sentinel succeeded in releasing his hands, and obtaining possession of his musket, sent a bullet after his fleeing captors. The discharge attracted the attention of a sentinel on another beat, who gave an alarm and the entire garrison was soon aroused and under arms, when being deployed in skirmish line, they searched the neighborhood, but without result.

When morning dawned it was discovered that a triangle had been erected on the ground where the old Central school building was subsequently built and on it hung the lifeless body of the murderer.

The prompt and daring action taken by the committee caused great consternation among the so-called sporting class in Boise, and an exodus at once began. The execution of Clark was the only instance in which the organization intervened to punish an offender, although it was generally known that they did not disband for some time afterward and that knowledge doubtless had a salutary influence in preventing further crime.

Some time subsequent to the execution of Clark, Dave Opdyke was hanged on the Overland stage road by three employees of the stage company, and a young man who was, at the time, Clerk of the District Court, was persuaded to accompany them. The hanging was credited to the Boise City Vigilance Committee, owing to a card, or label, with the insignia of the vigilance committee, being attached to the body. However, the committee had no part in the act, and none of its members were present. The word was given out that the hanging grew out of the burning of the stage company’s hay, which occurred some time before, and was charged to Opdyke. Consequently the community felt as if another bad man was gone, and no regrets were expressed.

… The foregoing conditions arose, not from immorality on the part of the majority, but from a cause peculiar to new mining countries remote from centers of population. The people were sojourners, rather than citizens; they did not come to stay, only to accumulate enough money to make a comfortable start in the country whence they came – many had left property behind them, when starting west, to which they intended to return. None at that time expected to live to see the desert plains of Idaho transformed into verdant fields dotted with beautiful homes. Consequently, as they considered their residence here but temporary, they had no desire to exercise the rights of citizenship and but few attended the primaries or conventions. Thus, without thought of the harm they were doing themselves and others, they permitted a few dangerous men to gain the offices, with the results heretofore enumerated.

excerpted from pages 180-253, Chapters 11, 12, 13. “Early History of Idaho” by William John McConnell, 1913
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source: “Vigilante days and ways: the pioneers of the Rockies: the makers and making of Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming” by Nathaniel Pitt Langford 1893, Vol 1

Idaho History April 1

Idaho Vigilance Committees

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Vigilante justice was talk of the state in the 1860s

The bitter rivalry between the Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman of Boise and the Idaho World of Idaho City was never more intense than it was over the issue of law enforcement in 1865 and 1866. The Radical Republican Statesman felt that county sheriffs elected by Democrats were not enforcing the laws, and that the organization of vigilante bands was justified and necessary.

The first mention of vigilante law appeared in the World on Dec. 31, 1864: “Mr. H. Bledsoe, Wells Fargo & Co.’s messenger arrived in Placerville on the 28th inst., six days from Walla Walla, and sends us the following news: The vigilantes are operating along the Payette, from Horseshoe Bend down; understand they are driving out the ‘gold dust spelterers’ and horse thieves from the community generally.”

“Spelterers” created bogus gold dust by putting lead filings and a small amount of real dust in a frying pan. When heated, the gold coated the lead, making it look like the real thing. Bogus Basin probably takes its name from a band of crooks who counterfeited gold dust in this way in the hills above Boise City.

Before a system for electing local officials had been set up in the new Idaho Territory, President Abraham Lincoln appointed judges for three judicial districts and a United States marshal. Sheriffs were appointed for each of the counties. Naturally only loyal Republicans and Union sympathizers received these appointments. Sumner Pinkham was Boise County’s first appointed sheriff. He served only until a Democrat was elected.

William J. McConnell, who organized the Payette Valley vigilantes mentioned earlier, and later was elected governor of Idaho, described ex-Sheriff Sumner Pinkham as “one of Nature’s noblemen, six feet two inches tall, with the frame of an athlete … not only physically but mentally he was a leader among men … marked from the first for the bullet of an assassin.” When Ferdinand J. Patterson shot and killed Sumner Pinkham on July 23, 1865, he was promptly accused of murder, but a Boise County grand jury failed to indict him. Statesman Editor James S. Reynolds was understandably outraged and demanded that Patterson be tried for murder.

World Editor H.C. Street wrote sarcastically on Aug. 12, 1865, “The Idaho Statesman is greatly alarmed because the Grand Jury ignored the bill against Mr. Patterson, charged with the killing of Mr. Pinkham. Wonder why somebody does not abolish all the courts and all the juries of the Territory, and appoint the editor of the Statesman to perform their functions? It would be much cheaper and more expeditious, for he could try and hang a man without hearing a particle of evidence or knowing anything whatever about the case. Forty miles or so of distance would be nothing at all in the way. Guilty or innocent would be all the same to him, if he could make a vote by it. Really we can see but little need for courts or Judges, if men are to be condemned, but not heard.”

From the World’s point of view, vigilantes were nothing but “stranglers” who had created a reign of terror in which any person could be chased out of the Territory or killed without a trial or hearing. Vigilantes, like lynch mobs and others who took the law into their own hands, occasionally may have rid the world of scoundrels, but they also must have made mistakes and murdered innocent men.

Ferd Patterson was tried for Pinkman’s murder at the beginning of November 1865. The testimony of numerous eyewitnesses was vague or contradictory and the jury was unable to determine who had fired first, even though some said Pinkham had tried to avoid a shoot-out. The usual verdict of “not guilty” was rendered, since there was at least the possibility that Patterson had acted in self-defense.

When Ferd Patterson was shot to death in a Walla Walla barber shop in February 1866, by a man named Tom Donovan, the World said, “It is the general opinion that he was hired to commit the murder of Patterson by some of the vigilantes in that portion of the country.”

source: Arthur Hart, Idaho Statesman June 27, 2015, Part 1 (part 2 near the bottom)
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Idaho’s Vigilante Farmer Brought Law and Order

By Syd Albright

More than 200 outlaws were hanged by vigilantes in Idaho between 1861 and 1866.

Miners, farmers and ranchers throughout Idaho were in constant danger of being robbed and killed by marauding outlaws. One of the farmers was William J. McConnell of Payette Valley who grew vegetables for sale.

Idaho Territory was created in 1863, but it took some time after that for law and order to become effective. It was still the Wild West and legal justice was rudimentary. Lawyers and judges with little or no training made trials a sham. In many communities, there was scant relief from law enforcement officers, and court dockets were clogged with mining disputes.

Then when criminals were treated with unwarranted leniency, the public became fed up and demanded something be done. That gave rise to vigilance committees.

West of the Rockies, it started in the 1850s in California and soon spread to Montana and Idaho. The vigilantes – often comprising prominent citizens – were the combined tracking posse, judge, jury and executioner. Some vigilante groups, however, were simply ruthless gangs of outlaws taking matters into their own hands – under the guise of performing community service.

Vigilante justice varied. Sometimes trials had a semblance of fairness, but frequently trials ended in minutes, with the miscreants immediately hauled away for a beating or hanging. Often, criminals were tried in secret, and their fates sealed before they were even arrested.

Punishment included whipping, banishment from town, or being lynched. Usually, it was the gallows.

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Life in the Early Mining-Camps


168. Self-Government: The Mining-Camp

Following a stampede, a group of miners often found themselves in some far-away gulch without government, laws, courts, or officers. In order to protect their mining-claims, and preserve order, they found it necessary to unite themselves into a simple, democratic organization known as the mining-camp. After adopting a body of rules and regulations for the guidance of the camp, the miners usually elected a judge, a recorder, and a sheriff. Disputes arising over mining-claims and criminal cases were sometimes attended to by the judge, and again by the miners’ meeting, which was generally held on Sunday. The miners’ meeting was a genuine little democracy and closely resembled the famous New England town meeting. While important powers were often delegated to the judge and other officials, the miners’ meeting was always the final source of power.

The mining-camp was a singularly interesting political institution, and will stand as an abiding memorial to the ability of those early miners to rear an orderly structure of self-government in a region beyond the pale of law and buried in the depths of mountain solitudes.

169. The Struggle for Order: The Vigilantes

Our gold-fields had scarcely become known to the world before bands of desperadoes who had made crime a profession in California and Nevada, came flocking to the newest Idaho camps. Their chief business was robbing stages, stealing horses and cattle, and murdering miners. So well organized were these roughs that if a judge, jury, or miners’ meeting attempted to punish one of their number, other members of the “gang” could be counted upon to wreak a brutal vengeance upon the men who presumed to bring the ruffian to justice. Finally these outlaws became so numerous and powerful in some of the camps that the miners found it necessary to form themselves into Vigilance Committees.

The peculiar feature of the Vigilante procedure was that it first tried the criminal in secret, and arrested him after ward. The punishment that followed conviction was swift, sure, and generally terrible. Since there were no jails, these convicted outlaws usually left the camp “at the end of a rope.” The mysteriousness and severity of the Vigilante tribunals overawed the most desperate criminals, and they usually began to conduct themselves decently or fled to districts where the strange sign of the Vigilantes was not in evidence. As soon as local and Territorial laws became effective, the career of these “popular tribunals” was, of course, at an end.

source: History of the State of Idaho, 1918, By C. J. Brosnan, Superintendent of Public Schools, Nampa, Idaho Copyright, 1918, by Charles Scribner’s Sons (page 114-116)
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Vigilance Committees


Character of Inhabitants, Prosperous Community, Early Days, Stage Robbers, Scenes of Violence, Vigilance Committee.

The Idaho Murderers

In 1863 there was great excitement, and the people of the whole country were interested in the capture of the four men known as “the Idaho murderers,” who were accused of having killed two traders, Loyd Magruder and Charles Allen, for the money on their persons, while on their way from Magruder’s store in the Bitterroot country to Lewiston, in October, 1863. Hill Beachy, special messenger of Governor Wallace, traced the murderers to San Francisco, and, with the aid of the police, arrested them and brought them back to the Territory. They arrived under military escort December 1st, at Lewiston, and were delivered up to the authorities.

Magruder was a Democratic candidate for delegate to Congress, and formerly a member of the California Legislature.

A vigilance committee was organized in Lewiston, November 8, 1863, on account of the inefficiency of the authorities in bringing criminals to justice, and three notorious robbers were taken by force from the jail and hung, but we are not at this writing positive it was the party last mentioned that was hung.

Miners Gathered in the Saloon on a Wet Day

Description of Counties and Villages Payette Valley

“In very early days, Capt. Jonathan Keeney, the first American settler, who lived for many years in Payette Valley, made his first fence by driving willow stakes into the soft, moist soil and ‘watling’ them with smaller specimens of the same wood. The ‘watlings’ decayed and the fence was superseded by a better structure, but the stakes were allowed to remain in their places, where they grew into long rows of beautiful shade trees, most of which have now a diameter of over twelve inches, and with their tall trunks and wide-reaching branches present a scene of rural beauty that would grace an English manor that counts its age by hundreds of years.”

The first building put up in what is known as the Lower Payette Valley was the Pickett Corral Fort, two miles above Emmettsville. This place was once the most notable on the Payette River, and will ever be remembered by the old settlers, although it is torn down and entirely removed. It was built about the last of December, or first of January, 1862.

A cabin was first built of pine logs, and this surrounded by a picket fence of piles set in the ground, and ten feet high. It was built to corral stock at night against the Indians, and to keep a public house, or station. The proprietors were John Price, who died in Boise City some few years ago, Sam Wakefield, and Lew Roadpath, who were hung in Montana by the vigilantes. It is unknown what became of the other three, Paddy Miles, Scotty, and Wooley. The place soon became noted as the head center of horse thieves and bogus-dust operators.

The citizens of Payette organized a vigilance committee, and, in connection with the officers of the law, the bogus-dust operators and horse thieves were hunted down.

souce: History of Idaho Territory with Illustrations 1884 (pg 143, pg 199) Wallace W. Elliott & Co., Publishers, 421 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, Cal
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William J. McConnell: Vigilante, U.S. Marshal, Merchant, and Governor

On September 18, 1839, William J. McConnell, third governor of the state of Idaho, was born in Commerce, Michigan, about twenty-five miles northwest of Detroit. He moved to California in 1860 and engaged in mining and other work for a couple years. He spent the following year in Oregon, where he taught school and perhaps worked in a store.

McConnell followed the major gold rush into Idaho’s Boise Basin in 1863. Schooled by his experience in California, the young man recognized the opportunity offered by the excellent bottomland along the Payette River. Thus, he did not stay with the scramble of hopeful prospectors. Instead, McConnell and a few other settlers began raising vegetables, which they sold – at fabulous prices – to those same miners.

All was not profits and prosperity, however. The wild new Territory lacked any vestige of effective law enforcement. Shootings, knifings, and robberies were commonplace, and men with gold routinely disappeared on the tracks that linked the various camps.

Finally, when thieves made off with 8-10 horses and mules belonging to McConnell and his neighbors, he and two friends went after the robbers themselves. They returned with the animals a couple weeks later. No one inquired about the fate of the crooks.

William and the Payette Valley settlers then organized a regional Vigilance Committee, modeled on those established in California the decade before. When McConnell later prepared his History of Idaho, he made no apologies for their actions. He simply observed that they had no choice because “no effort was being made by those whose duties it was to enforce the law.”

Reports from the time indicate that the vigilantes did succeed in reining in the criminals, and the Committee disbanded. Popular opinion of their efforts was very positive: McConnell was appointed a Deputy U. S. Marshal, his term starting in 1865. After two years in that duty, he left the state for Oregon and California.

McConnell returned to Idaho in 1878, after the extensive farm lands of Latah County opened up . He established a general store there and became a major factor in the area’s growth.

McConnell General Store, Moscow. Latah County Historical Society.

When leaders convened a Constitutional Convention to enhance the appeal for statehood, McConnell represented the county in that body. After statehood, he became one of Idaho’s first two U.S. Senators. He served the abbreviated term needed to get the new state into the normal election cycle.

He did not stand for a full senatorial term, but ran instead for Governor … was elected, and then re-elected. McConnell served at a critical time in Idaho history. Much of the new state’s administrative structure was in a state of flux, and the “Panic of ’93” – a worldwide depression – blighted the economy. Still, his administration made several vital contributions, perhaps the most important being the vote for women’s suffrage in 1896.

McConnell remained in public service for the rest of his life, serving the U.S. government in various appointive positions. For part of that time, he was a Regent of the University of Idaho. He passed away in March 1925.

source: South Fork Companion
[h/t SMc]
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Payette Vigilance Committee


W. J. McConnell Captain of Vigilantes 1864

Wagon roads, from Boise City to Bannock, were early constructed, and from Horseshoe Bend on the Payette river to Placerville, thence to other towns. … Consequently most of the supplies distributed in the Basin came over that road. After these wagon roads were completed, stage-lines were quickly started, and big Concord coaches, with four or six horses attached, arrived and departed daily, carrying passengers from each of the towns. …

With hundreds of men passing over the Payette Valley road, road- houses were quickly provided. Of these, Shafer’s, Horseshoe Bend, Burner’s Ranch, now called Marsh, the Black House, Payette Ranch, Thompson’s Ranch, and the “Big Hay Press,” were noted places during the summer of 1863. They all served meals consisting usually of bread and meat, generally bacon, with brown bread and black coffee, all for the nominal sum of one dollar each. These houses were invariably kept by unmarried men, and most of them were orderly and well conducted. …

For three years the market price for all kinds of farm produce, except hay, was never less than twenty-five cents a pound, and during that time, ten cents a pound for hay was the lowest price it reached in the mining towns. Hence the farmer shared with the miner and others the general prosperity. There was one embarrassment, however, which seriously hampered their operations. This was the loss of horses stolen by horse thieves, this loss falling most heavily on the settlers in the upper sections of the valleys, those nearest the mines, and increased, rather than diminished, for two years. …

Thousands of saddle and pack animals, many of them very valuable, were turned loose to range over the hills lying east, north and south of Horseshoe Bend. Thus the stock was entirely removed from their owners, and, for that matter, from anyone else who knew them, as it was impossible for the owners of the horse ranches to familiarize themselves with such a diversity of brands, and, in fact, many were not branded at all. … Hence the risk of driving off and appropriating this class of stock was not considered great, owing to the lax methods by which the laws were administered, methods which had a tendency to make the business of stock stealing a favorite vocation among those who had received training along this line in other regions.

Three former citizens of New Mexico who had graduated in that territory as stage robbers, horse thieves and cattle rustlers, arrived on the river early in the spring of 1863, and after sizing up the situation, established headquarters in the Payette valley, near the entrance of the canyon, above where is now located the prosperous town of Emmett.

They built a strong log house and corral, which was planned for defense, should necessity arise, and named the place “Picket Corral,” by which sobriquet it soon gained repute, the residents thereof being known as the “Picket Corral Gang.” After getting established, they proceeded to organize the business, one of their number locating a ranch and building a cabin and corral across the river from Boise City, on the site of what is now South Boise. …

One of the peculiar characteristics of the people in all frontier countries is their hatred of horse thieves, and their belief that nothing less than capital punishment is adequate to suppress them. This sentiment was no doubt prompted in Idaho by the well known fact that those who were entrusted with the enforcement of the law – the sheriff and his deputies – were nominated and elected to their positions through the influence of the admirers of horse-flesh. …

There is no record of more than one stolen horse being recovered by the owner during the three first years of the mining furor …

This was the culmination of what might have been foreseen – the breaking down of the barrier of loyalty to law and order which is an instance of all pastoral people. The evidence was no longer lacking that the farmers and traveling public could expect no protection from the ordinary sources through which justice is administered. …

[In that] part of the Payette Valley which lies above Jackass Creek, and is now called Jerusalem, was raided, and nine animals stolen – five horses and four large mules. There were at that time four gardens, or miniature farms, being cultivated in that neighborhood and the stolen stock belonged to the owners of these gardens. These people had been “long suffering and slow to wrath,” but the recent experience of one of their number in trying to obtain justice in a Boise court, had thoroughly aroused their fighting instincts.

A posse of four men was organized, and after ascertaining that the thieves had started to the lower country with their booty, pursuit was begun. Well mounted and well armed, each riding a horse and leading another, these men, fewer in number than the pursued, took the Brown Lew trail – determined to recover what they had lost or lose their lives in the attempt. They were gone about three weeks when all returned, bringing with them the lost animals, jaded and worn almost to skin and bones. …

It is known, however, that the recovery was made in Oregon, on the Grand Ronde river below the valley of that name; and also that the transfer was not a friendly one – but if any casualties occurred they were all on one side.

On their return trip a stop was made at the road-house along their route, and open war was declared against horse-thieves and stage robbers.

A few days after their arrival home a meeting which included all the residents in their locality was held on Porter Creek, and while no permanent organization was effected, resolutions were unanimously adopted pledging themselves as follows:

1st, to stand as a unit on all matters affecting the personal safety or the property rights of any individual resident.

2nd, to pursue and capture, regardless of expense, all horse-thieves who thereafter appropriated any horses, cattle or mules belonging to any individual resident or traveler passing through that section. Provided, that after the capture was made, the posse effecting it should administer such condign punishment as in their judgment the circumstances merited – always bearing in mind that farmers were not prepared to hold prisoners.

A pronunciamento in accordance with these resolutions was promulgated, and in a few days news of the action which had been taken was widely disseminated, causing a meeting to be called in the “Block House” in the lower Payette Valley. The “Block House,” so called because it was built of hewed logs, was two stories high, the upper story being in one room, or hall, made a suitable place to hold public gatherings; in fact, it was then the only suitable place in the valley.

When the meeting assembled, it was called to order. The chairman, Henry Paddock, of the “Hay-press Ranch,” stated that the object of the meeting was to devise and consider plans for the better protection of life and property – not alone that of the settlers, but those who traveled through the valley on the public highway. He enumerated the robberies that had occurred within the year and told of the futile efforts made to suppress lawlessness. He related the histories of other countries where the lawless and vicious classes had succeeded in gaining control of the sheriff’s office, who, after his election, permitted similar conditions to exist until the people, driven by desperation, organized vigilance committees and proceeded to punish offenders according to their deserts. Citing San Francisco as an example, and referring to the action recently taken by the settlers living above Horseshoe Bend.

After a long discussion in which the consensus of opinion favored the plan of organizing some kind of a committee of safety, it was finally deemed best to adjourn the meeting for a week, in order that a conference might be had with those who, as before stated, had already taken matters into their own hands.

Accordingly a committee was appointed and instructed to visit all the residents in that region with a view to forming an organization that would include all the law-abiding settlers in the Payette Valley – from Brainard Creek to the Snake.

The committee carried out the instructions given to them so faithfully that on the second day after receiving them the people came together and were invited to co-operate in a movement having for its object the suppression of crime in the form of horse-stealing, murders, robberies, etc. As a result of the meeting, a committee consisting of two men was sent to meet the men who had already taken action, as explained above. One of the two men chosen to act as a representative in this matter was he who recovered the horse in Boise, and who had also taken an active part in the Grand Ronde affair.

When the adjourned meeting at the Block House was again called to order, the gathering consisted of nearly every man in the valley living below the Berner ranch. There were probably a score of absentees, a few of whom had families that they could not leave, and the others were so notoriously connected with the lawless organization that they did not have the audacity to attend – although they were aware that such a meeting was to be held.

The man who had presided at the former meeting was named chairman, and after a secretary had been chosen the chairman announced that the meeting had been called for the purpose of organizing a committee of safety, or vigilance committee, and asked all present who had suggestions to make, to arise. Accordingly, several short speeches were made by men who had suffered losses, which were explained by the speakers.

These discussions disclosed that the losses suffered by farmers and others were undoubtedly caused by residents of the valley, it having been conclusively shown that within a distance of fifty miles the occupants of no less than four ranches had no visible means of support other than that afforded by their dealings in horses and mules, and it was shown that their transactions in this line were conducted by preference in the night. These ranches each supported from two to five men, or about a dozen men all told, yet their organization was so perfect and their energy so untiring that up to the time this meeting was called they had kept the entire southern part of Idaho, outside the towns, terrorized.

A motion having been made and adopted to this effect, a committee of three was appointed by the chair to draft a constitution and by-laws, and a recess was taken to enable the committeemen to prepare their report.

The name finally chosen for the organization was the “Payette Vigilance Committee.” Its existence was to be continued until the industries of horse-stealing, highway robbery and the passing of “bogus” gold dust were suppressed.

All accused persons were entitled to a trial by jury, composed of seven members, a majority of whom were permitted to render a verdict – which was final. Three forms of punishment were adopted, as follows:

1st. Banishment, in which case twenty-four hours were allowed for preparation.

2nd. Horse-whipping, to be publicly administered.

3rd. Capital punishment.

The meeting which perfected the foregoing organization was composed of earnest, determined men, most of whom attended because they realized that a crisis had been reached. They were not lawbreakers, nor had they any intention of interfering with the execution of the laws; but as no effort was being made by those whose duties it was to enforce the law – the sheriff and his deputies – there seemed but one course open, and that they adopted. This was the first organization of its kind in south Idaho, and it met its requirements to the entire satisfaction of its promoters.

Within a few months the night-riders had all disappeared, doubtless having found other climates more congenial, and within one year the reputation of Payette valley was restored to what it is today, no stable need be locked. This reformation was not brought about, however, without strenuous and persistent effort. It must not be thought that those daring and desperate men who had for an ally the sheriff of the county, would at once surrender the prestige they had gained.

The first action taken by the vigilance committee after perfecting its organization was to empanel a jury, by whom testimony was taken, relating to the operations of a band of counterfeiters, who made a specialty of “bogus” gold dust, it having been shown that an extensive organization existed, with headquarters for Idaho at Placerville and with agents in various places, and especially in the valley settlements. …

The inquiry made by the jury led to the disclosure that a man named Conklin who made his headquarters with the Pickett Corral Gang, was the local, or Payette agent of the bogus dust syndicate and it was ordered that he be given twenty-four hours to leave the country.

A committee of one was appointed to serve on him a written notice to that effect. Accordingly, on the following day, an escort of five men were detailed to accompany him. It was arranged that they should assemble at 12 o’clock noon at a road house located where the town of Emmett now stands, and from there proceed in a body to Pickett Corral, where it was expected they would find the individual sought. After the adjournment the man who was to serve the notice proceeded to the rendezvous, arriving there at 2 o’clock a. m.

After a few attempts he succeeded in arousing the sleepy landlord, who assigned him to a well-furnished room containing a comfortable feather-bed. Retiring immediately, he was soon wrapped in a sound, refreshing sleep. The next morning after breakfast he entered the lounging room, where he found several of the Pickett Corral gang, one of the number being the bogus gold dust operator upon whom he was authorized to serve notice to leave the country.

They had probably come down to the roadhouse, which was on the main traveled route to Placerville, in order to obtain news, if possible, of the decision reached at the meeting held the previous night at the Block House. Their leader having arrived, they held a protracted out-door discussion among themselves. Finally, one of the men left the others and entered the room where the representative of the vigilance committee was standing, and asked him to accompany him outside. He at once complied with the request, slipping his two Colt’s revolvers forward on the belt, where they could be quickly reached, he walked out into the midst of the party of desperadoes, which now consisted of four men. They all started towards a small corral, and he went with them.

Nothing was said until they were inside the enclosure. This had been built by digging a two-foot trench around the area it was designed to enclose; logs of about twelve inches in diameter and eight feet long were set closely together on their ends therein. The interview that followed was a stormy one. The move to get him out of sight of the house was understood by the committee’s agent – another murder was to be committed, and no witnesses were to be present, save the friends and associates of the murderer – but they had signally failed to correctly “size up” their prospective victim, who, upon entering the enclosure, immediately backed into a corner against the logs facing his enemies, and said “Well, show your colors; I am no immigrant, I will make the biggest funeral ever held in this valley. I know you; I understand what this means. You are here to murder me, but I don’t think you can do it.” The men were dumbfounded; they did not expect such a reception, and knowing that a movement on their part to draw a weapon meant death to at least one, and possibly to all, they hesitated to open the fracas and finally weakened. …

After normal conditions were restored and the tension somewhat relaxed, he concluded not to wait for the escort, which was to accompany him to Pickett Corral to serve notice of banishment on the bogus dust man, but inasmuch as that individual was present, he concluded to deliver it to him at once, which he proceeded to do, and as the accused refused to receive the written notice, he read it to him. Another stormy scene resulted but no casualties resulted. Thus was ended a dangerous and annoying traffic in less than twenty-four hours after its existence had been considered by the self-appointed judges. No costs were incurred, no imprisonment followed. The agency simply suspended its operations in that line. The agent did what he was told to do, arranged his affairs within the time given him and disappeared from the scene of his former activities.

As was anticipated by the originators, the news of the organization of a vigilance committee and its prompt action in suppressing the traffic in bogus gold dust created consternation in some quarters and indignation in others; among the latter were the owners of the Washoe ferry, on Snake river, near its confluence with the Payette.

The ferry was owned by two brothers who had gained an unenviable reputation by harboring desperate characters who were known to be engaged in unlawful pursuits, one or more of whom were at the ferry almost continuously. The ferry-house which they occupied was in Oregon, the river being the state line. It was a strong log structure with a dirt roof, about twenty feet in length by sixteen in width, and being in a locality that was open to attack by Indians, it was constructed and equipped to resist assault or withstand a siege should occasion arise. At one end it had a fireplace and chimney on the inside, a strong door at the other.

Instead of windows, small port-holes for rifle practice were cut in the walls. The owners and occupants of this miniature fortress at the time the news of the recent action taken by the committee, and its proclaimed intentions of taking more drastic measures in the future if it deemed such steps necessary, were not merely indignant, but were enraged, and feeling confident in their numbers, as well as in their location and the strength of their building, wrote an insulting letter, or proclamation, sending it not only to the president of the vigilance committee, but copies were also distributed at Boise City and in the mining towns throughout southern Idaho and eastern Oregon.

They derided their efforts and challenged them to attempt the capture of the fortress, declaring there were not enough vigilantes in Payette valley to capture them. The challenge was brought up for discussion at the next regular meeting, which convened a few days later, and as the crimes said to have been committed by some of the denizens of the ferry had already attracted wide attention, it was resolved to accept the invitation extended, and to settle the problem respecting their ability to capture the place. The result of the contest that was thought to be inevitable would determine the future status of the country for an indefinite period, so far as property rights were concerned.

A captain, with authority to appoint a lieutenant, and to call for volunteers, was appointed to lead the enterprise. A company of twenty men, including the captain and lieutenant, was immediately organized out of the members present at the meeting, and the “Hay-press Ranch” was chosen as the place of rendezvous from which to advance to the attack on the ferry, which was approximately twenty-five miles distant. The time for the meeting was set a few days before the contemplated attack, in order to give the volunteers an opportunity for preparation. When the time for departure arrived, there were no laggards. The roll being called, every man responded “present.” They were not only present in person, but were fully equipped with horses and arms, prepared to engage in what they expected would be a desperate enterprise.

The captain was given entire control and his plans were not known to even his lieutenant until the time arrived for their execution. The advance was ordered during the afternoon of a winter day, the ground being covered with snow to a depth of perhaps one foot; the sky was free from clouds, with the mercury hovering near the zero mark. The march was uninterrupted until nearly half the distance was covered, when a point was reached where a branch road diverged from the main line, which at that time crossed the Payette River at the Bluff Station, the branch being the road to Washoe Ferry, the objective point of the expedition.

Here a halt was made, and the captain, advancing to a hostelry near the junction, asked the proprietress if she could entertain sixteen men over night and give them their breakfast at four o’clock the following morning. Without awaiting her reply and smiling at her astonishment, he said, “Oh, I know you can, so I will leave them with you,” and turning to his lieutenant said, “I will leave you here with all the men but three, whom I will take with me” – naming them. I want you to breakfast at 4 a. m., and immediately afterwards start for the ferry with your men, gauging your movements so as to arrive on the bank of the river precisely at sunrise,” stating that he would go down the road with the men named, and during the night cross at Central Ferry, and then march back up the river on the Oregon side to the Washoe Ferry – arriving in time to co-operate with the main body.

The men selected fell into line, leaving the main body as directed, and followed their leader down the main or stage road to Central Ferry, where they arrived at eight o’clock p. m.

This ferry at that time was operated by a man named Epley, who had a woman employed as housekeeper who was a famous cook. The supper she prepared that night was long afterward a pleasant memory to those who partook of it; the horses were as well provided for as were the men, and after a rest of two hours, the captain called his men outside and told them that his plan was to capture the Washoe Ferry that night before the arrival of the lieutenant and his force. He called Epley, the Central ferryman, into the conference and inquired if he could transfer the party, including their horses, to the opposite bank of the river that night. Upon his expressing a willingness to make the attempt, despite the fact that the river was covered with floating, or anchor ice, the horses were saddled and the transfer made without accident.

The distance to be traversed between the ferry landing and their objective point, was only about three miles, and although there was no moon, the starlight was sufficient to permit of good progress along the river bank. Hence they were but a short time in sighting the ferry house, which gave out no glimmer of light. A halt was called and the riders approached as near to one another as practicable, whereupon the captain asked all the men whether they knew the owners or the occupants of the ferry house; and one of them answering in the negative, he told him to approach the house alone, after the others had ridden along the road leading to the ferry to a point opposite the house. He was to dismount, and to divert suspicion, the others were to ride a few rods ahead, as if to approach the ferry landing.

The man chosen to arouse the inmates was to call to them that there was a party with him, desiring to be ferried across, so that they might pursue their way as far as possible that night. He was also to say that they had traveled up the river from Old’s Ferry, on the Central Ferry road, but owing to anchor ice, the ferryman there had refused to cross the river, hence their appearance at that time. He was to state that they were willing to pay double ferriage on account of the ice, and was instructed to say further that he was nearly frozen. If the door was opened to him, he was at once to approach the fireplace and stir up the embers, throwing onto them any kindling or light material convenient, and as soon as it flared up, or blazed, to look sharply, for the posse would immediately charge.

The plan worked as smoothly as if it had been rehearsed. There were six men in the house, all in bed asleep. One of them when awakened, arose and after lighting a candle and partially dressing himself, proceeded to open the door, which was fastened by passing a chain through an auger-hole in the door and around the jamb, the ends being fastened with a padlock. As soon as the door was open the supposed traveler went stamping the length of the room to the fire-place, his heavy Mexican spurs ringing over the earthen floor. By this time the entire party had dismounted and were stamping along the frozen road between the house and ferry, as if endeavoring to restore circulation while waiting for the ferryman. The spurs had, however, been removed from every heel, and all was in readiness for the signal which was momentarily expected.

They had but a short wait, as the fireplace was a bed of coals, which upon being stirred, and having a handful of dry willows added, at once flashed up like powder, and in an instant the door was filled with barrels of shotguns covering the inmates. Resistance would have been suicidal, hence none was made, and so without a shot being fired or a blow struck, the capture was effected. Of the six men in the house, only one had arisen and he was not armed. …

After taking possession of all the arms and securing the horses in a shed, where hay and grain were found, dispositions were made to spend the remainder of the night. At sunrise, as had been prearranged, the lieutenant arrived with his troop and their surprise at finding the captain and his small posse in possession of the place was no doubt as great as that of the men they had so easily taken.

Two of the prisoners were found to be strangers looking for a place to locate a ranch, and were unconscious of the character of the house in which they had secured a night’s lodging. …. Upon being told that they were free and given their arms, huge dragoon revolvers, they at once took their back track for their homes in the Willamette Valley, having no longer a desire to own land on Snake river.

After the foregoing departure, a jury was selected to try the other men. The trial was not a long drawn out affair like those of modern times, yet it was conducted with decorum and a degree of fairness seldom surpassed in legally conducted courts of justice.

Technical rules of evidence were not permitted to interfere with the ascertainment of all information bearing on the case. It was disclosed during the hearing that Stewart Bros, were the sole owners of the ferry, together with its appurtenances, and had been since its establishment – a period of approximately two years.

That during this time, while not keeping a roadhouse or hostelry, they had at various times received into their household, for indefinite periods, men of ill-repute who were supposed to be engaged in unlawful pursuits. One instance was shown, relative to a character known as “Black Charley,” who was a guest at the ferry for several months during the summer of 1864 …

Black Charlie did not return to his former haunts and the circumstances of his disappearance was known to only a few until the vigilance committee’s jury unearthed the facts. Although no sufficient evidence was submitted to connect the Stewart brothers with the supposed crime, it was shown that they were cognizant of the character and the intent of Black Charlie and that, doubtless, had influence with the jury.

It was also shown by conclusive testimony that while the owners of the ferry had no cattle of their own and never purchased any, they always had fresh beef to sell to travelers, as well as for their own use. One of the men captured with the brothers was also known to be an undesirable citizen. The other of the four remaining was considered of no importance.

Juries such as made this investigation, were vested with more power than that reposed in the county and district juries of our civil courts. They not only passed upon the guilt and innocence of the accused, but they also determined the severity of the sentence. The verdict of the jury in the foregoing case was acquittal for one of the men, banishment within twenty-four hours for another, while the brothers were to suffer the extreme penalty, which was inflicted at twelve o’clock meridian the following day, at or near the Junction House on the stage road, where a gallows was to be erected.

In the interim before the sentence was executed, the prisoners were to be taken to Coggin’s, at Bluff Station Ferry on the Payette, to be held until the hour set for their final fare well. They were accordingly permitted to saddle their horses, then accompanied by their captors, the entire troop crossed the river and proceeded to the point designated, where they arrived late in the afternoon. …

The verdict of the jury did not meet the approval of the captain of the vigilantes, so beckoning Alex to follow him, he walked away from the others, down to the bank of the river, and when he had reached a point out of hearing from the house, he waited for him to approach. He then said, “Alex, I am going to let you and Charlie go, or at least I am going to try to do so. These men would hang me as soon as they would you, if they thought I was untrue to them, but I will take the chance. I am going to do so, not because I think you are innocent, for I know you are guilty, but I do not think your crime justifies such severe punishment. I will endeavor to give you your freedom under the promise which I expect you to make, that you will leave this country and try to lead good and honorable lives, and I want you to distinctly understand that if you succeed in effecting your escape, that you must not return at any time in the future with the intention of getting even with the members of the vigilance committee.”

Alex at this point, for the first time since his arrest, evidenced any feeling; his eyes now filled with tears and in a broken voice he admitted they had done wrong, claiming they had been used as cat’s-paws by bad, designing men, and promised implicit obedience to all the captain asked.

The following night, about ten o’clock, the prisoners were assigned a bed in a log building used as a store room. It had a door opening to the street which was kept locked, and another door opening into another room in which a guard, consisting of two men, was stationed, the night being divided into two watches. …

But alas, the ingenuity of the guard was ineffectual. When day dawned and the guard awoke, they found a vacant bed in the prison chamber, and the prisoners had flown. It was found that the outer door had been unlocked by some person who had a key, and the tracks of the escaping men were plainly visible in the snow.

A consultation was held and the conclusion reached that pursuit of the fugitives should be instituted immediately after the horses and men had breakfasted. Accordingly, two hours later, all were in readiness and as the tracks of the fleeing men led in the direction of Snake river, it was concluded that they were aiming for the ferry where their capture had been effected, with the purpose of crossing Snake river and escaping into Oregon. The pursuers, therefore, divided into two parties, one of which, headed by the captain, went by the Central ferry, following the same route traveled by himself and party the night the capture was made, and the other party headed by Lieutenant Paddock followed the tracks of the fugitives. …

When the party that had persistently followed their tracks, arrived at the ferry, the objects of their pursuit had disappeared over the hills to the westward. The captain and the men who had gone with him via Central Ferry, arrived soon after the others, and greatly to his discomfiture, found that one of the men belonging to the trailing-party had gone on alone after the fugitives, believing that others would follow as soon as the ranking officer arrived. When he arrived the captain was not disappointed to find that the escapes had already left, for he expected such a result, and it had been his intention to call the men together at the ferry and say to them that he believed the real object of the committee, the ridding of the country of a lot of bad men, had been effectually accomplished.

The men who escaped were thoroughly frightened, and if permitted to do so, would no doubt keep on going until out of reach. They and all others of their kind would, in the future, have a wholesome dread of the Payette Vigilantes.

But the departure of the lone pursuer disarranged his former plans, since he could not permit one lone man to follow three, who, no doubt, were rendered desperate by their recent experience. So he at once rode out in front of the men and expressed his determination to take their trail and recapture the prisoners.

Calling for volunteers, he rode rapidly away, while out of all who were present only three men followed his lead, thus showing that nearly all of the company held the same opinions as those the captain had intended to express.

Alter following the road taken by the Stewarts for a few miles, the captain’s party overtook the lone rider who had preceded them, and the pursuing force, now consisting of five men, began the pursuit with renewed vigor. … owing to the distance gained by the fleeing men, before their pursuers left the ferry, it was almost night before the latter came within sight of the camp that had been made by the escapes, and then the view was not of the camp proper, but of the smoke from the fire they had kindled, and of the saddle and pack horses they had turned loose on the hills adjacent, where the bunch grass had grown in profusion the summer previous, much of which was still above the snow. …

From the general appearance of things, it was evident to the captain that the intent of the men in camp were to remain there during the night, at least; it being imperative that the horses should have rest and time to feed, and the men were undoubtedly much exhausted after two such strenuous nights and days as they had endured. The captain therefore made a detour to the left, and keeping within the hills out of sight of the camp, passed around it and on down to Old’s ferry. Here he crossed both the men and horses on the ice, the boat being frozen in, and they arrived at the comfortable hostelry kept by the proprietor’s family, almost as badly in need of rest as the men in camp above in the willows.

The following morning smoke was still ascending from the camp in the willows, which was in plain view up the river from Old’s, showing that the pursued were still there. After breakfast the men who had passed the night at Old’s ferry ordered their horses and mounting, rode out to the middle of the river on the ice, where, after halting the men, the captain said to them that it was his opinion that a body of men might do, and sometimes did do things that every individual in the party, in his own secret conscience, believed was not right. He simply goes ahead with the crowd and says nothing, for fear that he might be accused of weakening, but for his part he believed moral courage was equally as commendable as physical courage. Hence he desired to state before proceeding further, that it was his opinion that if they could retake the men whom they had followed so far, and disarm them, paying them for their weapons, which would give them some money with which to pay their expenses down the road, it would be better than to kill them where they are. “We can kill them, for we are the stronger party, and are fully as well armed as they, but both as your captain and as an individual, I will not stand for it, and right here and now I want the opinion of every member of this party.”

Upon which each one gave his views as desired, and of the four men accompanying him, only one differed with the ideas he had expressed … The majority being of the same opinion as the captain, he told them it was not probable that they could advance in a body and retake their late prisoners without precipitating a conflict. But he believed one man might approach their camp and make known the terms of their proposed surrender without so much probability of resistance. And as he was responsible for the suggestion, he volunteered to act as envoy, to which proposal consent was given, with the proviso that the whole party should be allowed to accompany him to within pistol shot of a point in the road opposite the camp-fire where the conference would probably take place. …

The captain kept on until opposite the fire, then halting, he called, “Boys,” twice. No answer was made, so pausing a moment, he called “Alex.” At this Charlie rose with a double barreled shot-gun and was leveling it to shoot, when Alex caught his arm in time to prevent the discharge. The captain then said, “Come out and deliver up your arms, there is no use in trying to resist.” To which Alex replied, “I will give them up to you.” The captain responded “All right.” He then brought all their guns and pistols out and delivered them up.

An appraisement was made at once of the weapons, and their value was paid in cash to the owners; who soon after saddled their horses and left for Powder River Valley, while the vigilantes proceeded up the river to their respective homes, where, upon reciting the incidents related, they were met with the general acclaim: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

Stewart brothers were the last of the Mohicans. The Payette Vigilantes never met in force again. … Within three months of its organization the committee transformed the Payette Valley, with its hitherto unsavory reputation, into a community of peaceful homes, where life and property were as safe as in any of the older states or territories in the Union. …

The action of the vigilance committee (1) in driving into banishment the local agent of the bogus gold dust syndicate, and (2) in capturing the stronghold at Washoe Ferry, and thereby scattering its inmates, attracted wide attention, and was the paramount topic of conversation among gamblers, horse-thieves, and stage-robbers for weeks thereafter. It was finally concluded by them that a crisis had arrived, and that unless the vigilance committee was put out of business, their vocations must be abandoned. …

A recital of the events which transpired in Boise and Payette valleys, during the period covered by this narrative, makes it difficult to comprehend that, with the exception of a very small per cent of the whole, the residents were as good men and women as could be found in any state in the Union; yet such was the case. In fact, the average man was better, for the reason that there were no drones among the better class of people; all were workers at some useful employment.


excerpted from pages 180-253, Chapters 11, 12, 13 “Early History of Idaho” by William John McConnell, 1913

[Note: The forgoing left out a lot of marvelous details and other stories, I strongly recommend reading the full 3 chapters (including a story of the Boise Vigilance Committee) at the following link:]
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Washo Ferry

When gold was first discovered in the Boise Basin in 1862 and hoards of fortune seekers poured into that section from all sides, dependable means of crossing the rivers became imperative. Very soon the Washoe Ferry was established on the Old Oregon Trail, crossing the Snake River a short distance below the mouth of the Malheur River, where it served as am important link in transportation for over forty years.

The first reference to this ferry which I have found is in McConnell’s “Early History of Idaho” where he says, “A company of volunteers under the leadership of Jeff Standifer, during the early months of 1863, crossed the Snake river at Washoe Ferry to levy reprisals on a band of Paiute Indians, who, having raided the lower Boise and Payette Valleys, had returned with their plunder to the Malheur Valley.”

The original owners and operators of the ferry were the young Stewart brothers, who had come from Canada. Because of exposure to attack from Indians, the isolated ferry-house, located on the Oregon side of the river, was really a fort, constructed and equipped to resist assault or withstand a siege, should occasion arise.

But the hostile Indians were not the only danger the early settlers had to face. Lawlessness among the whites was an even greater menace, the sheriff himself often being in league with the bandits. Not until the local Vigilantes were organized under the leadership of Col. McConnell, was law and order established. One of the boldest gangs of bandits won the friendship of the lonely boys at the ferry and, making the impregnable ferry-house their headquarters, issued proclamations of defiance to the Vigilantes. The account of the ruse by which their captures was effected by three men without loss of life is a thrilling story well worth reading.

… the Stewart boys were allowed to escape with their lives. This was in 1865, and once safe in the Powder River section of Oregon, they sold their interest in the ferry to William Packard who operated it until 1872 when he sold it to William Emerson, who later sold it to George Brinnon. When the railroad bridge was built in 1884, Captain Payne, from Illinois, who bought the ferry from Brinnon at that time, moved it six miles up the river to a point just north of Ontario, Oregon, where it continued to serve the public until the building of the first wagon bridge in 1906 brought its usefulness to an end.


Washo Ferry Payette Museum

There were a number of owners after the ferry was moved, among them being Ted Butler, Lew Morton, Frank Draper, William Mink, and John Bivens. The late N. A. Jacobsen, pioneer and prominent citizen of Payette, who ran the ferry a short time while the owner went away to be married, told of the interest the Indians showed in the boat. Once two of them swam across with a heard of horses, then swam back again in order to ride across on the ferry.

Traces of the original location of the ferry can still be seen, according to reports, and Dorian Chapter hopes to mark the spot.

source: Emily K. Thurston, File contributed for use in USGenWeb Archives by Patty Theurer, Copyright. All rights reserved.
Link to more Washo History
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Vigilante law and lynching continued for a generation

When John C. Clark was taken from his jail cell at Fort Boise and lynched by vigilantes on April 6, 1866, the Idaho World blasted the Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman and its editor, James S. Reynolds, for “running with the vigilantes. It is a Vigilante organ. They suit its style. Hang everyone who differs from you, and do it before the moon is up. What is law and order to one who has systematically scoffed at all laws, human and divine, during the past three years?”

When Reynolds responded with a complaint about the World’s use of “intemperate language,” Editor H.C. Street fired off this blast: “The Vigilante organ accuses us of using ‘intemperate language’ about that illustrious body of patriots. Intemperate! INTEMPERATE! Well Sir, what sort of language would you have us use, when a whole community is put in terror by a band of midnight murderers straggling about the country, waylaying defenseless men, committing deeds outraging the laws of both God and man? What sort of language is fit for men who in times of peace array themselves in open rebellion against the laws of the country, and by brute force pale the faces of a whole community?”

The most notable victim of Ada County’s vigilantes was ex-sheriff David C. Updyke. Soon after Ada County came into existence in 1865 he had been nominated for sheriff on the Democratic ticket and elected by a wide margin over two other candidates, one a Republican and the other an independent. At the time, Democrats won every election by a landslide. That Updyke had a personal following was illustrated again on Feb. 26, 1866, when he was elected captain of the Ada County Volunteers, a group organized and funded by Boise City merchants to go after Indians that had been attacking freight wagons, stealing horses and disrupting the flow of merchandise to their stores. When the volunteers disbanded, a group of them were soon suspected of committing a wide range of crimes under Dave Updyke’s leadership.

The Idaho World reported on April 26, 1866, under the headline “Vigilante Operations and Schemes. – The body of D.C. Updyke, late Sheriff of Ada County, and late Captain of the Ada County Volunteers, was found hanging to a tree on the Rocky Bar road. … A paper was attached to the body of Updyke accusing him of being cognizant of the Port Neuf robbery, of bogus gold dust operations, horse stealing, etc., asserting also that he had confessed his crimes and given the names of his accomplices, and winding up with the words ‘the roll is being called.’ ”

On May 12, 1866, the World asked what had happened to the several thousand dollars in greenbacks Updyke had on his person when he was “murdered,” plus a watch, a breast pin and a diamond ring. “Where are they? It is possible that that immaculate committee has such an ‘itching palm’ that it could not keep its hands off a dead man? We advise the Administrator to make a search about the Statesman office for the stolen articles.”

In addition to the organized bands of vigilantes of Boise and Payette Valleys in the 1860s, Idaho lynch mobs continued to take the law into their own hands as late as May 1903, when the Idaho Statesman reported, “LYNCHING BEE AT MILNER.” One of two men who had stolen horses from the Milner Dam construction camp was hunted down and hanged by a mob of about 200 men. His partner drowned in the Snake River while trying to escape.

North Idaho had its share of lynchings as well. In 1869, “Shumway Jim,” a renegade Indian accused of several earlier murders, was hanged in Idaho County for the murder of a French prospector. Later that year, Peter Walters was taken from the jail at Lewiston and hanged by 13 men from Camas Prairie. He had shot and killed a man named Joseph Yates. Three other men would be taken from the poorly defended jail at Lewiston and lynched, the last in 1893.

source: Arthur Hart, Idaho Statesman July 4, 2015, Part 2
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Idaho Vigilante Stories


[A. J. McFarland] tells the story that before Bill McConnell became governor of the state he took a band of cattle into the Boise basin, at which time the country was full of outlaws. McConnell was warned that he would be held up when he returned. This, however, was a joke being played upon him by the vigilance committee unknown to McConnell. When he returned, the supposed outlaws were stationed along the road, where Emmett now stands. He drew his double-barreled shotgun when he espied them and rode right through. Turning in his saddle to keep, them in range and calling, “Hello boys,” he passed and not one attempted to molest him. The joke was on the vigilantes, for none of the “outlaws” cared to risk McConnell’s aim.

Mr. McFarland relates that about two miles below Falk there is a grave which holds the remains of one of the old outlaws, Casey Stone, who was killed with a butcher knife by Billy Maupin, the butcher. Mr. Maupin said Stone assaulted him and told him to pay him one hundred dollars or he would kill him. In some way, Maupin threw Stone off his guard, while pretending to pay him, and killed him before Stone could shoot. The neighbors nailed some boards together for a box, and put Stone in, hat, boots and gun, and complimented Maupin for his bravery. It was often thus that the law-abiding citizens had to take the law into their own hands for their safety and protection.

source: “History of Idaho, The Gem of the Mountains” by James Hawley, 1920, page 651
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William John McConnell


Photo added by MJ_MW

Birth: 18 Sep 1839 Commerce, Oakland County, Michigan
Death: 30 Mar 1925 (aged 85) Moscow, Latah County, Idaho
Burial: Moscow Cemetery Moscow, Latah County, Idaho

Republican politician from Idaho. He served in the US Senate from Idaho from 1890-1891 and as Governor of Idaho from 1892-1896. In 1897 he was appointed as Indian inspector by President McKinley and served until 1901. In 1909, President Taft appointed him as inspector of Immigration Services where he served until his death in 1925.

Bio by Tim Crutchfield



Added by Dr. Bob Schneider

source: Find a Grave

Idaho History March 25

Idaho Lawman Orlando “Rube” Robbins


courtesy: Bob Hartman
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One Tough Hombre

— This Lawman Feared No One —

by Tom Rizzo

Lawman Orlando “Rube” Robbins shifted in the saddle, sore and tired from nearly two months tracking escaped prisoner Charley Chambers across the Dakota and Oregon territories.

Scanning the distant horizon, the 45-year old marshal adjusted his bandana to cover the back of his neck, hoping for relief from the scorching sun.

Robbins finally caught up to Chambers in August 1882 in Portland, took him into custody, and returned him to prison in Boise — completing a journey of nearly 1,200 miles.

During his law enforcement career, Robbins achieved a reputation as the “man most responsible for bringing law and order to the Idaho Territory.”

Born in Maine, he left home at 17 following a quarrel with his father and made his way to the California gold fields for a short while.

In his mid-20s, moved to Idaho after the discovery of gold in the Salmon River area.

Robbins began working as a lawman in 1864 when Boise County Sheriff Sumner Pinkham appointed him deputy.

When Pinkham lost the next election, Robbins joined a stagecoach line and rode shotgun.

In 1865, he won an appointment as a Deputy U.S. Marshal and spent the next twenty-five years bring outlaws to justice. He also served as police chief of Boise, the sheriff of Ada County, and warden at the Idaho State Penitentiary.

Robbins also won election to the Idaho Legislature from Ada County, twice, and somehow found the time to broaden his list of accomplishments.

As a colonel in the Idaho militia, he served as a successful scout and Indian fighter, part of the command that followed the fleeing Nez Perce across the mountains of Idaho.

The lawman also became of something a local hero for his role in the Bannock War of 1878, managing to survive several close encounters with death.

He owned a cattle ranch where he also raised thoroughbred race horses. Robbins also founded a temperance lodge in Ada County.

… The well-respected lawman, considered the toughest in Idaho, died on May 1, 1908, of a heart attack. He was 72.

At the time, he was still on the job, working as a traveling guard for prisoners.

from: Tom Rizzo
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Idaho Lawman Orlando “Rube” Robbins

by Bob Hartman

Born in Phillips, Maine, August 30, 1836. Story has it that 17 year old Rube came home one day to find that the oxen he used to make money with had been sold by his father, and young Rube had had enough. In January of 1854 he headed to California.

Rube mined in northern California from 1854 until the summer of 1861, when he left Yreka and headed for Elk City in northern Idaho. In 1862 he move from Elk City to the new town of Florence, where again he tried his hand at mining.

It was in Florence that a couple of rough characters called Cherokee Bob, and Bill Willoughby went gunning for Rube and Jakey Williams. They found them. As Bob lay dying he stated that both Rube and Jakey were brave men, with one difference. When Jakey shot his pistol he would jump to the side to clear the smoke for another shot, whereas Rube would jump through the smoke, so every time he shot he would be getting closer.

In August of 1863 Rube headed south to the Boise Basin, to Idaho City, to try his hand at mining once again. In 1864, with the 4th of July approaching, the southern sympathizers in town let it be known that they wouldn’t put up with any silly singing of the National Anthem. Rube strolled into the saloon that was their hangout, jumped up on a pool table, drew his pistols, and in what was described as a beautiful baritone, belted out the National Anthem. When he finished he looked around the room, giving anyone a chance to have a go at him. No one made a peep. He jumped down from the table and strolled out the door. A few days later he was sworn in as sheriff Sumner Pinkham’s deputy.

A little over a year later a new sheriff was voted in. That summer while visiting the warm springs resort outside of Idaho City Pinkham was gunned down by Ferd Patterson. Ferd hi-tailed it for Boise, but Rube caught up with him at the half way house and arrested him before the posse showed up.

Rube continued his work as a deputy, but his time deputy marshal under U.S. marshal Alvold in Boise. Several times Rube tried to give up law enforcement, but always returned. In 1873 and 1874 Rube was Ada County sheriff. He was also a member of the lower house of the eighth territorial legislature in 1874 and 1875, and a member of the legislative council in 1882-3.

Rube spent the three major Indian wars in Idaho as chief of Scouts, first for General O.O. Howard in 1877 during the Nez Perce war, and again in 1878 during the Bannock war. Rube’s exploits during these campaigns were stuff of legend even in his time, and would fill a book. The last campaign he spent as chief of scouts was the Sheep Eater war of 1879, under Col. Bernard, who was in charge of the campaign.

In the 1880’s and 90’s Rube served as Boise’s Chief of Police 1885-87, Warden of the Idaho State Penitentiary, and still worked as a U.S. deputy marshal. In the early 1900’s he worked as a foreman at the prison and as a traveling guard, transporting prisoners, a job he held until he became too sick in the winter of 1907-08. He died at 72 years old, May 1 1908. Orlando “Rube” Robbins literally always got his man. He never returned a warrant without the bad guy in tow.

source: Bob Hartman IDAHO HISTORY 1860’s TO 1960’s
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Scouts of Indian War.

Top, left to right: Andrew McQuaid, George Banks, Colonel F. J. Parker, Jack Campbell. Bottom, left to right: Chas. Adams, Rube Robbins, Henry Pierce.

[Note from Bob Hartman:] Jack Campbell in the upper right was one tough hombre himself. When the scouts were ambushed in July of 1878 Jack took 5 or 6 shots to the head and neck, and survived.
Photo Copyright 2012 Idaho state Historical Society.
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Orlando “Rube” Robbins Idaho’s Fearless Lawman

by R.G. Robertson

color-rube-a(click image for larger size)

Ask most Americans to name a few intrepid lawmen from the nineteenth century, and they are almost certain to list Wild Bill Hickok, Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp.

These heroes of yesteryear epitomize the bold lawmen who tamed the frontier with their six-guns and tin stars. For nearly a century, Hollywood has immortalized these valiant peacekeepers, embellishing their reputations until it is often difficult to separate fact from fantasy.

Query other Americans about which Western town was the most lawless, and they’re apt to say DodgeCity, Tombstone, or Deadwood. Thanks to the movies and the dime novels before them, the mention of these old cow and mining towns brings to mind images of gunslingers, drunken cowboys, gamblers and a gutsy sheriff or marshal who brought them to heel.

Yet, there were more wild towns and daring lawmen than those that are most often brought to mind.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Idaho Territory had its share of rowdy towns. The mining centers of Idaho City and Silver City, competed with Deadwood and Tombstone not only for the amount of rich ore their citizens produced, but also for the number of hard men they attracted. While Wyatt Earp and his brothers held sway in the Arizona desert, an equally fearless lawman faced down desperados in Idaho. His name was Orlando “Rube” Robbins.

Robbins was born in Maine on August 30, 1836. When he was a teenager, he acquired a yoke of oxen, which he valued highly. He used the oxen on his family’s farm and occasionally earned money by hiring them out to neighbors. When Robbins was 17 years old, his father sold the oxen without asking his son for permission. Raging with anger, the young man bid his father good riddance and left home for good.

Robbins eventually found his way to the California mining camps in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. When he was 25, gold strikes along Idaho’s Clearwater River and in Florence Basin (a few miles northeast of Riggins, Idaho) lured him away from California. Two years later, in August 1863, he relocated again, drifting south to the new diggings in Boise Basin (about 20 miles northeast of modern-day Boise).

A year old at the time Robbins arrived, the Boise Basin gold rush was producing the largest stampede of miners and hangers-on since the heyday of California’s Mother Lode. Numerous mining camps – they quickly grew into small cities – dotted the landscape, sporting names such as Placerville, Centerville, and West Bannack. Robbins gravitated to West Bannack, which was the fastest growing of the towns with over 6,100 people. Wanting a name that fit West Bannack’s prominence as the largest settlement in the Pacific Northwest, the Territorial Legislature soon re-christened it Idaho City.


At the time Robbins moved to the boomtown, it boasted a hospital, a theater, two bowling alleys, four sawmills, a mattress factory, nine restaurants, two churches, four breweries, and 25 saloons, all opened within the first 12 months of its founding. The town also had 15 doctors and more than two dozen lawyers. But what Idaho City needed more than a horde of sawbones and shysters was law and order. And found it in Rube Robbins. In 1864 he became a deputy sheriff.

With the Civil War raging in the East, the Boise Basin miners polarized around the Union and Confederate causes. Fueled by whiskey, Northern and Southern sympathizers often bloodied one another with fists, knives, and sometimes guns as they used force to show their opinions. Many an evening, Robbins had to lock up a drunken loudmouth who was threatening to punch or shoot to demonstrate his political beliefs to an equally intoxicated opponent (who was just as certain that God was on his side). …

Robbins’ reputation soon earned him a job in Boise, where he served first as a deputy sheriff and then as a United States marshal. …

Facing down drunks and arbitrating disputes were not the only things the deputy excelled at. He also knew how to catch criminals. In February 1876, after six bandits held up the Silver City stage as it neared Boise, Robbins had them in jail within two days of the robbery.

In addition to his duties in law enforcement, Robbins also held the rank of colonel in the territorial militia and was head of scouts. During Idaho’s Camas War in the late 1870s, he and his command were part of a larger U.S. Army force that, pursued a band of Bannock and Paiute Indians, led by a Paiute war chief named Egan, into the Owyhee badlands southwest of Silver City (near the Idaho-Oregon border). For nearly two weeks, the Army chased the hostiles across the high desert, some days riding 50 miles. …

During the 1880s and ’90s, Robbins continued to pursue desperadoes across southern Idaho. In August 1882, shortly before his forty-sixth birthday, he arrested the outlaw Charley Chambers after covering 1,280 miles in just 13 days. Any criminal having Robbins on his trail might as well consider himself already behind bars.

Unlike many lawmen of his day, Robbins had a life apart from gunplay and daring. When he was in his thirties, he became a Christian and joined the temperance movement. Following his baptism in the Boise River, he was elected president of the Methodist Church Sunday School. He also served a term in the Idaho Territorial Legislature, and some years later gained appointment as its Sergeant at Arms.

When Robbins was in his late sixties, he transported prisoners for the Idaho State Penitentiary. Although he escorted men who were often one-third his age, he never allowed any of them to get away.

Idaho’s most famous lawman died of a heart attack on May 1, 1908. During his funeral, numerous dignitaries paid him homage, each attempting to take his measure. …

Like Hickok, Masterson and the Earp brothers, Orlando “Rube” Robbins was similar to a paladin of the Old West and an honor to all Americans, “in the land of the brave and the home of the free.”

excerpted from: R.G. Robertson, True West Magazine January 1, 2002
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Deputy Sheriff Orlando “Rube” Robbins

Stagecoach robberies were reported regularly in the Idaho Statesman throughout the rest of the 19th century, and almost always the Wells, Fargo & Co. box was the target, as the Statesman reported several times between Oct. 28, 1875, and Dec. 26, 1881. In May 1876, famed Deputy Sheriff Orlando “Rube” Robbins was one of the lawmen who went to Silver City and brought back a gang of four stage robbers. Robbins was often charged with tracking down road agents and other criminals and bringing them back to Boise for trial. He had a reputation for “always getting his man.”

Following the holdup of the Overland stage by a lone gunman in July 1881, Robbins was again sent in pursuit. The Statesman reported, “In the stage that was robbed were a gentleman, his wife and three children, and a hostler in the employ of the company. The box that was thrown out was the Wood River box, and contained, besides some small sums of money, six hundred dollars belonging to N. Falk & Bro.”

excerpted: Arthur Hart Special to the Idaho Statesman June 25, 2016
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Orlando “Rube” Robbins



Birth: 31 Aug 1863 Phillips, Franklin County, Maine
Death: 1 May 1908 Boise, Ada County, Idaho
Burial: Pioneer Cemetery Boise, Ada County

“The man most responsible for bringing law and order to the Idaho Territory.” 25 years as deputy US marshall, Boise chief of police, and sheriff of Ada County. Warden of Idaho State Penitentiary, traveling guard, and work foreman.

“The ex-scout was shot at hundreds of times, and nine times bullets put holes through his clothes, and even his hat, but, barring a scratch on his thumb, he was never hurt.”
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Idaho Daily Statesman November 15, 1901

General O. O. Howard and Two of His Scouts Meet

Rube Robbins in Portland

Is Entertained by J. W. Redington, and Old Time Warriors Hold a Jolly Re-Union — Heroic Incidents Recalled.

Idaho Daily Statesman November 15, 1901

Rube Robbins came in last evening from Portland. He went there expecting to remain two or three months while his broken arm got well, but he was called back here on a business matter.

While in Portland Mr. Robbins had the pleasure of meeting General O. O. Howard, under whom he was chief of scouts during the Bannock war in 1878. He came from Portland with the general, the latter going on east.

John W. Reddington, who was a scout under Robbins but who is now a member of the staff of the Oregonian, entertained the general and Rube at dinner. The three were together for several hours in Reddington’s office, and the Telegram of the 12th gave the following notice of the meeting:

“There was an interesting three-handed reunion today of veteran Indian fighters of over 30 years ago, in an editorial room of the Oregonian. General O. O. Howard, Orlando (Rube) Robbins. chief of scouts against Bannock and Malheur Indians in ’78, and John W. Reddington, ex-scout.

“Rube Robbins’ home is in Halley, Idaho. He came to Portland a few days ago suffering with a broken arm. The injury was received in an accident recently, wherein a freighting wagon was overturned on him. The member was broken twice. Mr. Robbins is a brother-in-law of J. W. Tollman, the expert photographers now retired from that business.

“Learning that his old commander, General Howard, was visiting here, Mr. Robbins arranged to meet the general as soon as he was able to leave his room with his fractured arm.

“Rube Robbins, as he is generally called, was greeted very affectionately by General Howard, and many were the hair-lifting reminiscences the sight of one another conjured up. Robbins is now 65 years of age, and he looks not more than 50 – hale, bright-eyed and vigorous. His hair has not turned, and he declares he can ride 100 miles a day horseback, as he did 20 years ago, and not feel the worse for it.

“Robbins, who has been mining for several years, was deputy United States marshal in Idaho for 26 years. He was appointed in the time of Lincoln. He has made Boise City his home for many years. He carries a big gold watch, which carries an inscription on an inner lid recalling one of the most exciting of his experiences in Indian fighting days. The watch was presented to him by the officers and enlisted men of the First United States cavalry, and, as it states, to mark their appreciation of his services in rescuing their comrades from drowning.

“Robbins Saved Colonel William Parnell, retired, and now living in San Francisco; a trumpter, a first sergeant, and a private, who were thrown out of a, boat, while crossing the Snake river in the Big Bend country, in August, 1878, during the pursuit of the Bannocks. The capsizing of the boat occurred in 40 feet of water, and every one of the occupants would have drowned in the swift current had it not been for the expert ‘diving of Robbins. The ex-scout was shot at hundreds of times, and nine times bullets put holes through his clothes, and even his hat, but, barring a scratch on his thumb, he was never hurt.”

source: Find A Grave
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Early History of Idaho – Orlando “Rube” Robbins

Chapter 15 – Ex-Sheriff [Pinkham] Murdered (pages – 269-287)

There were in Boise county during the foregoing period [early 1860s] a few men who were as staunch and loyal to the government as others were disloyal; men who never hesitated to declare themselves and who always were prepared to meet emergencies as they might arise; men who, in fact, courted the danger of conflict. Prominent among this class was a man named Pinkham, who was the first sheriff by appointment in Boise county, serving only until an election was held and his successor qualified. He was one of Nature’s noblemen, six feet two inches tall, with the frame of an athlete. Although he was yet in the prime of vigorous manhood, his hair and beard were almost snow-white, while his cheeks were as rosy as a boy’s. Not only physically, but mentally, he was a leader among men, and although he had been marked from the first for the bullet of an assassin, the seasons there as elsewhere came and went for more than two years before a man could be found to undertake the desperate enterprise.

Sumner Pinkham, Idaho City Historical Foundation

Finally, Ferd Patterson who had gained notoriety in Portland, Oregon, by killing the captain of the steamship and scalping his erstwhile mistress, and who had been a sojourner in Idaho since that time, expressed a willingness to add another nick to the handle of his revolver by killing Pinkham, provided the “boys” would stand in and secure his acquittal by being present when the killing occurred and testifying afterward that Pinkham drew his weapon first, or attempted to do so, thus showing that Patterson acted in self-defense.

Ferd Patterson, Idaho City Historical Foundation

An arrangement was accordingly made one Sunday during the forenoon, accompanied by those who were to appear at the anticipated trial, Patterson went down to the Warm Springs, a bathing resort located on the Boise City stage road about one mile below Idaho City. Prior to their starting, however, they knew that Pinkham had been invited to ride down to the Springs by a Boise City man who was there with a team and buggy. As he had planned, Patterson and party arrived first at the Springs. At once they repaired to the bar-room where liquors were dispensed.

The building in which the bath rooms were located was erected above the road on ground which sloped into the gulch, or ravine, which carried into Moore’s Creek the overflow from a large hot spring, which flowed out of the side of a steep hill above. …

When the buggy in which Pinkham rode arrived at the Springs he alighted and entering the bar-room found Patterson and his party there. Having had no previous intimation of their presence, accustomed as he was to the methods of Patterson and his friends, it doubtess flashed on his mind in an instant that the crowd was there to murder him. Patterson began an attempt to start a quarrel, but Pinkham, realizing that he was alone, among unscrupulous enemies, would not be drawn into a difficulty and remarking “That’s all right, Patterson,” brushed past him and entered one of the small bath-rooms and closed the door. Patterson and his friends soon afterwards went out through the hall, and on up to the swimming pond, where they all proceeded to take a swim.

Patterson related the succeeding events to a friend who made the story public after those who were parties to the affair left the country.

Patterson said that he and his companions were so long in the swimming pond that he thought Pinkham would be gone before they returned to the bar-room, and he hoped he was gone, as he knew that if he did not continue his efforts to force a quarrel the men who were with him would think he had weakened, and he said that he knew that if a quarrel was precipitated, he must get Pinkham quickly, or Pinkham would get him; so upon entering the hall he drew his revolver and carried it cocked in his hand as he entered the bar-room, and Pinkham not being there, he walked directly to the open door leading to the porch, and found Pinkham standing waiting for the hack which conveyed passengers to and from the Springs; raising his pistol, he said, “Will you draw, you Abolition son of a b____ ?” And as Pinkham turned his side toward him he fired. The smoke of his pistol, he said, partially obscured his view, and dropping on one knee, he leveled the pistol across his arm and fired the second shot, both bullets taking effect, although the first shot caused a mortal wound. Pinkham instinctively reached for and drew his weapon, evidently cocking it by the same motion, and as he was falling, it discharged into the ceiling. The murdered man fell to the floor and immediately expired. Thus was completed the mission on which they came.

Arrangements having been made for his speedy departure, Patterson at once mounted a horse and started to leave the country, but Pinkham’s former deputy, Rube Robbins, followed by the sheriff, were soon in pursuit, and the murderer was overhauled by Rube who came up on him first before half the distance to Boise valley was covered. His arrest was accomplished without difficulty, when, joined by the sheriff, they started back to Idaho City, and making a detour to avoid difficulty with a large force of miners who had assembled and were threatening to hang Patterson, they arrived at the county jail and succeeded in placing him behind the bars without interference, although at least a thousand men were clamoring for his blood.

But the danger-point had been reached. Meetings were quietly assembled in all the mining towns for several successive nights and couriers were kept continually on the move, carrying news from one point to another. Men gathered in whispering groups on the hillsides and in the miners’ cabins. A spirit of mystery and secrecy pervaded the atmosphere, culminating finally in a delegation from all the mining towns being sent to Idaho City for the purpose of holding a conference, looking to the organization of a vigilance committee similar to that which had accomplished such effective work in the Payette valley.

The conference was held in a large fire-proof cellar used for storage purposes, and it was concluded that before perfecting an organization a messenger should be sent to the captain of the Payette Vigilance Committee, and if possible, secure his attendance at a subsequent meeting which would be called in Idaho City at such time as would be convenient for him to attend. Orlando Robbins, or Rube Robbins, as he was generally known, was accordingly dispatched to find the captain and if possible persuade him to come to Idaho City at once. Robbins was successful in his mission and two days afterward returned with his man.

Arrangements were at once made for a meeting consisting of a few reliable men to be held the succeeding night in the fire-proof cellar which had heretofore been used for meetings. As secrecy was to be observed until an organization was perfected the cellar was wisely chosen. Ten o’clock that night was the hour named, and when the time arrived approximately two score of the most prominent men in the Basin were present, to whom was introduced the captain, who upon being informed of the object of the gathering, at the request of the chairman, gave those present an outline of the constitution and by-laws of the Payette committee, stating that it was the fault of the citizens of Boise Basin that conditions such as had heretofore prevailed were allowed to continue.

In the aggregate the men who had committed all the crimes in Idaho were few in numbers, and he thought the time had arrived for the people to put a stop to such atrocious murders as had been of frequent occurrence in the past. He stated that as the first object of the proposed organization was the punishment of Patterson, the murderer of Pinkham, he would like to be present when that event took place, and assured them that while his own affairs would prevent him from becoming a member of their organization, he would come to Idaho City at any time on receiving notice that they were ready to act.

The meeting then proceeded to organize on the same lines as the Payette committee had followed, adopting for its name “The Idaho City Vigilance Committee.” A blacksmith who had a shop on Buena Vista Bar was chosen as captain, and an executive committee of five elected who were to have entire control of the organization, issuing their orders direct to the captain whose duty it was made to carry them out. A committee on enrollment was also appointed, the duty of which was to enroll as members all persons who would be willing to act with the organization in suppressing crime and punishing murderers and robbers.

At the meeting a Methodist minister presided and none of those present ever forgot his opening address; and while the average minister is generally considered out of place in mining camps where the Sabbath is respected no more than any other day, his bold stand in favor of suppressing the lawless class did more to elevate the churches in the minds of his hearers than all the sermons they were likely to hear. Among other things he said “He could fight or he could pray, as occasion required.” The man was Reverend Kingsley, who became a permanent resident of Idaho and lived many years of usefulness to his fellows and when his final call came took his departure, loved and respected by all.

Two weeks were consumed in preparation, at the end of which time a membership of nine hundred were enrolled. Among the number were two men who had served in the navy and were familiar with explosives. They were detailed to prepare a number of hand-grenades which were intended to demolish the gates of the prison. It had been determined by the executive committee that the entire force would advance to the door of the jail where Patterson was confined and demand that he be delivered up to them, and if denial was made then the walls were to be scaled and the place captured by assault.

For the purpose of carrying out the foregoing plan, the members were notified to appear fully armed at the city cemetery at two o’clock on a morning named, it being the object to advance on the jail at daybreak. The cemetery was located but a short distance above the jail but it was doubtless chosen as a rendezvous not solely on account of its contiguity to the object of their attack. The leaders apparently counted on the effect which the newly-made graves, and they were all comparatively new, would have on the friends of the murdered men who slept beneath those sodless mounds, as it was well known to the executive committee that many of those who slept their last sleep in that hallowed ground had died from the knife or bullet of an assassin, and from the hearts of a hundred friends, those who were assembled in the haze of that star-lit morning, meeting around those silent mounds, arose a cry for vengeance. At least an hour before the time named in the call the men, in groups of two, three or more, began to arrive, and by two o’clock nine hundred men were on the ground awaiting the order to advance, while on the side nearest to the jail, an emergency field hospital was improvised, with two surgeons in attendance, showing that the serious nature of this enterprise was fully understood by all.

The assembling of so many men could not be accomplished secretly even in the night time – in a place like Idaho City, where many of the inhabitants were night-hawks, men who worked on the night shift, and, while doing so, worked the other fellow. Consequently, as so many men were noticed slipping out in little groups, it was readily surmised that their object was an attack on the jail, so the sheriff was at once apprised. It is more than probable that the news of the intended movement had leaked, and that he was informed in advance. Consequently, in line with his duty, he had garrisoned the jail with practically all the thugs and tin-horn gamblers in the city, and was prepared to defend his prisoner, Patterson. Thus a comical side was presented by even the serious condition that existed at that moment, and this was, that the majority of the men whom the sheriff had engaged as defenders of the jail, and consequently of the law, were many of them, for the first time in their lives, its defenders. But the sheriff was unquestionably right in employing such help as was at hand, it being clearly his duty, as an officer of the law, to protect his prisoner.

The men who were expected to defend the jail from assault were ensconced behind its walls and were provided with arms, besides, judging by the yells and pistol shots, they were also furnished an ample supply of nerve tonic, “the cup that cheers.” Immediately prior to the time set for the advance, a man who had been reclining on the ground, well to the rear of the others, arose, and threading his way carefully toward the center of the cemetery, mounted a log and in a voice that could be distinctly heard by all present, said, “Gentlemen: You all know me – at least by reputation; I am the man whom the Payette Vigilance Committee calls captain; I am here tonight upon invitation of your executive committee. Up to the present time I have taken no part in advising, or managing your affairs, but the time has arrived when human lives are in the balance, and I feel that although there are many older and, doubtless wiser men here than I, yet I feel that at this critical moment that it is due you that I should express my views, and whether you concur with me or not, my duty so far shall have been performed.

“You have assembled here for the purpose of demanding from the sheriff and his deputies in charge of the jail, their prisoner, Patterson, your object being not only to punish him for the murder of Pinkham, but in so doing, impress upon the lawless classes the certainty that, hereafter, no murderer shall escape. The only object you could have in assembling here in the night and advancing on the jail at daybreak was that you might surprise the guard and capture them without resistance, but as is evident, your plans are known and the sheriff has made provisions for the defense of his charge. You can storm the place and take it by assault, but in so doing many lives will be lost, and I cannot see the philosophy of sacrificing perhaps forty or fifty good men’s lives to hang one criminal. A mistake, has been made in calling out so many men; I can take Idaho City with ten men; I would go through it like a cyclone, and take whomever I wanted.”

Some one in the crowd immediately spoke up and said “That is the man for our captain.” The words were scarcely uttered when they were repeated by hundreds of voices. The man who had been in charge up to this time was a blacksmith who worked at his trade on Buena Vista Bar. He at once came forward and asked the Payette visitor to take charge, stating that he was “not qualified for such work.”

To this he replied: “Gentlemen, under the circumstances I will assume the responsibility and issue my first orders now. They are that you all go home. When I want any of you, I shall let you know. Before you separate, however, I desire to say that Patterson killed my friend, and the earth is not big enough to hide his murderer.”

The crowd at once began to disperse, and when day dawned there was no evidence that such a gathering had taken place, except the trampled weeds and ground in the cemetery.

Thus ended the first crisis in the history of Idaho. Had an attack been made on the prison many lives would have been lost in the battle that would have followed, and it would not have ended until vengeance had been wreaked upon every man in Boise Basin who had unlawfully taken human life.

It was Saturday morning when the gathering dispersed. During the day following business was practically suspended. Men gathered in groups in the streets and in the miners’ cabins, the one subject of their discussion being what was likely to occur now that a new leader had been chosen. It was generally believed that a way would be found to punish Patterson, but how was it to be accomplished? No one seemed to be informed on that subject.

During the day warrants were issued for the arrest of Rube Robbins, Elder Kingsley and one other, and they were placed under arrest. It was generally believed that the arrests were made under the impression that the new captain would undertake to rescue the prisoners, in which event it was probably planned that he would be shot by some one concealed for the purpose. But he paid no attention to the matter, in fact did not appear in the crowd that immediately gathered. The prisoners were at once paroled by the federal judge who was in the city. Thus, under high tension, passed that day and the succeeding night. That the leader had formulated some plan which was known to not more than two or three persons, was considered certain. But what was the plan? All was shrouded in mystery.

Buena Vista Bar (L) and Idaho City (R)

(click image for larger size)
courtesy Bob Hartman

Sunday afternoon he and Rube Robbins appeared on the street, both mounted, and rode across to Buena Vista Bar and down the road past the warm springs toward Boise City – the cynosure of all eyes. Soon afterward a group of miners and others began to assemble at the blacksmith shop on Buena Vista Bar, owned by the former captain, and when the assemblage had grown to such a size as to attract attention, the sheriff approached and demanded that they disperse within thirty minutes, or he would arrest them all.

They were doing nobody any harm, being merely there on the public road, each one being intent to learn all he could concerning the probable outcome of the pending difficulty. Some of those present were doubtless members of the Idaho City Vigilance Committee, but many were not, and as the observations of all alike had caused them to have but little respect for sheriffs and their deputies as peace officers, they did not propose to be ordered off the public highway, or arrested, because they did not see fit to go. So they at once began the erection of barricades along ditches that crossed near the shop.

John C. Henly, an attorney, happening along on horseback, took in the situation at a glance, and at once galloped down the road after Robbins and the captain. Fortunately, he met them on their way back to town, and spurring up their horses, they were soon at the scene of the proposed hostilities. From here could be seen the sheriff and his deputies assembling their forces on a sawdust pile near the jail, preparatory to making a descent on the miners.

Attracted by the unusual sight of a large force of men tearing down ricks of cordwood and building barricades, many persons had congregated, who knew nothing about the approaching conflict. Among this number was a company from Payette Valley, consisting of, approximately, twenty men, all of whom were members of the Payette Vigilance Committee, who had come to Idaho City to look for their captain, fearing something had happened to him.

On their arrival they had placed their saddle animals in a feed-yard and started out in quest of the object of their search, arriving at Buena Vista Bar in time to meet him at the barricade. A hurried conference followed, in which he requested them to take no part in the coming conflict, if one occurred, but to remain where they were, and they would probably see the prettiest fight they had ever witnessed. He told them his plan was to draw his men off to the other side of Moore Creek and take possession of a large dry ditch which girdled an ox-bow point, and there make a stand, since the ditch was a breastwork already prepared, and, furthermore, if a battle ensued, it was far enough removed from town or dwelling houses to insure the safety of non-combatants.

He would listen to no remonstrance, but turning from them to the trenches and barricade, sang out, “Boys, this is no place to make a stand; I will show you a better one; follow me,” and immediately started across the creek bottom for the ditch on the opposite side. Arriving there he instantly threw his men into line and dividing them into three squads, placing Rube Robbins in charge, of one, and Al Hawk another, while he took command of the third, placing them in front at the apex of the bend, sending Rube to guard one flank with his men and Hawk the other.

By the time these dispositions were made the sheriff had started his men on the double quick from where they were assembled, to make an attack. When they reached Moore Creek they were halted by the captain, and told “if they had an officer to send him forward to talk matters over, and if not, they had best come no nearer.” A man who was mounted on a horse at once rode out and across to where the captain stood awaiting him, and on gaining speaking distance, exclaimed, “The only terms I have to propose to you is that you stack your arms and disperse, or the last divvil of you will be kilt.”

To this salutation the captain responded: “The h___ you say. What is your name?” the answer being, “My name is German; I am under-sheriff.” The captain then said: “Mr. German, you had better return to the ranks; you and I cannot settle anything – send your chief up here. I will talk to him.” Mr. German quickly complied with the suggestion, and within a few minutes the sheriff approached, exclaiming as he came near, “My God, cannot this be stopped?” To this the captain replied, “It is stopped. I’ve stopped right here. Don’t you think I’ve got a good place? If you had wanted to arrest me, or any of my men, we respect your duty as an officer, and would submit to your authority, as was done yesterday; or, if you had needed a posse, and had secured one composed of respectable citizens, I or any of my men would surrender to you, but instead of such a posse, you come with all the cutthroats in the country.”

To this the sheriff answered that “when he chose men with a fight in view, he picked fighting men.” The captain replied that there had always been a doubt in his mind “as to whether blow-hards and murderers could fight better than decent men. We have a chance to settle the matter now. The responsibility rests upon you – fire the first gun and not a man of you will ever cross that bar alive.”

The sheriff then proposed that “they all deliver up their arms to him, and he would pledge his word of honor that in thirty days they would be returned, and the men could all go home.” The captain in reply said, “I have a very pretty gun here; it was sent me by a friend in Centerville when he learned that these boys had chosen me to be their captain. He thought, when he sent me the gun, that I would not surrender it while I lived, and he was not the least bit mistaken.

“You have sent Holbrook around with a body of men to get in my rear, and I have sent some boys over there who will hurt him, and we shall be obliged to hold another election. You had better send men to call him off at once, and you go back to town with all your force, and try to make them behave. I am not going to attack your jail. You may rest easy on that score – for I would not sacrifice the life of even one man for the sake of hanging a murderer. You may give Patterson his trial without hindrance, and, since the evidence has been arranged to secure his acquittal, he can go forth into the world, but the world is not big enough to hide him.”

Thus ended the second crisis. The sheriff withdrew his force and left the captain and his men in undisputed possession of the field.

A calamity was happily averted, for, had a single hostile shot been fired that day, the few decent men who were with the sheriff’s party would have paid the penalty for being in bad company, because it would have been impossible, in the battle which would have ensued, to distinguish them from their allies; and as a force even larger than that with the captain had assembled on Buena Vista Bar, and joined the company from the Payette, the sheriff’s force would have been between two fires – meaning their total extermination. The promise made to the sheriff, not to attack the jail and allow the trial to proceed, became generally known during that and the following day, hence the excitement subsided and business was resumed.

A short time afterward court convened and the trial of Patterson began, culminating, as he had prearranged, in his acquittal. That he would evenutally receive punishment for his crimes merited, no one doubted; but when or where he was to pay the extreme penalty was known only to the executive officers. He took his departure from Idaho City soon after his acquittal, going to Walla Walla, where there happened to be, at the time of his arrival, the man who was on the police force in Portland when Patterson scalped his paramour, and whom he had threatened to kill for arresting him. The ex-policeman having faith in Patterson’s intent, as well as ability to keep pledges of that character, was on the lookout for him, and seeing him enter a barber-shop soon after his arrival in Walla Walla, followed him in, and finding Patterson seated in a barberchair, shot and killed him instantly – after the same manner he had been in the habit of killing his victims. Thus ended a career of crime, relieving the Idaho City committee of the task they had set for themselves.

The writer of the foregoing narrative was the captain of the Payette Vigilance Committee, hence he was in a position to know the details of what transpired during those turbulent days and nights.

W. J. McConnell Captain of Vigilantes 1864

Chapter 20 – Indian Wars in Idaho (pages 355-368)

During the year 1879, central Idaho, including the Salmon river country, was afflicted with what proved to be but a miniature Indian war, but insignificant as were its proportions it cost the lives of many persons, and required the employment of several companies of regular soldiers accompanied and aided by volunteer scouts, to suppress and capture the “hostiles,” which was finally accomplished.

The Indians who were engaged in this outbreak were what were known as “Sheep Eaters,” a small aggregation composed of Shoshones, Bannocks and renegades from other tribes. It is doubtful whether they numbered more than one hundred and fifty, all told, but they were mountain Indians, and like all of that type, were strong, active men and women, capable of enduring great hardship, and if need be, could subsist for days on very meager rations; born and reared as most of them had been among the canyons and crags of the Salmon river mountains, they were familiar with every gorge, defile and trail, from the Rocky Mountains on the east to the Blue Mountains on the west; consequently the task of overtaking and capturing them was an arduous one.

The regular troops detailed to make the capture were reinforced by a body of Umatilla Indian scouts, and a company of citizen scouts under the command of Colonel Orlando Robbins, than whom no better trailer or fighter could have been chosen; and the men directly under his command were of the best the country could afford, all trained in the use of arms, and experienced in Indian warfare, good trailers, good shots, and brave to the verge of recklessness. It is not possible in this narrative to mention the name of each individual scout who distinguished himself while serving under Colonel Robbins in this or the two preceding campaigns; as a troop, as a unit, no body of men could have performed better or braver service; always at the front, theirs were the posts of greatest danger. This tribute to their gallantry and worth is not designed to detract from the merit of the brave officers and men of the U. S. army who served through the same campaigns; there were no drones, no cowards, in the field during those strenuous years.

I would be doing less than my duty to the memory of an old comrade and one-time fellow officer if I closed this synopsis of Idaho’s Indian wars without making more particular mention of the brave chief of scouts who fought through them all. Col. Orlando Robbins, who was widely and familiarly known as “Rube” Robbins. He first appeared prominently before the people of Idaho Territory during the summer of 1862. He was chosen to act as one of the floor managers at a ball to be given in Florence July 4th that year, his associate manager being a man named Jakey Williams.

Florence at the time named for the ball was in the heyday of its mining prosperity, and the giving of a ball was designed to provide amusement and entertainment for the respectable element in the town; those wives who had accompanied their husbands to the new Eldorado in search of wealth were to supply the respectability.

To manage such a ball as the one proposed, and preserve a proper semblance of decorum was a difficult problem, owing to the cosmopolitan character of the population of Florence at that time. It was the recognition of that fact which led to the selection of Rube and Jakey to act as managers.

It was after the festivities had fairly commenced and many eyes spoke love to other men’s wives, that a noted gambler made his appearance in the ball room, bringing with him the well known mistress of another gambler. The indignation of the ladies present was made known to the floor managers with the request that the two objectionable characters be requested to leave the room. The floor-managers complied with the request, and the gambler and his partner, when told that their presence was not agreeable, quietly left the hall. The foregoing episode resulted in an attack being made by the paramour of the woman who was requested to leave the ball, and the man who took her there, on the managers. The difficulty was precipitated the following day, and resulted in a double funeral, both gamblers being killed in the pistol duel which ensued. Cherokee Bob chose Rube as the object of his wrath and in doing so made a fatal mistake. The ball given on the evening of July 4th, 1862, and its attendant tragedy, was a prominent event in the history of that erstwhile city, and has been recorded in a former chapter.

Rube Robbins’ name was a synonym for honesty and bravery, and during his eventful and useful life he filled many positions of honor and trust. He was feared, yet respected by every bad man and “gun-fighter” who ever sojourned in Idaho, and it is doubtful if any officer made more arrests of that class than he. He was brave to the limit, yet tended-hearted as a child; vigorous of mind and body, he endured the hardships of the frontiers, survived the dangers of many battles, and finally followed the majority of his pioneer friends and comrades who had preceded him. He now lies peacefully in the beautiful Boise Valley, awaiting the final call. He was in life a sturdy and brave comrade, a true and loyal friend.

excerpted from: “Early History of Idaho” by William John McConnell, 1913
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[Note: for another version of the story of Ferd Patterson shooting ex-sheriff Sumner Pinkham, see South Fork Companion]

Gambler Patterson Shoots and Kills Ex-Sheriff Pinkham
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Owyhee War

1868 Silver City
(click image for larger size)

When the first hasty reports of the Owyhee War reached Boise, Governor D. W. Ballard concluded that firm action was needed. Two casualties had resulted from the initial skirmish, and law and order seemed to him to have broken down. After dispatching Idaho’s most renowned deputy marshal and Indian fighter, Orlando Robbins, to the battleground with a proclamation commanding both sides to desist and to settle the dispute according to the processes of law, Ballard himself set out for the scene of hostilities. In a record six-hour trip Robbins reached Silver City, consulted the sheriff, rounded up the leaders of the two companies, and within an hour of his arrival on March 26, [1868] read them the proclamation. No one in Owvhee had asked Governor Ballard to intervene, but the results of this effort were certainly effective.

By late that night, a new agreement had been reached, with formal deeds drawn, so that the matter did not even have to go to court. Unfortunately, during a drunken brawl on April 1, [1868,] J. Marion More became the final casualty of the war. More’s friends, in turn, were about to lynch their Golden Chariot opponents, but Governor Ballard, addressing the citizens of Silver City on April 2, insisted that the law continue to take its course. Matters looked so threatening that the Governor at this point summoned troops from Fort Boise. Marching to Owyhee with a brass cannon, ninety-five soldiers occupied Silver City from April 4 to 8. But, by then, largely as a result of Ballard’s firm action, the Owyhee War was over.

If the deals which led to the Owyhee War were intended to avoid the expenses of mining litigation, it is dubious just how much they saved. For the Ida Elmore, $200,000 out of the $600,000 of the first year’s production is reported to have gone into paying the cost of the war and the litigation. The Golden Chariot, which in its first year realized only $200,000 because it had shut down to install new hoisting works, had to devote all this initial gain to covering the expenses of the battle. The conflict served to emphasize again the waste and inefficiency of having rival companies develop short, adjacent segments of the same vein with separate and duplicating shafts, hoisting works, and company organizations.

excerpted from page 43: “Gold Camps & Silver Cities – Nineteenth Century Mining in Central and Southern Idaho” by Merle W.Wells, 2nd Edition, 1983
Published in cooperation with the Idaho State Historical Society and assisted by a National Park Service Historic Preservation Planning Grant
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Orlando Robbins

courtesy Bob Hartman (personal correspondence)
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Historical Society of Idaho Pioneers

The Statesman lamented on Jan. 30, 1883, that what had begun with such enthusiasm two years earlier had now lapsed into “a state of apathy,” since the society had not met in nearly two years.

In February 1884, two of the pioneers responded by hosting a pioneer reunion of their own. The Statesman wrote, “Mr. James H. Hart, more familiarly known as ‘Jimmy,’ of clam chowder fame, and Colonel Orlando Robbins, whom the irreverent sometimes call ‘Rube,’ gave a glorious entertainment last evening in Turn Verein Hall, to which their old-time friends were made welcome. Jimmy and Rube represent different party organizations, but this occasion was strictly non-partisan and non-sectarian. There was a goodly number of pioneers present, who did ample justice to the good things provided and all had a way up good time.” (Democrat Hart was a saloon keeper and Republican Robbins was a lawman who had been a scout for the Army in the Indian wars of the 1870s.)

excerpted: Arthur Hart Special to the Idaho Statesman March 4, 2017

Idaho History March 18

Henry Plummer

Henry Plummer (1832–1864) was a prospector, lawman, and outlaw in the American West in the 1850s and 1860s, who was known to have killed several men, some in what was considered self-defense.

He was born William Henry Handy Plummer in 1832 in Addison, Maine, the last of six children in a family whose ancestors had first settled in Maine in 1634, when it was still a part of the Massachusetts Bay colony. He changed the spelling of his surname after moving West.

In 1852, at age 19, Plummer headed west to the gold fields of California. His mining venture went well: within two years he owned a mine, a ranch, and a bakery in Nevada City. In 1856, he was elected sheriff and city manager.

On September 26, 1857, Plummer shot and killed John Vedder. As city marshal of Nevada City, California, Plummer had been providing protection of Lucy Vedder, John’s wife, who was seeking to escape from her abusive husband. Plummer claimed he was acting in self-defense in the incident, but was convicted of second-degree murder. He won an appeal for a retrial and was convicted again and sentenced to ten years in San Quentin.[2] But in August 1859, supporters of his wrote to the governor seeking a pardon based on his alleged good character and civic performance. The governor granted the pardon due to Plummer’s good prison record, his attempts to convince a corrupt warden to improve conditions and his work assisting the prison doctor.

Plummer headed to Washington Territory* where gold had been discovered. There he became involved in a dispute that ended in a gunfight won by Plummer.

[*Note: Idaho was still part of Washington Territory until 1863.]

excerpted from: Wikipedia
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Henry Plummer in Idaho Territory*

from “Early History of Idaho” By WJ McConnell, Copyright 1913

William J McConnell

Chapter 4 Gold Discoveries pg 66

… Next on the list of these notables comes the name of Henry Plummer. In the spring of 1861 Henry Plummer and wife were registered in the leading hotel of Lewiston. They were strangers to everyone in town except, perhaps, a few gamblers who had known Plummer in Nevada or California, and these men, following the usual close-mouthed methods of their calling, said nothing about his antecedents. He was a man of gentlemanly bearing, and being accompanied by a quiet, gentle appearing woman whom he claimed as his wife, no one suspected their illicit relations.

However, it was only a couple of days before he had established his reputation as a gambler which left no doubt as to his true character.

The woman he claimed to be his wife was abandoned in a short time, penniless and alone among strangers; she told how Plummer with professions of undying love had persuaded her to leave her husband and three children to live with him. Not having the courage to return to her family and confess her fault, she abandoned herself to the downward path which always leads onward to untold sorrows – an early and miserable death. Thus was Plummer’s entrance into Lewiston marked by her disgrace and degradation.

Being a gambler, his profession brought him in contact with the rough and dissolute characters when they arrived at Lewiston. It is customary in mining and frontier towns for new arrivals to “take in” the town, meaning that they shall visit all the various resorts – such as saloons, dance halls, etc. These tours are generally undertaken as soon as possible after their arrival at a new camp. Since gambling was usually conducted in these places, Plummer, as a member of the “profesh,” soon became a “hail fellow well met” with the patrons of the amusements provided in these resorts.

The criminal classes soon began to recognize in him a leader, and flocked to his standard. Being a keen judge of character, he was able to choose from the common herd or “would-be” desperadoes, the most reckless and daring, the ones who combined with these traits the greatest skill in the use of firearms. These he organized into a band of choice cut-throats, who were governed by iron-clad rules, the enforcement of which was left to a committee, Plummer being its chairman, or head; in fact, he was chief of outlaws.

Chapter 5 Outlaws and Their Methods (Pg 69)

The Outlaw Chief remained in Lewiston during the summer of 1862, following his profession – gambling. Owing to his demeanor, which was quiet and gentlemanly, and to the fact that his clothes were, as a rule, tailor-made and neat, a stranger meeting him would not have suspected him to be the depraved character he was.

By making occasional trips, usually in the night, to interior points, he supervised and directed the operations of the band. What purported to be a road house was established by them on the traveled route between Lewiston and Walla Walla, at Pataha Creek; another was started by them between Lewiston and Orofino. Although these resorts which they termed “shebangs,” were ostensibly managed by two men, the traveler might observe several other hangers-on, who were supposed to be guests, but who were actually silent partners holding themselves ready for action.

These resorts were surrounded by high hills in all directions. These hills were cut with ravines, while numerous flats and little valleys were inserted between. Bunch grass and water being plentiful, these places were veritable paradises for horse thieves.

It should be remembered that in those days and for many years later there were no railroads in any direction of the country tributary to the Columbia river, even wagon roads outside of the Willamette and Walla Walla valleys were seldom to be expected, hence the early arrivals at the Orofino and Florence mines generally found their way there in small parties, riding saddle horses or mules, bringing with them on pack animals their camp equipage, including mining tools and a quantity of provisions. During the season of high water boats ascended the Columbia and Snake rivers, bringing passengers and merchandise to Lewiston, but after arriving there those whose destination was one of the interior mining camps were compelled to procure saddle and pack animals to continue their journey, therefore those who realized that fact usually brought their own equipment, and were thus prepared to travel in any direction rumor announced a discovery of new diggings. Lewiston was the point of divergence to all the interior mining camps in the Clearwater and Salmon river region during 1861 and 1862, hence all those destined for Orofino, Elk City, Florence or Warrens went first to Lewiston, where it was the almost universal custom for travelers to remain for a day or even longer, to rest themselves and animals, but more especially to gather information concerning any new discoveries which might have been made. Thus as will be readily understood with the arrival and departure each day of so many prospectors and adventurers, the town of Lewiston was all that is implied in the term “typical frontier mining town.”

During the stay made by travelers in Lewiston for rest or other purpose during those early mining days, they were carefully “sized up,” by Plummer’s emissaries, especially those who were on the return journey from the mines, with the object of ascertaining if possible, whether they carried any considerable amount of gold dust; accurate descriptions were also taken of their saddle and pack animals, including color and brands; bills of sale were then made out in conformity with the descriptions conveying title to the animals at some prior date to the keeper of one of the road houses either above or below, dependent upon which direction the travelers were going, the bill of sale was then dispatched by courier to the man in whose name it was drawn so as to reach him before the arrival of the men with the stock.

All being cunningly arranged in advance, as soon as the victims came opposite the house, they were halted and the demand made “Where did you get those animals? Get off, or I’ll blow you off.” These requests were made emphatic by the display of double-barreled shot guns or revolvers. The astonished travelers could only comply. They were then shown the bills of sale as a cause for the demand, and if the real owners of the stock were sensible men they left their property with the robbers and resumed their journey on foot. But if, as was sometimes the case, they offered resistance, their journey ended in an improvised cemetery, provided for just such occasions.

In the mining camps and frontier towns, a style of building much in vogue during their first establishment, was built by erecting a frame of poles upon which rafters of the same kind of material were set up, then sides, ends and roof were covered with sheeting or common brown muslin. Such buildings require no windows and even the doors were mere frames of small poles covered with the same material.

This class of structures was the kind that largely lined the streets of Lewiston during the early mining excitement, which followed the Orofino and the Florence discoveries. There were no street lamps, none were needed, for the sunshine lighted the interior of the buildings by day, without the aid of windows, while the lamps and candles used at night illumined the streets. Such buildings, obviously, presented slight opposition to burglars, and as a protection against stray bullets they were a failure.
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Lewiston, Idaho August 1862

We are looking from Normal Hill at the intersection of Third and C Streets. The Luna House is now the site of the county museum. The small building on the far left center was the public school. In the bottom left corner was the home of “The Golden Age,” Idaho’s first newspaper. The two-story structure in the center was Clark Hall, the site of Idaho’s first theater performances. The image has a handwritten note saying “Lewiston W.T.”
source: photo is courtesy of Historic Lewiston, Idaho, from the University of Idaho Library, Special Collections.
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To provide against the last it was customary to pile sacks of flour or sand around the beds of those who slept.

Illustrative of the foregoing, a German named Hildebrandt kept a saloon during the winter of 1861, and part of January, 1862, in one of these structures. He was a jovial character, and his place was a favorite resort for both Germans and Americans. His saloon was not a gambling house but was conducted in a quiet, orderly manner. He was known to be the possessor of considerable gold dust, which the Plummer gang determined to appropriate. Between twelve and one o’clock one cold January night the door was burst from its hinges and a volley of revolver shots were fired in the direction of the large bed near the door where Hildebrandt and two friends were asleep. Hildebrandt was killed by the first volley; his friends returned the fire, sprang from bed and escaped with the treasure.

His murderers then proceeded to search the place, and being disappointed in their search, uttering oaths and threats, marched out through the crowd of citizens who had assembled. They were known, but no one attempted to arrest them. The following day, however, a meeting of the citizens was held for the purpose of devising means to arrest the further progress of crime, and for punishing the murderers of Hildebrandt.

This was the first effort made in Lewiston looking to the protection of the people, and as the lawless element composed a large percent of the population in Lewiston, the movement was pregnant with serious possibilities. Henry Plummer took a conspicuous part in the proceedings and made an eloquent plea for conservative action. He explained the horrors of anarchy and urged the assembly not to take any action for which they might afterward be sorry. Since Plummer was known only as a gambler, and but few suspected that he had any connection with the robberies and murders which were of such frequent occurrence, his speech had the effect of dispersing the gathering and prevented an organization from being formed.

Among those who kept saloons at that time was a man named Ford. He was a courageous character, and while in the saloon business to make money, yet he never associated with the rough element; nor did he encourage them to frequent his place, but on the contrary he was their avowed enemy.

When the foregoing meeting was disorganized without taking action to punish the murders of Hildebrandt, he denounced those present as cowards, and accused them of “weakening.”

The murdered man had a brother in Orofino, who, when he learned of the tragedy, at once announced his determination to visit Lewiston for the purpose of wreaking vengeance upon the assassins. They learned of his intention, had a message conveyed to him, stating that If he started to Lewiston he would not reach there alive. The threat, as was intended, had the effect of intimidating him, causing him to abandon his purpose. Thus the assassins escaped justice that time. But they met their Nemesis later.

Nothing except the possible organization of a vigilance committee was feared by the Plummer gang, and for any man to advocate the organization of such an instrument of justice was to mark him for destruction. Hence, Patrick Ford, who was present at the meeting, and who insisted on action being taken, was listed for death. Ford had opened an additional business in Orofino, and it was known soon after Hildebrandt’s murder that he was going up to Orofino with a party of dancing girls to open a dance hall. This was thought to afford a favorable opportunity to dispose of him, so word was sent out to the “shebang” on the road, to intercept him, and to put a stop to his proposed vigilante activities. But Ford, suspecting their intentions, circled around the place and thus avoided the encounter, which doubtless would have been fatal to him.

Having heard of his escape, Plummer, Charlie Ridgley and Reeves mounted horses and followed on the trail, their route being marked with several robberies. When within a few miles of Orofino, two footmen were espied approaching, one being some distance in advance of the other. As the foremost one came up he was ordered to hold up his hands, a command that was readily complied with. He was searched, but nothing of value was found on his person. They then informed him that he would better move along and get out of the country as soon as possible, for the rough mountains were a poor place for a man who was broke.

By the time this search and colloquy were finished, the second pedestrian had arrived; he also was a Frenchman and proved more profitable than the first, for notwithstanding that he stoutly asserted he had no money, their search revealed a well-filled buckskin purse containing approximately one thousand dollars in gold dust. Jubilant over their success, they dashed wildly into Orofino with the impetuosity of a band of stampeded buffaloes. Reining up in front of Ford’s saloon they dismounted; entering the saloon they demanded the barkeeper to serve them with liquor – Ford being out. After they had sated their thirst they proceeded to demolish the furniture, including the bar fixtures. During the confusion Ford arrived, and with a gun in each hand he ordered them to leave the saloon and town. They backed out of the place, gained their horses and rode to a feed-yard, where Ford soon followed, demanding why they had not left town. This demand was answered with a shot, which precipitated a fight in which Ford was killed and Charley Ridgley was severely wounded. The latter was carried to a friendly ranch near by and given such careful treatment that he eventually recovered.

Plummer now changed his headquarters to Florence, from whence his associates made frequent incursions along the different lines of travel leading to and from that camp.

New discoveries having been made in other sections, many began leaving the older camps. Among these were Plummer, Reeves and Ridgley, the latter having recovered sufficiently from his wounds to accompany them to Elk City, their new field. Here he met a coterie of his former California pals, but he suddenly disappeared and was next heard of in Deer Lodge. The former field of his activities was immediately occupied by others of his ilk equally unscrupulous, some of whose deeds will be recorded later.

continued: (Google Drive)
excerpted from: “Early History of Idaho” (pgs 66-110) by William John McConnell, 1839-1925; Idaho. Legislature
[* Note: Montana was part of Idaho Territory until 1864.]
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Henry Plummer’s Gang of Outlaws Born to Be Bad

September 20, 2015 By Syd Albright Special to the CdA Press

Henry Plummer (1832-1864), leader of “The Innocents” outlaw gang.

Jan. 14, 1864 was a grim day in Virginia City, Mont., but 6,000 spectators loved it. “Three-Fingered Jack,” “Club-Foot George,” “The Kentucky Cannibal” and two others were facing vigilante hangmen. As the box was kicked from under Three-Fingered Jack Gallager’s feet and the rope pulled tight around his neck, Kentucky Cannibal Boone Helm awaited his turn, snarling, “I’ll be in hell with you in a minute!”

It was the end of five of the most vicious desperados of the Old West, where law and order were scarce and vigilantes enforced their own brand of justice.

The five that met their maker that day belonged to the infamous Henry Plummer Gang called “The Innocents” that robbed and killed across Oregon, Idaho and Montana before ending up in Virginia City’s Boot Hill cemetery.

Just four days earlier, Plummer – sheriff of all gold camps southeast of the Bitterroots – and two cohorts met similar fates. Ironically, they were hanged on gallows ordered by Plummer. The three bodies were left hanging overnight. In the morning, only Plummer’s body was placed in a coffin and all three were dumped into shallow graves in Hangman’s Gulch nearby. The gallows are still there.

With the discovery of gold in Idaho and Montana, and the rest of the nation distracted by the Civil War, lawmen were few and the frontier West was fertile ground for Civil War deserters, river pirates, outlaws, gamblers and other unsavory types.

In the Virginia City-Bannock area, the population was as high as 10,000 and needed protection. Finally, conditions became so dangerous that town folks called for an election of a sheriff. Plummer and a butcher named Hank Crawford ran for the job. Crawford won and was soon in a shootout with his rival. Plummer was wounded in the right arm but learned to shoot with his left.

Fearing Plummer’s reputation, Crawford left town, never to return, and Plummer was elected instead. He had the opportunity of becoming “Marshall Dillon” but instead put together his band of thugs. Gold-carrying travelers and prospectors were easy prey.

Henry Plummer was born in Addison, Maine, in 1832 and as a young man followed the gold trail to California. Then he started getting into trouble – even when wearing a badge. While serving as marshal in Nevada City, Calif., and defending a woman from her abusive husband he shot and killed him. He was convicted of second-degree murder and sent to San Quentin. But he won an appeal and was pardoned by the governor due to “poor health.”

Then, while attempting a citizen’s arrest, he killed another man who escaped from San Quentin. Plummer surrendered to police who thought the killing was justified and allowed him to leave California.

More killings followed. He won a shootout in Washington Territory, and then in Bannack, Mont., he killed a friend named Jack Cleveland over Electa Bryan, a woman they both wanted to marry. It happened in a crowded saloon, with witnesses calling it self-defense.

One of Plummer’s gang was Club-Foot George Lane who came from Massachusetts, lured west by gold like so many others before him. A shoemaker by trade, he was accused of horse rustling in Lewiston. He turned himself in to the commander at Fort Lapwai, who sentenced him to work building roads. In the fall of 1863, he was again accused of stealing horses and skipped to Virginia City, where he worked mending harnesses and repairing boots.

After he heard about the new vigilante group, he warned Sheriff Plummer. When the vigilantes learned about that, they considered him a spy for the Innocents and put him on their outlaw list.

Also on the list was Three-Fingered Jack Gallager, a New Yorker who drifted west, made crime his calling and in a Montana saloon, unwittingly predicted his own demise. His dark trail started in Denver in 1863 where he killed a man. Next stop was Virginia City, where Henry Plummer pinned a deputy sheriff badge on him and made him part of the Innocents gang.

“Three-Fingered” Jack Gallager’s gravesite, Virginia City, MT.

Another of Plummer’s deputies was a decent man named Donald H. Dillingham. When he learned that the Innocents were plotting robbery, he forewarned the victims. When that was discovered, other deputies killed him on Main Street in front of witnesses.

None of the killers were convicted. That riled the community and gave birth to a vigilante committee. Before 1863 ended, the vigilantes had executed about 20 of Plummer’s outlaws and driven many more from the town.

Sitting in a saloon drinking and playing faro, Three-Fingered Jack said, “While we are here betting, those vigilante sons of bitches are passing sentence on us.”

That same night, the vigilantes met secretly to try the men on their list, agreeing unanimously that there would be only one sentence: Death.

The next morning, the vigilantes fulfilled Three-Fingered Jack’s prediction by rounding up the nicknamed trio along with two others – Frank Parish and Hayes (Haze) Lyons. All five were marched down the street to the unfinished Virginia City Hotel on Wallace Street and lined up underneath a supporting beam. Ropes with a hangman noose were thrown over the beam and boxes placed on the floor.

Club-Foot was the first to be hanged. Before they could kick the box out from under him however, he spotted a friend in the audience, and yelled “Goodbye old fellow, I’m gone,” and jumped off the box to his death.

Forty-three years later, his bones were dug up and his club foot is now on display under glass in the Thompson Hickman Museum in Virginia City.

“Club-Foot” George Lane’s preserved foot now in a museum.

The worst of the Innocents Gang was probably Boone Helm, who had no qualms about eating his companions when it meant his survival. One account described him “by birth and breeding, low, coarse, cruel, animal-like and utterly depraved, and for him no name but ruffian can fitly apply.”

“Kentucky Cannibal” Boone Helm (1828-1864)

Born in Kentucky, he too headed west for the gold, and left a trail of killings in California and Oregon before ending up with Plummer’s killers. He was known for his physical strength, being quarrelsome and having a violent temper.

He traveled with a group of men from The Dalles to Fort Hall, Idaho. In the winter of 1853, they ran into exceptionally cold weather in the mountains of eastern Oregon and were attacked by Indians but survived. By the time they reached Soda Springs on the Bear River, they ran out of food and were forced to eat their horses.

Helm and a man named Burton were stronger than the rest and headed together for Fort Hall. Along the way, Burton gave out and was left at an abandoned cabin. Helm continued but found the old fort abandoned for the winter and no food. He returned to Burton in time to be there when his companion shot himself.

Writer Emerson Hough in 1905 wrote, “He stayed on at this spot, and, like a hyena, preyed upon the dead body of his companion. He ate one leg of the body, and then, wrapping up the other in a piece of old shirt, threw it across his shoulder and started on further east.

“He had, before this on the march, declared to the party that he had practiced cannibalism at an earlier time, and proposed to do so again if it became necessary.”

In the years that followed, Helm robbed and killed his way across Utah, California, Oregon and British Columbia. In the fall of 1862, he was on the Fraser River in B.C. – again facing starvation in the wilderness.

“Once more, he was guilty of eating the body of his companion, whom he is supposed to have slain,” Hough wrote. Canadian authorities shipped Helm to Portland where he was locked up and brought to trial for killing a man called Dutch Fred some time back. All the witnesses however had disappeared and again he escaped justice.

But after he joined Plummer in Montana, his days were numbered. In the vigilante court, he kissed the Bible and swore he never killed anyone in his life.

The next day as 6,000 watched, he hollered, “Every man for his principles! Hurrah for Jeff Davis! Let ‘er rip!” Then, like Club-Foot George before him, he jumped off the hangman’s box…

Cannibal Boone Helm’s final moments

“Boone Helm looked around at his friends placed for death, and told (Three-Fingered) Jack to ‘stop making such a fuss,'” according to one account. “‘There’s no use being afraid to die,’ said he; and indeed there probably never lived a man more actually devoid of all sense of fear. He valued neither the life of others nor his own. He saw that the end had come, and was careless about the rest…”

Facing the noose, he seemed more concerned about a sore finger than the hangman.

Syd Albright is a writer and journalist living in Post Falls.

source: (pay wall) CdA Press
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The Plummer gang

Between October and December 1863, the rate of robberies and murders in and around Alder Gulch increased significantly, and the citizens of Virginia City grew increasingly suspicious of Sheriff Henry Plummer and his associates.

Notable criminal acts by alleged members of the Plummer gang included:

* On October 13, 1863, Lloyd Magruder was killed by road agent Chris Lowrie. Magruder was an Idaho merchant leaving Virginia City with $12,000 in gold dust from goods he had sold there. Several of the men he hired to accompany him back to Lewiston, Idaho were criminals. Four other men in his party were also murdered in camp – Charlie Allen, Robert Chalmers, Horace Chalmers and William Phillips – by Lowrie, Doc Howard, Jem Romaine and William Page.

* On October 26, 1863, the Peabody and Caldwell’s stage was robbed between the Rattlesnake Ranch and Bannack by two road agents believed to be Frank Parish and George Ives. Bill Bunton, the owner of the Rattlesnake Ranch who joined the stage at the ranch, was also complicit in the robbery. The road agents netted $2,800 in gold from the passengers and threatened them all with death if they talked about the robbery.

* On November 13, 1863, a teenage Henry Tilden was hired by Wilbur Sanders and Sidney Edgerton to locate and corral some horses owned by the two men. Near Horse Prairie, Tilden was confronted by three armed road agents. He was carrying very little money and was allowed to depart unmolested, but was warned that if he talked about whom he’d seen, he would be killed. He told Hattie Sanders, Wilbur’s wife, and Sidney Edgerton that he had recognized one of the road agents as Sheriff Henry Plummer. Although Tilden’s account was dismissed because of general respect for Plummer, suspicion in the region increased that Plummer was the leader of a gang of road agents.

* On November 22, 1863, the A.J. Oliver stage was robbed on its way from Virginia City to Bannack by road agents George Ives, “Whiskey Bill” Graves, and Bob Zachary. The robbery netted less than $1,000 in gold and treasury notes. One of the victims, Leroy Southmayd, reported the robbery and identified the road agents to Bannack sheriff Henry Plummer. Members of Plummer’s gang confronted Southmayd on his return trip to Virginia City, but Southmayd was cunning enough to avoid injury or death.

* In November 1863, Conrad Kohrs traveled to Bannack from Deer Lodge, Montana with $5,000 in gold dust to buy cattle. After talking with Sheriff Plummer in Bannack, Kohrs worried about the risk of robbery on his return to Deer Lodge. While his group was camped overnight, his associates found road agents George Ives and “Dutch John” Wagner surveying the camp, and armed with shotguns. A day or two later, Kohrs was riding on horseback to Deer Lodge when Ives and Wagner gave chase. As Kohrs’s horse proved the faster, Kohrs evaded confrontation and reached the safety of Deer Lodge.

* In early December 1863, a three-wagon freight outfit organized by Milton S. Moody was going from Virginia City to Salt Lake City. Among the seven passengers was John Bozeman. It was carrying $80,000 in gold dust and $1,500 in treasury notes. While the outfit was camped on Blacktail Deer Creek, road agents “Dutch John” Wagner and Steve Marshland entered the camp, armed and ready to rob the pack train. Members of the camp had armed themselves well, and Wagner and Marshland were able to escape by claiming they were just looking for lost horses. Two days later, Wagner and Marshland were both wounded in an unsuccessful attempt to rob the train as it crossed the Continental Divide at Rock Creek.

* On December 8, 1863, Anton Holter, who was taking oxen to sell in Virginia City, survived an attempted robbery and murder. When road agents George Ives and Aleck Carter, whom Holter recognized, discovered Holter was not carrying any significant wealth, they tried to shoot him. He avoided being shot and escaped into the brush.

At the time Bannack and Virginia City, Montana were part of a remote region of the Idaho Territory; there was no formal law enforcement or justice system for the area. Some residents suspected that Plummer’s road agent gang was responsible for numerous robberies, attempted robberies, murders and attempted murders in and around Alder Gulch in October–December 1863.

From December 19 to 21, 1863, a public trial was held in Virginia City by a miners’ court for George Ives, the suspected murderer of Nicholas Tiebolt, a young Dutch immigrant. Hundreds of miners from around the area attended the three-day outdoor trial. George Ives was prosecuted by Wilbur F. Sanders, convicted, and hanged on December 21, 1863.

On December 23, 1863, two days after the Ives trial, leading citizens of Virginia City and Bannack formed the Vigilance Committee of Alder Gulch in Virginia City. They included five Virginia City residents, led by Wilbur F. Sanders, and including Major Alvin W. Brockie, John Nye, Captain Nick D. Wall, and Paris Pfouts. Between January 4 and February 3, 1864, the vigilantes arrested and summarily executed at least 20 alleged members of Plummer’s gang.

Shortly after its formation, the Vigilance Committee dispatched a posse of men to search for Aleck Carter, “Whiskey Bill” Graves, and Bill Bunton, known associates of George Ives. The posse was led by vigilante Captain James Williams, the man who had investigated the Nicolas Tiebolt murder. Near the Rattlesnake Ranch on the Ruby River, the posse located “Erastus Red” Yeager and George Brown, both suspected road agents. While traveling under guard back to Virginia City, Yeager made a complete confession, naming the majority of the road agents in Plummer’s gang, and Henry Plummer. The posse found Yeager and Brown to be guilty and hanged them from a cottonwood tree on the Lorrain’s Ranch on the Ruby River.

On January 6, 1864, vigilante Captain Nick Wall and Ben Peabody captured “Dutch John” Wagner, a road agent wounded in the Moody robbery, on the Salt Lake City trail. The vigilantes transported Wagner to Bannack, where he was hanged on January 11, 1864. By this time, Yeager’s confession had mobilized vigilantes against Plummer and his key associates, deputies Buck Stinson and Ned Ray. Plummer, Stinson, and Ray were arrested on the morning of January 10, 1864, and summarily hanged.

The two youngest members of the gang were said to be spared. One was sent back to Bannack to tell the rest to get out of the area, and the other was sent ahead to Lewiston, Idaho to warn gang members to leave that town. (Lewiston was the connection from the Territory to the world, as it had river steamboats that traveled to the coast at Astoria, Oregon via the Snake and Columbia rivers.) Plummer was known to have traveled to Lewiston during the time when he was an elected official in Bannack. The hotel registry records with his signature during this period have been preserved. The large-scale robberies of gold shipments by gangs ended with Plummer’s and the alleged gang members’ deaths. Gang member Clubfoot George was hanged at about the same time with Plummer.

source: Wikipedia
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Henry Plummer and the Montana Vigilantes

Those prospectors were striking it rich, and that $10 million in gold that came out of the ground in and around Virginia City in 1863 was enough to set most men up for life.

It’s no surprise then that highway men rose up in the area to take that gold off their hands. Robberies to and from the finds around Bannack, Virginia City, and the other upstart mining communities increased markedly in 1863, many of them resulting in murders.

What point was there in breaking your back in the mines if all you worked for could be taken at gunpoint? Something would have to be done to stop this, and if the local law couldn’t do it, then Montana’s citizens would take matters into their own hands, giving rise to the vigilantes.

As robberies continued and increased many in the communities began to suspect the attacks were planned and coordinated. And soon the finger was pointed at Bannack’s very own sheriff, Henry Plummer.

continued: excerpt from the book Priests and Prospectors: A History of Montana, Volume II, by Greg Strandberg
[Note: This is a well written story, some details differ a little.]
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Henry Plummer

The lynching of sheriff Henry Plummer poses one of the most haunting mysteries of the Old West. The story is well-known: in 1863, miners at the booming gold camp of Bannack (then in Idaho Territory, now in Montana) elected a sheriff. The soft-spoken young Easterner proved to be an efficient lawman, yet in 1864 he was lynched by vigilantes. Their apologist Thomas Dimsdale explained to the populace that the sheriff had been a ‘very demon’ who directed a band guilty of murdering more than 100 citizens.

The aunt of vigilante prosecutor Wilbur Sanders described the outlaw band’s countless atrocities: ‘The sheriff…was the captain,’ Mary Edgerton wrote, and ‘the victims were…murdered and robbed and then their bodies…cut into pieces and put under the ice, others burned and others buried.’ But, she continued, ‘these murders had not been discovered by the people here.’ Mrs. Edgerton was describing the mutilation of corpses that had never been discovered! Despite the absence of actual bodies and the vigilantes’ failure to so much as question the man hanged for directing the alleged mayhem, Dimsdale branded Plummer a murderous outlaw chief. (The June 1992 issue of Wild West Magazine includes a more traditional account of Plummer.)

Posterity has expressed little concern that the accused sheriff received no trial. Instead, historians have blithely accepted the story given out by the very men who plotted and carried out Plummer’s murder. Research of the past three decades, however, suggests that the Montana vigilantes may well have hanged an innocent man.

In Dimsdale’s 1866 book, The Vigilantes of Montana, he outlined Plummer’s supposed record of crime. It is understandable that posterity would trust Dimsdale; he was a pious teacher and editor. In addition, historians thought that Dimsdale’s name was not on the vigilante roll and therefore naively believed his claim that his book was impartial. And finally, criticism aimed at the vigilantes had been uniformly squelched. There is the glaring example of preacher’s son Bill Hunter, who expressed his outrage by shouting on a mining camp street that pro-vigilantes were ’stranglers.’ Weeks later, Hunter’s frozen corpse was found dangling from the limb of a cottonwood tree.

Despite such warnings to vigilante critics, a few rumblings of dissent did emerge, rumblings that should have raised doubt about the vigilantes’ version of events at Bannack. For example, in 1864 a Sacramento Union correspondent hinted that the gang’s high degree of organization and its atrocities may have been exaggerations. The number of murders, the correspondent suggested, could be fewer than 100, perhaps no more than 10. Decades later, Judge Lew L. Callaway (a friend and admirer of vigilante captain James Williams) admitted that at the time of the lynchings, ‘Some good people considered the vigilantes themselves outlaws.’ As for the true character of the maligned Plummer, Judge Frank Woody described him as ‘the last man that one would take to be a highwayman.’

William Henry Plummer (originally spelled Plumer) was born in 1832 in Washington County, Maine, the youngest child of a prominent pioneer family. His father, older brother and sister’s husband were all sea captains, but the youngest son – intelligent, good-looking, and of slight build – had consumption and could not carry on the seagoing tradition. Thus his parents provided him with what was described as ‘a good early education’ in a village near the family farm. But apparently William Henry shared the adventuresome spirit that had lured his sailing ancestors to such exotic spots as the Canary Islands. In 1851 the 19-year-old caught the California gold fever and on April 27 sailed from New York aboard the U.S. mail ship Illinois. Passengers debarked at Aspinwall, Panama, and by mule train crossed to Panama City to board a ‘floating palace’ named Golden Gate. At precisely midnight on May 21, they steamed into San Francisco. Plummer’s coast-to-coast trip to the gold fields took only 24 days.

His funds depleted, the eager youth had to take a job in a book store, but after a year he had saved enough to buy ranch and mine in Nevada County (about 150 miles northeast of San Francisco). A year later, he traded mine shares for a business in the county seat, and fellow merchants who were impressed by his business integrity persuaded him to run for the position of town marshal and city manager. Since Nevada City was at the time the third largest settlement in California, the job would offer state prominence.

In an election held in May 1856, Plummer won by the narrowest of margins, but it did not take the genteel young merchant long to earn the reputation of a dutiful marshal. ‘He was not only prompt and energetic,’ citizens noted, but ‘when opposed in the performance of his official duties, he became as bold and determined as a lion.’ Among the daring manhunts that kept him constantly in the public eye was his pursuit of Jim Webster, a murder suspect who was terrorizing two counties. ‘Our efficient city Marshal,’ the local newspaper crowed, found Webster and companion ‘asleep in bed, with their pistols under their heads. The pistols were quietly removed and the two…taken into custody.’

In 1857 Plummer handily won re-election. Recognizing the colorful 24-year-old as a rising star, Democrats chose him to run for the state assembly. Considered a shoo-in, he seemed destined to become the youngest man sent to the California Legislature. But in a twist of fate, the Democrats argued and split, one faction launching a devastating smear campaign against the other. Plummer went down to humiliating defeat.

Despite his blackened name, Plummer’s efficiency and charisma might have revived his faltering career had he not become involved in the marital problems of John and Lucy Vedder. John was an inept gambler who not only abused his wife but also at times abandoned her and their sickly daughter. Desperate because he could not find housing in the overcrowded town, John heard that residents in trouble could ‘go to Mr. Plummer…for advice.’ After listening to John’s plea, Plummer vacated his own home and allowed the Vedders to rent it. Soon after, a passing pedestrian heard cries coming from the house, rushed to the door, and saw John beating Lucy. Noting that he was observed, John shouted for the intruder to leave or he would kill him. On another occasion, a neighbor reported watching John knock Lucy to the floor and then ‘pinch her nose until she could scarcely get her breath.’

When the observers notified Plummer of this battery, he provided Lucy with a police guard and also sent a lawyer to counsel her. Although John had once held a knife to Lucy’s throat and demanded that she leave him, he now became livid when she asked the lawyer to arrange a divorce. Ranting that he would kill the marshal, John scurried from store to store asking to borrow a gun. Again, citizens notified Plummer, who confronted the raving husband, assuring him that he was a friend who ‘would not resent it’ even if John ’should spit in his face.’ This unexpected pacifism brought a temporary truce.

On the night Lucy was to catch the departing 2 a.m. stage, Plummer sent her usual guard and at midnight arrived to assume the duty himself. As Plummer sat by the stove watching Lucy pack, John tiptoed up the back stairs, swung open the door, and pointed a pistol at him. ‘Your time is come,’ the gambler said and quickly fired twice. Both shots missed, but when Plummer fired back, he was right on target. Mortally wounded, John fled down the stairs, collapsed, and drew his final breath, and Lucy dashed into the street crying hysterically that the marshal had killed her husband.

After two trials, a jury – which concluded that a marshal who would send a lawyer to break up a marriage must be a seducer – found the defendant guilty of murder in the second degree; the judge pronounced a sentence of 10 years in San Quentin. During the trials, Plummer had been ill with consumption, and under inadequate prison care, his condition rapidly deteriorated. But while he lay in the prison sick ward on the verge of death, a former policeman was hurrying to Sacramento with a petition for the governor. ‘Henry Plummer,’ the document read, ‘is a young man having an excellent character.’ This protest of Plummer’s innocence bore signatures of more than 100 officials of two counties. Governor John Weller immediately granted a pardon, but instead of exonerating Plummer, he chose to cite the less controversial grounds of ‘imminent dangers of death from Consumption.’

The disgraced and ailing ex-lawman returned to Nevada City, gradually recuperated, and then resumed mining. Though he did his best to behave like a miner – jingling ore samples in his pockets and supervising work at his claims – he could not shake his lawman ways. First, he made a successful citizen’s arrest of San Quentin escapee ‘Ten Year’ Smith, and later attempted an arrest of escapee ‘Buckskin Bill’ Riley. When Riley whipped out his bowie knife and slashed the ex-marshal across the forehead, Plummer shot his assailant, killing him instantly. Immediately, Plummer surrendered himself to police, who locked him in a cell and called a surgeon to suture the gaping wound. Police agreed that Plummer had acted in self-defense, but fearing that his prison record would prevent a fair trial, counseled him to leave the area and then allowed him to walk away from the jail.

Eventually Plummer followed the gold stampede trail to Washington Territory. Although he associated with other fugitives from justice, he continued to behave like a peace officer. In the streets of Lewiston, he dissolved a lynch mob with an eloquent address. ‘These men may be guilty of the crime of murder,’ he pled, ‘but we shall not be less guilty if we…put them to death other than by due process of law.’ This heroic effort on behalf of law and order put Plummer in bad stead with the pro-vigilante factions always present in the mining camps.

Soon after, saloonkeeper Patrick Ford ejected Plummer and companions from Ford’s Oro Fino dance hall, followed the men to the stable, and fired at them with two guns. In return fire, Plummer killed Ford, and the dead man’s Irish compatriots raised a mob bent on lynching Plummer. He fled to the eastern side of the Bitterroot Range, but a Sacramento Union correspondent residing in the area reported that ‘all unite in bearing testimony that Plumer acted on the defensive.’

After this third instance in which he had been forced to kill a man in order to stay alive, Plummer felt too disheartened to try to rebuild a career in the West, and decided to return to Maine. While he was at Fort Benton (head of navigation on the Missouri River) waiting for a steamer, the agent of the government farm on the Sun River rushed into the fort, begging for volunteers to defend his family against an anticipated Indian attack on the small stockade. Plummer agreed to ride back to Sun River with agent James Vail, as did Jack Cleveland, a rowdy horse trader who had trailed Plummer all the way from California. During his pursuit, Cleveland had loaded up on whiskey and then boasted at the saloons that he was the great hunter on the trail of his ‘meat,’ Henry Plummer. Cleveland kept from his audiences the information that he had gotten into trouble in California and that his pursuing law officer had been none other than Nevada City’s former marshal, Henry Plummer.

Within the stake walls of the small stockade set on the banks of the Sun River, both Cleveland and Plummer fell desperately in love with Electa Bryan, the delicate and pretty sister-in-law of Vail. Inspired by Electa’s returned love for him, Plummer rekindled his dream for a lofty career on the frontier. In an autumn courtship conducted alongside the peaceful river mirroring massive, yellow-leaved cottonwoods, Plummer promised that in the spring he would return to marry Electa. When he bid his betrothed farewell to head to Bannack, the latest gold discovery site, it was with the resentful Cleveland riding alongside.

Bolstered by whiskey courage, Cleveland finally put his long-awaited plan into effect on January 14, 1863. As Plummer sat warming himself at the fire in Bannack’s Goodrich Hotel saloon, the boisterous horse trader attempted to provoke a shootout. Even after Plummer fired a warning shot into the saloon ceiling, Cleveland would not back down. Twice he went for his revolver, and twice–before he could get off a shot – he took a ball from Plummer’s pistol. Cleveland died of his wounds, but following the code of justice at the mines (that self-defense was judged according to who first went for a weapon) a miners’ jury ‘honorably acquitted’ Plummer.

In May 1863, the same miners elected Plummer the sheriff of Bannack and all surrounding mines. The young man who now became the law at the new mines had received a majority that far surpassed that of any other official. ‘No man,’ a Sacramento Union reporter stated,’stands higher in the estimation of the community than Henry Plummer.’

The newly elected sheriff organized a deputy network throughout the camps and triumphantly rode to Sun River for a June wedding. After he had settled his bride into their log home at Bannack, he convinced citizens of the need for a detention facility, to end the current practice of immediate hangings. With subscriptions of $2.50, which Plummer personally collected, he constructed the first jail in what is now Montana. To his bitter political enemy Nathaniel Langford, Plummer confided, ‘Now that I am married and have something to live for, and hold an official position, I will show you that I can be a good man among good men.’ Even Langford conceded that Plummer had ‘wonderful executive ability’ and ‘was oftener applied to for counsel… than any other resident.’ Constituents praised the sheriff’s ‘exhaustive efforts’ to protect the camps, commenting that ‘crime in the area seemed to be played out.’ And the Union League (a Bannack political group) voted unanimously to recommend Plummer as a deputy U.S. marshal.

The Plummer depicted in early diaries and journals is a far cry from a bloodthirsty demon addicted to robbery and mayhem. Instead, pioneers recall seeing the ‘genteel-mannered’ peace officer, fastidiously neat in his elegant overcoat, patrolling Bannack’s streets at dawn.

But during the final months of 1863, a rash of crime swept the Bannack and Alder Gulch mines – not the alleged 100 murders and robberies, but four alarming occurrences: a murder, two stage robberies and the attempted robbery of a freight caravan. Although Plummer increased his efforts to offer protection, while he was escorting a freighting party to Fort Benton, pro-vigilante forces organized. In an ensuing hanging spree that lasted a month, vigilantes eradicated 21 men suspected of belonging to an outlaw gang. Among the untried victims was Plummer himself, who had publicly stated that he intended to put a stop to the lynchings.

Thus in 1864 a popularly elected law officer in a U.S. territory was, without due process of law, deprived of his inalienable right to life. The matter should not be taken lightly, for there is not a single shred of evidence linking Plummer to any crime committed at Bannack or Alder Gulch. Some historians now regard the rumored outlaw gang as mere myth. On the mining frontier, rumors of huge bands – complete with passwords, spy networks and codes for marking targeted coaches – were rife. In Vigilante Days and Ways, Langford wrote that Plummer had previously headed an outlaw band in Lewiston for three years. In fact, Plummer was residing in California at the time, and preserved documents suggest Plummer spent just three weeks in the Lewiston area.

As for the Bannack outlaw gang, vigilantes claimed that it was ‘the most perfect organization in the West.’ Yet study of the four aforementioned crimes in Plummer’s jurisdiction reveals that there was no connection between them, nor any earmarks of an outlaw organization. The two stages robbed were not even carrying gold shipments, while the botched robbery of the caravan transporting over $75,000 in gold dust was carried out by only two men, one timid and the other inept.

The method that vigilantes used to confirm that local outlaws had united into a fearsome gang was to loop a noose about the neck of suspect ‘Long John’ Franck and repeatedly hoist him until the nearly strangled man gasped that there was indeed a gang. But when Long John attempted to lead vigilantes to gang headquarters, he came up empty-handed. Erastus Yeager, another suspect put under similar duress, supposedly dictated to a vigilante scribe the names of the gang members. Though vigilantes claimed that this dictated membership roll had guided their executions, the authenticity of Yeager’s list is doubtful for several reasons. For one thing, none of the four copies of the list agree with each other. And oddly enough, the name of Deputy John Gallagher, lynched at Virginia City, does not appear on any of the four lists.

In addition to the suspicion aroused by the list discrepancies, the four bungled crimes, the forced confessions, and the lack of connection between the four crimes is the sobering fact that during their entire spree, the vigilantes never once encountered the resistance of the West’s most ‘perfectly organized’ gang. Instead, their own heavily armed band relentlessly tracked the victims through deep snows, victims who were too crippled and ill to walk to the shadowy cottonwood limb or the ominous pole slanted across a corral.

On January 10, 1864, a mob armed with revolvers, rifles and shotguns surrounded the ailing Plummer’s cabin and lured him from his sickbed by threatening to lynch a robbery suspect in custody. Unarmed, Plummer stepped outside and argued for the suspect’s right to a trial, but vigilantes surrounded him and marched him to the pine gallows up the gulch. They provided no drop, but instead bound his hands, slipped a noose over his head, and gradually hoisted him. In all probability, the peace officer who slowly strangled to death on that moonless winter night led no outlaw band, but instead had intentions of stemming the rise of vigilantism in Montana Territory.

Editor’s note: Sheriff Henry Plummer, after 129 years, finally received due process of law. On May 7, 1993, a posthumous trial (Montana’s Twin Bridges Public Schools initiated the event) was held in the Virginia City, Mont., courthouse. The 12 registered voters on the jury were split 6-6 on the verdict, which led Judge Barbara Brook to declare a mistrial. Had Plummer been alive he would have been freed and not tried again.

source: Wild West History 6/12/2006
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Henry Plummer’s scaffold

click for larger image

Idaho History March 11

Stonebraker Family


George W. “Nevada” Stonebraker (14 Sep 1854 – 23 Nov 1942)
Minnie Burtnett Stonebraker (10 Jan 1856 – 19 Jun 1946)


William Allen Stonebraker (29 Jun 1879 – 10 Sep 1932)
Lillburn C. Stonebraker (14 Sep 1882 – Sep 1929)
Sumner Stonebraker (9 Jun 1886 – 26 May 1958)
Leeta Marie Stonebraker Hayden (20 Jul 1890 – 9 Sep 1983)
George Evans Stonebraker (28 Apr 1893 – 2 Apr 1945)
[?] Mrs. R.L. Burckett
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George W. “Nevada” Stonebraker

Birth: 14 Sep 1854 Lake County, California
Death: 23 Nov 1942 (aged 88) Orofino, Clearwater County, Idaho
Burial: Normal Hill Cemetery Lewiston, Nez Perce County, Idaho


Pioneer Officer Called By Death

Orofino Nov 24 – George W. Stonebraker, [88], early day law enforcement officer and a resident of central Idaho for over 50 years, died yesterday at the home of his daughter at Orofino after a year’s illness. The body will be taken to Lewiston tomorrow for interment at Normal Hill Cemetery, with the graveside service at 11 o’clock.

A native of California, born Sept. 18, 1856, Mr. Stonebraker came to Idaho in 1890 and located at Lewiston. He served as deputy sheriff of Nez Perce County in 1890-92 during the administration of Sheriff Fred Kroutinger and later joined the police department of Lewiston.

For several years he resided at Cascade and was engaged in mining. He returned to Lewiston in the middle 20’s and was deputy sheriff for a short time. He participated in running down many criminals when a member of Sheriff Kroutinger’s staff and was instrumental in breaking up cattle and horse theft rings.

Survivors are his wife, Mrs. Minnie Stonebraker, now ill at Clarkston; two sons and two daughters, Sumner Stonebraker, Orofino; George Stonebraker, Cascade; Mrs. Joseph Hayden, Orofino; and Mrs. Roy Burkett, Portland; also several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The body is at Blake Funeral Home.

Lewiston Tribune, November 25, 1942 pg. 3

source: Find a Grave
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Minnie Burtnett Stonebraker

Birth: 10 Jan 1856 Wathena, Doniphan County, Kansas
Death: 19 Jun 1946 (aged 90) Orofino, Clearwater County, Idaho
Burial: Normal Hill Cemetery Lewiston, Nez Perce County, Idaho


Passes Away At The Home of Daughter

Orofino – June 19 – (Ap) Death came at 6:30 this morning for Mrs. Minnie Stonebraker, 91, a resident of this area since the 1890’s when she came here with her husband, the late George Stonebraker. Bedridden since 1939, she died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. J. P. Hayden, Brown Avenue.

Mrs. Stonebraker was born at Wathena, Kans., Jan. 10, 1856, and came to the Genesee area where she and her husband farmed for several years before moving to Lewiston. With the exception of a few years in Spokane, she spent the rest of her life in Lewiston and Orofino. Her husband died in 1942.

Three sons also preceded her in death; L.C. (Toad) Stonebraker, well known in the Orofino area as a sports shop and pool hall proprietor, died in 1929; Allen, a packer in the Cascade area, died on the trail in 1931; and George, a Cascade stockman and businessman in Cascade, died of a gunshot wound there a year ago.

She is survived by one son, Sumner, John Day, Ore.; two daughters, Mrs. R.L. Burckett, St. Helens, Ore.; and Mrs. J.P. Hayden, here; eleven grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.

Lewiston Tribune June 20, 1946, pg. 7

source: Find a Grave
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William Allen Stonebraker

Certificate of Death

Photo added by aisxray

Birth: 29 Jun 1882 [1879 Aden, California per family history]
Death: 10 Sep 1932 Idaho County, Idaho
Burial: Normal Hill Cemetery Lewiston, Nez Perce County, Idaho
Son of George Stonebraker (born in CA) and Minnie Butnell ? (born in KS)
Husband of Golda Stonebraker

source: Find a Grave
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1930 South Fork Census

Allan Stonebraker Male 48 Married White Head 1882 [1879] California
Golda M Stonebraker Female 30 Married White Wife 1900 Missouri
Adolph Stonebraker Male 13 Single White Stepson 1917 Missouri

source: Family Search page 3 (pay wall)
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Allen Stonebraker Photos

These photos were taken by Wm Allen Stonebraker during his life as a packer and guide 1900 – 1932 in Central Idaho’s rugged and remote Salmon River area. Using primitive camera equipment in harsh conditions, he provided a rare record of mining history in Idaho’s extreme backcountry. During Stonebraker’s time, supplies were moved by mules, dogs, horses, pack bridges and ferrys. A well-known pioneering figure in Central Idaho, Al Stonebraker helped build the Three Blaze Trail from the north side of the Salmon River into the Thunder Mountain gold-mine area in about 1902. He then profited by packing in mail and supplies to the miners and residents from his home in Stites, ID, where the railroad ended. In his later years he operated a dude ranch from his homesite [in Chamberlain Basin]. He was on his way into the Wardenhoff mine in Sept. 1933 with a pack string when he died of a heart attack at a camp 12 miles from his ranch. He was 53. It took more than 12 hours to pack his body out by stock to his log-cabin home, where a landing strip allowed pilot Bob King transport it to Grangeville. Stonebraker’s cabin still stands today in the very remote area of Idaho now federally designated as the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area. It is only accessible by horseback, foot or air. The Payette National Forest oversees the cabin’s maintenance. I donated all of Al Stonebraker’s more than 600 photos to the University of Idaho Library’s Special Archives Northwest Collection.

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William Allen (“Al”) Stonebraker


William Allen (“Al”) Stonebraker was born in Aden, California, in 1879 to parents George and Minnie Stonebraker. Al had six siblings; many of them appear in this collection. In 1898, Al Stonebraker arrived in the Chamberlain Basin and was known as one of the original homesteaders in the area. He established a homestead on approximately 409 acres in what is now part of the Payette National Forest and the Frank Church-River of No Return wilderness, currently owned by Idaho Fish and Game.

Many of Al Stonebraker’s businesses revolved around the Idaho mining boom at the turn of the twentieth century. The Chamberlain Basin homestead was originally built as a working ranch to supply beef to the mining communities along the Salmon River, and was one of the only ranches to exist after the mining boom in nearby Thunder Mountain. The Stonebraker property also included a mining prospect nearby for copper, gold and silver.

Group at Stonebraker Ranch
Date 1929-07-14
Description Standing outside porch, left to right: W.A.(Al) Stonebraker and wife Golda, Sumner Stonebraker, Adolph Stonebraker, Mrs. and Mr. Summerland, Mr. Ely, Mr. Hines (mining cook).
source: Stonebraker Photograph Collection, University of Idaho Library Digital Initiatives

As the Thunder Mountain gold rush boom developed, the need for a single direct route from the northwestern area became evident. In 1900, a sum of $3,000 was collected from prospectors, miners, and businessmen to construct a route. By this time, Stonebraker was an experienced freighter/packer in the Gospel Hump gold area. Stonebraker and William Campbell were awarded the contract for location and construction of a trail from Grangeville to Dixie across the Salmon River and the Chamberlain Basin wilderness to the Monumental Creek trail, which led to Thunder Mountain. Named the Three Blaze Trail, the route met the Salmon River on the river’s north bank, about twelve miles southeast of Dixie. Campbell saw an opportunity to prosper by transporting travelers across the river. With the help of the trail crew (including Stonebraker), he built a ferryboat with a hand-crank, winch-and-pulley system to take miners and their stock across the river in relative safety. Photographs of the pulley system can be found in the digital collection.

Pack Train at Stonebraker Ranch
Date 1903
Description Two men ride horses in the snow outside of a barn at the Stonebraker Ranch in the Chamberlain Basin.
source: Stonebraker Photograph Collection, University of Idaho Library Digital Initiatives

Stonebraker photographed parts of the Three Blaze Trail and his business as a pack train operator in the early 1900s. The trail ran from the present town of Grangeville to Buffalo Hump country, through Dixie to the mouth of Trout Creek on the Salmon River. They followed up Little Trout Creek to the present site of Burnt Knob Lookout, then along Highline Ridge south of Flossie Lake to the crossing of Chamberlain Creek at the mouth of Moose Creek. Through Moose Creek Meadows, the trail climbed the ridge east of Moose Creek and continued on top to Ramey Ridge. From Ramey Ridge the trail came to the mouth of Ramey Creek, then down Big Creek to the mouth of Monumental Creek and up Monumental Creek to the village of Roosevelt. Roosevelt was a mining town that later became a lake after a landslide devastated the town. Roosevelt itself had many substantial buildings, including a post office and laundry, and every saloon had a piano in spite of the circumstance that everything had to be freighted in on mule back. Photographs of Roosevelt both as an active community and after the landslide are part of this digital collection.

W.A. Stonebraker with Dogsled Team
Date 1929
Description W.A. Stonebraker (left) poses with two men and a team of dogs pulling supplies through the snow near the corral at the Stonebraker Ranch in the Chamberlain Basin.
source: Stonebraker Photograph Collection, University of Idaho Library Digital Initiatives

His father, George Stonebraker, owned a group of mining claims near Thunder Mountain, called the Juno Group of Claims. The prospect included discovery and mining of gold, copper, and nickel. Stonebraker took a number of photographs of the Juno property before his father sold it in 1902.

Juno Group of Claims Cabin
Date 1903
Description A log cabin is surrounded by tents and laundry hanging on a clothesline at the Stonebraker’s Juno Group of Claims property near Thunder Mountain.
source: Stonebraker Photograph Collection, University of Idaho Library Digital Initiatives
Note: Off the West Fork of Monumental on the trail is the left over of a cabin there and an old piece of equipment was there. That was old George’s claim and left it in 1902. (personal correspondence.)

In addition to his business as a pack train operator for people interested in getting to Thunder Mountain, Stonebraker also ran a profitable pack train business for mail and supplies to miners from his home in Stites (south of Kooskia), where the Northern Pacific Railroad ran. Stonebraker took photographs of his home in Stites, as well as construction of the town, street scenes, railroad, and family. He also took photographs of his travels on the trail, including hunting and camping scenes.

National Guard airplane at Stonebraker Ranch
Date 1928-08-21
Description A young boy Adolph “Bill” (left) and mother Golda stand near a National Guard 116th Observation Squadron. The plane reads “U.S. Army Consolidated 0-17 NG 28-360” on its side. Plane is parked in the Chamberlain Basin meadow near the Stonebraker Ranch. The pilot was Nick Mamer.
source: Stonebraker Photograph Collection, University of Idaho Library Digital Initiatives

Stonebraker later converted his homestead into a dude ranch. This area was also an attractive hunting area due to its isolation. Because of this, Stonebraker later ran a big-game hunting business from his ranch. He also took groups out to the property of the Werdenhoff Mine near Big Creek for hunting trips (40 miles by trail from his ranch in Chamberlain Basin). Hunters would travel by pack train until 1928, when flights were available to the Chamberlain Basin on a strip of his land. Stonebraker took photographs of both big-game hunting trips and the first airplane in the Chamberlain Basin in 1928, piloted by Nick Mamer of Spokane. The Chamberlain landing field underwent major improvements in 1940 and was purchased by the Forest Service in 1975.

First Airplane in Chamberlain Basin
Date 1928-08-21
Description Pilot Nick Mamer (of Spokane, Washington) stands next to his airplane in the Stonebraker Ranch meadow. The airplane was a consolidated fleet with the National Guard. A man sits on a horse near the airplane.
source: Stonebraker Photograph Collection, University of Idaho Library Digital Initiatives

Stonebraker died at the age of 53 in 1932 while on a pack train trip near Mosquito Springs in Idaho County, about 12 miles from his ranch, due to heart failure. He left behind his second wife, Golda, and her son Bill (Adolph) (he was first married to Lillian Carter who died in the 1910s). Stonebraker Ranch was sold by Golda in 1933 or 1934, and was purchased by the Forest Service in 1975. Stonebraker’s cabin still stands today in the very remote area of Idaho now federally designated as the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area. It is only accessible by horseback, foot or air. The Payette National Forest oversees the cabin’s maintenance.

W.A. Stonebraker and Mule Pack Train
Date 1931-09-01
Description Al Stonebraker stands outside of his corral at the Stonebraker Ranch. A mule pack train waits behind him.
source: Stonebraker Photograph Collection, University of Idaho Library Digital Initiatives

Some of Al Stonebraker’s siblings occur within this history. A few facts worth mentioning as related to the collection:

* Brother Lillburn C. (“Tude”) Stonebraker operated a pack string business from Lardo to Thunder Mountain and lived in Orofino. He was a member of the firm Stonebraker Brothers.
* Brothers George Stonebraker, Jr. and Sumner (“Governor”) Stonebraker led dogsled teams and pack train operations near Cascade.
* Brother George Stonebraker, Jr. was shot to death by his wife at his ranch in 1945. It made news headlines across the state; his wife Thelma was found not guilty.

Researched and written by Erin Passehl-Stoddart, 2014.
source: University of Idaho
— —

Stonebraker Photograph Collection

Ranching, Hunting, and Pack Train Operations in North Central Idaho, 1900-1931

This collection consists of 540 photographs from the William Allen Stonebraker Collection, which was donated to the University of Idaho Library in 2003. Stonebraker took photographs in Central Idaho’s remote Salmon River and Frank Church-River of No Return areas at the turn of the twentieth century between 1900 and 1931. The collection contains images of the Stonebraker Ranch and homestead in the Chamberlain Basin, his businesses (dude ranch, pack train and dogsled operations, mining, big game hunting) as well as wildlife, scenic views, and early aircraft operation.

link: University of Idaho
— — — —

Chamberlain Basin

Chamberlain Basin lies at the convergence of several pack trails that provided a network of supply lines throughout this backcountry.

At the turn of the century, miners who were traveling between the mines of north-central Idaho used the trails and passed through the Basin. One such trail, the Three Blaze Trail, was built in 1900 [by Al Stonebraker], funded by prospectors, miners, packers, and businessmen for transportation, communication, and supply lines to the mines. It is still used and maintained today as a vital route into the backcountry.

… In the spring of 1906, Ranger David Laing built the Chamberlain Ranger Station (no longer extant) at the south end of Chamberlain Meadow, on the north side of Ranch Creek.

Various rudimentary buildings were used as the Ranger’s residences in the early years. In the spring of 1916, Al Stonebreaker, under USFS contract, built a two-room, log ranger station (no longer extant) 2,000 yards southeast of the current Chamberlain Guard Station, for $350, under direction of Ranger Frank Foster.

In 1925, the USFS cleared lands near the Ranger Station for hay and pastureland. In 1930, an officer in fire control wrote to say, “that the Forest Service was studying the possibilities of opening more airstrips in the backcountry so fire crews could be stationed in the hinterlands during fire season and transported and supplied by air.” As a result of this policy, the Chamberlain meadowlands were gradually improved so that by 1932, it also served as an emergency airstrip (prior to that time Forest personnel used an airstrip at Stonebreaker’s ranch).

excerpted from: Chamberlain Ranger Station Historic District
— — — — — — — — — —

Lillburn C. “L.C./Toad” Stonebraker

Photo added by D Bashaw

Birth: 14 Sep 1882 Grants Pass, Josephine County, Oregon
Death: Sep 1929 (aged 46-47) Hot Lake, Union County, Oregon
Burial: Normal Hill Cemetery Lewiston, Nez Perce County, Idaho


L.C. Stonebraker of Orofino Passes Away

Orofino. Sept 4- Word was received here today of the death at Hot Lake, Ore., yesterday of L.C. Stonebraker proprietor of the pool hall here. Mr. Stonebraker had gone to Hot Lake for treatment for gallstones from which he was a chronic sufferer.

Funeral services will be held here Friday afternoon directed by the Masonic Lodge and the body taken to Lewiston Saturday morning where the Knights of Pythias will conduct a brief service prior to interment in the mausoleum in Normal Hill Cemetery.

Mr. Stonebraker with his brother here owned the largest pack train in the United States.

He is survived by his widow Mrs. Daisy Stonebraker; four children, Cora, Margy, Meryl and Allyne Stonebraker; a sister Minnie, Seattle; a sister Mrs. Leta Hayden, Orofino; three brothers, George Stonebraker, Cascade; Alex Stonebraker, Spokane area, S Stonebraker, Orofino and by father George Stonebraker, Chamberlin Basin.

A Spokane airplane left here today to return tomorrow with the father.

Lewiston Tribune September 05, 1929, pg.2
— —

Stonebraker Rites To Be Held This Afternoon

Orofino, Sept 5 – Funeral services will be conducted tomorrow afternoon for L.C. Stonebraker who died Tuesday at Hot Lake, Ore. The body arrived here at 10 a.m. today from Hot Lake.

Mr. Stonbraker was born at Grants Pass, Ore., September 14, 1882. When a small boy he came to Lewiston where he attended the Lewiston Schools and grew to manhood.

For two years Mr. Stonbraker operated a hotel at Ferdinand.

For 17 years Mr. Stonebraker was associated with his brothers under the firm name of Stonebraker Brothers, as packers and contractors for the government. For the last six years, he conducted a pool hall and confectionary in Orofino.

He leaves a widow and four children, Mrs. Howard McElroy, Orofino; Merle, 16; Cora, 13; and Margery, 10. The parents, Mr. and Mrs. George Stonbraker and three brothers and two sisters also survive, Allen, Sumner, George, Jr., Mrs. Joe Hayden and Miss Minnie Stonebraker, Seattle. All the family will be in attendance at the funeral services.

Lewiston Tribune September 06, 1929, pg.3

source: Find a Grave
— —

Burros from Stonebraker pack train

Date 1903
Description Lillburn “Tude” Stonebraker and the family pet burros stand outside the Stonebraker home in Stites, Idaho.

source: Stonebraker Photograph Collection, University of Idaho Library Digital Initiatives
— — — — — — — — — —

Sumner Stonebraker

Photo added by Arthur Allen Moore III

Birth: 9 Jun 1886
Death: 26 May 1958 (aged 71)
Burial: Rest Lawn Cemetery John Day, Grant County, Oregon
— —

Mushers On Way

Orofino, Nov. 17 – George and Sumner Stonebraker stopped here today enroute to Mazama, Washington, with 12 huskies and two specially constructed dog sleads which will be used in hauling mail and supplies to Azurite mine, 50 miles west of Winthrop, Washington, during the winter months…..

Newspaper Lewiston Monthly Tribune 18 November 1936
— —

1910 United States Federal Census

Name: Sumner Stonebraker
Age in 1910: 22
Birthplace: Oregon
Relation to Head of House: Head
Father’s Birth Place: California
Mother’s Birth Place: Ohio
Spouse’s Name: Francis
Home in 1910: Warm Springs, Idaho Co., Idaho
Marital Status: Married
Race: White
Gender: Male

Household Members:
Sumner Stonebraker 22
Francis Stonebraker 19
L. Albridge Stonebraker 2 [Elbridge Lloyd Stonebraker]
— —

World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918

Name: Sumner Stonebraker
City: Stites
County: Idaho
State: Idaho
Birthplace: Oregon
Birth Date: 9 Jun 1887
Race: Caucasian (White)
Marital Status: Married / One Child
Filed: 31 May 1917
Roll: 1452216
— —

Oregon Death Index, 1903-98

Name: Stonebraker, Sumner
County: Umatilla
Death Date: 26 May 1958
Spouse: Dora (Dora Julia McCaffrey)

source: Find a Grave
— —

Sumner Stonebraker

Date 1902
Description Sumner Stonebraker (right) poses with an unidentified man (who appears in many photographs) near the exterior of a building. “Honey get your gun.”

source: Stonebraker Photograph Collection, University of Idaho Library Digital Initiatives
— —

Sumner Stonebraker with Wagon

Date 1931-09-01
Description Sumner Stonebraker stands in an empty wagon pulled by two horses in the meadow near the Stonebraker Ranch.

source: Stonebraker Photograph Collection, University of Idaho Library Digital Initiatives
— — — — — — — — — —

Leeta Marie Stonebraker Hayden

Birth: 20 Jul 1890 Rathdrum, Kootenai County, Idaho
Death: 9 Sep 1983 (aged 93) Lewiston, Nez Perce County
Burial: Normal Hill Cemetery Lewiston, Nez Perce County


Leeta was born July 20, 1890, at Rathdrum to George N. and Minnie Stonebraker. She spent part of her early childhood there and the rest at Lewiston.

She married Joseph P. Hayden Feb. 7, 1912, at Lewiston and they lived and farmed near Hatwai Creek. She was a homemaker then.

From 1926 to 1946 they lived at Orofino, where she worked as a nurse in a hospital, in a nursing home and cared for patients in her home for William Robertson, a physician.

They moved to Clarkston in 1946 and lived there until 1963 when they moved to Lewiston. They left Lewiston in 1970 and lived in Colfax until 1973. She was a homemaker from 1946 to 1973.

She lived in area nursing homes from 1973 to 1980. Her husband died Jan 18, 1978. She moved to the Orchards Villa Nursing home in 1980 and had lived there since.

She was a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.

She is survived by three daughters, Cecilia, Kathryn, and Barbara; nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Lewiston Tribune September 11, 1983, pg. 20

source: Find a Grave
— — — — — — — — — —

George Evans Stonebraker

Photo added by Kerry

Birth: 28 Apr 1893
Death: 2 Apr 1945 (aged 51) Cascade, Valley County, Idaho
Burial: Normal Hill Cemetery Lewiston, Nez Perce County, Idaho

[Emma first wife]*
Married Irene L. Bartlett 17 Dec 1929, Colfax, Whitman County, Wa
Married Thelma Elvina Harp 31 Dec 1936 Iron County, UT
[Walter “Bud Stonebraker]*
Wanda Georgene Stonebraker Wilson* 1919–2009
Beverly B. Stonebraker Fields* 1932–1998
[Betty Lou]*

source: Find a Grave
*(personal correspondence)
— —

Hunting with Juno

Date 1903
Description George Stonebraker, Jr. with dog named Juno next to the Clearwater River.

source: Stonebraker Photograph Collection, University of Idaho Library Digital Initiatives
— —

1930 Census Yellow Pine Precinct

Geo Stonebraker Male 36 Married White Head 1894 Idaho

source: Family Search (pay wall)
— —

George Stonebraker

George’s airport was at Crawford, on the road to Yellow Pine, just out of Cascade past the Davis house. You can still see where the tracks were for the hanger door [now] a cow pasture. That is where Dad and Bud Stonebraker learned to fly. … Bud solo’d at 16. … George was quite the freighter and ran the mail, he had a string of dogs.”
“One of the planes they flew at Crawford and the baby walking is one of us kids, about 1940.”
(personal correspondence)
— — — —

Walter Bud Stonebraker

Bud Stonebraker and Rex Lanham at Cabin Creek

Bud (Walter) Stonebraker was was George Jr’s son. Bud was born about 1922. Bud and Rex Lanham were lifelong friends.

(from personal correspondence)
— — — — — — — — — —

Thelma Stonebreaker

Held for Trial

Cascade, Idaho, April 21, 1945 (AP) — Comely Mrs. Thelma Stonebraker, 31, was bound over to district court Saturday on a charge of murdering her prominent rancher husband, George Stonebraker, at their ranch home near here April 2. Mrs. Stonebraker waived a preliminary hearing and was ordered held on a first degree murder charge for the first term of district court next month by Probate Judge W. D. Cromwell.

April 22, 1945 The Post-Register from Idaho Falls, Idaho Page 10
— —

First Degree Murder Confronts Idahoan

Cascade, Ida., May 3, 1945 (AP) — Mrs. Thelma Stonebraker, 31, will face trial June 4 on a charge of first degree murder of her husband. George Stonebraker, last April 12. Mrs. Stonebraker was arraigned before District Judge A. O. Button yesterday and pleaded innocent to the charge. Stonebraker was shot and killed at the Stonebraker ranch home seven miles north of here.

May 3, 1945 The Ogden Standard-Examiner from Ogden, Utah Page 10
— —

Murder Trial To Open At Cascade

Cascade, Ida., June 15. – (AP) Attractive Thelma Stonebraker goes on trial here Monday for shooting her husband to death during a dinner party at their ranch home last April 2.

Feeney says the 31-year-old Mrs. Stonebraker shot and killed her husband, George Stonebraker, 52, while several guests looked on.

Stonebraker, thrice-married, was widely known for the dog teams he owned in former years. A former Lewiston man, he operated a trucking firm here for several years before retiring to his ranch.

McCarty to Appear

The trial, once postponed because continued rain has hampered farming activity in this predominately agricultural community, will pit two leaders in the Idaho Senate against prosecutor Feeney and a special prosecutor from Lewiston, Leo McCarty.

The defense attorneys retained by Mrs. Stonebraker are State Sen. Fred Taylor, Ada County Republican and Sen. George Donart, Washington County Democrat. Taylor was the Valley County prosecutor here for several years.

Under the first-degree murder charge, the jury may return one of five verdicts- first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter or innocent.

Followed Quarrel

The shooting followed a quarrel between Mr. and Mrs. Stonebraker. Feeney said Mrs. Stonebraker left the room but returned in a few moments with a .38 caliber automatic pistol.

She fired twice, Feeney said, one bullet entering her husband’s arm and the other entering his chest, causing almost immediate death.

Mrs. Stonebraker has been held without bond in the Ada County jail at Boise because of inadequate facilities for women in the Valley County jail.

District Judge A.O. Sutton of Weiser will preside at the trial.

Lewiston Tribune June 16, 1945, pg.2
— —

Wife’s Murder Trial to Start

Cascade, Idaho, June 16, 1945 (GT) — Attractive Thelma Stonebraker goes on trial here Monday for shooting her husband to death during a dinner party at their ranch home last April 2. She is charged by Prosecutor Thomas Feeney with first degree murder. Feeney says the 31 year old Mrs. Stonebraker shot and killed her husband, George Stonebraker, 52, while several guests looked on. Stonebraker, thrice married, was widely known for the dog teams he owned in former years.

June 17, 1945 The Post-Register from Idaho Falls, Idaho Page 3 [h/t CG]
— —

Witness Relates Murder Row

Cascade, Idaho, June 21, 1945 (AP) A family row in which George Stonebraker called his wife vile names and after which she said “sometimes I’d like to shoot him,” preceded the killing of the wealthy dog-team, racer, witnesses said as the murder trial of Mrs. Thelma Stonebraker continued today. Miss Helen Barney, who said she had been invited to the Stonebraker ranch home to play the piano for dancing during the April 2 party at which Stonebraker was shot, told the court the guests “had all been drinking.” The 31-year-old Mrs. Stonebraker had staggered and was assisted by one of the guests when her husband remarked “let her fall . . .” and called her a vile name, Miss Barney testified. “I talked to her alone after that and Thelma said, ‘George is awful mean. Sometimes I’d like to shoot him,’ ” the witness continued. Betty Lou, six-year-old daughter of the accused woman, began to cry when her mother announced she was going to leave, prompting Stonebraker to remark to the child, “You don’t want to go with that no good – – – -” said Miss Barney. “Then Thelma came down the stairs,” Miss Barney related. “She had a gun and she walked about four feet into the living room. She held it up and shot George. “He fell on the floor out of the Morris chair, and he said, ‘Oh, my God, Thelma.’ He was trying to crawl to the davenport, and Thelma shot him again through the arm.” Verne Thompson, another witness, quoted Mrs. Stonebraker as having said after the shooting, “Why did I kill him when I love him so? I hope I hang for it.” Mrs. Stonebraker, an attractive brunette, broke down when the bullet shattered wrist watch of her husband was introduced as evidence yesterday.

June 21, 1945 The Ogden Standard-Examiner from Ogden, Utah Page 9
— —

‘Mind Vacant’ Says Defense

Cascade, Idaho, June 21, 1945 (AP) — The state completed its testimony Thursday in an attempt to prove that Thelma Stonebraker murdered her husband, George Stonebraker, but George Donart, defense attorney, told the jury he would show that the shapely, dark haired Cascade woman should be acquitted “because her mind went vacant’’ at the time of the shooting. Donart asserted that Stonebraker, 52, rancher and former truck-line owner, whispered to his wife the night that he was shot and killed – April 2 – “I’m going to beat you up as soon as the company goes.”

Asks Acquittal

“And,” said Donart, “from the time George Stonebraker promised her that beating her mind went vacant until after the shooting. For that reason we are asking for an acquittal of Thelma Stonebraker.” Prosecutor Thomas Feeney has charged Mrs. Stonebraker, 31, with first degree murder. Idaho law makes it discretionary with the jury whether the punishment on conviction shall be hanging or life imprisonment. Feeney failed to say in his address to the jury what punishment he would ask, and he has previously declined to tell reporters what his recommendation would be. Donart told the jury that Mrs. Stonebraker left her husband and went to Weiser several days after “he beat her’’ on January 10 this year, but said Donart, Stonebraker persuaded her to return to him by flatly refusing to allow her to retain custody of their six year old daughter, Betty Lou.

Wants Property

A defense witness, Jess Beutel, who was hired man at the Stonebraker ranch, related a conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Stonebraker after she returned from Weiser. “George first asked her to sign over all of their property to him,” Beutel said. “Thelma said she would be glad to if he would let her take Betty Lou, but he refused. Then she decided to stay.” Beutel said he saw Mrs. Stonebraker four days after January 10 when Donart said Stonebraker beat her. “She had a badly swollen ear and bruises,” Beutel said.

Tells of Shooting

The hired man said he witnessed the April 2 shooting of Stonebraker. “When Thelma came into the room with the gun her eyes seemed all white and glassy looking,” he related. “I couldn’t see any pupils in her eyes and her face was very pale.” Beutel said he recalled only one similar instance when Mrs. Stonebraker appeared the same way “That was when she was helping with the haying and she put too much hay in the chopper. George threw a pitchfork at her and said he should wrap it around her neck. She walked away that time, though.” The last witness for the state was Charles Jensen, who said he witnessed the shooting. He related what he said was a conversation with Mrs. Stonebraker in the Ada county jail at Boise April 27. “She told me she knew what she had done and she was ready to suffer for It,” Jensen said. Mrs. Stonebraker restrained her emotions at Thursday’s sessions and refrained from breaking into tears as she did Wednesday. She trembled visibly, however, as witnesses told of her relations with Stonebraker. The prosecution began its case Wednesday.

Had Been Drinking

Miss Helen Barney, who said she had been invited to the Stonebraker ranch home to play the piano for dancing during the April 2 party at which Stonebraker was shot, told the court the guests “had all been drinking.” Miss Barney testified that murder trial of Mrs. Thelma Stonebraker Wednesday that George Stonebraker called his wife vile names before the attractive brunet left the room, returned with a gun and shot him to death. Another witness, Verne Thompson, who arrived later said, Mrs. Stonebraker exclaimed, “why did I kill him when I love him so? I hope I hang for it.” Mrs. Stonebraker, 31, wept several times during the testimony and when Prosecutor Thomas Feeney introduced Stonebraker’s clothing and bullet shattered wrist watch, she broke down completely. She is accused of first degree murder. District Judge A. O. Sutton ordered a 10 minute recess then at the request of the defense attorney, Fred Taylor of Boise. When Mrs. Stonebraker reentered the courtroom she was calm but her face was drawn and white.

June 21, 1945 The Post-Register from Idaho Falls, Idaho Page 11
— —

Wife Tells Of Threats

Cascade, Idaho, June 22, 1945 (AP) — Dark haired Thelma Stonebraker Friday told an all male jury trying her on charges of murdering her husband that George Stonebraker twice threatened to kill her and their six year old daughter if she ever left with the child. Taking the witness stand in her own defense, the 31 year old Cascade woman calmly told the silent courtroom of her hectic marital life, but broke down when she started to describe events leading up to the night of April 2 when she is accused of shooting her [husband at a] dinner party at their ranch home near here.

June 22, 1945 The Post-Register from Idaho Falls, Idaho Page 1
— —

Idaho Murder Trial Near End

Cascade, Idaho, June 23 (AP) –The jury in the Thelma Stonebreaker murder trial probably will begin considering the case late today. The prosecution and defense attorneys began making their closing statements to the jury this morning. District Judge A. O. Button will deliver his instructions to the jury immediately following. The defense rested yesterday evening after bringing to the stand two physicians who said that fear of long standing can lead to temporary “unconsciousness or amnesia.” The defense attorneys — George Donart of Weiser and Fred Taylor of Boise — have built their case around testimony that the mind of Mrs. Stonebreaker, comely 31-year-old brunette, “was vacant” when her husband was shot and killed in the living room of their ranch home during a dinner party the night of April 2. The prosecution has presented witnesses – who said they saw Mrs. Stonebreaker fire the two shots that killed her husband. Mrs. Stonebreaker herself said yesterday she could remember nothing from the time her husband whispered to her the night of the party that “when the company leaves I’ll beat you to death,” until she found herself by the davenport where the body of her husband lay shot through the heart and the left side.

June 23, 1945 The Ogden Standard-Examiner from Ogden, Utah Page 1
— — — —

George Stonebraker and Thelma (Harp) Stonebraker

A romance that was nurtured at the Idanha ended in homicide at Cascade. Valley County people favored the Idanha. Perhaps because pioneers in stock raising and lumber production had stayed at McMillan’s hotel, younger generations stayed there. Weekend groups of half a dozen were often there, having fun and bringing news of such sled-dog racers from their vicinity as Smoky Stover and Thula Chelan, famous for winning at such places as Ashton, Idaho, and Truckee, California.

Among the Long Valley people attending an Idanha weekend in the 1930s were George Stonebraker of Cascade and Thelma Harp. Friendship that began in McCall advanced when they met again with mutual friends at the Idanha, and romance ripened into marriage. Evidence at a district court trial in Cascade in 1945 shows the marriage was not a happy one. Thelma shot George at their ranch home near Cascade in the presence of several dinner guests. He died on the spot. A witness said George had called Thelma vile names. She burst into tears and went to her room. Soon “the attractive brunette,” as a newswriter identified her, “returned with a gun and shot George twice.” Later she said, “Why did I kill him when I love him so much? I hope I hang for it.” She didn’t.

Mrs. Stonebraker was defended by George Donart and Fred Taylor. Thomas Feeney prosecuted. Judge A. O. Sutton presided.

Temporary insanity was the primary argument presented by the defense. Testimony suggested that George had threatened Thelma several times, once with a pitch-fork. Two doctors said she had temporary amnesia on the night of the shooting.

A secondary defense, not offered by attorneys but highlighted by the press, was the beauty of Mrs. Stonebraker. Time after time reporters referred to her as attractive, comely, and shapely. The jury deliberated less than two hours and found her not guilty. The late Andy Anderson, a logging contractor, jumped up at the verdict and yelled, “Hooray!” Judge Sutton admonished him to be quiet. Anderson left the courtroom. He stuck his head in the window and shouted another “hooray.”

The press still appeared more excited about the defendant’s apearance than her freedom. “Mrs. Stonebraker, 31, has dark brown hair which she brushes until it glistens,” a story said. “She is of medium build with a shapely figure and comely legs.”

source: “The Idanha: Guests and Ghosts of an Historic Idaho Inn”, By Dick D’Easum
— — — — — — — — — —

Notes on Andy Anderson

During Thelma’s sentencing, Andy Anderson was the first river guide who took boats and people down the Middle Fork River. He had a ranch at the end of the road into Meyers Cove and packed and boated. He was rather famous back country packer also.

Blackadar said. L. L. “Andy” Anderson of Challis, Idaho, who claims to have taken the first paying customers down the Middle Fork in 1946, says the latest he had floated the river was a Nov. 22, and he never had trouble with ice. He said the river is more treacherous at its lowest level in August.

Ted Anderson, who was the Middle Fork river manager for 20 years between 1974 and 1994, remembers taking his first trip down the Middle Fork in 1945. His dad, Andy Anderson, was one of the early outfitters running the Middle Fork. They packed their rafts into the Middle Fork via horseback on primitive trails. He remembers the campsites “were in great shape” (MFOA 2015).

Andy Anderson on the Middle Fork

(from personal correspondence)

Updated March 15, 2018

Idaho History March 4

Jesus Urquides


Jesus Urquides – Legendary Local of Boise

Gold discoveries in the Idaho Territory attracted Mexican immigrants. They worked as miners, vaqueros (cowboys), and mule packers. Mexican packers learned their trade in their home country, the Southwest, and California. They also worked as Army packers and began packing supplies to the mining camps in Idaho in the 1860s. Jesus Urquides came to Boise in 1863. He established a successful packing business and created Urquides Village near the intersection of Broadway and Main Street as a place to house the Mexican packers who worked for him. The Jesus Urquides Memorial, a public art piece, was installed at 115 Main Street in 2013.

(Left, courtesy of the Idaho State Historical Society; below, authors’ collection.)


source: Legendary Locals of Boise By Barbara Perry Bauer, Elizabeth Jacox (Google Books)
— — — — — — — — — —

“Jesus Urquides, one of several successful Mexican business people, came to Boise in 1863, became a prominent Pacific Northwest packer and built the Spanish Village in 1870s to house his Mexican packers. The 1870 census included 60 Mexican-born individuals.”

excerpted from: Idaho – History and Heritage Smithsonian
— — — — — — — — — —


source: Amazon

Jesús Urquides: Idaho’s Premier Muleteer

by Max Aaron Delgado, III, Boise State University, August 2010

The life of Mexican mule packer Jesús Urquides is the subject of this work. Urquides was a Mexican-born mule packer who brought the skills of his profession to the American West, where he eventually settled in Boise, Idaho in the 1860s.

The focus of the work is to shed light on the activities of mule packers and their work in the American West as it related to the mining activities of the region and to also examine Urquides’ role in the establishment of Boise’s Spanish Village. Jesús Urquides: Idaho’s Premier Muleteer is a case study of the profession and its contributions to the mining industry of the late 19th century.

The life of Urquides’ personal life is examined. Other topics include: (1) the history of mule packing as a profession that was developed and refined over centuries of practice in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas, (2) mule packing in Idaho, (3) the Sheep Mountain mining district of central Idaho, (4) the decline of mule packing, and (5) the establishment of Boise’s Spanish Village.

Conclusions established during this study include: (1) that mule packing was ideally suited to provide logistical support for Idaho’s early mining industry despite unpredictable weather and rugged terrain, (2) that the use of the mule packing system contributed to the United States Army’s military success in its campaigns against Idaho’s Native American tribes, (3) that mule packing declined at the end of the 19th century due to economic factors and intense competition from freight wagons, (4) that Spanish Village was an ethnic neighborhood that encouraged multinational bonds among Boise’s Spanish-speaking population, and (5) that Jesús Urquides emerged as a singular figure for his role in the early development of Idaho and was widely respected by its pioneer community.

link to paper: Boise State


excerpts from pages 38-39:

Among his contemporaries, Urquides had no equal as a mule packer. It was an occupation that he stuck with for the rest of his life. Urquides packed for a total of 62 years beginning in California and ending in the Jarbidge Mountains of northern Nevada. Many times he appeared in the local papers as “the well known packer,” or as “Kossuth, the name that he is known by in all the mining camps far and near.” He was consistently called upon to pack massive pieces of machinery into the Idaho backcountry and his actions became legendary. He was a figure that was not soon forgotten by the people of early Idaho and he was interviewed and written about by people who saw him as a singular personality in Idaho’s history. He was a rugged, hardy individual who faced innumerable dangers and challenges in delivering civilization into the remote recesses of Idaho. He was also something more, a link to a people, a culture, a way of life that stretched across four continents to the ancient commercial civilizations of the Old World. He was the real deal; a Mexican mule packer who took his job as far as it would take him. He also provided for and nurtured a family, making Boise his home.

excerpts from pages 57-58 Thunder Mountain:

… no one soon forgot the incredible feats of Urquides and his mules. After resuming his Boise-Boise Basin routes, he was again called into the rugged central Idaho wilderness. In 1901, Thunder Mountain, northeast of present-day McCall, was the site of yet another mining rush. Col. W. H. Dewey ordered delivery of a 10-stamp mill, a huge piece of machinery for grinding ore. The story goes that when Dewey sought to get his stamp mill packed to Thunder Mountain, someone told him that “only Jesus Christ” could take such a load over the rugged terrain. “Naturally,” author Rafe Gibbs wrote, “Dewey thought of Jesús Urquides, and engaged him to perform the miracle with the aid of 40 mules.” Again employing techniques and strategies used in packing to the Yellow Jacket mine, he built and used tripods as supports to transfer freight from mule to mule in the process of climbing steep hills. Since it was next to impossible to turn sharply with the freight, Urquides staged mules at switchbacks and transferred the freight from one mule to the next until the loads were over the mountain. It was an incredible amount of work, and Urquides and the mules were compensated accordingly. Urquides received a rate of 10 cents a pound for freight and the mules received extra rations of hay. Upon arriving to Thunder Mountain with the mill intact, Urquides remarked, “I thank God that He gave us mules.” Urquides not only brought in the mill, but also brought in more cable just like the cable he delivered to the Yellow Jacket mine. He was to be known as the first packer into the Thunder Mountain region.

[Note: A lot of research about the people, the mules, the equipment, the packing and the perils of early Idaho’s “roadless” areas.]
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The town [Roosevelt] depended upon the freighters for supplies of all kinds–mining equipment, stores of goods, wood for fuel, as well as food. The Spanish packer, Jesus Urquides who had come to Boise in 1863, was best known of all, and famous throughout the Northwest. His name, Jesus, pronounced “He–soos,” was corrupted into “Ko-suth,” by which he was familiarly known.

When a 10–stamp mill was ordered by Col. W. II. Dewey in 1901 for the mine that came to bear his name, it was Urquides who packed it in by way of Bear Valley on the backs of his tough little mules. Again, when the Sunnyside mine had a 40-stamp mill biought to Thunder Mountain, it was Urquides who packed the mile-long cable over the twisting miles, the heavy steel coiled in loops between his pack animals, three abreast. It was an almost unbelievable feat. Urquides was efficient and dependable.

excerpted from: AHGP Valley County – Thunder Mountain
[h/t SMc]
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Mules over mountains – a wild mining story from old Idaho

by Richard I. Garber

How did supplies get moved to remote places like mining camps in the old west? They got packed in on the backs of mules, as shown above in an 1871 U. S. Army image.

Last April I saw a newspaper article about a memorial honoring Jesus Urquides, a Mexican-American pioneer. Over at the public library I found Max Delgado’s 2006 book Jesus Urquides: Idaho’s Premier Muleteer, which was based on his master’s thesis in history at Boise State University. There is a wild story in there (on page 54) about how back in 1892 Jesus used his mules to carry a six-ton coil of 7/8” diameter wire rope for a Swem aerial tramway from Challis over three mountains to the Yellowjacket gold mine.

Like most wonderful old stories, this one was written about three decades after it happened in late fall of 1892. Urquides told one version to the Idaho Statesman, and G. L. Sheldon told another different one in the Christmas 1920 issue of the Engineering and Mining Journal. (Look up his article on Mining Experiences in Idaho in the Nineties on Google Books).

The Yellowjacket mine was located on a mountain 1,200 feet higher than the mill. Ore had to be hauled down in horse-drawn wagons or sleighs. So, they decided to put in an aerial tramway that instead would carry it in 125-pound buckets. The problem was that to construct it they needed to move an 8,400 foot length of wire rope as a single coil over mountain trails. Urquides said:

“It was necessary to get this wire to the mine without any break, for a splice would have been too dangerous for tramway work…and I loaded it on 35 mules, spreading it out with the mules in three rows. We had to pack between 60 and 70 miles up and down the steepest mountainsides. Several times, one of my mules would roll down the side of the mountain, taking the rest with them. Then it was necessary to get them all up, repack again, and start out. I never coveted another job like that.”

According to Sheldon the tramway decreased their ore transportation costs per ton from $2.50 to $0.07. You can find more stories in a freely downloadable 175-page book-length bulletin by Merle W. Wells called Gold Camps & Silver Cities (Nineteenth Century Mining in Central and Southern Idaho). [Linked to below]

source: Joyful Public Speaking
[hat tip to SMc]
[Note: most of the articles mentioned are below.]
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Gold Camps & Silver Cities

[Jesus Urquides – Packing for the Yellow Jacket Mine]

by Merle W. Wells

During the fall of 1869, almost everyone at Loon Creek lost interest in building up that nevertheless promising new mining camp. Nathan Smith. back from another prospecting tour, had another startling discovery to announce -this time, the Yellow Jacket.

His Yellow Jacket party thought that they had another Boise Basin, and a stampede on September 24 to the new bonanza depopulated Loon Creek. Some four hundred men took off with Nathan Smith, only to find the new district vastly overrated. In the words of John Ward; “Gold is very scarce in Yellowjacket, but the broken down horses and mules are plentiful along the road.” The trouble had been that one of the members of Smith’s Yellow Jacket discovery party had heavily salted the prospectors’ pans, apparently with California gold, and then had thoughtfully disappeared before the rush to Yellow Jacket revealed his deceit. Smith was as disgusted as everyone else at being the victim of a practical joke, and by the time the stampeders had all got back to Oro Grande, there was “terrible swearing on Loon Creek.” An incidental result of the hoax was the immediate discovery of some important Yellow Jacket quartz leads that eventually proved to be productive.

In 1876, a prospector’s three-stamp mill was completed to test the district, and six years later, arrangements were made to import a larger plant. In April 1883, packers loaded a ten-stamp mill onto mules and dug through snow drifts up to twelve feet deep in order to get into operation by June 1. That way their water driven mill did not miss a season when power was available. Ore was freighted with two wagons (each with four horses) down a mile and a half grade to the mill site at a cost of $2.50 a ton. Sleighs were used in winter. Like the stamp mill, which processed thirty tons of are a day, both wagons and sleighs had to be packed into Yellow Jacket. About thirty miners were employed until October 1892. Then a $100,000 mine purchase by Colorado investors led to a major expansion of activity there.

After a two-week $3,000 cleanup late in 1892, Yellow Jacket’s new Colorado owners saw that they needed to invest in a more economical production system. To reduce the costs of getting ore to their mill, as G.L. Sheldon explained it, they decided to erect a Swem aerial tramway, the buckets to carry 125 lb. of ore each. No packer would contract to deliver the 7/8-in. wire cable required in its construction. The company’s pack train brought in the cable, 8,400 ft. in length in three trips. Being too stiff to coil for individual coils on each mule, it was strung out upon the main street of Challis, six or seven runs on a side being tied together. The mules were placed in the center, with the cables lashed to each side, the loop at either end swinging clear of the leading and the end mules. Nearly all the inhabitants of the county were on hand to see the pack train start. They had plenty of excitement and fun. It took two men to manage each mule for the first few days. On uneven ground the individual loads would vary in weight. In a hollow the rope would lift the center mule off its feel. On a ridge or knoll one mule took the load of three. One wall-eyed cuss bucked and tore around on a ridge, throwing the whole pack train of twenty mules down the mountain 150 ft. into the timber in a tangled, twisted condition. It took two days to cut them out, no serious damage being done.

Owing to the stiffness of the several cables bound together the pack train could not make short turns, and a temporary straight trail, regardless of grades, was therefore made. Eventually the mules became accustomed to the novel loading, and the entire cable was delivered without serious mishap. The tramway reduced the transportation cost for delivery of the ore from mine to mill to seven cents per ton.

During the Panic of 1893, Yellow Jacket’s superintendent, fearful that his miners would be unpaid, refused to ship the June bullion production to Salt Lake. That action almost resulted in forfeiture of the mine. But G.L. Sheldon found out what had happened, sent the superintendent out prospecting for a new mine, and made the payment barely in time to avoid delinquency. Sheldon then took over and managed Yellow Jacket’s major property for two years. He still had to overcome problems arising from his isolated location. The replacement of a worn-out 625-pound camshaft proved difficult, but Boise’s noted Basque packer, Jesus Urquides, could handle heavy loads:

He secured the largest mule in the locality. He then made two tripods the height of the shaft when loaded. These were packed on another mule. The big mule was led with the load, one, two or three hours, depending upon the condition of the trail. [Urquides] would then stop and set up the tripods just behind the loaded mule. Four men would next slide the shaft back onto the tripods. The mule was then allowed to rest and feed for a short time and the procedure repeated.

Sheep Mountain, Greyhound Ridge, and Seafoam

While out looking for Indians during the Sheepeater campaign in 1879, Colonel Reuben F. Bernard found an interesting lode prospect on Sheep Mountain on June 8. When the army returned that way August 31, Manuel Fontez and his packers hauled a number of samples back to Boise. Obtaining good assays from his test specimens, Fontez set out with a small prospecting party in the spring of 1880. They found several good leads on Greyhound Ridge and created enough interest that several hundred miners showed up to prospect there each summer after that. John Early had particular success locating galena with Fontez on Greyhound Ridge the next summer, and Fontez found attractive outcrops on Sheep Mountain in 1882.

Within another two or three seasons, about forty-five claims had been recorded in these adjacent mining camps. Jesus Urquides, Boise’s most prominent packer who had come out with Fontez and taken up a productive Greyhound claim with John Danskin, spent the summer of 1885 hauling ore out to a smelter at Clayton. Plans to extend a road from Cape Horn to Greyhound Ridge and Sheep Mountain were contemplated as a means of developing the isolated prospects, retarded as they were by their location remote from transportation in rough country high above the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

excerpted from: Gold Camps & Silver Cities, Nineteenth Century Mining in Central and Southern Idaho, by Merle W. Wells, 2nd Edition, 1983, Published in cooperation with the Idaho State Historical Society and assisted by a National Park Service Historic Preservation Planning Grant
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Mining Experiences in Idaho in the Nineties

Narrative of Difficulties and Happenings at an Old Gold Mine – Transportation Over High Mountain Ridges – Isolation in Winter – Novel Method of Packing In an 8,400 ft. Wire Cable

by G. L. Sheldon

The Yellow Jacket Mine, in Lemhi County, Idaho, was purchased by friends of mine in October, 1892, and shortly after I was sent in to take over the property and start work. Ketchum, Idaho, on a branch from Shoshone on the main line of the Oregon Short Line, was the nearest railroad point. From Ketchum it was eighty miles by stage to Challis; thence by horseback, over a trail sixty miles long, across three mountain ranges from 9,000 to 10,000 ft. in altitude, to the milling plant of the property on Yellow Jacket Creek, at an altitude of 8,000 ft. The mine was on the mountain 1,200 ft. higher. The ten-stamp mill on the property had been put in by J. B. Haggin in 1866. The former owners, after working two weeks in cleaning up the mill, turned it over to us. In four days we cleaned up $3,000 from around the batteries.

continued with stories of Jesus Urquides:

Page 1
Page 2
Page 3

source: Engineering and Mining Journal, Volume 110 December 25, 1920 (google books) page 1212-1214
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Jesus Urquides, January 18 1925


Description Jesus Urquides (1833-1928) at age 92. Urquides was an Idaho pioneer and mining day packer in the 1880’s and 1890’s. Urquides packed food and camp supplies to many of the Idaho Basque in areas of central and southern Idaho. He also developed a small Spanish village in Boise that was occupied by Basque packers. He died in Boise on April 26 1928.

source: Idaho State Historical Society
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Honoring Jesus Urquides

Boise Mexican American pioneer is recognized with new memorial

By Christina Marfice

The intersection of Main and Second streets in downtown Boise is lined with trees and stately, two-story homes. But it didn’t always look like that. For nearly 100 years, it was home to a village built by Jesus Urquides, “Idaho’s premier muleteer.”

Urquides played an integral role in shaping Boise into the community it is today. Now, local artist and architect Dwaine Carver and the Boise City Department of Arts and History are celebrating the contributions Urquides and other Mexican American pioneers have made to Boise with a memorial near where his home once stood.

“For part of the Boise 150 celebration, we wanted to look at who we haven’t acknowledged or honored, and what parts of history we haven’t really told through public art,” said Karen Bubb, city public arts manager. “This is a story that we’ve been thinking about for a long time.”

When Urquides arrived in Boise in the mid-1860s, he was already a successful Mexican businessman. At that time, Boise was only a small village surrounded by farms that provided food for Southern and Central Idaho mining camps. A decade later, Urquides inherited land from an acquaintance at what is now 115 Main St., and settled in the Treasure Valley permanently.

Other Mexican Americans and mule packers also settled onto Urquides’ land, where he built 30 cabins, stables and corrals. Known as the “Spanish Village” or “Urquides Village,” Urquides often referred to it as his “little world.”

According to biographer Max Delgado, Urquides was a generous and understanding landlord, housing packers in the cabins on his property until his death, after which his daughter maintained the property’s many homes. But following her death in 1965, a fire damaged several of the buildings. A city inspector condemned the structures, and the village was destroyed.

Until recently, little remained of Urquides’ legacy in Boise beyond newspaper clippings and a few items housed at the Idaho Historical Museum. Urquides is buried at Pioneer Cemetery on Warm Springs Avenue, where his granite headstone is emblazoned with the word “Papa,” a Spanish term of endearment. His gravesite is maintained by the Hispanic Cultural Center of Idaho, which hosts a yearly Dia de los Muertos celebration at the cemetery to honor Urquides as a pioneer in Idaho’s Mexican American community.

Now, the city of Boise has erected a new memorial to Urquides. A bronze camera containing an image of Urquides is pointed as if taking the photo where his “little world” once stood. A pedestal with text on four sides tells a small part of Urquides’ life story and features a model of the buildings that once stood in the village. The memorial is small but poignant, with potential to grow, according to Bubb.

“At the site, there’s very little room to memorialize and there’s private property where the land once was, so [Carver] ended up coming up with a two-part proposal,” Bubb said. “The first part is what is already built there. The second part is a larger plan that would create a performance space that would be part of the land in front of the Pioneer Cemetery. The piece is very modest, but it’s accessible to pedestrians and it’s at the site, which is very important in terms of marking the location.”

Carver, who also designed a downtown public art piece commemorating Boise’s long-gone Chinatown, was drawn to the history of Boise’s Mexican American pioneers, especially since their contributions to the city’s early growth are often overlooked.

“I’m interested in invisible histories,” Carver said. “I liked very much the idea of trying to imagine or re-materialize something that’s been lost, especially things that are generally understood to be marginalized histories.”

To Carver, the Urquides memorial is particularly relevant, given the ongoing national controversy surrounding immigration and immigration reform.

“I think that a standout perception of the piece is the absolutely integrated nature of immigrants as pioneer citizens,” Carver said. “The southern part of Idaho was the northern border of Mexican territory prior to 1848. For a prominent, longtime pioneer citizen of the city to be an obvious and apparent part of that history, I think is an interesting thing to hold in one’s mind. I think the participation of so many different people from so many different ethnicities relating to the central foundation of the city is really one of the central points of the piece.”

The memorial will be dedicated at a ceremony Saturday, April 27, which will celebrate the oft-forgotten history of Boise’s Hispanic pioneers. From 4:30-5:30 p.m., Carver will speak about his piece to attendees, and a Mexican ballad poem, or corrido, will be performed. A committee of advisers from Boise’s Mexican American community will also be in attendance at the dedication.

Ana Maria Schachtell, a member of the Hispanic Cultural Center of Idaho board of directors, will also be in attendance. Schachtell has long been a proponent of Idaho’s Hispanic history.

“Mexican Americans provided a critical contribution to the development of the economy of the state of Idaho in the 19th century, so this is very appropriate that a public art piece celebrating Jesus Urquides and the people who lived there be established there at this time,” Schachtell said. “When you read things like that, you wonder why this information was left out of the history books. Why would they have omitted such an important part of our history? It’s almost been my quest, per se, to highlight the history of these mule packers and make people aware that this population is not new arrivals. We’ve been here since the beginning.”

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Jesus Urquides

Photo added by David M. Habben

Jesus Urquides
Birth: 18 Jan 1833
Death: 26 Apr 1928
Burial: Pioneer Cemetery Boise, Ada County, Idaho, USA
[photo JesusUrquidesYoung
Added by ET

source: Find a Grave
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Yellow Jacket (Gold)

by Ernest Oberbillig, 1985, Idaho State Historical Society

Discoveries by Nathan Smith led to a rush from Loon Creek to Yellow Jacket, September 23, 1869. Although the original placers proved to be a disappointment, and although quartz operations there were handicapped by the extreme remoteness of the district, the gold quartz was free milling. By 1892, Colorado investors arranged for a large tram to make milling practical.

A thirty-stamp mill, packed into Yellow Jacket in 1894, was doubled in size when major production got underway, and a sixty-stamp mill was run by water power until labor costs became too high in 1896. Tailings were reworked profitably after the shutdown, but intermittent attempts to operate there from 1912 to 1984 had very limited results. Mining efforts on nearby Silver Creek from 1876 to 1897 encountered similar problems. Perhaps $400,000 was recovered at Yellow Jacket, mainly in the nineteenth century.

excerpted from: Mining in Idaho Number 9 1985, by Ernest Oberbillig and the Idaho State Historical Society
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J. M. Swem Ore Tramway

Patented Apr. 23, 1895

Be it known that I, James M. Swem, a citizen of the United States of America, residing at Denver, in the county of Arapahoe and State of Colorado, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Ore-Tramways; and I do declare the following to be a full, clear, and exact description of the invention, such as will enable others skilled in the art to which it appertains to make and use the same, reference being bad to the accompanying drawings, and to the figures of reference marked thereon, which form a part of this specification.

My invention relates to improvements in overhead tramways of the class designed for carrying ore down mountains or over rugged sections of country where other means of transportation are impracticable.

To this end, the invention consists of the features hereinafter described and claimed, all of which will be fully understood by reference to the accompanying drawings, in which is illustrated an embodiment thereof.

In the drawings, Figure l is a side elevation of the tramway showing the two terminals and one of the intermediate supports. Fig. 2 is a side elevation of one of the buckets shown in connection with the supporting track and the propelling cable. Fig. 3 is an end elevation of the same.

Fig. 4: is a top or plan view of one of the terminal stations, the brake mechanism being removed. Fig. 5 is a similar View, the brake mechanism being shown in position. Fig. 6 is a side elevation of the upper terminal.

Fig. 7 is a side elevation in detail showing one of the intermediate supports. Fig. 8 is an end elevation of the same. Fig. 9 is a side elevation of the bucket and trolley shown in connection with the ore bin and the dumping trip. Fig. 10 is an end elevation of the ore bin and trip-cam.

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History of the Yellowjacket Mine

by Victoria E. Mitchell, Idaho Geological Society, April 1997

PDF file:
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Yellow Jacket

Idaho Public TV

There was a rush to Yellow Jacket in 1869 after Nathan Smith and his party located what they thought was a rich gold strike. But apparently one of the prospectors of the party had “salted” the area with some California gold and the site wasn’t as rich at first believed.

photo of yellowjacket

But just as most of the disappointed prospectors were leaving, a rich quartz lode was found that would eventually yield millions of dollars in gold. Despite the remote location a thirty stamp mill was packed into the area. A few years later, additional investment doubled it’s size and made it one of Idaho’s largest stamp mills.

The investors also decided to build an aerial tramway to ease production costs. But packing in eight thousand feet of cable on the backs of twenty mules turned out to be a huge undertaking.

According to G. L. Sheldon the cable was laid out in the streets of Challis and “nearly all the inhabitants of the country were on hand to see the pack train start.” He added, “In a hollow the rope would lift the center mule of its feet.” Despite the difficulties the mules and the cable eventually made it to Yellow Jacket.

photo of yellowjacket

One family has been involved with much of the history of the Yellow Jacket. In 1888 John G. Morrison and his nephews the Steen brothers acquired a controlling interest in the mine. In four years they extracted about 4800 ounces of gold. Though they sold the property in 1892 the Steen family eventually reacquired the Yellow Jacket decades later. And though members of the family spent many frustrating years trying to make the mine profitable again, it finally did yield yet another round of mineral wealth.

Today the Steen family says mining is over at the Yellow Jacket and that they are now focusing on preserving the historic remnants of the 19th century gold camp.

source: Idaho Public TV