George Ainslies career as a lawyer in Idaho Territory had a shocking beginning. As his Idaho City friend and fellow attorney remembered it years later, three men accused of robbery were arrested in Walla Walla, Wash., and brought back to Lewiston for trial. Their friends hired young George Ainslie to represent them.
About midnight there was some shooting down around the improvised jail, and a crowd gathered to find that a friend of the three had attempted to rescue them and had been shot in the arm by a guard. The prisoners being safely in the building, the crowd disbanded. Next morning George Ainslie, with all the enthusiasm and confidence of his 24 years, went down to the jail to interview his clients. He was admitted by the guards, and upon entering found all three hanging from the rafters of the building, perfectly dead. It is said that the horror-stricken young lawyer ran all the way back to his hotel.
George Ainslie was born Oct. 30, 1838, near Boonville, Cooper County, Mo. After attending St. Louis University in 1856 and 1857, he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1860. He went to Pikes Peak, Colo., where he practiced law and bought some mining claims. In 1862 he joined a party of 16 prospectors who had heard of the discovery of gold in Salmon River country in what was then part of Washington Territory. His biographer tells us that while there he had thrilling adventures and exciting encounters and experiences, and prospected under the most trying circumstances. He walked 130 miles from the mines to Lewiston, where, as described above, he lost his first three clients. He went to the Willamette Valley for the winter where he taught school. In July 1863, he joined the gold rush to Boise Basin, shortly after Idaho was separated from Washington Territory and became a territory itself.
Ainslies ad in the Idaho World of Dec. 3, 1864, reads Attorney and Counselor at Law and Solicitor in Chancery, Centerville, Boise County, I.T. In 1865, Ainslie was elected to the new territorys legislative council, and in 1866, even though he was its youngest member, he was chosen council president, surely a tribute to exceptional abilities recognized by his colleagues.
In 1868 the Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman of Boise, edited by Radical Republican James S. Reynolds, described Ainslie as follows: Mr. A. is a democrat of the straightest sect. He is a lawyer by profession and a politician by choice. He distinguished himself by marching at the head of a procession in Centerville some years ago with a hired negro trailing the American flag. Such evident sympathies with the rebellion could not long go unrewarded, and at the succeeding election he was chosen by the democracy of Boise County to the territorial council. His partisan bitterness is scarcely offset by certain kind social qualities which do him honor.
On Sept. 9, 1869, the Idaho World announced that Ainslie was its new editor and explained that colorful and controversial editor James OMeara had retired due to ill health. Ainslie continued to practice law, however, in partnership with R.E. Foote. Despite what rival editors said about each other in print, they were often congenial face to face. Two days before Christmas 1869, Ainslie wrote in the World: A Splendid Treat. Our friend Reynolds of the Statesman, who has been sojourning with us for the past week, on Tuesday evening received a lot of most splendid fresh oysters from Boise City, which had just arrived from Baltimore. He had them taken up to the San Francisco Restaurant and invited us of the World, with several other friends, to assist him in storing away the bivalves. Nary oysters was left to tell the tale. Jim knows whats nice and he dont forget his friends when he has a good thing. Well endeavor to return the compliment some day.
Despite the friendly occasion described above, Ainslie wrote in January 1870, We have no particular sympathy or fellow feelings for Radicals of any kind, but if we are to be damned with Radical officials, we certainly prefer Idaho Radicals to any of the imported stock. Territorial officials, including governors, were appointed by the president of the United States; local officials were elected by local people. This meant that in the 1860s and 70s, Idahos appointed officials were Republicans and most local officials were Democrats. The Radical Republicans who came to power in Washington, D.C., at the end of the Civil War believed in harsh treatment of the South, quite in contrast to the desire of recently martyred President Abraham Lincoln to heal the nations wounds.
Next week: George Ainslie, editor and congressman.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email email@example.com.