Probably no pioneer of Idaho was more popular than James A. Pinney, who, like so many others, came west in 1850 to seek his fortune in the gold fields of California. The 15-year-old James and his father worked for a year as miners, and in 1853 they moved north to the Rogue River mines of Oregon. In 1857 he went back to Iowa, where he lived with his parents before going to Pikes Peak, Colo., and to Rogue River a second time. In 1862 Pinney followed the gold rush to Idaho. He ran a pack train to Lewiston, Elk City, Orofino and Florence before going to Auburn, Ore., where he opened his first store. On March 1, 1863, he arrived in Idaho City and formed a partnership with J.W. Stearns in a general store.
Their ad in the Idaho City Boise News of June 9, 1863, (nearly a month before there was a Boise City), proclaimed that they were Wholesale and Retail Dealers in Clothing, Boots & Shoes, Hats, Groceries, Provisions, Hardware, Mining Tools. Rope, &tc., &tc. This was truly a general store, where its proprietors would stock anything that could be sold at a profit, something Pinney would do for years to come.
In May 1865, Pinney bought a book and stationery store from A.M. Swinnerton and ordered a large stock of goods to replenish its shelves. That same month he was appointed deputy postmaster by President Lincoln. The Idaho World reported on April 6, 1867, that The Senate has confirmed the appointment of J.A. Pinney as Postmaster of Idaho City. He has made a faithful and an accommodating office during the time he has had the office. A few weeks later he began construction of a substantial brick post office building that would also contain his bookstore. This would be advertised thereafter as the Post Office Book & Variety Store, corner Wall and Montgomery Streets. An 1869 ad states, Mr. Pinney has for sale all the magazines for June, and the latest paper and pictorials from all parts of the globe. He has the latest sensational pictorials, with stunning illustrations. We wonder if we would think them sensational or stunning today.
That summer, Pinneys brother John arrived by stage from Boise after a trip from Iowa City, Iowa, that took 10 days. He could not have known that James young wife, Mary, had died only three days before at the age of 25 on what the World called A Day of Gloom and Grief. The 1870 Census gives the cause of death as inflammation of the stomach, an inexact term for something that could probably have been cured today. A few days later, a mourning James Pinney left for a visit to his old home in Iowa City. The World said, He carries with him the best wishes of a host of warm and steadfast friends, who will give him glad welcome back.
When he returned in September, the paper noted, Our worthy fellow citizen and very efficient Postmaster, Mr. James A. Pinney, returned by Tuesdays stage from a visit to his old home in Iowa, and was warmly greeted by his many friends here. He brought with him his sister, who will spend a few months here. He also brought with him from the east some iron railing of very handsome mourning pattern to ornament the resting place of his beloved wife, lately deceased. It will make at once a handsome and enduring monument both to departed worth and the tender memories which the living cherish. The fence still stands in the Idaho City cemetery.
In November 1869, Pinney opened a branch of his store in Boise City. The Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman regularly reported Pinneys visits to the capital, where he soon won friendships that would endure over the years. He moved to Boise in 1874 and bought a house just west of what was called capital square, although there would be no capitol there for another dozen years.
The Idaho World regularly praised Pinney the postmaster and Pinney the merchant: Pinney knows what the people want. He is in constant receipt of fresh fruit such as oranges, limes, lemons, etc. from California, to say nothing of newspapers, pictorials, magazines, etc. In 1872, a cigar stand has been added to the many features of the establishment, and the best brands of tobacco and cigars will be kept constantly on hand. Their supply of books, stationery and periodicals will be kept up as usual, and if you want a publication not in the store, they will obtain it for you at Eastern publishers prices. Their supply of pocket cutlery and fishing tackle is the best ever brought to the market.
Next week well share more about James A. Pinney, Boises only five-time mayor.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.