When Dick and Tom Reynolds left Portland with a printing press in 1864, they thought they were going to the mining boom town of Idaho City to open a newspaper.
But Boise co-founder Henry Chiles Riggs had other ideas. He met the brothers at the Grand Ronde River and spent the day riding alongside their ox-drawn freight wagon, making the case for them to set up shop in Boise. Like a modern-day business recruiter, Riggs promised the brothers the support of advertisers in the growing business community.
Abraham Lincoln had just declared Idaho a territory the year before and Boise businessmen were trying to move the territorial capital from Lewiston to Boise.
You can just imagine Riggs' pitch: Yes, Idaho City was the largest city in the Pacific Northwest, with 7,000 residents. But it was a boom town. It already had a newspaper, the weekly Boise News. Boise was the future!
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Established the year before, Boise's population had already reached 1,000. It was situated on the main mail and express routes, including the Oregon Trail next to Fort Boise. Boise, not Idaho City, was where people were going to come and stay and build a new society. Once Lincoln won the Civil War, Boise might become the capital of a new state.
When the wagon reached the Snake River, the Reynolds brothers were persuaded enough to ride on ahead and listen to what Boise's businessmen had to offer. The merchants had $1,500 in cash and offered the use of an office building for free for a year.
Their third brother, James Reynolds, was already in Idaho City. He was going to be the editor and he had to agree to the deal. Tom quickly rode the 35 miles to bring his brother on board.
The brothers were in agreement. But the freighter with the press was still headed to Idaho City. Boise's livery stable owner caught the wagon between Emmett and Horseshoe Bend. He took the money to prove to the freighter that the partners were changing their destination to Boise.
In newly platted Boise, the promised office building turned out to be a log cabin with no floor, glassless windows and an open entry. That allowed Boise residents to crowd into the cabin as the two pressmen set type for the first edition of the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman.
At 2 p.m. on July 26, 1864, the first newspaper came off the press before an audience of citizens and business backers. The Idaho Statesman was now connecting its readers to the outside and telling the world about Idaho.
Reynolds was a radical Republican abolitionist from New York. He advocated the re-election of Abraham Lincoln and unapologetically promised to oppose anyone who was for the rebellion by the Southern states. That prompted one Democratic candidate to threaten to kill Reynolds, warning him against making that threat public. Reynolds published a story about the incident in the next issue.
"In addition to supplying the latest and fullest Eastern, Oregon and California news," Reynolds wrote in his first editorial, "we shall pay particular attention to the local mining and political intelligence." He laid the foundation for the news organization that has evolved.
Through subsequent owners, publishers and editors, the role of the Idaho Statesman remains the same: To be the primary source of news for Idahoans. Through its 150 years, the paper has covered it all - from Indian wars to Butch Cassidy's bank robbery in Montpelier to the 1907 "Trial of the Century" in the death of its murdered governor to the building of dams, the rise of businesses from Morrison-Knudsen to Micron, and the triumphs of the Boise State Broncos and Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong.
Today readers are as apt to peck at their smartphone or tablet to read the news as they are to pick up the newspaper on their porch. But whether they are tapping a keyboard, watching a video or combing through the newspaper, the Idaho Statesman continues to connect them to their community and the world.
A voice at the end of the road
The Idaho that greeted Reynolds when he came to Boise to print the Tri-Weekly Statesman was one of isolated mining camps, boom towns and a tiny agricultural community where the desert met mountains.
The Pony Express had linked East and West just four years earlier. Telegraph wouldn't come to Boise until 1875. The Oregon Short Line Railroad didn't reach the Treasure Valley until 1883, and then it stopped at Kuna. Boise would wait until 1926 for its own line.
In the beginning, the Idaho Statesman was bringing the news of the outside world to miners, merchants and farmers who were at the end of the road of civilization. Local news, which would become its primary franchise, was secondary to informing isolated Idahoans on the latest from the battlefields and the East and the West coasts.
The editor and publisher had a vision that would carry the early Statesman forward. Idaho was filled with gold and silver, and Reynolds believed that it would take lots of capital to develop the resources on which a new western civilization could be built. "We shall undertake to so conduct The Statesman as shall best advance the interests of this community and this territory, knowing that by so doing we shall best secure our own," that first editorial said.
The realities of delivering news in the 1860s are revealed in the tale of how Idahoans learned of the death of President Abraham Lincoln. He'd been killed April 15, 1865, but the news didn't get to Boise until it arrived by stagecoach April 25. The morning paper already had been printed, so Reynolds published an extra.
"The Overland Mail arrived at about three o'clock this afternoon bringing a large number of extras from the office of the Daily Salt Lake Telegraph of April 15 bearing dispatches that President Lincoln and Secretary (William H.) Seward were both assassinated," the newspaper said. "Appalling as the news is there is no room to doubt its truth."
The report notwithstanding, Seward had in fact survived the attack. All copies of that Extra edition of the Idaho Statesman were lost until former Statesman reporter Sandra Wurdemann found a copy of the issue for sale. Lincoln scholar and former Idaho Attorney General David Leroy bought the Extra for $425 and donated it to the Idaho Historical Society.
As Idaho grew from a frontier territory to a state in 1890, the Idaho Statesman grew, too. Its second publisher, retired territorial Judge Milton Kelly, was best known for his 1864 decision declaring Boise the capital of the territory over Lewiston, a ruling that was, naturally, supported by the Statesman. Lincoln's last official act before his assassination had been to appoint Kelly to a four-year term as an associate justice of the Territorial Supreme Court.
Kelly took the newspaper daily on Jan 10, 1888, two years before statehood.
Calvin Cobb and the first golden age
In 1889, Calvin Cobb and his associates bought the Idaho Statesman, and Cobb made his son-in-law, Joseph Perrault, the editor. Later Cobb and his brother-in-law, Jack Lyon, bought out the others and turned the Idaho Statesman into a major newspaper.
The cattle trade had brought Cobb, a member of a New England family, west from Chicago in 1886. In the first decade of the 20th century, Cobb consolidated his ownership in not just the Idaho Statesman but two other Boise newspapers and signed up with The Associated Press, the cooperative through which newspapers shared stories. Cobb was a friend to presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft and Supreme Court Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Cobb wrote his editorials and memos on a desk given to him by Taft after his visit to Boise in 1911. He hosted Forest Service founder Gifford Pinchot in his home at a time when Boise was becoming a rising center of culture and business in the West. The Idaho Statesman reported in September 1905 both sides of the argument for expanding federal Forest Reserves, now called national forests, which today make up 20 million acres of the state.
Five years later, it was big news for the Statesman when 3 million acres of those reserves in Idaho and Montana burned in "The Big Blowup," which killed as many as 92 people, 78 of them firefighters. While still a Republican newspaper, Cobb sought to bring objectivity to Statesman reporting.
"We want our readers to believe we have given the facts as nearly ascertained at the moment," Cobb wrote in an editorial.
The Idaho Statesman came of age with an international news story in its backyard. Former Gov. Frank Steunenberg was murdered by a bomb outside his Caldwell home on Dec. 30, 1905. Radical union miners were immediately suspected because of Steunenberg's role in a violent campaign to quell labor riots.
Statesman city editor Harry Crane and his team of reporters, photographers and stenographers provided readers with gavel-to-gavel coverage that rivaled any of the national papers. Famed lawyer Clarence Darrow presented the defense. In the end, the jury of 12 Idaho farmers found union leader "Big Bill" Haywood and his associates not guilty. Harry Orchard, who admitted to planting the bomb, died in the old state penitentiary in 1954.
"The Idaho Statesman, in common with the great mass of people, regrets that the trial of William D. Haywood for the murder of former Governor Frank Steunenberg resulted as it did," Cobb wrote on July 29, 1907. "But the case has been decided by an Idaho jury ... and it is the duty of all, as in all cases fairly and fully submitted to our constitutional tribunals of justice, to accept the result in that spirit of loyalty to our courts which is (necessary) if our rights are to be protected and peace and order and good will are to reign."
Idaho's economy was taking off and Boise and the Treasure Valley were being transformed from a desert to an irrigated green Eden. The Statesman supported the building of the Diversion Dam, the New York Canal, Arrowrock Dam, Swan Falls Dam and Twin Falls Canal Co.'s Miner Dam project. As the Roaring Twenties began, the Idaho Statesman was becoming one of the models of the changes as American newspapers entered the modern era. Cobb, now a vice president of AP, sought to serve his readers first while continuing to promote Idaho.
"His objective was to make the Statesman the finest small-town newspaper in the nation," wrote E.F. McDermott, a former Idaho Statesman editor. "If he did not succeed in this, he came very close in the early '20s." Cobb died in 1929. His legacy was left in the able hands of his daughter, Margaret Cobb Ailshie.
A woman at the helm
A look around America and the world in 1930 would find very few women executives. Women had gained the right to vote, but they were still encouraged to stay in the home and out of the job market - and clearly out of the board room. But Ailshie was her father's daughter. People who knew her called her fearless. During World War I she had served with the Red Cross and later made several trips to Europe and Asia. A socialite in Boise and Chicago, she lived in Boise for all but the first six years of her life.
Ailshie told her editors and reporters she did not want to publish a "dull newspaper." She made it happen by hiring her friend and confidant Betty Penson Ward to edit the popular society and arts section. Ailshie kept her father's Republican philosophy and editorial policy.
The Idaho Statesman celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1939, as the storm clouds of yet another war gathered in Europe. As he had done in 1917, U.S. Sen. William Borah of Idaho, who became known as "the Lion of the Senate," was one of the voices urging caution before entangling the nation in yet another world war.
Borah's passing in 1940 marked the end of an era in Idaho, which the Idaho Statesman captured in its extensive front-page coverage Jan. 20. Ailshie hired Jim Brown as her manager that year. A salesman for the Intertype Co., which supplied the Statesman with typecasting equipment, Brown brought technical and business experience to the newspaper's leadership.
After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, Idahoans followed news about World War II in the Statesman as Americans jumped from island to island and marched through Africa and later Europe to victory. Boise became a major training base for airmen, boosting the local economy with such new enterprises as a huge taxi fleet.
One WWII story the Statesman virtually ignored was the internment of 10,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry at the Minidoka Internment Camp north of Twin Falls from 1942 to 1945. After the war, many of those former internees stayed to become part of Idaho's booming agriculture economy.
When a flood rolled through Boise in 1943, the Idaho Statesman's focus on its magnitude laid the groundwork for a future dam between Boise and Arrowrock.
An Idaho potato farmer used technology to freeze-dry potatoes to provide an important food for troops around the world.
In the process, J.R. Simplot bought up land, built factories and began an agricultural empire that was to grow into the billions by the 1980s.
Circulation grows The Idaho Statesman grew under Ailshie. A few other papers came and went. In 1942, Ailshie started the Idaho Evening Statesman and then merged its operations with the Boise Capital News, the long-time Democratic newspaper in Boise that the Cobbs had controlled since early in the century.
Now the Idaho Statesman was the source for a world full of news that had meaning for every Idaho family, and readers could choose morning or evening editions. After atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, soldiers came home to build a booming new economy in the post-war with American might second to none in the world.
The Idaho Statesman's Sunday circulation hit 50,000 in the late 1940s, when the city's population was 34,000. The Idaho Statesman moved into a new building on Sixth Street near the Idaho Capitol in 1952 as its coverage of state issues was unmatched.
John Corlett was the political editor and his popular column, "Politically Speaking," was recognized as the most influential in the state. Through the newspaper, Ailshie advanced the money to build Bronco Stadium for what was then Boise Junior College, which played its first game there in 1950. Harry Morrison donated the construction work.
A black eye The 1950s also marked a troubling moment in the history of Boise and the Idaho Statesman. The newspaper's coverage of the so-called "Boys of Boise" scandal began with its Nov. 2, 1955, headline, "Three Boise Men Admit Sex Charges." Prominent and powerful men in the community were prosecuted for homosexual activities and the Statesman's coverage was rightly criticized for contributing to the hysteria that ruined people's lives.
Randy Stapilus, a political editor for the Idaho Statesman in the 1980s and 1990s, is the co-author of a book about Pacific Northwest newspapers, with former city editor Steve Bagwell. He said the criticism was justified, but also points to the statewide influence the Statesman maintained under Brown's leadership as Ailshie's failing health and eyesight forced her to retreat.
Ken Robison, a Statesman reporter in the 1950s, praised Brown's editing skills and news judgment. Brown meticulously gathered even the smallest stories from around the Treasure Valley. "He always said the Statesman was the paper of record," Robison said.
Brown was a staunch Republican who didn't like young Democratic Sen. Frank Church, Robison said. But Brown remained a member of the typesetter's union, and when anti-union Right to Work legislation was proposed, the Statesman opposed it.
In 1959, Margaret Cobb Ailshie died, and the Cobb family's remarkable leadership of journalism in Idaho ended. It came as television began competing with newspapers and as the newspaper business itself was changing.
When the Idaho Statesman celebrated its centennial July 26, 1964, its special edition honored its history, its founders and its place in Idaho. But it was no longer a locally owned newspaper. Brown inherited the Idaho Statesman from Ailshie and sold it to Michigan-based Federated Publications in 1963.
"When we came in, the paper had become a very conservative organ in the community," said Gene Dorsey, the first editor and manager under Federated, in 2007. "I wanted the newspaper to not be as oriented toward conservative philosophy, to be more independent in supporting candidates for local, state and national office."
Robison returned to the Idaho Statesman from The Associated Press in Denver as Federated was increasing the size of the staff in 1965. He wrote a column chastising the John Birch Society for an unfair attack on Church. "Somebody called me up and threatened to kill me," Robison said in an interview.
He soon became editorial page editor and, for the first time, the Idaho Statesman had an editorial board. It included Robison, Dorsey, managing editor Dick Ronnick and news editor Walter Johnson.
In 1968 the earth shook. The Idaho Statesman endorsed Democrat Church for re-election over Republican Rep. George Hansen.
A new tone
Editorially, the newspaper took a new tone, including supporting environmental causes and wilderness preservation. Robison's predecessor, Bob Anderson, had written an editorial in favor of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1965. In 1969, the Statesman editorialized in favor of banning DDT. It challenged Gov. Don Samuelson for his advocacy of dredging Idaho rivers for gold.
When a mining company wanted to build a molybdenum mine in the heart of the White Cloud Mountains, the Statesman opposed it. "The Beauty of the White Clouds Should Be Preserved," the headline on its March 20, 1969, editorial read.
As the Beatles led the British invasion into American pop music, Treasure Valley boys Paul Revere and Mark Lindsey fought back, changing the name of their band to Paul Revere and the Raiders and rocketing to national attention in their distinctive Revolutionary War garb and with hits like "Kicks," "Hungry" and "Good Thing."
Another Boise musician, Tim Woodward, played guitar with the band The Mystics and had his chance for stardom but instead went into the Navy. When he got out, he attended the University of Idaho and eventually came to the Idaho Statesman.
Idahoans ended the 1960s watching Americans walk on the moon and saved their Idaho Statesman front page with the news from July 20, 1969, for posterity.
That '70s Statesman
Gannett Newspapers took over Federated Publications in 1971, and the Statesman had a new corporate owner. Its emphasis on local news coverage focused the Statesman even more on the Treasure Valley. That didn't stop the paper from sending young Tim Woodward to cover the Sunshine Mine fire in North Idaho that killed 91 miners and trapped many more in 1972.
The Idaho Statesman also was on the scene for the costliest state disaster in the 1970s, the failure of the Teton Dam on June 5, 1976. Eleven people died; damages were estimated at up to $2 billion.
Ray Smelek, a Hewlett Packard Co. engineer, looked over a plot of farmland along Chinden Boulevard in the early 1970s and liked what he saw. In 1973, he persuaded his company to set down roots in what was still mostly an agricultural area on the edge of the city where boys could shoot pheasants after school.
The Chinden property became the home of HP's new printer division, which eventually developed the laser printer, the company's most successful product. The plant expanded to more than 4,000 employees, a highly educated workforce that wanted good schools, cultural amenities and places nearby to ride bikes and paddle kayaks. It set the stage for a wave of growth that would attract more diversity to Idaho and change the character of the Treasure Valley.
Political reporting tradition
John Corlett covered the Idaho Legislature for the Idaho Statesman from 1937 to 1975, when he retired. Bill Hall, editorial page editor for the Lewiston Tribune, called Corlett the "best reporter ever to cover the Idaho Legislature." He first covered Frank Church when the teenager won an essay-writing contest. He died in 1999 at 90, outliving Church by 15 years.
Steve Ahrens came to the Idaho Statesman in 1967 as its night reporter. He became political editor in 1975, covering the Idaho Legislature and the dawn of political careers of Idaho leaders such as Sen. Jim Risch, Sen. Larry Craig and the administrations of Govs. Cecil Andrus and John Evans. He left the Statesman in 1983 to serve as the longtime president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. When he retired, he joined the Statesman's Editorial Board.
Rod Gramer began his journalism career with the Statesman in 1975, covering stories ranging from the Teton Dam to Steve Symms' upset win over Sen. Frank Church. He served as political editor and editorial page editor until he left in 1988 for a career in television. "Fighting the Odds," his biography of Church with LeRoy Ashby, is the authority on the Idaho leader. Today he is CEO of Idaho Business for Education.
Stapilus served under Gramer as a political reporter then took over as political editor from 1986 to 1990. Dan Popkey came to the Statesman in 1984 as a police reporter and has covered politics since 1987, reporting on 25 sessions of the Legislature.
Micron born in a dentist's office
Two brothers from Blackfoot and a handful of Boise businessmen - including J.R. Simplot - met in a dentist's office in 1980 to put together Micron Technology. Ward Parkinson decided to quit a Texas semiconductor company in 1978. When the Dallas company fought his departure, he called his brother Joe, a Boise lawyer, to fight the lawsuit. Together the brothers returned to Idaho to form Micron.
Things were tough in the early years. But Micron began manufacturing dynamic random-access memory chips in 1981 and went public in 1984. By 1986, it was among the top 10 semiconductor producers in the world.
The wealth it brought its investors and workers, and through them to the rest of state, helped lift Idaho out of a recession. It also changed Idaho's economy, from one based on timber, farming and mining to one that was more diverse and resilient.
With two major high-tech companies on either end of Boise, the Idaho Statesman sought to meet the needs of a changing readership. Pete Zimowsky's outdoor columns and features became one of the most popular parts of a paper committed to serving outdoors-obsessed readers. Tim Woodward graduated to columnist and feature writer, and his tales of Boise and Idaho kept longtime Idahoans and newcomers attuned to Idaho's folkways and unique places.
Women lead again Pamela Meals became publisher in 1994, the first woman since Ailshie. She was the first of three women Gannett would pick to lead the Idaho Statesman as businesses across the nation got better recognizing the value of women. Margaret Buchanan followed Meals and, when she left for Cincinnati, Leslie Hurst took over.
Mike Petrak was briefly publisher after Gannett swapped several papers - including the Statesman - with Knight Ridder in 2005. When McClatchy bought Knight Ridder in 2006, Mi-Ai Parrish become publisher. She was succeeded by Mike Jung, who is publisher today.
In the 1990s, Gannett's policies favoring shorter stories and more feature news reduced the volume of enterprise and watchdog reporting (reflected in a 1990 banner front-page headline reporting a local television anchor moving to another channel). But in 1993, John Costa came from Florida's St. Petersburg Times, where he had led a team that had won a Pulitzer Prize.
The Idaho Statesman began running investigative stories on auto airbag safety, early childhood education, immunization and workers' compensation for farm workers. It also looked at the demise of major employers, such as Morrison-Knudsen, the global construction and engineering company born in Boise.
"Costa's approach to producing great journalism was simple: Take the best stories, assign them to the newsroom's most talented people, then get out of the way and let them do their jobs," wrote Jim Hopkins, one of Costa's most talented reporters. "He believed readers would remember big, impactful stories long after they'd forgotten the routine stuff we produce daily."
In 1997 under Meals, the Statesman ran a three-day series of editorials calling for breaching four dams on the Snake River to save salmon. That heralded a national debate over the future of dams and rivers across the United States. Costa was the driving force, seeking to examine the issue in a new way. "The Idaho Statesman - the local newspaper not known as an environmental crusader - stepped into the argument with a series of editorials that may have fundamentally altered the Pacific Northwest's ongoing debate over salmon," The Washington Post's Tom Kenworthy reported Nov. 9, 1997. "Embracing an idea that up to then had been discussed largely on the margins, Idaho's largest newspaper said it was time to remove at least portions of the four federal dams on the lower Snake River and let part of the Columbia's biggest tributary run free so that chinook and sockeye salmon could face fewer obstacles."
Costa soon left for Bend, Ore., where he remains editor in chief under former Statesman publisher Gordon Black. All of the editors who followed him, all women - Karen Baker, Carolyn Washburn and Vicki Gowler - followed the approach that Costa made part of the Statesman's DNA.
The reporter who has often carried this mantle has been Popkey. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for his coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho's troubled real estate development in Boise under editor Washburn. In 2007, Gowler assigned Popkey to explore the unsubstantiated reports that Sen. Larry Craig was a homosexual. A blogger's allegations had run in newspapers across the nation and the state, but Gowler asked for facts. She gave Popkey four months to investigate; when he was done, he had interviewed men who said they had sex with Craig and offered evidence. But Craig was adamant that the men were lying.
Gowler held the story, wanting better evidence before making such explosive claims. When news broke that Craig had pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after being charged with soliciting an undercover officer for sex in a Minnesota airport bathroom, the Statesman published Popkey's story. It was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news.
The sports boom
Sports also had grown into big news in the 1990s, with the arrival of the Steelheads hockey team, the rebuilding of the Boise State Broncos and the arrival on the scene of Kristin Armstrong, a young cyclist from the University of Idaho who qualified for the Olympic Trials in 1999. Boise State University's football program was gaining national respect, beating Top 10 teams and going undefeated.
In December of 2005 the Broncos elevated offensive coordinator Chris Petersen to head coach, beginning a string of record seasons. After an undefeated season in 2006, the Broncos defeated the Oklahoma Sooners in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl - considered one of the greatest games in college football history.
Americans were learning about the Broncos through the Statesman stories and columns of Chadd Cripe and Brian Murphy and photographs on the front pages of newspapers like The New York Times by Idaho Statesman photographers. Before he left for the University of Washington after the 2013 season, the Broncos under Petersen had won another Fiesta Bowl and recorded 92 wins against 12 losses.
In 2008, Armstrong put Idaho on the sports map by riding to a gold medal in the individual time trial cycling race in Beijing. After giving birth to a son, Armstrong came out of retirement to defend her Olympic title in the 2012 Olympics in London, at 38 becoming the oldest rider to win an Olympic time trial.
In 2014, Bronco Stadium, with its trademark blue turf, was renamed Albertsons Stadium, after the company that is re-establishing itself in Boise.
When Gannett sold the Idaho Statesman to Knight-Ridder Corp. in 2005, almost no one realized the speed with which newspapers would face major changes as part of the digital revolution. Less than a year later, the McClatchy Co. bought Knight-Ridder.
A year later, the economy fell into the worst recession since 1929. Newspaper advertising nationwide dropped off the cliff, much of it never to return. Staff cuts were inevitable. Advertisers were moving to the Internet, following the younger readers as apt to watch short videos on YouTube as to pick up a newspaper in a coffee bar. Readers also had less time and were demanding detailed, enterprising reporting in different forms.
Today the Statesman is printed at the Times News plant in Twin Falls, transmitted digitally. Reporters and photographers transmit from the scene of the news, sending stories, photos and videos from smartphones and laptops. Editors can communicate and edit 24/7, from anywhere they can get a wireless signal. Readers send photos, texts and tweets to the paper and offer their own take on the news in real time, from the scene of a traffic jam, from the Capitol, from Bronco Stadium.
A far cry from those first days, when news bulletins arrived at the Statesman's dirt-floor cabin after days on horseback. The Idaho Statesman was born in 1864 when its future readers and advertisers asked it to adapt - from a would-be Idaho City paper to become a Boise institution.
The Statesman, with its companion books, magazines, websites and apps, continues its tradition of reinventing itself to be Boise's and Idaho's source of news about the community, the state and beyond.