English-born Frank R. Gooding was elected governor of Idaho in 1904

Frank R. Gooding
Frank R. Gooding Idaho Statesman file

Idaho’s governors over the last 153 years have included some remarkable men, with a wide variety of talents and backgrounds. Nearly all of them were born in other states, three of them in other countries and only four of them in Idaho.

Frank R. Gooding, for whom an Idaho town and a county were named during his lifetime, was born in Tiverton, Devonshire, England, on Sept. 16, 1859. His family came to America in 1867 when he was a boy and settled first on a farm in Michigan before moving to California in 1877. Gooding traveled to Idaho Territory in 1881 when he was 22 and settled in Ketchum, where he supported himself by carrying the U.S. mail and selling firewood and charcoal. In 1888 he moved south from Ketchum and went into the sheep business near where the town of Gooding is today, and where he would become one of the largest wool growers in Idaho.

When Idaho became a state in 1890, Gooding emerged as a leader of the conservative faction in the Republican Party and frequently clashed with progressive Republicans such as William E. Borah. He was elected to the Idaho Legislature in 1898 and was elected governor of Idaho in 1904. He was elected to a second term in 1906.

Gooding was in office in December 1905, when former Gov. Frank Steunenberg was assassinated outside his Caldwell home by a bomb set by Harry Orchard. Western Federation of Miners officials Big Bill Haywood, Charles Moyer and George Pettibone were arrested in Colorado and brought to Boise for trial as conspirators in the murder. The mining industry contributed large sums of money to the state to pay the prosecutors in the case. This caused Republican President Theodore Roosevelt to send a letter to Gov. Gooding saying that Idaho’s government would make a serious mistake “if it permits itself to be identified with the operators more than the miners. … If the Governor or other officials of Idaho accept a cent from the operators or from any other capitalist with any reference, direct or indirect, to the prosecution, they would forfeit the respect of every good citizen, and I should personally feel that they had committed a real crime.”

Gooding denied that this was happening, but the prosecution continued to be funded with money from the mine owners. The Western Federation of Miners union, needless to say, contributed heavily to the defense. The aptly named “Trial of the Century” ended with the acquittal of Haywood, Moyer and Pettibone and added to the growing reputations of William E. Borah for the prosecution and Clarence Darrow for the defense. Darrow’s closing remarks to the jury on July 24, 1907, remind us of how emotionally charged that jam-packed Ada County courtroom was on that hot summer day:

“I want to say to you gentlemen, Bill Haywood can’t die unless you kill him. You must tie the rope. You 12 men of Idaho, the burden will be on you. If at the behest of this mob you should kill Bill Haywood, he is mortal, he will die, but I want to say that a million men will grab up the banner of labor at the open grave where Haywood lays it down, and in spite of prisons or scaffolds or fire, in spite of prosecution, or jury, or courts, these men of willing hands will carry it on to victory in the end.”

In 1918 Frank Gooding was nominated by the Idaho Republican party to complete the term of Democrat Senator James H. Brady, who had died in office. He was defeated by John Nugent, who had been appointed by Gov. Moses Alexander. Gooding defeated Nugent for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1920 and again in 1926.

He died of cancer at his daughter’s home in Gooding on June 24, 1928, at the age of 68.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@gmail.com.