Idaho History

Almost as quickly as Idaho’s pioneers formed a historical group, it ‘passed from view’

William Armistead Goulder was a pioneer among pioneers and a fine writer.
William Armistead Goulder was a pioneer among pioneers and a fine writer.

Idaho’s pioneers were proud of the part they had played in the creation of Idaho Territory, established on July 3, 1863, and in February 1881 they met in Boise to organize as the Historical Society of Idaho Pioneers. To be eligible for membership a man or woman had to have been a resident of the territory before July 4, 1864.

The first stated objective of those who met was to collect material for a history. On Feb. 8, 1881, the Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman reported that a committee of five men had been appointed to draw up bylaws and a constitution: Milton Kelly, Cyrus Jacobs, James H. Hawley, Judge H.E. Prickett and Col. E.A. Stevenson. The paper listed the names of 43 people who qualified for membership and the date of their arrival in Idaho. At the first election of officers, banker C.W. Moore, of Boise, was chosen president. Vice presidents were J.W. Poe, of Lewiston; E.A. Stevenson, of Idaho City; J.W. Garrett, of Bellevue; and H.E.Prickett and H.E. Redway, of Boise. Boise’s A.L. Richardson was elected secretary and Boise’s W.A. Goulder his assistant.

(Goulder would later write a classic memoir titled “Reminiscences: Incidents in the Life of a Pioneer in Oregon and Idaho.” It was first published in 1909 by Timothy Regan, of Boise, and then by the University of Idaho Press in 1989 with an introduction by Merle W. Wells.)

Founding members paid an initiation fee of $5.00 each and were able to secure an annual appropriation of $250 from the Idaho Legislature.

In July 1883, professor James Heard brought out the American flag that had floated over Boise City’s first town meeting on July 7, 1863, when the city’s first business blocks were laid out by surveyors who had to break their way through dense sagebrush. Five of the city’s founders from that day were still residents: Jacobs, Thomas Davis, Frank Davis, James Mullaney and James Heard.

Two years later the Idaho Statesman complained in an editorial about the apathy of the pioneer membership, since they had not had a meeting in two years, but in February 1884, two of those pioneers decided to host one themselves: “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 nonpartisan and nonsectarian. 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.” A few days later the Statesman was still enthusing over the party hosted by Rube and Jimmy: “It deserves to be ranked among the first of the many pleasant social events of the season.”

The paper continued to editorialize about the need to reactivate the Pioneer Society, “which has seemed to quietly pass from view.” On Feb. 5, 1885: “Historical Society. Boise City has made a good stand in favor of education, but the want of a literary or historical society is too apparent to need comment. There is not a town in the Territory that is behind Boise City in this regard. We have more teachers, more lawyers, more doctors, really more literary talent than any two or three towns in the Territory, but no association for literary purposes. Each seems bent on making all the money he can today, and he has no time to join a club or society for the advancement of knowledge. A few years ago we organized a pioneer Historical Society, but all we did was to organize. This Territory is 22 years old under the organic act. By settlement it is a few years older, and if we count the American fur company and the missionaries who first came among the Indians we date back to 1831, as early as any American settlements were effected in Oregon.”

“The object of the Pioneer Historical Society was to collect the statistics and write them up as a history of the Territory. It is to our shame if we neglect our history any longer.”

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