Idaho History

Musical groups brought early Idahoans together — even at the end of the Civil War

Idaho City’s brass band was the community’s pride and joy.
Idaho City’s brass band was the community’s pride and joy. Idaho State Historical Society

Music played a large part in the social life of early Idaho. Nearly every town, no matter how small, had its musicians and musical groups.

The Idaho World, Idaho City’s pioneer newspaper, wrote this on Nov. 12, 1864: “The Idaho band has become one of the most attractive figures of the city. Through the Summer and during the Fall campaign it kept the political parties marching to the sound of its martial airs. The piping times of peace having succeeded the stormy era of politics, the Band adjusts itself to the spirit of the times. During the long evenings of Winter the public receives the benefit of their notes; strains ‘Falling at intervals upon the ear in cadence sweet! Now dying all away Now pealing loud again and louder still, clear and sonorous as the gale comes on.’

“The band is an excellent one and worthy of the esteem in which it is held by the citizens of this town. It is composed of the following gentlemen: Wm. B. Pasto, C.E Bray, A. Schroder, J.A. Storms and W.C. Wilcox.”

S. Barney’s Quadrille Band played for a Calico Ball that November for the benefit of the city’s Protestant Church. A “Calico Ball” was less formal than the balls held on major holidays, probably because calico was a fabric often used in everyday house dresses, in contrast to the silks and satins of Christmas and New Year’s balls. The Idaho World thought Paston’s band was “Not excelled by any other in the northern county.”

When a Philharmonic Society was formed in Idaho City in December 1864, the World had some fun with words, saying the new group was “designed for social enjoyment” and would be “equally as much Philologic, Philanthropic, Philomatic, Philopolemic, Philosophistic, and Philotechnic.”

The music played at Placerville in February 1865 reminded us that the Civil War was nearing the end of its fourth bloody year and Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender. Boise County had many Southerners and Southern sympathizers in its population, and the Idaho World reported, “Not a word was said to mar the harmony and pleasure of those present.” A sum of $200 was collected for the benefit of the Christian Sanitary Organization, a group formed to aid medics in the field with much needed supplies. The Glee Club sang “Kindly greet the weary soldier,” “Gone, gone to the War,” “God save the Nation” and “Jimmy was Drafted iMnto the Army.” The evening closed with the singing of “Good Night.”

In August 1868 the World said of the Idaho City Brass Band, “Our German fellow citizens composing this splendid band are entitled to special mention for their skill. The band will compare with an equal number of musicians anywhere.”

When a group of musicians serenaded the staff of the Idaho World on a summer night in 1869, the paper responded fulsomely: “Mellifluous as the pipings of Orpheus, and melodious as the warblings of nightingales were the instrumental music and singing of the agreeable friends who came serenading to this office on Monday night, to solace the mind after the labors of the day and drive dull care away. You have made us yours.”

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