Idaho History

For some of Idaho’s Irish pioneers, the Gem State was just one of many adventures

James McDevitt prospered in Idaho.
James McDevitt prospered in Idaho. Provided by Arthur Hart

Many of the Irishmen who followed the gold rush to Idaho had already had remarkable adventures along the way.

John D. Carroll, who arrived in Orofino in the 1860s, was born in Dublin in 1832, went to sea as a cabin boy at 14, and followed the gold rush to California in 1849 — and then the rush to Fraser River, Canada, in 1858. He next tried his luck at mining in Idaho at Florence and Silver City, and lived in Bonners Ferry before settling down on a homestead near Copeland, Idaho.

Timothy McCarthy, a native of County Cork, sailed to New Zealand in 1874. After herding sheep there and in Australia, he traveled to San Francisco in 1880, and settled in Rathdrum, Idaho, in 1883. He later worked in the Coeur d’Alene mines.

John J. O’Brien, born in County Kildare, came to America just in time to fight in the U.S. Civil War. He enlisted in the regular army and served at Fort Sherman, Idaho, from 1886 to 1896.

Thomas Brophy, born in Queens County, Ireland, also served in the Civil War before traveling to Louisiana and Texas. In 1878 he settled in Rathdrum, Idaho, a town named for Rathdrum, County Wicklow, Ireland

Annie McGuire, born in 1850 in County Cavan., also settled in Rathdrum. She had come to America with her parents in 1856, and lived in Wisconsin and Iowa before coming to Idaho.

James Gleeson, born in 1839 in Wexford, Ireland, traveled first to Australia, then to California, Chile and Mexico. He also lived for a time in New Orleans; Mississippi; Arkansas; Chicago; Texas; Dodge City, Kansas; and Los Angeles before settling in Kootenai County, Idaho, in 1880.

These are just a few of the Irish who traveled widely before settling in Idaho. Several more men, other than those mentioned above, fought in the U.S. Civil War, in the armies of both the Union and the Confederacy.

The first U.S. Census for Idaho, taken in 1870, found 885 Irish, 540 English, 335 Welsh and 114 Scots.

Some who prospered in Idaho were able to revisit the land of their birth. ”Off For Ireland,” wrote the Idaho World of Idaho City on Dec. 30, 1869. “Our old friend James McDevitt of Centerville who has been at Oro Grande during the past summer and fall, furnishing that camp with beef, started for the old country by stage on Tuesday.”

It is hard for us in the 21 st century to imagine a trip to Ireland of more than 3,000 miles that began with a rough ride by stagecoach, then by railroad and steamboat.

“Jim went pretty well ‘heeled’ judging by the weight of dust he brought in from Loon Creek,” the Idaho World wrote. “He intends to pass the winter with the old folks at home, whom he hasn’t seen for many years, and intends returning to Idaho by the first of April.”

McDevitt died in 1919 at 76. He is buried in Placerville, Idaho.

Idaho’s Irish followed closely the news from the old country, and at a meeting at Granite Creek on New Year’s Day 1870, passed a resolution praising the voters of Tipperary, Ireland, for electing O’Donovan Rossa as their representative in Parliament, despite the fact that he was in an English prison.

That Granite Creek meeting probably ended, as did many others, with the ancient battle cry of “Erin-go-Bragh — Ireland Forever!”

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

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