Idaho History

1800s journalist described Idaho to the masses, but did he ‘Stray’ from the truth?

Columnist Arthur Hart says people will always enjoy history because it’s about people

Arthur Hart shares his love for history as a teacher, museum director and in his columns found in the pages of the Idaho Statesman.
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Arthur Hart shares his love for history as a teacher, museum director and in his columns found in the pages of the Idaho Statesman.

Robert E. Strahorn was one of the most energetic and successful promoters Idaho has ever known. In July 1878, the Idaho Statesman editor received Strahorn’s 147-page pamphlet titled “To the Rockies and Beyond” and described it as “well-written.” When a second edition of Strahorn’s work came out in October 1879, the Statesman editor called it “a beautiful and interesting work” and “a very attractive little volume.”

In July 1881, the paper noted, “Robert E. Strahorn whose large work on the ‘Resources of Idaho’ will soon be published, has, accompanied by his wife and Cal. C. Clawson (Don Coyote) visited the Salmon and Wood River countries, and is now round about Rocky Bar and Atlanta.” (We have been unable to find a “Clawson” or a “Don Coyote” that fits this time frame, but we’ll keep looking.)

In August, the paper added, “Robert E. Strahorn, the well-known journalist, arrived here yesterday and will leave this morning for Owyhee County. He will return to the capital in a few days.” A month later the Statesman praised him extravagantly: “Strahorn, the irrepressible Denver journalist, who has done more to bring Idaho into notice than any other dozen newspaper men of our acquaintance, has returned from a trip to Spokane Falls and Coeur d’Alene Lake. He leaves here in a day or two for Wood River and thence into the Goose Creek country, and carries our best wishes with him. He has made an unequivocal success of everything he has undertaken.”

In January 1882, the Statesman reported, “We have received copies of ‘Idaho, the Gem of the Mountains,’ a pamphlet of 88 pages, published by Robert E. Strahorn. The little work is finely illustrated and printed, and embodies a vast amount of information. Everybody should have one for reference and one or more to send to their friends. The work is that authorized by act of the last legislature.”

In July 1883, the Statesman reprinted an item from the Bellevue Chronicle, a paper that was NOT impressed by Strahorn’s work. Deliberately misspelling his name, that paper wrote “Robert E. Strayhorn was interviewed by a Denver reporter, and he said Wood River valley was twenty miles wide in places. Speaking of business, he said: ‘There is a 20-ton smelter at Hailey, a smelter of 180 tons daily capacity twelve miles above Hailey, a 30-ton smelter 35 miles north of Hailey, an 80-ton smelter east of Hailey, and a 10-ton smelter at Bellevue, five miles south of Hailey. These are at present working 210 tons of ore daily and will continue to do so to their full capacity within thirty days.’ That’s the way it looks to a man up a tree, eh? It is certainly an interesting paragraph to the natives. Strayhorn ought to have a brass medal or a leather collar.”

Two weeks later, an interview with Strahorn that appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune aroused the outrage of the Idaho Statesman: “The author of this attempt to do Boise injury is evidently an enemy of Boise City, and suffers no opportunity to pass to belittle and to try to injure this city.”

Despite occasional episodes like this, Robert E. Strahorn’s lasting legacy is positive. One admirer wrote, “No man knew the West as he knew it, and few persons had a more active or important part in the building of the West.”

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