Idaho History

At College of Idaho and in Caldwell, Carrie Strahorn’s legacy shines

Carrie Adell Strahorn, wife of Robert Strahorn, was a prominent member of early Caldwell and one of the founding members of the Presbyterian Church. Strahorn Hall is named in her honor.
Carrie Adell Strahorn, wife of Robert Strahorn, was a prominent member of early Caldwell and one of the founding members of the Presbyterian Church. Strahorn Hall is named in her honor. Idaho State Historical Society

Robert E. Strahorn (1852-1944), who would play a significant role in the history of Idaho and the Pacific Northwest, began his professional career as a war correspondent for The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.

The conflict he described for the readers of those noted papers has come to be known as The Great Sioux War of 1876, best remembered for Custer’s last stand at Little Big Horn. Although not in the Army, Strahorn traveled and fought in the command of Gen. George Crook, who said of him, “Strahorn worked as well with his rifle as with his pen.” The secretary of war commended him for “distinguished bravery and gallantry in action against hostile Indians.” Of his experience with the Army, Strahorn said that he had received “the most cordial, and often affectionate treatment” by the rank and file.

Of the Sioux War, he wrote: “In the dozen engagements in which I participated there were only a couple of weeks of real fighting, while the pursuit of the Indians to gain that result involved over a year of continuous and most arduous hunting for them, the various marches totaling about 4,000 miles. Much of this was accomplished in blizzards, in far below zero temperatures, without tents or adequate bedding, alternating with blistering and famishing lack of water. Most of it was fatiguing and monotonous in the extreme, and a lot of it on half and quarter rations, some of it only horse meat, supplied by our worn out and dying horses.”

In 1877 Strahorn married Carrie Green, the love of his life, and was hired by Jay Gould to work as a publicist for the Union Pacific Railroad – a job he’d take only if he could take his wife with him wherever he was sent. The railroad reluctantly agreed. His assignment was to attract Easterners by extoling the pleasures, opportunities and benefits of living “out west,” and especially in the new territory of Idaho. In last week’s column we listed the several booklets he wrote and published to attract settlers.

In 1882, in part on the recommendation of Strahorn, the Union Pacific began building the Oregon Short Line westward across southern Idaho, and in 1883, a Wood River branch northward from Shoshone. Also in 1882, Strahorn and others formed the Idaho-Oregon Land Development Company, which began buying up land at strategic locations along the railroad. Among the towns founded by Robert E. Strahorn and his partners at these sites were Caldwell, Weiser, Payette, Mountain Home, Hailey and Shoshone.

Strahorn platted the city of Caldwell in 1883, and he and Carrie made their home there, during which time she was one of the founding members of the Presbyterian Church. In 1891, The College of Idaho – affiliated with the church – enrolled its first class of 19 students, with the Rev. William Judson Boone as its first president.

When Carrie died in 1925, Robert E. Strahorn donated funds for the construction of Strahorn Memorial Library at C of I in her honor. The building was renamed Strahorn Hall in 1967 after a new library was built. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, a fitting tribute to a remarkable pioneer woman. Her 1911 book, “Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage,” is still in print.

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

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