Idaho History

From his store to his house to politics, Cyrus Jacobs made his mark on early Boise

Cyrus Jacobs was a highly successful merchant and distiller.
Cyrus Jacobs was a highly successful merchant and distiller. Idaho State Historical Society

In November 1861, the man who would build Boise City’s first brick house and would later be elected the city’s mayor, was in business in Walla Walla, Washington. He advertised in that town’s Weekly Statesman newspaper:

“C. Jacobs & Co., Wholesale and Retail dealers in Dry Goods, Clothing, Groceries, Boots, Shoes, Hats and Caps, Hardware, Cutlery and Queensware (a kind of English chinaware). A good assortment of wines and liquors always on hand; also Miner’s Tools and Supplies. Please call and examine our stock, remembering always that it is no trouble to us to show goods.”

Historian H.H. Bancroft, in his 1890 “History of Washington, Idaho and Montana,” tells us that “Cyrus Jacobs, who purchased the first parcel of gold dust taken from the Boise Basin, took a stock of goods to Boise City in the summer of 1863, and sold them from a tent as they arrived, by the help of H.C. Riggs and James Mullany, clerks. Riggs and James Agnew erected the building known as Riggs Corner in July, and about the same time J.M. Hay and John A. James erected a meat market.”

Cy Jacobs was well-settled in Boise City in August 1864, when he advertised an even longer list of goods in the Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman. If there was a market for it, Jacobs stocked it in his store – which, he proudly advertised, was in a brick building at the southwest corner of Seventh and Main. They called them “general stores” in the 19th century, but few had the range of goods that Jacobs had. Only in a frontier town like Boise City could you buy clothing, blasting powder, cigars and tobacco, carpeting and wallpaper, mechanic’s and miner’s tools, whip and cross-cut saws, bacon sides, hams and lard.

Not mentioned in this particular ad was a product that became famous on the Idaho mining frontier: Jacobs Best rye whiskey.

In October 1865, the Statesman noted that “Jacobs & Co. moved their stock three doors below the corner yesterday, preparatory to pulling down the old adobe, which will soon give way to a handsome fire-proof brick.” In earlier ads Jacobs had advertised his adobe building as “brick,” but mud brick was definitely inferior to the fired product that replaced it.

In April 1866, Cy Jacobs was appointed one of three judges of Boise’s first charter election.

In October 1867, the company’s long and detailed ad lists dozens of products, and what became a specialty thereafter: “Fine Brandies, Wines & Liquors.”

In February 1868: “Boise Bacon – Mr. C. Jacobs has just got started in the bacon business, and is making an article far superior to any brought from Oregon – nice, clean, fatted just enough and cured just right. He is now making from three to four thousand pounds per week, but will soon increase the business. His price for the best quality of hams is 37 1/2 cents. At that price, and the rate of production, say 3500 pounds per week, there will be saved by one man to Boise City and Ada County the modest sum of thirteen thousand dollars per week which has here-to-for been sent to Walla Walla and Oregon for bacon. How immensely rich the county of Ada might be if she raised all the produce she is capable of and sold it to the mining counties, instead of purchasing for her own consumption.”

More of the Cyrus Jacobs story next week.

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

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