Idaho History

Lafayette Cartee admired, respected in 19th century Boise

Reported the Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman on June 20, 1872: “General Cartee’s grounds and improvements surpass anything this side of California.” Idaho’s surveyor general was then building a large stone cellar above ground in the rear of his house for storing some of his nursery stock and vegetables.

Lafayette Cartee’s barn was easily the most elegant one in town. When it burned in March 1904, the Statesman described it and its history: “The first floor of the building was lined with brick, making it one of the most substantially constructed in the locality. General Cartee was an extensive raiser of thoroughbred horses and cattle and prided himself upon the care he gave his stock. The lumber for the structure was furnished, in part, by A. Rossi. Some of it was hauled to the city from Umatilla, Ore. The building was completed in 1873. The large cupola, which added greatly to the ornateness of the building, could be seen for quite a distance and frequently impressed approaching travelers with the idea that it was a place of worship.”

With the fortune in imported trees, shrubs and other plants growing on the 24 acres behind Cartee’s house at Fourth and Grove, livestock that ran loose around town was a real headache for Cartee. An ad he ran in the Statesman for several months, starting in November 1874, read, “Warning! I am prepared to shoot all unruly stock that shall break into my Nursery. Owners of such stock will take due notice — L.F. Cartee.” Loose hogs that rooted their way under fences were especially destructive of gardens and were mentioned specifically in another Cartee ad warning their owners.

Lafayette Cartee was a loving and devoted father to his four motherless children, determined that they should have the best educational and cultural opportunities he could provide. On April 23, 1875, an elegant farewell party was given for Mr. and Mrs. David Falk and Miss Carrie Cartee, age 17. “Mr. Falk and wife go to visit friends in Europe. Miss Cartee accompanies them intending to engage in study at one of the celebrated places of learning in the Old World.”

“The party was a great success,” declared the paper. “ Boise for a little forgot that it was a remote inland town far from railroads or telegraphs, and the lamps shown on fair women and gallant men as brilliantly as they might have done in capitals more esteemed for gaiety and social splendor. Beauty never fails at any gathering in an American city, and Boise is second to none in the charms of its daughters who came on this occasion to assert their esteem and sympathy for those who were about to leave them.”

At midnight the 50 guests stopped dancing the “graceful waltzes and sociable quadrilles” that had occupied them for several hours long enough to partake of an elegant supper, after which they took to the floor and danced until dawn.

Mr. and Mrs. Falk and Carrie Cartee left Boise on May 4, 1875, to be gone for two years on a journey that would take them to New York, Paris, Berlin, Vienna and Switzerland. Miss Cartee would go to Miss Valentine’s Protestant Seminary in Frankfurt, where she would study music, French and German. For the Falks it was a return to the land of their birth and a chance to visit old friends and relatives.

After seeing his oldest daughter off on the great adventure of her young life, the rest of 1875 was a busy one for Cartee. In May the Statesman predicted that his fruit crop that year would sell for at least $10,000, surpassed only by Tom Davis’ $20,000 crop. Cartee began the addition of a new two-story front to his Grove Street house in July. “The frame is up and it gives the appearance of what will be a large magnificent residence,” observed the Statesman.

Thomas Donaldson, who knew and admired Cartee in the years he was in Boise, remembered that he was “a Mason of high standing, and I recall his well-timed efforts to rid the order of gamblers and saloon keepers of bad character.” Cartee and Donaldson were members of a group that included C.W. Moore and John Hailey that met regularly in the winter of 1871-72 to devise a plan to persuade Union Pacific to build what became the Oregon Short Line across Southern Idaho in 1883. Cartee drew maps of the proposed route from Ogden Utah to the Columbia River.

“Cartee, an excellent man, was a practical engineer with a thorough knowledge of Idaho and Oregon.”

Next week: The final episode on the life and work of Surveyor General Lafayette Cartee.

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