Pioneer Life in Idaho
by L. N. Perkins
In 1923 Leander Perkins chronicled his adventures in the West in a series of articles for the Watauga Democrat, a weekly newspaper in Boone, North Carolina. In July 1886, in the middle of his travels, he encountered neighbor, Hugh Franklin McCarter, who convinced him to abandon his plans and accompany him to Idaho.
In the Wood River Valley of Idaho, Leander toured the Tyranus mine site of former neighbors James McCarter and Joe Reedy, and later traveled with H. F. to the Camas Prairie where he filed a homestead on a quarter section near the town of Soldier.
While there are a number of histories about the early settlement of the Camas Prairie, it is rare to come across a first person account. Leander's writings cover the activities around the Prairie from 1886 through 1890.
This article is reprinted with permission from the Watauga Democrat newspaper of Boone, North Carolina and has been edited for clarity.
We pick up Leander's journey as he's leaving New Mexico for Yakima, Washington in the summer of 1886.
Emigrant Train to Idaho
When I returned to Springer, I found a letter waiting for me from the old gentleman I had traveled with through "no man's land." He was located in the Yackimaw Valley, state of Washington. He was pleased with the country and urged me to come to that valley. It was my purpose to go there anyway, so I wrote my uncle at Fort Worth to ship my trunk to Kansas City. I sold my horse, but took my saddle with me. As soon as I made my arrangements satisfactory, I boarded the train and bade farewell to New Mexico.
On arriving at Kansas City I learned that I would have to lay over there some hours before I could get a through train going west. I went to the express office and found my trunk had come up all right. I wanted to go to Washington, but the agent could could only give me a ticket to Portland, Oregon.
Hugh Franklin McCarter
After procuring my ticket and having my baggage checked, I yet had three or four hours to wait. By this time the waiting room in the depot was nearly full of travelers, so I began to look around to see if I could see any familiar faces. It had been nearly three months since I had seen anyone I had ever known when, to my surprise, I met H. F McCarter who I had known nearly all my life. He lived near my home in Grayson Co., Va., but was on his way to southern Idaho.
Of course I soon told him where I had started and hoped we would travel together for some distance. He had a ticket to Omaha, Neb. where he was to meet an emigrant agent and get his ticket to his destination which was Hailey, Idaho.
He began urging me to go with him to Idaho, and try that before going on to Washington. I was not much inclined toward Idaho. I told him I thought it was too cold and barren. He insisted that I come anyway and, if I did not like it, I could go on further after. He thought we could arrange a ticket exchange when we got to Omaha as we would have to stop there several hours before taking an emigrant train. I finally agreed to stop a while in Idaho if I could exchange the ticket and get my baggage arranged satisfactorily. Otherwise I would have to go on.
We had tickets over different roads to Omaha, and he left some time before my train came along. When my train pulled up at Council Bluffs across the river from Omaha, my friend was waiting for me. We told the baggage man that I wished to lay over one or two days there and would like to have my trunk. This was on a Sunday morning which necessitated us remaining there that day as the ticket office was closed for the day.
The next morning we found the emigrant agent and explained that I wished to have my ticket for Portland, Ore. exchanged for Hailey, Idaho. He took us to the headquarters of the Union Pacific System and explained the situation to the officials, and they made the exchange for me. The agent told us we would have to wait until 8 o'clock that night before we could get an emigrant train through to our destination.
At that time there was a very heavy emigration from the states east of the Mississippi river to the far west. All through trains were crowded with people going west. The emigrant coaches were well equipped for the business with berths and stoves, and water and fuel in abundance. There was no change of cars from Omaha to Portland, so when we boarded the migrant train, we were at home for the balance of the trip.
At Shoshone, Idaho we left our emigrant train and took a branch line to the Wood River Valley, our destination being Hailey, the central town of the valley.
The Tyranus Mine
James P. McCarter 1848-1920
We were met at that town by Jim McCarter, a brother of my friend who had been a resident of Idaho for some years. He and another man, Joe Reedy, a former citizen of my home county, owned and were operating a mine known as the Tyranus. The distance from Hailey to the Tyranus was about 30 miles. It was a Galena mine situated on the headwaters of "Little Smoky," a small stream of water so named because of the many hot springs along its banks causing a perpetual smoke to arise from the water.
Since I was personally acquainted with both men who owned the mine, having known them in Virginia, it was arranged that we would visit the Tyranus and see something of the workings of the mining sections of the country.
Idaho was then a great mining country – gold, silver, and lead being the prominent minerals that were then mined. I had no special taste for becoming a miner and did not expect to engage in the business, neither did my traveling companion. We just made them a visit. Our objective point was a valley west of Hailey situated on a tributary of Wood River and known as the Big Camas Prairie.
The next morning Jim McCarter said to me, "I thought you might wish to buy a cayuse. An old prospector has some here to sell, if you wish we will go look at them."
I had never heard of a cayuse and had no idea what they would look like, but I did not wish to expose my ignorance and be laughed at so I said, "Yes I would like to see them, where are they?"
"Oh, they are in a corral back of the livery stable," said he.
So in short time we were on our way to the corral to see the cayuses. When we arrived, what do you think we saw? Nothing more or less than a few Indian ponies trotting around the lot. Cayuse is the Indian name for a small horse and the word was much in use at that time.
The Indian pony was a very valuable horse and was much used by prospectors, travelers, etc. They are not to be confused with the "dollar a dozen" Shetland ponies we have in the U.S. Those cayuses would carry a man 60 miles a day, one day after another, and live on bunch grass.
After we had examined them sufficiently, Mr. McCarter and I each bought a cayuse and, before ten o'clock, we were on our way to the Tyranus. The horse I bought, I kept as long as I lived in Idaho, and then I gave him to my nephew who kept him as long as he lived. He had been trained by an old prospector and was not afraid of wild game and would stand perfectly still and allow you to shoot off of him. This was a great advantage to hunters as you can get much nearer to wild game on horse back than on foot.
I will have to explain what was known as a "prospector" in that country. They were professional miners who were not content to work for wages, but expected to make a fortune or "strike it rich" as they would call it by hunting over the hills and mountains for the precious metals. They would work in the mines in the winter months and get a little money ahead. Then when spring came they would get them a cayuse, a small camping outfit, a pick and shovel, frying pan and coffee pot, and would spend the summer months hunting over the hills and mountains for gold and silver. They camped out alone and lived mostly on wild game. Their nearest neighbors were coyotes, mountain lions, bears, etc.
There were great numbers of them at that time all over those mining localities, and they would keep up the business every summer as long as they were able to work. One, perhaps, in a thousand would strike it rich and become independent, but the great majority of them eventually went to an alms house and filled a pauper's grave.
I knew one man personally who made an independent fortune mining. He worked in the mines until he had some money of his own, and he then obtained an option on a silver mine near Hailey for $60,000. He went to London, England and sold the mine for half a million dollars, thus making a clear profit of over $400,000.
Another young man from Illinois came to Wood River Valley and decided to try prospecting a while. He bought him a pick and shovel, went out into the hills where there were some men at work on a claim, and told them his business. They at once set him down as a greenhorn from the states (which he was) and thought they would have some fun at his expense. So they took him to an old abandoned excavation and told him that was the place for him to work – thought he would soon strike it rich – and went back to their work chuckling over their stunt.
The young man went to work with a vim and, in less than a month, he struck a rich vein of ore, sold his claim for $2,500, put the money in his pocket and went back home leaving the men who showed him the claim sitting on the hill cursing their folly. Such instances as these are rare, but they are enough to excite the mining men to try their luck with the results mentioned above.
As before mentioned, the Tyranus was situated about thirty miles from Hailey near the base of the Sawtooth mountains near a small stream of water know as Little Smoky. On the day mentioned our party arrived at the Tyranus a little before sundown. This was about the 19th of July and there was still plenty of snow on the north side of the hills, much of it remaining all the year. We found the boys comfortably situated in their mining cabins which were build of logs. They were working a few hands and had a Chinese cook.
There were several mines in that section, the most of them paying properties, but the "camp" as it was called was twelve or fifteen miles from any farming section and the hills were rough. The south sides were covered with grass and sagebrush, and the north side with a heavy growth of fir timber.
Along the water courses the boiling hot springs were numerous, so much so that a perpetual stream was rising from the water that in the distance very much resembled the smoke from a steam engine. The strange part about it was the close proximity of the hot and cold water. I have stood in places where I could put one finger of my hand in boiling hot water and, at the same time, I could put the other hand in ice cold water.
I was shown one spring where the hunters and miners would cook their meat by putting it in a bucket and swinging it into the hot spring. It would cook it as thoroughly as it could be done on a cook stove. I have tasted the water from different hot springs after it had cooled enough to drink, and it all has the same taste which, though not unpleasant, has a strong mineral taste. It is supposed to have medicinal properties and is recommended for rheumatism and other ailments.
There was one man, a miner working at the Tyranus Camp, that I was much interested in. His name was York, and he may be of the same family of that name in N. C., though I am not positive about that. He was well informed on most any subject you could suggest, had traveled extensively over the mining sections of the North West, but he had not accumulated anything. I accounted it to his love for rambling over different parts of the world, but I found it otherwise as I will explain.
At the time I was with him he had quit working for wages, but had taken a lease on a certain property and was working it on shares and a short time afterward he “struck it rich” and in about two weeks time cleared $1,500. As soon as he got his money, he took a vacation going down to the town of Hailey and was gone three weeks. When he came back he was entirely without money, did not have anything at all to show for his work on the lease, and went to work again in mines for wages. I learned that this was not an uncommon occurrence among mining men which explains why there was so many of them who lived to old age, never married, and never owned anything more than a blanket and a cayuse.
I enjoyed my visit to the camps and was much interested in the mines and the personal of the men who work in the gold and silver mines. They are very different from the men who work in the coal mines. (I spent a few days with my brothers who had charge of a coal mining camp in Kentucky before I visited the silver mines of the west). The gold and silver miners are intelligent and most of them fairly well educated and it was a pleasure to converse with them on account of their experiences in different parts of the country, some of which will be of interest to many who are not acquainted with mining men.
The Big Camas Prairie
View of Camas Prairie and Soldier Mountain courtesy of Dan Robbins at Idahosummits
We stayed one day and two nights at the mining camps and then mounted our cayuses and started to the Big Camas Prairie at a distance of about twenty miles from the mining camps across a small mountain.
When in Hailey, before going on the visit to the Tyranus, I formed the acquaintance of a rancher who lived on Camas Prairie. He was an ex-Confederate Soldier and had formerly lived in Missouri and Arkansas. His name was William McCann, and he had only been a resident of Idaho three years, but he was well pleased with the country and insisted that I look it over.
From him I obtained some information about the climate, soil, and products of the Prairie. I told him I was expecting to make a trip to Camas and see the valley for myself. He promised to give me what assistance he could and invited me to come to his house and make it my home while I was in the valley. He told us his home was close to a small town by the name of Soldier about thirty miles west of Hailey.
The valley then known as Big Camas Prairie is about eighty miles in length and from eight to sixteen miles in width surrounded by hills and mountains. The low hills near the valley in this Western country are known as foothills and are covered with a very luxurious grass known as bunch grass. Stock feeding on bunch grass will take on more fat than any feed I know of.
There are five Camas Prairies in Idaho, so named on account of a weed that grows in many places in these prairies. These valleys or prairies have local names to distinguish one from the other. The weed resembles our artichoke in some respects – has a bulb or root that is edible. Hogs thrive on it and the Indians used it for food.
On the day mentioned, we reached Mr. McCann's about sundown where we were hospitably entertained overnight. The next day we went on ten miles further west to a settlement known as Corral, where my friend, Mr. McCarter, bought him a ranch. Some friends of his had selected the situation for him before he came. I left him there and returned that evening to Mr. McCann's near Soldier.
This town of Soldier was so named on account of a detachment of U.S. troops that were stationed there to guard against the Indians who were troublesome in those days in all that portion of the country. The valley at that time was just beginning to be settled up – had only been cleared of Indians and surveyed a few years. The first white settler's house in the valley was built in 1881 and there were only three houses built that year, but when I reached the valley there were about two hundred voters living there. Quite an increase in less than five years.
In the section of country, between the Rocky mountains and the Cascades, the face of the country, the climate, the soil, and the native growth of timber and vegetation is entirely different from the section east of the Rockies and, more especially, east of the Mississippi river. The valleys alone can be cultivated or inhabited as it is a dry sunshiny country and all of the low valleys have to be irrigated to obtain results.
The mountains are high and rugged, the foothills are higher there than the Grandfather mountains in N.C. Some very productive valleys are from five to seven thousand feet above sea level. The valleys and the south side of the foothills are covered with grass and sagebrush. The north sides of the hills and low mountains have a heavy coat of fir timber and a sprinkling of Quakonasp [quaking aspen] along the water courses.
This valley of the Big Camas Prairie was an ideal one in many respects. The altitude of the valley proper was five thousand feet. On the south side was a low mountain separating it from the Snake river plains. On the north side the mountains were high and rugged. The top of one of the peaks immediately north of the town of Soldier was above the timber level. The north side, being covered with perpetual snow, was rolling enough to drain the water, consequently it was healthy and free from the mosquito pest.
There was a small stream of water which traversed the South hills, known as the Malad river – a tributary of the Wood and Snake rivers. From the north side, at convenient distances, three small creeks run through the valley into this Malad river thus affording sufficient pure water for settlers.
The climate is very different there from N.C. There are more sunshiny days in one year than any country I have ever known. Very little rain falls as most of the precipitation is in the form of snow in the high valleys. It will measure anywhere from 2 ½ to 4 feet in depth. The first snow that falls in early winter is the last going off in the spring. During the winter of '86 and '87, I measured the depth of the snow in different localities and it was just four feet.
The first snow usually comes the last of November or early in December, about a foot in depth. When the cold wave sweeps over, the ranchers house their wheel vehicles and get out their bob-sleds and cutters and use them till spring. For a month or more the sleighing is fine. Though the sun shines most of the time, the snow does not melt enough to be disagreeable and the weather not cold enough to be unpleasant.
After the snow falls to a great depth for a month or more, travel is entirely suspended, except where the roads are kept open by constant travel. Where the roads are not kept open, persons traveling them are compelled to use snowshoes – the Norwegian pattern being the kind used in that country. I have known good sized congregations at church and Sunday school all traveling on snowshoes.
Usually in February there is a spot of soft weather when the snow will sink some and pack till a crust will form on top and the travel is good till about the last of March. When the snow beings to get soft, you must stay in the roads till it melts off. In that locality the snow never is taken off with a rain, but goes off gradually with the sun and water courses do not get out of their banks. Some seasons there are "chinook" winds from the Japan current that takes the snow away in short order, in two or three days time the ground is dry and the roads dusty.
The soil on the Prairie was from two to four feet deep, owing to the locality, and very productive. It required very little irrigating. The grain crops grown were wheat, oats, and barley. The spring varieties of grain were sown in May and harvested in September. The winter varieties of wheat sown in full would not produce near as much as the spring varieties, but the quality was better.
Wheat would yield from 30 to 40 bushels to the acre, oats and barley from 60 to 100 bushels per acre. No corn would be grown except very early varieties and that in limited quantities. The seasons were short, owing to altitude and latitude.
There were several herds of cattle and cow camps on the foothills on both sides of the valley where the cattle were grazed in summer where the tender grass prevailed. They were driven over the mountain in winter to the range on the Snake river valley where they received very little feeding.
There was an unlimited amount of wild game – deer, elk, antelope, and bear, besides three varieties of wild chickens, the prairie chicken, sage hen, and blue grouse. The laws were rigid. There were only three months open season for deer and antelope and six months for chicken. You could shoot bear and ducks anytime you could catch them. The deer were of the mule ear or black tail variety and were large and fine, many of them netting two hundred and fifty pounds. They were migratory – in fall of the year they would go to the plains in the low valleys where there was very little snow.
The antelope were also migratory, but the elk remained on the mountains with the wild sheep and goats. If the snow was deep before the first of January when the season closed, they were an easy prey to the hunter.
In addition to the game mentioned, there were plenty of coyotes, mountain lions, badgers, prairie dogs, and porcupine. There were wolves of the grey variety and martin and beaver. There were three varieties of bear – the black bear, which is common in this country, the brown bear, and the bold faced grisly. The brown and grisly were large and ferocious and unless you were well armed and knew just how to use those arms, it was not safe to be caught in their company.
In the fall of '86 I saw three brown bear that had been killed by an old hunter near Hailey, and sold to a butcher in town for seventy-five dollars. They were an old bear and two cubs. I saw them before they were dressed. The cubs weighed 300 each and the old one nailed down the scales at 695 pounds. The butcher retailed the meat at twenty five cents per pound.
There being so many mining and cattle camps in that country, there was a good market for everything. The towns and mining camps had meat markets that kept much wild meat. Venison or deer meat usually sold for about the same price as good beef. Deer were more plentiful than any other animal game, and it was great sport to bag them to those who love to hunt for a living. I was always very fond of hunting, but I did not depend on that for a living.
The Town of Soldier
After my return to Mr. McCann's, who lived a mile from the town of Soldier, I made my home with him for some months. I helped him put up his hay and grain, it then being the time of haying. Hay was abundant, as the Prairie was covered everywhere with grass. There was no tame hay grown except small patches of ground a few ranches were experimenting with.
During the month of August I bought a ranch situated one mile east of Soldier on the Stage road that ran from Hailey through the Prairie and on to Boise, the capitol of the state. The owner of the ranch had filed a homestead on the quarter section and had been living on it two years. He had built a comfortable box house and had twenty acres in cultivation. The man had no title to his property, but had to go to the land office in Hailey and relinquish his homestead before I could file a claim on it.
If I lived up to the requirements of the law, at the proper time I could prove up on it and get a title for it from the government. The man from whom I bought was of a roving disposition and, soon after the trade was made, moved to another section of the country leaving my house vacant. My brother William's family were expected to come to me, but thought best to wait till spring of the year to make the trip.
As before noted, there were about two hundred voters living on the Prairie, all of whom were white people – no Indians, Chinese, or Negroes. There were four Post offices, from five to ten miles apart and a stage route from Hailey to Corral, a distance of forty miles. The stage made three trips per week.
The town of Soldier at this time consisted of two hotels, two saloons, two stores, a post office, a dance hall, a blacksmith shop, and one dwelling house. There were three ranchers living near the town as all the land for some distance on all sides was taken up mostly by homesteaders. The nearest church house was at Hailey where there was an Episcopal church. The next nearest was at Bellerien, a mining camp town fifty-five miles distance, where there was a small Baptist church and a Presbyterian church.
Since there was no church nearer to Soldier than thirty miles, there was very little preaching. Occasionally some traveling minister would pass through the valley and preach in the dance hall, that being the only public meeting house in town or county for several miles.
Idaho was then a Territory and, as there was no Sunday law on the statute books, the cattle men and the miners worked on Sunday the same as any other day and the stores and saloons were kept open. Some ranchers who had conscientious scruples would work all week and then on Sunday go to the stores to do their trading.
The first week I stayed on the prairie, I made inquiry about Sunday school and learned there was a small one conducted at the dance hall by a lady who lived about two miles from Soldier. The family with whom I made my home did not work on Sunday, but were not regular attendants at the Sunday school. On that particular day, they did not care to go, so I resolved to go and see for myself.
The town was in plain view of my home, as were all other houses as far as the eye could see. On my way to Sunday school my attention was attracted to the hum of a mowing machine and, stopping to listen, I counted five machines that were running, cutting hay on that Sunday morning. I soon learned this was no uncommon occurrence and did not excite any comment and later, when grain was threshed, I learned that many of the crews paid no attention to Sunday.
On arriving at the dance hall, I found a few persons there, some of whom I had met during the week. When the crowd all were gathered, there were not present more than twenty or thirty persons, mostly grown up folks. I formed the acquaintance of the leader and spent the hour pleasantly.
After my introduction into the Sunday school at the dance hall, it began to grow in interest and numbers. By fall we had a very interesting school, as it was the only public place for people to go to on Sunday who did not patronize the saloons.
The members of the Sunday school were of different religious affiliations, most all of the protestant denominations being represented. The lady who conducted the organization was a Campbellite, and the literature we used was published by the David C. Cook Co.
Settlers kept moving into the neighborhood, and the question of having a public free school began to be agitated. By the first of October it was agreed there were children enough to organize a school, but there was no school house and it was decided the dance hall was not a suitable place to teach a public school. Besides the hall was private property and belonged to a man living about a half a mile from town who required rent for the use of it.
Dancing was the favorite pastime in that country then and very little attention was paid to any other social gathering. All the legal holidays were celebrated with a dance at night, also all the political meetings were concluded with a ball. So the man who owned the hall received quite a bit of revenue from its use. Though he did not charge anything for its use by the Sunday school. He did not attend the Sunday school himself, but his wife was a regular attendant with her nephew whom she was raising.
When it was decided by those interested that the time had come to build a school house, the men of the neighborhood met on Sunday morning early in October at the dance hall. As soon as the services were concluded, they proceeded to select a site and struck off the ground for a comfortable school house. When in Rome you must do as the Romans do, so I was one of the number who had the honor of helping select the ground and locate the first school house in that section of the country.
In those western countries where I have been, when the people decide to do a thing, they proceed to do it at once. So work on the proposed school house was soon commenced and prosecuted to a finish. The rough lumber for the house could be procured on the Prairie, but the finishing lumber had to be shipped from Oregon to Hailey on the railroad and then hauled thirty miles on wagons. Notwithstanding all that, before Christmas a nice, roomy, comfortable house was completed. A teacher from Boise Valley was secured, and a good school was being taught where three months before was unbroken prairie.
As soon as the school house was ready for use, the Sunday school was moved there where it was carried on successfully during the winter. Soon after the free school was begun, a Literary Society was organized, and I was honored by being elected its first president.
The Literary Society was a success from the start. We met every Friday night, and a paper called the Soldier Gimlet was read at the close of the session which added much to the enjoyment of those present. Our school house was frequently taxed to its capacity to accommodate the crowd. Many of them in the early winter, while sleighing was good, were coming a distance of ten to fifteen miles to be present. The editor of the paper lived about eight miles from Soldier, and I do not remember that he missed a meeting.
The teacher of the free school was a Northern Methodist preacher – a young man who had just been licensed to preach, but had not taken regular work under the conference regulations. He was a very pleasant and capable young man. He soon had regular appointments for preaching every month which was the first time in the history of the valley that anything like that had occurred. The preacher was universally liked and respected and had fairly good congregations, but not near the number attended preaching that came to the Literary Society to hear the Soldier Gimlet read.
After the season opened for shooting prairie chickens, I enjoyed the sport very much but I was anxious for September to come when it would be lawful to hunt deer, for I had never had an opportunity to develop my powers as a Timrod.
The family with whom I lived cared nothing for deer hunting. They did not own a gun except a small shotgun used for killing birds, but there was a man by the name of Jim Allen who lived about a half mile from the house I had bought. He would be my nearest neighbor when I moved home and was a noted hunter. He was a native of Arkansas, but had lived some years in Colorado and had considerable experience in bagging big game. He owned a 40-90 Ballard rifle and had promised to take me on a hunting trip as soon as the season opened.
The deer especially loved the foothills near the mountains. So on the last day of August, Mr. Allen and I started for a day's hunt in the foothills. We took two saddles in a wagon and drove a distance of about 12 miles to a cabin that belonged to some friend of his who operated a water power saw mill during the spring months when the water was flush.
On our way that evening, a short distance from where we were to stop, we spotted a fine doe quietly grazing on a hill some distance from us. As the law was far away, Mr. Allen decided to risk a shot at her. So we stopped the wagon, and I held the horses while he got out to violate the law. He raised his sights to 500 yards and fired, but he had raised his sights too high as we saw the ball hit the ground immediately over the deer's back. She loped off over the hill and no harm done. It was nightfall when we reached the cabin, so we hobbled our horses and turned in. We found the cabin well furnished with a bed, cook stove, etc. so we made ourselves quite at home.
The next morning, to our great discomfiture, it was raining a cool disagreeable drizzling rain. This dampened our ardor some as the undergrowth was thick in many places where we would have to go to find deer. We decided to take a chance anyway, so saddled our horses and rode about three miles in where we tied our horses and took to the woods.
The hills were heavily timbered with fir trees so, as was the custom in hunting, we mapped out the route each one was to take and separated with the understanding that we take a short turn and return to the place we had tied our horses. It was not long after we separated till I heard a shot from Mr. Allen's rifle which gave me some encouragement, but I failed to see or hear anything that looked like a deer.
When I returned to our meeting place, I found Mr. Allen there and he had a nice fire of dry fir wood. He soon told me he had succeeded in killing a fine two point buck which was good news for I was feeling a little blue, wet, and cold and had not seen anything to shoot at.
After warming a while, we took one horse and went after the buck he had killed. We took our guns along, but failed to see any more deer. We tied the deer on the horse and went back to our cabin wet, tired, and hungry. We had plenty of dry wood and a good stove, so it was not long before we were feeling quite comfortable. We camped again there that night intending to take another hunt the next morning.
That night we were serenaded by a mountain lion, but he kept under the cover of darkness, and we could not get a shot at him. The next morning it cleared and was a bright pretty day, but we failed to round up anything. Mr. Allen was in a hurry to get back to some work, so he hooked up and we were back home for dinner.
Thus ended my first deer hunt, but not my last one. I took several hunts afterward, some of which were highly satisfactory.
On September 1st, 1888, a party of four consisting of my nearest neighbor, Jim Allen, my brother, a young man recently arrived from Va., and myself arranged to take a deer hunt. The range selected was a hilly country situated along the South Boise river some 35 miles or more from Soldier. We started that morning with two wagons and teams, saddles, and camp equipment enough to last a week if we desired to stay that length of time.
The South Boise was a rapid mountain stream similar to the Watauga river in this county. Some twelve or fifteen miles from where we located our camp was a mining town called Rocky Bar. There was a famous gold producing mine there which afforded a good market for anything a rancher or hunter had to sell. I had made two or three trips to the camp with grain and produce previous to this time and was somewhat familiar with the surroundings. The road we traveled followed the river for a number of miles, and the country was rough and broken with just an occasional small placer mining station. The bottoms were mostly heavily timbered, but the South hills had some good grass with very little stock running on them, but wild game in abundance.
We located our camp the first evening in a splendid bottom near a rancher's cabin. There were several in the family, but none of them cared to hunt wild game. They treated us very kind, giving such information as they could about the country. None of our party had any knowledge of the area except what we could get traveling along the road with a wagon and team.
Our camp was on a small stream of water running through the bottom into the river and also near a boiling hot spring which came out of a huge rock on the bank of the stream. I have seen a great many hot springs, but this one I am trying to describe was the most wonderful I have ever seen. The rock was cone shaped about fifteen feet high with fissures running perpendicular up and down the rock. The fissures were about three feet apart all around the rock and out of there poured a continuous stream of boiling water which made a perpetual hissing sound one could hear for a hundred yards or more. The smoke and steam arising from it was equal to a large steam engine. The stream of water looked to be twice as large below the rock as it was immediately above it and, to take a bath, a person had to go a hundred yards or more below this rock to make it cool enough to be comfortable.
The next morning we took to the hills early and had good success. We succeeded in landing three fine deer and getting them to camp before dark. We proceeded to carve up a small one and gave some of it to the family living near us, and cooked and ate what we could of it. The two remaining ones were on our hands with the hides unbroken, but what to do with them was the problem. We expected to stay a few days longer and, as the weather was hot, the deer would spoil. So it was decided that they must be taken to the Rocky Bar to be sold, but no one wished to go as they would rather hunt than peddle deer. Finally the lot fell on me to make the trip, so I hooked up my team and started early the next morning.
There was a butcher shop at the entrance of the town where I sold one deer, but one was all I could induce him to buy. I drove on through the town and tried at every hotel and camp to sell my deer, but without success. Finally a boarding house owner told me if I could cut it up, she would buy a quarter. So I borrowed a butcher knife, drove off to a stable, and proceeded to take off the hide and quarter it up in short order. While I was doing that, the lady had let her neighbors know about it. I sold the other three quarters as soon as I could get them ready, and returned to camp before nightfall.
The party that remained to hunt had hunter's luck and failed to land anything that day, but they found plenty of bear signs and had wounded one, but that was all. There is a species of wild cherries [choke cherries] that grow on the south side of the foothills which are used for canning and jelly by the ranchers, and the common black bear that climbs is very fond of them.
The next morning we all started to the hills early and had not gone far until we came to a wild cherry thicket where the bear tracks were as plentiful as rabbit tracks in brier fields here in winter time. The bears are hard to locate though as they lie as much concealed as they can in day time in the thickest brush they can find. Not long after we had separated for the hunt, I heard a vigorous yell which I knew to be my friend Allen. From the tone I decided there was something urgent on hand, so I answered him and started as fast as I could well go to find him and learn of his troubles.
I soon found him standing fifty yards from a black object which I recognized as a large black bear. I asked him if he had examined it, and he said he had shot it three times, but he did not know whether it was dead or not as he had not been close to it. I told him that I was not afraid of a dead bear and proposed we investigate the matter. When we examined him we found the last shot had broken his neck. We found on going over the grounds that I had scared the bear out of his bed in the thicket, and in running away from me, he ran onto Allen who killed him.
The next thing to do was to "round up" the other boys which we did by a call that we all understood. We were then about two miles from camp so one man returned for two horses and saddles to pack the meat. We had to cut the bear in halves and pack one half on each horse. We succeeded in getting to camp about night and were tired enough to sleep without rocking.
The fall of 1886 I decided I had better move onto my claim as someone might give me trouble. The law required actual residence on unproven claims and, if that could not be verified, a title could not be granted. So I went to work to get a lot of wood and hay for my pony. Before the cold weather hit, I was comfortably ensconced in my own home "batching it" for the winter. In this business I was not by myself. From my residence I could count the homes of 14 bachelors who were living alone holding down their claims all in sight of my own door. I spent the winter quietly but pleasantly as my neighbors were very kind to me, and I enjoyed myself to the limit.
During the months of January and February in that climate there is not much work to be done as the snow is usually deep and soft and snowshoeing is the only mode of travel to a great extent. By the first of March the snow is packed and crusted and traveling is good for about six weeks till the snow gets too soft for sleighing. When the snow is gone in a very short time, the roads are dry and firm, and the mud that is so troublesome in this climate is an unknown quantity there.
The last of April '87 my brother, William, and family moved from Kentucky to Idaho and selected some land adjoining me. As there was no improvement on his claim, we all "shacked" together for some time. They had four boys ranging in age from ten to two years, so my days of quietude had ended.
For two years, during '87 and '88, ranching in that portion of the inhabitable globe was both pleasant and profitable as prices were good for everything that could be grown. There were a great many paying mines in operation and everybody had money and the majority of them did not mind spending it.
But late in fall of '88 the army grasshoppers invaded the valley and deposited their eggs. Those persons who had known of their depredations in other localities were very blue about the matter and predicted a terrible scourge for that country which was only too true and for some years the valley was overrun by the pests.
It was so late in the fall of 1888 when the army grasshoppers invaded the Camas Prairie that they did very little damage other than deposit their eggs on the highest, driest growth they could find. That winter there was an unusually light snow fall and much hard freezing. The ground was frozen to a depth unknown before by the oldest inhabitants and, as a result, a great many ranchers were optimistic and predicted the plague would be averted and the hopper egg frozen to death. So the most of them went to work and sowed crops of grain as usual.
The grain came up and was growing nicely when reports began to be circulated about that the hoppers were hatching out. Previous to this, I had been of the optimist's class, but on learning of the reports I decided to make an investigation for myself. So one warm day I went to examine a piece of dry growth on my own land some distance away. To my great displeasure, I found thousands of small objects that kept continually hopping, hopping, hopping all in the same direction, which was about due east.
As the weather became warmer you could see the hoppers, and the more they hopped, the more they grew and developed. This was before they could fly and they devoured everything green in their reach. They soon spread all over the valley. The blacksmith at Soldier said that scrap iron was all that they would balk at.
It was very disagreeable to walk through them, and they could not be kept out of house. They were very troublesome while cooking or doing any house work. I knew one lady who said that her Sunday dress, which she had hanging up on the wall of a room, was ruined before she knew it. Some men working in the tunnel of a mine had left some of their outer clothing at the entrance. When they they came out their clothing was eaten into strings. I was an eye witness to this fact, as I was present at the time.
As soon as they developed sufficiently, the hoppers would rise and fly always in an easterly direction. They were not quite as troublesome about dwelling houses as they were before, but they seemed just as destructive. As soon as those that were hatched out on the Prairie were able to rise and fly off, others would come and take their places, so they did not give us time to get lonesome.
A great many of the newcomers to the valley who had not made much improvement on their claims became dissatisfied and left the Prairie. Those who remained sought employment at the mines and public works.
If it had not been for the mining industry and stock business, those who were dependent on ranching for a living would have to leave as there was no grain of any kind or vegetables that made anything. There was a little hay from grain fields before they were entirely devoured, and a considerable amount of hay cut from tough Shii grass that the hoppers had left. So those who remained in the valley managed to get enough together to winter their work stock and some milk cows.
Working in the Wood River Valley
As there was no work to be done on the ranches, a neighbor of mine suggested to me that we make an effort to get some employment at mining camps situated on the Wood river about twelve miles from Hailey. I readily agreed to his proposition, so we at once hooked up a team, took our blankets, axes, etc. and started for the camp of a noted ore producer where they smelted the rough ore, worked a number of hands, and conducted business on a large scale generally.
When we reached the camp, we had no trouble in getting work, but we were told that the force worked twelve hours in the day with no rest for Sunday. The wages paid were two dollars per day and board. The work to be done was hauling wood to the mine which was known as the East Fork Mining Co. and was situated on the sunny side of the Wood river. At that time they used a great deal of wood in their smelting works. The wood we hauled had been cut some distance up stream and rafted down the river during high tide at the time of the spring break up. It landed in a bottom some distance from the camp, and we hauled it in wagons up to the mine.
At that time in '89 the hoppers had not reached the Wood River Valley so we had plenty of grass for our horses which we kept staked or hobbled at a convenient distance. The hands of the working force ate at a dining apartment for that purpose and were served by a Chinese cook. The fare was good. It is a trait of miners that they will have something good to eat. The way we could tell when Sunday came was that we had fish for breakfast and strawberries at dinner for dessert.
Our job of wood hauling only lasted about two weeks, but we had no difficulty in procuring another job. The mining company owned a tract of wooded land near the camp, and they gave us a job of cutting wood by the cord which we worked at for some time. The latter work was more satisfactory as there was more independence about it. We could work on Sunday, or we could rest just as it suited us. As we had both been "brought up" to observe Sunday, we did not chop and split wood on that day.
There were a number of Mormon families camped near the place where we were at work. The most of them living in tents. They came from Utah in the spring and worked for the camps till fall and then went back to their homes for the winter.
For convenience we secured board with a family living in a tent nearby. There are some things about the Mormons that I admire. Nearly all of them with whom I formed acquaintance were strictly honest, quiet, and industrious people – also temperate and scrupulously religious, and they believed the book of Mormon as a new revelation lost as sincerely as we believe it to be an imposition.
The family that I boarded with were nice people and very kind to me. The husband, though a quiet moral man, took no stock in religion, but his wife was a devoted Mormon. From her I obtained a good deal of first hand information concerning Mormonism. She seemed to be intelligent and educated.
She told me she was raised in Salt Lake City and the library was well stocked with Mormon literature. She took pride in giving me the history of Mormonism and readily loaned me her book of Mormon to read. I had a curiosity to know something about that book, so I eagerly perused its contents till I was disgusted with it. I returned it with thanks to the owner.
To my mind the most glowing inconsistency in the book is the assertion that after Jesus Christ had commissioned his apostles and before the day of Pentecost, that he came in person to the continent of America and remained here three hundred years, formed a colony of followers, and then left them and went away. After that they became corrupt and were nearly exterminated by the Indians from the North. The colony that was founded here were the Mound Builders we read about in our school histories.
Through the influence of my landlady, I was invited to attend a Mormon Sunday school which was conducted for the benefit of the colony of Mormons who were working at the mining camps. The place of meeting where the Sunday school was held was a natural arbor out of doors under the shade of large fir trees on a bluff of the river. There are many such places in that country where a small plot of ground enclosed by trees and carpeted with a coat of fine grass, looks as though they were built purposely for man's use, but the one mentioned here is the only one I ever saw used for a meeting of any kind.
Some rudely constructed benches and a small table was all the furniture in the arbor. The Sunday school was conducted in the usual manner with about twenty five or more in attendance of all ages. The literature used was published at Salt Lake City. I enjoyed the occasion as much for the novelty of it as anything else. I attended the Sunday school only once as I had gone back to Soldier before the next Sunday.
That fall after the hoppers had destroyed all the crops, but before they had deposited their eggs, they left the valley and went on farther east. This gave the settlers much encouragement. They believed they were rid of the pests.
The following spring of 1890 there was a rush among the ranchers who remained on the Prairie to get seed for another crop. A great many of the people were unable to buy the seed they wished to sow, so my brother made a trip to Utah and procured a donation from the chambers of commerce of some of the principal cities of the Mormon State. It consisted of seed wheat which was received in due time and a fairly good crop was sown.
The new crop came up and was growing nicely until about the time the wheat began to boot. Then the hoppers came again in greater quantities than before. Where they came from was the mystery, but they were there just the same.
Many thousands of them were so high that they never touched the valley at all, but sailed on. I have seen them so thick in the air of a clear day that they would darken the sun for hours at a time, and when they would light near a stream of running water they would drift in and dam up the creek for long distances.
The county officials wrote to the agricultural department at Washington concerning the invasion of the pests, and they sent an entomologist from one of the agricultural schools to investigate the conditions. He remained a day or two and gave us some information about bugs and grasshoppers, but that was all the good he did.
He told us there were several varieties of the hoppers different in some particulars, but all had good appetites for vegetation. The variety that had visited our valley he said was known as the California native, and the time they were allotted to live was from five to seven years. This variety was rather small and white in color and were not so destructive as the larger gray hopper that was so troublesome in the early settlement of Kansas.
The prof. told us that the U.S. government had a preparation in the form of powder that was used to kill out the pests by scattering it broadcast among them. He told us it was scarce and hard to get, but he would try to induce the officials to send some to our locality to use against them, but that was the last we ever heard of it.
The hoppers having deposited their eggs again that fall, I left Idaho and came to Watauga county, N.C. where I have since made my home.
About the Author
Leander Newport Perkins was born November 3, 1844 in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia to John H. and Lucy (Young) Perkins. He had one older sibling, Sarah, and two younger brothers, William and James. At 17 he tried to join the Confederacy in his home state, but was rejected because of his age. He traveled to Kentucky and enlisted in Capt. Morgan's Calvalry and served throughout the war. His father died shortly after he returned home, so he remained on the family farm for the next 20 years to help his widowed mother.
Leander was active in the Young's Chapel Baptist church in Mouth of Wilson and served on the services, education, minster's relief fund, and state mission committees.
In 1886 he was feeling restless and decided to begin looking for land in the West. He first traveled to Fort Worth to visit an uncle, then moved through the Texas panhandle, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, and eventually to Idaho where he homesteaded for a few years.
He was 45 when returned to the South in late 1890 and soon thereafter married Mary Florence Shearer. They made their home on a farm in Watagua County, North Carolina.
Leander again became active in the church joining the Three Forks Baptist congregation where he was a song leader, teacher, and Sunday school superintendent. He was also a member of the Watauga Masonic Lodge. He died at his farm in 1930 at the age 86.