History Of The County
Washington County was officially created by an act of the 9th Territorial Legislature on February 20, 1879. For many years preceding, this area was already contributing to the historical drama of the “Old West.” In the decades that followed, Washington County gave much to the agricultural and economic growth of Idaho. William Allison, of the Upper Valley (later named Salubria) and Thomas Gray of Gray Creek, Indian Valley, were of the Ada County lower house delegation in the legislature, and were the fathers of the act creating Washington County.
Since Governor Mason Brayman signed acts creating both this and Cassia Counties on the same day, it is impossible to tell whether Washington County was the tenth or eleventh county to come into being in the Idaho territory. The new county of Washington was composed of all that area now included in both Adams and Washington Counties. This area was derived from the extreme northern part of Ada County and the southwestern part of Idaho County.
The act creating Washington County also appointed a temporary board of County Commissioners, consisting of Isaac Spoor of Indian Valley, and Nelson Haven and S.M. Jeffreys of lower Weiser. Their duties were to call an election to decide upon a location for the county seat, elect a set of county officers, canvas the vote, and declare the county seat. Lower Weiser, meant the valley from the Weiser Canyon to the Snake River; Upper Weiser, was the valley known as Salubria. There was no town at either place, but Lower Weiser did have a store located beside the old stage road. Through a bit of political maneuvering, Lower Weiser was selected as the county seat by a majority of eleven votes.
During the summer of 1880, nearly all the land in the fertile valley west of Weiser was settled by immigrants from other states. There was no water for irrigation and nothing but sagebrush greeted the eye. The people were all poor and believed they would prosper in time. In the fall and winter following their coming, numerous meetings were held. It was decided to form a corporation for the purpose of constructing the necessary works for diverting water from the Weiser River to these arid lands. The Articles of Incorporation and by-laws were written up by Judge Frank Harris. The first assessment was used to employ a surveyor to locate and survey the route of the proposed canal. The second assessment was to buy equipment. After working out the amount of the assessment levied, they constructed about half mile of ditch (or one fortieth of its length as surveyed) but had used up twenty-five percent of the company’s capital. Realizing how little they had accomplished, and how much must yet be done to bring the needed water to their lands, the incorporators decided the task was beyond their ability. A new corporation known as the Weiser Water Company took over the assets of the original company.
The capacity of the ditch thus far constructed was not sufficient to carry water enough to irrigate one eighth of the land. Realizing the project was beyond their ability, the Weiser Water Company sold out to T.C. Galloway and a number of Boise people, who had made land investments on which the principal portion of Weiser now stands. These new owners enlarged the ditch to carry water through its entire length in 1886; but not in sufficient quantity to satisfy the needs of the settlers, who were increasing their cultivated area of land each year. Mr. Galloway later sold the canal and water right to the irrigation district for $20,000. The district was formed and bonded for $40,000. The additional amount was to enlarge the canal sufficiently to irrigate all the land under it.
As it had been assured that the railroad was coming, Weiser grew at a rapid pace beginning in 1881. After all the bridges were built, the rails were rapidly laid out to the Weiser River. A town was laid out at a point about two and a half miles east of the present depot, called New Weiser. This was an enterprise of R.E. Strahorn (a town site prompter who had founded the towns of Shoshone and Caldwell). The first freight and passengers arrived in the winter of 1883. In 1885, the railroad company built its permanent depot location. This caused, the demise of Strahorn’s venture.
Weiser began to take on signs of life in the spring of 1881. The board of county commissioners decided that a courthouse should be built, and planned for a frame building 24 by 40 feet, with offices below and a courtroom above. The contract was awarded to J.W. McCully for the sum of one thousand dollars. Lumber for the structure was hauled from the mills north of Salubria. The Weiser School District was also formed that year from territory formerly a part of the lower Mann Creek of Jeffreys District. This school district extended from a line two miles east of the east side of the school house as far west and north as there was territory within the county.
With the arrival of the railroad, and its camp followers, (many of whom had followed the camps all the way from Granger), Weiser took on a sudden change, but not for the better. It was composed of a motley mob of tinhorn gamblers, pimps, burglars, pickpockets, prostitutes, and every variety of mankind that was low and despicable. Saloons flourished, and gambling was carried on in all of them, day and night. The coming of this new population resulted in commodity prices reaching an abnormal altitude. Grains of all kinds sold at four cents a pound and flour at $16.00 per barrel. Beef was more reasonable; there was an abundance of that commodity on the range, but the price was far above what it had been two or three years before.
In 1881 Robert Morehead and Company began operation of its grist mill located on Monroe Creek a short distance below the railroad bridge. The mill was powered by water diverted from the Weiser River through the Mill Ditch. The building and operation of this new venture was of great value to farmers, who had been hauling their wheat to Middleton (50 miles away) to get it converted into flour.
In the fall of 1882, Washington County saw the launching of the first newspaper venture within its borders, when the Weiser Leader made its journalist’s bow before the public. The venture was not a profitable one and it shortly sold to a second party. The enterprise changed hands a number of times and was eventually taken over by R.E. Lockwood, who founded the Weiser Signal.
Washington County had several mining encampments. They were: Mineral, Ruthburg (now called Heath, Seven Devils, Rapid River, and the Blue Dog.
The first mineral location ever made in the territory afterwards carved into Washington County, was the Peacock, now in Adams County in the Seven Devils country.
Levi Allen filed a location notice, but was unable to tell if he was in Ada or Idaho County. Allen and I.I. Lewis had a location when two Scotsmen from Ruthburg relocated it, as Allen and Lewis had left it undeveloped. Allen and Lewis brought suit to recover possession of the ground, which was pending in Ada County at the time of the creation of Washington County. The suit was the first case ever docketed in Washington County. It was never tried; a compromise was reached when Allen and Lewis sold their holdings to Kleinschmidt and others.
The early claims were copper. In 1886 or 1887, gold bearing quartz was discovered on a tributary of the Rapid River. The ore quit and the claim was abandoned.
The Heath (or Ruthburg) area was first discovered in 1875. The Mineral District’s first locations were made as early as 1880. There was a town at Mineral where there were three saloons, a hotel, a store, and a shoemaker shop.
Poker (both stud and draw) was indulged in, sometimes for considerable stakes. Others, who did not like to go as strong as playing for money, played solo for the drinks. Judge Huston was a great solo enthusiast and when in camp always took a hand. E.A. Van Sicklin (who then had a sheep ranch on the river) came up frequently. He, the Judge, and Darby (proprietor of the salons) would have an all day sitting at their favorite game. This was prior to 1892 when silver was demonetized, resulting in all the mines and smelters closing. Mining resumed later but not to the extent of the first explorations.
The first permanent white settlers on the Weiser River were William and Nancy Logan, and the latter’s brother J.N. (Norm) Harris. Logan and his future wife, Nancy, were fleeing from the wrath of her parents, who were keeping a boarding house at the old town of Auburn, (southwest of Baker). The parents were opposed to a union between them, as Nancy was better than a raw hand at cooking and waiting on the table. The young people had an entirely different notion about it. Logan secured a couple of saddle horses and a pack horse, and with Nancy’s brother (Norm Harris) lit out for Idaho. (The nearest place they knew where they could procure the services of someone to perform a marriage ceremony).
They came by way of Burnt River and struck the Snake River where Olds Ferry was later established. They camped overnight at the current location of Weiser. Logan was delighted with the appearance of the country. Understanding that Olds was soon to put in a ferry on the Snake somewhere below here, he decided that here would be a good place to start a road house. Travel would no doubt follow down this side of the river as soon as the ferry was in, (instead of going along the Oregon side of the river as it had for a number of years).
They went on to Placerville (in the Idaho basin) where the Justice of the Peace was found, and the wedding ceremony performed. After the wedding the three returned to Weiser, selected a site, built a house of mud and willows, and began to get ready for the entertainment of the travel that was soon to come.
As Logan had been advised, Olds and associates put in their ferry (long known as Olds Ferry) in the fall of 1863. They began operations under a charter granted them by the first territorial legislature at Lewiston, the territorial capital at the time. The cost was $3.00 for a team and wagon; for an extra team, $1.00; for a loaded pack animal, $ .75; for pack animal returning, $.50; for horse and rider, $.75; for footman, $.25; for loose animals, $.25.
The ferry business proved to be financially successful, as did Logan’s roadhouse. The Logans ran the business for a few years;, then later disposed of it and took a ranch about three miles up the Weiser River. Their first two children were born in 1864 and 1865 respectively.
Ada County came into existence on the 22nd day of December, 1864. All of what is now Washington, Valley, Adams, practically all of Payette, and a large part of Gem County, was then within the confines of Idaho County.
Woodson Jeffreys and Thomas C. Galloway, both from the Willamette Valley, came the following year. Jeffereys had a family of a wife, two sons, and two daughters, whom he left at The Dalles because of school facilities there. They joined him a few years later. Galloway was a bachelor at the time.
Woodson Jeffreys had two brothers who, not long after his arrival, came to make their homes on the Weiser River. They were Solomon and James. Sol (as he was generally known) became associated with Woodson in the cattle business, and later in merchandise and flour milling projects. The cattle business was carried on under the name of Jeffrey Brothers, merchandise under the name of T.M. Jeffereys & Company, and the flour mill under the name of R. Morehead & Company.
More facts of interest including information on old cemeteries, draft records, some old newspaper articles and voting perecincts, can be found at www.rootsweb.com.