Gem County,  ID GenWeb project

Gem Co. map
Reading & References
Sharon McConnel,
Gem County Coordinator

I found the following essay in the state archives vertical file. Miss Whipple was an Emmett high school student in April 1930, when she wrote this essay. She won first prize in an historical essay contest conducted in each county by the State Chamber of Commerce. -

Sketches of Gem County

by Edith L. Whipple

Gem county, diminutive though it is, contains many historical and interesting places and people. Among the earliest landmarks in this county were the road houses.

The first of a series of these road houses to be erected in what is now Gem County was Picket Corral. Its location was two and one-half miles below the Black Canyon Dam on the bank of the Payette river. The corral is commonly supposed to have been built in 1863 - 64 by a gang of rustlers, gamblers, and stage robbers who used the corral for branding horses. Driftwood poles stuck in the ground and lashed together with cowhide strips formed the circular enclosure which was about one hundred feet in diameter. A cabin, also made of driftwood, and-a dugout complete their camp.

There is an interesting and amusing story told of this gang and vigilantes. A vigilante's meeting was being held in the upper story of the old Block House, a few miles from the present site of Emmett. While these men of justice were debating on the upper floor, the hungry rustlers spied the delicious dinner cooling, on the table downstairs. Quietly they entered the house, ate their fill and made their exit, leaving the remains of the dinner to the surprised and angry vigilantes. The pestilent bad-men were finally pursued in various parts of the country by the vigilantes who were successful in killing a few of the number. The remainder escaped into Montana.

Picket Corral became a stopping place for travelers, as it was a ford for freighters and also was the last watering place between Emmett and Montour, where the road led out of the valley and over the hills to Anderson Creek. The hill, just above the site of the old corral, still commemorates the same.

The Block House was erected in 1863- 64 for a protection against Indians; later it was used both for a school and for a inn for immigrants on their way to the Oregon Country. The Block House was situated two-and-a-half miles west of Emmett where the pavement ends. Built of square-hewn cottonwood logs and filled with mud, it had the appearance of having been made of blocks; hence its name. There are no present remains of this historic old landmark, but a slop-sided hollow indicated the place where the well was once located.

The third of a series of road houses was called the Payette ranch. This property was settled by Mr. James Donnal and others in 1863. The house, a two-story log structure, consisting of a store and saloon on the first floor and dance hall and rooms on the second, was erected July 5, of the same year. This ranch was located about seven miles west of Emmett, and about one-half mile from the Payette river on the land now owned by Mr. John Liechty. This ranch later became known as Emmettsville, and was used not only for an inn for wayfarers in covered wagons, but also as a meeting place for frontiersmen and a half-way station between Boise Basin and the Oregon Country. John Cozad taught the first subscription school in this ranch house.

Marsh House was the last road house situated in Gem county. It was originally owned by Marsh, out later was taken over by Marsh and Ireton. A part of this old ranch still is located on its old site, being the property of Mr. McConnell of Montour. The house, in a setting of green grass surrounded by tall trees and shrubbery, with the rippling blue river in the background, is a most picturesque spot.

Between Hayes and Washington streets in Emmett, where the railroad tracks are now, there was once on old fort. Indians a little farther north were on the warpath and in 1877 all of the early settlers moved into camps on the Nathaniel Martin ranch. Close by, they constructed a fort about one hundred feet square, made of dirt piled upon slabs. The pioneers spent the winter there. As the expected attack did not occur, in the spring they returned to their farms and homes.

The Plowman saloon was built on the outskirts of Montour just a short distance northwest of the Montour bridge, Travelers often opt up there for the night. The rambling old building became completely dilapidated and was torn down recently by Mr. 0. J. Dix of Sweet.

Francis Payette, a Frenchman in the employ of the Hudson Bay Company, was probably the first white man to view Emmett valley and the river, hence its name, "Payette."

In the spring of 1864, Wiliian Ish and John Hailey, pioneers in the packtrain and stage-coach business, began a stage-coa ch line. The route entered what is now Gem County as it dropped down from the hills into Sand Hollow. It continued out on the well known Emmett bench, crossing the foothills near where Harry Worthman's ranch is located, across the bench and down to the Payette river, where it forded just east of where the present bridge is, until Nathanial Martin built a ferry there in 1864. The road went east by way of Picket Corral Hill and John Creeks, passing the Gray farm, which was later owned by Marsh, then by Marsh and Ireton.

Among those early settlers of the little village was Douglas Knox, who did much for the growth and betterment of his modest home town, and who is still residing there. Others were David Murray, Henry 0. Riggs, Sr., and Nathaniel Martin, who was the first postmaster in Emmett as well as the owner and operator of the first ferry.

The first school was at the Payette ranch until 1867, when a small school was erected in what is now the Vanderasson district, about five miles west of Emmett. Both of these were subscription schools, however. The earliest free public school building was built in 1874 on the site of the Burkhard slaughter yard. This old building is very nearly in ruins, but it is still being used for a barn. Mrs. Giswald was the first teacher.

The first postoffice was kept by Mr. Cahalan near the Payette ranch. It was named Emmettsville in honor of Emmett Cahalan, whose father was a leading lawyer of the time as well as the postmaster.(note: Other sources place the first Emmettsville post office on Cahalan's property and named after his son, but list James M. McDonald as the first postmaster, probably same as James Donnal, described above.)

In 1870, the first sawmill was built by John F. T. Basye. It was situated between what is now the Boise-Payette Lumber Company's retail yards and the river. Soon after its completion James Wardwell purchased, it. A village quickly sprang up around the sawmill, and a few years later the name the "Emmettsville" was transferred to it.

In 1874 or 1875 the postoffice was moved to the present site of Emmett. It was situated close to the ferry and was kept by Mr. Martin, for whom it was called "Martinsville." A tavern was soon erected and the village became a trading post for lumbermen and stock-raisers of the Payette valley. Afterward the postoffice was moved from one residence to another, but the first building to be used exclusively was erected by William Hammersly. This stood on the now vacant lot west of the Spanish residence on the end of West Main Street. Later the old building was removed and used for a residence by a rancher, Mr. E. M. Dewalt.

The first church in Emmettsville was Saint Mary's Episcopal church which stood on Boise Avenue, opposite the canal. Recently the edifice was moved and rebuilt.

The Co-op. Canal which runs by the Emmett Garage now covers ths site of the first store. It was exceedingly small but it was adapted to the needs of the village. The propietor was a Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Stone of Horseshoe Bend built a bridge to replace the ferry run by Nathaniel Martin. The new bridge is now just a trifle east of where the old one stood in the early 80's.

The first grist mill was owned by Doctor Burge. It was located near where the highway crosses the railroad at Bishop George Smith's ranch, near the site of the Block House. There are signs of the old mill-ditch to mark the place, and another reminder of it is the mill stones which are now in the city park.

Almost the first hotel in Emmettsville was the Murry hotel which was situated just across from the Boise Payette Lumber Co.'s., yard. The lumber company's boarding house occupies a part of this land now, and the trees mark the exact spot where the hotel stood.

The stage station, kept by Douglas Knox, was on the Robert Aikman ranch on Willow creek, not far from Box Springs. This ranch is now the property of Andrew Little.

The Burkhard slaughter yard is now found where the original cemetery was begun. Mrs. James Wardwell, and John Portlock were the first woman and man to be buried there. One year when the river was too high to be crossed, the cemetery was begun on the hill above Emmett. It is still located there.

In 1883, James Wardwell leased from S. H. Waller 40 acres of land to be used as a townsite for Emmettsville. He donated the Wardwell block for a school. The Independent School District of Emmettsville was created in 1885, and the first board of trustees were David Murry, Douglas Knox, and J. M. Martin. The old Wardwell home was recently moved to a new location by J. S. Curtis.

The Canyon Canal Dam was of great importance to the entire valley as it irrigated the most of the territory now watered by the Black Canyon Dam. The original dam, located a few miles above Montour, was built by Faris and Kessel in 1905 - 06, but during the spring floods it was washed out. It became a government project and a second dam was constructed in 1907-08.

In 1900, the village became incorporated under the name of Emmett and experienced, its first great boom in 1902. The first train on the Idaho Northern railroad arrived in Emmett on March 30 of the same year.

The government became that of a city of the second class in 1909, and a year later the railroad between Emmett and New Plymouth was completed.

Gem, Canyon and Payette counties were all at one time Boise County, and still more which was later divided into Canyon county recently into Gem and Payette Counties. (note: The northern part of Gem County was part of Boise County, the southern part was a portion of Ada County, then later Canyon County, prior to Gem County being formed. (see Book 1, page 33 map showing old Boise/Canyon county line and Westview Mining District (Pearl).

In 1915, Gem county was organized and Emmett was made the county seat. The first election was held on May 11, 1915. -Governor Alexander made the following appointments: John McNish, James Kesgard and J. H. Connaughton, county commissioners. Wilson, auditor; David Nichols, sheriff; George F. Church, assessor; David Murry, treasurer J. P. Reed, prosecuting attorney; A. 0. Vadney, probate judge; E. E. Forshay; surveyor; C. D. Bucknum, coroner; Bessie Von Harton, superintendent of public instruction.

The Liberty mine, about six miles north of Sweet was discovered by John Gray and a party of prospectors who camped on the property while they were on their way to Wood river. Mr. Gray is a carpenter now residing in Boise. In 1881, A. Sweet, for whom the town of. Sweet was named, a,nd Mr. Gray built a cabin there and started a claim. A Mr. Barry leased the mine and freighted ore to Kelton, Utah. From one shipment he made a-net profit of $1800.00. Soon the property was taken over by a Mr. Norcross, who put some excellent ore on the dump, but made no shipments. Mr. Sweet then purchased the mine and later sold it to the United Bond Company. A $20,000 tunnel is being rapidly built and the company hopes that the mine will soon be producing its large quota of copper and silver again.

Near the foot of the Butte in Sweet valley, there is an old Indian encampment located on a rockey flat. Cleared spaces indicate where the tepees once stood in circular formation, about three feet apart. Other evidences of the place having been inhabited are the four huge piles of stones placed by human hands close tree. Two large rocks resemble the mark of a grave.

So has Gem county been built up to its present significance. With its wealth of detailed history and its mute monuments to the early pioneers who strove to make it what it is, Gem County will figure largely in the hearts of the citizens of Idaho.

Copyright © 2009 - Sharon McConnel. All Rights Reserved.