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Idaho’s Cultural & Intellectual Pioneers

The Pioneers program was established in 1990 by the Student Union Board of Governors as the result of a public contest to name conference rooms and public spaces within the Student Union. The winning entry came to be named the Idaho Cultural and Intellectual Pioneers program. The program recognizes native Idahoans, or those individuals who have spent a period of residence in Idaho, who have made a significant cultural, intellectual or economic contribution to the state. The program has since grown to honor a total of twenty people with displays located inside or outside their respective conference room or public space.

Each display contains a short biography, photographs of the featured individual(s), and assorted memorabilia relating to his or her life and field. The displays are intended to give a glimpse into the lives of the pioneers, while preserving their memory and highlighting their contributions to Idaho for later generations to enjoy.

Anyone wishing to view the displays (primarily located on the second floor) is encouraged to do so. Displays located inside their respective rooms can be viewed during the normal operational hours of the Student Union, provided that the rooms are unoccupied. Other displays are located in public corridors outside their rooms, and can be viewed at any time.

Idaho's Cultural and Intellectual Pioneers

AH FONG - Named for C.K. AH FONG, 1845-1927

Old black and white photo of Ah Fong Chuck
Ah Fong Chuck, a skilled herbalist and general medical practitioner, was one of the most widely known and respected members of the Chinese community in Idaho for over 60 years.  He became an example of determination to those struggling in the harsh, and often unfriendly western frontier.  His legacy provides a unique lens through which to view Idaho’s Chinese community and the role of Chinese medicine in the United States.

He was born on October 5, 1845, in Canton Province, China, and received his medical degree from Kung Guh Medical College in 1867.  His training included acupuncture, the use of medicinal herbs, and diagnostic procedures.  While Ah Fong Chuck was a youth, a severe civil war raged in China.  In 1867, invading armies conquered Canton Province and labeled all who resisted as traitors. As a result, Ah Fong Chuck and his father, Dr. Whey Fong, fled to San Francisco that same year.  A transposition of his name by immigration authorities at the Port of San Francisco caused an error on the official immigration documents.  From that time forward, Ah Fong Chuck was known as C.K. Ah Fong.

Because of Ah Fong’s youth and inexperience as a physician, he struggled in San Francisco.  Consequently, he moved to Rocky Bar, Idaho, to treat the large number of Chinese immigrants working in the mines during Idaho’s gold rush.  As he had hoped, he was greatly needed in the area, and treated both Asian and non-Asian patients from Rocky Bar and Atlanta.  Besides his medicinal practice, Ah Fong opened an apothecary store selling herbs, teas, and general merchandise.

His medical practice and apothecary business were successful until 1892 when a fire burned down most of Rocky Bar.  Consequently, Ah Fong moved to Boise, where both his medical practice and apothecary business also flourished.  His general medical practice became more specialized in Boise.  His newspaper advertisements note his specialty in treating women’s diseases, infertility, and venereal disease.  As had been the case in Rocky Bar, Ah Fong’s clientele included Chinese and Caucasian.

In 1899, the Idaho State Legislature passed legislation requiring all physicians to meet new licensing requirements, one of which included a requirement of intent to become an American citizen.  Ah Fong identified this as an attempt to discriminate against any new immigrants and filed suit against the licensing agency when denied a license to practice medicine.  After losing in the District Court, Ah Fong appealed to the Idaho State Supreme Court which decided in favor of Ah Fong.  The Court required the licensing board to reconsider Ah Fong’s medical license application.  After two more submittals, Ah Fong’s request for a medical license was granted.

C. K. Ah Fong’s medical practice and Boise apothecary continued to flourish until his death in 1927 at the age of 83.  During his lifetime he had married three times, and had two children and two adopted children.  All three wives predeceased him.

His apothecary business was continued by his eldest son, Herbert, and his grandson, Gerald.  By 1964, the Chinese community was virtually gone and in 1971 the building that contained the apothecary was torn down.  However, the apothecary collection that remained can be seen in a display at the Idaho State Historical Society Museum in Boise, Idaho.

Contributors to this exhibit

Dick Ah Fong
Thomas Ansbach, BSU Continuing Education Department
Jody Ochoa, Idaho State Historical Museum

ALEXANDER - Named for MOSES ALEXANDER, 1853-1932


Moses Alexander”s career reinforces Idaho”s image as a land of opportunity and ethnic diversity.  He established the Alexander Men”s stores in Idaho and was successful in Idaho politics, both locally in Boise and in state government.  He was also a leader in community activities and instrumental in organizing Boise”s Jewish community.

Moses Alexander was born November 13, 1853, to a Jewish family in Obrigheim, Germany, the youngest of eight children.  After living in Bavaria until the age of 14, he immigrated to the United States in 1867.  He lived for several months in New York City with a married sister and later moved to Chillicothe, Missouri, to work as a clerk in his cousin”s store, Jacob Berg & Company, eventually becoming a partner in the business at age 21.  He became politically and socially active in Missouri, joining the Democrats, and was a student of American Constitutional history.  Alexander married Helena Kaestner, a native of Crimmitzsehau, Saxony, who had immigrated to America in 1868.  Together they had four children.

Already a prominent businessman, Alexander began his political career while in Missouri, and was elected to the Chillicothe City Council in 1886; he became Mayor in 1887.  In 1891, he left his success in Chillicothe for the gold mines of Alaska, stopping permanently in Idaho.  Later in Boise, he established his own clothing store, eventually opening stores in Twin Falls, Burley, and Blackfoot.  Alexander”s success in business was repeated when he entered the political arena.  He was elected mayor of Boise in 1897 and 1901.  By 1908, he had gathered enough support to run in the gubernatorial race, but lost.  He successfully ran in 1914 to become the first Jewish governor in United States history, and was reelected in 1916.  He was the Progressive Era governor who led Idaho through World War I and the Prohibition. In 1915, Alexander signed House Bill No. 142, transforming Idaho into a prohibition district, despite threats against his life. In the years immediately following, he helped direct Idaho”s efforts in the latter years of the first World War.

Moses Alexander died on January 4, 1932, at the age of 78.  His third Alexander Men”s Store building in Boise, Idaho still stands on the corner of 9th and Main.  Calvin Cobb, the publisher of the Idaho Statesman  and one who had often opposed Alexander”s politics, wrote of him on the occasion of his death:

In a sense, Governor Alexander was one of the last remaining links which bound the past with the present, for most of those prominent men with whom he worked to transform Boise from a rude, frontier post to a bustling, modern and beautiful little city that preceded him in death.  The earliest pioneers had come before them.  They took up the work of the community where the first pioneers left off and the debt we owe them cannot be estimated.

Contributors to this exhibit

Bob Angell
Charles Hummel, Hummel, LaMarche & Hunsucker, Architects



Grounded in a deep sense of personal ethics, his appreciation for the wisdom of the United States Constitution, and a conviction that a rich quality of life should be accessible to every individual, Brian Bergquist embraced the promise of democracy as an articulate, intelligent spokesman for human rights.  Bergquist especially understood the connection between human rights, civil rights and gay rights.  Often stating that “democracy is not a spectator sport,” Bergquist channeled his convictions and beliefs into social activism for the civil rights of gay and lesbian people on the campus of Boise State University, and throughout the larger communities of Idaho and the nation.

Brian Bergquist was born July 2, 1958, to Reuben and Joan Bergquist in Council Bluffs, Iowa.  At Abraham Lincoln High School, he served as president of the school”s National Honor Society, and as president of the Student Body.  An avid reader, Bergquist loved to discuss national affairs and politics, and was honored as Iowa”s 1976 winner in the national Voice of Democracy contest sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars for his speech “Our Rich Heritage,” a copy of which was placed into the February 26, 1976 Congressional Record by Iowa Congressman Tom Harkin.  Bergquist attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, graduating in 1980 with a B.A. in communication, with an emphasis in radio, television and film.  After working for the Northwestern University Student Union, Bergquist realized his dream of working in the film industry by relocating to Los Angeles.  He worked for two years as the operations manager for a post-production film studio.

In 1987, Bergquist was hired as the assistant director of Auxiliary Services and Student Union and Services Conference Coordinator at Boise State University.  He was instrumental in working with student leaders in planning the 1987 Boise State Student Union renovation and expansion.  During the eleven years Bergquist was employed at Boise State University, he served in many campus committee leadership positions, and was president of the Professional Staff Senate in 1996-1997.  Bergquist was especially proud of his contribution to the design and “student-user-friendliness” of the remodeled Student Union and for his work in sponsoring and advising gay and lesbian student groups.

Brian Bergquist”s legacy as a human rights activist began at an early age.  As president of his college fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, he was adamant that hazing throughout the university be eliminated.  Though he knew the political and social climate in Idaho was oppressive and openly hostile to gay and lesbian people in the 1980s, he chose to come to Idaho hoping he could make a difference.  Some of his accomplishments include:

  • 1988 – As a member of The Community Center, Bergquist began editing the local gay and lesbian newspaper, Diversity;
  • 1989 – Bergquist helped create an environment at Boise State in which gay faculty and staff could freely speak, and influenced the elimination of restrictions on student organizations.  As a result, he helped found GALA, a student support organization for gay and lesbian students, the first of its kind in Idaho;
  • 1989 – Together with his partner, John C. Hummel, Bergquist helped found Your Family, Friends and Neighbors, Inc. to educate Idahoans against the myths of gays and lesbians;
  • 1990 – Bergquist helped initiate the first Idaho Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade.  Bergquist stated that “for a lot of people [the parade] may be one of the first things they”ve done publicly as a gay or lesbian person . . . for non-gays, it”s a statement that they value their friends and not the packaging – whether they”re gay or lesbian, black or white.”
  • 1994 – Bergquist agreed to be the spokesperson, and spearhead the successful No-On-One campaign in opposition to Proposition One, an anti-gay initiative on Idaho”s 1994 November ballot designed to restrict the civil rights of gay and lesbian people.  During this divisive and hard-fought campaign, Bergquist was respected for his eloquence and wit.  After Proposition One was defeated, Bergquist was nominated as the Idaho Statesman 1994 Citizen of the Year – “he risked his life and reputation to protect the civil rights of all Idahoans against proposition One, showed extraordinary leadership, dignity, good humor and compassion.”

Brian Bergquist demonstrated on many occasions his gift of a courageous leadership style that inspired others to be confident, find their voices, challenge themselves to act and get off the sidelines to work for social justice.  Bergquist”s legacy is that he always recognized that his achievements relied on the collective and collaborative efforts of many people.  His talents could have led him through larger doors and down more lucrative paths, but he stayed in Boise and at Boise State because he felt that he could make a difference . . . and he made a great difference.

Bergquist died suddenly of a heart condition on June 6, 1998, after participating in the Gay Pride Parade, the event that he helped to create eight years earlier.

Contributors to this exhibit

The Bergquist Family
John C. Hammond
Boise State University Archives
Idaho Statesman
The Community Center




Bishop Middleton S. Barnwell was the founder and first president of Boise Junior College.  His vision was instrumental in establishing the institution that would later emerge as Boise State University.

Barnwell was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on September 9, 1882.  He received his associate degree from Center College in Danville, Kentucky, and his bachelors and doctorate from the Virginia Theological Seminary, an Episcopalian school.  Barnwell became assistant rector at Christ Chapel in Baltimore in 1909.  By 1911, he had become rector of St. Andrew’s Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he married Margaret Thorne Lighthall.

In 1913, he left his position at St. Andrew’s and moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where he worked at the Church of the Advent from 1913-1923.  After his third position, Barnwell became field secretary to the Protestant Episcopal Church of the National Council.  The Church consecrated him Bishop of Idaho in 1925 after two years as field secretary.

In that position, he ran St. Margaret’s School, a secondary girls academy in Boise, located on Idaho Street between 1st and 2nd Streets.  However, the economic collapse of the 1930s caused the academy to compete with public schools for attendance, and Bishop Barnwell advocated that the academy become a junior college.  He believed that a junior college located in Boise would enable local high school graduates to start their post secondary education without out-of-state costs.  By February of 1932, at the height of the Depression, Bishop Barnwell began his crusade to form a junior college out of St. Margaret’s.

Bishop Barnwell approached many in the Boise area for donations, but with little luck.  However, even against poor financial odds, the Episcopalian Church found the money to support the school.  Boise Junior College opened September 6, 1932, with about 75 students and fourteen faculty members; eight full-time and six part-time.  Barnwell served as president from 1932 until 1934 when he stepped down, recommending that Boise Junior College leave the control of the Episcopalian Church and become a public institution.  His words to the first graduating class of 1932 noted how Boise Junior College was born.

All achievement begins in vision and continues through labor and through faith which is the most misunderstood word in the English language.  Faith is not believing something you can’t prove, faith is seeing something which is as yet invisible.  And that’s the sort of faith which we began this school.

Barnwell returned 22 years later to address the 1956 graduating class.  He appeared pleased with the success of Boise Junior College and stated in his commencement address, “it is not often that men live to see the reward of their labors.  It is not often that men begin a great undertaking and live to see it become great.  That privilege, which few men have, is mine today as I see what the college has become.” Bishop Middleton S. Barnwell died less than a year later in Savannah, Georgia, at the age of seventy-four.

Contributors to this exhibit

Mary d’Easum

Wallace Farnham, Episcopal Diocese of Idaho



Margaret Barnwell was the wife of Bishop Middleton S. Barnwell, founder and first president of Boise Junior College.  Barnwell was also the Episcopal Bishop of Idaho from 1925 through 1934.  In her role as the wife of a clergyman, Margaret was a “supportive wife” and a “lovely and gracious hostess” while entertaining members of the church and the community.

In 1911, Margaret married Bishop Barnwell at St. Andrew’s Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts.  They had no children.  She accompanied the Bishop to his later positions at the Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama, and as field secretary to the Protestant Episcopal Church of the National Council.

The Barnwells arrived in Boise, Idaho in 1925 for Middleton Barnwell to assume his position as Bishop of Idaho and head of St. Margaret’s School, a secondary academy and boarding school for girls.  While in Boise, a niece of Bishop Barnwell, Shirley Barnwell, lived with them and attended St. Margaret’s.

The Bishop’s House, where the Barnwells lived, was located next to St. Margaret’s Hall; both faced Idaho Street, between 1st and 2nd Streets.  According to church sources, part of the responsibilities of the wife of the Bishop during those times was to “keep him in good physical condition and happy.”  Additionally, “Maggie” often served as hostess at their home for various community and church functions.  A favorite get-away was the Episcopal Church Camp on Lake Coeur d’Alene known as Point McDonald, now known as Camp Cross.  Margaret and the Bishop often attended these retreats.

In 1932, Bishop Barnwell established Boise Junior College, which used the facilities of the former St. Margaret’s School as its campus for eight years.  In the fall of 1940, Boise Junior College moved to its present site.  St. Margaret’s was used by St. Luke’s Hospital as a nursing school until it was torn down to accommodate expansion.  The Bishop’s House was moved to its present location on the grounds of the Old Penitentiary in 1976.  It has been fully restored and is often used for weddings and other gatherings.

The Barnwells left Boise in 1934.  However, the Bishop returned in 1956 to give the commencement address to the graduating class of Boise Junior College.  Church sources indicate that the Barnwells seemed very happy together.  Margaret and the Bishop were fun-loving, and Margaret appeared to be at ease with her role as the wife of the Bishop.

Contributors to this exhibit

Mary d’Easum
Alan Virta, BSU Albertsons Library



Born on December 4, 1912, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Gregory Boyington graduated from Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington.  He married four times and was the father of one son and two daughters. At only six years old, he flew around with a barnstorming pilot and landed with a determination that would make him the top Marine Corps flying ace of World War II.

After working as a draftsman for a year at Boeing, he trained for the Marines.  In 1941, Boyington joined the Flying Tigers in China where he shot down his first several planes.  When the United States entered the war, Marine Colonel Gregory “Pappy” Boyington rejoined his old marine outfit.  He went on to command the Black Sheep Squadron and set the United States’ record for enemy planes shot down.  Because Boyington was in his 30s, and a number of years older than most of the men he commanded, he was called “Grandpappy,” which was later shortened to “Pappy.”  His marine career became famous worldwide during World War II when he approached the United States record of 26 enemy planes shot down.  Time, Life, and Newsweek all followed his career until his final dogfight over Rabaul in the South Pacific.  In January, 1944, Boyington shot down his 26th plane, tying the record, though was himself shot down the same day.

When World War II ended, American forces rescued Boyington from a Japanese prison camp after 20 months of imprisonment.  He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman, as well as the Navy Cross, in honor of his years of extraordinary service and the 26 planes he was then credited as having shot down.  In a magazine interview Boyington stated, “I dislike professional medal winners – guys who use it to punch real estate in Florida.  The saddest kind of guy is the one who trades on past glories and has nothing to live for.”

Boyington lived a turbulent life: his bouts with alcoholism were something he never totally overcame.  He wrote of his World War II experiences in a 1958 book entitled Baa Baa Black Sheep.  The book not only describes his war experiences and public adulations as a result, but also personal loss.  “Shortly after the war, the glamour was gone and there was nothing in my life but turbulence for nearly ten years.”  He additionally noted:

All my life I seemed to have difficulty saying no to anything, especially when I was drinking, but my biggest problem was that I could never say no to liquor – and mean it.  I suppose the only reason for the war record is that I couldn’t stop myself from volunteering…

Boyington’s war record, however, is significant and has earned him a place in history.  Additionally, the later 1976-78 television series of the same name was also very loosely based on Pappy and his squadron.  Boyington died January 11, 1988 in Fresno, California. He is now buried in Arlington National Cemetery just below the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Contributors to this exhibit

Richard Beck
Keith Boyington

BRINK - Named for CAROL RYRIE BRINK, 1895-1981


Carol Ryrie Brink wrote a comprehensive body of fiction that captured the natural setting and personal challenges of life in Idaho.  In addition to her Idaho works, she wrote an impressive 27 books for adults and children over a lifetime of 85 years.  She is known to be one of the most prolific and enduring of all Idaho authors.

Ryrie was born on December 28, 1895, the daughter of Alex Ryrie and Henrietta Watkins Ryrie.  Tragedy marked her early years when her father died of consumption in 1900.  The 1901 murder of Henrietta’s father, Dr. W. W. Watkins, contributed to her mother’s suicide in 1904 after a failed second marriage.  Carol was raised by her grandmother, Caroline Woodhouse Watkins, who shared her love of storytelling with her.  During her childhood, Carol spent her time reading books and writing her own stories.

After a lonely, but not unhappy childhood with her grandmother, Carol Ryrie attended the University of Idaho where she became a popular figure.  She wrote for the Argonaut as the society page editor and wrote several student plays.  However, Carol found Moscow too small and transferred to the University of California-Berkeley where she received her B. A. in 1918.  Shortly after her graduation, she married longtime friend and University of Idaho math professor Raymond Brink.  They lived for forty years in Minnesota and had a son and a daughter. Although family was a priority, she managed to write “sometimes at the kitchen sink, on the end of the ironing board, or when the children were in bed.”

Carol Brink won the Newbery Medal in 1936 for her second book Caddie Woodlawn, a children’s book based on her grandmother’s stories.  Seven of her books deal with life in Idaho; three of which are children’s books entitled All Over Town (1939), Two are Better Than One (1968) and Louly (1974).  Three remaining books are an Idaho trilogy.  The first, Buffalo Coat (1944) is based on Carol’s family and Moscow history.  Strangers in the Forest (1959) followed and was based on her Aunt Elsie Watkins’s experiences on a timber homestead in northern Idaho.  The last of the trilogy was perhaps the most difficult to write.  Snow in the River (1964) is an autobiographical novel about the three Scottish Ryrie brothers, in which she also writes of her mother’s death.  The fourth book, Four Girls on a Homestead (1977), is a work of nonfiction, also illustrated by Carol Brink, and is based on her experiences with three friends who backpacked to her Aunt Elsie’s isolated cabin.

Besides winning the Newbery Medal, Carol Brink received a number of honors.  She was awarded the Friends of American Writer’s Award in 1955, an honorary Doctorate of Literature from the University of Idaho in 1965, the McKnight Family Literary Medal in 1965, the Southern Council for Children’s Literature Awarded in 1966, the National League of American Pen Women’s Prize in 1966, and the Kerlan Award in 1978.  Both Brink Hall and the children’s room in the Moscow/Latah County Library are named for her.

Brink died in Wesley Palms, California, on August 15, 1981.  According to her biographer, Mary Reed, Carol Brink “strove to live in a way that would not harm others, to never waste a day and to make the most of her life.”

Contributor to this exhibit

Mary E. Reed, Latah County Historical Society

CATALDO - Named for JOSEPH M. CATALDO, S. J., 1837-1928



Joseph M. Cataldo, S.J. was often called the “Last of the Black Robes” as the result of his service as Jesuit Superior of the Rocky Mountain Missions.  He served the Coeur d’Alene Indians at the Rocky Mountain Mission and established the first church for white settlers, St. Stanislaus, in northern Idaho, and the Mission of St. Joseph at Culdesac for the Nez Perce Indians.

Cataldo was born in Terrasini, Sicily, on March 17, 1837.  He endured many childhood illnesses, nearly dying several times.  Cataldo entered the Jesuit Society on December 22, 1852, in Palermo, Sicily, and was ordained a priest at Leige, Belgium, on September 8, 1862, at the age of 25, an unusual achievement for one so young, though due in part to his consistently poor health.

A student of languages, Cataldo requested an assignment in America to help him master the English language.  At the same time America urgently requested missionary priests.  Cataldo worked toward the completion of his Jesuit training at the Jesuit House in Boston.  Due to his frail health, he was sent to California where he passed his final examinations in 1864 at Santa Clara, California.  In 1865, Father Cataldo was sent to the Rocky Mountain Mission in northern Idaho to head the Coeur d’Alene mission, he then transferred to Lewiston in 1866 where he established St. Stanislaus and the Mission of St. Joseph at Culdesac.

In 1877, he was appointed the superior of the Rocky Mountain Mission.  During this appointment, the Old Mission of the Sacred Heart became his headquarters. The church, built between 1850 and 1852, was later named after Cataldo, and is the oldest standing building in Idaho. The mission grounds are now designated as an Idaho State Park, and are located 20 miles east of Coeur d’Alene.

During his lifetime as a Jesuit priest, Father Cataldo studied over 20 languages, including many European languages, and the Native American languages of the Pacific Northwest.  He became proficient in the Nez Perce language, eventually writing one of the first books in the Nez Perce language.  His bilingual abilities allowed him to assist in peacekeeping activities during and after the Nez Perce uprising in 1877.

Cataldo also helped found Gonzaga University. He purchased the land on which it would be built in 1881, in addition to funding some of the construction costs. Gonzaga opened its doors in 1887. He later established a novitiate at De Smet, Idaho, in 1891, which trained aspiring priests and helped to ensure a sense of permanency for the Jesuit order in the Northwest. Cataldo considered this one of the crowning points of his administration.

Though he struggled with illness in his childhood and endured frail health as an adult, Cataldo lived to the age of 92.  He died April 9, 1928, in Pendleton, Oregon, and is buried at Mt. St. Michaels in Spokane, Washington.

Contributors to this exhibit

Idaho State Historical Society Library and Archives
Old Mission State Park
Don and Rosemary Wimberly

CHIEF JOSEPH - Named for CHIEF JOSEPH, 1840-1904


Chief Joseph is remembered for his leadership during, and after, the 1877 hostilities between the United States Army and the Nez Perce Indian tribe.  It was especially after the Nez Perce Indian War that Chief Joseph rose in prominence and greatness as he fought to win fair and just treatment for his people.  His legacy is one of leadership and courage.

For many generations, the Nez Perce Indians had inhabited a large territory in the Washington, Oregon, and Idaho border area called the Wallowa Valley.  The Stevens Treaty of 1855 asked the Nez Perce to cede much of their land to the government in return for a large reservation in Oregon and Idaho; they agreed.  However, gold was discovered in 1863 and the government demanded that the reservation lands be turned back.  Chief Joseph originally resisted, but later agreed to move peacefully with his people to the Lapwai Reservation in northern Idaho.

Fighting broke out in 1877 when a number of young Nez Perce warriors killed several white settlers in outrage to the offenses committed against them, making war inevitable.  Over the course of the war, the tribe retreated more than 1,300 miles, partially under the leadership of Chief Joseph.  When federal troops eventually overtook the tribe, almost 30 miles from the Canadian border, the Nez Perce were forced to formally surrender on October 5, 1877.

The U.S. government forced the Nez Perce to relocate, and on November 27, the tribe, then totaling more than 400, arrived at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where they were to remain.  Due to miserable living conditions, the Nez Perce were again moved to the Ponca Indian Reservation near present day Tonkawa, Oklahoma.  The Nez Perce, accustomed to the cool mountain conditions of the Northwest, did not fare well in either location.  Many Nez Perce Indians sickened and died due to bad sanitation and lack of medicine.

Chief Joseph waged a tireless campaign with government officials to allow the tribe to return to Idaho, or at the very least, be given the right to select land in Indian Territory.  These requests were denied.  After seven years, the Nez Perce (now numbering 268) were finally allowed to return to the Pacific Northwest.

Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce were not allowed to return to their original home in the Wallowa Valley.  However, they were finally allowed to return to the Northwest and make their home on the Colville Indian Reservation in the state of Washington, where Chief Joseph died in exile on September 21, 1904, while sitting in front of his tipi fire.  The physician for the Colville agency simply reported that he had died of a broken heart.  In 1968, Chief Joseph was honored on the U.S. Post Office’s six-cent stamp for his courage and dedication to his people.  Chief Joseph is best remembered for his speech at the end of the 1877 hostilities.

I am tired of fighting. . . . It is cold and we have no blankets. . . . Hear me, my chiefs, I am tired; my heart is sick and sad.  From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.

Contributors to this exhibit

Idaho State Historical Society
Montana State Historical Society



Philo T. Farnsworth is best known as the inventor of the purely electronic television system. He drew the first workable television design while a student at Rigby High School in Idaho. A statue placed in Statutory Hall in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. on May 2, 1990, is dedicated to the memory of Philo Farnsworth as the “Father of Television.”

He was born August 19, 1906, near Beaver, Utah, and educated in Utah and Idaho schools. His parents encouraged his scientific mind; by the age of six, Farnsworth had declared his intentions of becoming an inventor. In 1919, at the Bungalow Ranch near Rigby, Idaho, Farnsworth won a first prize of $25 for his theft-proof ignition switch for automobiles. He was thirteen. In 1922, at Rigby High School, he developed and sketched his first ideas for the electronic transmission of images for his high school chemistry teacher, Justin Tolman. It is perhaps important to consider that even radio, in 1922, was only in its fledging years.

In 1924, Farnsworth graduated from Brigham Young High School in Provo, Utah. He entered the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, but was granted a release after his father’s death. He attended Brigham Young University, but left at the end of his second year.

Farnsworth married Elma “Pem” Gardner on May 27, 1926. Together, they moved to Los Angeles, California where Farnsworth joined the Crocker Research Laboratories to work with television technology.  Farnsworth filed Patent #1,773,980 entitled Television System  on  January 7, 1927, and was granted the patent on August 25, 1930.  In 1929, Farnsworth produced one of the first all-electronic television images using his wife as the subject of the image.  That same year, Crocker Research Laboratories had been renamed Farnsworth Television, Inc., of California.

A Russian immigrant, Vladimir Zworykin had also applied for a television patent as early as 1923 and a lawsuit emerged to determine who owned the basic patent for the electronic system that became television. The drawing Farnsworth had given to Tolman in his 1922 high school chemistry class provided the necessary proof needed, thereby preserving the television patent rights for Farnsworth.

Many have noted that the contributions of Farnsworth’s wife, Pem, were also significant. As his assistant during their 45-year marriage, she took care of all correspondence and became an expert draftsman, working on many of his drawings. She provided the climate in which Farnsworth could continue his research.

At the age of 64, Farnsworth held about 130 U.S. patents, in addition to a number of foreign patents, most of which made possible the television industry as we know it. Farnsworth died March 11, 1971. Among many other honors, there is a museum in Rigby, Idaho, called “The Birthplace of Television,” which was dedicated to Farnsworth in 1988. The U.S. Post Office issued a 1983 Philo T. Farnsworth stamp featuring an image of the inventor and one of his first television cameras. He was also honored by his induction into the Inventors Hall of Fame and awarded an honorary Doctor of Science Degree at Brigham Young University.

Contributors to this exhibit

Chris Farnsworth
Pem Farnsworth
Dennis Hammon, Hammon Photography

Marge Scott, Farnsworth T. V. Pioneer Museum

FISHER - Named for VARDIS FISHER, 1895 - 1968


Vardis Fisher was an Idaho native known as the dean of Western novelists.  His biographer, Tim Woodward, notes Fisher was “the father of our regional literature.”  As a result, western writers owe Fisher their gratitude.  Fisher’s writings have been noted as the “first significant fiction to come from the Rocky Mountain region.”

Fisher was born in Annis, Idaho, on March 31, 1895, but later settled in Hagerman where he wrote most of his 36 books.  One of his most famous books, Mountain Man, was made into the movie “Jeremiah Johnson.“He was also recognized for his literary works: his 1939 book Children of God, a fictional account of the Mormon church’s early history, was awarded the Harper Prize Novel Award for that year; The Mothers (1943) is based on the tragedy of the Donner Party;  Dark Bridwell was cited by the New York Times as being one of the best ten American novels ever written.  Fisher is also known for his exhaustive 12-volume series, Testament of Man (1943-60).

Fisher graduated from the University of Utah with a Bachelor of Arts in 1920, and then acquired his M.A. and Ph.D from the University of Chicago, graduating summa cum laude in 1925. Fisher taught at the University of Utah between 1925 and 1928, where one of his students was Wallace Stegner. He also taught English at New York University with author Tomas Wolfe, who he befriended, though he eventually moved back to Idaho by 1931. In 1935-39, Fisher directed the Federal Writer’s Project in Idaho and greatly contributed to the production of The Idaho Guide and The Idaho Encyclopedia.

In addition to his novels, Fisher was a journalist with columns in Idaho newspapers appearing from 1941 until his death in 1968.  According to Woodward, “no sacred cow was safe, and no one else removed the hide with such acerbic grace.”  His newspaper work won him the nickname “Old Irascible.” Vardis Fisher wrote what he wanted in an often brutally honest fashion.

Twentieth Century Authors (1942) contains a self-written biography of Fisher.  The following are excerpts from the piece:

I was born on a wild, windy night that ushered in All Fool’s Day a few minutes later, in a one-room cottonwood shack on a bleak Mormon outpost in Idaho; with a caul which for my mother augured that I’d be a bishop at least and perhaps an apostle . . . I have one brother, Dr. V.E. Fisher, a psychologist, and an atheist like myself; and a sister, Irene, who is pious enough for a whole tribe . . . My career began, I suppose, early in high school; for before I was half-way through a wild-eyed and sentimental adolescence, I wrote what I called a novel, as well as a ton of horrible verse . . . My only literary preference is for intelligent books . . . I like intelligence; persons who do not think with their emotions; and persons who discipline their egoistic demands with a rebuking sense of irony.

Vardis Fisher died July 9, 1968, in Hagerman, Idaho.  In 1995, two of his unpublished manuscripts were found in the home of his widow, Opal, who lived in Boise.

Contributors to this exhibit

Mary Carter, BSU Albertsons Library
Tim Woodward, The Idaho Statesman

FOOTE - Named for MARY HALLOCK FOOTE, 1847-1938


Mary Hallock Foote was a nationally recognized illustrator and writer. Though she had achieved prominence prior to moving west, some of her most significant fiction was written during her almost twelve years in Boise, Idaho, from 1884 to 1895. Her illustrated series with accompanying text, “Pictures of the Far West,” help us envision a unique western perspective.

Mary Hallock was born in Milton, New York, on November 19, 1847, and was raised on the Quaker family farm in the Hudson River Valley. She received a good education and quickly gained national prestige with her illustrations. She published her first drawings in 1867 in A.D. Richardson’s Beyond the Mississippi. Later, in the 1870s, she acquired professional recognition as an illustrator for national magazines. By the 1890s she gained the title “dean of women illustrators” and was elected to the National Academy of Women Painters and Sculptors.

She married Arthur DeWint Foote, a mining engineer, in 1876. He was part of a select group who helped shape the West and made the development of mining a reality. His career took the couple to California, Colorado, Mexico and Idaho. While in Idaho, she wrote five novels, John Bodewin’s Testimony (1886), The Last Assembly Ball (1889), The Chosen Valley (1892), that told of the building of a dam in the Snake River Valley and Coeur d’Alene (1894), which described a struggle between miners and mine owners in northern Idaho, and lastly, In Exile and Other Stories (1894). Income from her novels enabled the Footes to build their home on the Boise River in 1885. Known as the “Stone House in the Canyon,” it was located just below Lucky Peak Dam.

Though she moved to California, she remained intrigued with the children and working-class culture of Idaho. She published The Cup of Trembling and Other Stories (1895), The Little Fig-Tree Stories (1899), The Desert and the Sown (1902), A Touch of Sun and Other Stories (1903), and Edith Bonham (1917), all of which were set in Idaho. She ceased writing novels after she published The Ground-Swell in 1919.

In 1888 and 1889, Foote was hired by Richard Watson Gilder to do a series known as the “Pictures of the Far West” for Century Magazine. She illustrated eleven drawings and wrote a brief story about each. According to William Allen Rogers, a leading western illustrator of the time,  “there is a charm about her black-and-white drawings which cannot be described, but it may be accounted for by the fact that, more than any other American illustrator, she lived in pictures from day to day which she drew so sympathetically.” Mary Hallock Foote died June 25, 1938 in Hingham, Massachusetts.

Her memoirs were published posthumously in 1972 by the Huntington Library under the title A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West. Wallace Stegner based Angle of Repose partially on her life, and the Idaho State University Press published The Idaho Stories and Far West Illustrations of Mary Foote in 1988.

Contributor to this exhibit

Judy Austin, Idaho State Historical Society Library and Archives



Lawrence Henry Gipson rose from humble beginnings in southern Idaho to become part of the first class of Rhodes Scholars to study at Oxford University.  He went on to establish himself as an internationally-known historian, a distinguished professor of history, and a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Born December 7, 1880 in Greeley, Colorado, Gipson moved with his family to Caldwell, Idaho, where he spent his boyhood.  He excelled as a long distance runner at Caldwell High School and the Academy of the College of Idaho, but dropped out after only one year at each institution.  Before attending the University of Idaho, Gipson had a number of odd jobs, including driving a stagecoach and learning the printing trade.  His father served as editor and publisher to Idaho Odd Fellow, the Gem State Rural and Livestock Farmer, and established Caxton Printers in Caldwell, Idaho.

Gipson received his B.A. from the University of Idaho in 1903 and in 1907 completed the first Rhodes scholarship granted to an Idahoan.  While a Rhodes scholar, he was awarded a B.A. from Oxford University of England.  Gipson wrote of his experience as a Rhodes scholar in the October, 1962 issue of the Lehigh Bulletin.

One disadvantage that our first delegation of Rhodes Scholars labored under was the fact that we attracted so much attention.  I am sure that no subsequent group was ever the object of such intense curiosity.  Almost inevitably we were made conscious that each of us was on trial, especially in the eyes of the scholarly world. We were even made to feel that in a sense the reputation of American scholarship was in our hands.

Following graduation, Gipson taught history at the College of Idaho for three years.  In 1909, he married Jennette Reed, a school teacher.  He studied history at Yale University as a Farnham Fellow in 1910 and 1911.  Gipson headed the history and political science department at Wabash College from 1911-1924 and received his Ph.D in history from Yale in 1918.  He headed the department of history and government at Lehigh from 1924 through 1946, then was appointed research professor that same year, and was granted the status of professor emeritus in 1952. Gipson was honored to return to Oxford University in 1951-1952 as the annual Harmsworth Professor of American History and, again in 1964, for a reunion of Rhodes scholars.

His major contribution is a 15-volume history entitled The British Empire Before the American Revolution which he began researching in 1924.  The final volume was published only nine months before his death on September 26, 1971.  Volume 6, The Great War for the Empire: The Years of Defeat, 1754-1757 was awarded the 1948 Columbia University Loubat Prize.  Volume 7, The Great War for the Empire: The Victorious Years, 1758-1760 won the Bancroft Prize of the American Historical Association for the best work in American history in 1950.  The Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Gipson in 1962 for Volume 10, The Triumphant Empire:  Thunderclouds Gather in the West, 1763-1766.

Gipson was awarded honorary doctorates from Temple University in 1947, Lehigh University in 1951, and an L.L.D. from the University of Idaho in 1953. He passed away on September 26, 1971.

Contributors to this exhibit

Don Bott, Lehigh University Alumni Association
Gordon Gipson, Caxton Printers
Sherrill Pinney, The Rhodes Scholarship Trust
Laureen Simmons, Lehigh University Alumni Association

HATCH - Named for ADA YOST HATCH, 1900-1984


Ada Yost Hatch, a member of the original faculty of Boise Junior College, was chosen by Bishop Middleton Barnwell to teach English at the new school when it opened its doors on September 6, 1932 at St. Margaret’s Hall. Hatch devoted her 35-year career at BJC (later Boise State University) to teaching students and improving higher education in Idaho. Hatch was successful in the development of her own teaching systems and appreciated the diversity of student thought.

Yost was born on April 29, 1900, in Sutton, Nebraska. When she was 13, she moved with her parents, Henry and Magdelina Yost, to Blackfoot, Idaho, where they homesteaded a farm. Yost grew up in Blackfoot with her nine brothers and sisters and graduated from high school. She received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Idaho in 1926 and went on to teach at high schools in Salmon, Arco, and Blackfoot, Idaho.

Yost did some post graduate work at UCLA and the University of Chicago, though she returned to the University of Idaho for her master’s and graduated in 1932, just prior to coming to Boise Junior College.  Later on, she also took courses at the University of Washington.  In an oral history interview, Hatch remembers her first year at BJC. “I lived on the second floor of St. Margaret’s Hall. My contract included board and room and laundry.” In June 1933, Yost married Clark Hatch, a teacher and building contractor.

For the first few years at BJC, she was one of the few English professors, as well as the head of the English department. By 1941, she supervised the English, journalism, and modern languages departments. From 1948 to 1967, Hatch was Chairman of the Division of Humanities, a position similar to that of today’s Dean of Arts and Sciences.

During her next 25 years at BJC, she served on the Advisory Board which was responsible for setting salaries and recruiting faculty. Some years after President Eugene Chaffee returned from World War II, he made Hatch the Chairman of the Advisory Board. She states in her oral history that “it wasn’t a time of women’s rights, but the men were wonderful to me.”

She also advised the first women’s activities group, the Valkyries, which organized entertainment, boosted school morale, and raised money for charitable organizations. She also worked closely with the men’s group, the Vigilantes. Hatch stated that she “thought we [the Valkyries] did a lot of good, boosting ideas and scholarship.” She took advantage of the first sabbatical offered by Boise Junior College in 1950, studying at Oxford for three months. She states in her oral history that the “European trip helped expand and broaden my methods of teaching. I spent time at Oxford and saw Shakespeare done at the Old Vic.”

Her former students often say that Ada Hatch was the best teacher they ever had. It was with regret that Ada Yost Hatch was forced to retire from teaching after a heart attack in 1967. She continued to support students through regular contributions to the department of English scholarship program. Hatch died on May 9, 1984. Her legacy, however, continues at Boise State University in the form of a scholarship given in her name to upper division female students majoring in art, English, or music.

Contributors to this exhibit

Larry Burke
Lois Chaffee
Ace H. Chatburn

John G. Collias
Charles Hummel, Hummel, LaMarche & Hunsucker, Architects
Harvey C. Pitman
William E. Shankweiler
Alan Virta, BSU Albertsons Library



Walter Perry Johnson is considered equal to Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, and Ty Cobb for his prowess in baseball. His professional life began as a result of playing on the Weiser, Idaho, baseball team. He was known in Idaho as “The Weiser Wonder.” Sportswriters dubbed him “The Big Train” due to relentless velocity of his pitching. Johnson’s greatest fame lies not only in his pitching ability, but also in his thoughtfulness and genuine modesty.

Johnson was born November 6, 1887 in Humboldt, Kansas, and raised on his family’s farm until they moved to Olinda, California, in 1901. In California, Johnson attended Fullerton Union High School, graduated, and signed with Tacoma, a Northwest League team. At the age of sixteen, he was sent to Weiser, Idaho, where he played for two seasons, pitching as many as 85 scoreless innings in a row. He was discovered in Weiser by a baseball scout and offered a chance to play baseball in Washington, D.C.  In 1914, Walter Johnson married Hazel Lee Roberts. Together, they had five children.

Johnson played for the Washington Senators from 1907 to 1927 and set numerous records. He won the American League’s Most Valuable Player award in both 1913 and 1924, and during the latter year was noted as the hero of the 1924 World Series, in which the Senators were victorious.  President Calvin Coolidge presented Johnson with the second award.  He was one of the original five baseball players who were the first inductees of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936. At the time, he was considered the fastest pitcher in baseball.  Ty Cobb said of Johnson, “We couldn’t touch him. . . he had the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ballpark.”  Sportswriters noted that Johnson was a kindly man who did not want to hurt anyone with his blazing fast ball.

A biography of Johnson was published in 1995 by his grandson, Henry W. Thomas.  The book notes that “it was Johnson, above all other players, who came to personify gentlemanly conduct in the heat of battle . . . one of a small number of like-minded stars tempering the game’s roughneck reputation in the century’s early years.”  Johnson later managed at a minor league time at Newark, as well as in the majors at Washington and Cleveland, but was not as successful as a manager.

Johnson won his Republican bid for the Board of Commissioners in Montgomery County, Maryland, and later became a contented farmer in Germantown, Maryland.  He stated upon his retirement that he guessed he would always be a country boy.  He died of a brain tumor December 10, 1946, in Washington, D.C. at the age of 59.

According to his biographer, Johnson “remained an unspoiled individual, his name unmarred by any hint of wrongdoing, on or off the field.”  The Walter Johnson Memorial, dedicated at Griffith Stadium in 1947, now stands at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland.  Some of Johnson’s records and baseball statistics, as recorded in the Baseball Hall of Fame include:

417 wins in 21 seasons
20 or more winning games in a season – 12
Number of strikeouts – 3,508
Number of consecutive scoreless innings – 56 in 1913
Pitched the most games in American League history – 802
Record number of shutouts – 110

Contributors to this exhibit

Carol Odoms, Intermountain Cultural Center & Museum
W. C. Burdick, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc.



Grace Jordan taught English, journalism, and fiction writing at the University of California Berkeley, University of Washington, University of Oregon and Boise Junior College.  She was a lifelong freelance journalist, created poetry, and wrote Home Below Hells Canyon, which was translated into six languages.  Her books were based in Idaho, and she is credited with acquainting people throughout the nation and world with the many facets of the state.  Jordan was very active in the Idaho Writers League, for which she sponsored a short story contest.
Jordan was born in Wasco, Oregon on April 16, 1892, the daughter of a country doctor and a school teacher, Dr. and Mrs. Jesse Edgington.  She received a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in English from the University of Oregon, along with a Phi Beta Kappa Key.  Jordan freelanced for many northwest papers after college and worked as the society editor for the Eugene Morning Register and as a correspondent for the Lewiston Tribune.  She married Leonard B. Jordan, who became both a governor and a senator of Idaho, on December 30, 1924, and moved to a ranch at Kirkwood Bar on the Idaho side of the Snake River in 1933 with their three children.

Jordan is best known for her first book Home Below Hells Canyon (1954), which details the lives of the Jordan family on the Snake River ranch.  She and her husband Len lived on Kirkwood Bar until the early 1940s.  Her other books include Canyon Boy  (1960), The King’s Pines of Idaho (1961), The Idaho Reader (1963), The Unintentional Senator (1972) and Country Editor (1976).  The sequel to Home Below Hells Canyon, The Unintentional Senator, is a memoir of their lives during Len Jordan’s career in public service.  Country Editor, the novel of a woman who edits a small town newspaper, and Canyon Boy, are novels that capture the culture and history of the western landscape.  Described as “a love-letter to Idaho,” The King’s Pines of Idaho is a history of the Brown family in McCall.  Jordan also compiled and edited The Idaho Reader (1963), a collection of articles and short stories written by published and unpublished Idaho writers.  Jordan’s final work, Idaho Reflections (1984), is a collection of poetry recapitulating her love of Idaho, her sense of humor, and her empathy for others.

Grace Jordan passed away on September 20, 1985. Grace Jordan Elementary School is named in her honor.

Contributors to this exhibit

Mary Carter, BSU Albertsons Library
Helen Copple
Evelyn Jensen
Joe Jordan
Sue Lovelace

Pat Story
Susan Swetnam
Alan Virta, BSU Albertsons Library

SHIPMAN - Named for NELL SHIPMAN, 1892-1970


Nell Shipman evolved from a young girl who joined a traveling theatrical company to a woman film pioneer.  Shipman produced one of the first films made in Idaho from 1920 to 1921, The Girl From God’s Country.

Nell Shipman was born Helen Foster Barnham on October 25, 1892, in Victoria, British Columbia.  She became a Coeur d’Alene resident after a badly sprained ankle stopped her from touring with “The Barrier,” a traveling theater company, in 1910.  As the tour traveled on to Spokane with a new leading lady, she stayed behind at her brother’s cabin on Lake Coeur d’Alene.

In 1911, Nell married Ernest Shipman, a long-time Shakespearean producer and theatrical manager.  On February 24, 1912, she gave birth to her first son Barry, who went on to act in Nell’s first attempt at directing.  Shipman directed the film by accident, as the contracted director ran off to marry the leading lady.  Her acting career included several films based on James Oliver Curwood books and a host of silent films, including God’s Country and the Woman (1916), The Black Wolf (1917), Back to God’s Country (1919), The Girl from God’s Country (1921), Grub Stake (1923).  The lifestyle and history of Idahoans captivated her, causing her to return and produce a number of films near Priest Lake in northern Idaho between 1922-24.

After a divorce from Ernest Shipman, Nell became involved with artist Charles Ayers in 1925.  While in Spain, she gave birth to her twins, Charles and Daphne Ayers on May 3, 1926.  She stopped producing films in the mid-1920s, but continued to write stories and screenplays, including Wings in the Dark.  The production of Wings in the Dark starred Myrna Loy and Cary Grant.  Shipman continued writing and producing movies throughout her career and wrote a number of novels, short stories and screenplays.  A three part short story was published in the March, April, and May, 1925 issues of Atlantic Monthly, entitled “The Movie That Couldn’t Be Screened.”

She died in Cabozon, California, in 1970, just one year after she finished her autobiography.  Her unusual success as one of the earliest female directors has been an example to many women following her.

Boise State University published her autobiography, The Silent Screen and My Talking Heart in 1987.  The following cover description summarized her career:

Shipman’s candid saga chronicles the career of a girl who joined a traveling theatrical company while still a teenager and who became a woman film pioneer, a movie-maker who insisted on the humane treatment of animals, the value of location shooting, and the necessity of independent production in filmmaking.

Barry Shipman donated Nell Shipman’s papers to the Special Collections Department of Boise State University.  Additionally, a great many of her films have been preserved at the BSU Hemingway Western Studies Center.  Some of her films have been transferred to DVD format and can be purchased from the Boise State Hemingway Center.

Contributors to this exhibit

Mary Carter, BSU Albertsons Library
Barry Shipman
Tom Trusky, BSU English Department
Alan Virta, BSU Albertsons Library




John Richard Simplot was born in Dubuque, Iowa, January 4, 1909. When he was just six weeks old, his family relocated to Declo, Idaho, but moved several times between California and Idaho during his childhood. At the age of eight, someone gave him a nickel and he bought two newspapers, which he immediately resold for a profit. His early savvy for smart business, along with a lot of hard work, would eventually build him a multi-billion-dollar agribusiness.

In 1922, when J. R. was 13, the Simplots left California for Idaho. A year later, tired of the long hours he was forced to endure on the family farm, he left home and went into business for himself. About that time, the pork market had hit an all-time low, allowing him to purchase 500 head of hogs for pennies on the dollar. He fed the animals through the winter, and when the market rebounded in the spring, he sold the animals for $7,800.

Considered a small fortune back then, J. R. used the money to reinvest in horses, farm equipment, and a lease on 120 acres to grow potatoes and other crops. A few years later, he had acquired more than 30 spud warehouses and was the largest single shipper of potatoes in Idaho.

In 1940, J. R. met a businessman in California who needed dehydrated onions.  Although he knew nothing about processing onions, he recognized an opportunity and signed a contract requiring him to deliver 200,000 pounds of onion flakes and 300,000 pounds of onion powder. He not only met the customer”s demands, he also parlayed the new business into jobs for hundreds of Idahoans, providing dehydrated vegetables for the government during WW II.

The signature event of J. R.”s career came in the late ‘40s when his employees perfected the first commercially viable frozen french fry. This remarkable innovation would establish the Simplot Company as a significant player in the food industry; first in the U.S., then worldwide. In 1967, J. R. shook hands with McDonald”s founder Ray Kroc, and the two agreed that the Simplot Company would provide frozen fries for the fast-food giant.

Although extremely modest, J. R. didn”t mind taking credit for his contributions to the Idaho potato industry, especially his role in convincing growers to use certified seed potatoes. He also played a major part in the widespread advertising campaign that made “Idaho potatoes” well known across America.

In 1981, J. R., who had never used a computer, invested heavily in Micron Technology, a fledgling computer chip maker. The investment markedly increased his already impressive net worth, and initiated the process of transforming Micron from a small basement-based business into a worldwide semiconductor manufacturer.

In addition to being an extremely successful businessman, J. R. Simplot was also a great philanthropist. He was honored by many Idaho communities, colleges and universities, business and professional organizations, and civic and charitable groups for his significant financial contributions and active service.

He also helped garner approval for BSU”s College of Engineering and, along with his wife Esther, frequently attended BSU games and functions. J. R. also spoke at high school and university commencements, addressing the importance of a good education, pointing out that he was a rare exception to the rule and that education is vital to success in most cases.

Serving on the board of directors of Micron Technology, Idaho Power Company, McDonald”s Corporation, Independent Coal and Coke Company, First Security Corporation and Continental Life and Accident Company, J. R. also was chairman of the board of trustees for the College of Idaho in Caldwell.

In 2005, he and Esther donated their hilltop home to the state of Idaho, stipulating only that a large American flag fly above the residence at all times. On May 25, 2008, at the age of 99, with Esther by his side, J. R. peacefully passed away in Boise.



Esther Becker Simplot’s appreciation for music and horses began while living on her family’s dairy farm in Omro, Wisconsin.  Following high school graduation as class valedictorian, her love for horses gave way to the arts.  After graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s in music at MacMurray College in Illinois, she moved to the Chicago area to teach music. Two years later, she relocated to New York City to study voice, singing with the Riverside Church Choir, the Canterbury Chorale, and the Master Chorale.  In the mid-60s, she met J. R. Simplot who was in The Big Apple on business. They married January 22, 1972.

A recipient of the prestigious Jefferson Award for outstanding public service, and a member of the Morrison Center Hall of Fame, Esther is one of the founding members of Opera Idaho. She served on its board from 1972 to 1978, and sometimes appeared in leading roles during company productions.

In May 1991, Esther spearheaded a fundraising campaign to finance the renovation of the Hendren Furniture building in downtown Boise.  Just 15 months later, the site became home to the Boise Philharmonic, Idaho Opera, and Ballet Idaho.  The Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy provided space for rehearsals, receptions, administration and storage. In 1994, Esther organized another campaign to renovate the nearby Boise Fruit and Produce building. Two years later the derelict structure had been transformed into the beautiful Academy Annex. Later, in 2007, Opera Idaho would gain its own space adjacent to the Performing Arts Center and the Ballet Idaho building.

In 2003, her efforts resulted in the completion of the Esther Simplot Riding Center in Nampa. Used for jumping, dressage events, and regional competitions previously held in other states, the facility brings additional diversity and income to the Treasure Valley.

Esther has served as a member of the Smithsonian National Board–the first Idahoan to ever do so. She also served six years on the Advisory Board to the Bank of American Board of Directors, and has been recognized by the College of Idaho with an honorary doctorate and by the University of Idaho with the President’s Medallion.

Contributors to this exhibit

Esther Simplot
David Cuoio, J. R. Simplot Company



Ted Trueblood wrote for over 40 years about natural resources and conservation. He was a reporter, avid conservationist and an outdoor writer. His ability to attract readers from the entire country to explore the natural resources and physical challenges of the West were a unique contribution to the image and economic growth of Idaho, the state he loved.

Called “The Dean of Outdoor Writers,” Ted Trueblood was born in Boise, Idaho, on June 26, 1913. He grew up on his parents’ farm near Wilder, where he later graduated from Wilder High School in 1931, the same year that he sold his first article. Trueblood then attended the College of Idaho for two and a half years. He married Ellen Michaelson in 1939. Together, they had two sons.

He moved to New York in the early 1940s to pursue a career with Field and Stream, where he served as fishing editor for several years intermittently.  However, he returned to Idaho in 1947 after the death of a neighbor, which prompted Trueblood to quit his job and return home “determined to hunt, fish, and write about it.” He wrote, “Why work hard and save money and then die before I had a chance to enjoy the things for which I had been saving?”

Trueblood wrote and published several books during his life in Idaho. The Angler’s Handbook (1949), The Fishing Handbook (1951), Ted Trueblood on Hunting (1953), The Hunter’s Handbook (1954), and finally, The Ted Trueblood Hunting Treasury (1978.) His books and articles echo his personal philosophy.

[I find pleasure] in the simple things my ancestors did many centuries ago, such as camping out and cooking dinner over a wood fire. Then I like to sit beside it and watch the twinkling stars emerge and listen to the wavering call of a coyote while the clean, sweet smoke rises, like the wraith of some long-gone hunter, to vanish  in the darkening sky.

Trueblood was also well known for his conservation efforts, as evidenced by the number of awards he won: American Association for Conservation Information: Award of Merit (1963), Idaho Wildlife Federation’s Conservationist of the Year (1973-74), U.S. Department of the Interior: Conservation Service Award (1975). He was also involved with the Save Our Public Lands project, and served as president of the President of the River of No Return Wilderness Council, and was a member of several other conservation groups.

Trueblood lived in Idaho until his death on September 12, 1982, at the age of 69 when he committed suicide after a long bout with cancer. His legacy lives on in his books, his work with conservation issues, and a scholarship at Boise State University. The Ted Trueblood Scholarship is awarded through the Department of Communication for creative writing concerning issues of natural resources, conservation and recreation.

Contributors to this exhibit

Clayne Backer, Ted Trueblood Chapter of Trout Unlimited
Mary Carter, BSU Albertsons Library
Jack Trueblood

Alan Virta, BSU Albertsons Library