"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Improvements over time

idaho RANDY
The Idaho

The Idaho territorial sesquicentennial celebration is now properly underway, with ceremonies involving an Abe Lincoln stand-in and much else, much of it centered around Boise, which was one of the few stable communities then existing in the new territory.

The bash may be widely taken as an honorific to what happened back then. It should be better taken as recognition of how far Idaho has come since 1863 (and yes, I’ll say that even with the legislature in session). Celebrations of history have a tendency toward whitewash, and that may be liberally applied this year.

Consider pioneer Sheriff David C. Updyke.

Ada County (then including what are now Canyon and Payette counties as well) was one of Idaho’s first, established in December 1864. Boiseans looking for law enforcement quickly chose Updyke, electing him early in 1865 as their first sheriff, to lead that effort. He was an energetic man, open to confrontation and experienced with using his firearms. Just what a barely-settled new county needed. Or so they thought.

Updyke was a native of New York, where got into enough varied trouble as to be strongly advised to take his act elsewhere – far away elsewhere. He moved to California, hearing tales of gold, but too late for the mining rush there, and unhappily settled for work as a stage driver. When he heard about the first strike in the Boise River Valley (in what wasn’t yet known as Idaho) he raced there to find his fortune. He found just enough metallic scraps to invest in a couple of new businesses in the start-up town of Boise, but Updyke’s thirst for more was still acute.

Enter another group of newcomers from settlements in the north and in Montana, who had been closely allied with the infamous Henry Plummer – the region’s earliest example of an organized crime boss, briefly an Idahoans but who in Montana entered law enforcement and enriched himself and a circle of friends in the process. These friends of Plummer told Updyke they’d stake him and get him the sheriff’s job, provided he used it as Plummer had.

That is how Ada County’s first sheriff became an organized crime ringleader. His most notable crimes included a series of big-money stage robberies (using inside information from the stage operators, and used it to conduct the robberies). But there was also plenty of general murder and extortion as well.

Ada County was growing fast enough to short circuit all that. A band of vigilantes based at Payette and led by William McConnell (decades later an Idaho state governor), confronted Updyke and nearly killed him. In August 1865, only five months after Updyke was first elected, the Ada County commissioners were persuaded to hold another election for sheriff. Updyke was ousted. Soon after, he was on the run, and the following winter another group of vigilantes tracked him to the mining town of Rocky Bar, and hanged him.

Nowadays, Idaho has 44 sheriffs at a time, and none in living memory have much resembled David Updyke. Celebrate that.

Share on Facebook