See what life looked like in this Company owned Town back in the 1900’s.
In 1870, James A. Perkins and Thomas Smith establish Colfax in a deep forested valley where two branches of the Palouse River meet. Colfax is the first non-Indian settlement in the fertile rolling hills of the Palouse region located in southeastern Washington along the Idaho border. Smith soon leaves, but Perkins remains, helping to start the first sawmill in the area and becoming a leading citizen of the new town.
Anderson Cox, a businessman from Waitsburg in Walla Walla County, sent Perkins and Smith to the area to find a millsite. Cox hoped to build a mill to provide lumber to the settlers who were beginning to populate the Union Flat area south of the Colfax valley.
Perkins originally called the settlement Belleville, but the name was soon changed to Colfax, in honor of Schuyler Colfax, Vice President during the first term of President Grant (1869-73). After Whitman County was created in 1871, Colfax became the county seat of the new county.
Shortly after his arrival in 1870, Perkins built a log cabin, which stands today as the oldest building in Whitman County. In 1872, the first Republican Party convention in the County was held in the cabin.
36 Years of Sawmilling
After Smith left, Perkins, joined by Hezekiah Hollingsworth, used labor hired by Cox to construct a mill and millrace. The mill cut its first lumber in September 1871, and the first log drive along the Palouse River took place that year. Although a crude, slow set-up with a single perpendicular blade, the mill profited by filling the urgent demand for lumber from settlers on the relatively treeless Palouse.
Cox died soon after the mill opened, and Perkins sold his share to Hollingsworth. In 1877, M. J. Sexton and William Codd bought the business, and transformed the inefficient mill into a major Palouse business. In 1880, they floated two million feet of saw logs, primarily from Idaho, down the Palouse River to the mill in Colfax. The Potlatch Lumber Company, a Weyerhaeuser affiliate, bought the mill in 1904, and closed it in 1907, bringing an end to 36 years of sawmilling in Colfax.
James Perkins stayed on in the town he co-founded. In the 1880s, he and his wife Jenny built an elegant Victorian home on the same property where the log cabin was located. The home was a center of Colfax society into the 1920s. Like the cabin, the Perkins House still stands; the Whitman County Historical Society maintains both.
William B. Kinne, Lieutenant Governor of Idaho, Kidnapped on June 12, 1929
On June 12, 1929, William Barker Kinne (1874-1929), the newly elected Lieutenant-Governor of Idaho, is driving from Lewiston to Orofino. Near the small community of Arrow, four armed men kidnap him and steal his automobile. After wrecking Kinne’s car near Orofino, the bandits hijack another and kidnap the two occupants. The three victims are taken into the foothills near Greer and tied to a tree, but manage to escape and spread the alarm. A manhunt ensues across the four states of Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Montana. Two days later Latah County Sheriff’s Deputies find the fugitives hiding along the Potlatch River and they are taken to the city jail in Juliaetta. The four kidnappers and a fifth man, the ringleader, confess to the crime. On June 20, 1929, the five miscreants plead guilty to kidnapping charges in Nez Perce County District Court, Lewiston, Idaho, and are given sentences totaling a maximum of 102 years in the Idaho State Penitentiary. A few years later one of these bandits, Edward Fliss, will become involved in the kidnapping of 9-year-old George Weyerhaeuser, from Tacoma, Washington.
On Wednesday morning, June 12, 1929, William B. Kinne, age 55, Lieutenant-Governor of Idaho, was driving east along the Snake River Highway (U.S. Route 12) from Lewiston to his home in Orofino when four men brandishing handguns stepped into the road and hijacked his car. They dragged Kinne from behind the steering wheel, forced him into the back seat and onto the floor. The men piled into the automobile and sped away at a high rate of speed. Kinne estimated they were traveling toward Orofino at approximately 60 miles-per-hour when a front tire had a blowout. The driver lost control and the vehicle wound up in a ditch. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured, but the car was a total wreck.
Shortly thereafter, Warren L. Tribbey, age 41, an Idaho Building and Loan Association officer, accompanied by Paul Kilde, age 32, a Lewiston lumberman, stopped his automobile at the scene of the accident to lend assistance. Kinne and the kidnappers had already extricated themselves from the wreckage and were standing in nearby field. When Tribbey and Kilde approached, they were greeted with drawn guns and told their car was being commandeered. The men resisted and a struggle ensued during which several shots were fired. Kilde was shot twice in the legs and both he and Tribbey were pistol-whipped and beaten unconscious.
The kidnappers loaded the three victims into Tribbey’s car and drove into the foothills near Greer. After finding an isolated spot off the road, they tied the trio to a tree and then drove off, leaving a redheaded man standing guard. After about four hours, the men returned and threatened Kinne, Tribbey, and Kilde with death if they tried to escape. Then all the kidnappers piled into Tribbey’s car and drove away.
Before leaving, the kidnappers stole $14 from Kinne and $200 from Tribbey, but overlooked a small penknife in Tribbey’s pocket, which he used to cut himself loose and free the others. Kinne overheard conversation that the men were en route to Pierce to rob a bank and needed an automobile for the escape. Within 15 minutes, the three hostages were walking toward Greer, only a short distance away, to spread the alarm.
Law enforcement authorities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana were immediately notified of the abductions and told to be on the lookout for a stolen blue sedan, bearing Idaho license plate number 249-060. The four kidnappers were described as being between 18 and 25 years old and “very desperate men,” all carrying pistols. Lewis County Sheriff Alva W. Mitchell organized three separate posses, which consisted of nearly the entire male population of Nez Perce, Lewis, Latah, and Clearwater counties, including farmers, loggers, skilled Indian trackers, and Boy Scouts. Guards were posted on every road and bridge. A pack of bloodhounds was flown from Yakima in Washington state to Lewiston to participate in the manhunt. By nightfall, the entire Central Idaho region, for a radius of 200 miles, was being guarded and searched.
For the next two days, thousands of men searched for the four assailants without success and law enforcement officials were nearly ready to admit that their quarry had escaped. However, early Friday morning, June 14, 1929, Latah County Deputy Sheriff Miles B. Pierce was searching the area alongside the railroad tracks near the town of Juliaetta when he spotted two men asleep in the deep undergrowth. Pierce leveled his shotgun at the men, ordering them out of the bushes. One of the men had bright red hair and was in possession of three loaded handguns wrapped in a pair of overalls. He was identified as Edward Fliss, alias Frank “Red” Lane, age 24. The other man, who was tall and blond, was identified as Engolf Snortland, age 20.
A short time later, two farm boys from Juliaetta happened upon another of the gang members. Ward H. Alexander, age 14, and Sam B. Bryant, age 16, were searching along Potlatch Creek, approximately 100 yards from where Deputy Pierce had arrested his two men, when they saw another man asleep in the bushes. They ran to town and told Deputy Pierce, who went to the spot and arrested Albert Reynolds, age 24.
Meanwhile, Kendrick Town Constable Ernest Davis received a tip from John Kite, who owned a dairy located between Juliaetta and Kendrick, that shortly after 6:00 a.m., he sold two quarts of milk, a loaf of bread and some jam to two scruffy men who claimed to have arrived in the area on the morning freight train from Spokane to pick cherries. Within an hour, Constable Davis, with the help Latah County Sheriff’s deputies George K. Moody and Frances Jordan, rounded up the last members of the gang. They were identified as Robert Livingston, age 19, and “Seattle George” Norman, age 45, a well known Northwest outlaw, gang leader, and fugitive.
Justice Is Served
Two hours later, Lieutenant-Governor Kinne and Warren Tribbey arrived at the Juliaetta city jail to identify the men. Both Kinne and Tribbey positively identified all the kidnappers except Norman, who was not involved in the abductions. They fingered Reynolds as the man who shot Paul Kilde in both legs, and Fliss as the red-haired man who stood guard while they were tied to a tree.
Livingston, the youngest of the prisoners, broke down immediately when officers questioned him and made a full confession, implicating the other four in the plot to rob a bank in Pierce. At first, the others refused to talk, but later all the conspirators gave signed confessions, except Norman, the leader of the gang, who firmly maintained his innocence. The men explained that they needed a getaway car for a bank robbery in Pierce and had no intention of holding anyone for ransom.
Livingston said that after the assaults on Tribbey and Kilde, the gang “got cold feet” and decided to call off the bank robbery scheme. They picked up George Norman, who was scoping out the bank in Pierce, and then drove west toward the mountains, crossing over the Clearwater River at Ahsahka. The men became increasingly nervous about driving Tribbey’s car on the highway, so they ditched it in the woods outside of Cavendish and set out on foot, heading toward the Washington state border. The five gangsters hiked cross-country, using the timber and underbrush for cover, and eventually wound up on the bank of the Potlatch River near Juliaetta, where they were caught sleeping.
Idaho State Patrol Officer Ernest Robinson located Tribbey’s automobile hidden in a grove of trees on a ridge east of Cavindish. Blood and a 38-caliber revolver were found on the floor of the vehicle and the $200 stolen from Tribbey had been stuffed under the front seat. The car was taken to Moscow and held as evidence of the crimes.
On Saturday, June 15, 1929, Sheriff Summerfield and deputies took the five prisoners to the Nez Perce County Jail in Lewiston for safety. When they arrived, there were approximately 1,500 citizens, many armed with guns, thronged around the front entrance to the court house. While Nez Perce County Sheriff Harry Dent created a diversion at the front, Lewiston Police Chief Eugene Gasser quietly spirited the prisoners through the back door. Fearing the mob might attempt to harm the men, the court held the preliminary hearing in the jail. District Attorney Ray E. Durham filed charges against Reynolds, Fliss, Snortland, and Livingston for kidnapping, robbery, and assault. Norman was not charged initially, but was held on arrest warrants in connection with several burglaries and robberies in Eastern Washington and Idaho. Judge Ernest L. Parker set bail for each of the men at $8,000, which they were unable to post.
The defendants were arraigned in Nez Perce County District Court on Thursday, June 20, 1929, and pleaded guilty to the kidnapping charges. Judge Miles S. Johnson sentenced Reynolds, one of the gang’s ringleaders and the man who shot Kilde, to 12 to 25 years; Fliss drew 11 to 25 years; Snortland was given 10 to 25 years; Livingston, the “baby bandit,” received one to 25 years in prison and a stern lecture from the judge.
Because he was not involved in the kidnapping, George Norman was allowed to plead guilty to being an accessory after the fact to the kidnapping. Judge Johnson told Norman: “The only crime you may be charged with is being an accessory after the fact on which the maximum punishment is two years. Thus you are escaping with a light sentence while your tools get a heavier one. If you ever appear before me again, you will get the maximum sentence for whatever crime you are charged with. We haven’t room in this country for men of your type” (Lewiston Morning Tribune).
On Saturday, June 22, 1929, two traveling guards from the Idaho State Penitentiary arrived in Lewiston to take the five prisoners to Boise by train, to start serving their sentences.
On Saturday, September 28, 1929, Lieutenant-Governor William B. Kinne was stricken with an appendicitis at his home in Orofino. His physician believed the condition was not life-threatening and waited until Sunday morning to perform an appendectomy. But Kinne’s appendix had already ruptured, causing peritonitis, an often fatal complication. He died on Tuesday, October 1, 1929, after less than a year in office.
On July 23, 1934, after serving only five years of his sentence, Edward Fliss was granted a full pardon by Idaho Governor Charles Ben Ross (1876-1946) and released. But he didn’t stay out of trouble for long. During his stay at the Idaho State Penitentiary, he became friends with two prisoners, Harmon Metz Waley and William Dainard, who kidnapped 9-year-old George H. Weyerhaeuser in Tacoma, on May 26, 1935. It was one of the most sensational crimes in Washington state history. The FBI arrested Fliss on October 22, 1936, for assisting William Dainard in laundering large quantities of the ransom money and conspiracy to kidnap.
Fliss was arraigned in U. S. District Court, Tacoma, on Saturday, November 14, 1936, before Judge Edward E. Cushman. He waived the appointment of an attorney and pleaded guilty to the charge of being an accessory after the fact in the Weyerhaeuser kidnapping. Fliss pleaded not guilty to the conspiracy count stating he was serving a 30-day jail sentence for vagrancy in Missoula, Montana, when the kidnapping occurred.
Fliss was sentenced on Friday, November 27, 1936. During the proceeding, he admitted his past crimes to the court and then added: “The kidnapping of the lieutenant-governor [Kinne] was not a real kidnapping. We just forced the man to ride with us for a couple of hours and when they found out who he was, we let him go. There was no ransom money involved”(The Seattle Times). Judge Cushman was not amused and sentenced Fliss to 10 years imprisonment at the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary and fined him $5,000 — the maximum penalty.
Frederick Weyerhaeuser, born in 1834 Niedersaulheim, Rhein-Hesse, came to America in 1852 as a penniless youth and went on to become known as the Timber King — a title he didn’t like. He remained a simple man who shied away from publicity throughout his life. Who’s Who in America only discovered him in 1911, three years before his death. He enjoyed his anonymity, as did his descendants.
After coming to America, he worked as a day laborer in the vicinity of Erie, Pennsylvania, where he married Elisabeth Bladel. He then moved to Rock Island, Illinois, where he worked on a railroad.
He advanced quickly wherever he worked. In one of the few interviews he ever gave, he answered a question about the reasons for his tremendous success by saying “The secret lay simply in my will to work. I never watched the clock and never stopped before I had finished what I was working on.”
In Rock Island, he was put in charge of a sawmill and then a timber yard. After the panic of 1857, he was able to buy both with money he had saved. Soon afterwards, he bought logs from the shores of the Mississippi and acquired additional sawmills.
In the year 1864, Weyerhaeuser began to buy up pine tracts in Wisconsin, giving him control of all
stages of the lumber business. He acquired still more land in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. In 1891, he moved to St. Paul where he became friends and neighbors with James J. Hill, the operator of the Northern Pacific Railroad.
Hill had acquired millions of acres of the best timber forests cheaply form the government for his railroad. He knew nothing about the lumber business, and sold more than three million acres of forests to Weyerhaeuser at bargain rates, which contributed to the wealth of Weyerhaeuser’s company.
At the turn of the century, he owned more timberland than any other American. He showed greater concern for his workers than any other industrial magnate of the time. He also impressed upon them the necessity of protecting even the smallest trees.
Upon his death in 1914, Hill commented, “His place can never be filled…He was one of those national forces that helped build our country…” At the time of his death, his estate was valued at $200 million.
Today the Seattle, Washington-based Weyerhaeuser Corporation is a multi-million dollar company with offices in Europe and Canada. There is also a Weyerhaeuser Company Foundation, founded in 1948, that has directed over $100 million to worthy causes.
On January 18, 1900, the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company incorporates. This occurs about two weeks after Frederick Weyerhaeuser (1834-1914) purchases some 900,000 acres (1,406 square miles) of Washington state timberlands from railroad magnate James J. Hill (1838-1916) in one of the largest land transactions in American history. The new timber company, headquartered in Tacoma, is the largest in the state.
On August 20 and 21, 1910, forest fires in northern Idaho and western Montana burn more than three million acres of timber and kill 85 people. In terms of acreage, it is the largest fire in recorded United States history. The tragedy will result in the U.S. Forest Service adopting a nationwide policy of aggressive forest fire suppression and prevention.
The summer of 1910 was abnormally dry in the West. Dozens of fires broke out in the Rocky Mountains from a variety of sources, none ever established conclusively. Temporary crews hired by the new U.S. Forest Service, and employees detailed by railroads, timber companies, and mining companies with private holdings fought the various fires. Fire suppression in the region was complicated by the lack of communications, roads, equipment, and personnel. Even though 1,200 to 1,500 men had been hired as firefighters, Forest Service managers asked President William Howard Taft for help from the U.S. Army. African American soldiers of the 25th Infantry Regiment from Fort George Wright and from Fort Missoula pitched in to help.
On August 20, immense winds of hurricane force (more than 75 m.p.h.) rose to spread the fires. Under conditions of that magnitude, the crews could not begin to stop the fires. Trapped men fled their camps and most found safety by immersing themselves in creeks with their heads covered by coats and blankets. One crew hid in a mine tunnel, but five suffocated to death because the fire consumed all the oxygen. Homesteads, sawmills, and railroad structures were destroyed.
When the town of Wallace, Idaho, was threatened, the mayor ordered all able-bodied men into fire duty. Women and children and hospital patients were evacuated by train. The mayor had to order soldiers to pull from departing trains men who had been pressed into fire service. Refugees made their way to rail lines hoping to catch passing trains. Wallace lost the railroad station, a foundry, two breweries, other businesses, and more than 150 homes.
After two days, the winds abated. On August 23, light rains dampened the fires. A total of 85 (possibly 87) people lost their lives including 75 firefighters. Some bodies could not be identified and were buried as “unknown.” The loss in timber was estimated at three million acres, more than 10 times the size of Washington’s largest fire, the Yacolt Burn of 1902, and larger than any other burns in recorded United States history. By comparison, commercial logging in Washington felled approximately 100,000 acres of timber a year.
The conflagration was a turning point in national fire policy. The Forest Service began to aggressively suppress fires with full-time, trained crews, a system of fire lookouts, and campaigns to prevent fires. In Washington state, this policy fit with programs started by the state and by private timberland owners through the Washington Forest Fire Association.
The white building on the right was the administrative building, later to become City Hall. The popular gymnasium rises on the left, with the Potlatch Hotel in the background. The massive company store, The Mercantile, looms in the background, center right. Sixth Street was the town’s main avenue of commerce, with both workers and company executives shopping and mixing in the same downtown area.
It was not “all work and no play” in Potlatch during the Company Town era. In fact the Potlatch Lumber Company executives placed a high priority on recreation for company employees, building a gymnasium during the early years. The first gymnasium burned Christmas Eve of 1915, and people were determined to rebuild, in time creating the large gymnasium still prominent in town. The new gymnasium was a hub of activities, featuring a hard rock maple basketball court, locker rooms and areas for social interaction. On any given evening, there were basketball games, boxing matches and even indoor baseball. The gym also served as the school cafeteria for some years, and housed a roller skating rink, as well, not to mention the city jail and dog pound for a time.
In addition to the gym, Riverside (photos below) and Kennedy Ford Grange offered dancing and a host of other activities that kept residents mixing it up with music, potlucks and other events. Some old-timers say their parents didn’t approve of the girls going to Riverside unescorted, but the Grange was always a welcome venue for families. Often people lugged their sleepy children to some quiet corner so the parents could dance, eat and visit until late. Riverside was even more lively, with its dances, concerts, car races and rodeos. The dance hall was built some time in the 30’s and continued on into the 60’s, with early day performers such as Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Dolly Parton, George Jones, Tex Ritter, Hank Williams and Ray Price named as some of the talents appearing on stage. During an interview, Johnny Cash remembered Potlatch as one of the rowdiest towns he’d ever played in. Residents residents of Potlatch and other nearby towns flocked to the place, especially remembering the Fourth of July festivities as a real family event.
Riverside offered more than concerts and dances. There were rodeos, car races and roller skating, just to name a few activities. Too bad the place flooded each year and the building finally fell into disrepair in the 60’s. Would have been fun to go there!
There comes a time, even with the brightest and wondrous places, what was once flourishing begins to fall victim to disrepair. Partially due to the fact that , as its star faded, Riverside eventually fell into complete disrepair and was taken down.
Farming with horses was once a common sight. Here, members of the Davis family farm property in the Dewfield Flat area. Now known as Duffield Flat, due to a county recording error, many of the families who live in the area have been there since the early 1900’s.
These photos are from the Lee Gale Collection (now owned by the Potlatch Historical Society) and show men excavating for the Potlatch Lumber Co’s power plant for the new sawmill. Notice all the loaded wheelbarrows. This must have been back-breaking work, yet the company had no trouble rounding up willing workers. The photo is dated Nov 21, 1905.
30 years ago on March 15, 1983, Potlatch Corporation announced that its Potlatch sawmill would close permanently. The company town had been in limbo since August 1981, when the mill had stopped producing lumber. But people in town held out hope that the lumber market would improve and the mill would resume operation. It was not to be, and the mill was dismantled for salvage.
The story we were all told is that when the representative visiting all the mills in the northwest wrote his report to headquarters that the Potlatch mill wasn’t producing when it fact he meant to say that the Potlatch mill was producing the best of all in the northwest and they ended up closing down the wrong mill. An error that they were never able to correct..at the time Potlatch had a contract with Japan that had to be moved to another mill in order to fulfill the outstanding order. Told to me by my father James Getz.
Banner, Barnes, Burden, Cedar Creek, Chambers Flat, East Cora, Lower Crane Creek, Upper Crane Creek, Dailey, East Cove, Elmore, Berry, Flanangan, Fairview, Flat Creek, Freeze, Geers, Harvard, Lamb, Onaway, Potlatch, Mt Gem, Mt Home, Princeton, Rock Creek, Viola, West Cove, Woodfell…that’s 29 country schools that made up our school system at one time.