History of Pocatello, Bannock County, Idaho

The city of Pocatello, so named in memory of an Indian chief, stands at the western entrance to the Portneuf canyon, and for that reason is appropriately known as the “Gate City.” Its site marks the junction of the Montana and Idaho divisions of the Oregon Short Line railroad, and the tremendous volume of traffic that passes through its yards, together with the many departments maintained here, is rapidly developing a large and prosperous city. Twenty-five years ago the town was a mere hamlet; in 1910 the United States Census returns gave a population of 9,100, and in 1914 Polk’s Directory credits Pocatello with over 12,000 inhabitants, to which must be added some 500 transients. The city is the metropolis and county seat of Bannock County, and the second largest place in the state of Idaho.

Pocatello is pre-eminently a railroad town, and to the railroad she owes her birth as well as her growth. When the westward course of the Oregon Short Line crossed the tracks of the Utah & Northern railroad, some fifty miles south of Idaho Falls, then called Eagle Rock, a hamlet naturally sprang up at the junction. This was in the heart of the Fort Hall Indian reservation, but the railroad had a grant of some two hundred acres for its right of way, upon which it allowed settlement, and upon which, in 1882, it erected the Pacific hotel and station. Shoshone had been selected by the railroad officials as, a division terminal, but there being some dispute relative to the townsite, they determined upon Pocatello instead. In 1887 the town received a further impetus in the removal thither of the shops from Idaho Falls, which brought several hundred men, many of them with families, into the hamlet. For the accommodation of this addition, the railroad company built what is today known as Company Row.

One of the most historic buildings in the city is the two-story frame house to the left of the west end of the Center street viaduct. In the days when buildings were scarce and the little available space overcrowded, this building, now used for office purposes, served as a public meeting hall. Portneuf Lodge, No. 18, A. F. & A. M. was organized here in 1886, and met in the building for some time. In the late eighties the building was used for public school purposes, and in 1891 as the fire hall. At various times it has been used as a church, a theatre, a pool hall, and within its walls were held many a church fair that helped to build the present city churches, and many a dance that lives yet in the memories of the older members of Pocatello society. The city council also used it for a meeting place.

Although there was no land open for settlement, there quickly grew up a typical frontier town, “wide-open,” as the saying is, where excitement ran high, where vice went unashamed, and where saloons and gambling knew no closing hours nor Sunday laws. At last the demand for more room became so insistent, that the United States government purchased two thousand acres of reservation land from the Indians, to be used as a town-site. This was surveyed in 1889, and the following year lots were sold at auction at prices ranging from ten to fifty dollars. At that sale the foundation of many comfortable fortunes of today were made. Already some buildings had boon erected, and it was feared that the purchase of their sites by other parties might yet cause trouble. But the squatter’s right was honored, and the man who had built a store or homo was allowed to secure a title to his holdings.

The community was organized into a village during this year, with H. L. Becraft as chairman of the board of trustees, and D. K. Williams, A. F. Caldwell, L. A. West and Doctor Davis members. Another tract of reservation land was opened for settlement in 1905.

Before 1892, Pocatello had a population of over three thousand, and by an act of legislature it was in that year created a city of the first class. At the first city election, held in 1893, Edward Stein was elected mayor; Ed. Sadler, clerk, and J. J. Curl, treasurer. Eight councilmen were also elected.

Edward Stein, Pocatello ‘s first mayor, and now a citizen of Boise, has had an eventful career. He is a grandson of Baron von Stein, commander-in-chief of the Prussian army during the Napoleonic wars. His father, William von Stein, a veteran of the Franco-Prussian war, became a follower of the brilliant reformer Carl Schurz, and upon the failure of the latter ‘s attempt to establish a democracy in Germany, was cast into prison. He was afterwards released, but lost his title to nobility. Edward von Stein was born in Schubina, Poland, January 17, 1854, and was educated at the Prussian University of Bromberg. His republican tendencies naturally turned his attention toward America, where Carl Schurz and many another European revolutionists had already found a haven, and with his father’s approval, embarked in 1871 on the steamer Weiland from Hamburg to New York.

Because he had reached an age at which the German military service would have claimed him, young Stein had entered upon his journey without a passport, an application for which would have led to his compulsory enlistment in the army. Presently an officer of the ship accosted him and demanded his passport, and proceeded to make a search for it when none was forthcoming. But the search was vain, which the officer announced in a loud voice, adding that officials had warned the ship’s officers that young von Stein had no passport. The future mayor of Pocatello thereupon produced a packet from his pocket, which he handed to the officer, who examined its contents, and promptly shouted to his superior officer, “I find the papers of Mr. Stein to be quite correct.” The packet contained the four hundred marks his father had given him at starting.

It was, therefore, with a light pocketbook that Mr. von Stein landed in the United States. He was anxious, however, to see something of the country before settling down, and got as far as Chicago before his funds failed. He accordingly pawned some of his belongings, and was dejectedly walking the streets, wondering where to turn in his perplexity, when a gun was thrust suddenly in his face, and the order given, “Hands up.” The highwayman found nothing of value on his victim, and when he learned that the boy was penniless, took him to a restaurant and bought him a meal, and told him where he could find employment as a Polish-German interpreter in a brickyard. From then on von Stein’s fortunes began to advance. He spent some time in “Wisconsin, was recalled to Europe in 1876 by his father’s death, when he made an extended tour of the continent, returned to this country and made a fortune in the Black Hills, which he later lost in mining ventures, and moved on to Colorado, where he married. In 1884 he came to Idaho, and in time became superintendent of car service on the Oregon Short Line, with headquarters in Pocatello.

Before his tenure expired, Mr. von Stein resigned his office as mayor of Pocatello, and moved to Nampa, where he had purchased a section of land, and helped to organize that town. He still has property interests in Pocatello.

A. B. Bean succeeded Edward Stein as mayor of the city, and was followed by W. F. Kasiska, the present proprietor of the Bannock hotel and owner of large real estate and business interests in and about Pocatello. Mr. Kasiska held the office until 1898, when W. T. Reeves was elected, who in turn was succeeded by A. B. Bean, the former mayor of 1894.

During 1895, J. B. Bistline filled the office. Mr. Bistline is a member of the Bistline Lumber Company and has been a resident of the city since 1891.

M. D. Rice was the next mayor and in 1901 Theodore Turner was elected to the office. He was reelected in 1912. Theodore Turner is one of the most prominent men in the political life of the county. He was a state senator in 1900, and in 1902 was elected state auditor. Besides holding many public offices, Mayor Turner has taken great interest in the Academy of Idaho and in the good roads movement.

Dr. O. B. Steeley succeeded Mr. Turner in the mayor’s chair, and has since served the county as coroner and the city as school trustee. In 1904, D. Swinehart filled the office, and in 1905, W. H. Cleare. Mr. Clears was one of the organizers of the Farmers & Traders Bank in Pocatello and also of the Railroad Y. M. C. A. He served in the city council during the years 1901-2, and has been a member of the board of trustees of the Academy of Idaho.

Dr. C. E. M. Loux, of the lumber firm of Loux, McConnell & Co., a member of the city council, was elected to the mayoralty in 1907 and D. W. Church, cashier of the Bannock National Bank, in 1909. Mr. Church is one of the most prominent members of the Republican Party in Bannock County, and was a state senator in 1898. He has been identified since the organization of the city with nearly every movement for civic betterment and advancement. Mr. Church was succeeded by J. M. Bistline, a brother and business partner of the mayor of 1899, who in turn was followed by Theodore Turner, who is now filling the office for the second time.

Many other residents of Pocatello, whose names make a list too long to repeat here, have rendered valuable public service to both the city and county. Among them may be mentioned Judge T. A. Johnston, who for a period of twelve years, beginning in 1900, served the county as probate judge; Oscar B. Sonnenkalb, who has been county surveyor since 1896; the late D. Worth Clark, Lorenzo Brown, Andrew B. Stevenson, and John Hull, who have served in the state senate; W. A. Staley. W. J. Inkling, Col. H. V. A. Ferguson, and W. A. Hyde, former members of the state house of representatives; Alfred Budge, who after long and faithful service as district judge, has just been elevated to the supreme bench of the state; Daniel C. McDougal attorney general of the state of Idaho in 1908, and Hon. Drew TV. Standrod.

Judge Standrod was elected district attorney in 1S86, while he was still a resident of Malad, where his father practiced medicine for many years, and in 1890 he ran successfully for election as judge of the Fifth Judicial District of the state of Idaho. He moved to Pocatello in 1895, since which time he has been actively identified with the legal and financial activities of the city. In addition to his interest in the First National Bank of Pocatello of which he is president, Judge Standrod is interested in ten other banks in the inter-mountain country. He is a leading figure in the Republican Party, and has recently resigned a six-year appointment on Idaho’s first Public Utilities Commission, after serving nearly two years.

Of Senator Brady, who is not only one of the most distinguished citizens of Pocatello nor yet of Idaho, having been governor of the state, but also of the United States, he being a member of the nation’s highest legislative body, we will speak in the next chapter.

Men who left Pocatello ten or fifteen yean ago would hardly recognize the city today. Recently a man returned from Ohio, who had owned a large number of lots near Center and Main streets in the late nineties, and who sold them for a modest sum after having held them for some years on speculation. He learned to his surprise and chagrin that the property he had sold for fifteen hundred dollars is worth more than twenty thousand today. Another old-timer who grew tired of the west and returned to his eastern home, in acknowledging the receipt of a picture of Pocatello, wrote that the picture was very nice but that he knew it was not a picture of Pocatello because Pocatello had no trees!

Not only is the city well supplied with trees, but it is equipped with the full complement of an up-to-date city. Commercially it is one of the most active and prosperous in the west. It has an ample supply of water, of electric power, a street ear service, and is gradually installing new improvements in its street and sewerage system. It is a common thing in the west for growing cities to outstrip themselves in their zeal for improvements, and an unwise enthusiasm and optimism has plunged many municipalities into embarrassment and debt. Pocatello has been wisely governed in this respect, and if she is rather behindhand in some lines of improvement, this is far preferable to being several years ahead, and attempting by a forced growth to meet an unneeded equipment. Several local organizations, notably the Civic Club, have done much for the betterment of civic life in the city, and it is probable that the next five years will see a decided improvement in the appearance of both streets and homes.

The religious needs of the city are well supplied. The Congregational church was organized in 1888, and Trinity parish, of the Episcopal Church, was established the following year. Since then the Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian denominations have built up strong institutions. The Latter Day Saints and the Roman Catholic Church are so strong that they have each two churches, one on the east and one on the west side of the town. No reference to the religious growth of Pocatello would be complete without a sketch of the Rev. Father Cyril Van der Donckt, who came to Idaho as a missionary in 1887 and has resided in Pocatello since 1888.

Father Van der Donckt was born in Belgium in 1865 and was educated in Renaix College, in the Seminary of St. Nicholas, and in the American college in Louvain. By a special dispensation from Pope Leo XIII, he was ordained when twenty months under age, and came directly to Idaho, where he has since labored. During six years he was general missionary for the whole of southern Idaho, his ministrations covering eleven counties, and for some time he was the only secular priest in the whole state. In addition to St. Joseph’s parish, a large and strong institution, Father Van der Donckt has built a parish school, and will soon see a hospital added to his establishment. The prolonged and faithful services of such a man as Father Van der Donckt are invaluable to any community, but especially to a country in its formative stage. The hardships, discouragements and indifference that the latter condition always throws in the way of a missionary call for no ordinary amount of pluck and perseverance, and great credit is due to the man who faces them unflinchingly and who out of nothing builds up a flourishing and useful work.

Among the religious activities of Pocatello, the Railroad Young Men’s Christian Association takes a leading place. This is the second largest institution of its kind in the United States, having a membership of over fifteen hundred members. Its success is due to the ability of its general secretary. A. B. Richardson, and his associate, Eric A. Krussman.

During recent years Christian Science has become firmly established in Pocatello.

Other among the city’s public institutions are the Carnegie Public Library and the Pocatello General Hospital.

In addition to her public school system, of which Supt. W. R. Sliders is the head, Pocatello is the seat of the Academy of Idaho, a state institution created by the legislature of 1901 and opened for instruction in 1902. The city gave ten acres as a site for the Academy, and in 1905 the state gave the institution forty thousand acres of land, the sale of which will provide an endowment. The work of the Academy is largely along technical lines, and for the use of the agricultural department a hundred acre farm has been purchased just south of the city. Miles F. Reed is president of the Academy, which has about three hundred students.

Standing sentinel over the city, towering above it to the south, and doubtless protecting it from many a wind and storm, is Kinport’s Peak. Harry Kinport, for whom this mountain was named, is now dead, but he was well known in Pocatello a few years ago, and is supposed to have been the first white man to climb the mountain. He signalized his feat by planting a flag there. Kinport was a businessman in Pocatello for several years, coming to the town in 1885. He was always a great hunter and fisherman, and when President Roosevelt visited the city, caught a mess of trout and presented them to the visitor.

There is every reason to hope that Pocatello will have a population of over 20.000 before the next census. Its facilities as a distributing point are attracting many manufacturing; and merchandise companies, who are building warehouses, and the fact that the Oregon Short Line railroad has built a freight depot to handle the traffic of a town of 50,000 population, shows that the management of that line expects a big growth.

History of Bannock County, Idaho

Source: The History of Bannock County Idaho, By Arthur C. Saunders, Pocatello, Idaho. U. S. A., The Tribune Company. Limited, 1915

1 thought on “History of Pocatello, Bannock County, Idaho”

  1. Jackie Johnson Skaggs

    Do you have any information of the Gate City Hotel (corner of Center and Arthur streets) in downtown Pocatello? According to an obituary for my Great Uncle Vern Johnson (who served as a Pocatello Mayor in mid-1990s), Vern’s mother Ollie Anderson Johnson purchased that property in 1914 and operated a business named Gate City Hotel when Vern was a young boy (12-year-old). Ollie’s husband (Vern’s father) was Peter E. Johnson. Peter was originally from Sweden, but immigrated to the USA and settled in David City, Nebraska before coming to Pocatello in 1907.
    Thanks for any information you can provide. Jackie Johnson Skaggs

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