No man is better known in Nez Perce or more popular than the genial, whole soled and capable gentleman whose name appears above. He is the pioneer merchant of the town, has labored with untiring interest for its welfare and up building steadily since its start, and is now one of the substantial and capable business men.

J. T. Orbison was born in Miami County, Ohio, on November 9, 1841, being the son of Alexander N. and Mary (Ayers) Orbison. The father was a farmer until 1841, then went to Fort Wayne, Indiana, then to an Indian trading village, where he entered the commission business. He built warehouses, operated a canal, building many boats, and also built twenty-five miles of plank roads four directions out of the village. About this time he secured the establishment of some of the business houses that were the means of making the city what it is today. He was exceedingly prosperous and amassed a splendid fortune. Owing to great generosity to friends, and some heavy losses, however, his estate was much smaller at the time of his death. But even then it was a handsome amount to each one of the family.

About 1882 he sold his interests in Fort Wayne and went to Sturgis, Michigan. Although he was retired from active business there, he built an elevator with his youngest son and was known as a prominent and prosperous man until his death, in 1896. His parents were natives of Randolph County, Virginia, and of English descent. The mother of our subject was born in Ohio, on September 28, 1818, their father being a physician and both of her parents natives of Orange, New Jersey.

Reverting again more particularly to our subject, we note that the foundation of his education was laid in the schools in Fort Wayne, and then he went to college in Oxford, Ohio. While in his sophomore year the war broke out and he promptly laid aside the books lor the musket, and enlisted in Company E, Fifty-fifth Indiana Volunteer Infantry. After his three months of service expired he took a place in the quartermaster’s department and remained there until the close of the war. Then he went to Sturgis, Michigan, entered the grocery business and later railroaded on the Fort Wayne road. Next we see him in Frankfort, Kentucky, in the boot and shoe business, whence he went to Louisville in the commission business until 1879. Then, on account of his wife’s health, he went again to Michigan, this time taking a station at Alma, on the Saginaw Valley & St. Louis railroad. Then he removed to Saginaw, Michigan, taking the position of cashier of the Michigan Central for five years.

It was in 1891, when Mr. Orbison came to Coeur d’Alene and opened a gents’ furnishing establishment. Two years later he removed to Moscow and one year after that he was in Denver, whence upon the opening of the reservation he came to Nez Perce and opened a general merchandise establishment. He has continued in business steadily since and has always labored for good schools, good roads, and, in fact, all things that would build up the town.

Mr. Orbison married Miss Aubrey Van Dervanter, whose parents were natives of Louisville, where they died. The wedding occurred on October 8, 1878. Mr. Orbison has two brothers deceased and two sisters living, Millie, wife of William D. Van Devanter, a journalist’ in Chicago; Lucy B., wife of Ira Pendleton, a retired capitalist in Los Angeles. Mrs. Orbison has three brothers, Silas, in St. Louis; Charles and Robert, in Memphis, Tennessee. She has one sister, Mary, wife of George W. Cline, a leading capitalist in Louisville.

Mr. Orbison is a member of the I. O. O. F., Lodge No. 56, in Nez Perce, being treasurer since its organization. He is also a Mason, holding his membership in the Knight Templar Commandery, No. 4, in Moscow.

In political matters Mr. Orbison is a strong Republican, and is an intelligent and potent factor in that realm.

Back to: Nez Perce Biographies

Source: An Illustrated History of Northern Idaho, Embracing Nez Perce, Idaho, Latah, Kootenai and Shoshone Counties, Western Historical Publishing Company, 1903