Gill Family Established Way Station

By MEG DAVIS, Director/curator

It is difficult to say who the first white settlers were in the community. So many people were coming and going across the river either on the way to Oregon to the gold fields and free homestead land or coming back to the new gold fields in the Bogus Basin.

It does appear one of Francois Payette's sons, Louis, was a stockman along the foothills east of future Emmett, at least by 1860. There is a wonderfully romantic—tragic story in Idaho history about his daughter, Julia and niece, Lizzie Pattee. It is said the Payettes left the valley after 1862 because the valley was getting to crowded. Whatever the reason, the Payette brothers moved their stock operations to the newly opened gold fields in Montana.

The Gill family wagon skidded down the Goodale Ridge to establish the Gill way station by 1862. The stopping place was located near the Payette River on what was later called the "Old Degan place" — on present Riverside Street.

A year or so later, they sold out to Colonel Flurnoy, an ex—plantation slave owner, who had lost everything in the Civil War, as had a number of our early settlers. It was a very difficult job running a stopping place for Mrs. Flurnoy, who was a fine lady in the states but the Flurnoys ran a very successful business for several years. William McConnell, organizer of the first vigilant committee in southern Idaho, future senator and governor of Idaho, stayed at this way station when he was in the neighborhood.

The Gills built up a very successful stock ranch on the north side of the Payette — across from the Martin's Ferry. They may have been the first family to settle on that side of the river. They built their log home near the river, on present Sunset Drive when it was called the Upper Basin Road. When the Basyes started a sawmill west of the ferry, the Gills started adding "lumbered" rooms here and there until they had a long, low house large enough to make any visitor comfortable — from bankers to cowboys. For years, the Gill place was the center of Martinsville activity — as well as the area around.

The Native Americans camped north of the Payette long before the Gills. It was a traditional camping spot on their way back to winter quarters in Indian Valley. Mrs. Gill fed their people if they came to the door and her granddaughter remembered her mother buying her a pair of moccasins from one of the women. During the Bannock Indian War in 1878, Mr. Gill and Nathaniel Martin got nervous about the encampment, so they buried their valuables in a field nearby. The war was never brought to the valley.

Lorenzo Gill was a polished Missouri gentleman who was a banker and dancing master back in the states. Mrs. Gill, reared in Ohio, was a perfect hostess who loved nice clothes and fine jewelry. She was famous with the neighborhood children for being able to "wring a chicken's neck in a thrice." It is told that one time Louise followed her husband to the saloon, bought a round for the house, bought a bottle to take home and marched Mr. Gill out the door. That behavior was unknown for a lady in those days.

The Gills' son, Mervin (Merve) capably ran the ranch and was easily the most popular young man in the vicinity. He never married. When he was about 40 years old he was thrown from his horse and paralyzed from the waist down the rest of his life. Merve continued to run the ranch and cheerfully greet guest from his bed in the parlor arranged in the corner of the room to face the front door. When he died at the age of 48, two admiring ladies disagreed as to whose flowers would adorn his grave.

In the 1870s the family donated land for a slat board one—room Gill School. The The Gill School was probably the first school on the north side of the Payette River on Sunset Drive below the Emmett Cemetery. In 1903 the teacher was Blanch Bishop.

This article first appeared in the Messenger Index, June 3, 2013.

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