THE MARSH-IRETON RANCH
by Nellie Ireton Mills
The Emmett (Idaho) Index, April 22, 1948
The story of the Marsh and Ireton ranch on the Payette, is the story of one of Idaho's best known pioneer ranches and "stopping places". It begins soon after gold was discovered in Boise Basin and ends with the advent of the railroad.
By the spring of 1863 news of the discovery of gold in the summer of 1862 on Grimes Creek in Idaho, then a part of Washington Territory had spread all over the West and even to the states beyond the Rockies. Excitement ran high and a motley assortment of California miners, Willamette Valley farmers, "green horns", and other adventurers crowded on the first boat up the Columbia early in April. Anxiously they wondered if there would be any means of transportation beyond the landing above Umatilla. Progressive pioneers however had foreseen their needs and some saddle and pack horses were in readiness. The first saddle train left Walla Walla April 10th and on April 18th, John Hailey, always alert to transportation needs, left there for "the diggings" with sixteen California miners as saddle passengers and with camp equipment on four pack horses. The fare was $50.00.
Others followed in quick succession and stopping places were at a premium. Stage stations for footmen and the pack strings sprung up all along the trail and one was built by two men, by the names of Buoner and Reeves, ten miles above Emmett at the lower end of a fertile little valley that eventually became the Marsh and Ireton ranch.
Shacks of some sort, were put up by these men, not far from the river and near the foothills, where a watchful eye could be kept on loose stock grazing on the luscious waving grass, on the floor of the valley. A dugout stage barn was made in the side of the hill with thatched willows for a roof and front. (The excavation for this barn could be seen for many years just below the ranch house). A storm cellar that is still in use was also built in the side of the hill at a very early date.
The first owners sold their squatters right and buildings to a man named Gray, who so the story goes was something of a crook in his own right and paid for the ranch in Bummer Hill sand, shining sand that looked like gold, and was the medium used in many an unsavory deal of the early days. Gray in turn sold the place to a Mr. Reed from Corvallis, Oregon.
This owner evidently developed his ranch business as well as the stopping place. On delivering a drove of cattle to Pioneerville or "Hagem" (as it was generally called) he met Hardin B. Martin, a butcher of that place, and pursuaded him to come down and take charge of the ranch and station. Of Mr. Martin little is known, but down through the years has come the story of Mrs. Martin's ability and orderliness and of her great love for reading.
Reed. soon sold the ranch to Martin who persuaded William S. Mitchell to go in with him and the place became known as the Mitchell-Martin ranch.
About the middle of May, 1867, Mr. Mitchell persuaded Edson Marsh, who had been working for a Mr. Warriner, a banker of Idaho City in a placer claim on what is now the Wesley Cruickshank place, to come to the ranch and work. (The above mentioned claim was located in 1865 by Dan Keefer, who found gold when he camped there on his way to the Basin and returned to locate it, taking Mr. Warriner in as a partner). He and Marsh cleaned up $10,000 in two months one season. As an added inducement to get him to work at the ranch Mitchell told Marsh that he and Martin had ordered from Salt Lake a Union Mower, the first mowing machine to be brought into the country and he wanted a careful man to run it.
With the machine, working for $2.00 per day, Mr. Marsh cut the fields of wild hay and some timothy that was baled and sold for $25.00 per ton. Driving five yoke of Oxen for McKusick of Idaho City he hauled the baled hay to the Basin.
The round trip took just a week, four days up and three back. Indicative of his steadiness and orderly habits Mrs. Martin, watching, said that Ed never failed to come in sight within 15 minutes of the same time on each return trip.
Marsh soon became a partner in the place and he and Mitchell bought out the Martins. For ten years the place was known as the Mitchell and Marsh ranch. During this time they took up more land and built the fine private irrigation ditch taking water from the river about 3 1/2 miles above the ranch. Their eye and a carpenter's level were their surveying instruments, and they did a good job. Much fencing was also done and the house and other buildings were improved and trees were set out.
When the mail route from Falk's Store to Placerville, the first post office in Southwestern Idaho, was established the ranch was given an office called Squaw Creek, and Mr. Marsh was made postmaster, a position he held as long as he lived on the ranch. The real Squaw Creek was 2 or 3 miles away across the river and there was no bridge, but because the settlers in both the lower and upper Squaw Creek valleys, the latter 20 miles away, got their mail at the ranch, the office was called Squaw Creek for many years. (Much later when the Sweet post office was established the name was changed to Marsh). People coming for their mail forded the river and when the water was high called across and someone from the ranch brought them over in a boat.
A small stock of groceries and dry goods was kept and interesting stories of this business are revealed in an old account book. Often ranchers from beyond the river and others purchased an order of goods having it all charged together with five or ten dollars in cash.
This was the beginning of a policy of helping the fellow that was in a tight place that always prevailed on the ranch. Among the first entries in this book is one made Nov. 12, 1876 when Ben Wilson of Hagem sent 4 yoke of oxen, branded W on the left horn to the ranch to be fed for the winter. This was evidently the beginning of a profitable business of wintering Basin stock that continued for many years.
At an early date Mrs. Cole, a sister of Mr. Mitchell came to the ranch as hostess and housekeeper and remained for several years until she met and married Milton Wilkerson, a rancher in the Salubria Valley on the Weiser river.
In 1873, Mr. Marsh, who had crossed the plains in 1852, went to Indiana to visit his mother and persuaded his half sister, Josephine Warner, a teacher, to come home with him to assist Mrs. Cole. After coming by stage coach from Kelton, Utah to Boise, where Mr. Mitchell met them with a team and wagon, they arrived at the ranch May 7th, 1874.
Everything was very new and strange to the Eastern girl and her first impressions and loneliness were recorded in her diary, but soon she learned to ride horseback and enjoyed the ranch life, ever facinated by the steady stream of humanity that flowed past the door on the way to the gold fields. Many Indians camped along the river especially when the Salmon were running and they came to dry fish. Frequently they came to the door to beg bread and one died and was "buried" in the top of a cottonwood tree near the river. At first they were friendly but during the Nez Perce war the ranch was on the alert. A boy, James Ballantyne, was shot on Upper Squaw Creek while hunting cows and many people from the other side of the river went to Idaho City and Boise for safety and a number crossed and stayed at the ranch. For weeks Mr. Marsh slept on the living room couch with his loaded gun beside him but they were not troubled.
Miss Warner taught two terms of school in the Wilson district below Emmett and was offered the Emmett school the year she was married. Her diary records that on May 10th, 1874, three days after she reached the ranch, she met John Ireton, "and liked him very well", but it was four years later that the following notice appeared in the Idaho Statesman:
"Married: Ireton-Warner —At the residence of Mitchell and Marsh by Rev. J. McKean on the 30th of May, 1878, John Ireton and Miss Josie Warner. Miss Josie is the half-sister of Mr. Marsh and has been the landlady of their house for sometime past, and is one of the most accomplished and estimable young ladies of Ada County and by this union has secured a gentleman worthy of her hand. A long and happy life is the sincere wish of the Statesman."
Although the wedding was a simple home affair there was no lack of charm or dignity. The bride's beautiful white swiss dress, trimmed with yards and yards of fine embroidery came from New York. With it she wore white kid gloves and a wreath of orange blossoms in her hair.
The groom was very correct in white kid gloves and broad cloth.
Mr. Ireton, who had been ranching, with his brothers on Lower Squaw Creek, sold his interests there and bought a third interest in the Payette river ranch and the firm became Mitchell, Marsh and Ireton. Additional land had already been added to the original Squatters Claim and now Mr. Ireton took an adjoining desert claim and land was also taken under the Timber and Stone Act.
The new partner was an experienced stockman and at once started adding to, and building up the quality of the cattle and horse herds. A fine stallion of the Blue Mountain strain of driving stock that had been developed in the Grand Round Valley was bought and the horse herd increased by other purchases. Within a few years 400 head of fine animals bearing the M brand roamed the hills from Emmett to Horseshoe Bend and South to Dry Creek.
Many of the good driving horses in Boise and the neighboring towns came from the ranch and often when the young horses were brought in from the range and broken Mr. Ireton would ship a car load to Iowa, Kansas and other places in the midwest where driving horses were in demand. On the return trip he sometimes brought thoroughbred cattle to the ranch —bringing the first shorthorns to this section —and fine stallions for their horse herd.
To be Concluded Next Issue
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