Collection is available for research.
W.H. Chapman came to Idaho from Cohocton, New York in 1866 when the Idaho Territory was only three years old, a wild, largely unsettled place, but the Boise Basin was full of miners. Idaho City, Placerville, Centerville and Pioneer City were boom towns. Chapman was not a miner. His employer, future Gov. W.J. McConnell, owned a ranch on the Payette River four miles above Horseshoe Bend, where he raised potatoes and vegetables to supply the mining camps. Twenty-three year old Chapman worked for McConnell as a farm hand. Faithfully, day by day, he kept a record in his diary of his farm chores and occasional pack trips up into the Basin to deliver the food to the gold fields. He also recorded a wealth of personal details. He spent many a long winter evening in his 12-foot x 12-foot cabin reading books — “Our Mutual Friend,” Charles Dickens’ last novel, among them. He played “seven up,” a card game, with his fellow ranch hands. He read and reread letters from friends at home. He spent time with a girl named Nora who lived at a nearby stage stop. Despite these diversions, he still complained of the “long dreary hours of winter’s life in the mountains of Idaho.”
Chapman left Idaho in the summer, undertaking an arduous, cross-country horseback ride with a company of fellow travelers to join relatives in Elgin, Ill., where he became a clerk in his uncle’s store. He seemed to enjoy the amenities of city life. His usual bedtime in Idaho was 8 or 9 p.m., whereas back in Elgin, he recorded many late nights at parties and dances. Chapman eventually married, had children and spent the rest of his life in Illinois. One mystery that is not revealed in the diary is what led him to Idaho in the first place. It begins on Jan. 1, 1866, with him already here, and contains not a word about when or why he came to the far West.
Diary kept by Chapman chronicling his daily life and work on William J. McConnell’s ranch near Horseshoe Bend, Idaho, through the winter, spring, and early summer of 1866; his overland journey on horseback back to the Midwest; and social life and work in Jackson, Michigan, and Elgin, Illinois, with family and friends on his return. Includes descriptions of pack train trips from the ranch into the mountains to supply potatoes and produce to the mining camps of Placerville, Centerville, Pioneerville, and Idaho City, Idaho.
"Monday January 15, 1866. Not having any time piece and the morning cloudy, the wind blowing from the south west, I could not tell what time I got up. The wind continued to blow all day and night, bringing with it a fine mist and drifting snow. It is called in this country a chenauk [chinook] wind which melts, drifts, and packs the snow. There goes my kettle of beans all burned up. I do wish that I could smell anything burning as quick as other people. Mr. Porter and John started for Idaho City this morn with a lode of potatoes. Jas. Buckingham stayed with me all night. I finished reading Our Mutual Friend this evening. Retired later."
"Friday, March 16, 1866. We started for town this morning with 13 packs. Went as far as Walkers old place and camped for the night. I got supper while the boys took care of the cargo. After supper Dave and Archie went out with the horses and I stayed in camp with no companion but the dog all night. I amused myself for a while by reading my old letters then I retired on my bed of Mother Earth and horse blankets."
Forms part of the McCain Collection for Western Life.