Herb McDowell oral histories, 1964-1997

Overview of the Collection

McDowell, Herbert R., 1915-1998
Herb McDowell oral histories
1964-1997 (inclusive)
0.25 cubic feet
Collection Number
MG 490
Ten cassettes containing oral history interviews of early residents of the areas around Warren, Idaho and Culdesac, Idaho conducted by Herb McDowell. The interviews discuss early life in the areas and include some recounts of Native Americans, as well as Polly Bemis and other Chinese Americans living in and around Warren, Idaho.
University of Idaho Library, Special Collections and Archives
Special Collections and Archives
University of Idaho Library
875 Perimeter Drive
MS 2350
Moscow, ID
Telephone: 2088850845
Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.


Historical NoteReturn to Top

Herbert R. McDowell was born 7 December 1915 in the Boise Valley. When he was six years old he moved with his family from Pearl, Idaho to Warren, Idaho. In 1936, he married Bessie Ellen Carpenter and they lived in Warren while Herb worked in the Rescue Gold Mine. Throughout the 1940's they lived in Bayview, Idaho, and Portland, Oregon before returning to Warren where Herb had purchased a ranch at Big Canyon. In 1951, he sold the ranch and purchased a farm at Culdesac, Idaho. He and his wife would remain in Culdesac until his death 26 January 1998.[1]

Herb had an interest in the history of his hometown Warren, which led to him interviewing residents of the area throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In 1997, Terry Abraham and Priscilla Wegars borrowed 15 reel-to-reel tapes from the McDowells and converted those that were relevant to Idaho history into audio cassettes.

Warren, Idaho was established in 1862 when James Warren and 17 miners discovered gold.[2] In 1869, miners in Warren voted to open the district to Chinese immigrants allowing them to buy claims or lease the rights to placer operations. Up until that point, exclusionary laws prohibited Chinese miners from owning and working claims. In the following years, around 1200 Chinese individuals moved into Warren to rework the already mined placers.[3] Between 1870 and 1900, Chinese workers and miners were the majority in the area, outnumbering other ethnic groups at a ratio of 3 to 1.[4]

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

This collection consists of 10 cassette tapes containing oral histories collected by Herb McDowell between 1964 and 1972, though many of the cassettes are undated. Also included are partial transcripts of the interviews created by Priscilla Wegars in 1997 when the interviews were transferred to audio cassette tapes. The oral histories were conducted with individuals who lived in the area around Warren, Idaho and Culdesac, Idaho and contain information about life in the towns and the residents that lived there. Notable subjects of interest include the Chinese population of Warren, including Polly Bemis and discussion of Native Americans in the areas. There is also discussion of everyday life and businesses of the areas.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Preferred Citation

[Description of Item], Herb McDowell oral histories, MG 490, Special Collections and Archives, University of Idaho Library, Moscow, ID.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Custodial History

On 12 April 1997 Terry Abraham and Priscilla Wegars visted Herb and Bessie McDowell at their home. There Abraham and Wegars borrowed 15 reel-to-reel tapes from the McDowells; these were later augmented by an additional tape brought from Culdesac to Moscow by Hiroaki Kawamura. The McDowells described the tapes as being of interviews Herb did with various area "old-timers." The tapes were borrowed in order to copy, onto cassette tapes, any that might be relevant to Idaho history. The copying was done primarily at the University of Idaho Media Center during the summer of 1997. Wegars did the legwork and partial transcriptions, and the University of Idaho Library Special Collections paid for the blank tapes and for studio time at Washington State University to listen to seven, three-inch tapes that turned out to contain nothing. Cassette tape copies of all the reel-to-reel tapes were made for the McDowells, and the original were returned to them. The University of Idaho Library Special Collections has copies of these tapes.

Acquisition Information

Materials donated by Priscilla Wegars in 1997 (MA 1997-40).


[1] "Herbert R. McDowell, 82, Culdesac Rancher    | Northwest | Lmtribune.Com." The Lewiston Tribune, 28 Jan. 1998, https://lmtribune.com/northwest/herbert-r-mcdowell-82-culdesac-rancher/article_2855b0d5-8a2d-51c3-b391-b5c8354c0a87.html.

[2] Burton, Greg. "Until the next Big Gold Strike, Warren Will Be Idaho's Inhabited Ghost Town    |  | Lmtribune.Com." The Lewiston Tribune, 24 July 1994, https://lmtribune.com/until-the-next-big-gold-strike-warren-will-be-idahos-inhabited-ghost-town/article_eb4cbdb7-0084-57f8-865a-590de6cc1c05.html/?&logged_out=1.

[3] National Register of Historic Places, Chinese Cemetary, Warren, Idaho County, Idaho, National Register #94000270.

[4] "Warren Idaho." Western Mining History, https://westernmininghistory.com/towns/idaho/warren_id/. Accessed 2 Sept. 2020.

Works Cited

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Oral History TapesReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
1 1
Project Description and Partial Transcripts of Interviews
12 items
1 2
Otis Morris
1 cassettes : Warren, ID. Related to T. Roosevelt. At Bemis wedding, related to other witnesses.
Fred Turner
1 cassettes : R.M. Wallace. Dad. Warren. Mrs. Turner took Polly Bemis to Sunday School.
Otis Morris
1 cassettes
Mr. and Mrs. W.W. Carpenter (Wes and Lucy, Mrs. McDowell's parents)
1 cassettes : Waha; owned stage shop.
Bob Morcom
1 cassettes : Boise. World's champion hand-driller in Arizona. Herb's grandfather. Was in Silver City. "The Old Hay-Seed"-ranch outside of Boise.
1 3
Charley Moore
1 cassettes
circa 1964
Martha Hogaboam
1 cassettes : Lapwai. Culdesac.
16 July 1972
Frank R. Pentzer
1 cassettes : Culdesac, ID. Born 1890.
6 March 1971
Al Fonburg
1 cassettes
Charley Moore
1 cassettes : Side A - Charley Moore, Culdesac; Side B - Al Fonburg, on nearby ranch. Culdesac
circa 1965

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Chinese Americans
  • Coeur d'Alene Indians
  • Frontier and pioneer life
  • Ghost towns
  • Nez Percé Indians

Personal Names

  • Bemis, Polly, 1853-1933

Geographical Names

  • Culdesac (Idaho)
  • Idaho
  • Warren (Idaho)