Packer John and Idaho Politics

Rebuilt Packer John Cabin in Meadows, Idaho

I have been wondering about Idaho and how voters here are so inclined to vote by party. Maybe they are everywhere, but I’m here so I tend to think about Idaho. A recent trip to visit my daughter in Utah brought Idaho history into this contemplation.

Three quarters of the way back to the Palouse from Salt Lake City on a long late-winter drive I was feeling lucky coming down Goose Creek from McCall to Meadows Valley. I might make it home by dinner with the time change. When I hit a pot hole just past Packer John Cabin I winced, like I had the 50 times before on these winter-worn roads, but I thought I was still lucky. The thump-thump-thump I heard in Old Meadows told me I had a problem. I drove on the flat to the junction; no place to pull off with the snow banks.

Could it be a coincidence that Packer John Cabin was my downfall? It is a little visited Idaho State Park. In 1862 “Packer” John Welch was hauling goods from Lewiston to the Idaho City gold fields but deep snow brought him to a halt. He built the cabin to cache his goods, then came back in the spring to finish the trip.

In 1863, the Democrats tried to meet there to nominate a territorial representative to congress, but their communication was about as good then as it is now, and half the delegates got the wrong date, so they reconvened a couple weeks later to make the nomination.

The summer of 1864 the Republicans chose the midway location to meet. Their stock appreciated the lush grazing, there were fish in the creek and if the small cabin couldn’t hold them all, the big pines formed a fitting auditorium.

In those days, Idaho was populated with many refugees from the bloody Civil War. Democrats hated Lincoln and the Yankees who were attacking the southern “way of life”, though I doubt any of those early miners were slaveholders. Just look to the names of old mining towns: Dixie, Atlanta, Leesburg, and Sesesh (for secession). This faction also included most the southeast Idaho Mormon votes, since their way of life was threatened by a Federal government too. It was generally believed that Democrats outnumbered Republicans in those days. But Lincoln was a Republican and he appointed the territorial governors and judges.

Idaho, even before statehood had a political climate colored by national politics.

The recent changes in political power at the federal level must make Idaho republicans pretty comfortable. I sure wish they could agree on fixing some local problems, like the potholes and narrow shoulders that led to my shredded tire and $500 expense for repairs. We would all be better served if our representatives could keep their focus on the needs of our state.

Maybe the next state Democratic or Republican convention should meet at the small cabin by the creek. The delegates might notice the creek doesn’t have much fish, the grazing is all fenced and privately owned, and the big pines have long ago been logged. And they should watch out for the potholes.

About ddxdx

A Family physician, former county coroner and former Idaho State Senator
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