The old adage that ‘”truth is stranger than fiction” finds exemplification in the annals of the northwest. The most marvelous characters of the novelist cannot exceed in courage and daring the hardy pioneers who have opened up this vast region to the advance of civilization. Traveling across the hot, arid, sandy plains, climbing the steep mountains, threading their way through dense forests of towering trees, they came to this land of the “silent, sullen people,” whose hostility made existence most uncertain, and here they have established homes, churches and schools, developed the rich agricultural and mineral resources of the country and thus carried the sunlight of civilization into the dark places of the land. The tales of their hardships and trials, however, can never be adequately told. They left comfort and luxury behind them to face difficulties, dangers and perhaps death; they labored on, day after day, uncomplainingly, and the present generation is enjoying the prosperity made possible through their efforts. To them is due a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid, but their names will be enduringly inscribed on the pages of history and their memories will be revered long after they have passed from earthly scenes.
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Among the honored pioneers of Idaho is Abner Early Callaway, who has borne his full share in the work of development and progress, who has experienced the trials and braved the dangers of frontier life, and who is now living retired at his pleasant home in Caldwell. He came to Idaho in 1861 and has since been intimately connected with its growth and upbuilding. He was born in Boone County, Missouri, March 5, 1823, and is descended from some of Virginia’s oldest and best families, including the Lees and the Earlys. His grandfather on the paternal side was a captain in the Revolutionary war and loyally aided in the struggle for independence. His maternal grandfather, John Markham, was a colonel in the colonial army and married an aunt of Jubal Early. The father of our subject was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, and married Miss Catharine Markham, removing with his family to Missouri in 1820. They were the parents of nine children, only three of whom are yet living: William T., a resident of Ventura county, California; Thomas Henry, of Boise, Idaho; and Abner Early, the immediate subject of this review.
The last named was reared in Missouri, at a time when it was largely a wilderness, and as the public-school system had not been established he was obliged to acquire an education as best he might. In the school of experience he has learned many valuable lessons, and has gained a broad practical knowledge as the lessons of life have been unfolded before him. The labors of his father’s farm largely occupied his time and attention in youth, and in 1846 he drove a team for Sterling Price, in the Mexican war, and served as hospital steward in Mexico for six months. In 1847 he returned to his home, and on the 6th of May 1849, started for California with a company, among the number being G. W. Grierson, who became one of the most celebrated miners of the Golden state. They reached San Diego in November; thence went to San Francisco and on to the mines at Placerville. There Mr. Callaway engaged in mining at the old camp at Hangtown, making money very rapidly, but he afterward sunk it in other mining ventures. None, however, was squandered in gambling and other forms of dissipation often so common among the miners, for his record is one which contains no blotted pages. In 1861 he came to Idaho, attracted by the gold discoveries at Florence, later made his way to the southern part of the territory, and in September 1862 arrived in the Boise basin. That winter all the supplies had to be transported from the Columbia River on pack animals. Many people suffered for want of provisions, as it was difficult to get them, owing to the depredation of Indians. The red men at length grew so troublesome that a company of one hundred men was formed to fight and subdue them. Mr. Callaway was among the number, and for three or four months they were actively engaged in keeping the Indians in check. Many a “red devil.” as he called them, fell before his trusty rifle, and he also served in the war with the Modocs and in the Rogue River war. He saw the remains of so many white men who had been scalped and mutilated by the relentless savages that he came to the conclusion that they could best be subdued by turning their own methods of warfare against them. Therefore he took many a scalp, and has probably killed more Indians than any other pioneer now living. The greatest hardships were endured by this little band of volunteer soldiers, who banded to protect their interests and their homes. For several weeks they were obliged to live on Cayuse horseflesh only, and to fight every day. To our subject is due the credit of killing the notorious savage, Blackfoot. With his companions he drew near the Indian camp in the night, and while waiting for daybreak, Mat Bledsoe, one of his companions, said, “We don’t know what will happen, but I will bet you the whisky on which of us will draw the first blood.” At the dawn Mr. Callaway crept up near Blackfoot’s tent, and when the first gun was fired the Indian jumped out, Mr. Callaway knocked him down, scalped him and then shot him. Then he threw the scalp in the air and claimed the bet.
As years passed the Indians were subdued and left for other districts. The white man advanced, bringing all the comforts and accessories of civilization; mines were developed, ranches stocked with cattle, farms and orchards cultivated, towns and villages sprung up, and the wonderful work of transformation was carried forward until the Idaho of today bears little resemblance to the wild region of thirty-five years ago, owing to the efforts of the honored pioneers and enterprising business men. Mr. Callaway took up one hundred and sixty acres of land, in what was then Ada County, but is now Canyon County, entering the tract from the government, and for some years he was engaged in its cultivation. It now lies within the corporation limits of Caldwell and has become very valuable. There our subject resides in a home of his own building, enjoying the rest which he has so truly earned and richly deserves. He has been prominently identified with the public affairs of Idaho through its territorial days and the period of its statehood and has always given his political support to the Democratic Party. In 1865 he was chosen a member of the territorial legislature. He served for two terms in the senate and since that time has been six or seven times elected to the lower house. Nature endowed him with a strong mind and excellent abilities, and he is an effective speaker. His mental and physical powers are remarkably well preserved; notwithstanding he has passed the seventy-sixth milestone on life’s journey. He had the honor of making the speech which resulted in the organization of the Pioneer Society of Idaho, and he has a very warm place in his heart for all the worthy pioneers who shared with him in the dangers and privations attendant upon the settlement of Idaho, the Gem of the Mountains.
In the spring of 1870 Mr. Callaway was married to Miss Mary Jane Fulton, of Ohio, who in an early day came with her people to this state. Five children have been born of this union: Abner Kenton, a mine owner and operator; Ellen, at home; Kittie Lee, wife of Ewin Hedden; Frances Early and Mariamne. Mr. Callaway and his family are members of the Christian church. He was made a Mason in Eureka Lodge, No. 16, of Auburn, California, in 1851, and is held in the highest esteem by his brethren of the fraternity, as well as by all with whom he has been brought in contact in other walks of life. His career has been an honorable and upright one, and now, in the evening of life, he can look back over the past without regret. He has performed a noble work for himself and his fellow men by taking part in the development of the northwest, has left the impress of his individuality upon the legislation of the state, and has inscribed his name high on the roll of Idaho’s eminent and honored citizens.