Not only has the subject of this all too brief sketch seen southeastern Idaho grow from a wild country, with only a few white inhabitants, to a rich agricultural country, containing thousands of good homes and acres of growing towns, inhabited by an industrious, prosperous, enlightened and progressive people, but he has participated in and assisted the slow, persistent work of development which was necessary to produce a change which is so complete that it has come to be popularly referred to as magical.
De Forest Chamberlain is descended from English and Irish ancestors, who settled in America before the Revolution and were participants in the struggle for liberty. Riley Chamberlain, his father, was born in Vermont, and married Miss Sarah Mann, a native of Onondaga County. New York. With his wife he removed to Illinois, some time between 1830 and 1840, where he died in 1873, aged sixty-six years. His widow is still living, aged eighty-one, making her home with a daughter at Creston, Iowa. They had three children.
De Forest Chamberlain was born in Stark County, Illinois, August 24, 1843. He entered Lombard University with the intention of taking the full collegiate course, but his studies were interrupted by his patriotic ardor, aroused by the opening of actual hostilities between the northern and southern sections of our country, early in 1861. He was one of the first to offer services for the defense of the Union, and enlisted, June 17, 1861, in Company B, Nineteenth Illinois Volunteer Infantry. His first active service was in Missouri, under General John C. Fremont. Later he served in the Department of the Tennessee. He was in battle at Stone river, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and Resaca. and was promoted to sergeant and honorably discharged from the service and mustered out July 9, 1864, after having served his country faithfully for three years and twelve days. In 1866 he went west and traveled extensively through Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho, prospecting and mining, but not successfully. He went to the Dakotas also, and to western Nebraska, on a prospecting tour, a part of the time in company with one or two others who were going his way for longer or shorter distances. While journeying thus through the Indian country, he had many perilous adventures, and hair-breadth escapes. Several of his party were killed in a skirmish with the Indians at South Pass. At Lodge Pole creek he and a companion were attacked by fifty Indians. Mr. Chamberlain and his comrade were provided with long-range rifles and were fairly supplied with ammunition and they stood their assailants off for twenty hours. How the siege may have terminated under other circumstances cannot be known, but it was evident to them that the policy of the Indians was to induce them to expend their ammunition and after they had done so to close in on them and destroy them. Opportunely two companies of United States cavalry came upon the scene and the Indians took their ponies and escaped.
It was in April 1879, that Mr. Chamberlain came to Idaho Falls. The railroad, then under construction, had its terminus here. He opened a saloon and built the Chamberlain hotel, which he managed successfully for seventeen years. Since 1896 he has kept it open as a lodging house only. After coming to the town, he bought one hundred and eighty acres of land, all of which has been platted and added to the town site, and he has sixty-five acres more adjoining the town. He has taken an active interest in the breeding of fine trotting horses and has bred several of more than ordinary merit and is the owner of Young Gypsy Boy, which is regarded as one of the best horses in the state, if not the best one.
Ever since the organization of the Grand Army of the Republic Mr. Chamberlain has been identified with it actively and helpfully. He is a member of Joe Hooker Post, No. 20, of Idaho Falls, and has several times served as its commander. He is past master of the Eagle Rock Lodge, No. 19, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, of Idaho Falls, and has a wide acquaintance among Masons throughout Idaho and adjacent states. In his political views he is a Populist, but his tastes have never inclined him to special activity in political work, yet he is not without recognized influence in his party. He is a modest man who says little of himself or his achievements, but his worth is known to his fellow citizens, who give him rank as a leader in public-spirited work for the general good and regard him as an upright and reliable man of business and one of great value to Idaho Falls. He was married. November 12, 1871, to Miss Harriet Regan, a native of New York City.