After a long period of active connection with the industrial interests of northern Idaho, James Edwards is now living a retired life in Grangeville. He was born in Richmond, Chittenden county, Vermont, on the 20th of June, 1838, his parents being George and Martha Sophia (Burr) Edwards, both of whom were natives of Massachusetts. The father was a farmer and a dealer in cattle and grain. He attained the age of only fifty years, but his wife lived to the ripe old age of eighty-four years. They were Universalists in religious faith, and Mr. Edwards was a man of ability, taking a leading part in public affairs and serving his district in the state legislature. In the family were twelve children, but one died at the age of five years, another at the age of fifteen, a daughter recently massed away, and later a brother died, leaving eight of the family yet living.
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In the common schools James Edwards acquired a fair English education, which has been supplemented by knowledge gained through observation and business experience. He entered upon his business career as clerk in a store in Acton, Massachusetts, spent some time in Pennsylvania, and on the 1st of March 1856, sailed from New York city for California, on the steamer Illinois. Reaching the western shore of the isthmus, he took passage on the John L. Stevens, and arrived in San Francisco, in April 1856. He remained for a month in Sacramento and then removed to Nevada County, where he purchased cows and engaged in the dairy business. He was paid one dollar per gallon for milk, which he sold to the miners, and in the winter time he received two dollars per gallon. He had forty cows and conducted a profitable business for four years, on the expiration of which period he carried on the butchering business. When gold was discovered in the Boise basin, stock had greatly depreciated in value, and he resolved to go to the new mining district, so as one of a company of four, he started with a spring wagon, traveling north through the old town of Shasta, then on through Oregon to Walla Walla and to Boise, which was then a small place, containing a few adobe houses and a few log cabins, built of Cottonwood trees. The party, however, continued on their way to the Cortney diggings, in British Columbia, but failed to find the gold for which they had traveled so far and for which they had braved many dangers and hardships.
Mr. Edwards then returned to Lewiston, Idaho, where he engaged in packing miners supplies from that point to Warrens, Elk City, Oro Fino and Montana. On his first trip to Warrens he carried twenty packs, receiving twenty-five cents per pound, and thus making eighty-seven dollars for each animal pack on the trip. There was a great demand for services along that line, and the packers received good pay, but the business was often accompanied by danger and difficulty, so that the men who engaged therein were necessarily possessed of the highest courage. He continued in the business until 1871 and made considerable money, but contracted rheumatism, from which he suffered for eighteen months, and was forced to pay out twenty-five hundred dollars of his hard-earned savings for medical treatment and to meet other expenses occasioned by his illness. Later he again entered the business, but, finding that he was not physically ewual to the task, he went to Warrens, where he was engaged in both placer and quartz mining. A part of the time he also conducted a hotel at Warrens, where he made forty-five hundred dollars, and in 1889 he came to Grangeville where he purchased the Jersey House, of William Hawley. It was the first hotel built in the town and Mr. Edwards was its popular and successful proprietor until 1893, when he arranged to sell the property for eight thousand dollars. A payment of fifteen hundred dollars was made, but the purchasers allowed it to lapse, and later he sold it to the present owners for seven thousand dollars. It has always been recognized as the best hotel of the town and has enjoyed a liberal patronage. It stands on a large and pretty plot of ground and is very desirably located. Mr. Edwards, since selling the hotel, has occupied a good residence in Grangeville, and is now living a retired life. He is also the owner of a number of good farms on which he raises hay and grain. For many years he has witnessed the development and growth of Idaho and has been an active participant in many of the events which go to form the earlier history of the state as well as the annals of its later progress. He participated in the Sheepeater Indian war, which occurred in 1879, when, on the south fork of the Salmon river savages murdered two men, whose horses they took, after which they went on the war-path, and the white settlers were obliged to leave that part of the country and take refuge in Warrens. Among the number was Mr. Rains, who was obliged to leave his hay in the fields. He was dependent upon this crop for a livelihood and accordingly wanted help to go with him to his farm and finish taking care of the hay. Mr. Edwards and a Mr. Serren volunteered to go, and for some days as they worked in the fields they carried their guns with them. When nearly through the work, however, thinking all danger past, they one day went to the field without their arms. It was a hot day and they worked very hard until almost dark, when they were attacked by the Indians, who fired first at the house and then at the men, but missed them. There was a little creek close by and the men dropped into the ravine made by it and tried to run to the house. They got only half way when Mr. Rains was shot dead. Mr. Edwards and Mr. Serren then turned back to seek again the shelter of the creek. The Indians then fired the house, and Mr. Edwards and his companion made their way up the stream to its source. On reaching that point they saw signal fires at different places, but succeeded in making their way back to Warrens. The man who had been in the house also escaped up a gulch in the darkness, but it was almost miraculous that they all got away.
In 1880 Mr. Edwards was united in marriage to Mrs. Mary Rains, widow of the man who had been killed by the Indians. She had two sons by her former husband, Jesse and Henry. The latter died in his eleventh year, but Jesse grew to manhood and is now serving his country as a soldier in the Philippine islands, filling the position of clerk for General Lipencott. In his political views Mr. Edwards is a Republican, and while at Warrens acceptably served as justice of the peace for the long term of twelve years. He is a valued member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and is a citizen of the highest respectability, his identification with the interests of his adopted state having been of material benefit thereto.