The history of the first things is always interesting. In any town the first settler’s is the name most carefully preserved. The places where he established his home and first worked at his primitive vocation are carefully noted, and his deeds and words are recounted often and with increasing interest as generations succeed one another. There lives in Genesee, Idaho, a man, now the postmaster of the city, who was its pioneer in more ways than one and it is the purpose of the biographer to record now a brief statement of the facts of his life and of his residence in the town with whose progress he has been so long and closely identified.
John J. Owen is of English and Welsh ancestry and was born in Birmingham, England, January 30, 1843, a son of John and Matilda (Jordan) Owen. In 1849, when he was six years old, the family came to the United States. It consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Owen, John J. and two sisters. Charles, an older son, had been lost at sea. W. H., the youngest of the family, was born after the others came to this country and is now living in Minnesota. The family settled at Jacksonville, Illinois, where the elder Owen found work as a tinner, a trade which he had learned and at which he had been employed in England. Later the family lived successively in Mason county and in Iroquois county, Illinois: and there John Owen died at the age of seventy-seven, after having survived his wife several years. They had been reared in the Baptist faith, and later in life allied themselves with the Seventh-day Adventists. Their two daughters married well.
John J. Owen was educated at the Grand Prairie Seminary, in Illinois, and at Milton Academy, at Milton, Wisconsin. He was in school when the civil war began, and threw down his books to respond to President Lincoln’s first call for troops. He enlisted in Company C, Fifty-seventh Illinois Volunteer Infantry, while yet a boy in his ‘teens, served with this regiment until the end of its term of enlistment, and was the only member of it who made himself a veteran by reenlistment. As a member of Company I of the same regiment he served until the close of the hostilities. His regiment was attached to the command of General John A. Logan, who was in charge of the Western Department, and young Owen fought at Fort Donelson, Altoona Pass, Goldsboro, Shiloh, Corinth second regiment 1, Buzzard’s Roost creek, Bee creek and Resaca. After that the regiment was transferred to the command of General W. T. Sherman and followed him on his famous march from Atlanta to the sea. When the war was at the end he participated in the grand review of the victorious army at Washington. He received an honorable discharge from the service and was mustered out at Louisville, Kentucky, and returned to his home, a victor and a veteran, and at once settled down to the peaceful vocation of a tinner and hardware dealer.
From 1868 to 1876 he was a farmer in Nebraska. Then after two years’ residence at Sacramento, California, he went to Astoria, Oregon. The steamer Great Republic, on which, with his wife and two daughters, he took passage, was wrecked. The disaster occurred unexpectedly, at four o’clock in the morning, when all the passengers were asleep in their staterooms. They were a day on the wreck before they were taken off by lifeboats. Mr. Owen lost all he had, even to his family records, and was so glad that he and his wife and daughters were alive that he felt little like finding fault. He went with his family to Knappa, Oregon, and from there, in 1885, they removed to Moscow, Idaho. Two years later he came to Genesee. When he arrived here only one little shanty had been erected in the town, and on a lot which he purchased he proceeded to put the first building dignified and made habitable by a shingle roof. This was Genesee’s pioneer hotel, which he successfully managed four years, or until he was appointed industrial teacher in the Indian agency. Two years later the school was discontinued and Mr. Owen returned to Genesee, took his hotel off the hands of a lessee who had been running it in his absence and again assumed its personal direction, which he retained until he sold the property.
In 1897 Mr. Owen was appointed postmaster of Genesee, then a fourth-class post-office. Not long afterward it was advanced to the third class, and he received his appointment from President McKinley. He has added greatly to the facilities of the office and, with the assistance of Mrs. Owen, who is his deputy, he is giving Genesee the best mail service the city ever had.
Mr. Owen married, in 1867 Miss Thalia L. Krunn, a native of Ohio, and a woman of many virtues and accomplishments. She has borne him three daughters, Mettie E., now Mrs. A. W. Conway: Nettie, wife of Captain A. McKing, of the United States signal service, Philippine islands: and Cora Matilda, who is a member of her father’s household. Mr. Owen is a Knight of Pythias and an Odd Fellow and a comrade of the Grand Army of the Republic. Mrs. Owen is a member of the Relief Corps, an adjunct of the local Grand Army post, and of the Rathbone Sisters, a woman’s organization connected with the Knights of Pythias. In the Grand Army work Mr. Owen has been especially prominent, and he has been elected to many important offices in his post. He has been a lifelong Republican and has served as city marshal of Genesee and was a member of the first city council. Mr. and Mrs. Owen have a home where comfort and quiet elegance prevail, and its generous hospitality is partaken of by the best people of Genesee and all the country round about. Mr. Owen is a popular citizen, and in the best sense, he wears the honors of a pioneer of the day of small things for Genesee, and is prominently identified with the leading interests of the modern progressive city.