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Judge Joseph C. Rich, eldest son of Hon. Charles C. Rich, a sketch of whom appears elsewhere in this history, was born in Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, January 16, 1841. His mother’s maiden name was Sarah D. Pea, good stock all around, his ancestors being of that hardy pioneer school who have subdued the wilds of the middle and western states and made possible the grandeur of those noble commonwealths.
When but a boy of five years he, in connection with his parents and several thousand others, was driven from the city of his birth by mobocratic persecution, and commenced that historic journey, the Mormon exodus toward the setting sun, which has since resulted in the settlement and the development of our great “Inter-Mountain Empire.” He wintered in 1846-7 at Mount Pisgah, then a portion of the wilderness of Iowa. At this place nearly one-third of that camp died during the winter, through sickness brought on by exposure and want. The well peopled graveyard found there by the permanent settlers who subsequently settled that region, attests sufficiently that fact.
As soon as grass could grow in the spring of 1847 the journey westward was resumed and continued throughout the summer until one thousand four hundred miles long, lonesome and weary ones brought them, on the 2d day of October 1847, to the then parched and desolate valley of the Salt Lake. This journey was made by ox and cow teams, manipulated by men, boys and women, through a country thickly peopled by hostile Indians, through countless multitudes of buffalo, which frequently stampeded the teams and were so numerous that at times the train was compelled to camp, corral the cattle within the enclosures of their wagons and wait for hours and sometimes days for the immense buffalo herds to pass. On one of these occasions the subject of this sketch came nearly losing his life by a frightened ox jumping over a wagon, alighting on top of him. Mr. Rich says now, contemplating the number of those noble animals he remembers seeing in the Platte valley alone, he cannot realize the fact that they are now almost an extinct race. He says this wanton, useless and cruel extermination of these noble animals is a disgrace to the Anglo-Saxon sport, so-called, and to the government which permitted it.
His arrival in the Salt Lake valley had been preceded by the original pioneer band of one hundred and forty men and three women and some companies, and all went to work and built a fort, consisting of log and adobe houses, enclosing a square of ten acres. Four gates, one on each side, were so constructed that all the stock of the colony could be driven in at night, the gates securely fastened, and by regular details of guards night and day, as security against Indian attacks, the first home and settlements of the Rocky mountain region began. The spot, geographically, at that time, was Mexican soil, notwithstanding which the stars and stripes were floated to the breeze a provincial government under the constitution of the United States was organized. The ending of the war with Mexico and the treaty of GuadaloupeHidalgo culminated in the creation by congress of the territory of Utah, which supplanted the provincial government previously formed.
Mr. Rich attended such primitive schools as then existed, learned to read and write, and graduated in all the lore of Webster’s Elementary Spelling Book, the only school library then deemed necessary, and the only one to be had. While his opportunities to obtain even the rudiments of an education were of the rudest and most meager kind, he prides himself on the fact that none of the schools of his day produced a single “dude.”
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In 1855 he accompanied his father to San Bernardino, California, then a Mexican grant which his father and Amasa M. Lyman had purchased under the direction of the Mormon authorities. While here he studied surveying and was employed a considerable part of his time in assisting in the survey of that ranch into lots and tracts for farming purposes. The grant was twenty miles square and embraced nearly the whole of San Bernardino County, California; and is now probably one of the richest and most productive parts of the whole state. He returned to Salt Lake City in 1857 and worked on his father’s farm.
In 1860, with his father, he performed a mission as a Mormon elder to Great Britain, visiting England and Wales and remained abroad until the fall of 1863, when he returned to his home in Salt Lake. He was one of the youngest elders ever sent abroad. During the fall of this year his father was directed by Brigham Young to summon volunteers and effect at that time settlements in Bear Lake valley, now the southeastern county of the state of Idaho, and in September of that year, with a company of fifty horse-men and teams the valley was visited, the town of Paris, now the county seat of Bear Lake County, was founded and from this beginning commenced the settlement of southeastern Idaho.
Mr. Rich accompanied the settlers in 1863 and for the next few years put in his time surveying the towns and villages and farming lands, from Evanston, Wyoming, to Soda Springs, the United States surveys not having then been made.
The early settlers of this section had much to contend with. Hostile Indians had to be watched continually, the horses and cattle were herded by armed men, the frosts of the high elevation six thousand feet killed the crops, and it was only by great suffering, deprivation and the sternest persistence of the settlers in remaining, that the region was peopled and the difficulties overcome. Now the valleys teem with happy homes, grist and sawmills, trades and business of all kinds, public schools second to none, colleges, railroads, telegraphs and telephones, canals, and steamers on our lakes, and a population of tens of thousands. Such have been the results of the pluck, energy, sufferings and successful efforts of the early settlers of southeastern Idaho. Of this kind of material nations are made possible and none are entitled to more credit than the forerunners of American civilization in the Rocky Mountain States and territories.
Hang a garland on the grave
Of every pioneer;
We owe to them our happy homes,
Our comfort and our cheer.
In 1886 Mr. Rich married Ann Eliza Hunter, a daughter of Bishop Edward Hunter, of Salt Lake City, a name almost as widely known in Utah as that of Brigham Young. They have living three girls and three boys, Edward C, Susaan J., Sarah L., Libbey, Joseph C. and Standley H. They live on the shore of Bear lake and have natural white-sulphur hot springs at their home, which are frequented for bathing purposes by hundreds, on account of the health-giving, medicinal qualities of the waters.
Mr. Rich has since manhood been actively engaged in politics, is a stanch, unflinching Democrat, and his abilities as a leader have been recognized by his party in the state. He has been elected to almost every office in his county and district. Twice he represented Bear Lake county as a representative to the territorial legislature; presided over the Democratic state convention in 1894; was elected to and attended as delegate the Chicago convention in 1896, casting his vote and that of the state for William Jennings Bryan for president; was elected state senator in 1896, on an anti-Dubois platform, was the chairman of the Democratic legislative caucus, and did more, perhaps, than any other man in the state to carry out the fusion contract between the Democrats and the Populists. In this contest the honor of the Democratic party of the state was involved, and to the efforts and successful generalship of Judge Rich and his associates may be attributed the success of that campaign. Mr. Rich believed that the Democratic Party had entered into and made an honest compact with the Populist party, and that for his party to retain its honor and remain a worthy power in the state the terms of that compact must be faithfully maintained, and they were.
As a forcible, fluent and impressive speaker and debater he stands with the first of his party; fearless, keen-witted, quick and able in debate and repartee, well informed on all public questions, sarcastic when necessary, unusually fair to an opponent, these qualities have made him one of the ablest men in the state in his championship of the cause of Democracy. In the struggle of the women for female suffrage, he championed their cause and did all he could to give them the standing they have in the statutes of the state today.
He fought bitterly the disfranchisement of the Mormon people in the territory of Idaho, claiming the constitutional right of every religious class to participate in the affairs of state, denied the right of government to interfere or punish conscionable affairs, and even went so far as to resign his membership in the Mormon church rather than subject himself to disfranchisement. He continued his fight against creed discrimination until the repeal of the obnoxious and unconstitutional statute and the rehabilitation of the franchise of the people. In this matter he fought both Democrats and Republicans alike, both parties having participated in the crime.
In 1898 a fusion on the state and congressional ticket for the state of Idaho was effected between the Democrats and silver-Republicans as against the Populists on one side and the straight Republicans on the other, a three-cornered political fight. The fusion as between the first parties did not extend to the county and district offices. A judge was to be elected for the fifth judicial district, comprising nearly one-third of the counties of the state, Oneida, Bannock, Bingham, Fremont, ‘Lemhi and Bear Lake counties. The silver-Republicans issued an invitation for the Democrats to go into joint convention, to nominate a judge, which invitation was accepted by the Democrats. When it was subsequently privately ascertained that Mr. Rich would have an undoubted majority on joint ballot for the nomination, the silver-Republicans refused to honor their own call, and the result was separate conventions of the two parties on the judgeship nomination. The Democrats nominated Judge Rich; the silver Republicans, F. S. Dietrich; the straight Republicans. John A. Bagley; and the Populists, Sample H. Orr, Judge Rich was elected by a clear plurality over all of one thousand eight hundred and twenty-four votes. His term of office expires in January 1904. That he makes a fair, able, earnest and just judge is conceded by all, and the people feel that in confiding to him the interest of their lives and property they have made no mistake.