The days of chivalry and knighthood in Europe cannot furnish more interesting or romantic tales than our own western history. Into the wild mountain fastnesses of the unexplored west went brave men, whose courage was often called forth in encounters with hostile savages. The land was rich in all natural resources, in gold and silver, in agricultural and commercial possibilities, and awaited the demands of man to yield up its treasures, but its mountain heights were hard to climb, its forests difficult to penetrate, and the magnificent trees, the dense bushes or the jagged rocks often sheltered the skulking foe, who resented the encroachment of the pale faces upon these “hunting grounds.” The establishment of homes in this beautiful region therefore meant sacrifices, hardships and oft times death, but there were some men, however, brave enough to meet the red man in his own familiar haunts and undertake the task of reclaiming the district for purposes of civilization. The rich mineral stores of this vast region were thus added to the wealth of the nation; its magnificent forests contributed to the lumber industries and its fertile valleys added to the opportunities of the farmer and stock-raiser, and today the northwest is one of the most productive sections of the entire country. That this is so is due to such men as Captain Relf Bledsoe, whose name is inseparably interwoven with the history of the region. No story of fiction contains more exciting chapters than may be found in his life record, but space forbids an extended account of these.
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He who was to become such an important factor in the development of the northwest was born in Henderson County, Kentucky, on the 16th of August 1832. His ancestors, natives of Wales, came to America at an early period in the colonial epoch and took an active part in the leading events that affected the colonies. Five of the Bledsoe brothers fought throughout the struggle for independence. A younger brother, not old enough to enter the army, was Jesse Bledsoe, father of our subject. He was born in Canewood, four miles from Frankfort, Kentucky, and married Miss Jane Baylor, daughter of George Wythe Baylor, Jr., and a granddaughter of Colonel Baylor, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He won his title in the war which brought to America her liberty, and was wounded in that great struggle. With the blood of Revolutionary heroes thus flowing in his veins, it is not strange that Captain Bledsoe took so prominent a part in the Indian wars of the northwest. His father was a lawyer by profession, and in politics was first a Whig and later a Democrat. He held membership in the Christian church. In his family were twelve children, eight of whom are living.
The Captain, the second in order of birth, spent the first seven years of his life in Kentucky, and in 1839 went with his parents to Missouri and thence to Texas, in 1845. In 1850, when eighteen years of age, he traveled through Mexico to California, reaching Los Angeles when it contained only a few adobe houses inhabited by Mexicans, or, as they called themselves, Spanish. In 1852 he went to San Francisco, and in 1854 he was elected superintendent of a mining company in southern Oregon. On the failure of the well-known firm of Adams & Company, the company with which he was connected was also bankrupt, but soon afterward the Indian troubles of the Rogue River valley, in Oregon, broke out and Mr. Bledsoe joined a volunteer company to aid in quelling the insurrection and defending the settlers. He became a private of Company K, Second Oregon Infantry, but soon his ability as a soldier was manifest and he was promoted sergeant, second lieutenant and first lieutenant, successively. On the death of the captain, he succeeded to that rank. He then assembled the citizens together and built a fort. On the morning of February 24, 1853 he called for twenty-two men to go with him to hold the Indians in check while the fort was being constructed. After marching some distance they were stationed behind a sharp point and awaited the arrival of the Indians, who soon came into view, five hundred strong. Captain Bledsoe had his men remain quiet until the Indians were within about fifty feet of them, when they poured a deadly fire into their ranks. After their guns were emptied, the white men used their revolvers with dreadful effect and the Indians were largely checked, many of the number having been killed. The Captain then ordered a retreat toward the fort and thus they made their way, contesting every foot of the ground until they reached the fort, at four o’clock in the afternoon. In the meantime the building was completed and the women and children were saved.
On another occasion Captain Bledsoe, with thirty-two men, was reconnoitering, when they were almost instantly surrounded by four hundred Indians, who rose up around them out of the bushes, which were breast-high, and charged upon the white men from every direction. The Captain instantly formed his men into a hollow square, and in this way awaited the charge. They first fired their guns, then used their revolvers. The chief in command of the Indians jumped on a rock to better give the commands, when Captain Bledsoe ordered John Walker, who stood near him, to fire, and the chief was killed, which caused great disorder among his followers, thus left without a leader. The white men then formed in skirmish line and retreated. Eight of their number had been killed and five wounded. Captain Bledsoe, at another time, with twenty picked men, went up to the mouth of the River in search of the Indians. They discovered a Party of about seventy-five and crawled up to the top of a bluff from where they opened fire. Only three of the Indians crossed the River alive! After this, three companies of United States regulars arrived under command of General Buchanan, and thus Captain Bledsoe was relieved of the responsibility of having entire command. Later two other companies of regulars came, and the subject of this review” was allowed some respite from his arduous duties. One other incident in which he was concerned, however, is worthy of mention. Near the fort was a dry reservoir into which the Indians frequently crawled at night, firing from that vantage point upon the fort in the daytime. Their object was to pick off anyone that appeared outside the walls. One morning the Captain thought that, with a few men, he would take possession of the reservoir first, and when the Indians came give them a warm reception. He started, gun in hand. It was a doubled-barreled gun, one side loaded with a ball, the other with buckshot. He had made his way some distance in advance of the men, when a little shepherd dog that had followed him began to sniff and whine, which warned him that the Indians were ahead of him. Putting his gun to his shoulder, he waited until an Indian head appeared on the edge of the reservoir. He then fired, and the Indian fell, but all the other Indians rose and fired at him. Just as he fired, however, he sat down, and their bullets passed over him. He then started on a run for the fort, but in that race for life his clothes were completely riddled, although not a bullet entered his body. He was in twenty Indian battles, always in the thickest of the fight. After the war a chief told him that he had shot at him many times, hoping to kill him, but had failed, and they thought he bore a charmed life.
On the 20th of June 1866, he participated in the last battle of the war. He and his men were to take their places on the south side of the River and await the Indians, who were to be driven across to them. His men were behind a large log when the Indians came up to them. The Captain with his forty-five men had a desperate encounter with the savages, a hand-to-hand fight, in which one hundred and seventy-five Indians were killed. The next day the remainder of the band surrendered. After the battle General C. C. Augur embraced the Captain with the remark: “You are the best man to fight Indians at close quarters I ever saw. I could constantly hear your voice above the din of battle clear across the River.”
Captain Bledsoe aided in moving the Indians to their reservation, and was for some time the special Indian agent at the mouth of Yaquina Bay. He was also sutler for two years, and then engaged in buying cattle, which he drove to market in Olympia. In 1861 the Oro Fino excitement brought him to Lewiston, where he arrived in July 1861. He was the first merchant at Elk City and sold the first goods there, after which he was connected with a large mercantile house in Florence. In 1862 he was elected joint councilman from Idaho and Nez Percé counties. In the fall of that year the Boise Basin was discovered, and he had command of a company of sixty-six men, who traveled across the Mountains to that place. When they arrived at Squaw creek. Lieutenant Standeford and eight men formed an advance guard ahead of the main body. They were attacked by Indians, and Captain Bledsoe then took thirty men, leaving the others with the pack train, and fought the Indians, driving them back across Little Squaw creek and over Big Squaw creek to what is now a part of Calvin Beard’s ranch. Night ended the fight. The pack train camped on Little Meadows, and captured five squaws and some children, from which incident Squaw creek received its name. The Party afterward continued on their way to the point on the Boise River where the beautiful city of Boise now stands. At that time there was no house nearer than Auburn, Oregon. They drove the Indians from the River and went on to the Boise Basin, where they found Marion Moore and his Party, who had arrived four days previously. They located claims and Captain Bledsoe and Tom Hart washed the first pan of dirt in the vicinity of Placerville, about a half mile below the present site of the town. They secured gold to the value of twenty-five cents out of this first pan. After looking over the country in this vicinity Captain Bledsoe started for Olympia, Washington, to attend the meeting of the legislature. He framed the bill that organized Boise County, and the following year Idaho was separated from Washington. He has held various positions of honor and trust, and was a prominent candidate for governor of Idaho, President Cleveland being strongly urged to appoint him chief executive of the territory. For the past twenty years he has been extensively engaged in quartz and placer mining, and is a thorough mining expert. His efforts in the development of the mineral resources of the state brought him a handsome competence and at the same time have contributed to the general welfare.
On the 1st of July 1858, near Corvallis, Oregon, was celebrated the marriage of Captain Bledsoe and Miss Helen Kinney. They have six children, three sons and three daughters: Sadie, who became the wife of L. Vineyard, died August 9, 1893, leaving two children, who are residing with their grandfather; Annie, wife of William F. Galbraith, a druggist of Boise; R. J., a farmer of Boise; Eulalie, wife of W. N. Northrop, a hardware merchant; John M., who is in the engineer corps at Honolulu; and Lloyd, at home. In politics the Captain has been a life-long Democrat, and the official positions he has filled have been accorded him by reason of his merit and sterling worth. He has been an important factor in the military, political and industrial interests of the state, an honored pioneer who deserves the gratitude of his fellow men for what he has done for the northwest. When the present shall have become the past, his name will be revered as one of the founders of the state of Idaho, and as one of the heroes who carried civilization into the wild districts of this great region.