Owyhee County has had many newspapers since J. L. Hardin and John and Joe Wasson printed the first issue of the Owyhee Avalanche. That was on August 19, 1865.
That first Owyhee County newspaper was published in Ruby City. Two of the Avalanche publishers—the Wasson brothers—bought out Hardin, and, almost a year to the day after its beginning, the Wasson brothers had moved the plant to Owyhee County’s boom town Silver City. On August 18, 1866, volume 2, number 1 of the Avalanche was published at the new location, with the Wassons as proprietors.
But the Avalanche was not the first newspaper in Silver City. Making its debut in June of 1866—two months before the Avalanche moved there—a publication called the “Idaho Index” hit the streets. The Index was short-lived, however, and in December of 1866, it ceased publication. The Wassons continued publishing the Avalanche until August of 1867, when they sold out to W. J. Hill and H. W. Millard. Then, in November of 1868, the pair sold the Avalanche to John McGonigle. However, only a few months later, McGonigle gave it back to Hill and Millard. Another newspaper began publication in Silver City. Two brothers, J. S. and Thomas Butler established the “Tidal Wave.” The date the Tidal Wave began is uncertain but in February of 1870, it too ceased publication and was incorporated into the Avalanche. Hill and Millard dissolved the partnership in the Avalanche July 16, 1870, and Hill became sole owner and publisher of the Avalanche.
The name of the Owyhee Avalanche was changed to the “Idaho Avalanche” when, in 1874, Hill started the first daily newspaper in the Idaho Territory. The daily continued for about 1 1/2 years, and then Hill went back to a weekly newspaper, but continued the “Idaho Avalanche” name. Shortly after reverting back to a weekly newspaper, the publisher sold to J. S. Hay. The date was April 18, 1876. After Hay’s stint as editor, the Avalanche was sold or leased several times. Some of the editors and publishers who ran the Avalanche for the next 10 or 12 years were: Guy Newcomb and Dave Adams, C. H. Hayes, and John Laub and Lem York. Laub and York had started the “DeLamar Nugget,” (ten miles downstream from Silver City) in May of 1891. In 1901, the two men divided the partnership; Laub took the Nugget and York the Avalanche.
York changed the name of the “Idaho Avalanche” back to the “Owyhee Avalanche on August 20, 1897. He continued as publisher until 1902, when he moved to Boise and co-founded Syms-York Co. With the departing of York, Laub moved the “DeLamar Nugget” to Silver City renaming it the “Silver City Nugget”. Then, in 1905, the name was again changed, this time to the “Owyhee Nugget”. What happened to the Avalanche following York’s departure is uncertain. One account is that it merely closed, while another account says a group of “local politicians” bought the paper and continued it until 1908, when a fire destroyed the printing plant.
At any rate, the Avalanche was out of business early in the 1900s — but only for a short period.
In 1912, Laub sold the “Owyhee Nugget” to Frank Burrough, who, believing the future growth of Owyhee County would be in the Bruneau Valley, moved the operation to Bruneau. The Silver City folks were unhappy that they had no newspaper, and that same year funds were collected and pledged to revive the “Owyhee Avalanche”, and a new printing plat was ordered from American Type Traders of Portland, Oregon.
The new owners hired Frank Trotter as editor of the new Avalanche. But Trotter stayed only one year, and shortly after that he moved to Homedale to establish the “Homedale Empire Press” on February 12, 1914.
In 1913, J. S. Flannagan became editor of the Avalanche. Flannigan left Silver City in the winter of 1917-18, and a man by the name of Charles Hackney became editor. In 1918 another newspaper entered the picture. The “Owyhee Leader” began, and gave Silver City as its location of publication. However, research suggests the Leader was actually published by the “Nampa Leader Herald.” The “Owyhee Leader” lasted until 1921.
In the meantime, Hackney continued publishing the Avalanche until December 23, 1932. On January 26, 1933, R. H. Colley, publisher of the relatively new “Owyhee Chronicle” purchased the subscription list and rights to the “Owyhee Avalanche.”
In Homedale, the “Homedale Empire Press” had been purchased by the Wilder Herald, following the death of Trotter in a duel.
Homedale was again without a newspaper until April 30, 1931, when the “Owyhee Chronicle” was established by Charles O. Davis. Davis published it until 1932, when it was purchased by R. H. Colley.
Colley published the Chronicle until 1938. His wife Grace took over at the helm until two of her sons, Everett and Kenneth, became publishers. It was 1941.
Then in 1954 Kenneth left the newspaper business, leaving the Chronicle in the hands of brother Everett. Everett Colley remained publisher of the Chronicle until 1975, except for a period in 1952-54 when the paper was leased to Elwood Gough, and again between 1966 and 1967 when it was sold to Tom Mills.
Mills gave it back to Colley, who continued as publisher until it was sold to Joe Aman on March 1, 1975.
Meanwhile, the “Owyhee Nugget” was sold to H. W. Gahau. In 1916, it was sold to Charles Pascoe. In 1939, the “Nugget” was published by Rodney and Leona Hawes. The following year, the “Nugget” was moved to Marsing, and Hawes continued as publisher until the paper was purchased by Mick and Kyle Hodges in 1982.
After Hawes moved the Nugget to Marsing, the Nugget and the Chronicle were having a new battle for supremacy. Part of the competition included each publisher producing a newspaper for the other town.
The Nugget began the “Homedale News”, and the Chronicle produced the “Marsing Chronicle.” Although each held its own second class mailing permit, they typically were a makeover of the respective sister paper.
Aman published the Chronicle until 1984, when, in September, he sold it to Ted Grossman. After one week as publisher, the new owner turned it back to Aman. Again, in November of that same year, Aman sold the newspaper to Randall Howell, who published until March of 1984.
Aman was again back in the newspaper business. Then, on December 20, Aman purchased the Owyhee Nugget from Mick and Kyle Hodges, combining the two papers into The Owyhee Avalanche.
In 2010, Aman marked his 35th anniversary of taking over as publisher of Owyhee County’s news source. It’s also the 25th anniversary of the return of the Avalanche nameplate.
The press sitting in front of The Owyhee Avalanche office has an interesting history
The machine was purchased by W.J. Hill, editor of The
Owyhee Avalanche, from Campbell Press Works of Brooklyn,
N.Y. in 1874, when Hill started the first daily newspaper in
the Idaho Territory at Silver City. The catalogue price was
$900.00 f.o.b. New York.
The press was later sold to the then newly established
Caldwell Tribune, in 1883.
While transporting it to the Tribune plant, freighters had to
ferry it across the Snake River at Bernard’s Ferry, just east of
Givens Hot Springs. The blocking under the press slipped
and the 1,500-pound machine slid off into the water and
mud. Several teams of horses were required to retrieve it.
Some time after the turn of the century, the press was sold
to the Wilder Herald in Wilder. Kenneth Colley was the last
publisher to utilize the 1,400-sheet-per-hour press. When he
joined the war effort, the Herald was printed in Homedale
at the Owyhee Chronicle plant, owned by Kenneth’s brother
Everett Colley. The press was later moved to the Chronicle
plant, where it has been displayed in front of the office ever
Owyhee County History
Idaho's first county - past, present and future
On December 31, 1863, Owyhee became the first county created by the newly-formed Idaho territorial legislature. Its extent was defined as “that terri-tory lying south of the Snake River and west of the summit of the Rocky Mountains.” By 1879, it was reduced to its present size, bordered by Nevada on the south, Oregon on the west, Twin Falls County on the east, and the Snake River on the north.
The name, Owyhee, is Captain Cook’s original spelling of Hawaii. In 1819, three Hawaiian fur trap-pers employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company and assigned to Donald McKenzie’s fur-trapping expedition were sent to trap a large stream that emptied into the Snake River. When they did not return,McKenzie investigated and found one man murdered in camp and no sign of the others. The unsolved mystery of the Hawaiians continues to live in the name given to the river, the mountains and the county.
Owyhee County takes a huge bite out of Idaho’s south western corner. It is the second largest county in Idaho, twice the size of Connecticut, spreading over almost 8,000 square miles with only 1.3 per-sons per square mile. Total population is slightly over 10,000 people, mostly concentrated along the Snake River, many in the northwestern county communities of Homedale and Marsing.
|Click here for books from local authors on Owyhee County history
Owyhee’s original county seat was Ruby City,few traces of which remain. In 1867 the county seat was moved, quite literally, upstream to Silver City. In 1934, to reflect the county’s economic shift from mining to ranching and farming, the county seat was moved to Murphy.
The unique character of Owyhee County has always been defined by the land. It is the land which has yielded gold and silver worth millions, sustained tens of thousands of grazing cattle, opened the rich soil irrigated Snake and Owyhee rivers for tens of thousands of acres of farm crops. Elevations start at 2,000 feet in the desert, rise through the canyon lands and reach more than 8,000 feet on the mountain peaks. Eighty-four percent of Owyhee County land is owned by the federal government, the majority managed by the BLM.
The Oregon Trail
There was no BLM when the Oregon Trail brought pioneers through Owyhee County on their long trips west, or when gold was discovered on Jordan Creek in 1863, or in the fall of 1869 when 1,400 head of Texas Longhorns and Durham cattle were driven into the Bruneau Valley from the faraway Brazos River. At one time, more than 100,000 head of cattle grazed the Owyhee hills.
With its mild and semi-arid climate (rainfall varies from four to 18 inches a year), farming in Owyhee County is almost exclusively through irrigation provided by the mighty Snake and Owyhee rivers. Ap-proximately 80,000 acres receive one or more irrigations per year. Climate and soil conditions are suit-able for the production of a variety of crops, including alfalfa, sugar beets, potatoes, onions, corn, mixed grain and orchard crops.
Conflict in ION Country
Residents in Owyhee County and neighboring “Communities of Interest” in eastern Oregon and northern Nevada are trying to keep up with changing demographics, shifting public policies, and new economies. The Idaho-Oregon-Nevada (ION) area has become one of the most contested stretches of land in the United States. The region spawned the “Sagebrush Rebellion” which began in the late 70s,the “Wise Use” movement which succeeded it, and continues to provide the battleground between ranchers and farmers and environmental extremists. Most environmental groups want the cattle off federal lands and the area preserved in unused wilderness; off-road vehicle users want the land opened up and restrictions relaxed; and local residents want the federal government to turn over millions of acres to county control.
Social cohesion is strong in the Owyhees, making it easier to adjust to changing social and economic conditions, the arrival of newcomers and other forms of social diversification, while simultaneously strengthening resistance to central government pro-grams.
As the populations of adjacent Ada and Canyon counties expand, they have moved west and south into Owyhee County. Ranchettes, trailers, and manufactured housing are beginning to spring up in the sagebrush around the county seat of Murphy, as well as along the Snake River near Marsing and Homedale. Between 1990 and 1998, more than 1,000 people relocated to the county, a 13.1 percent population increase, according to the Idaho Department of Commerce. An hour commute to Boise on Inter-state 84 is no longer unusual.
The Mighty Snake
The Snake River is the defining geographical feature of Idaho and a major factor in the character of Owyhee County. Rising in the Rocky Mountains,it flows a thousand miles from Wyoming to Oregon and Washington, falling from an elevation of 9,840 feet above sea level to 340 feet where it merges with the Columbia River and joins in the journey to the Pacific Ocean. The Snake cuts a wide swath across Idaho, called the Snake River Plain. As it flows through Canyon, Ada and Elmore counties, the Snake forms the northern boundary of Owyhee County.
One of the West’s great rivers, the Snake powers more than a dozen large hydropower dams, providing some 3.3 million acres of irrigated farmland and slack-water reservoirs that draw hundreds of thou-sands of visitors to fish or play.
Early French trappers and woodsmen called the Snake the Mad River in deference to the massive spring surges of snow melt that swelled its waters and made them perilous to cross. Eventually, how-ever, the river became known widely as the Snake,thanks to the Shoshone Indians. As one version of the story goes, the Shoshones made an S-shaped sign with their hands to mimic swimming salmon, a sign that reminded European minds of a snake.
Life blood of the Owyhees.
As early as the 1880s, families began irrigating their small farms with the waters of the Snake. In1902, Congress created the Reclamation Service to control and spread the benefits of the waters of the West. Irrigation grew quickly along the Snake, along with power-generating dams, flood control, recreation and, in the 1970s, navigation locks on the final lower Snake dams that made Lewiston the West Coast’s farthest inland sea port. Billions of dollars were made, millions of people were fed by the cultivated desert and hundreds of thousands of homes were heated.
The Snake River is the lifeblood of Owyhee County and all of southern Idaho. Because of this, it has also become a point of contention between the people who live along its banks and environmentalist agitators from outside.
As soon as the feasibility of hydroelectric power plants had been demonstrated at Niagara Falls, eastern investors sent agents into 1 Idaho to appraise the Snake’s potential dam sites. There were many. In 1900 the Trade Dollar Consolidated Mining and Milling Company built the first hydroelectric dam and power plant on the Snake at Swan Falls in Owyhee County. The plant sent power 28 miles to the Trade Dollar Mine at Silver City, then the Owyhee County seat.
By the time the Silver City mines played out a few years later, a new demand for the electricity had arisen. Farmers needed electricity to power irrigation and drainage pumps. By 1913 pumps in south-western Idaho were lifting water 170 feet directly from the river onto the land. After that, the progress of irrigated agriculture and power production went hand in hand all across southern Idaho. Hydroelectric plants appeared in rapid succession. The last on the river were built by Idaho Power Company in the 1960s.
Including diversion and power dams, the flow of the main stem of the Snake River today is con-trolled by 25 dams. The Snake irrigates 3.8 million acres of land and produces well over ten million megawatt hours of electrical power. With these numbers, it’s no surprise that the residents along its banks also call it a “working” river.
Despite all of its work, the river manages to be other things at different places—a vacation paradise for anglers; a habitat for fish from trout to catfish to sturgeon; a canyon home for the largest gathering of nesting owls, hawks, eagles, and falcons on the continent; and a federally-designated “wild and scenic” river.
Environmentalists would like to see the Snake’s dams ripped out and the river retired from its work as a helper of man. But the people who live along the Snake, especially in Owyhee County, have long been known as a tough breed and they have success-fully defended themselves against attacks from out-side forces many times before.