Jack of All Trades, Master of Many – J. P. Harlan Homesteads in Idaho

July 14, 2016 0 Comments

During his lifetime John Paxon “Jack” Harlan’s career involved being a miner, merchant, farmer, trapper, teacher, soldier, historian, public servant, civic leader, timber cruiser, coroner et al.  Following is a brief synopsis of his life:

John Paxon Harlan

John P. Harlan with children l-r: Stila Myrtle, Eda Belle and George Washington (ca. 1913) on the boardwalk at Pierce City, Idaho
John P. Harlan with his children l-r: Stila Myrtle, Eda Belle and George Washington (ca. 1913) on the boardwalk at Pierce City, Idaho

John “Jack” Paxon Harlan was born on February 9, 1866 in Guthrie County, Iowa to George Washington and Emma Webster (Brown) Harlan, the seventh of ten children.  His father was a descendant of Michael Harland, who came to America in 1687, with William Penn and settled in Chester County, Pennsylvania.   Jack’s parents were married in 1849 at Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and remained there until the 1857.  In the Spring of  1857 Jack’s parents, along with his maternal grandparents relocated to Guthrie County, Iowa.  The family would remain in Guthrie County until 1879, when they moved to Lake County Colorado.

Wild Times in Leadville ‘The Silver City’

Leadville Colorado was incorporated in January of 1878 and soon Leadville had the reputation as one of the most lawless towns in the West.   In 1879 a large vein of silver was discovered at Leadville and the boom started in earnest, which would last until 1893.

It is unknown if George and Emma were aware of the town’s reputation when they decided to pack up their large family and head West.  I cannot imagine what a culture shock it must have been for Jack’s mother, Emma.  Emma was a deeply religious woman, who adhered to her Quaker beliefs and was actively involved in the Temperance Movement.  However, this experience must have been a great adventure for young Jack, who was just coming into his own.  The Harlan family quickly became a prominent family in the region, Jack’s father George would become a Justice of the Peace, in Leadville. Jack completed his studies at Central School and then attended college at the University of Colorado, where he studied law.  He returned to the area and was taught the skill of assaying, under the guidance of Clarence Hersey and would eventually become the assayer of the Montezuma mine, in Pitkin County.  Jack left Colorado in 1889 and according to his biography, published in 1914, he traveled for many years:

“He was a resident of Leadville until 1889 when he began to travel, following mining operations for many years in Arizona, New Mexico, California, Western Washington and British Columbia.–(Source) History of Idaho, A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress, Its People and Its Principal Interests (Vol. 2) – Hiram T. French, M. S.

Westward Bound

Three of Jack’s sisters, Florence Nightingale (Harlan) Dunkin, Evangeline St. Claire (Harlan) France and Frances Josephine (Harlan) Trumbull, all came West and settled in Washington state where they lived out the remainder of their lives, primarily in the Grays Harbor area.  Jack came West  and  spent a time teaching at Humptulips, Grays Harbor, Washington, as referenced in his obituary. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has record of Jack purchasing 120 acres, close to Mopang Creek, on January 20, 1892.  He transferred the property to his sister Eva H. France, in July of 1892.  That summer he went to Greenwood, British Columbia, where he continued mining.

The Spanish-American War

Harlan, John P. Age 32, Residence Leadville, Colo., born Guthrie Center, Iowa.  Enlisted Jul. 16, 1898 at Camp Merritt, San Francisco, Cal.  Mustered Out Oct. 5, 1899 at Presidio, Cal.  Appt’d Sgt from Pvt, August 12, 1899 per S. D. #69, Hdqtrs, 1 S. D. Inf U.S.V. —(Source) Military record of John P. Harlan, National Archives and Records Administration

The 1st South Dakota Volunteer Infantry:

When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, the 1st Regiment was sworn into the Federal service as the 1st South Dakota Volunteer Infantry.  The regiment was sent to the Philippines and served through the early months of the Philippine Insurrection after the Spanish-American War ended. Protests by Governor Andrew Lee that the South Dakota regiment was being held in the Philippines illegally since its term of service had ended with the end of the war resulted in the he regiment being relieved in June of 1899 and returned to the United States. It was formally mustered out of the Federal service in October 1899.–(Source) South Dakota Historical Resource Center

While en route from British Columbia, in 1898, Jack went to San Francisco, most likely to visit family.  While in San Francisco, he was recruited by the 1st South Dakota Volunteer Infantry and he quickly received an all expense paid trip to Manila, Philippines. While in Manila Jack  wrote to his mother and one of his letters was published, in both of the Aspen newspapers:

“Many old-time Aspenites will remember John P. Harlan, “Curly Jack” as he was familiarly known, who several years ago was assayer at the Montezuma mine. Mr. Harlan has seen something of the world since leaving the camp. He went to British Columbia, among other places, and it was while he was there that he heard of the opening of hostilities between Uncle Sam and the dons. He was about to return to the states and upon reaching San Francisco he enlisted in the South Dakota regiment which was at that time recruiting, and is now with General Otis’ command in Manila …

Jack didn’t let wartime hostilities get in the way of his social life:

“When I am tired of loafing around the barracks, I dress myself up and go about town conversing with the Spanish and Filipinos. My attire is quite swell: I have a white Nubian cap, a black silk shirt, pure white pants, black patent leather shoes and a black belt in which I carry my money and gold watch and chain. In this attire and with my watch chain dangling, and carrying a dark rosewood cane, I strut along the street attracting much attention …

Being in a combat zone did not appear to curtail his entrepreneurial spirit, or his love of mining either:

“I have as yet been unable to get a permit to go into the interior prospecting. I will try that beloved colonel of ours. I have tried the major but he tries to make me think that it is impossible to go, on account of the danger … “But I will take my chances, if I can only get out …–(source) Aspen Tribune – November 30, 1898 and Rocky Mountain Sun – December 3, 1898

There is also an article that appeared in the Leadville Herald Democrat on June 12, 1899 that credits Jack with being the soldier who infiltrated a stone building full of enemy combatants and set it ablaze.  However, it appears this was actually a Private Harlan from Company K, 1st Washington and not Jack.  According to his military file, Jack was part of the “Advance on Malolos” from March 25-31, 1899, which included both the 1st Washington Company and the 1st South Dakota Company.  There is nothing in his service record noting a commendation for valor, or his actual duties.   This may be one of those mysteries that is never solved.

British Columbia

According to Jack’s enlistment papers he was a resident of Leadville, Colorado, in 1898.  It appears he used his mother’s residence, for convenience purposes.  Jack, along with his uncle, Elwood Channing Brown, spent several years in Greenwood, British Columbia and newspaper accounts, from the area, state he first arrived at Boundary Creek in the summer of 1892.  He appears to have traveled between Canada and Colorado several times, in the 1890s and worked in both locations.

“In the summer of ’92 he came into Boundary Creek on a prospecting trip.  The following winter and spring he again worked in Mr. Hersey’s assay office, and in the summer of 1893 he returned to Boundary Creek, bringing with him an assay outfit, chiefly for his own use in connection with his prospecting work.  As Mr. Gibbs was then arranging to commence business as an assayer, Mr. Harlan offered to refrain from starting in opposition to him, which undertaking he has kept ever since.  In 1895 he again went to Colorado, and in the following year was engaged in assay work at the Montezuma mine, Ashcroft, Col.  Returning again to Boundary Creek, in January of the current year, he resumed prospecting, which he has since been engaged in …  It will thus be seen that he is no novice in the assay business, in which his many friends wish him much and increasing success.– (Source) The Boundary Creek Times – October 9, 1897

After Jack’s military service, he returned to the Greenwood area:

“Jack Harlan, one of the pioneers of the Boundary district has returned from Manila, where he has been actively engaged and where he did service in the Philippine campaign as a sergeant in the South Dakota Regiment.  Sergeant Harlan was in all the engagements with his regiment and he says that the war is practically ended–the fighting being kept up by hands of marauders.  There is no political or military organization worthy of the name, and Aguinaldo is in hiding.–(Source) Nelson Daily Miner – December 3, 1899

Jack, along with his uncle, continued mining in the Boundary District until at least 1901, they are both listed in the 1901 census.

Mining and Homesteading in the Clearwater Valley

John P. Harlan Homestead Shoshone County Idaho (date unknown)
John P. Harlan Homestead Shoshone County Idaho (undated)

Jack left Canada and relocated to Idaho, in 1902, where he pursued mining and eventually took up a homestead in what was then Shoshone County but is now part of Clearwater County.  He would remain in the Clearwater Valley, the rest of his life.

“In 1902 he came to Idaho and after engaging in mining for a time took up a homestead in what was then Shoshone county, in the timber district.  He proved up on his land, and then disposed of the homestead and his placer properties.–(Source) History of Idaho, A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress, Its People and Its Principal Interests (Vol. 2, pub. 1914) – Hiram T. French, M. S.

The Lewiston Evening Teller in its January 25, 1904 edition, references Jack’s work, as a fur trapper:

“PIERCE CITY – J. P. Harlan returned from his trap line the fore part of the week.  Jack says it didn’t take long to relieve his traps of their harvest of fur bearing animals this trip.–(Source) Lewiston Evening Teller – January 25, 1904

According to family lore during his time in British Columbia, he made a small fortune in mining.  He invested this money into a mining venture at Okanagan, Washington and lost everything within days. If inflation calculators are correct he lost about $1.5 million, in today’s dollars.  There is a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) record of Jack securing a Mineral Patent on December 20, 1905, for 4.34 acres in Okanogan County, Washington, close to Buckhorn Mountain.   Ironically the geographic name of the location, on his patent, was Jack Pot.

Timber Cruiser

Jack Pot was not the only problem Jack faced in 1905,  in July, Jack suffered another financial setback, in what would become known as the big “Harlan Fire.”  The fires raged through the white pine forest near Pierce City and devastated his homestead.



The largest fire is in township 40, range 6 east, on Beaver creek.  At this time the fire has destroyed about 80 acres of the John Harlan claim and is threatening adjoining timber.  The Clearwater Timber company has 16 men fighting the fire, but they are unable to control it.  It is supposed to have started from lightning during a light thunder shower.

The Harlan claim has a history in the Lewiston land office.  It was located by John Harlan and was afterward contested by William Dwyer.  This is the contest in which the land office recently handed down a decision reprimanding Harlan and at the same time refusing to sustain the contest because it was brought for speculative purposes.  From the decision it seemed that both Harlan and Dwyer would lose the land.–(Source) The Twice-A-Week Spokesman-Review – July 28, 1905

Oregonian - June 26, 1908 - William Dwyer assaults reporter
Oregonian – June 26, 1908 – William Dwyer Assaults Bert Savage at Crystal Saloon

This brings us to a third setback in 1905, last but not least the Dwyer vs. Harlan case.  William Dwyer, a litigious ass who was prone to filing lawsuits against homesteaders, for “speculative purposes,” filed a complaint against Jack and several others in late 1904.  Jack would eventually prevail:

“John P. Harlan entered a quarter section of land of sec. 28, T. 40, under the homestead law.  Wm. Dwyer filed a contest against the same October 4, 1904.  The contest was later dismissed by the Secretary of the Interior (p. 1449).– (Source) 9th Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals, Volume 0791 (pub. 1913)

In 1905 William Dwyer was indicted, along with William F. Kettenbach, George Kester, Clarence W. Robnett and Ed L. Knight.  Dwyer was charged with conspiracy to defraud the government of timber lands and six counts of perjury.  In 1909 another related complaint was filed and Dwyer was named as a  defendant.  Dwyer appears to have been an all around despicable character, there are newspaper accounts Dwyer engaging in jury tampering, assaults, threats etc.   The cases against Dwyer and his cohorts continued to make news for many years but I have found no evidence any of them ever served any time behind bars.

Meanwhile Jack put his experience with the unsavory Dwyer character behind him and moved forward.  He continued to be successful in his endeavors and according to his son George, the book,”The cruiser: A romance of the Idaho timber land frauds” was loosely based on Jack.  However, George was not impressed by the book and thought it more fiction than fact, when it came to the life of a timber cruiser.  What is known is that Jack was employed, by the government, as a timber cruiser and was sometimes called upon to speak on the subject, during his travels:


“Timber Cruiser” Entertains Associates at New Capital.
John P. Harlan, who has been in the government service here as a “timber cruiser” since last May, last night entertained his associates in the forestry department of the government here at a dinner at the New Capital hotel.  Mr. Harlan has been granted a six-month’s furlough by his department and will leave in a few days for his home in Orofino, Idaho … —(source) Daily Arkansas Gazette – April 3, 1910
(Note: This article was published just four months prior to – The Great Fire of 1910 which occurred in August)

Settling Down

Sometime after Jack arrived in Idaho, he met Emma Caroline Stiles, the daughter of George Washington and Mary Jane (Cunningham) Stiles.  Emma

Emma Caroline (Stiles) Harlan (undated)
Emma Caroline (Stiles) Harlan (undated)

was born March 20, 1876 in Illinois and the Stiles family settled in the Clearwater Valley, in 1891.  I have no way of knowing for sure but I speculate Jack’s introduction to his future wife was through one of Emma’s brothers, most likely Walter, or Albert.  The reason being is both Walter and Albert were keenly interested in mining and followed the trade most of their lives.

Whatever the circumstances, of their meeting one another, by September of 1906, Jack and Emma decided to marry and obtained a marriage license, in Lewiston, on September 6, 1906.  The notice of their impending nuptials appeared on the front page of the Lewiston Evening Teller:

 WILL WED.–Marriage license was this afternoon granted to J. P. Harlan and Miss Emma C. Stiles, both residents of Pierce City.–(Source) Lewiston Evening Teller – September 6, 1906

The couple were married on September 26, 1906, by Rev. William Lattimore of the Presbyterian Church, in Lewiston.  The birth of their first child and only son, George Washington Harlan, would follow on July 8, 1907.  They would have two more children, Stila Myrtle, April 2, 1909 and Eda Belle, March 13, 1911.

In 1910, Jack had relocated his young family and was residing at Upper Ford’s Creek, near Orofino.  By 1912, Jack and Emma had built a home, for their young family, in Orofino.  The house still stands and its present day address is 534 Brown Avenue.  Jack also owned a farm in Harmony Heights and built several other houses, in Orofino, many of which are still standing today.

Unfortunately Emma would die of sepsis, brought on by a bout of tonsillitis, on March 8, 1912.  John was left a widower with three small children, the youngest, Eda Belle, commemorated her first birthday the day after her mother’s funeral.

Merchant – Miner – Public Servant – Historian

Jack pursued many interests and walked down many career paths, in his eighty-five years.  I have covered his early mining and military earlier in this post, following are some tidbits and interesting items I have found during my family research.

In November 1908 a severe snow storm accompanied by extremely cold weather came to the Forest. After the storm, Jack Sprague and Fred Dennison started to go over their trapline from their cabin at Jackknife Meadows. They found the body of a man who had camped by the trail. He had only a small piece of canvas for shelter. His clothes were in rags and he had no coat. He was equipped with a bow and arrows but he had no firearms. Apparently he had died of exhaustion, starvation and exposure.

Fred Dennison snowshoed out to Pierce and reported what they had found. The county deputized Jack Harlan as coroner to investigate the case. Harlan snowshoed back to Sprague’s cabin and buried the man beside the Pot Mountain trail above Jackknife Meadows. The grave is marked only with stones.–(Source) The Clearwater Story: A History of the Clearwater National Forest, chapter 20

After Emma’s death, Jack remained in the Orofino area and was active in the local government, serving as Village Trustee 1913, County Board of Commissioners 1915-1916, President Farm Bureau, Clearwater County 1916, County Assessor 1918-1922 and Deputy Assessor 1926-1933.

Jack owned a feed and grain store, which was located where the current Helgeson Hotel now stands.

JOHN P. HARLAN, strictly a self-made man and one of the essentially representative citizens of Orofino, Idaho, is here most successfully engaged in the grain and feed business … The year 1910 marks his advent in Orofino, where he immediately established his present business; he carries a full line of flour, feed, hay, grain, wood and fuel, being a heavy shipper of wood.–(Source) History of Idaho, A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress, Its People and Its Principal Interests (Vol. 2, pub. 1914) – Hiram T. French, M. S.

Jack also operated sawmills, within the region, where he became known as the “Wood King of Clearwater County,” for having cut as much as 3000 cords, of wood, in a year.  It is quite possible he was running the sawmill and mercantile businesses simultaneously, given the products he supplied.

Rock cairn (lower right) are being erected in honor of Lewis and Clark (lower left) in the Northwest where they crossed through the pass in the Bitterroot Mountains (center) 125 years ago. The idea was started by Jack Harlan (top right)
Rock cairn (lower right) are being erected in honor of Lewis and Clark (lower left) in the Northwest where they crossed through the pass in the Bitterroot Mountains (center) 125 years ago. The idea was started by Jack Harlan (top right)

Jack also served as the County Historian for many years (1920s & 1930s) and was noted for his knowledge of the region and the Lewis and Clark expedition.  He wrote several articles on the topic, which were published in the Clearwater Republic and Clearwater Tribune during the 1920s and 1930s (PDF of these articles can be downloaded here).

In 1930 Jack received national recognition, for his plan to honor Lewis and Clark by enlisting the public’s help to build rock cairns, along their route. The photo at left appeared in newspapers nationwide, in August of 1930.  (caption was transcribed to correct the spelling of Bitterroot)

The Northwest’s first “tourists” are to be honored by men who follow in their footsteps … Believing that the public will pause to honor the two men who first crossed the continental divide to add a new empire to the American nation, Jack Harlan, of Orofino, Ida., conceived the drafting of the public’s muscular assistance.

At nearly every known camping place along the Lewis and Clark trail, Harlan has erected signs on which are inscribed this request:

“Each passerby add a stone to this cairn erected in honor of Lewis and Clark.”–(Source) Democrat and Chronicle et al. – August 10, 1930

In addition to the rock cairns, Jack erected three bronze plaques, at three sites, along the Lolo Trail.  Theses markers were furnished by the Alice Whitman Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Only one of those original markers remains today, Glade Creek Camp, it can be seen at Lolo Pass Visitor Center on US Highway 12 on the Idaho-Montana border.


John P. Harlan Revives Pioneer History as He Guides Business Women to China Island, Weippe and Pierce

John P. Harlan, historian of Clearwater county, who has written a number of authoritative articles on the Lewis and Clark expedition, was the guide for the delegates from the State Federation of Business and Professional Women’s clubs, who were in convention at Orofino … “While you are among us, we shall try to impress upon you the fact that you tread historic ground, and to show some points of interest connected with events of importance in the growth of our nation, and also circumstances that helped place the state of Idaho on the map.”

“You may be able to view a few of the camping places of the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Notably, near Orofino, their camp of September 24 and 35, 1805 known now as China Island, and Canoe Camp of September 25 to October 7, 1805.  It was at Canoe Camp that Lewis and Clark built a small flotilla of water craft of five crude canoes dug out of pine trees cut from the banks of the river, and floated on down the Clearwater, the Snake and the Columbia, to the coast.”… —(Source) The Idaho Statesman – June 26, 1932

Family Life

Jack became a single parent, after the untimely and tragic death of his wife, Emma.  He raised his three children, George, Stila and Eda Belle, with the help of his housekeeper, Anna Laura Monroe.

Mrs. Monroe, would remain close to the family until her death in August of 1954.  After Jack’s children became adults Mrs. Monroe was a surrogate grandmother to Jack’s grandchildren.  Mrs. Monroe was also a caregiver to Margaret Carroll, Maggie too would be considered a member of the family and cared for by Stila and her husband Charley, until her death in December of 1965.

In 1927, Jack would experience another great tragedy in his life, when his youngest child Eda Belle became ill, with appendicitis.  Eda Belle had surgery at St. Joseph’s hospital, in Lewiston, and it was thought she would make a full recovery.  Unfortunately complications set in and she passed away on December 20th.

Orofino Girl Passes

Eda Belle Harlan, Popular High School Student, Succumbs Following Brief Illness, In 16th Year

Miss Eda Belle Harlan, 16, passed away at 6:55 p.m. yesterday following an operation last Wednesday for appendicitis, at St. Joseph’s hospital.

Miss Harlan rallied after the operation and until the last two days showed every indication of a complete recovery. Up to noon Tuesday her condition was not considered alarming but a short time afterward it was seen she was critically ill and her father John P. Harlan, of Orofino, and her sister, Miss Stila Harlan, attending the Lewiston State Normal school, were summoned. Because his telephone, on a rural line, was out of order, Mr. Harlan was unable to reach Lewiston before his daughter died.–(Source) Lewiston Morning Tribune – December 21, 1927

Jack’s two remaining children would forge successful careers and live out their lives, in the region.  His son George would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a timber cruiser, for Potlatch.  George married Winifred Bateman, in 1939, they were the parents of three children.  His daughter Stila, became a well known elementary teacher, in Orofino.  Stila married Charles H. “Charlie” Gleason, in 1931, they had three daughters.  Jack was a big part of his grandchildren’s lives and was much loved and adored by them, particularly Stila’s youngest child, S. Elaine Gleason.

John P. “Jack” Harlan passed away on October 7, 1951, in Orofino; he was 85 years old and had lived a long productive life.  His love of history, thirst for knowledge and sense of adventure being his lasting legacy, to both his community and his family.

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