Biography of Francis E. Ensign

Francis E. Ensign
Francis E. Ensign

Holding marked prestige among the prominent members of the Idaho bar is Francis Edward Ensign, who is now engaged in the practice of the legal profession in Hailey. There are few-men whose lives are crowned with the honor and respect which is uniformly accorded him; but through forty-five years” connection with the west his has been an unblemished career. With him success in life has been reached by sterling qualities of mind and a heart true to every manly principle. In his varied business interests his reputation has been unassailable and in offices of public trust he has displayed a loyalty that classed him among the valued citizens of the commonwealth. He has nearly reached the seventieth milestone that marks earth’s pilgrimage, but is still concerned with the active affairs of life, and in the courts of his district displays a strong mentality undimmed by time and a power of argument that wins him many notable forensic victories.

A native of Ohio, Mr. Ensign was born in Painesville, March 4, 1829, and is descended from English ancestors who came from the “merrie isle” to the New World, locating in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1630, only two years after the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. A little later the Ensigns became pioneer settlers of Hartford, Connecticut. The paternal grandfather of our subject was one of the first settlers of Pitts-field and one of the incorporators of the town. When Benedict Arnold, then in command of American forces in the Revolutionary war, at-tempted the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, he volunteered and aided in taking that British strong-hold, bringing away with him a number of muskets which were greatly needed by the colonial troops. He also participated in the battle of Bunker Hill. He spent the latter part of his life in Ohio and reached an advanced age. In religious belief he was a Congregationalist.

Orrin Ensign, the father of our subject, was born in Dalton, Massachusetts, and when a young man removed to the Buckeye state, locating on a farm on the Grand River, near Painesville. There he married Miss Nancy Peppoon, who was descended from French Huguenot ancestry. Her grandfather, having been expelled from France on account of his religious views, joined the English army and was commissioned captain. Later he came to America and took up his abode in Connecticut. The father of our subject was an industrious farmer and he and his wife spent their married life on the old Ohio homestead, where they died when about seventy years of age. They, too, belonged to the Congregational church, and in politics Mr. Ensign was a stanch Whig. He always declined to fill political offices, but was president of the temperance society of the county. In the family were six children, but only two are now living. The eldest son, William O. Ensign, was the war com-missioner for northwestern Ohio during the civil war.

Francis E. Ensign, whose name introduces this review, was only six years of age when he accompanied his parents on their removal to Williams county, Ohio, which was then an almost unbroken wilderness, the little log cabins of the white settlers being widely scattered, while Indians were still there in considerable numbers. He received his elementary education in a log schoolhouse, which stood in the midst of the timber, and afterward studied in the Western Reserve Collegiate Institute, at Austinburg, Ashtabula county, Ohio, also spent one year in Oberlin College. Failing health forced him to abandon his hopes of completing a collegiate course, and he went to sea, spending a year before the mast. This proved very beneficial and with restored health he landed at San Francisco, February 1, 1854. He worked for two months on a dairy farm, milking cows and digging ditches. The farm was then situated several miles from the city, but the corporation limits now extend far beyond it. In the ensuing month of May Mr. Ensign went to the French Gulch placer mines in Shasta county and thence to Siskiyou county, engaging in mining on McAdams and Indian creeks, also in Scott valley, for about four years. During the first three years thrs passed he was satisfactorily successful, but lost all through high floods in the winter of 1857-8.

In the meantime Mr. Ensign had studied law and in 1858 was admitted to the bar, beginning practice at Yreka, where he followed his profession for eight years. During six years of the time he was district attorney of Siskiyou County and was a most efficient and acceptable officer. He also acquired a wide reputation as a mountain climber, having several times made his way to the top of Mount Shasta. He was the first to discover its volcanic nature, of which he was assured by little jets of smoke issuing from crevasses, and later this was confirmed by a prominent scientist, who also saw the smoke.

In 1866 Mr. Ensign left California and came to Idaho, practicing law for twelve years in Silver City. In 1868 he was elected a member of the territorial council and was chairman of the judiciary committee at the fifth session of the legislature. In 1872 he failed by one vote of being nominated for delegate to congress by the Democratic territorial convention. He was three times elected district attorney of the third judicial district of Idaho, including all the southern portion of the state south and east of Boise and Alturas counties, holding the office for six years, from 1872 until 1878. In the latter year he removed to Boise, where he practiced law for three years, and in 1881 he came to Hailey, then in Alturas county, to accept the position of attorney for the then new town, also hoping that the change of climate would prove beneficial to his family. Since that time he has been actively engaged in the practice of law in Hailey and has been connected with all of the most important litigated interests tried in the courts of his district. He has also figured prominently in connection with political affairs. In 1889-90 he was chairman of the Democratic territorial commit-tee, and after the adoption of the new state constitution in 1890 he was nominated by the Democracy as one of its candidates for justice of the supreme court, receiving the largest vote of all the candidates of his party for that office. In 1892 he was again nominated for that position, but shared the fate of the rest of the ticket. In addition to his law practice he also has extensive mining interests, which contribute not a little to his income.

When in Silver City, in 1876, Mr. Ensign was united in marriage to Miss Margaret Reid, and they now have three children. Henry F., the eldest, is a bright young man, now studying law in his father’s office. The two younger children, Edith and Arthur, are at home. The mother is a valued member of the Methodist church and a most estimable lady. Mr. Ensign was made a Mason in Fort Wayne, Indiana, many years ago, belongs to the lodge, chapter and commandery and at one time was grand master of the grand lodge of Idaho. He has erected a commodious and very pleasant residence in Hailey, and he and his family enjoy the highest respect of all who know them. He is a man whose life experiences have been broad and varied, and as the years passed he has learned the lessons of life and be-come imbued with humanitarian principles. His strong intellectuality, his generous sympathy and marked individuality have rendered him one of the honored pioneers and valued citizens of his adopted state, and his record now forms an important chapter in its history.


Illustrated History of the State of Idaho. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company. 1899.

1 thought on “Biography of Francis E. Ensign”

  1. My grandfather, William E. Fuller, married his second wife after the death of his first, Frances Ensign from Madison, Ohio. Very likely she and this gentleman were related. Thanks!

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