Biography of John Hallenbeck

In March 1864, John Hallenbeck became a resident of Silver City, and from that time until his death, throughout the period of pioneer development and latter-day progress, he was prominently identified with its upbuilding and interests. A native of the Empire state, he was born in Albany, October 24, 1830, and was of Holland lineage. His ancestors were among the early settlers of New York and participated in the events which form the colonial and Revolutionary history of that state. The maternal grand-father of our subject was also one of the heroes of the war for independence, and his wife afterward received a pension in recognition of his services. He lived to be seventy-eight years of age, while her death occurred when she had attained the advanced age of eighty-seven.

Mathew Hallenbeck, the father of our subject, was born in New York, and married Catharine Shoudy, a native of the same state. He devoted his energies to many pursuits, having been a carpenter and joiner, also a teacher of music and a teacher in the public schools. In 1841 he removed with his family to Syracuse, New York, and in 1854 to Cordova, Illinois, where he resided up to the time of his death, which occurred in 1878. Both he and his wife were members of the Dutch Reformed church, and they had a family of twelve children, nine of whom grew to years of maturity, while three sons and four daughters are yet living.

John Hallenbeck spent his early boyhood days on his father’s farm, near Syracuse, New York, and assisted in the labors of the fields through the summer months while in the winter season he pursued his education in the public schools. At the age of seventeen he started out to fight the battles of life unaided, and that victory crowned his efforts was due to his untiring diligence, perseverance and enterprise. He was first employed as a clerk in a little store in Orville, New York, where he remained for three years, during which time he was made its manager. The state was then building an aqueduct at that place, and the house boarded all of the officers engaged in the management of the enterprise. The superintendent became quite interested in young Hallenbeck, and after completing his work there and becoming superintendent of the Delaware & Chesapeake canal, he sent for our subject, who left the little grocery store and was employed on the canal until its completion, having charge of the construction of the large reservoir adjoining the exit lock. His next work, under the same superintendent, was on the enlarging of the Erie Canal at Black Rock, where he remained for a year, when, his task being finished, he visited Baltimore, Norfolk, Richmond and Washington, viewing the various points of interest in the different cities.

After this little period of recreation, Mr. Hallenbeck engaged once more in canal construction, in the capacity of foreman at Weedsport, New York. He made considerable money in this way but spent it freely. Later he was connected with the engineer’s corps as leveler until the fall of 1858, when the discovery of gold at Pike’s Peak excited the entire country. In the spring of 1859 started for Colorado, accompanied by a party named Benham, whose expenses he agreed to pay upon condition that he was to receive half of what Mr. Benham could make for two years. They left Weedsport, New York, for Illinois, where Mr. Hallenbeck’s parents were then residing, and there engaged passage on ox trains bound for “Pike’s Peak or bust,” and under the charge of two men, Duflfee and Addison by name. While at home preparing for the trip Mr. Hallenbeck was accidentally shot in the arm by his partner, which detained him for a few weeks, but when the party could no longer delay he started with them, although entirely unfit for travel. They journeyed on toward the Eldorado of the west, through mud and snow, over slush and bad roads, a six weeks’ trip through Iowa, during which they encountered innumerable storms. At length they reached the Missouri river, at Plattsburg, where they met the returning tide of emigration, declaring the diggings a humbug. The captains of the ox teams decided to return and refused to refund Mr. Hallenbeck’s money, but he succeeded in getting his money at the point of a revolver, and with his partner decided to try and overtake a party en route for California. They went to Glenwood, twenty-five miles distant from Council Bluffs, and engaged passage on the stage. It arrived at 12:30 and departed at 1 P. M., but it was too crowded to take on any more passengers, and they decided to walk the distance to Council Bluffs. They made their way in the moonlight over a rolling prairie, sending their baggage by stage, and the next morning reached their destination tired and hungry. Mr. Hallenbeck, however, could not eat, and after taking a cup of coffee ordered a hack to take them to the river. When they climbed the bluffs at Omaha the California party was just starting on its long trip across the plains. There were twenty wagons, fifty-seven men, three women and a few children, the party being under command of Captain George Pierce. Mr. Hallenbeck engaged passage for himself and partner to Hangtown, California, for one hundred and twenty dollars. They had the privilege of riding all the way in a wagon fitted up to carry ten people, and all they had to do was to take their turn in standing guard once a week. The trip was an exciting one, owing to the stampedes of the stock and the danger of Indian attacks, and for nearly three and a half months they traveled in that way across the hot sands and through the mountain passes until they arrived at Placerville, California, September 8, 1859, having left Omaha on the 22d of May.

After a week Mr. Hallenbeck and his partner went to Sacramento. His funds having become exhausted he borrowed twenty dollars of Captain Pierce and then started for San Francisco, where they boarded the steamer Panama for Portland, Oregon, where they arrived at the time General Scott was on his way to settle the San Juan affair “fifty-four, forty or fight.” On arriving at Portland Mr. Hallenbeck had, only five dollars and ten cents left. He went to the Columbus Hotel, where he was told he and his partner might remain until they found work, but he realized that he would soon be piling up a large debt and proposed to his companion that they should chop wood, as no other employment could be secured. He purchased a chopping outfit on credit, took an empty cabin in Penitentiary gulch, and the first week they cut thirteen cords of wood, but the partner was not satisfied with his lot, being opposed to hard work, and concluded to return to California, so our subject divided his blankets with him and he took his departure, Mr. Hallenbeck never hearing from him again.

The next week, all alone, Mr. Hallenbeck cut thirteen cords of wood for a dollar and seventy-five cents per cord. After a month he obtained a position in Abrams & Hogue’s sawmill, first at tail-sawing, then turning screws, and in the spring of 1860, when the sawyer left, he was promoted to the vacant position. He was thus employed until the spring of 1861, when he left for the Oro Fino mines, where he worked during the summer, returning to Portland to spend the winter. In the spring of 1862, in connection with Kirkpatrick, Hay and others, he discovered the camp where Auburn, Oregon, is now located, but he did not like the prospects there, and visited Walla Walla, Lewiston and Florence. A short time afterward he crossed the country to Oro Fino, where he purchased a claim and made some money, but in the fall again returned to Portland and was sent bv his former employer, Mr. Abrams, to The Dalles to take charge of his office and lumber yards there. Desiring, however, to engage in mining, Mr. Hallenbeck soon started for Auburn, and on arriving there learned of the Boise basin and Owyhee mines excitement. Accordingly he started for Idaho and arrived at his destination March 22, 1864. Ruby City had been founded in the fall of 1863 and Silver City had its beginning in the fall of 1864. Building a cabin out of logs hewed by himself, he then began prospecting, which he continued for five years, when he met heavy losses. With his small remaining capital he then engaged in various kinds of speculating, in which he prospered somewhat better. Subsequently he invested in stocks and in 1878 the financial crash and the failure of the California Bank again brought heavy losses to him, as well as to many others, but with undaunted courage he embarked in the grain and feed business, in which he continued at Silver City, building up a large and profitable trade. He also loaned money and was one of the most reliable and trustworthy businessmen of the county. Great determination, energy and excellent executive ability were the salient points in his business career and eventually brought him success.

In his early political affiliations Mr. Hallenbeck was a Whig, but joined the Republican Party on its organization and was one of its stalwart advocates up to the time of his death, which occurred May 5, 1899. He was made a Master Mason in Weedsport, New York, in 1854, and afterward took the Royal Arch degrees and served for a number of terms as master of the lodge in Silver City. As a man and citizen he enjoyed the confidence and esteem of all who knew him, and his name should be enduringly inscribed on the roll of Idaho’s pioneers.



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

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