Biography of Joseph Pinkham

Joseph Pinkham
Joseph Pinkham

Canada has furnished to the United States many bright, enterprising young men who have left the Dominion to enter the business circles of this country with its more progressive methods, livelier competition and advancement more quickly secured. Among this number is Mr. Pinkham. He has somewhat of the strong, rugged and persevering characteristics developed by his earlier environments, which, coupled with the livelier impulses of the New England blood of his ancestors, made him at an early day seek wider fields in which to give full scope to his ambition and industry his dominant qualities. He found the opportunity he sought in the freedom and appreciation of the growing western portion of the country. Though born across the border, he is thoroughly American in thought and feeling, and is patriotic and sincere in his love for the stars and stripes. His career is identified with the history of Idaho, where he has acquired a competence and where he is an honored and respected citizen. Thrice has he served as United States marshal of Idaho, and is accounted one of her bravest pioneers.

Mr. Pinkham was born in Canada, on the 15th of December, 1833 and is a representative of an old New England family who were early settlers of Maine. The first of the name to come to America was Thomas Pinkham, a native of Wales, who established his home in the Pine Tree state. Henson Pinkham, father of our subject, was born, reared and married in Maine, and a short time prior to the birth of his son, Joseph, removed to Canada. The latter was reared upon a farm near New London, and acquired his education in the public schools of the neighborhood. In 1850, when seventeen years of age, he sailed from New York around Cape Horn for San Francisco, and was eight months making the trip, and after a short period spent in the latter city went to Shasta City, California, where he secured a situation as clerk in a store. Soon afterward, however, he went to Pitt River, where he engaged in placer mining, and next went on horseback to Jacksonville, Oregon, where he engaged in mining and farming, meeting with fair success.

On the 3d of August 1854, he went to the Rogue River valley. The same day the Rogue River Indian war broke out, being precipitated by the killing of a white man near Table Rock. The war continued for a year and peace was procured by General Joseph Lane. In the fall of 1855, however, trouble broke out anew, and Mr. Pinkham aided in its suppression. He was in the quartermaster’s department and participated in the battle of Hungry Hill. He remained in Oregon until 1862, devoting his energies to mining and farming, and then removed to Umatilla, on the Columbia River, where he engaged in clerking in the store of Z. F. Moody, who was afterward governor of Oregon. In 1864, in connection with Ish and Hailey, he conducted a saddle train between the Columbia River and Boise. He was engaged in purchasing supplies and forwarding the trains until 1866, when he assisted in the purchase of stage stock for the Mecham route to the Boise country, and also had charge of the road from Umatilla across the Blue Mountains until 1868. In that year he removed to Idaho City, Idaho, and purchased the stage route across Boise Basin to Placerville, Pioneer and Quartzburg; and in 1870 he bought the stage line from Idaho City to Boise, conducting the two lines until 1872, when he sold to the Greathouse brothers.

In 1870 Mr. Pinkham was appointed United States marshal for the territory of Idaho by President Grant, and on the completion of his first term was again appointed by the same executive. He filled the office in a manner indeed creditable to himself and satisfactory to the government. He entered upon the duties of his position at a time when the region was largely infested with a lawless element and when crime held sway in many districts. He was ever fearless in the discharge of his duty, and to his efforts is largely due the rapid transformation of the state to its present condition of advanced civilization. A brave officer, carrying out the laws of the land, is a bulwark of defense to the better class of citizens and a continual menace to the worst element. In 1890 President Harrison appointed Mr. Pinkham for a third term in the office of United States marshal, and he therefore carried forward the work which he had so splendidly begun, the work of ridding the state of all criminal characters, so that it might become the abiding place of a prosperous and happy people. He had several narrow escapes while discharging his duties, but his bravery was ever above question, and his reputation for fearlessness and loyalty to duty soon spread among those who were amenable to law.

On one occasion he started in pursuit of a criminal. He was riding on the front seat of the stage with the driver, when, as they were passing through a narrow defile in the mountains, they were waylaid by two men. From the brush at his side a rifle was pointed at Mr. Pinkham, so near that he could almost reach it as he sat leaning back with his arm across the seat. The ball from the gun passed just in front of him and lodged in the driver. At the same instant a man fired from the other side, using a gun loaded with nine buckshot. Every shot struck the beam of the coach just behind the driver, passed through the coach over the heads of the passengers and lodged on the beam in the opposite side. The driver, Charles Phelps, exclaimed: “I am shot.” Mr. Pinkham then attempted to take the lines and whip, but could not wrench them from the grasp of the dying man: so, sitting in his lap, he swung the whip and urged the horses into a run toward Pocatello, a distance of two or three miles. There the driver was taken down and a doctor who was in the coach examined him, but said that the wound would prove fatal. So they put him in the coach, while Mr. Pinkham supported his head and another man drove to the Black Rock stage station, where, soon after their arrival, the driver died. At this place the Mon-tana stage came down, loaded with bullion and accompanied by four well armed Wells-Fargo messengers. Mr. Pinkham proceeded on his way and arrested the man he was after and returned safely with him to the seat of justice.

On another occasion, in 1878, a man was killed at Ross’ Fork by an Indian, whom the military followed up Snake River and arrested. Mr. Pinkham then went after the offender and took him to Malad City, where he was tried, the sentence being that he should be hung at Boise. Mr. Pinkham then started with him in an open rig, putting him beside the driver, while he and his deputy sat behind. They learned that a large number of Indians were going to attempt his rescue, and accordingly they took another route. Mr. Pinkham instructed the deputy that if they were attacked to kill their prisoner and then fight for their own lives: but the new route selected prevented them from having an encounter with the red men. At length they arrived safely in Boise, where the Indian was hung.

In 1892, the time of the miners’ strike and riots at Coeur d’Alene, the members of the Miners’ Union were enjoined from interrupting the peaceable working of other miners. It was Mr. Pinkham “s duty to serve the papers in these cases, which he served on about five hundred men in Shoshone county, where he and his deputies arrested two hundred and fifty-seven of them for violating the injunction, holding them in Wallace under military guard. It was a time of great excitement and the miners were very desperate. Those arrested had a hearing before the United States commissioner, and all were discharged except about thirty of the leaders, one of whom was the notorious Ed Boice. At a special term of court held by Judge Beatty they were sentenced to six months’ imprisonment in the Boise jail. During the strike there were fifteen non-union men working in a mine near Burke. They were surrounded by union men, who threatened to capture the mine and kill the miners. Mr. Pinkham was ordered to take the men away from the mine. He knew it to be a very difficult and dangerous duty, owing to the desperate character of the union men, and for a time he hardly knew how to accomplish the task, for the head-quarters of the union men were at that place and serious trouble was expected. Studying over the matter during the night, in the morning he had reached the determination to go unarmed, and, instructing his deputy to go likewise, they took a coach and engine to bring the men away. At Wallace, about three miles from Burke, they telephoned for the guards to bring the men from the mine to the foot of the hill, about one hundred feet from where the cars would stop. From his station on the train he could see the men come down the hill. The yard was packed with union men. Mr. Pinkham and his deputy got out and walked through the crowd of desperate and angry men, all armed, reached the miners, and then our subject, starting toward the train, ordered the men to follow, the deputy bringing up in the rear. In this way they marched to the car boarded it and pulled out in the midst of the most horrible abuse ever heaped upon any individuals, but the daring feat was safely accomplished and the lives of the miners were saved through the skill and courage of Mr. Pinkham.

It was also during his service as United States marshal that the American Railway Union strike occurred, and he also handled the Coxey movement successfully without the loss of life or the destruction of property.

It was said of him by the United States attorney general that he had been more successful than any other marshal in the entire service of the United States. With a keen appreciation of the great responsibility that rested upon him, with a full understanding of his duty, and without fear, he met every call without shrinking and made for himself a most creditable record. His name has thus become inseparably associated with the early history of the state, and Idaho owes not a little to him for the advancement which she has been enabled to make.

In politics Mr. Pinkham has always been a stalwart Republican, has taken an active interest in the work of the party, and has been chairman of the Republican state central committee. He served in that capacity for three years, and by his capable organization and wise management brought success to the party. His business interests connect him with a number of good mines in the state. He buys and sells mining property on an extensive scale and is a mining expert, being rarely if ever mistaken as to the value of ores.

In 1857 Mr. Pinkham was united in marriage to Miss Mary E. Gray, a native of Missouri. She is the daughter of the Rev. Mr. Gray, a Methodist minister, and in that church she is a valued member. Socially Mr. Pinkham is a Mason, having taken the three preliminary degrees in Umatilla lodge, of Oregon, in 1864. He is now a Royal Arch Mason and a Knight Templar, is past master of the blue lodge, past grand secretary and treasurer and past deputy grand master of the grand lodge of Idaho. He is also a member of the Order of Elks.

Such in brief is the life history of Joseph Pinkham. In whatever relation of life we find him in the government service, in political circles, in business or in social relations he is always the same honorable and honored gentleman, whose worth well merits the high regard which is uniformly given him.


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

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