Biography of Alexander D. McKinlay

The west is peopled with brave men, as men’s bravery is measured, but it has some notable citizens whose experiences extend back into the days of constant adventure and ever present peril. Could the exploits and dangers of such men of the west be written down and put into book form, they would form a series of narratives of more absorbing interest than the most exciting romances of western life and adventure that have ever been penned. A fair representation of this class is Alexander D. McKinlay. He is a son of Henry and Barbara Clarke McKinlay, natives of Scotland, and was born in Clayton County, Iowa, February 20, 1853. His father was born in Edinburg in 1823, and died in Clayton county, Iowa, in 1872. His mother, who was born in Sollen, in 1815, lives on the old family homestead in Iowa. They came to America and to Iowa in 1847 and became successful farmers, highly respected by reason of their high character and upright lives. Of their nine children, Alexander D. McKinlay was the fifth child in order of birth. He was reared to help at the work of the farm, and for a time attended school in a primitive log school house, and remained in Iowa until 1877, when, at the age of twenty-four, he emigrated to Idaho and located in Idaho county, where he lived until 1885. He farmed until 1882 with sufficient success to acquire some capital and commercial standing, and then bought thirteen hundred head of cattle and drove them over the old Mullan road to Montana, where he turned them over to Jack DeMar. In 1884 he bought a drove of cattle and took them some two hundred and sixty miles, to Eagle City, Shoshone County, and sold them to Mofifit and Bender. He removed to Wallace in 1885 and with the profits of these and other enterprises engaged in business in that city, where he is a member of the firm of Holohan & McKinlay, dealers in tobacco and cigars and the owner of considerable real estate, including an interest in the Holohan & McKinlay block.

Politically Mr. McKinlay was an ardent Republican until 1892. He then saw reason to espouse the Populistic cause and did so. In 1880-81 he was a justice of the peace of Idaho county; in 1894 and 1896 was elected justice of the peace at Wallace, and, in 1898, judge of the probate court of Shoshone county. In the spring of 1896 he was elected a member of the city council of Wallace, and in 1898 he was reelected to the same office. He has always been a publicspirited citizen of much influence. As an instance of his work for the public good it may be stated that he went, in 1885, to Murray, then the county-seat of Shoshone county, and prevailed upon the county commissioners to create a road district of the part of the old Mullan road and along the side of the South Fork river in Shoshone county. Upon the establishment of the district he was, in recognition of his efforts in its behalf, appointed supervisor over it. Mr. McKinlay is an Elk, a Knight of Labor and a member of the order of Maccabees.

There is one chapter of Mr. McKinlay’s life which is of especial interest and which deserves to have more space than can be allotted to it. That is the narrative of his experiences as a soldier in the Nez Perces Indian war of 1877 in the Bannack Indian war of 1878. He is a fearless man who has demonstrated that he will most cheerfully risk his life in any cause to which he may devote himself, however hazardous it may be. During the Bannack war a wagon was loaded at Lewiston, Idaho, under the direction of the late lamented Major McConville, with guns and ammunition, which it was desired to convey to Grangeville, a somewhat distant point of strategic importance. There was much probability that the Indians would attempt to capture this valuable freight, and the driving of the teams attached to the wagons was not a job to be sought by a man who valued his life above his duty. Mr. McKinlay volunteered for this service and was gladly entrusted with it by Major McConville who knew very well the character of the man he was dealing with. Four large cans of coal oil were placed in the wagon where they could all be set on fire immediately if the wagon should be surrounded by Indians and its capture should appear inevitable. Their ignition would explode the ammunition and destroy the wagon and every living thing in it or near it, including Mr. McKinlay, of course, and the teams. With a full understanding of the perilous duty he assumed, Mr. McKinlay set out at ten o’clock at night with his dangerous cargo and was probably saved from terminating the adventure with a fatal explosion by the timely appearance of a guard of eight men at Spring Ranch, twenty miles out of Lewiston, who protected him during the remainder of the journey to Grangeville. Such a service is sufficient to stamp Mr. McKinlay as a man of the most desperate courage and of the highest order of patriotism. The exploit of Hobson and his comrades in peril during the recent Spanish war did not call for more moral and physical courage.

Mr. McKinlay was married in Iowa, in 1876, to Miss Ellen Holohan, who bore him six children, and died April 6, 1887, at Cottonwood, Idaho. Their children were named Glenn P.: Mary and John (twins), Harry, Maud and Katie. John and Katie are dead. Harry is a member of Company A, Idaho Volunteers, and is now serving his country at the peril of his life in the Philippine war. Glenn P., after a three-years course at the Idaho State University, at Moscow, is laying plans for future successes. Maud is a member of the father’s household. In 1894 Mr. McKinlay took for his second wife Mary Bohn, who has borne him two children. Hazel, who is dead, and Vivian Edward.


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

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