Biography of Charles May

When the roll of the pioneers of Boise, Idaho, is called the name which heads this sketch will be found well to the top.

Charles May was born in Berkshire, England, May 17, 1833, and was reared in his native county, learning in his boyhood the business of brick manufacturing and brick-laying, his father, Charles May, having been engaged in that business. Indeed, the family for centuries, or as far back as their history can be traced, were brick-makers in England. The younger Charles May remained in England until 1856, when he came to America, locating first in New York, and he put in the first gas retorts in the Harlem Gas Works. He remained in New York and Brooklyn until the spring of 1857, when he went to Chicago, where he was for a time engaged in contracting, and then he went to St. Louis and New Orleans. He was in Missouri at the time the civil war broke out and about that time he went to Kansas, where he was a resident during the exciting times which marked the history of that state.

He built the first brick house in Junction City, Kansas.

In May 1862, he started across the plains for the far west, traveling with the regulation wagons, which were drawn by horses or mules. When his party arrived at Fort Laramie they learned that the Indians had attacked the pony stage and had massacred the passengers. Some of the trains which reached the fort about that time were poorly equipped with armed men so they tarried for three days until a train from Denver came up, and thus re-enforced they all started on together. The company now contained eighty young men well armed, beside wo-men and children. At Green river their horses were stampeded by the Indians. Mr. May and another man ran after the horses and succeeded in recovering them, escaping the shots which were fired at them by the red men. They came by the way of Lander’s cut-off, and at Blackfoot creek stopped on account of the sickness of a woman in their party. The following day they saw a cloud of dust at a distance and supposed they were to be attacked by the Indians. Soon, however, as the dust cloud approached, they discovered a white flag, and it proved to be a signal from twelve California miners who were making their way back to the states to join the Union army. Continuing on, the next day Mr. May and his party saw behind them what this time proved to be Indians. They halted and got ready for a fight. The Indians stopped on a hill back of where the white men were, and a mountaineer, who knew the country, said, “Boys, let us go to one of these hills quickly.” No sooner had they reached the hill than the Indians gave the war-whoop and attacked them. The company fell back, fighting bravely and working toward the camp. When they reached the camp they found the packs and pack animals were all gone. The women were badly frightened and objected strongly to the men going out to recover the property. Notwithstanding their objections, however, the men went in search of the animals and when they got within a mile of where the fight had been they saw- large quantities of feathers scattered over the ground and discovered that another depredation had been committed. Two wagons had been attacked and five men were killed and scalped and left on the spot. The sight was indeed a ghastly one! They buried four men that day and the next day buried the fifth. They followed the Indians thirty miles and found them in camp early the next morning, where they gave them a hard whipping. At Burned river they fell in with the Grimes party, with whom they found a Mr. Johnson and the wife of one of the dead men above referred to. These two were all that were left of the party in the two wagons attacked by the Indians.

Mr. May went to Walla Walla and there built the first two brick stores of the town, these being his first contracts in the west. Afterward he traveled about considerably, and was variously employed at different places. In the Boise Basin he made adobe brick and built ovens. He also burned brick at the Buena Vista Bar. From there he came to Boise and took charge of the building of the fort, where he remained a month, after which he took a claim of one hundred and sixty acres of government land near by, and on it cut and cured hay, which he sold for one hundred dollars per ton. Selling his claim shortly afterward, he returned to Boise and began the manufacture of brick where Mr. Redway’s house now stands. Here he built a small dwelling, which is still standing, and soon afterward he erected a store building, twenty by fifty feet, of adobe brick, for Mr. Jacobs, its location being on the ground now occupied by the McCarty block at the corner of Seventh and Maine streets. Since then he has done a large amount of building, both for himself and for other parties, and many of the handsome buildings of Boise, including his own brick residence, are monuments to his skill as a builder. Also he laid the stone of the custom-house at Portland, worked on the Market street front of the Palace hotel in San Francisco, and aided in the erection of the capitol building in Salem, Oregon.

In 1871 Mr. May was married to Miss Elizabeth Williams, the daughter of Mr. Barret Williams, a pioneer of Idaho who is now ninety-six years of age and in the enjoyment of all his faculties. Mr. and Mrs. May have two daughters, Rosa and Edith Virginia. The former is the widow of Professor Webber and since his death she has resided with her parents. The whole family arc identified with the Episcopal Church and he has served as vestryman of the same. Mr. May was made a Mason in Boise Lodge, F. & A. AL, No. 2.

In 1875 Mr. May went to Australia to visit his parents, and on this trip visited Honolulu, New Zealand, Melbourne and Sydney, his people living in the last named city. While there he superintended the building of the first dry pressed-brick works in Sydney, and had charge of the building of the aqueduct that carries the water to that city. He remained in Sydney until after the death of his parents, when he returned to Boise, Idaho, which has since been his home.



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

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top