Biography of Edwin R. Sherwin

This well and favorably known resident of Grangeville came to the territory of Idaho when the, flourishing city of Lewiston was but a collection of tents, and through the thirty-seven, years that have since come and gone he has been an important element in the business life of this section of the commonwealth. He was born in Onondaga County, New York, January 26, 1821, and is of English and German descent. His ancestors were early settlers of New England, and the grandfather. Captain Joshua Sherwin, was a resident of Hartford, Connecticut. He was one of a family of seven sons, whose parents were old-school Presbyterians and gave to all of their children scriptural names.

Joshua Sherwin, Jr., the father of our subject, was born in the Nutmeg state, and in New York wedded Miss Mary Perry. He was an industrious and respected farmer, whose life was well spent. Both he and his wife were consistent members of the Presbyterian Church, and while attending a convention of the church in Buffalo, New York, he was taken ill with cholera. For a time he appeared to improve, and made his way to his home, but soon after had a relapse and died of the disease. In the family were four children, but a daughter and our subject are the only ones now living.

The mother died when Edwin R. Sherwin was about six years of age, and he was reared by his paternal grandparents. He was educated in the public schools, and learned the blacksmith’s trade, which he later followed in Rochester, New York, and in Hamilton, Canada West. He was married on the 2d of June 1847, to Miss Susan Benson, a daughter of Loyal Benson, a New York farmer. They resided in Hamilton for four years and then returned to the United States. After traveling for some time in Illinois, he purchased a farm fifteen miles east of Belvidere, that state, and in connection with blacksmith work carried on agricultural pursuits until 1861. He then entered into an agreement with a party to cross the plains to California, as their blacksmith and farrier, as they were taking a large number of horses with them and would need the services of some one familiar with his trade. They made a successful journey, arriving at Sacramento in September 1861. Although he had no intention of remaining in the Golden state, Mr. Sherwin began working at his trade there the day following his arrival, and thus spent the winter, being in Sacramento at the time of the great flood. The same fall gold was discovered at Florence, Oro Fino and Elk City, and in April 1862, he left Sacramento for the gold diggings of Idaho, going by steamer to Portland, thence to The Dalles, where he obtained pack horses to convey his goods, while he walked from there to Lewiston. He was accompanied by a Mr. Anderson, of California, and after spending a week at Lewiston, they started for Florence, crossing the Craig Mountain and for the first time viewing the beautiful Camas prairie, which, covered with grass, lay spread out before them. There was, however, not a house to be seen on the prairie. They continued on their way to the Salmon River, deciding to go up that stream to Florence, thereby escaping travel in the deep snows. At length they reached their destination in safety, and soon afterward purchased a placer claim and engaged in mining with a rocker, but this was Mr. Sherwin’s first experience in that kind of business and the work went slowly and did not prove as profitable as lie anticipated. That winter he and his partner built a little cabin and continued to mine until spring, when Mr. Sherwin went to Warrens to take possession of a half interest in a blacksmith shop he had purchased. After working for some time with his partner he purchased the latter’s interest, and for some time made money rapidly, doing all the business in his line for the entire camp of fifteen hundred people, taking in as high as eighty dollars per day. But money made easily is easily spent, and people at that time did not as carefully save their earnings as at the present time.

About this time quartz mining was instituted in the locality, and many brought their quartz to Mr. Sherwin to melt in his shop. He was the first to do that kind of work in this section of the state, and was quite extensively engaged in that labor for some time. He also engaged in quartz mining on his own account. One day, while sitting on a ridge to rest, in company with Jo. Griffith, they kicked off a piece of rock and found gold in it. The next day they returned to the place and began a search for float, which they found two hundred yards below and which had considerable gold in it. They trenched, found the ledge, named it the Rescue and located it, and it proved a valuable property, the ore assaying fifty dollars to the ton. They took fifty tons to the mill, and after working the ore the mill made a return of ten dollars to the ton. This they knew was an insufficient amount, so they took twenty-one tons more to the mill and Mr. Sherwin remained there while it was worked, the result being just fifty dollars per ton. The mill-owners were nonplussed, but claimed that the rock was picked and they supervised the bringing of twenty tons more. On that lot the man who had operated the mill all the time ran it very hard, but the rock produced forty-eight dollars per ton, and there was in consequence every reason to suspect the mill operator. Mr. Sherwin and Mr. Leland then declined to pay a store bill which they owed the parties, until the loss on the ore was made good, whereupon they were sued and put to much trouble, the parties getting judgment against them, and taking the mine for the debt and costs. They operated it for a time and took out eighty thousand dollars. Mr. Leland then took the matter on appeal to the Supreme Court and recovered judgment for the mine and property. A corporation was then formed, but under its management the mine was not successfully worked. Mr. Sherwin sunk ten thousand dollars in the operation and found himself again without money. He then accepted a position from the government at Camas and Lapwai, having charge of the government blacksmith shops. He served in that capacity for several years, or until the government lowered the price of labor.

In the meantime Mr. Sherwin had saved his money and sent for his wife and children, who joined him in 1873. He went to the Salmon River, and purchased a ranch and a placer mine. He improved the former property, consisting of one hundred and sixty acres, still owns it, and has recently planted a portion of it to a variety of fruits, including prunes, peaches and apples.

During the Nez Perces war, all of his property was destroyed by the Indians, but he has since largely repaired the ravages and has an excellent ranch. He has developed his mining claim but little as yet, but the whole flat is underlaid by a river channel, and there is an area one hundred by seventeen hundred feet of virgin soil, in addition to which he has a vast body of ground, twelve feet deep, and gold in all of it, so that it is a very valuable unworked property. At the time of the Indian war, Mr. Sherwin, with other settlers, built a fort for the protection of their families, and they were thus unmolested, but the Indian depredations began near them, several white men in the vicinity were killed, and it became a time of great danger to the few white settlers then in the county. It was the plan of the savages to kill every white man, but the young warriors were so eager to begin their work of butchery, that they did not fully mature their plans and thus frustrated their own ends. Those were days of great hardship and dangers, and the pioneers who were the advance guard of civilization in this once wild region certainly are deserving of great praise and gratitude.

Unto Mr. and Mrs. Sherwin have been born four children: Perry E.; Elbert C; Frances E. who became the wife of Francis James, and died in 1891, leaving three children; and Carrie E., who resides with her parents and relieves them of many cares in their declining years. Mrs. Sherwin is now an invalid, and the daughter has the management of the household affairs. One of the sons resides upon and operates the ranch, and Mr. Sherwin is therefore living a retired life in his pleasant home in Grangeville. He is a gentleman of much intelligence and has restored his eyesight so that he can now read the newspapers without glasses. In politics he was first a Whig, but on the organization of the Republican Party joined its ranks, and has since been one of its stalwart supporters, yet has never been an aspirant for office. He enjoys the high esteem of his fellow men and is numbered among the honored pioneers of Idaho, and having passed the seventy-eighth milestone on life’s journey, he is crowned with the veneration and respect which should always accompany old age.



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

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