The life history of him whose name heads this sketch is closely identified with the annals of the northwest, and he is ex-secretary of the state of Idaho. An important department of the governmental service of the commonwealth has thus been entrusted to him, and in the discharge of his duties he manifested a loyalty to the public good that was above question and reflected credit upon the Party that called him to office.
He is a western man and possesses the progressive spirit so characteristic of the region this side of the Mississippi. His birth occurred in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on the 28th of March, 1861. He is a representative of an old New England family that was established in Connecticut in early colonial days, and when the war of the Revolution was inaugurated bearers of the name joined the forces of General Washington and fought for the independence of the nation. The father of our subject, Isaac I. Lewis, was born in Meriden, Connecticut, in 1825, and is still living, in the seventy-fourth year of his age. He married Georgiana Christmas, a native of Wooster, Ohio, and removed to Illinois at an early period in the history of that state. He was also a pioneer of Minnesota, and in connection with his father aided in founding the city of Minneapolis. He was a druggist, surveyor and metallurgist, and is now engaged in mining on Wood River, Idaho, his residence being in Ketchum. He removed to Montana, in 1872, locating in Helena, and became the owner of very valuable mining interests in that state. From the Elkhorn mine, on Wood River, in which he is now interested, gold has been taken to the value of one million one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. In public life Isaac I. Lewis has also been an important factor, and while in Minnesota served as a member of the state legislature and in Montana was a member of the territorial council.
George J. Lewis is the fourth in order of birth in the family of seven children. His preliminary education was supplemented by a four-years course in the Minnesota University, which he completed in 1882. He then went to the Wood River district of Idaho just as the great boom struck that region, and engaged in the publication of the Ketchum Keystone, of which he was practically the founder, making it one of the best weekly papers in the state. In 1884 he also published a daily edition, which was imbued with the energetic and enterprising spirit of the owner and the northwest. In 1886 he sold the paper and engaged in the drug business in Butte, Montana; also was for a time city editor of the Daily Inter Mountain, published in Butte. He resigned that position to become assistant cashier of the First National Bank, of Ketchum, and later he was promoted to the position of cashier, in which capacity he served until the bank closed out its business, in 1890. He then established a private banking business under the firm name of George J. Lewis & Company, of which he was principal and manager. In 1896 he paid off all the depositors and closed his bank, because of the many failures of the country caused by the great depreciation in silver. His ten years’ career as banker, however, served to demonstrate his marked business ability and evidenced his careful, conservative methods. He won the confidence of the public in the highest degree, a confidence that was never betrayed to the slightest extent. No run was ever made on his bank even during the most severe period of the panic and he well deserved the regard thus manifest. He is still interested in mining, and in the Salmon River mining district, at Elko, Nevada, owns very valuable copper mines.
On the 20th of January 1887, Mr. Lewis was united in marriage to Miss Leta May Crawford, of Anamosa, Iowa. She is a graduate of Iowa College, of Grinnell, Iowa, and is a most cultured and accomplished lady, who presides with grace over her pleasant home in Boise. Four sons have been born of this union.
In his political connections Mr. Lewis is a Democrat and cast his first presidential vote for Hancock and English. He supported the men and measures of the Democracy until the organization of the Populist Party of Idaho, with which Party he was identified until the Democratic Party again took up the cause of bimetallism. He has always been one of its active workers in the convention halls and through the campaigns, and has done all in his power to promote its interests. In 1892 he was elected to the state legislature from Alturas County, and was honored by the solid vote of his Party for speaker of the house. He was the author of the famous “antitest-oath bill,” which was defeated through Party influence and was afterward passed at the third session, when the honors were unmistakably Republican. The passage of the public-printing act was also mainly due to his efforts, and through all the sessions he proved himself an active and capable worker, most deeply interested in the advancement of such measures as he believed would prove of public benefit. In 1894 he was the unanimous choice of the Populist Party in convention for state senator from Alturas County, but owing to a local fusion between Democrats and Republicans he was defeated by a small majority. He has frequently been a delegate to the County and state conventions of his Party and has always been a liberal contributor to the campaign fund. In 1896 he received the nomination for secretary of the state at the hands of the People’s Democratic Party, and was elected to the office. His record in that position is now a matter of history and reflects credit upon the state. He neglected no duty, however trivial, and at all times manifested a patriotic spirit, showing his deep interest in the real welfare of the commonwealth. At the fourth session of the legislature of Idaho he was a candidate of the Democratic Party for United States senator, receiving seventeen votes for that position.
Mr. Lewis is a member of the Idaho Press Association, and in 1895, largely through his influence, its annual meeting was held in Ketchum. He is now owner and manager of the Capital Printing Company, of Boise. He is one of the popular citizens of Idaho, widely and favorably known throughout the state, and young and old, rich and poor are his friends.