Biography of Hon. John L. Underwood

Hon. John L. Underwood, postmaster at Montpelier, Idaho, successful businessman, prominent citizen, veteran of the civil war and influential Republican, is widely and favorably known throughout the state. He was born in Broome County, New York, January 15, 1832, of parents who traced their ancestry to good English families. Jonas Underwood, his grandfather, was a native of Fishkill, New York, and held a commission in the Revolutionary army. He died at Deposit, New York, in his eightieth year. His wife, who was of the New York family of Pine, survived him only a few days. Philip Underwood, son of Jonas and father of John L. Underwood, was born in Deposit, New York, in 1803, and married Angeline Peters. In 1855 he located, with his wife and family, near Polo, in Ogle County, Illinois, where he bought a farm and lived to attain the ripe old age of seventy-seven years. His wife died, at about the same age, a few years later. They were members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, in which he “as a local preacher and evangelist. They had eight children, of whom seven are living. John L. Underwood, the second of the eight in order of birth, was educated in the public schools of the state of New York. In July 1861, he enlisted in Company H., Fourteenth Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry, to do his part in putting down the slaveholders’ rebellion, and was mustered into service November 6, following. He served in the command of General U. S. Grant and participated in the fighting at Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, Pittsburg Landing and intermediate points and in the Red river campaign. At Shiloh he was wounded by the bursting of a shell and was made a prisoner of war by the Confederates, being held at Tuscaloosa, Alabama, six months, when he was paroled. At the expiration of his term of enlistment, late in 1864, he was honorably discharged from service.

In 1865 Mr. Underwood went to Montana, and engaged in freighting between Helena and Salt Lake City, Utah. In 1866 he settled down in Montana as a stockman. In 1875 he disposed of his local interests and began driving and shipping cattle east from Montana and Idaho. Continuing this enterprise, he located at Paris, Bear Lake County, Idaho, in 1879. He operated there and at Soda Springs until 1885, when he came to Montpelier and still pushing his business of sending cattle east, he opened a meat market.

Almost from the day of his advent in Idaho, he has been known as an active Republican who knew how to deal telling blows in behalf of his party. He became popular personally, as the people came to know him, and it was inevitable that he should be singled out for public service. He was a member of the constitutional convention that framed the constitution of the state, and was elected to the first Idaho state senate, and reelected to succeed himself. As a senator he endeared himself to the people by his championship of the bill to organize the State National Guard and the bill providing for the establishment of the Soldiers’ Home at Boise. Later he served two terms as United States commissioner. At Montpelier he has been justice of the peace, and has ably filled the office of postmaster, almost continuously since his first appointment, during President Cleveland’s first administration, under the administrations of Cleveland, Harrison and McKinley. He was reappointed early in President Cleveland’s second term of office, but declined the position, though he secured it for his brother-in-law, Marcus Whitman, and he has the distinction of having been the second postmaster appointed under President McKinley. Mrs. Underwood is his deputy, and the consensus of opinion among Montpelier folk is that they have a post-office, which is in every way a model.

Mr. Underwood is prominent among Idaho Odd Fellows and Mrs. Underwood is a member of the Women’s auxiliary order of the Daughters of Rebekah of which she is past presiding officer. He was a charter member and first commander of W. H. L. Wallace Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, and is widely known and influential in Grand Army circles throughout the state. Mr. and Airs. Underwood are very active and useful members of the Presbyterian church of Montpelier, and he has served the organization in the capacity of trustee, an office which Airs. Underwood holds at this time. Airs. Underwood was Miss Lizzie M. Whitman, daughter of E. C. Whitman, of Como, Whiteside County, Illinois, and a distant relative of Rev. Marcus Whitman, the lamented missionary, who was killed by the Indians, in Oregon, in 1847. They have had four children, of whom two daughters, Florence and Esther, are living.


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

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