Biography of James Witt

Since 1861 Mr. Witt has been a resident of Idaho, and is now a representative of the agricultural and stock-raising interests of the state. He was born in Tennessee, July 7, 1837. His great-grandfather, Caleb Witt, was a native of England, and became the founder of the family in America. He located in the south and after a time removed to Tennessee, where he reared his family and made his home until his death. His son, James Witt, the grandfather of our subject, was born in Tennessee and loyally served his country in the war of 1812. He married a Miss Hann, a lady of German extraction, and their son, Caleb Witt, was a native of Jefferson County, Tennessee, where four generations of the family were born. He married Miss Margaret K. O’Marcus, a native of Anderson County, Tennessee, and two children were born to them, a son and daughter. The father died in 1882, at the age of sixty-seven years, and the mother passed away in 1856, at the age of forty-six. They were Baptists in religious faith, and were people of the highest worth and integrity.

James Witt, whose name introduces this review, is now the only surviving member of the family. He obtained his education in the common schools, and by reading while in the mountains. In 1859 he started with his father to cross the plains to Pike’s Peak, but on the Platte River they met a pleasant party en route for Oregon and joined them on their trip. At length they reached Portland, spent the winter there, and in the spring of 1860 our subject went up the Columbia River, a distance of one hundred and ten miles above the mouth of Snake River. He then returned to Wallula, and engaged in freighting, with bull teams, to Walla Walla. In the late fall he made his way to the Cascades, where he spent the winter months with his father, and in the spring of 1861 they went to Greer’s ferry, on the Oro Fino road, on the Clearwater River, there remaining until the spring of 1862, when they went to Elk City. They purchased three claims on Buffalo Hill, one mile west of Elk City, and then joined with others in digging a ditch which supplied water to six or eight companies. As they went forward into the hill they required more water, and in 1872 Mr. Witt and his father purchased the whole claim. Half a million dollars were taken out of that hill, which is now owned by a company in Butte, Montana, of which Mr. Leggat is a prominent member. This was what was called a “wages camp,” that is to say the miners made fair wages, some taking away with them from two to ten thousand dollars.

In 1876 Mr. Witt’s father took up lands on Camas prairie, and in 1880, wishing to be near his father in his declining years, our subject also went there, acquiring lands and engaging in stock raising. He and his nephew, J. B. Sloan, have nine hundred and sixty acres of land and are raising hogs on a very extensive scale, shipping large numbers each year. His life has been one of activity, in which he has met many difficulties, but these he has overcome by determined purpose, and has risen to a position among the substantial citizens of his adopted county.

In 1874 Mr. Witt became a member of the Masonic fraternity, taking the degrees of the blue lodge in Mount Idaho Lodge, No. 9, F. & A. M. He traveled from Elk City to Mount Idaho for that purpose, and though the trip cost him seventy-five dollars he has always considered it a good investment. He at once became a student of the tenets of the order, and has ever endeavored to conform his life to the ennobling principles, so that, being a good Mason, he is a good citizen. He is a most active worker in the order has filled nearly all the offices of the lodge, and has been past master for a number of terms. The Mount Idaho Lodge was removed to Grangeville where it is now located, numbering among its members many of the best citizens of the town. In politics Mr. Witt has always been a Democrat, and while not a politician in the sense of an office-seeker, he has served for several terms as county commissioner, in a most capable and commendable manner. He is quite widely known through out the state, and well deserves mention among the honored pioneers.



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

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