Biography of Joel B. Harper

History has long since placed on its pages the names of those who, coming to the Atlantic coast, planted colonies in the New World and opened up that section of the country to civilization. As the years passed, and the population of that region rapidly increased, brave pioneers made their way into the wild districts farther west. The names of Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton were enduringly inscribed upon the records of Kentucky, that of John Jacob Astor upon the history of Michigan and other states of the upper Mississippi valley. Later Kit Carson and John C. Fremont made their way into the mountainous districts west of the “father of waters’ and subsequently the explorers penetrated into the vast wildnesses of the Pacific slope. The development of the northwest, however, is comparatively recent, but when time shall have made the era of progress here a part of the history of the past, the names of men no less brave and resolute than those who came to the shores of New England or made their way into the Mississippi valley will be found illuminating the annals of this section of the Union, and on the list will be found that of Joel Beauford Harper, who is numbered among the early settlers of both California and Idaho.

Mr. Harper was born in Georgetown, Scott County, Kentucky, October 15, 1837. His father, Benjamin Harper, was a native of Delaware, and was of English descent. In 1821 he removed to Kentucky and was married there to Miss Hannah Moore. They were people of the highest respectability, were representatives of the industrious farming class, and continued their residence in that state until called to the home beyond. The father lived to be eighty-five years of age, and the mother passed away at the age of eighty-four. In his native state Joel B. Harper acquired his education, and at the age of fourteen crossed the plains to the Pacific coast with five young men. They traveled with various companies and had much trouble with the Indians. They were first attacked in Thousand Springs valley, on the sublet cut-off. They fought all day and succeeded in driving the Indians off, but were attacked the next day at the head of the Humboldt River, killing several of the Indians, while two of their own number were wounded. Such was the daring of the Indians that they had five fights in a distance of three hundred miles. All the time the red men were on the warpath, but the emigrants were well armed and defeated the Indians in every skirmish, else they would have been completely massacred by the wily foe.

The party with which Mr. Harper traveled arrived in California July i1, 1853, and he began work in the American valley. He engaged in mining, in operating a sawmill and in carrying on the butchering business. He followed mining there for five years, and ran the first tunnel in the rock to turn the river in an old channel. In the operation of his claim he was very successful, he and his partner, Tim Shannon, taking out from three to four hundred dollars per day. In 1858 he sold his interest in order to go to the Eraser River, where gold had recently been discovered. He fitted out a boat with supplies and started it up the river, but it was capsized, and three men and three hundred dollars’ worth of supplies were lost. Mr. Harper then returned to Puget Sound and crossed to Pendleton, Oregon, where he engaged in carpenter work for ten months, receiving excellent wages for his services. He next went to Dayton, Oregon, and established a sash and door factory, but it did not prove a paying investment, and he afterward clerked in stores in Dayton and in Baker City.

In May 1863, Mr. Harper arrived in Idaho City, Idaho, then known as Bannock, where he engaged in mining. He paid three thousand dollars for two claims and took out on an average of two hundred and fifty dollars per day to each rocker, getting out ten thousand dollars in all, but seven thousand dollars was stolen from him. In 1865 he removed to Silver City, where he remained fifteen years. He operated a sawmill, built the Owyhee county courthouse and jail, together with many other buildings, and was prominently connected with the development and improvement of that section of the state. In 1882 he came to the Wood river valley and settled at Ketchum, on a government claim of eighty-seven and one-half acres, upon which he erected a commodious and pleasant home, which stands as a monument of his own handiwork. He improved the farm by piping water from a spring on the hillside, and the house is thus continually supplied with cool and pure water. On the place he has both a blacksmith and carpenter shop, his superior mechanical skill enabling him to make anything in wood, iron or steel. He can make a good edged tool, and has upon his place everything in that line necessary in his work, taking a commendable pride in keeping everything about his place in first-class order. In 1883 he erected a sawmill and built a chute, at a cost of fifteen hundred dollars, in which to bring logs from the mountain to the mill. He is accounted one of the most enterprising and progressive businessmen of this section of Blaine County, and is meeting with well deserved success in his undertakings.

On the 17th of November 1867, Mr. Harper was united in marriage, in Nevada, near the California line, to Miss Edna E. Lanbeth, a daughter of Aaron Lanbeth, of Davis County. North Carolina. She crossed the plains to California in 1859, across the southern Butterfield route, and was the second woman to traverse that route to San Francisco. She accompanied Mr. Harper in all his pioneer travels on the Pacific coast and indeed was to him a faithful companion and helpmate. They were comfortably situated in the pleasant home in Ketchum, in the enjoyment of the high esteem of many friends in that community, but within the present year, 1899, the devoted and cherished wife has been called into eternal rest, leaving to her sorrowing husband the benediction of a faithful and beautiful life.

Mr. Harper has been a member of the Masonic fraternity since 1857, when he joined Plumas Lodge, No. 60, F. & A. M. of Plumas, California. He has taken a very active interest in the work of the fraternity, has filled all the offices of the lodge, and is now past master. In politics he has been a Democrat since casting his first vote, and is a reliable citizen who supports all measures which he believes will prove of public benefit. He has a wide acquaintance, and by all who know him is held in high regard, for his life has been well spent. He has never indulged in drinking or gambling, as have many of the pioneers in the new mining regions, but has lived an honorable and upright life, and his example is in many respects well worthy of emulation.



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

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