Biography of Matthew H. Williams

Matthew H. Williams is an Idaho pioneer whose residence dates back to 1863, and he is a prominent citizen of Bellevue, Blaine County. He was born in Vermont, September 20, 1840. His father, John Williams, a native of New Jersey, did soldier’s duty in the war of 1812-14. He married Magdalene Shuffelt, a native of New York and a descendant of an old Dutch family of that state. They had twelve children, eight of whom grew to maturity, and five of whom are living. John Williams and his wife were Episcopalians and were people of social prominence. He died at the age of eighty-two, she at fifty-three.

Matthew H. Williams, their youngest child, passed his childhood on his father’s farm and attended the public schools. In 1857 the subject of this review went to Minnesota, where he was occupied for a time at such employment as was open to him, and, having acquired a limited capital, he engaged in fur trading with the Indians and others, in which he continued until 1863, when his business was interrupted by the Indian outbreak. In company with four others he started across the country for Idaho. Their party was gradually enlarged by the accession of other parties at different points on the plains, and they had several exciting experiences with Indians. When they reached the Platte, Mr. Haskins, one of their number, was shot, and Dan Noble, another, was killed while doing guard duty in the Sweetwater country. At Spring Butte several spirited skirmishes occurred and the party was beleaguered by savages for two days.

Mr. Williams located at Boise, at the beginning of that town, and there purchased lots and erected several log cabins on them. He did placer mining to some extent and took out several thousand dollars in Boise basin. He prospected from Atlanta to the gold belt, and located the Big Camas mine No. 1, and he and Ross Smith and Tom Ford wintered there and ran a tunnel and took out ore and had it on the dump in the spring. In 1882 they sold it, and as his share Mr. Williams realized thirty thousand dollars. In 1884 he sold Camas No. 2 for eleven thousand dollars. It has been worked extensively and has proven a rich producer. In 1889 Mr. Williams sold the Golden Star mine, in the same vicinity, for fifteen thousand dollars. He makes mining his whole business and has several valuable claims adjoining the Tip Top mine, on the same belt, and has become known as one of the lucky prospectors and miners of his state.

Mr. Williams was married in 1882 to Miss Luella Reed, a native of Kentucky and a daughter of Thomas B. Reed, who came to the territory in 1877 and died at Ballantine in 1895. Mr. and Mrs. Williams have had five children: Edith, Elmer, Edwin, Edna and Ramond H.

Mr. Williams is a large owner of Bellevue property. He drove the first stake in the town, and built his house in 1882. He was made a Master Mason at Rocky Bar, in 1872, and is past master of his lodge. He is an attendant and liberal supporter of the Presbyterian church of Bellevue, of which Mrs. Williams is a member. Politically he is a Republican. He is a man of influence in town and county affairs, and was county commissioner of Blaine county and did excellent service as a school trustee of Bellevue, his interest in education being steadfast and helpful.

The life of Mr. Williams has been one of hardship and, until within a comparatively recent time, one of danger. There was always danger from Indians; much of the time there was danger from white men, who did not value human life very highly if money could be gained by sacrificing life. Many interesting stories of his adventures on the plains and in camp might be told. One will perhaps suffice to indicate his quality as a man and the perils by which he was beset. Once he and William H. Spencer were sleeping on the divide between South Boise and Salmon rivers. In the early morning Mr. Williams felt an arrow strike his blanket and knew they were attacked by Indians. He told his partner to roll to a safe place down the bank. Half dazed from having been suddenly aroused, Spencer sprang to a sitting posture and instantly received an arrow in his breast, right under the collarbone. The two men rolled over the bank and Mr. Williams pulled the arrow out of his companion. It was so firmly imbedded in his flesh and muscles that it was necessary for Mr. Williams to put his foot on Spencer’s shoulder and pull hard to get it out. It was a painful operation, but heroic measures were necessary, for the arrow point was of hoop iron secured to the shaft with the sinews of a deer and had it remained until Mr. Spencer’s blood softened the sinews blood poisoning would have ensued. They secured their horses, which were picketed near by, and, without waiting for saddles or outfit, made off rapidly. At Boise River, which they reached about ten o’clock that morning, they halted. While Mr. Williams sought to alleviate his companion’s suffering by pouring cold water on his wound, two Indians who had followed them, rode up an attacked them. They fought with desperation and shot both Indians and then both of their horses as a precaution against their returning to their other pursuers and thus apprising them of the fate of their riders. Then they made their way to a ranch sixteen miles above Rocky Bar, where a doctor’s services were secured and Mr. Spencer was put in a way to recovery.

Mr. Williams is accorded the honor of a pioneer and by all citizens of Bellevue is given due consideration as one of those who risked their lives to make the way easy for those who might come after them. He is widely and popularly acquainted, and there are thousands who would read a detailed account of his adventuresome career with great interest.



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

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