Pioneering Oakley Idaho

Lots of homesteaders descended on the Oakley Basin. Here one family is shown in front of their log home. Homesteading proved popular at the end of the 19th and first of the 20th Centuries where pioneers received free land in exchange for proving up the property.

OAKLEY - Pioneer Days means a trip down memory lane at the Oakley Museum that recently added on to its facility.

The extension gives officials a chance to showcase new displays tucked away in storage. The museum will show off its new addition from 1 to 5 p.m., Thursday, July 21, and again from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday, July 22 and Saturday, July 23, at the facility located at 140 W Main Street.

“It’s a work in process. We do invite people to come in and look at the history of Oakley through the displays. It’s a progressive history from the Indians more or less through the modern times. It’s about the Indians, cattlemen, sheepmen, the Mormons, the agricultural era, the dam, the ‘Oakley Herald’,  the Oakley businesses, the schools and on down and make a theme-oriented museum  so that the museum tells the story of the Oakley Valley,” said museum official Bob Fehlman.

The Shoshone-Snake River American Indians are considered to be the community’s first residents. 

“We’re showing the Indian artifacts, the grinding stones, the arrowheads and other Indian artifacts that we have available,” he said.

Fast forward to the 19th century, and cattlemen and sheepmen arrived in the community.

“Probably the most interesting was the conflict between the men in the South Hills between here and Hollister in a place called Deadline Ridge,” Fehlman said.

It was in Deadline Ridge where two Oakley residents and sheepmen by the names of Cummins and Wilson died from shotgun wounds during a dispute over grazing. After their bodies were found, law enforcement targeted Diamond Field Jack, who had bragged of doing something similar while he traveled through Wells, Nevada,. Word traveled back to Idaho where law enforcement tracked him down and imprisoned him for about five years in Albion. The courts later acquitted him.

Cummins and Wilson are buried in the Oakley Cemetery as is Gobbo Fango, an African man brought to Utah by Mormon pioneers. Gobbo came to Oakley in 1886 where he joined friends sheepherding. That year Gobbo was shot during an altercation with cattleman.  Despite being wounded in the head, Gobbo drug himself to a neighboring farm. Gobbo, realizing the end was near, wrote a will giving money to friends and also to the Mormon Church to help build the Salt Lake Temple.  Gobbo died the following day at the age of 30.

Mormon explorers Heber, Thomas and Elisha Dayley, the sons of James Dayley, arrived in “The Basin” during 1877. An Indian uprising sent them back to Utah but, undeterred, the brothers returned, bringing with them numerous settlers.

Kent Hale, author of “A History of Oakley, Idaho” says that the arrival of the Dayleys “heralded the beginning of Mormon Colonization of the Goose Creek Valley.” By 1880, a Mormon Stake was organized in the region.

By 1882, the Oakley community had been officially created.  It took its name from William Oakley. William operated the Oakley Meadows Pony Express Station. Very little is known about William other than this station delivered the mail between Salt Lake and Boise from 1863 to 1864. 

A Mr. Foster homesteaded in the basin during the 1860s where he farmed and raised an orchard. By the time his orchard began producing fruit, travelers started venturing through the community via stagecoach on their way to the Pacific Northwest – right past Foster’s property.

 “He was able to sell apples to the stagecoach passengers. He also sold farm produce to the vitamin-C-starved travelers on the Oregon Trail,” Hale wrote.

That stagecoach was necessitated by the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. A stagecoach line was required to connect Salt Lake to Boise and officials built that line at Kelton, Utah. The stagecoach line then turned west toward the City of Rocks and then north of Birch Creek. It later crossed into Oakley through the Oakley Meadows Stage Station.

It wasn’t all work in Oakley as thanks to Judge B.P. Howells, an opera house was built. Howell arrived in Oakley in 1879.  Eventually, Howells grew tired of the lack of culture in the community, and, in 1904, using rock quarried from the hills surrounding Oakley, hired men to build the facility. The workers harvested trees from neighboring mountains later adding floors and window sills. By 1907, and $22,000 later, Howells had his opera house. Today, the facility continues to put on plays for the community.

In 1909, the government built the Oakley Dam. At the time, it was the largest earth filled dam in the U.S., and cost $1.5 million to build. Fast forward to 1984, and unusually high snow storms threatened the dam.  Thanks to a quickly developed canal system, disaster was averted and excess water was diverted.

The community also had its own newspaper called “The Oakley Herald” which Charlie Brown managed from 1918 through 1961. He described his publication as “A first class newspaper, entered as a second class matter, in a third class post office,”

One of the more interesting displays at museum will be on the floor. Stone quarried from the mountains was used as the flooring for the original portion of the facility. Today, Oakley Stone continues to be mined and to be sold throughout the United States. Visitors can have a chance to look at “the floor display” and other exhibits at the museum during Pioneer Days. Admission is free. For more information call 862-9238.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.