Parma Review, September 16, 1971

Our Heritage... The McConnels

Seated, left to right are David, Benjamin and Frank. Standing left to right are George, Charles, Sam, and Elmer. John, not in the photo, had moved to Colorado.

By Carl L. Isenberg

Dave and Ben McConnel were early settlers around the mouth of the Boise River. Dave McConnel's homestead included McConnel Island and land near the site of Old Fort, Boise. The street in front of the Junior High School also bears his name. This account was written by his grandson, Col. Isenberg.)

David K. McConnel, early day pioneer of the Boise Valley, was born the 12th of August 1838 in Guersey County, Ohio which at that time was a frontier community. His early education was received in a log school house until he was eleven years old, at which time his family traveled West by covered wagon to Corydon, Iowa, where he finished his education.

At the outbreak of the Civil War he tried to enlist in the Union Army but was rejected due to an ankle that had been broken in early youth and unproperly set. Failing in joining the Army, he decided to go West, leaving Corydon to go West, leaving Corydon, Iowa in May 1861. By ox team and traveling to Omana, Nebraska which at that time was a small village but an assembly point for wagon trains headed West. Here he joined a large train of nearly 300 eagons and traveled by way of the Oregon Trail through Ft. Laramie. Fort Steele and Fort Hall. During the passage Mr. McConnel acted as scout for the train but no Indian attacks were experienced, perhaps due to the large size of the train. The train reached the Boise River in August of 1862 passing the present site of Boise, which had not at that time been established, and proceeding down the South side of the river and crossing near the present town of Eagle. At this crossing, one member of the party was drowned as the river was in flood.

The train crossed to the Payette Valley and at Freezeout Hill it was necessary to set posts and ease the wagons down the steep grade with ropes. The train crossed Snake River probably near the site of Olds Ferry west of Weiser and spent some time there, looking for a way to get to the mining area which had recently been discovered in what is now North Idaho by Capt. Ed Pierce.

Failing to find a possible route either down the Snake or overland, the train proceeded on to the Grande Ronde valley where it disbanded. at this point there remained 72 wagons, others having diverted at various points after leaving Ft. Hall, some to strike out for California and some to take the southern route to the Willamette Valley.

Dave McConnel went on to Walla Walla from which the next spring he freighted supplies by ox team and pack train, to the new town of Boise and to the booming gold town of Idaho City where gold was discovered in late 1862 by a party led by George Grimes. which had left the Florence mining district to search for the mythical Blue Bucket discovery.

In 1863, McConnel formed a partnership with a friend, Nate Samms, and established a stock ranch on the north side of the Payette River near the present site of Emmett, at the same time continuing his freighting business from the Umatilla Landing on the Columbia to Boise City and the Boise Basin. At this time he became good friends with the Faulk brothers who had established a mercantile business in the Boise Valley. In 1865, Dave McConnel sold his Payette Valley interests to his partner and acquired land in the Boise Valley, one place about five miles west of the future site of Caldwell and another, a squatters right, near the mouth of the Boise River. At this time the Boise River had two mouths, dividing some distance above the present town of Parma and forming a delta known as the Island, later McConnel Island.

I believe that through the efforts of Mr. Ross, father of C. Ben Ross, and others, what known as the Ross fill was constructed which confined the Boise River to one channel and eliminated flooding near Parma.

In 1879, McConnel increased his holdings at the mouth of the river, by filing a homestead on 160 acres and engaged in raising cattle and horses.

In 1871, he traveled back to Iowa on business and to marry Mary Maria Rogers. They were able to return as far as Kemmerer, Wyoming by rail but from there returned to the Boise Valley by wagon, requiring about three weeks for the tip.

Mr. McConnel was the eldest of a family of eleven sons and one daughter and eight of his brothers followed him to the Boise Valley. One brother, Ben, also ranched on McConnel Island. Other brothers were Charles, a busness man, school teacher and city official in Boise. Sam, a business man, carpenter and contractor in Boise. George, a rancher in the Payette Valley. John, who raised stock in the valley but moved to Colorado after a few years. John married Hester Bowman in an elopement much to the displeasure of Hester's father a Confederate captain, whose only objection to the match was the fact that John McConnel was a Republican. Capt. Bowman's wife and brother, Mounce Bowman, aproved and assisted, and saw to it that all firearms were hidden until the Captain cooled off. Captain John Bowman passed away at Caldwell many years ago at the age of 101.

Frank McConnel was a stock raiser and farmer in the Payette Valley and lived near Emmett. Elmer, the youngest brother, was a bookkeeper, school teacher and farmer, and lived in later years at Eagle, Idaho.

The McConnel ranch houses, some of logs, were located not far from the Idaho side of Snake River some distance south of the present mouth of Boise River. During the time McConnel lived on the island the neighbors were the Rosses toward Roswell and the Keeney's who had operated the Ferry near Old Fort Boise. Other friends were the Stocktons, Fouches, Mitchells, and Pauls.

Life was not uninteresting for early pioneers. I remember my Mother, who was born in 1872, the eldest of Dave MccConnels children, tell sleeping in the dense willows during the Bannock lndian War when signs indicated Indian was parties in the vicinity, and of Chief Joseph and some of his braves stopping at my Grandfather's cow camp on Shaffer Creek, not far from Bogus Basin, when my Mother was a small girl. They en joyed soda biscuits and stopped by when on their way to the Camas fields. My Granmother always obliged with a large pan of biscuits, and on one occasion, Chief Joseph admired my Grandmothers' calico dress and asked where it had been purchased as he wanted to buy some for his squaw. Also, on occasion when the children were left at the home ranch overnight by themselves, a Cougar was treed on top of the ranch house by the dogs and kept the children scared stiff with its snarling and growls.

David K. McConnel was active in community affairs, helping to organize and construct he McConnel Island ditch, starting the Island School and an active member of the Methodist Church. During the time he ranched in the Payette Valley he was a member along with William J. McConnell, of the Payette Valley Committee of Public Saftey (Vigilantees) a time when lawlessness made life and property unsafe. I have heard him say many times that until the committee was formed and operated on several of the rusters, murderers, etc., no one could feel secure, but that after a few examples, property and individual safety was secure. He was a close friend of John Halley, early day freighter and stage line operator and a friend and admirer of Orlando (Rube) Robbins, early day law man.

During the occasional Indian forays, Mr. McConnel acted as a scout and was generally on good terms with peaceable roving bands and could communicate with them to quite a degree in their own language.

The Dave McConnel's had seven children, the eldest Cora, begin teaching school at the age of 18 and taught at various schools from Rockville, Oregon, the Owyhee School, the Island sSchool, and was the first teacher at the Roswell School, In 1892, Cora married J. L. Isenberg who came to Idaho in 1890, also taught school, ranched in foreman and later ranched in the vicinity of Caldwell. He passed away in 1957 and Mrs. Isenberg in 1959.

Fred H. McConnel was a graduate of the University of Idaho and a prominent engineer at Caldwell until his death in 1943. Emma McConnel married Joe L. Watkins, a rancher and stock raiser who acquired the old McConnel ranch and lived in the vicinity of Parma until his death during WWII. Emma McConnel Watkins passed away in 1963. Mervin G. McConnel attended the University of Idaho; was an officer in WWII and retired as a Major General at the end of WWII. He passed away in 1948. Margaret McConnel never married and lived her entire life in the Boise Valley, passing away at her home in Boise in 1967. Two other McConnel children died in infancy.

David K. McConnel retired from ranching about 1903. He purchased a ten acre tract and built a home at what is now the intersection of Kootenai and Latah Streets on the Boise Bench. Here he lived until his death Sept. 15th 1923 at age 85 having spent 61 of his life in the West, substantially all of this period in and around the Boise Valley. His wife Mary continued to live at the family home in Boise until her death in 1941 at age 95.

Another family researcher Mabelle McConnel Young (1885-1978), daughter of David's younger brother Charles, wrote an unpublished family history "Laura, Pioneer Mother" in which she identifies the guide for the wagon train on which David traveled as "Tim Goodsal." See Goodale Route

Further reading: McConnel Homesteads

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