THE RISE AND FALL Of CHILLY, IDAHO
By Ray R Thalman, circa 1985; his father was instrumental in the founding of Chilly, Idaho
This article was printed in The Arco Advertiser, January 8, 1999
and the "Old Mackay Miner Newspaper".
The beginning of the 20th century saw many new settlements start up in the West. Some survived and became important towns, even cities. Others never got past the starting point and some survived for a period of years. Chilly was one that almost made it.
While Chilly is only a memory now, it should be remembered as one chapter in the winning of the West. As the Indian wars subsided, a flood of settlers invaded this new area to establish a new life for themselves and their families. Courageous and rugged people were required. to settle these virgins lands. Such were the people of Chilly, Mackay and many other towns on the map. Some did not survive and Chilly was one that succumbed to changing economic conditions.
The livestock business has, without a doubt, been the greatest motivator in setting the West. Free grazing land and the Homestead Act provided a great incentive to the western movement. The Lost River Valley appealed to Robert Thalman and J.B. Hunter. "J.B", as he was known throughout the area, was engaged in the sheep business in Utah , and Thalman was a partner in the business. Their operation including wintering their sheep in Utah and grazing them north (intoIdaho) for summer grazing, then trailing back again to Utah for the winter. IN 1898 they pushed into the Lost River Valley and did not return to Utah.
When Hunter and Thalman arrived in the upper valley, they found one couple living there in a covered wagon with wheels removed. This couple was William Bradshaw and wife. Hunter homesteaded and built a rather substantial log cabin. The only other inhabitants in the area lived in a small village in what is now Mackay 20 miles to the south and in Challis 40 miles to the north.
The lure of free grazing and the homesteading opportunities brought in several covered more wagons with families seeking a place to settle. They also took up homesteads and soon there were more cabins. This was the beginning of the town later to be called Chilly.
In 1900 Robert Thalman married a Utah girl, Jennie Christensen, and they returned to Idaho and lived with the Hunters until a house could be built. Lumber was not available then so the house was first built of adobe bricks as adobe was plentiful in the area around the slough which wandered through the valley. This slough later proved to be a source of feed for thousands of cattle especially in the winter months. Unfortunately it was also the burial ground for many cattle that got mired down. The bricks that were made from the adobe found there proved to be improperly cured; so when lumber became available, a frame house was built over the adobe walls. The results was a wall almost two feet thick. Since the elevation at Chilly is 7000 feet, the winters can get cold there. The thick walls helped keep out the cold. One winter saw the thermometer register 48 degrees blow zero.
Mackay was then in the building stage and supplies had to be brought by freight teams of horses from the distant town of Blackfoot. Hunter had a substantial log cabin, and because of his business, required more supplies than most. Also, settlers there lacked the means to ge their supplies from Blackfoot, so they prevailed upon Hunter to help them out. The outgrowth of this was the Hunter Store, later to be known as the Chilly Mercantile Company.
As the settlement grew, kids began arrive on the scene, and some were reaching school age. The community got together and built a small log cabin for a school house and a teacher was fired. It was not long until this school proved to be too small, so a new one was built. The new one was made from cement blocks and was large enough to handle all eight grades.
About this time the Salmon River mines were in full operation. The Oregon short Line had completed a rail line from Blackfoot to Mackay. (1901) The White Knob Mine in Mackay ws booming. Freight wagons from the Salmon mines hauling ore to Mackay were almost a daily occurrence as they passed through Chilly. Thus Chilly became an important stop over for these freight teams. The drivers needed supplies, food, harness repair, blacksmithing and horse feed. The Chilly store rose to the occasion and did a good job of meeting to pick a name for the town. "Wagontown" was first suggested since nearly everyone there had arrived in a covered wagon. The day was cold and the school teacher said it sure is chilly today. That ended the discussion as all went for Chilly and so the town now had a name. This name can still be found on official road maps of the area.
About this time, 1918, the United States was drawn into the World War I. The effect was almost immediately felt in Chilly and throughout the area. The livestock business was most affected since meat and wool prices went up dramatically. This brought new people into the cattle business. The same can be said to the sheep to summer on the public domain. Good profits from both sheep and cattle began to go down as the ranges became severely overstocked and the available grass could no longer support both sheep and cattle business. For years the sheep and cattlemen had gotten along well together. The ranges had been pretty well divided between the sheep and cattle. If the sheep were there first, it was sheep range and vise versa. This was known as the priority law and it was pretty much accepted by both interests until the transient interests enter the scene.
This brought bad feelings between the sheep and cattlemen. It was suggested lowering the forest boundaries three to four miles on all sides which would keep the transient sheep out, but the cattlemen objected since they would then have to pay 60 cents/head to summer their cattle on forest range. This cattle interests were "feeling their oats" and decided to get rough with the sheep men. Five cowboys shot a Mexican sheep herder and when he was released from the hospital a trial was held in Mackay which resulted in acquittal. Soon after that a stranger appeared in the area and hired out as a cowboy. It turned out that he was a U.S. Marshall and during the past year to 18 months posing as a cowboy, had collected enough evidence to bring the cowboys to trail. The result was damage award figures that bankrupted all three of the cattlemen and the Copper Basin Cattle Association. From that time on, Chilly, Barton, and surrounding areas began to deteriorate. Following the war, all prices went down and the farmers were hard pressed to make ends meet. People could not even pay their grocery bill let alone other expenses. The mines on the Salmon River shut down and the mines at Mackay were on short rations. Adding to these troubles, the Utah Construction Company who built the Mackay dam, took most of the water in the Lost River away from many farms.
Also about 1918, there appeared in Chilly, four automobiles belonging to Mr. Hunter, Joe White, Al West, and Lyle Ivie. And about this time, tourists also began arriving by auto for hunting and fishing trips into the Lost River and Salmon River areas. The store then added gasoline to its many items as food, shoes clothes, hardware, jewelry, candy, tobacco, ammunition, and at times, even meat. In the store could also be found the U.S Post Office. Near the barns was a blacksmith shop and a livery stables for horses. Yes, one could even buy lumber there!
One thing was missing in Chilly was a hotel and a place to get a cup of coffee or even a meal. So Hunter decided to change this and now seemed a good time to do so. Claude Larter had moved to Chilly from Whiskey Springs, which at one time was the stage stop on its way from Mackay through Chilly to Challis. To accommodate the travelers, a two-story building containing several rooms, was provided. The building was now vacant and in good condition so Hunter decided to move it to Chilly.
After much planning and preparation, it was ready to move as soon as winter set in and the ground was well frozen. Thalman enlisted several helpers. Twenty-four head of good draft horses furnished the power and Thalman was the driver. In spite of many problems, all went well and the house was skidded into Chilly. This was the new Chilly Hotel.
In 1924, J.B. Hunter passed away and in April of 1925, the store caught fire and burned to the ground. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Hunter and her parents moved to Salt Lake City where they owned some property. Within the next few months Chilly became a ghost town. This writer does not know what happen to a number of homes, barns, and outbuildings, but they are gone. Even the cement block school house is gone and there is no evidence that they ever existed.
This story was posted on page 2-B in, The Arco Advertiser on Thursday, January 28, 1999
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