Mackay's Mt. McCaleb

By Earl A. Lockie, South Custer County Historical Society President.

This article also appeared in The Arco Advertiser Newspaper, March 9, 1999.

The name of one of the most prominent peaks of the Lost River range, Mt. McCaleb, has been used by many a Mackay business or other entity. Stand just about anywhere in Mackay looking North and one cannot escape the image of this uniquely shaped sentinel as it rises steeply from the foothills up over a mile to it's full glory of 11,600 feet. It may not be the tallest of the Lost River range but it may well be the most Photographed. Winter or summer, McCaleb always seems to end up a backdrop for pictures of the town. The Mackay Miner records; only a few times that its summit has been scaled, the first in 1910, but the mountain doesn't draw near the number of climbers as Idaho's tallest, Mt Borah. This may well be due to the climb's extreme difficulty and inherent hazards, as documented in a Miner account of two brothers attempting the climb in the summer of 1927. Their problem didn't come in reaching the top, but in coming down. One brother would become trapped on the mountain's face, having to stand in the same spot for many hours into the night, before help arrived to rescue him. As interesting as the account was, the story of the mountain's namesake, Capt. Jesse McClabe, is also worthy of note and is summarized here.

Jesse McCaleb came out West from Tennessee in about 1866 after service in the Civil War, where after seeing action in 36 separate skirmishes or battles, was promoted to the rank of Captain. He found his way first to the MOntana Territory and later, in 1867, over the mountains to settle in Salmon City of the Idaho Territory. Here he would become the first auditor and recorder of Lemhi County, and later would be elected to the position of Sheriff. He ranched for a time but the year 1877 found him in business with another ex-military man, Col. Geo. L. Shoup. They operated a number of mercantiles in settlements along the Salmon River, including one in Challis.

In 1877 and 1878, as the Idaho Territory and this central mountain area was still being opened up, the area was frequented by displaced bands of Indians, thought to be mostly of Bannock origin, who plagued and raided the early settlers. In the summer of 1878 a freight wagon shipment of general merchandise consigned to the Shoup Mercantile of Challis , including some guns and ammunition provided by the U.S Army, left Blackfoot for its central Idaho destination. They had been forewarned of possible Indian trouble, but all went well until the morning of August 11th. The freight wagons had encamped for the night at the Narrows, a spot near the present site of the Mackay dam. They had joined the day before by an escort group of seven men from Challis led by Capt. McCaleb. Indians ahd been spotted and the escort group summoned to reinforce the freighters and protect the shipment from falling into their hands, especially the guns and ammunition. An Indian force of 150-300 began the attack which would last for nearly two full days. Though severely out manned, but blessed with a plentiful supply of guns and ammunition and a good fortification made up the wagons and supplies, the 14 men put up a good defense. In fact, when the fighting ended, they would have but one casualty; Capt. Jesse McCaleb, dead at the age of 40. As story goes, he stuck his bald head up once too often and was killed instantly by a single rifle shot to the head.

The site of the actual battle is covered by waters of the Mackay reservoir but the nearby location of McCaleb's initial burial is called Battleground Cemetery and is appropriately marked for this courageous young man. This would be the valley's first cemetery and since McCaleb's burial and later exhumation, over a dozen of the valley's earliest pioneers have been laid t rest there. They would include members of the Burnett, Bartlett, Navarre, Richardson and other families, mostly homesteaders and freighters of the upper valley. The Battleground Cemetery of today may well resemble the area when the first graves were dug, except perhaps for the fence and the concrete and brass marker commemorating the spot. Sage brush has reclaimed the enclosure and nary a sign exists of individual graves sites. The marker lists the names of Capt. McCaleb and those early pioneers and homesteaders who found this their final resting place. McCaleb's body would be exhumed and relocated to the cemetery in Salmon in December of 1878; that being his home of record, where he held political offices, and where he was Past Master of the Lemhi Lodge No. 11 of A. F.& A. M. of Salmon. He was paid many tributes and eulogized with many honors but perhaps none quite as prestigious and long lasting as having Mackay's mountain, Mt. McCaleb named in his honor.

Reference Mackay Miner issues: 1910 June 9,; 1924 Sept. 3; 1926 Apr. 14; 1928 May 2; 1930 July 16; 1931 Sept. 10; 1932 April 21; 1962 Sept. 13, 20.


 

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