My obsession with the South often has me wishing that I had been born there or that I could find at least one ancestor that served the Confederacy, but I have had to content myself with loving it from afar and luxuriating in its wealth through the usual channels available to outsiders. My family is very accommodating of my passion and even humored me by driving up to Idaho City for the “Idaho City Days” simply because I knew the Civil War Volunteers would be participating and we could see the cannon demonstration, grey uniforms on display, and the beautiful Confederate flags waving proudly.
Arriving in Idaho City is like taking a step back in time. It is tucked away in the hills and the main street is lined with old buildings that retain their original frontier feel. I tried to engage the Civil War reenactors, but my conversation with them was not as satisfying as I had hoped, since they seemed to harbor a mostly reconstructed view. I did, however, glean from a gentleman wearing the grey, a few clues that have set me on an interesting path of discovery.
Before my conversation with the aforementioned gentleman, I had been in the museum up the street and had come across an interesting story about a conflict between Union and secessionist factions in Idaho. I asked the old soldier if he knew more about how settlers in Idaho experienced the war. When he started naming off towns like Notus, Parma, Caldwell, Leesburg, Emmett, Atlanta, and Dixie, all settled by Southern refugees, I realized I was sitting on a gold mine, literally and historically. Idaho not only boasts many gold rush towns like Idaho City, but is also rich in Confederate history!
Idaho City at one time was nothing more than a section of river claimed by Jeff Standifer for panning gold. Standifer’s history alone deserves the full treatment and I intend to address it in a future essay, but for now it is sufficient to say he was a Confederate. During the 1860’s many people seeking to escape the war fled west, and because significant amounts of gold started showing up in the territory that would become Idaho, it naturally became a magnet for these folks.
Some became prospectors, but others became farmers and ranchers to supply the basic food needs of the rapidly growing gold towns. Parma is one of the areas they farmed and a historical marker that is still standing describes their experience:
“Confederate refugees from Missouri started farming in this area in 1863 and 1864 when gold and silver mining camps created a great demand for flour and cattle. Driven out from their Missouri River homes below Kansas City by extremely bitter Civil War border warfare, they got a new start by digging riverside canals and planting crops. They helped make Idaho an overwhelming southern Democratic territory from 1864 to 1880. Settlements from Caldwell to Notus were known as Dixie, and those farther west were Lower Boise.”
As the marker mentions, Notus was another settlement for people seeking refuge from the horrors of war. The accepted explanation for the name of the town Notus is that it is an Indian word meaning “it’s all right”, but I have also been told that it really stands for “Not- U.S.” and was an expression of those Southern refugees and sympathizers who despised the Union government and came west to escape its aggression. I haven’t been able to confirm either story, and yet an additional explanation also exists; the word “Notus” refers to “the ancient Greek personification of the south wind.”
Emmett, Idaho was named after Emmett Lee Cahalan, son of Irish-born Thomas Cahalan. Thomas served in the Confederate army, was a prisoner of war at Sedalia, Missouri, and came west after his parole to begin ranching in Idaho. He named his son Emmett Lee after General Robert E. Lee. This Missouri Confederate veteran was a prominent attorney in the Boise area and also served as county assessor, legislator, and district attorney. He is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery in Boise.
And what of the road sign to “Atlanta” that we passed on our way home from Idaho City that day? Digging into the history, I found that Atlanta was another gold mine. Its remote and inaccessible location kept it secret and retarded its development for several years, but it eventually became one the most profitable mines in Idaho. Who named it Atlanta? and why? It was none other than Captain John Stanley, another Confederate veteran for whom the town of Stanley, Idaho is named. He named it Atlanta because at the time he and his party discovered gold there, a significant battle was taking place in Georgia which he anticipated would be won by the South. As you may imagine, it took many days for the news of the Confederate loss to reach him.
Do you live among grey ghosts? I certainly do, and uncovering their fascinating legacies is like finding gold. Only scratching the surface, we see a strong agrarian mindset and lifestyle, a fierce commitment to independence, and a fearless approach to living in a rugged and unpredictable environment. I encourage you to start mining and see what Confederate treasures you can unearth in your neck of the woods.