History of the Site

{The following history is found in the “Rock Creek Station and Stricker Homesite: Idaho Historic Master Plan” which was created by Planmakers for the Idaho State Historical Society.}

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IMG_0028Willow-lined Rock Creek has formed a welcome refuge for Native Americans, explorers, and pioneers traveling through southcentral Idaho for centuries. In a high desert area where average yearly rainfall is less than 10 inches, the availability of water and plant life was a natural draw to emigrants and those seeking permanent settlement.

Beginning in 1811, explorers and mountain men followed Native American trails as they trapped in all the drainages of the area, including Rock Creek. By 1840, dwindling beaver populations forced fur traders to a new occupation – guiding emigrants through the area.

In the 1840s, a rush of settlers followed the Oregon Trail to Oregon country. Rock Creek was a popular camping spot along the trail from the outset, and wagon ruts can still be seen at the site. Emigrants typically reached Rock Creek in August when the weather was hot and dry. In the years of heavy travel, draft animals ate all the sparse grass and raised huge clouds of dust. The campground was the first water reached after a trek of almost 20 miles from the Snake River.

Native people were hospitable to travelers in the 1840s, but became less trusting as the number of emigrant wagons multiplied and travelers were more hostile. In one incident in 1851, the leader of an emigrant train ordered a group of Bannocks to vacate their camping spot on Rock Creek. He fired his gun over their heads and chased them on horseback, just to see how fast they could run. The Bannocks returned the next day and shot three members of the emigrant party, killing one man. As Idaho Territory filled with gold seekers and settlers during the 1860s, open conflict broke out in some places. A U.S. Army unit was briefly stationed at Rock Creek during the fall of 1865 to guard the Overland Stage Line against Native Americans. The army camp, known as Camp Reed, was located across the creek to the south. In June 1878 the Bannocks went to war to defend their traditional gathering grounds for camas (a staple in their diet) from white encroachment. A Bannock leader, Buffalo Horn, and a group of his followers passed through Rock Creek in mid-May, shortly before the hostilities started. By the end of the decade most Shoshone and Bannock people had been forcibly removed to a reservation at Fort Hall.

 

HOLLADAY OVERLAND STAGE LINE

In 1864, Ben Holladay was awarded a contract to deliver mail from Salt Lake City to Walla Walla, Washington, and when his agents built lava-rock stations along the route, a facility was included at Rock Creek. It became a “home station,” where stage drivers and attendants lived while they were off duty and where passengers could buy a meal or a night’s lodging. The original station consisted of a lava-rock building that served as a hotel and barn. A daily stage line, among the best-equipped in the U.S. with its four and six horse hitches, brought a daily sack of mail and newspapers to the inhabitants of Rock Creek. The popular papers of the early days were the Silver City Avalanche, Idaho City World, San Francisco Examiner, and the Idaho Statesman. Although the settlement was 100 miles from the railroad in Utah, the residents felt like they had the advantages of modern transportation.

overland (2)The Holladay stage line used Concord coaches manufactured of wood and braced with iron bands. Each coach was painted red with a black stripe and had a straw-colored chassis. There were side lights on the exterior and large candle lamps for the interior. Leather curtains kept out the environment. Nine passengers could sit on the three interior seats. In 1876, Idaho Statesman Traveling Correspondent W.A. Gouler wrote of his journey, July 12, 1876: “The North West Stage Company; carrying the United States mail, Wells Fargo’s express and a large and constantly increasing passenger list. The stage arrived at Rock Creek about eight o’clock, where an excellent breakfast was awaiting the hungry wayfarers. Charles and Irene Trotter keep the house here, and he and his estimable wife spare no pains in their effort to make this a desirable resting place. The locality and its surroundings are pleasant and attractive. The walls of the parlor are ornamented with photographic views of the Great Shoshone Falls on the Snake River, which are within ten miles of the hotel.”

 

ROCK CREEK STORE

James Bascom and John Corder built the store at Rock Creek in 1865, the first trading post between Boise and Fort Hall. In 1871 a post office was established in the store, and it also served as a polling place during elections. The store offered more than a traveler could desire on a public highway so far in the interior. Commodore Jackson, who was a stage tender, became the first postmaster and a small community formed around the Rock Creek area. In 1870 a gold rush occurred and the store became a supply base for the miners camped in the nearby Snake River Canyon. The increased freight and passenger business, the mail, and shipments of gold from Idaho’s mines all passed through Rock Creek. The little settlement experienced a 15-year period of busy activity.

In the fall of 1876 two German emigrants, Herman Stricker and John Botzet, bought the Rock Creek Store and contents, a stable and contents, and a dwelling house for approximately $5,300. Stricker became the Rock Creek postmaster in 1877 and served in that position for the next 22 years. Botzet sold out to Stricker in 1884.

Herman Stricker (1841-1920), born at Hanover, Germany, immigrated to America arriving at Cincinnati, Ohio at age 15. He was employed as a clerk in a grocery store before he enlisted with the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war he and his partner ran a commissary for several years, selling food and goods to the transcontinental railroad workers as the rails moved across the country. They came to Idaho following a rush of gold miners to the Snake River Canyon, where they owned a store at Springtown for several years before buying out Bascom’s bigger store.

 

KELTON FREIGHT ROAD

Kelton, Utah, was destined to become the main shipping point of the Central Pacific Railroad for southwestern Idaho after Ben Holladay chose a stage route from Boise City to Kelton. Kelton Road received all the passengers and express business conducted by stage lines. By the summer of 1869, John Hailey had 42-hour stage service between Kelton and Boise with nineteen stage stations on the 232-mile road. Twelve miles to the west of Rock Creek was the Desert Stage Station and 14 miles to the east was the Mountain Meadows Station. Holladay’s route was followed mainly by freighters with organized outfits carrying freight to the mining towns in Idaho. Up to eight pairs of mules, oxen or horses pulled three or four creaking wagons hitched together. In 1871 two major improvements occurred: a new grade down Raft River that saved 18 miles, and the completion of Glenn’s Ferry. Freighters could make the trip over the new road easily in 19 days. These changes helped the Kelton route maintain superiority over the other roads leading into southwestern Idaho. In the fall of 1879, John Hailey moved his Utah, Idaho, and Oregon stage line to the Glenn’s Ferry route.

With the completion of the Oregon Short Line Railroad to Shoshone in February 1883, the Kelton Road was soon replaced as the major supply distribution point for the southern portion of Idaho. By March 1, 1883, all stage, express, mail, and freight traffic from Kelton had been transferred to the advancing Oregon Short Line. By July 1884 a traveler on the old route observed that “grass now grows over the defunct overland Kelton stage road where the weary traveler once traveled in clouds of dust…” Parts of the road continued to be used with the county road south of Oakley to the City of Rocks still being on the same right-of-way.

 

SNAKE CANYON MINING

In 1870 two stage drivers panning for gold on the Snake River on their day off struck pay dirt and the gold attracted hundreds of miners to the canyon. Within three years, the easily accessible gold had been panned or dug from the canyon walls, and American miners began selling their claims to Chinese, who took over the community in the canyon called Springtown. Between 1870 and 1880, about 500 Chinese were mining in the canyon. Chinese miners would have passed through Rock Creek Station going back and forth to the canyon mines, and they frequented a log structure there named China House.

 

ROCK CREEK COMMUNITY

The 1880 census reported that 44 people lived at Rock Creek, including those at a new post office location about 2 miles upstream from the station. Railroad construction in Utah boosted the prosperity of Rock Creek for a period of time. In 1883 the Oregon Short Line Railroad was constructed on the north side of the Snake River — across the river from Rock Creek — ultimately contributing to a decline in the community’s importance. The Snake River Canyon — a great crack in the earth — isolated the settlement. The cattle industry helped to expand the community and many large ranches in the area depended on the store. The 1900 census lists 146 people living in the Rock Creek area. The people included Scandinavian, Scottish and German settlers, freighters, teamsters and miners, many of whom were Chinese. Irrigation from the Milner Dam in 1905 further transformed the area. Travel continued by horse until the 1920s.

 

STRICKER HOMESITE

Lucy Walgamott (1859-1949) arrived at Rock Creek in 1879 to visit her sister, Irene, and brother Charlie. Irene’s husband, Charles Trotter, operated the stage station where Lucy met Herman Stricker. They were married in 1882 and had four sons and three daughters. Lucy was an accomplished musician who prized the first organ in the area which she often played at dances, transporting the organ with her.

Herman Stricker filed for and was granted water rights for irrigation and mining at the site in 1884. He homesteaded additional land until his family holdings totaled 960 acres, most of which was flood irrigated. Stricker was in the cattle business from the time the mines closed. Farming increased during World War I, raising mostly wheat. Fourth of July ice cream socials were held at the homesite until 1917.

On her 83rd birthday, Lucy donated the Rock Creek Store to the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. Herman and Lucy Stricker are buried in the Rock Creek Cemetery located 1-mile east and a short distance south on County Road G-3 (Rock Creek Road), along with other family members and pioneer neighbors.

Shortly after the store was given to the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers in 1942, they assembled a monument on the site. Unfortunately, some vandalism occurred at the site and by the late 1970s the store was back under the ownership of the heirs of Herman and Lucy Stricker. Gladys Stricker (1899-1982), a daughter, lived her life at the site. She took many early photographs of the area beginning in 1913 and gave Don Dean, nearby resident, her negatives. Bertha and Clifton Haynes, a grandson, farmed the Stricker Ranch for many years.

In 1984 descendants of the Stricker family donated the five-acre historic site to the State of Idaho. On September 28, 1984, a Trustee’s Deed conveyed the home, two-room log cabin and store to the state to repair and preserve and “to honor the memory of Herman Stricker and Lucy G. Stricker and for the public interest as a historical site.” The surrounding Stricker Ranch was sold to Ken Mulberry in the early 1990s.

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