William Allen Stonebraker worked and played in the rugged central Idaho wilderness at the turn of the 20th century and he's left behind a unique legacy of photographs to tell his story. That photo collection has just been released by the University of Idaho Library.
The photos were taken by Stonebraker between 1900 and 1931. Erin Passehl-Stoddart is the Digital Projects Manager at the University of Idaho Library. She says there are 540 photos in the collection. They document his pack-train business to the gold fields, his hunting and camping trips, and his dude ranch. They take a peek at life on the landscape in the Salmon River and what would become the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.
Passehl-Stoddart says there are many collections of photos that feature gold mining in the West. But Stonebraker’s pictures are unique. “These photographs are not of mines themselves, but it is of his businesses that had to do with supporting the mining boom that was happening at that time,” says Passehl-Stoddart.
Stonebraker was a man of many trades, supplying beef to nearby mining communities. He worked as a pack-train operator, bringing miners into the wilderness and mail and supplies to the miners from his central Idaho home in Stites. He helped build the Three Blaze Trail which went from Grangeville to Dixie to Thunder Mountain.
During all his adventures, Stonebraker took his camera along. He shot pictures of pack trips and horses, wildlife, scenic vistas, and camp life. He was one of the first to build a homestead in the Chamberlain Basin in central Idaho. Eventually, says Passehl-Stoddart, he turned those 409-acres into a dude ranch.
“He would have ‘regular people’ traveling out to his dude ranch and he would take them out on big game hunting expeditions, mining, fishing and wildlife viewing.”
During all those trips, there was Stonebraker with his camera. “He absolutely, you can tell, had an eye for capturing wildlife,” says Passehl-Stoddart, “and things happening in the environment at that time.”
Stonebraker died while on a pack trip to Idaho County in 1932. His wife sold the ranch soon after. Eventually, the Forest Service bought the property in 1975. His cabin still stands in the Frank Church Wilderness.
“It’s a rich history,” Passehl-Stoddart says. “And it’s of course fun to look at photos from over 100 years ago and see what life was like and how it’s very similar still to today, but also how it’s different.”
The photos he took were kept in the Stonebraker family. Eventually UI alumna Donna Henderson of Post Falls acquired the collection from a member of the family. She donated the photos to the library. Now the photos are online, available to anyone.
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