On August 15, we’ll be hosting an open house at the home Nels and Emma built in 1887. It made the National Register of Historic Places last year. More details on that are available here.
In honor of Sesquicentennial Plus One, I’m devoting the Speaking of Idaho blog to my family’s history during August.
“The winter was uneventful, but the spring, the spring has been wonderful! We have had guests, distinguished guests from the big world itself. You see there is a land to the northeast of us, perhaps a hundred miles, that is considered marvelous for its scenic possibilities and the government is sending a party of surveyors, chemists, etc., to pass judgment with a view to setting it aside for a national park. Well, this party happened to stop at our little cabin. There were representatives from all of the big eastern colleges, and then besides, there were the Moran brothers. I think you must have heard of Thomas Moran even as far away as England, for he is a wonderful nature artist. And his brother John is what I have heard you speak of as a "book maker." He writes magazine articles.
“And these two remarkable men were interested in us and in our way of living. Think of it, Father! I took them into the cellar where I had been churning to give them a drink of fresh buttermilk and while they drank and enjoyed it, I was smoothing the rolls of butter with my cedar paddle that Nels had whittled out for me with his pocket knife. I noticed the artist man paying special attention to the process and finally he ventured rather apologetically: "Mrs. Just, would you mind telling me what you varnish your rolls of butter with that gives them such a glossy appearance?" I thought the man was making fun of me, or sport of me as you would express it, but I looked into his face and saw that it was all candor. That is one of the happiest experiences of my life for that man who knows everything to be ignorant in the lines that I know so well. I tried to make him understand that the smooth paddle and the fresh butter were all sufficient but I think he is still rather bewildered. And do you know, since that day, the art of butter making has taken on anew dignity. I always did like to do it, but now my cedar paddle keeps singing to me with every stroke, "Even Thomas Moran cannot do this, Thomas Moran cannot do this," and before I know it the butter is all finished and I am ready to sing a different song to the washboard.”
Thomas Moran, of course, was a member of the Hayden Expedition to Yellowstone in 1871. The expedition was camped nearby along the Blackfoot River on their way to Yellowstone, and several members visited the Just cabin. Emma and Nels sold them some of their handiwork. Some leather gloves and britches, such as the ones worn by Hayden Expedition members in the William Henry Jackson photo below. Scroll down past the picture to read more about the industriousness of Nels and Emma Just.
A Cottage Industry
In a time when it took a full day to freight anything 15 miles, locally-made items were a bargain. Nels, who was a freighter on and off for decades, knew this as well as anyone. He and Emma, were an industrious pair, rendering barrels of fat from slaughtered livestock to make tallow for candles, making butter in bulk, and furnishing hard working men with clothes to match their needs.
In 1878 Nels hauled 400 pounds of rendered fat to Corrinne, Utah Territory, hoping to get a nice price out of it. When offered just 4 cents a pound, he hauled the load all the way back—121 miles as the crow flies—to his home along the Blackfoot River in Idaho Territory. He and Emma proceeded to make soap and candles from the fat. They probably sold those items to the Anderson brothers, who had a store in Eagle Rock that carried their name.
We know the Anderson Brothers store sold buckskin gloves made by Emma and Nels. The Justs charged the brothers 75 cents a pair for the gloves, and $3 a pair for buckskin britches.
Tomorrow I'll tell you about the first Timber Culture Act patent issued in Idaho.