Byrd Trego was the editor of The Blackfoot Republican. The Morning News can trace its roots back to that paper. Trego was the original Blackfoot Booster, sometimes called “The One-Man Chamber of Commerce.” At that time there was a competing newspaper, The Blackfoot Optimist.
While doing research on Sagehurst, I was startled to see a front-page story about the arrest of Byrd Trego. In May 1913 he was arrested for assaulting a young girl who was living in the Trego home. The Optimist followed the case doggedly in the coming weeks. The Blackfoot Republican was silent about it.
The Tregos, who had no children of their own, took in a 13-year-old girl by the name of Nellie Ray from the Home Finding Society of Boise to raise as their own. According to the couple’s account she became increasingly hard to handle during the three years they had her, sneaking away to dances and the like. She was given chances to reform but did not take them. Finally, the Tregos resolved to send her back to the Orphan’s Home in Boise. As the date for her departure neared, Nellie became more and more disruptive. The Tregos soon put her on a train to Boise.
Once back in Boise, Nellie told her story of abuse by Byrd Trego. Then, she recanted her story, only to switch back to the original version. On the strength of the Home superintendent’s report, authorities in Blackfoot arrested editor Trego.
The Optimist covered the trial of Trego gleefully, calling him “a fiend in human form” and reporting the alleged offense in detail, while stating “the exact words used by the prosecuting witness (Nellie Ray) are not reproduced here, for while they might not affect the older readers, the story against this child as told in her own language is too suggestive for children to read.”
On June 12, 1913, the Optimist reported that jurors had deliberated for 13 hours and brought back a verdict of guilty. The smallest of the four stacked headlines on the story read, “Heinousness of Offense Does Not Seem to Penetrate Mind of Inhuman Brute Upon Whom Rests the Charge of Wrecking Life.”
So, dark days indeed at Sagehurst. And still, nothing from the Idaho Republican. That is until months later when the paper’s banner headline read, “Trego Case Reversed by Supreme Court.” That was on March 6, 1914.
The Idaho Supreme Court excoriated the lower court, prosecutors, and witnesses in the original trial, pointing out gross inconsistencies in Nellie Ray’s story, stating that records showed she clearly testified falsely, and that she wanted to “get even” with the Tregos. “From the entire evidence, this court is warranted in assuming that the jury must have rendered the verdict under the influence of passion and prejudice,” the ruling read.
Now, suddenly, the Blackfoot Republican broke its silence. Byrd Trego had been advised by attorneys to stay mum while the case was on appeal. Now he had something to say. That something went on for thousands of words in a series of six weekly articles titled “The Conspiracy of the Twenty-Three.” He went on in excruciating detail about how local enemies had set him up.
Meanwhile, it was the Blackfoot Optimist taking a turn at silence. The paper reported the reversal by the Idaho Supreme Court in matter-of-fact terms, then moved on as if nothing had happened.
So, the dark veil was lifted from Sagehurst. The scandal that threatened the lives of the Tregos was abruptly behind them. Byrd Trego would edit The Idaho Republican until 1927, when it would merge with The Evening Bulletin to become The Daily Bulletin. Trego would continue as co-editor and co-publisher of that paper until his retirement in 1939 after 35 years in the newspaper business in Blackfoot. He died April 2, 1957. Susie Trego preceded him in death, passing away in 1937.