But enough about Dick, at least for today. This post is about a man who wrote formal Idaho history books, a popular book about Native American heroines, and a regular newspaper column. Those were all passions of Byron Defenbach, but he also had a day job. Several of them, in fact.
Defenbach was deeply involved in government almost from the time he moved to Sandpoint around 1900. In the first few years of the Twentieth Century he served as mayor of the town, the Bonner County Assessor, and had a few terms as an Idaho state senator under his belt. He was also the postmaster of Sandpoint.
In 1915, Idaho created the State Board of Accountancy. Defenbach had received a bookkeeping and accountancy certificate from Kinman Business School in Spokane, so he rushed to Boise to become a Certified Public Accountant. Defenbach family lore has it that the handful of men standing in the office waiting to be issued a certificate drew straws to see who would go first. Byron Defenbach won. He received certificate number one, making him the first CPA in Idaho. He would later serve on the Idaho State Board of Accountancy and the Idaho State Tax Commission.
Defenbach established an accounting firm in Lewiston with two sons. They also had a Pocatello office. Many snippets in Idaho newspapers across the state in the 20s and 30s tell about him coming to town to conduct an audit of city or county books.
Active in the Republican party, and an established money man, Defenbach was elected Idaho State Treasurer in 1927, serving in that office until 1930. That entailed a move to Boise, where he would make a permanent home. In 1932 he ran for governor, losing to Democrat C. Ben Ross.
It was likely not an accident that Defenbach began writing a regular column for Idaho newspapers while still state treasurer in 1928. It served to get his name in front of voters for about three years leading up to his unsuccessful run for governor.
The columns, under the title “The State We Live In,” were not strictly Idaho history. He wrote many about Idaho institutions, why they were formed, and how they were run. Not coincidentally, this showed that he had a good grasp of issues regarding state normal schools, the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind, State Hospital South, the Old Soldiers Home, the reform school, and on and on. He wrote about gold and silver and geology in general. He wrote about the weather.
Defenbach was an Idaho booster. He was part of a campaign to make City of Rocks a national monument. In a 1929 column he called the site “Goblin City” and compared it favorably to Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave and Garden of the Gods in Colorado. He ended his column with a paragraph that summed up his feelings about the site and gave some indication of the reach of his writings: “It is strange that so few, even of Idaho people, know of its existence, and it is to be regretted that greater efforts are not made to advertise, popularize, and capitalize this possession, unquestionably one of the outstanding show places of the state we live in. How many of the thirty-odd thousand readers of the seventy Idaho papers printing this article, ever heard of it before?”
City of Rocks, jointly operated by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation and the National Park Service, became City of Rocks National Reserve in 1988.
Byron Defenbach, author of a The State We Live In, the three-volume Idaho the Place and its People—A History of the Gem State from Prehistoric Times to the Present Days, and Red Heroines of the Northwest passed away in 1947 at age 77.
My thanks to Defenbach’s grandson, also named Byron Defenbach, for his contribution to this post.