I’ve known this story for years and had visited Packer John’s Cabin when it was a state park unit several times (it is now managed by Adams County). What I didn’t know was anything about “Packer” John. I assumed he was probably a grizzled old guy who got along better with mules than with people.
John Welch was neither grizzled nor old. He built that cabin in the winter of 1862 when he was 20 years old. It wasn’t in his plans to build a cabin, but the weather caught him on a trip south from Lewiston. He couldn’t make it over the pass into Long Valley with his string. The cabin was to keep he and his crew warm. Welch probably had no idea he was building a convention center.
After serving its role in early Idaho history, the cabin was abandoned. Emma Edwards Green, the artist who created Idaho’s state seal, stopped by the site in 1891 to paint a couple of pictures of the relic. It attracted photographers for a while, then served as an unofficial picnic and camping area. The Idaho Legislature appropriated $500 in 1909 to purchase the cabin and a little land—10 acres—around it. It was memorialized in 1936 with a monument placed along the road by the Daughters of the Idaho Pioneers. It became a state park in 1951 and lost that status in 1982.
But, there I go, writing about the cabin. I wanted to write about young “Packer” John Welch.
Welch ran a store in Leesburg for a while and—not surprisingly—ran a pack string on the trail between Boise and Lewiston. Packing was something he did for just a short time. He was more interested in making money than running mules, so he ended up in Salmon. “Ended up” is about right.
It’s unclear where Welch got $300 worth of gold dust, but he had it in his possession on December 21, 1867. His travelling companion, John S. Ramey had $3200 in cash and $500 worth of gold dust. They were headed from Salmon to Boise on December 15, 1867, each riding a horse and leading a pack animal.
About 25 miles south of Malad Station they were accosted by four highwaymen. Two of the robbers held guns on the pair, while their partners relieved Welch and Ramey of the valuables. It did not sit well with either of the victims, but it was Welch who decided to voice his disgruntlement.
The December 21, 1867 Idaho Statesman described it this way. “Welch complained that ‘this was too bad,’ and remarked that ‘he would meet some of them again, and he would know them, too.’” That’s when one of the guards shot him through the head.
John Ramey, who happened to be the undersheriff in Idaho County, lived to tell about the incident.
So, Packer John Welch would never be a grizzled old packer. He was 25 when he died. His brother, William, retrieved the body and took it back to Clackamas County Oregon for burial.