It garnered a name in the first place because it was a notorious robber’s roost for a few years in the 1860s. A band of horse rustlers chose the spot because its natural shape made building a corral easy. They ran the pickets between the walls of the small box canyon and built a living quarters nearby.
Stealing horses was only part of the business. The men were adept at producing bogus gold and passing it off as the real thing. Calling the gang outlaws, though, is a little shaky. There weren’t many laws and even less enforcement in the Oregon Territory prior to 1863. When Idaho Territory came into being that year the situation didn’t improve much.
One young man who had been quietly raising watermelons and onions near Horseshoe Bend for sale to prospectors in the region took particular umbrage when he lost a horse to the Picket Corral gang. His name was William John McConnell. He and other citizens took it upon themselves to clean out Picket Corral. Some would call them vigilantes. McConnell referred to himself that way in his book, Frontier Law, that came out in 1924.
McConnell stopped in at a roadhouse in what was then called Emmettsville to have a drink while waiting for his fellow vigilantes to show up in force. Unfortunately, the toughs had heard McConnell and his men were out to get them. Several of the outlaws called McConnell outside where they confronted him. He backed up against the building and set his hands at the ready to grab his revolvers. Then he gave them a little speech.
“Show your colors,” he said. “I will make the biggest funeral ever held in this valley. You are here to murder me. I don’t think you can do it.”
He was right. Frozen in place by the man’s defiance they stood there while he read them a notice of banishment. Their ringleader left for Oregon the next day and the others scattered, abandoning Picket Corral.
The rogue sheriff elected in 1864 in Ada County, set out to avenge the treatment of some of his Picket Corral compatriots by killing McConnel. Sheriff David Updyke, who will get his own blog post soon enough, was not successful and was later hanged by vigilantes.
Vigilante McConnell did alright for himself in life. He moved to Oregon where he was elected to the state senate. In the 1880s he moved back to Idaho where he opened a general store in Moscow with a partner. McConnell was a delegate to Idaho’s constitutional convention and briefly became a U.S. Senator from Idaho. In 1893 he became Idaho’s third governor, serving until 1897. That gave his daughter, Mary, a chance to meet and marry William E. Borah. McConnell passed away in 1925 at age 85.
Picket Corral became less of a robber’s roost over the year and more of a place to have a picnic.