In honor of Sesquicentennial Plus One, I’m devoting the Speaking of Idaho blog to my family’s history during August.
The irrigation project Nels is most remembered for was the construction of the Idaho Canal. It was the first big canal project in that part of the state. The Idaho Canal runs from about ten miles above Idaho Falls to the Blackfoot River, draining across the lower end of the valley where Nels and Emma lived, watering only a few acres of their son, James Just's property. But it irrigated 35,000 acres for other farmers.
Joseph Clark (the first mayor of Idaho Falls and the father of two future Idaho governors) and Charles C. Tautphaus (for whom Tautphaus Park in Idaho Falls is named) partnered with Nels Just on the project. Chicago investors helped get the canal going, incorporating it in December of 1891. The company completed the canal but got into financial trouble trying to build an extension that would lead from the Blackfoot River across the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. They got the contract. Then the contract was pulled because of a dispute. The reservation canal was on-again/off-again for several years, ultimately resulting in the company's bankruptcy.
One of the Chicago investors in the Idaho Canal Company was a banker named Charles W. Spalding. During the bank panic of 1896, his bank, Globe Savings Bank of Chicago, failed, leaving a large sum of money owed to the University of Illinois. Spalding ended up in prison as a result. The State of Illinois was interested in recovering some of that money, so they went after the assets of the Idaho Canal Company, in which he owned shares worth about $50,000.
A Kansas real estate and newspaper entrepreneur by the name of James Hezekiah Brady went to Idaho on behalf of the State of Illinois to take over the company, which still exists today.
To my great grandfather, J.H. Brady was the devil. Nels Just and Charles Spalding, who had never met, carried on a correspondence for six years, scheming about how to get their company back and, most often, relating the thousand ways that J.H. Brady was a conniving person of the lowest order. Our family still has those letters, with both sides of the correspondence.
To cut a very long story short, Nels Just sold his shares in the Idaho Canal Company in 1902 for 24 cents on the dollar. The Justs and the Spaldings got to be good friends through those years of correspondence. When Charles Spalding got out of prison, he and his wife moved to Blackfoot, where they lived out their lives.
And what about that scoundrel, Brady? He became Idaho's eighth governor and the US Senator from the state from 1913 to 1918.