On the trail of Charles Sampson

Getting around Idaho in the teens and early 20’s of the last century was a dodgy business. No good roads existed. Anywhere. And the trails that crisscrossed the state were as often as not game trails with little or no markings.

Travelers trudging across rugged terrain, were often desperate for some type of signage–or a knowledgeable native–to point them in the right direction. Finding one’s way around Idaho’s bustling little cities was no better. Streets were rarely marked, and one was often reduced to begging direction at every new intersection.

In 1911, Boise businessman Charles B. Samson found himself in such a predicament. While making a delivery, he came to a perplexing intersection and had to ask several times for directions. Annoyed at the time it took to find his location, Sampson suggested to city leaders it would be a good idea to mark streets and intersections.

City leaders did nothing, so Sampson decided to he would take care of the task himself. He put a sign up at the troublesome intersection, and decided it was a great idea so he started putting signs up wherever he felt they were needed. Typically, the signs read: “Follow the Sampson Trail,” in bright orange outlined with black, and with an arrow pointing underneath.

Soon, Sampson had a fair bit of Boise and the surrounding area marked, and decided–as it were–to take his show on the road…er trail.

Sampson’s first extensive trail was marked in 1914. Travelers on that trail had no trouble finding their way from Boise to Emmett. He marked everything from fence posts to bridges. By 1915, Sampson extended his trails to Mountain Home, Atlanta, McCall and Weiser. With the help of six buddies, Sampson marked trails in eastern Idaho and northern Idaho by 2018.

He received hundreds of letters of appreciation from the public. For nearly two decades he marked and maintained trails. He incorporated about four thousand miles of trail in Idaho, and some in Oregon, Wyoming, and Utah. Most of the trails were marked while Sampson was on business trips or vacation, and all at his own expense.

Oregon was the first to object to Sampson’s trails. Oregon thought the markings defaced the scenery and forced Sampson to cease marking. Sometime around 1925, the state of Idaho questioned Sampson’s trails on the same grounds. But since Sampson’s signs provided such great service to the public, people weren’t about to give up his trails and public pressure kept Idaho from taking legal action.

In 1933 the state legislature finally recognized Sampson’s contribution by passing a law giving him the right of marking and maintaining the Sampson trail. In 1977, the Idaho  Transportation Department  recognized Sampson’s contribution to marking trails stating: “The frequency, clarity, and helpfulness of the thousands of miles of present-day highway markers within the communities, cities, and throughout the five-thousand mile state highway system may be, whether he bypassed the early day laws or not, attributed to the example set by Sampson and his markings in the early 1900’s”.

Today, very few of the Sampson Trail markings remain, but 18 state and federal highways, including SH71, SH75, US93, US20, US30, I84, and I86, were first marked by Charles Sampson.

There are few folks today who remember traveling the Sampson trail, regardless, his trails were a remarkable achievement, an excellent community service project, and, undeniably, a benefit to the entire Idaho community.

Note: Charles Sampson was a brilliant advertiser. He owned a music store in Boise. He painted the front of his store bright orange and orange footprints adorned the sidewalk leading to the front of his store. He had done such an extensive mapping of a trail before marking it, that people were assured his trails were the best route to any destination. But, at the end of the day, all trails led to Boise, and following the Sampson Trail  would eventually lead you to his business. Smart fellow!

 

 

Today, this advertising slogan would be vilified by the politically correct of our great nation. But in 1910, HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A BALD-HEADED INDIAN? was the catch phrase of a bustling Idaho enterprise

The first industry in Shoshone, Idaho promised its product would someday be of national importance. On the front page of the Dec. 13 1907 Shoshone Journal, was a picture of an Indian man, woman, and child. The caption under the picture asked, “Have you ever seen a bald-headed Indian? This was the slogan of the newly formed Sage Brush Tonic Company, Limited.

Sage brush tonic was the brain child of local druggist Tom Starrh. Starrh spent months investigating sagebrush for its tonic properties, and in the article, he claimed sage brush tonic would be: “the most effective hair grower on the market.”

Starrh explained Indians had been using sage from time immemorial as a hair tonic, and now civilized chemists had turned out a product far superior.

In its articles of incorporation, the Sage Brush Tonic Company set its purpose as the manufacturing and vending of certain medicinal compounds. Sage Brush Tonic was to be its first product, Sage Brush Shampoo, its second.

The Sage Brush Tonic Company took marketing of its product very seriously. The product was packaged in elaborately decorated boxes and came with a colorful pocket pamphlet. The five page pamphlet included proof of the tonics medicinal properties, testimonials of individuals who had used the product, and information about the discovery of sage brush as a medicinal compound.

Each bottle of tonic cost $1, and by all accounts the initial success for the company was phenomenal for the times. But the financial crash of 1907 found its way to Idaho in 1909, and by 1910 and the Sage Brush Tonic Company went into foreclosure. In part, the company folded because its shipping costs outweighed its profit in sales along the eastern seaboard. Still, for many years some must have thought the company might reemerge as the economy recovered because for over 70 years, the formula for the tonic was kept secret.

If your interested, here is the formula for making 100 gallons of sage brush hair tonic

  • Place 75 gallons of water in a large kettle
  • Add 25 gallons of alcohol
  • 50 ounces of Resorcin
  • 8 ounces of Tr. Cantharides
  • And 3 gallons of Salvia Lanceolata (Sage brush tonic)
  • 45 ounces of perfume Oila
  • The whites of 100 eggs

Dissolve resorcin in water after it is added to the kettle. dissolve oils and Tr. Cantharides in a portion of alcohol, stir the whole briskly for a few minutes. Add the extract salvia lanceolata and stir again. Add water enough to the mixture to make 100 gallons. Add the egg whites and stir again for a period of five minutes. Heat gradually the whole mixture until signs of condensation of alcohol takes place at the mouth of the still. Shut off the heat and let stand for 24 to 36 hours and then filter down.

In a 1960 article in the Lincoln County Journal, a few of the cities leaders contemplated the possibility of bringing the company back. “There is still plenty of sage brush, men are still afflicted with hair loss, and, as far as we can tell, there are still no bald-headed Indians.”

Food for thought.

The Other Winter:

  Most in the Pacific Northwest and California won’t soon forget the winter of 2016-2017. Day after day, snow followed by freezing rain, followed by more snow caused no end of concern and hardship for city, county, and state citizens. Along with the nearly unbelievable amounts of rain and snow, seemingly imminent castastrophies sent shock waves of fear and worry across the nation, as many wondered if the nations tallest dam in Oroville, California would collapse. It didn’t, and thank God, the devastation would have been catastrophic beyond words.  But was this winter the worst the west had ever seen? As spring approached Avalanches and water runoff closed roads, flooded agricultural areas, and damaged numerous homes.  It certainly seemed to those who went through it that 2016-2017 was indeed the worst winter in modern history. But it wasn’t. The Winter of 1948-1949 was worse. Much worse.      Excerpts from Without Compromise, 75 Years of Service Idaho State Police by Kelly Kast, Ridenbaugh Press 2013: “The forces of nature declared war on Idaho and the Pacific Northwest. For nearly four months, Idaho was slammed with record setting snow storms, wind storms, and temperatures that day-after-day dropped below minus twenty-five degrees.” By the end of January, beginning of February 1949, Idaho Governor C.A Robins received so many desperate telegrams from county commissioners across Idaho, he sent emergency telegrams to Washington D.C.  Robins reminded the nation’s leaders Idaho farming and livestock raising operations were a critical part of the nation’s security. Within hours, Robins received a reply from U.S. Senator Glen Taylor. “President Truman has instructed the Federal Works Agency and the Bureau of Land Management to give full aid, even beyond the funds appropriated if necessary, to assist Idaho and other stricken areas of the west.” The aid package was a whopping $1.3 million.  The money was appreciated, but without nature’s cooperation it wouldn’t be enough to help the vast majority. Nature didn’t cooperate. Idaho State Police Trooper C.L. Roberts remembered the winter in vivid detail. For nearly four months he worked anywhere from 12 to 14 hours a day trying to help his fellow citizens.  “Every city was cut off from its neighboring cities. They were barricaded because the wind had drifted the snow so high across the roads, equipment simply didn’t exist to move it out of the way. In many areas, the snow was so high people were walking over the top of telephone poles.” On the worst day of that winter, over 27 inches of snow fell in a 24-hour period. The snowfall might have been manageable but coupled with sustained winds of 25-30 miles an hour, it was a disaster. For over six weeks, Southern Idaho was effectively shut down. Thousands of animals froze or starved to death, thousands of acres of farmland and numerous towns, were under snow, ice, and water for days. Amazingly, less than a dozen people died in the Great Winter as it came to be known. Trooper C.B. Roberts recalled the saddest of those deaths, in his opinion, was a young man caught in the ferocious storm. “I got a call about a missing motorist up by Dubois. It was a young man on his way to see family in Idaho Falls. We looked and looked for him, one day, two days, three days, finally the search was called off because the weather was turning bad again. When spring came, we discovered him when a motorist called in a car that had driven off the road a little way and been covered in a snow drift. Even though it was well into spring when we found him, he was still frozen solid.”  By the end of March, Idaho was finally in the first stages of recovery. Grover Jensen of Bonneville County sent a letter to Governor Robbins: “Over nine hundred miles of our farm and market roads were completely blocked and impassable most of this awful winter, but we are well ahead of schedule in digging ourselves out. The emergency funding of $375,000 you allotted for us has saved millions of dollars in loss, especially to our potato industry.”   I am happy to report the winter of 2016-2017 was not any where near as bad as the Great Winter. Best of all, our potatoes did just fine.

 

Did you know? Idaho has a unique physique. It sports the deepest canyon in North America, yes even deeper than the Grand Canyon, and it has over 3,100 miles of rivers–more than any other state. Shoshone Falls at 212 feet is 52 feet taller than Niagara Falls. Arco was the first city in the world lit by Atomic Energy and American Astronauts trained at Craters of the Moon. Idaho really is an amazing place. If you want to learn more history, geology, fun and sometimes weird facts, follow me! I will be posting on this site at least once a week with pictures, articles, you name it. Hope you will join me.