John’s long-term writing project is a book about the history of the Wood River Valley of Idaho (where the Sun Valley Ski Resort was built by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1936), based on his family’s experiences after moving there in 1881. The Center for Regional History of The Community Library in Ketchum, Idaho, has a number of John‘s research papers, including seven about the Oregon Short Line Railroad, and 27 on other topics of local history.

The following is an excerpt from the book’s introduction.


Our Idaho relatives lived in two periods of American history: the first where individuals believed they could create their future from their own labor and initiative without help from others; and the second where life was dominated by large investments by corporations, the government and international economic trends. That generation claimed they made their own way based on individual effort and self-reliance, but their success depended on numerous government programs that encouraged the settlement of the West. These include financing the building of the inter-continental railroad under the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, that opened the West; the Homestead Act of 1862 , which provided free land for the taking in exchange for living on and improving it; the Mining Act of 1872, permitting access to minerals on federal land; the Bland-Allison Act of 1878, requiring the Treasury to buy silver and put it into circulation as silver dollars, which spurred silver mining in the West; the Desert Land Act of 1894, which provided land in the arid west and money for irrigation projects; and by federal financing of dams and water systems under the Reclamation Act of 1902, which irrigated millions of acres of dry land and brought hundreds of thousands of immigrants to the West. Central Idaho benefited greatly from Reclamation Act projects.

Bernard DeVoto described western attitudes about the federal government as, “Get out and give us more money.” Wallace Stegner said, “Westerners who would like to return to the old days of free grab, people of the kind described as having made America great by their initiative and energy in committing mass trespass on the minerals, grass, timber and water of the Public Domain, complain that no Western state is master in its own house.” A 2008 New York Times article about the West said, “The inhabitants boasted of their autonomy, even as the government did the dirty work, took the risks and offered sweet deals to settlers, so they could expand the borders of the United States. Without this help…the waves of Western pioneers wouldn’t have the luxury of hating Washington bureaucrats.”

The politics of Idaho still reflect these attitudes.