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How a Missouri man founded an eastern Idaho town and became the Gem State’s 13th governor

East Idaho Governs

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of stories about former Gem State Governors from eastern Idaho.

IDAHO FALLS – It had been seven years since Charles Calvin Moore had moved to Idaho when the tracks for the expanded railroad had reached the townsite he’d helped create.

It was Feb. 14, 1906 and he, along with others from St. Anthony, were there to celebrate the founding of Ashton and the rail line that would soon pass through to take passengers on their way to Yellowstone National Park.

The 40-year-old Missouri man had represented Fremont County voters in the state legislature over the last four years. He’d gained their admiration and respect by passing a bill for an industrial training school in St. Anthony and was now running a real estate office with his partner, H.G. “Fess” Fuller.

Thornton Waite, who’s written several history books about the railroad in eastern Idaho, tells EastIdahoNews.com Moore was interested in the railroad project because he felt it would help develop the land for agriculture.

“He actively promoted its construction so that it would (give) farmers (a way) to ship goods. The railroad was essential for them,” Waite says. “Ashton became important because of the railroad.”

William Ashton, for whom the town is named, was the chief engineer for the Oregon Short Line Railroad. He was tasked with choosing the railroad’s route. Marysville, a farming community east of Ashton, is where he was interested in laying track, according to a brochure about the town’s founding.

At the time, farmers believed they could make a fortune if they “held out for a better price for their property.” Ashton didn’t agree to those terms and rerouted the railroad’s path to the west of Marysville.

Moore got involved and formed the Ashton Townsite Committee, which consisted of 13 business men from St. Anthony. Together, they purchased 640 acres where Main Street in Ashton now sits.

Railroad construction got underway and when the track reached the townsite in 1906, there was a celebration that included a dance and a party.

“By July, the town was ready to apply for incorporation. It had signatures of 200 local residents,” the brochure says. “On July 11, 1906, Ashton became a legally incorporated village in Fremont County.”

With the railroad, Ashton had become a “boomtown.” In an essay about C.C. Moore, former Ricks College Professor Norman Ricks described Ashton’s early years as “the hub of the Moore and Fuller real estate development.”

“Moore and Fuller had built a bank, a hotel, a lodge hall and invited businesses and farmers to come to this ‘grangers mecca.’ They were successful in getting the county commissioners to build a bridge across the Snake River,” Ricks wrote. “In a few years, Ashton was a respectable town.”

The railroad served Ashton and surrounding communities for many years. It made its last run to Yellowstone in 1960 before the track was abandoned in 1979.

Though Moore and Fuller maintained a lifelong friendship, Moore eventually moved on to bigger things, starting with another term in the state legislature. He was nominated and elected lieutenant governor in 1918, and during the Republican convention in 1922, the party unanimously nominated him as their candidate for governor.

A ‘hard-fought campaign’ and gubernatorial highlights

The campaign trail was not an easy one for Moore.

That year, the new Progressive Party had increased in popularity and the vote was split in a three way race. The Progressive Party candidate was H.F. Samuels, who had the backing of U.S. Senator William E. Borah. He had been campaigning for a new primary election law to replace the nominating convention. On the Democratic ticket was Moses Alexander, who had previously served as governor.

RELATED | These early Idaho settlers left a major mark on U.S. history and you’ve likely never heard of them

“Moore … waged a clean, hard-fought campaign,” Ricks wrote in the book “Idaho’s Governors.” “His greatest triumph came in a motorcade from Ashton to Blackfoot in which hundreds of cars joined and thousands of friends lined the communities through which the motorcade traveled.”

Moore’s supporters went to the polls in droves, which helped him clinch a narrow victory with 39.5% of the vote.

“He was a minority (vote) governor … but in Fremont and Madison Counties, Moore had more votes than the other two candidates combined,” wrote Ricks.

Moore was sworn-in on Jan. 1, 1923 for the first of two terms. From the beginning of his administration, he announced he would be a “working governor.”

Idaho was experiencing an agricultural depression at the time due to a plunge in wheat prices after World War I. Economic cutbacks were the focus of his platform. He eliminated or refused all government perks, including making trips across the state, a bill for a Governor’s mansion and funding to pay rent on his house while in office.

Widespread support for Borah’s primary bill prompted his supporters to push it through the first Legislative session of Moore’s administration. Moore vetoed the bill, which many felt was political suicide. He was sustained by the Legislature, much to his surprise.

“Governor Moore was … a great exponent of constitutional government,” Moore’s secretary of state Norman Adkison wrote in a biographical sketch. “He believes that citizens choose their representatives to make laws and that these laws should not be modified and extended by bureaucrats, who sometimes assume the authority of all branches of government.”

Moore’s “finest contribution” as governor, according to Ricks, is the work opportunities he provided inmates.

“This occupied their time usefully and assisted the state financially, as well as the inmates who were paid a small wage,” Ricks wrote. “In many cases … they became useful, respected citizens.”

Moore is also credited with bringing more settlers to Idaho than any other person. Before and after he was governor, he’d often travel to the mid-west to promote land ownership and farming opportunity in the Gem State.

Moore had a close association with Herbert Hoover, who visited Idaho on many occasions. When Hoover was elected president, Hoover appointed Moore to be the federal land commissioner, a position where Ricks notes Moore “served with distinction for four years.”

“He made many decisions concerning the land and water resources of the nation that had far-reaching effect. Many of his decisions concerned the northwest and Alaska,” wrote Ricks.

Moore and his wife, Clara, were apparently held in such high esteem in Washington, D.C. that a legal firm gifted Clara a silver fox fur coat one Christmas. While appreciative, Moore responded that “a man in a position of trust with many administrative decisions could not accept such an expensive gift.”

“We are returning the gift,” Moore replied, according to Ricks.

Moore and his wife returned to St. Anthony in 1933 to live a quiet life. Clara died in 1940 and Moore spent the next 18 years of his life alone, back and forth between California and Idaho. He died of a stroke on March 19, 1958, according to his obituary. He was 92.

train depot in ashton
Fremont County Historical Society

samuels and alexander
Moore’s opponents in the 1922 gubernatorial race were Progressive Party candidate H.F. Samuels, left, and Democrat Moses Alexander | Wikipedia

moore hoover harriman
Photo taken from Upper Snake River Valley Historical Society quarterly | Fall 1973

RELATED LINKS

How an Idaho Falls democrat became the state’s 16th governor and started a political dynasty

The story of Idaho’s 18th governor and the political statement that denied him a second term

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