ALBION • Over the years, irreplaceable pieces of history have seemingly walked away from this tiny town, one of the oldest in southern Idaho.
Some fear Albion is at risk of losing even more.
But the Albion Valley Historical Society is determined to hang on to the rich heritage of the area.
“The things we have been able to keep, we want to be able to preserve,” said society President Tressa Toner.
Albion was settled by cattlemen in the 1860s, back when Owyhee County engulfed most of southern Idaho. In 1879, Cassia County was created from the eastern half of Owyhee County, including what is now Twin Falls County.
The town was the county seat for 40 years, from 1879 until 1919, and saw the county through infamous murders, trials and confessions in the late 19th century, and the development of the Twin Falls irrigation system in the early 20th century.
While Albion is old, its historical society is one of the newest in the Magic Valley. It has a few dozen members — and is looking for more.
Albion resident Don Danner founded the society about a dozen years ago. But until now, the town’s historic artifacts have had no home.
Danner recently purchased the former Sage Mountain Grill building in hopes the group can find the money to purchase it from him for its museum.
Meanwhile, the society is filling the building with displays of Indian relics, pioneer rifles, military garb and the history of “Diamondfield Jack” Davis.
The museum stands along Idaho Highway 77, halfway between the historic Albion Normal School and the Albion City Park, where Davis was wrongfully tried, convicted and nearly hung for the 1896 murders of two Oakley sheepherders in Shoshone Basin. The story is one of the most famous tales of pioneer justice in the old West and the town’s claim to fame.
“These small towns should do all they can to preserve their history,” said Max Black, a former Idaho legislator whose book “Diamondfield: Finding the Real Jack Davis” unravels the twisted tale leading to Davis’ pardon six years after the murders.
Black will give a talk about his research and his emotional connection to the story at 7 p.m. Friday at the museum in Albion.
Shortly before Davis was to face the gallows, cattlemen James Bower and Jeff Gray confessed to shooting the sheepherders in self defense.
“Ever since I started to research Diamondfield Jack, I’ve wanted to know just where the two sheepherders were killed,” Black said Thursday. “Then piece by piece, I was able to put it together.”
Black can barely contain his excitement when he tells his story, which he repeats often.
He says a story written by Charles Walgamott and published decades ago in the Times-News gave him the first clue to where the murders happened.
Black dusted off a box of historic documents stored in the Idaho State Historical Society’s archives and used court testimony from Davis’ trial to zero in on the location. At the site, he found what he believes to be a slug fired by the killers.
As luck would have it, Black came across a short barrel .44 caliber Model 1878 Colt Frontiersman pistol that he thinks was used in the murders.
The stone jailhouse that held Davis was dismantled and a fountain was made from the rocks. Years ago, the town of Oakley asked to borrow the jail cell for a celebration, but failed to return the cell as agreed. The cell is cemented in place today in the Oakley City Park.
“From what I understand, (the town) has no intention of giving it up,” Oakley Mayor Larry Hinds said Wednesday.
But that’s OK with Albion. “We’d never ask for it back,” Danner said.
But word has it that someone has suggested bulldozing Albion’s fountain, said Mary Lynne Bristol, a lifelong resident of Albion and historical society board member. The idea sent a chill up the collective spine of the society.
Toner hopes Black’s talk will spur interest in the museum and coax more folks to join the historical society.
“It’s crucial to educate people about our history in order to keep it safe,” said Toner, who hopes to build a research center at the museum.
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