SANTA, now a quiet little town located about 18 miles up the St. Maries river from the city of St. Maries, is rich in history, and from the standpoint of community importance, it was once The First.

It was the first town in Idaho to be platted by a woman.


It was the first town in what is now Benewah
county to have a published newspaper.


And it was probably the first town in Idaho to be named for a post office that was already in existence.

In the early days Santa was a distributing point for logging camps located in the surrounding area. The sawmills of Harrison and Coeur d'Alene had logging camps near Santa, employing about 1,000 men. The timbered areas were large, but there was also a good deal of farm land.

The earliest pioneers of the upper St. Maries river valley were cattlemen who came by way of Tekoa and Hangman creek, crossing the divide at the headwaters of Santa creek and Emerald creek. Some of these settlers had traveled through the valleys, looking for gold in days gone by, and they returned with their families.

Sarah Renfro was one of the earliest pioneers. In 1890 she sold her land in St. Maries and moved to the upriver area.

Silas and Sarah Renfro were married July 7, 1862 and lived in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa and Oregon before coming to Kootenai county in Idaho and locating near the mouth of the St. Maries river.

The Renfros were the parents of 12 children: Amanda [Campbell], Sue [Hendrick], Ed, Bert, Harvey, Clark, John, Joe, Cora [Chapman], Nora [Walkup], Rhonda [Post-Ratcliffe] and Elsie. Elsie died shortly after the Renfros came west, and her grave has the oldest headstone in the Woodlawn cemetery at St. Maries.

Mr. Renfro died January 12, 1889, and shortly thereafter, Mrs. Renfro sold her home in St. Maries and moved upriver to land now included in Santa.

Shortly after moving to the area, Mrs. Renfro saw the need for a hotel and had one built on her property. John Danialson constructed the sturdy building of pine logs, hued with a broadax, and it is still standing in Santa.

In 1894 Mrs. Renfro had secured the Santa post office which served the Santa creek residents, and which many oldtimers say 'had been traveling in a shoe box up and down the creek' until it was turned over to her care. She established the post office and a small store in front of her hotel, and her son, H.H. Renfro became the postmaster.

In the rear of the hotel were the kitchen and dining room, and the family lived in the west wing. Overnight guests slept in the "pasture" a large room upstairs.

IN THE SPRING of 1902 Sarah Renfro platted the Santa townsite, naming it for the established post office. She began to sell lots in the town.

Sarah was a capable business woman. She sold the hotel to the Hendershotts in 1904 and built a new store near the river. Mr. and Mrs. W.C. Hendershott and their daughter, Edith [Hogue] moved into the hotel, and they, too, lived downstairs and travelers were provided with sleeping quarters upstairs. The Hendershotts operated the hotel until 1927.

The early settlers established homes along Santa, Emerald, Caprenter, Beaver and Tyson creeks on land with beautiful meadows and stands of virgin timber. About 1900, gold was discovered on Tyson creek and on the St. Maries river, and this started a stampede into the area.

LOGGING became a major industry.

The St. Joe Improvement Co. built a dam on the St. Maries river four miles below Santa to increase rafting facilities. About $100,000 was spent in river improvements, and the 1903 season's output of logs was over 20 million feet.

Between 1900 and 1910, twelve large logging camps were located near Santa. Most of the river drives were "pooled drives" The companies with logs to be brought down entered into an agreement, hiring one man to supervise one big drive each spring. The man in chare hired the "river pigs" and bossed the whole drive from start to finish. Crews varies in number from around 30 to over 100 men.

Logging went on all winter around Santa, and logs were piled on the ice of creeks and the river until the spring breakup.

Drives down the St. Maries River were treacherous [60 miles of curves]. The toughest spot was The Loops, a stretch of rapids strewn with rocks where the water was whild and white. The drives took from 30 to 60 days. Ed Thompson of the McGoldrick Lumber Co., brought down the fastest drive, 23 days to the St. Joe River. He added logs slowly, to keep them from jamming, he said.

Life of the river pigs was hard and dangerous, yet they received small wages. In 1908, 100 drivers struck for higher wages. They were asking for a 50 cents a day wage raise above their $3 a day wage.

The hazards were extreme, and many river pigs were killed, especially in The Loops and while jam-cracking. Men were sometimes buried along the trail or taken by boat or wagon to a nearby town after death or injury. Many stories of these experiences have been related by the oldtimers.

THE SANTA TIMES' first edition was Oct. 15, 1903, with E. Duerslin as owner, editor and publisher. Although there were other newspapers in the area, his was the first to be published in what is now Benewah county. Duerslin believed that Santa would some day be the center of a great lumber market.

The Times started with 200 subscribers. The first issue had news of Santa, Fernwood, Tyson and Emida. Duerslin had sold several ads, among them one in which Perrenoud Hardward Co. [managed by Carl E. Brandt] of St. Maries, advertised "all oak bureaus and couches for $13 each." That week in October was a busy one, he reported. "Twelve freight wagons passed through Santa with winter supplies from St. Maries and Tekoa."

He also reported that road overseer P.C. Mashburn was doing considerable work on roads in the vicinity. "The cut-off wagonroad from Emida to St. Maries has been surveyed, and the distance is about 17 miles," he wrote.

In the February 4, 1904 issue of the Times, one of the main topics was weather. "It was so cold that most of the work around the Tyson and other mines is very slow, but the logging is in full swing because of the frozen ground. A load of logs three times the height of man can be hauled by sleigh with two horses."

Fire was a serious problem in those days, and in the same issue of the Times there was an item about a fire in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Perry Hughes. They had moved to Santa from Oakesdale, Wash., in 1903. They resided in a large log structure with a frame addition in the rear. The fire started while Mrs. Hughes and her young daughter were at home. "Mrs. Huges tried to put out the fire," he wrote, "while the daughter ran for help. The fire was caused by a bad flue so she climbed onto the roof, but couldn't put out the fire and fell to the ground, fortunately getting no injuries. Help came, but to no avail. Loss for the building and contents was about $700 total."

Sometime before 1904 Truman and Wunderlich ran a stage between St. Maries and Santa. The stage traveled on to Fernwood on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and to Tyson on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The fare from St. Maries to Tyson or Fernwood was $2, one way, and $1.50 to Santa.

Several businesses were in operation by 1904, including the Elk Hotel with Mrs. Anna Cutts as proprietor; The Santa Livery Barn, B.S. Walkup; and Elk Saloon, Chambers and Haynes. Adolph Schuder was the blacksmith.

THE FIRST SCHOOL had started with an eight month term in 1903. Mrs. Wm. Riggs was the teacher. Church was also held in the school. The Rev. J.H. Martin of the Methodist Episcopal church of St. Maries held services Monday evenings, and services were at Tyson on Sunday.

By 1906, Santa had grown considerably, and there were many activities in the community. The Sunday school count was steadily increasing in number, and the "school is in good repair," Duerslin reported.

According to the Times, Santa had two hospitals by this time. H.O. Darnall, a surgeon and physician from St. Maries advertised in the newspaper: "Calls by telephone from all parts of the upper St. Maries country promptly responded to, day and night."

Dr. Robert Briggs was a dentist who resided on Renfro creek from 1908 to 1911. He had his office in his home and used diversion water power from the creek to operate his drills. Sometimes patients took their gold from nearby mines to use in their teeth.

The wagon road between Santa and Emida was in bad condition in 1906, and apparently it wasn't too good between St. Maries and Emida either. The May 24, 1906 issue of the Times announced that a baseball game between Emida and Santa would be played the following Sunday. "The game is to be played in Santa so that St. Maries people can attend because the distance from St. Maries to Emida is too long roundtrip to make in one day," the announcement said. [The road closely followed the St. Maries river to Santa then and did not go around by Mashburn siding.]

Also in that issue there was this social event for bachelors: "Santa batchlerdom [and there are many members] had an exclusive splendid time yesterday evening with a smoker and stag dance in the Santa Hotel Hall." Another item told about the condition of Santa streets: "The work of clearing out the stumps from Santa's streets still continues."

December of 1906 and January 1907 were very cold. 50 inches of snow fell between December 1 and the 29th. By the first week of January, the snow was nine feet deep at the summit between St. Maries and Santa.

In 1909 a branch line of the Milwaukee railroad from St. Maries to Bovill was started. In March, 1910, construction was shut down because of slides and washouts, and several bridges were swept. away.

In 1910, H.H. Renfro cleared and opened more streets and extended the mains of the waterworks system.

People were complaining about mail service even in 1910. The Times reported: "In short the present mail service for the upper St. Maries country is goldarned rotten. But kicking is of no use."

THE TRACKLAYING crew of the Milwaukee reached Crystal creek, about two miles southeast of Santa the first week in January, 1911. Snow was very deep in outlying areas. Old settlers in the area said they couldn't recall when the snow was so deep. The railroad bridge near the tunnel at Flat Creek dam was replaced in February by a steel structure.

Johnny Johnson, now of Calder, lived in Santa as a youngster, and he said he remembers that there was quite a settlement at Emerald creek after the railroad went in. His wife, Nellie Luce Johnson, said she could remember riding the train to Santa from St. Maries to go fishing when she was a child. Frank Noble was the engineer at the time. Another engineer was a man named Klosen, and Johnny Chasen was an early firemen, remembered for having the most polished and oiled engine.

Johnny also remembers another oldtimer of the area, Pete McLinden, who drove a lumber wagon.

Johnny helped take up the Tyson pipeline along Olsen creek which had been used for hydraulic mining. He later built grade for Blackwell railroad and "worked as a whistle punk" at the Incline - a very steep portion of railroad that was located about 20 miles east of Santa, owned by Rutledge Timer Company, with a 52 percent grade on the west side, one mile to the top. "It was so steep that I'd have to tie my packsack on or it would fall off as the train began to climb," he said. he also worked on the tressel that was built by Blackwell Lumber company, about 1/2 mile south of the present highway at the Santa Y. It was thought to be the highest single piling tressel in the world, 97 feet to top of the rail.

NOT TOO LONG after she built the Santa Mercantile, Sarah Renfro sold the business to Mr. and Mrs. Perry Hughes. She and her sons, Harvey and Burt lived in their big white home across the street from the store until Sarah's death in 1914. Those who remember Mrs. Renfro in her final years said that they didn't see a great deal of her as she suffered from arthritis and was very crippled by this painful disease. She is buried in St. Maries.

Several of Mrs. Renfro's grandchildren and great-grand-children still reside in the area. Her son, John, had a ranch on Renfro creek, and he and his wife had four children: Charles and Lucy [both deceased] Elmer, who resides in CleElum, Wash., and Nellie [Stafford].

Charles and his wife Violet lived for many years on the John Renfro ranch. Their children are John, Gerald, Wilma and Joyce. Gerald married Nadine Stanley [daughter of Mr. and Mrs. T.M. Stanley of St. Maries] and they now reside on the same ranch. Their children are Steve, Dale, Nancy and Dianne.

John Renfro's daughter, Nellie Stafford, resides in St. Maries. She has two children, Eleanor Gallagher of Tacoma and Alonzo Stafford who lives in Oregon.

Another of Sarah Renfro's granddaughters, Mrs. Guy [Louise] Lowry, also resides in St. Maries. She is the daughter of Sarah's daughter, Nora, who married B.S. Walkup. the Walkup family moved from Santa to Fernwood in 1903. Walkup had come from Missouri and ran a livery stable in Fernwood for several years. The Lowrys have two daughters, Mrs. Vernon [Pat] Ducommun who resides in St. Maries, and Mrs. Fred [Nadine] Lee who resides in South Bend, Wash.

Vala Renfro, daughter of Sarah's son Clark Renfro married pat Walker, son of Charles A. And Esther Walker. They had one son, Donald. mars. Walker and Donald reside in Oregon.

CHARLES A. WALKER and his wife, Esther, left Brainerd, Minn., and came to Coeur d'Alene around 1908. They then came to Santa and later bought the Santa Mercantile.
The Charles Walkers had five children, C.A. Walker and Alice M. Walker, who both live in Brainerd, Minn., Pat Walker, who died in 1962, leaving many friends in this area, Samuel [Richard] Walker, retired St. Maries postmaster, and Roland Walker who lives at Chatcolet with his wife Belle, daughter of Andy and Myrtle Porterfield.

[Roland and Belle took over the operation of the Santa Mercantile in 1933 and operated it until their retirement in 1967.]

In September of 1914 burglars broke into the Walkers' store. they entered by the back door, ate lunch, then after wrapping both safes in quilts, they blew them open. $1000 in cash and stamps were taken. A Mrs. Gary who lived across the street heard the noise was "just gun shots" she failed to report it. Deputy Harry Sawyer investigated the robbery.

In 1915 the post office in the store was robbed. Harvey Renfro from across the street saw two men leave the building and fired his shotgun as they ran away. Sheriff Leaf was notified, but Mr. Walker gave no statement as to what was taken, according to the Times.

HARVESTING the ice crop, sleigh parties, dinners and dances were winter pastimes, and young men in and around Santa especially enjoyed boxing. Johnny Johnson remembers that he, Toris Danialson, Guy Tyson and Pat Walker spent many hours boxing in the pool hall at Santa and at the camp on Charlie creek. Another young man who grew up in Santa about that same time was Norman O'Donnell, son of Ed O'Donnell, proprietor of the Hotel O'Donnell. [This hotel was last owned by Huldah Perry, and it was torn down not too long ago to make room for highway development.]

THEIR LOVE of the land kept most of the early-day pioneers in the Santa area. They were strong, determined and independent, and they found great satisfaction in "making good" in this new land. The stockmen who had arrived very early in the area found that the range was excellent, and they soon had herds of cattle which brought them a steady income. Farmers and loggers found ready markets for their labors, and for over 20 years the area was economically properous.

Many ranchers settled along the St. Maries River and Santa creek and traded at Santa. A few of these were:

FRANCIS M. GUNN who was born to James M. and Eliza [Wallace]. Gunn on September 17, 1860 in Cass County, Mo. His father was killed serving in the Union Army. In 1880 Francis joined his brother in law and sister, Mr. and Mrs. Perry Prettyman and crossed the plains with teams and wagons. They settled near Oakesdale, Wash. On February 16, 1882, Gunn married Cora, daughter of Nathaniel L. and Angeline Strenge. He engaged in general merchandise at Oakesdale and then they settled near Santa, and he became one of the leading stock raisers. He later moved to Emida and attended to his stock business from there.

JOSIAH ROBERTS was born in Nodaway county, Mo. September 10, 1863 to John and Elizabeth [Corner] Roberts. In 1873 the family came west to Portland, Ore., where John was educated. After traveling about the country for some time, he homesteaded in 1983 on the St. Maries river. When the mining excitement broke out at Tyson, Roberts was among the first to locate a claim. He also found valuable diggings on his homestead. He operated the Halfway House, a hotel half way between Santa and St. Maries, and he was also a farmer.

FRED ELLS came to the Santa valley with his brother, H.O. Ells from the Dakotas about 1897 by ox team. He settled near the west end of Coeur d'Alene lake for one winter, and the following year he bought a place near Emida and later moved to the location of the present Roman home, near Mashburn siding. In the early 1900's he ran logging camps for Blackwell Lumber company. He and his wife had three children, Marsh, Natalie and Cecil.

Marsh, now 84, resides at Valley View Convalescent Home in St. Maries. Natalie resides at Maple Valley, Wash. Marsh has a son, Tom Ells, who lives not far from where his grandfather settled in the late 1800s, and a daughter, Mable Miller who lives in Spokane.

MORDACAI AND DORTHEA [Hackenburg] Griffith came from Missouri, through Colorado, then Rosalia, Wash., and finally arrived in the Santa valley by wagon train in 1895. Six children were born to this union:

Addie [wife of Charles Welz], Martha Jane [wife of William Dawson], Joseph, Harry, Bert and Maggie [wife of George Garton].

Harry married Edna Louise Bailor, daughter of Charles and Cora Bailor, January 7, 1907. They are the parents of Edna Mae and Myrtle. Edna Mae married Charles D. Williams in 1926. Their children are Doris Mae, wife of Robert Higgins, now residing in Emida near their children and grandchildren; Robert, who resdies in Coeur d'Alene; Loretta Mary, wife of Eugene Miller, who resdies at Greenacres, Wash.; and three boys who died as children.

At this time Edna Mae [Griffith] Williams shares her home with her mother, Edna Louise [Bailor] Griffith in Coeur d'Alene.

THE BAILORS, parents of Edna Louise, came from Minnesota in the early 1900s and lived at Charlie creek, near the mouth of Ells creek. Charles was the assessor when this county was still part of Kootenai county. The Bailors had two other children, Myrtie Mae [wife of Bert Graham] and Bernice [wife of William Moore].

Myrtle Griffith, daughter of Harry and Edna Griffith, married L.A. Williams [brother of Charles] in 1927. They were the parents of five daughters: Vivian Miller who died in 1966, Bernardine Ankney of Post Falls, Ellen Bacon of Seattle, Dianne Jacot of Spokane and Louisa St. John of Powder Horn Bay. The St. Johns lived on the Griffith homestead until they moved to Powder Horn Bay a few years ago.]

LOUIS MONSON and mrs. Anna Jacobson were married December 28, 1910. Louis came to the vicinity from Norway in 1900, and Anna came from Norway in 1903. They had property in Santa where they lived, and they also had a homestead on Schoolhouse creek. Their only child, a daughter, Marie, was born in their Santa home.

Marie married Earl Anderson, and they have always lived in this area. They have five children: James, Jerry, Robert, Sally Bohn and Nancy Luy. Marie has a sewing machine which she uses that had belonged to her mother who brought it with her to the area in 1903.

TEACHERS who were remembered included Miss Barrington, Mrs. Johnson, Mr. Nogle, and Miss Rush.

Josephine Thomas [now Mrs. George Alexander of Potlatch] taught at Santa in 1932-33. She was paid $85 a month [quite a bit more than teachers of earlier days]. Her most vivid memory of her teaching days in Santa was what happened to her Christmas vacation that year.

She had planned to visit her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Thomas in Nezperce, but when she was ready, the weather made it impossible for her to leave. Seven inches of snow fell, and it was very wet and heavy. The river flooded, and water came up over the end of the bridge. The railroad tracks were also impassible, and phones were out of order. She remembers that Roland Walker tied a note around a rock and threw it to someone on the other side. It was a week after Christmas when she finally was able to go visit her parents.

OTHERS WHO shared their Santa memories with me and helped me in writing this article were Hershal Stockard, Richard [Dick] Walker, Mr. and Mrs. Roland Walker, Nellie Stafford, Mr. and Mrs. C.C. Vanderpoel,Tom Ells, Mr. and Mrs. George O. Ells, Ted Close, Mr. and Mrs. George Bailey, Mr. and Mrs. Johnny Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Guy Lowry, Lillian Swofford, Mrs. George Alexander, Mr. and Mrs. Chet Henning, Mr. and Mrs. Howard Seaman, Marie Anderson, Huldah Perry and Frank Bunnell. My thanks go to them and to Sandy Ragsdale, Robert Hammes, and most of all, Jo Reid and my family, Ed, Brian and Tina for the support and help they have given me during the past months.

References included the book, History of North Idaho, published in 1903 by West History Publishers, and early issues of the Santa Times and the Gazette.



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