Rockwell, Irvin E. (Irvin Elmer), 1862-1952

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Businessman of Bellevue, Idaho; owner and operator of the Minnie Moore Mine.

From the description of Irvin E. Rockwell papers, 1903-1952. (Boise State University). WorldCat record id: 42928755

Author of THE SAGA OF THE AMERICAN FALLS DAM, (New York, N.Y. : Hobson Book Press, 1947).

From the description of Typed letter signed to "My Dear old Jay, " 1947 Dec. 19. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122289422

One of the fabled mines of Idaho's Wood River Valley was the Minnie Moore lead and silver mine near Bellevue. Discovered in 1880, when galena was found in dirt dug out of a badger hole, the Minnie Moore quickly became one of the most productive silver mines in Idaho. By 1889, however, it was closed, for the rich vein ended abruptly at a fault and could not be located on the other side. The Minnie Moore lay idle for many years. Enter Irvin E. Rockwell onto the scene. A Chicago businessman with a training in science and engineering, he was one of several investors who organized the Minnie Moore Mining Company and purchased the mine in 1900. He came to Idaho in 1901 and, working on site as the company's general manager, he reopened the mine, discovered the continuation of the vein on the other side of the fault, and ushered in another brilliantly productive chapter in the mine's history. The powerful and forceful personality known to all as "Rock" became established in Idaho. [For a history of the Minnie Moore Mine, see History of the Minnie Moore Mine, Blaine County, Idaho, by Victoria E. Mitchell (Idaho Geological Survey, Staff Report 00-12, June 2000)].

Irvin E. Rockwell was born on December 25, 1862, on the family farm in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. He attended Marshall Academy in Marshall, Wisconsin, and studied engineering and science. He worked as a teacher, journalist, court reporter, and professional stenographer in the upper Midwest (Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Racine) before establishing the Rockwell & Rupel Company (later Rockwell-Wabash Company), an office supply firm, in Chicago. With Rockwell as president, the company attained a world-wide reach, with offices overseas, but at a high cost. "Broken in health from the fast pace, he sold out in 1900," wrote one biographer many years later. "Reverting to the study of applied geology and engineering, a hangover from student days, he came to Idaho and the Minnie Moore." [Burroughs, Frank G., "The Sage of Bellevue," published in Idaho Pioneer (Boise), January 28, 1938, present in the collection in broadside form in Box 1, Folder 2. The outlines of Rockwell's life and career are also traced in Men of Illinois (1902), The Idaho Digest and Blue Book (1935), and Capitol's Who's Who for Idaho (1950). He wrote a brief autobiographical sketch for his own book, Sketch Portraits of Men Who Made Idaho (1949). Obituaries appeared in the Idaho Statesman (September 23, 1952) and Hailey Times (September 25, 1952)].

By 1902, under Rockwell's direction, the Minnie Moore was restored to life. The town of Bellevue, which had languished for years, was revived. Such was the interest in the mine that industrialist Charles M. Schwab acquired a sixty percent share in it. Within a few years, however, the main ore body was lost again at another fault, Schwab quit, and production all but came to a halt. Rockwell did not give up on it, however. Even while pursuing other mining and business interests in the Wood River Valley, he kept a hand in the Minnie Moore. Over the next three decades he was a prime mover behind several corporate reorganizations and refinancings that periodically initiated exploratory work, and he successfully wooed others (notably Federal Mining and Smelting Company) to take a stab at the Minnie Moore as well. But all was for naught; the ore could not be found. The lost ore body of the Minnie Moore became as legendary as Rockwell's quest to find it. In a 1938 profile of the man they called "one of the Gem State's most colorful personalities," the Salt Lake Tribune cited his "persistent faith in the final resurrection of that one-time notoriously rich...Minnie Moore mine...Its third-time restoration to all its pristine glory has continued for 30 years as [his] consuming passion." [ The Salt Lake Tribune profile was published on January 2, 1938, and was reprinted in a brochure entitled "Are We a Stone's Throw from Millions?" found in the collection in the Minnie Moore Mine Historical file (Box 4, Folder 1). It was a major source for Burroughs' sketch (above, note 2)].

Rockwell's determination to restore the Minnie Moore did not preclude other activities. Within a few years of arriving in Idaho, Rockwell became thoroughly ingrained into the business, political, civic, and social life of the state. He became a leader in the state's good roads movement, serving as president of the Blaine County Good Roads Association, and he worked actively to secure a state highway from Boise to Yellowstone that would pass through Blaine County (now U.S. Route 20). [ Wood River Times, August 7, 1914. Photocopy of article in Box 1, Folder 3]. He owned and operated electric power companies in the Wood River Valley and helped organize banks. The Wood River Times boosted him for the legislature, and he was elected as a Republican to represent Blaine County in the state Senate in 1914 and 1916. He gained a reputation as a member of the party's reform-oriented wing and counted authorship of the state's workmen's compensation law and his defense of the state's public utilities commission among his most important accomplishments in the legislature. He also earned the reputation as a fighter. Recalling Rockwell's tangles with Democratic Governor Moses Alexander during the 1917 session, the political commentator Cato the Censor (H.H. Miller) reminisced, "His associates still bear the memories of that battle green in their hearts. They recall the powerful voice...which then thundered around the seats of the little senate chamber in the old capitol, bearing its message of defiance to the chief executive and his cohorts." He was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1916 and chairman of the Blaine County Council of Defense during World War I. A strong supporter of Senator William E. Borah, Rockwell had an ambiguous relationship with the Republican party organization. "He could have been described as of the machine but not in it," wrote the independent newspaper Statewide, "or again, as in the machine but not of it. He was too good a friend of Borah's ever to tie up completely with the 'old guard,' too much a Republican to condone wholly his idol's attacks on the machine." [Cato the Censor quotation in Idaho Statesman, February 21, 1929, p. 8; Statewide quotation from undated clipping. Photocopies of both articles are in the collection in Box 1, Folder 3].

Rockwell left the Senate after two terms and was appointed to the State Board of Education in 1920. His plan for financing a much-needed dormitory at the University of Idaho through bonds rather than direct legislative appropriation became a model for dormitory financing in universities across the nation. [Keynote address in Box 3, Folder 10]. He was returned to the Senate for one more term in 1928, and his name was mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate on several occasions during the 1930s. A great admirer of Lincoln, he was also a booster of Borah for president. As keynote speaker at the state Republican convention in 1936, he used that as a platform to promote Borah's Presidential aspirations and attack the New Deal, particularly, in his view, its oppressive bureaucracy. Keynote address in Box 3, Folder 10]. As a businessman engaged in mining, he became well versed in monetary policy and an ardent advocate of the silver interest on the national stage. In the run up to the London Economic Conference of 1933 he sought a position with the American delegation but was not chosen. He served as president of the Idaho Mining Association from 1937 to 1940. Commenting on silver's victory in Congress with a new silver law in 1939, the Hailey Times praised both "our own Borah, master of them all," who "framed the strategy that turned the tide," and Rockwell, "whose vigorous leadership of silver forces in past years has won him national and international recognition as one of the foremost and best informed silver exponents." [Rockwell's activity prior to the London Economic Conference is documented in his correspondence with Key Pittman in Box 2, Folder 10. The Hailey Times assessment of his role and Borah's in the 1939 silver law was published on July 6, 1939. It is present in the collection in broadside form in Box 3, Folder 6].

Rockwell's "singular achievement for the state," in the evaluation of the Idaho Statesman, however, "was in gaining reconsideration of the American Falls reservoir and power project." [Contained in his Idaho Statesman obituary, September 23, 1952]. Indeed, the entire project, which now provides electric power and irrigation water for a vast area of the state, seemed slated for extinction until Rockwell forcefully intervened. The story has been told in numerous historical accounts, including Rockwell's own book, The Saga of American Falls Dam (1947). Despite an initial appropriation from Congress, Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall, after an ill-fated visit to the site in 1921, came to oppose the project. He objected to the costs of relocating the town of American Falls, moving the Union Pacific railroad track, raising the Snake River bridge, and to all the work necessary to obtain cession of Indian lands that would be inundated. When he learned that the future of the project was uncertain, Rockwell went to Washington to lobby Senator Borah to intervene. "Suffice to note that while the Secretary had a stubborn defense, he loosened a bit under Borah's persuasive influence," wrote Merrill D. Beal and Merle W. Wells in History of Idaho (1959). Gaining Secretary Fall's assent was just one part of the struggle; convincing thirty-two separate irrigation districts in southeastern Idaho to consolidate into one "big district" to finance their share of the dam was another. Rockwell played a lead role in that campaign as well. The dam was built, and a million acres of land were eventually watered. "The American Falls Reservoir was saved by the intelligence, energy, and devotion of its powerful friends," wrote Beal and Wells, who listed Rockwell first among its friends and saviors. [Beal, Merrill D. and Merle Wells, History of Idaho (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1959), v 2, p. 165].

Rockwell was married twice, first to Mary Luella Searing in 1884, and secondly to Lallah Rookh White in 1914. When he came to Idaho in 1901 he and Mary Rockwell were still married, but she remained in Chicago. Early on, he returned frequently for extended visits, and during this time they both became members of the Spirit Fruit Society, a tiny religious community based first at Lisbon, Ohio, and later at Ingleside, Illinois. They visited the commune at Lisbon and Ingleside, and though never a permanent resident, Rockwell became a generous financial benefactor. In 1904, he traveled extensively throughout the country with Jacob Beilhart, its charismatic leader. Beilhart's teachings combined elements of Christian Science and Theosophy, but his unconventional views toward marriage and personal liberty, and the presence of unwed couples at the commune, attracted sensational press coverage in both Ohio and Illinois. Commune members were characterized as "free-lovers," and Rockwell himself was attacked by William Randolph Hearst's Chicago Evening American for his support of the society. Rockwell's own personal situation may indeed have made the non-judgmental sect attractive to him in the first place. Even before he had left Chicago he had fallen in love with his secretary, Lallah Rookh White. She joined him in Idaho, where they lived together and had their first child before he divorced Mary Rockwell. Rockwell and White were eventually married in 1914 in Ogden, Utah. [Rockwell's connections to the Spirit Fruit Society are traced in two works: H. Roger. Grant, "An Idahoan Experiences Utopia: Irvin E. Rockwell and the Spirit Fruit Society," in Idaho Yesterdays , v. 29 (1985), pp. 24-32, and James L. Murphy, The Reluctant Radicals: Jacob L. Beilhart and the Spirit Fruit Society (University Press of America, 1989). Both sources explore the relationships between Rockwell, his first wife, and Lallah Rookh White. Lallah Rookh White's name derives from the oriental tale, Lalla Rookh, made popular in the 19th century by Thomas Moore]

Rockwell's association with the Spirit Fruit Society lessened over time, and eventually he became a Christian Scientist, formally joining the church along with his wife. [Rockwell identified himself as a Christian Scientist in his 1950 biographical entry in Capitol's Who's Who for Idaho . Clarence Darrow's letter to Rockwell of May 15, 1933 (Box 2, Folder 4), references Rockwell's Christian Science beliefs]. And as Irvin Rockwell's prominence in political and social circles in Idaho grew, so did "Rock and Rookh's" reputation for hospitality. Their home at Broadford, outside of Bellevue, with a view of the Minnie Moore mountain, became a celebrated gathering place. It was built in 1907 to her design. "Nestled among the giant cottonwood trees along the banks of the Big Wood river, its setting is like a gem. Over this attractive home, Mrs. Rockwell presides with a charm that makes visitors feel at home," reported one writer in an unidentified newspaper account in the collection. "Intimate friends of the Rockwells, often disguised as plain fishermen, hunters out for deer, elk, bear, goats, or jaguar in the nearby encircling Sawtooths; politicians and near-politicians out 'fixin' things'; governors, judges of the supreme court, educators, ripened statesmen, even Senator Borah -- all frequently find refuge from the storm." [Unidentified clipping in Box 1, Folder 3]. Lallah Roohk Rockwell actively participated in her husband's business affairs as stenographer and office manager, especially during his periodic campaigns to raise money for the Minnie Moore Mine. When she died suddenly in 1940, he expressed his grief and devotion in a memorial booklet he distributed to friends. "For more than forty years every day's problems have been solved and tempered by her wise counsel and companionship....She was a continuing revelation to me -- my wise counselor, my inspiration, my sure friend, my companion and sweetheart." [Rockwell, Irvin E. A Tribute, Lallah Rookh White Rockwell, 1873-1940 (1940), p. 10].

After his wife's death, Rockwell busied himself in many activities. He became a benefactor of Boise Junior College, presenting his personal library of more than one thousand books to the school as a memorial to his wife. He was secretary of the Borah Memorial Statue Commission of Idaho, responsible for placing a statue of Borah in the U.S. Capitol. He played many games of chess simultaneously via correspondence, including one with the King of Saudi Arabia. [Rockwell's chess playing is mentioned in the article about dormitory finance, "Idaho Idea Builds a National Dormitory Financing System," The University of Idaho Reports, v. 4, 2nd qtr (1950), p. 7. In Box 1, Folder 3]. And he wrote histories, of the American Falls Dam, of important Idaho business leaders, and of the mines and electric power companies of the Wood River Valley. But mainly he found solace in the Minnie Moore Mine. He finally sold it in 1943, but maintained an active correspondence with the new owner (Robert T. Walker, of Leadville, Colorado), recounting its history and offering his advice on means to find the lost ore that had remained so elusive for so many years. "I would almost give my hopes to eternal life to know that you had brought the Minnie back," he wrote at age 82. Walker's last letter to Rockwell kept his hope in the mine alive. "Bud and I have every confidence that we know very closely the position of the faulted continuation of the Minnie Moore ore body," he wrote to Rockwell in February 1952. Rockwell died a few months later at his home in Bellevue on September 22, 1952, at age 89. In a memorial tribute, his friend Ben W. Oppenheim wrote: "Rockwell was seldom casual. Any subject in which he became interested was immediately transformed into a matter of importance. He approached his every project as a novelty of creation, highlighted it with enthusiasm as drama, and worked with incredible endurance for its accomplishment. Nothing in his life was commonplace. Everything involved people. He loved people...A visit with him was a mountain-peak experience. One came away with a broader vision of life as an experience of splendid grandeur....Rockwell was a great man. The best of his long life reminds us we too can make our lives sublime." [Carbon copy of letter from Rockwell to Walker, January 10, 1944 in Box 4, Folder 9; letter from Walker to Rockwell, February 1, 1952, in Box 4, Folder 12; Oppenheim tribute in Box 1, Folder 2]

Irvin Rockwell was the father of five sons, three of whom died in childhood. They were Calvin Albert ("Bert") Rockwell (1884-1968), Ralph (1887-1888), and Loren (1888-1947) with his first wife Mary Rockwell; and John (1912-1915) and Paul (1915-1920) with his second wife Lallah Rookh Rockwell. Bert and his wife lived in Boise and were with him in Bellevue at his death. Rockwell supported his first wife all his life. In his will, written in 1949, he made provision for her continuing support after his death. She then was a resident of the Idaho state mental hospital at Orofino, and apparently had been so for many years. When his second wife Lallah Rookh Rockwell died in 1940, her remains were inurned in a vault in Portland, Oregon. Rockwell directed that his and Mary's remains be placed there also, his intermixed with those of Lallah Rookh Rockwell. Rockwell could trace his paternal ancestry back to colonial Massachusetts. During the 1920s he served as president of the Idaho chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution.

From the guide to the Irvin E. Rockwell Papers, 1903-1952, (Boise State University Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Johnson, Claudius O. (Claudius Osborne), 1894-1976. Papers, 1901-1978. Washington State University, Holland and Terrell Libraries
referencedIn Borah, William Edgar, 1865-1940. William Edgar Borah papers, 1905-1940 (bulk 1912-1940). Library of Congress
creatorOf Rockwell, Irvin E. (Irvin Elmer), 1862-1952. Irvin E. Rockwell papers, 1903-1952. Boise State University, Albertsons Library
creatorOf Rockwell, Irvin E. (Irvin Elmer), 1862-1952. Papers, 1919-1952. Idaho State Archives, Idaho State Historical Society
referencedIn Claudius Osborne Johnson Papers, 1901-1978 Washington State University Libraries Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC)
referencedIn William Edgar Borah Papers, 1905-1940, (bulk 1912-1940) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf McAuley, Ernest Henry. Papers, 1912-1941. Idaho State Archives, Idaho State Historical Society
creatorOf Rockwell, Irvin E. (Irvin Elmer), 1862-1952. Typed letter signed to "My Dear old Jay, " 1947 Dec. 19. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
creatorOf Irvin E. Rockwell Papers, 1903-1952 Boise State University Library, Special Collections and Archives
creatorOf Idaho. Borah Memorial Statue Commission. Records, 1941-1947. Idaho State Archives, Idaho State Historical Society
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Borah Memorial Statue Commission. corporateBody
correspondedWith Borah, William Edgar, 1865-1940. person
correspondedWith Darrow, Clarence, 1857-1938 person
correspondedWith Darrow, Ruby, 1869-1957 person
associatedWith Idaho. Borah Memorial Statue Commission. corporateBody
associatedWith Idaho Reclamation Association. corporateBody
associatedWith Johnson, Claudius O. (Claudius Osborne), 1894-1976. person
associatedWith McAuley, Ernest Henry. person
associatedWith Minnie Moore Mine Development Company corporateBody
associatedWith Walker, Robert Tunstall, 1879- person
Place Name Admin Code Country
American Falls Dam (Idaho)
United States
American Falls Dam (Idaho)
Triumph Mine (Idaho)
Idaho--Blaine County
Minnie Moore Mine (Idaho)
Monetary policy
Idaho Reclamation Association
Minnie Moore Mine (Idaho)
Mining corporations--History--Sources
American Falls Dam (Idaho)
American literature--20th century
Religious disputations
Reclamation of land
Minnie Moore Mine Development Company--Archives
Darrow, Clarence, 1857-1938--Correspondence
Darrow, Ruby, 1869-1957--Correspondence
Silver mines and mining
Mines and Mineral Resources
Borah, William Edgar, 1865-1940
Silver question
Triumph Mine (Idaho)
Reclamation of land--Idaho
Water and Water Rights
Monetary policy--United States
Silver mines and mining--Idaho--Blaine County
Christian Science
Walker, Robert Tunstall, 1879-


Birth 1862

Death 1952



Ark ID: w6zk5jbc

SNAC ID: 35260185