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George L. Shoup was Idaho’s beloved ‘Grand Old Man’

George L. Shoup - ID
Mark Schuler

George Laid Shoup was born in Kittanning, Pennsylvania on June 15, 1836. He received his early education in the public school system and then moved to Galesburg, Illinois in 1852 to farm with his father. On June 15, 1868, he married Magdelena Darnuster and fathered three sons and three daughters.

During the Panic of 1857, Shoup experienced devastating financial losses. Two years later, he joined the gold rush craze when he moved to the Colorado Territory. Here he began a career in mining and merchandising at the base of Pikes Peak, which continued until 1861.

When the Civil War erupted, Shoup enlisted with a band of independent scouts who traveled through Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. Commissioned as a colonel in the Third Colorado Calvary, he saw action in the Battle of Apache Canyon (“Gettysburg of the West”) during the Civil War and later the Sand Creek Massacre during the Colorado War. In the spring of 1862, he commanded the artillery of Fort Union, New Mexico.

By order of Brigadier-General James Henry Carleton, on December 15, 1862, Head-Quarters, Department of New Mexico released General Orders, No. 103 regarding Shoup’s service. The citation closes by stating, “The zeal, energy, perseverance, and self-denial shown by this young gentleman deserve this public notice, and is worthy the emulation of every officer and soldier in this department.” It is signed by Captain Ben C. Cutler.

In September 1864, Shoup was promoted to colonel. He then received a 30-day leave of absence from the military to attend a convention in Denver in preparation for Colorado’s statehood. In the end, Colorado was not admitted to the union at that time, so the work of the convention was abandoned. Shoup returned to active duty and was mustered out in December.

George’s next journey took him north to the Montana Territory. Referred to as an individual who could see far business-wise and manage men, Schoup settled in Virginia City and opened a general store during the summer of 1866. Shortly thereafter, word reached him regarding the discovery of gold in Leesburg, part of the Salmon River Country in the Idaho Territory. Even though Idaho was a total wilderness at this time, Shoup quickly gathered his belongings and made off across the Continental Divide. In 1867, he established both a new mercantile and a cattle ranch in Salmon City where he help with the organization of Lemhi County.

With his drive and ambition, it did not take Shoup long to become one of the Intermountain West’s most successful businessmen. Soon Geo. L. Shoup & Company was Idaho’s largest mercantile firm in the east-central region, with a brick store and warehouse on Main Street. His company could also be referred to as Idaho’s first chain store, due to the fact he also opened mercantile establishments in Challis and Bonanza.

During 1884 and 1885, Shoup was in New Orleans for the World’s Cotton Centennial Exposition. Appointed as commissioner, he spent $35,000 ($880,718.87 – 2012) of his own money to travel South and promote products from Idaho. His display of Idaho Territory products was the first ever in the East.

In April 1889, President Benjamin Harrison appointed Shoup as governor of the Idaho Territory. In that capacity, he immediately ordered a state constitutional convention to prepare Idaho for statehood. That event occurred on July 3, 1890 when Idaho became the 43rd state. On October 1st, Shoup was elected the state’s first governor, though his true aspiration was to represent Idaho in the US Senate.

His hopes were realized during the Senate election in November. Shoup remained in office as governor only a few weeks, due to winning the election for senator. He resigned as governor and Lieutenant Governor N. B. Willey stepped in to fill the vacancy. Shoup claimed his Senate seat on December 29, 1890.

One of the first of two US Senators from Idaho, Shoup served from 1890 until 1901. As senator, he explored many interests including pensions, education, and military affairs. As Chairman of the Committee on Territories, Shoup advocated liberal and just treatment of Native Americans.

George L. Shoup died in Boise, Idaho on December 21, 1904 and was buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Boise, Ada County, Idaho. Possessing a keen sense of humor and winning smile, George Shoup continues to be remembered for his dedication to the Great American West.

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When Idaho was asked to nominate someone to represent the state in Congress’s Statuary Hall, Shoup was an easy choice and his statute was set in place in 1910. Idaho Senator William Borah paid tribute to Shoup as he shared the sentiment Idahoans hold for their first governor:

He stood forth a leader. He had only such education as he could secure in a few months in the common schools, but united with rare judgment, a perception almost intuitive, a keen, quick, unerring knowledge of men, a practical wisdom gathered during his long, active career in the school of life, he was a safe, trusted and able counselor in all matters of private and public concern.”

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