Why Nampa?

map-idaho-nampaThis is a post that’s been sitting on the back shelf for over a year, as I’ve been hoping to uncover more details before posting the story. I’ve made some headway, but not as much as I’d like, so I’m putting this post out there today in hopes that some McMurry or Chilson relative will be able to fill in some of the missing details.

I recently learned that my grandmother, Dorothy Ruth (McMurry) Black, lived in Nampa, Idaho, when she was very young. She never mentioned this to me while she was alive, and I had never heard about her or her parents living in Idaho before. I knew that her grandfather, Arthur Webster McMurry in Nampa, Idado, on November 17, 1917, after moving there in December, 1916. Arthur’s daughter (and my grandmother’s aunt) Maud “May” Belle (McMurry) Jeglum was living a few miles south in Bowmont at the time of the 1920 census, having moved there with her husband and three children at some point after 1914.

The evidence for my grandmother having lived in Nampa comes from two sources. First is this short mention published on page 6 of the Friday, December 20, 1918, edition of the Olympia Daily Recorder:

Ross McMurry moves from Nampa

(“Ross McMurry” was one of the names that my great-grandfather, Frank Ross McMurry, went by.)

The second source is her father Frank’s World War I draft registration card, dated September 12, 1918, which indicates that he was working as a farmer and living in Melba, about 12 miles south of Nampa.

FR McMurry WWI draft reg 1 FR McMurry WWI draft reg 2

Why did my great-grandparents and their children move to the Nampa area? I don’t know, but I’d guess that it was to be with Frank’s ill father, Arthur, and/or to help settle his estate after his death (Arthur Webster McMurry died of pneumonia at the relatively young age of 63, when Frank was 31 years old).

But why was Arthur W. McMurry living in Nampa, Idaho? From what I’ve sketched out of his life so far, he seems to have not been afraid of pulling up roots and moving. At some point between 1870 and 1876 (when he was 16–21 years old), he moved from his childhood home in Effingham County, Illinois, to Lonoke, Arkansas, where his mother died on February 6, 1876. He was married three and a half years later, and was still in Lonoke on August 15, 1882, when his first child (Oscar) was born. By 1884, Arthur, his wife (Harriet Hoyt) and son had moved to Tumwater, Thurston County, Washington, where he bought a parcel of land on Ward’s Homestead on April 15, 1884. He stayed in Thurston County until at least 1889, but on August 13, 1898, he registered to vote in Ontario, San Bernardino County, California (see below). His move to California also puzzles me, and that’ll be the subject of a future post.


By the time of the June 18, 1900, census, Arthur is back in Tumwater, Washington. He stayed in Thurston County, Washington, for at least 6 more years and then in 1907, he’s moved to English Canada (probably Alberta). He was naturalized as a Canadian citizen in 1910, and in 1916, he’s found living in Battle River, Alberta, Canada with his son Oscar’s family (but without his own wife). And then he made his final move, to Nampa, Idaho, in December, 1916.

But why did he move around so much, and why did he end up in Nampa? Now that I think about it, so much of Arthur’s motivation for moving to new areas is a mystery to me. I think he moved to Washington because of cheaper land and good growing conditions (he was alternately described as a farmer, gardener, and nurseryman), but it very well may have been because he wanted to follow his younger brother James Miller McMurry to the Washington Territory. His moves to Canada and finally to Nampa are near-complete mysteries to me.

When I was in Washington last year to visit my father and do some family history research, I spent a couple of days at the Southwest Washington Regional Archives digging through their records. As per usual, work was slow going until the very last hour of the very last day, when I stumbled upon a rich vein. I had no time to thoroughly follow up on the clues I found at the very end, but I took quick photos of some of the entries I found in various indices that might help explain why Arthur left Thurston County for Canada and finally Nampa.

In the General Reverse Index volume that included 1906, I found a record of a fairly large mortgage ($4,000) that Arthur borrowed against four lots of land.
1906 mortgage P1000793On November 1, 1906, Arthur Webster McMurry and his wife Harriet Hoyt (Chilson) McMurry took out a mortgage of $4,000 from J.M. Roberts and his wife against lots 1 and 4 in block 7 of Ward’s Homestead, as well as lots 2 and 3 in block 8 of Ward’s Homestead.
1906 mortgage P1000793 detailFrom what I’ve been able to uncover so far, Arthur bought lot 3 of block 8 for $300 on April 15, 1884, at the same time his father, Luke R. McMurry, bought lots 1 and 4 of block 7 (as well as lot 1 of block 5) for $420. It would thus seem that the four lots upon which Arthur secured the mortgage were purchased for about $700–$1000.

In April 1901, Arthur had secured a mortgage of $500 from George B. Willey for some land in the town of Olympia, and it is recorded that he successfully paid off (“satisfied”) the mortgage.

Five and a half years after taking out the $500 mortgage, Arthur took out the $4,000 mortgage against his and his father’s land (although he may well have purchased lots 1 and 4 from his father between 1884 and 1906). Did he use part of the $4,000 mortgage to pay off the balance of the $500 mortgage, or was the $500 mortgage paid off by the time he took out the $4,000 mortgage? Was the $4,000 intended to finance the relocation of Arthur and his family to Canada?

In 1907, Arthur (and presumably his wife) immigrated to Canada. Was Arthur’s financial situation, once in Canada, worse than he expected it to be? Did he suffer large farming or business losses? Or did he just decide to start a new chapter of his life in 1907 in Canada (at the age of 53) and leave his matters to fall where they may back in Washington?

Whatever the cause, Arthur fell into arrears with the $4,000 mortgage from J.M. Roberts, and Roberts and a man named Isaac H. Sprague each filed a lis pendens against Arthur and his wife on December 22, 1908 (whether these are two separate lis pendens is not clear, although they share the same filing number).
1908 Lis Pendens P1000788On January 28, 1909, the Thurston County sheriff filed a levy against Arthur and his wife on behalf of J.M. Roberts and Isaac H. Sprague.
1908 Lis Pendens P1000788 detailIt’s not clear whether this “levy” was a fine levied against Arthur and his wife, or whether it was actually the seizure of his lands in Washington, or both. I hope to find answers to these questions on my next trip to Washington.

In any case, it appears that Arthur never returned to Washington. He stayed in Canada (presumably in or near Battle River, Alberta) for nearly a decade before returning to live in the United States.

When he did return to the U.S. in December, 1916, he didn’t return to Thurston County, Washington, or to anywhere in Washington, for that matter. Instead, he moved to Nampa, near the border with eastern Oregon.

He certainly didn’t choose Nampa because its climate was similar to that of Tumwater, as the two areas are starkly different in nearly all climatic measures (note: I used the nearby cities of Boise and Olympia for the comparison).

Did Arthur have family ties to the area (other than family who came to live near him)? Possibly. The McMurry name is common in the area around Nampa, even today. A vocal state representative to the Idaho legislature in 1916/1917 was named McMurry (I haven’t yet been able to discover his first name). Arthur also had a first cousin, Dr. Charles Alexander McMurry, who was a nationally recognized expert at the time on education, and who came to Boise several times during this period to talk about improved educational methods.

Did Arthur move to the Nampa area looking for work? Perhaps Nampa offered other opportunities, such as prospecting and/or mining, a good hospital (the Idaho State Sanatorium was built in Nampa in 1911), affordable land, or a chance to make money in the vibrant economy of a rapidly growing town? Perhaps he just wanted another clean start and Nampa looked like as good a place as any from the train he was riding in (or perhaps the car he was driving in)? Perhaps he just found the area to be beautiful.

I’m still searching for an obituary for Arthur, hoping that that may clear up at least some of the questions I’ve got.

If you know anything at all about the McMurrys in Idaho, please let me know in the comments section below.

3 thoughts on “Why Nampa?

  1. I remember my dad telling me once that they had moved to Alberta (my notes say Irma) as Arthur had wanted to try out some experimental farming and land was cheap. I’m going to ask him for more info regarding that and about their move to Idaho to see if he recalls anything more.

  2. My name is Ron Springer eldest grandson of A E McMurry in Olympia, WA.
    Here’s some things i remember hearing when i was a young boy from my grandfather. Grandpa was possibly born in Canada (1917 approx) then moved to Nampa Idaho and then somehow ended up in Olympia at around the age of 7ish. I remember him telling me that there were street cars in Olympia and the streets were brick and he was hit by one as a boy , i think he said he was not injured. Seems to me in the 1950’s or 60’s Art and Ezelpha moved his parents from Nampa area to there place on Black Lk in Olympia to live on site. My dad Duane springer Art’s son in law was helping one day probably helping Art with yard work or something and the way i remember it is Duane found Art’s Dad had peacefully passed away on the recliner watching baseball, which he really enjoyed.

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