History of the Raft River Valley

Compiled and written by Naomi Paskett

Copy in the FHC Burley, Idaho

“The history of the Raft River Valley is inextricable interwoven and intermingled with the great historical pageant of the discovery – exploration, occupation and development of the Great Northwest.”

“Across the stage have passed the great English, French, and Spanish explorers.  The great fur companies, traders and trappers, – Jim Bridger – Kit Carson – Fremont – The pathfinders and others.  General William Ashley – James Beckwith – David Jackson – William Sublette – Jedidiah Smith – Peter Skeen Ogden – trappers, fur traders and trail makers.  Their impress has been left upon the entire Western United States.” 

In their great discoveries and explorations they have passed through the portals of our mountains.  In those early days the Raft River flowed wide in the valley floor, reaching in the early spring a mile wide in the high water run off.  Thus did it get the name Raft River as it was necessary at the time to raft across her.  There was no sage brush in those early days, wide expanse of grass belly deep to the horse waved in the breeze.  Cattlemen and sheep raisers found it ideal for their flocks and herds.

In 1867 James Shirley and Charles Gamble drove a herd of cattle into the valley from Texas.  They spent the summer and fall in the valley and the winters at Fort Hall, returning in the spring.

In 1870 Andrew Sweetzer came.  Soon came James M. Pierce, John Marshall, Dell and Bill Rice, Sam and James Coe, Andrew Lounsbury, George Scott, William A. Boulware, James Hitt, Jane Hitt, Stauffer and Tennin, John and Jonas Chatburn, Ed Conant, Fred Ottley, Lewis and Schwabacker, Frank Terrill, Emery, Gwinn, Keogh Bros, W. J. Pierce, William Jones, Charles Parke, Beechers, Parishes, Barker’s, Hubbards, Taylor’s, Hutchisons, Hadfields, Powers, Gallihers, Robertsons, Longs, condits, Wm. A. Bull, James Darby, Kossmans, Caldwells, Osterhouts, Cotterels, Bowens, Horns, Kemsley’s, Kirk’s, Olson’s, McGills, Burrows, Kempton’s, Barnes, Neal’s, Shangles, Durfees, Whitakers, Bronson’s, Darringtons, Edwards, Spencers, Eames, Johnson’s, Grahams, Homers, Brackenburys, John Hepworth, Halls, Wakes and others not know by this writer, by 1900.

These stock raisers trailed their cattle to Corrine, Utah to market them.  They were loaded on stock cars and shipped by rail to market.  Later the railroad was extended across the Great Salt Lake and Kelton, Utah was the loading zone for the herds and flocks.

The early settlers ground their own grain for flour and cereal or hauled their wheat to Corrine, Utah and brought back their grist.  John and Jonas Chatburn saw a future in the milling business so they sought out a spot where they could build a small grist mill on a small stream about eight miles west of Malta.  People came from near and far with their wheat to get their years supply of flour and cereal.  Ed Conant bought them out and ran the mill for many years.  This area was known as Conant.

Mrs. Charles Gamble, Persis Horne, and Emma Smith delivered babies and helped the sick, giving freely of their time.

The mail in this area was delivered in open boxes along the way.  First come first served was the custom.  In the winter of 1884 and 1885, Julia Ada Condit, Sarah Condit, Secor, and Dana Condit, their brother secured a permit from the United States Post Office Department to open a post office and name the community.  Apparently it seemed like an island in a wide expance of sea, so they named it Malta.

Wm. A. Bull owned and operated the first store, which was located just below the cemetery hill.  Leonard Condit established the next store in Malta.  He also owned and operated a dance hall.  He built a two story home with rooms he rented out as a hotel. 

There were saloons and other western establishments. George Burdick was a colorful character connected with the saloon business.  At one time so the story goes, George and a friend were taken by the law for an offense.  The friend said “Give me justice.”  George replied “Give me anything but justice.”

The first school was log building one mile north east of Malta in the Bull Lane.  Sarah Condit was the first teacher.  School lasted three or four months.  The students were often as not bigger than the teacher, which posed a problem.  In 1902 a red brick building was constructed to house the school.  It was also a one room school.  Later on they built another room.  It was a frame structure adjoining the brick building.  This building still is in use as the hot lunch room.  By 1912, it was necessary to build another building.  This one was constructed of cement and sandstone.  Two grades were in each room.  The basement was not finished at that time.  As families grew in numbers the people of the community banded together to establish a high school.  This was supported by tuition.  Each student attending was required to pay. 

The needs became greater and finally they were able to have a better high school supported by School Taxes.  It was held in the old red school.  About 1928, Mr. D. Biggers was the principal.  Through his efforts and the support of the community the basement of the grade school was finished.  People donated books and loaned books to establish a library which was necessary for the school to be accredited.  The students still had to buy their own books for classes.  Typing was taught as a new subject.  Each family supplied the typewriter for their own children.

In December 1930 the school was razed by fire.  Typewriters, books, furnishings were all lost, with the exception of the few books taken home to study.  The following summer a group of the men contracted the building of a new school.  It was beautiful to us who had been left with only the old red school house and an old hardware building at attend classes in.  This building is the present elementary school.  I. J. Neddo, Jesse Shill, John A. Elison, and George W. Neddo were the chief contractors with others in the community working on the project.  The brick laying was contracted to a brick mason from Burley. 

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints were among the early settlers.  This area was presided over from 1877 by Francis M. Lyman, president of the Tooele Stake.  Small branches were organized.

November 19, 1887 the Cassia Stake was organized with Horton D. Haight as president.  Elba Ward was organized that same year with Thomas Taylor Sr. as Bishop.  Malta was a branch of that ward. 

In 1902 Sunday school was held in a one room log building on the Taylor Ranch in Bull Lane.  Some of those working about that same time in this organization were; Thomas  R Smith, Charlotte Hall, Robert Wake Sr., and Isaac James Neddo Jr.

Malta Ward was organized in 1910 with Thomas Taylor Jr. as Bishop.

The Raft River State was organized April 27, 1915 with John A Elison as president.  He was called to move to Almo, Idaho, with his family to preside over the new stake.  He left a good job in Oakley to answer the call.  The year 1919 made another change for the stake, as it was decided to have stake head quarters in Malta.  All the stake officers were called to move to Malta in order to be where the stake meetings were held.

Malta ward grew by a number of families moving into the area;  in obedience to the call were, Elison’s, Barlow’s, Harper’s, Nye’s, Richens, Pasketts, Richards, John’s, Tracy’s and Lee’s.  There may be others not known to this writer.

President Elison built and operated a flour mill in Almo.  Later as he was called to move to Malta, he moved the mill.  The basement of the Clarence Barrett home is the only remaining part of the mill.

The first church building was built of logs with siding as the outside finish.  The inside was finished with wainscoting.  As the need became apparent the Wickel Dance Hall was purchased to house the ward and stake meetings and activity programs.  Everyone in the community participated in the dances and parties held at the church.  The Relief Society annual celebration on March 17, was always well attended by the whole community.

The Relief Society prepared the bodies for burial and the Bishop conducted the funerals for everyone alike.  When sorrow and other problems bowed the people down everyone rallied around to help.  One man said in recent years, “the Bishop is Bishop of everyone even if we aren’t members.”  And so the love for one another was strong.

This great valley has suffered drought and pestilence.  In the late twenties and early thirties, as the great depression swept this land the drought was taking its toll.  Through the efforts of some of the men in the valley, people were able to secure free gasoline with which to pump water to irrigate the parched land.  Some were forced to participate in the WPA program in order to survive.  It was a very humbling experience for all and perhaps much good was gained.

The people have been patriotic in serving the country as the need has arisen.  Oscar Pierce gave his live for his country in World War I, Ken Horne and Travis Hawkins in World War II, and Ted Hodges in the View Nam conflict.

Following the free gasoline some of the men organized and were able to secure an REA loan, with which they brought power into the valley and surrounding areas.  November 1941 saw the switches engaged and the life giving power flowed through the lines.  It truly was life giving, as we were able now to pump water to quench the thirst of the land.  Lands that were abandoned by the former owners and early settlers have been reclaimed.  The dreams and visions of those in the past are now being realized.

For many years Flossie Smith was the music leader in the ward.  Martha Jane Hutchison, better known as Jenny Hitt to us, served as organist in the early years of the church organization.  Flossie Smith played the piano and Fred Gardiner played the fiddle for all the children’s dances and also on occasion for adult dances.

One whom we hold in high esteem was our great country doctor Chester I. Sater, who came in 1910.  He gave freely of his time and effort to keep us all well, and restore us to health when we became ill.  He very often served people without receiving one cent of pay.  $25.00 was his fee for delivering the babies.  “About a buck” was the fee for the house calls.  During the great flu epidemic of 1918 when so many people succumbed to the ravages of the flu, Doctor Sater cared for the people with tender care.  He had not heard from his brother who lived in Heglar and decided to pay him a visit.   To his great sorrow, he found his brother dead and the sick wife lying by his dead body in the bed unable to arise.  Orson Sanders dispensed medicine under his direction.  Prior to his service, Mr. Nash was our druggist.

Bishops of the Malta Ward following Thomas Taylor Jr. serving from 1910 to 1915,  Aaron A. Zollinger 1915-1916, Isaac James Neddo Jr. 1916-1925, Orson S. Sanders 1925-1936, John O. Smith 1936-1941, Rawlins J. Harper 1941-1944, Shirly H. Barlow 1944-1947,  J. Henry Thompson 1947-1961, Harvey J. Wight 1961-1968, Wallace O. Biggs 1968 –  ____,  D Jay Harper is now our Bishop.

The Grange was organized in May 1932.  Scott Gamble was the first Master, and Rocha Powers was the first Secretary.  Among the early members were Scott and Chrissy Gamble, Harrison and Rocha Powers, Frank McGraw and his wife Lillie, James and Jenny Hitt, Ike and May Powers, John and Lou Powers, Dr. Chester I Sater and Mrs. Sater, Frank Riblett, Dr. Craner, Arthur and Beulah Pierce, Jessie and Lois Pierce, John and Fern Hitt, Mr. and Mrs. Ross Roberts and R.C. Wake.  In all there were thirty members.   They held their first meetings in the old red school house.  Later they purchased a building in Idahome and moved it to Malta.   They laid a hard wood floor and made it suitable for dancing.  They later built on a kitchen and dining room.

The Lion’s Club and Social Club were organized in the community in more recent years.  Each has made contributions to the community.  Through the leadership of the Lions Club our school has benefited much.  They have done much work in the area of sight.  At the present time they are and have raised money to put seating in the school auditorium.  They are now working to furnish the money for the teachers lounge at school.

In the 20’s Kraft Food Company purchased the original church building for a cheese factory.  James Moncur moved to Malta to be the cheese maker.  He operated the factory alone.   He did not have power machines to assist him in his labors, but he at times made up three vats of cheese a day.  At a later date, they purchased a piece of land from Deardorf and built a more spacious building where many were employed.  New men were moved into the valley to manage the operation from time to time.  Because of distention among the milk raisers and Kraft Foods, the factory was vacated.  Milk is now being hauled into Rupert.  Some of the men who hauled milk in this area were Bert Hutchison, R. M. Kelsey, and Wayne Whitaker.

We have had various men operate garages in Malta.  Chauncy Platts, Mathias Udy, and David W. Hutchison (better known as Garage Dave) were among those remembered.  Gill Bros. also in more recent years operated a shop and garage service.

Space in this book will not permit us to have a detailed report of every one who has helped with the building of the community or even to mention every family name.

At the present we are engaged in building a new chapel.  Bishop Wallace O. Biggs started the project and Bishop D. Jay Harper is carrying the project through to the finish.

We would like to thank everyone who has helped in making this book a success, especially Mrs. Naomi Paskett for compiling and writing this history of the Raft River Valley.

Information for this brief history was obtained from the papers of I. .J. Neddo, Essentials of Church History, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia Vol 4, and members of the community.