The plaque on the Houston memorial on Vernon St.

COLUMN: John Houston is missing

Nelson’s first mayor had a habit of disappearing in the night without leaving a forwarding address.

Second of two parts

Last week we started looking into new information about the early life of Nelson’s first mayor, John Houston, including a fracas in a Texas saloon in 1877 that left him with nine stab wounds and within an inch of death.

Houston’s exact whereabouts for the next few years aren’t known, but he turns up next in Boise, where the Idaho Statesman of March 22, 1881 reported: “Mr. John Houston, who has been foreman in the Statesman office for the past six months, will leave tomorrow for Bellevue, Wood River. Mr. Houston is one of the best printers ever in Boise City, and a very intelligent, honorable gentleman; a good accountant and bookkeeper; capable of running a newspaper or job office — or most any other kind of business. We wish him good health and a handsome fortune awaiting him in that new El Dorado.”

According to a later account, Houston arrived in Hailey, Idaho, where the part owner of the townsite offered him his pick of two lots on Main St. Houston built a log home and although it only had a canvas roof and no floor, he rented it out for $30 per month.

That summer, Houston built another log home on a second lot that he rented for $35 a month. Between his properties and work on the Wood River Times, he earned over $200 per month. However, he became restless, quit his job, sold his properties, and walked to Butte, Mont., only to return a few months later and resume his position with the Times.

But on July 29, 1882, the Idaho Statesman noted: “John Houston, a printer, formerly of Boise and a man well known in every Territorial newspaper office, suddenly disappeared from this city on the morning of the 4th of July. He came here from Wood River, had several hundred dollars in his possession, and his disappearance has caused considerable alarm among his friends. It is thought that he may be in San Francisco or Portland.”

(Such disappearances would not be uncommon for Houston. During his last stint as Nelson’s mayor, he vanished without leaving a forwarding address and later turned up in Nevada.)

The Wood River Times found the disappearance “quite strange, as he owns a half interest in a mine on the East Fork of Wood river, which shows a good ore vein, and which he expected would enrich him. But he was always somewhat queer, and it is just possible that he is tramping through Washington Territory.”

The co-owners of Houston’s mining claim, known as the Sterling, placed a legal ad notifying him that he owed them $50, otherwise his interest would be forfeited.

The Statesman reported a possible sighting on Aug. 3: “Mr. Morris D. Abbott writes us that John Houston … passed through Baker City on the 12th of July on his way to The Dalles, Oregon.”

But his whereabouts were not firmly established until the following February, when the Times received a copy of a Milwaukee newspaper called Peck’s Sun, “which conveys as much information as a letter. The date is crossed out and changed to Madison, Wisc., Monday, Feb. 19. In a corner of the paper is written ‘30c a M.’ All this in John Houston’s handwriting. He is therefore in Madison, Wisc., working for 30 cents per 1,000 ems. As the price paid in the Times office is 50 cents per thousand, it is not unlikely that John Houston wishes himself back again, and that the wish will cause him to turn his wandering feet this way at an early day.” (An em is a typographical measurement.)

Nothing further was heard from Houston until February 1887, when he apparently became city editor of the Butte Miner. Presciently, the Wood River Times wrote: “He is a thorough printer and journalist, and an honorable, upright ‘white’ man, who would scorn to do a mean act; and if he would only settle down for good somewhere would soon make his mark in the world.”

A little more than three years later, after stops in Calgary, New Westminster, and Donald, Houston arrived in a fledgling town on the shore of Kootenay Lake to do just that.

Just Posted

Teck will continue to fight U.S. judgement

U.S. Supreme Court denied hearing Teck’s appeal last week

Car rolls into Cottonwood Creek

No one was injured in the Tuesday evening incident

Greens choose Rosslander to represent them in next federal election

Tara Howse is the former chair of Rossland’s Sustainability Commission

Commercial truck caught dumping waste into river near Trail

Greater Trail RCMP report the company owner has been identified

New residential building under construction at Kerr site

Ground has broken on a four-storey, 44-unit mixed use building

VIDEO: ‘Avengers: Endgame’ to be re-released with new footage

‘Avatar’ holds global box office record at $2.788 billion, while ‘Endgame’ stands at $2.743 billion…

B.C. teen killed by falling tree near Victoria

Second youth also injured in freak incident during field trip at Camp Barnard near Sooke

Elias Pettersson wins Calder Trophy as NHL’s top rookie

Vancouver forward first Canuck to win award since Pavel Bure in 1992

FVRD chair calls B.C. incineration plan for Philippines waste ‘disturbing’

Metro Vancouver ‘uniquely capable’ of safely disposing of waste coming back to Canada, say officials

VIDEO: Acknowledging skeptics, finance minister vows to build Trans Mountain project

Bill Morneau said he recognizes ‘huge amount of anxiety’ in Calgary over future of oil and gas sector

Shovels could be in the ground on Trans Mountain by September, CEO says

Ian Anderson points to weeks likely required for NEB to reinstate 2016 regulatory record

Scorpion gives birth after hitching ride in B.C. woman’s luggage

A Vancouver woman inadvertently brought the animal home from a trip to Cuba

RCMP allows officers to grow beards

Members can now wear beards and goatees, as long as they’re neatly groomed

Girl, 10, poisoned by carbon monoxide at B.C. campsite could soon return home

Lucille Beaurain died and daughter Micaela Walton, 10, was rushed to B.C. Children’s Hospital on May 18

Most Read