Early Payette County Pioneers
The Bivens Family

By Ron Marlow

David Bivens first came to Idaho in 1862, crossing the plains as Lieutenant of the Atchison Wagon Train. They passed through Idaho and went to Oregon, laying out the town site of Union. The returned to Idaho and 1867 to stay, settling near Falk Store, on the Payette River.

Bivens established a stage station at Weiser and also one at Falk, where the family later made their home. He was interested in the cattle business and since the range was open, they had a large herd. Each spring saw them on the road east to the nearest railroad in Nebraska, with hundreds of head of fattened cattle for market. William Stuart and Bivens drove their cattle to market together.

In 1876, Bivens made a trip to Mexico and brought back some alfalfa seed, introducing alfalfa into this country. It was necessary to have water to raise this crop, so his son John, began the building of an irrigation canal. At that time it was called the Bivens and Pence Ditch, but is now known as the Lower Payette Ditch. This was about 16 miles long on the north side of the river, where Pence and Bivens had their homes. The ditch has been extended, until now it's more than 34 miles long, and serves all the ranches on the Weiser River.

At one time the Bivens family received an Indian scare. Ben Bivens was branding out at the cow camp. A cowboy passing by saw man lying in the sagebrush near the camp. He rode to the ranch to tell the family Ben was lying out there, killed by the Indians. The settlers went out in fear of finding Ben's body, but on reaching the spot, found the man sitting by his campfire. It was not Ben Bivens. He was found in his own camp. It seems the stranger had been drunk and slept overnight in the sagebrush.

The day before the Bannock War outbreak, David Bivens' oldest son, John, was carrying the mail from Payette to Indian Valley. He went across the hills through Sand Hollow, as there were no fences in those days, and that was miles near. While stopping at Sand Hollow to eat his lunch, an Indian overtook John and pull a gun on him. He managed to get his horse between himself and the Indian and got out his own gun. The Indian decided to engage in conversation with him. He then rode along with Bivens to Indian Valley. Bivens was convinced by the actions of the Indian that trouble was brewing and he advised settlers to that effect.

During the Bannock War the Indians stole a large number of horses, many of which belonged to the Bivenses. John Bivens was one of a party of 10, who pursued the Indians through Indian Valley to Council Valley, but five of the party headed back home. The other five followed the Indians into the Weiser Canyon. One of these men was William White, who was captain of the party. All were killed except Mr. Keithley, who was badly wounded. As he was out of ammunition, he rolled over the rocks into the river and went upstream instead of down, which saved his life. The Indians made a close search that he managed to evade them. He remained in hiding until after dark. Then he worked downstream in the water, never touching the bank for a distance of 25 miles, over a period of three days. Although seriously wounded, he reached Fort Jefferson, near Falk, and reported that trouble with the Indians. John Bivens had been with the first five people returning, thereby saving his life. He went with a message to Boise to the Lieutenant Governor and troops were dispatched to Payette. Al Jackson, John Bivens, Peter Pence, Al Young and 10 others accompanied the troops to the scene of the murders and buried the white men. They found no Indians.

John Bivens told many interesting things of the pioneer days. One day while riding, he passed Tom White's homestead. White was sitting on his front porch loading his old muzzle loader. Bivens asked him what he was up to and White replied, "A bear has eaten all my pigs and now he has begun on the garden, so I am going after him."

That night the neighbors heard White shooting and after waiting for a long time for his return, went out to look for him. They found him out of breath. He said he had been kicked. In the morning they found the bear dead and when they tried to skin it, the hide would not come off. They found it was so full of carpet tacks, it was there to stay. White had loaded a whole package of carpet tax in one shell.

White had a bunch of hogs when the crickets came down Willow Creek in droves in 1880. He packed his grub and camp outfit, turned the hogs out and followed the crickets, camping along the way. When he got back home his hogs were fat and ready for market.

John Bivens ran the ferry between Ontario and Payette for several years in the 1880s. When the wagon bridge was completed, the ferry was abandoned. This was the old Washoe Ferry that had been moved up the Snake River six miles, when the towns of Ontario and Payette were born.

One Sunday, 50 Indians, under the chief calling himself Dendoy, camped at the Peter Pence place, and had a grand drunk. They were well supplied with Boise whiskey, at least the Indians said they got it there. Dendoy was sufficiently drunk to tell the truth. He said the whites believed there was no danger, but they were fooling themselves. He warned them all "to get up and get," and said the Indians intend to kill them all when they got everything ready. He went to the Bivens' house, a short distance from there, and made the same statements. Dendoy said they were going to strike down the women, as well as the men. He repeated, again and again, that Governor Bennett, "talked, but we do nothing." Much more was said and done, but, needless to say the David Bivens' family was terribly frightened being the only family on the creek.

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© Independent Enterprise, Payette Idaho
First Printed in The Independent-Enterprise Newspaper, Payette, Idaho, Wednesday, March 14, 2001

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