Newcomers in Latah County, Idaho: A Public History Approach on Cultural Adaption in the American West, 1871-1921


Established in 1888, Latah County, ID has experienced its influx of immigrant populations. Many ethnic groups, including German, Swedish, Irish, and Norwegian, relocated to the county in search of opportunities. The purpose of this thesis is to explore immigrant families and their place in the towns of Moscow and Genesee. These immigrants undoubtably shaped Latah County into its current demographics. It is my hope that, even if not all Latah County residents feel a direct connection to these immigrant histories, they are able to recognize the ways this history has shaped contemporary Latah County.

This project focuses on four individual families in order to draw broader conclusions about immigration not only to Latah County but also the American West as a whole. This work is organized chronologically, focusing first on the Taylor Family of Ireland, who immigrated in 1871. The next section focuses on the Meyer Family of Germany (who immigrated in 1882). Then, the Scheyer and Hagedorn Families of Germany push the project into the early twentieth century (1903), and Nathaniel Williamson (who also immigrated in 1903), an individual from Ireland is also examined for his role as a successful business owner and a unique individual in his contributions to Latah County. This project emphasizes the ways in which immigrant families practiced and adapted their cultures, even after relocating to the American West. As readers will learn, this occurred especially through religion and marriage.

For each family, I have adopted a demographic approach, in which I have examined migration and mobility (both internationally and regionally within the United States), land acquisition, marriage, occupation, and religion. Through analyzing these various topics within the Taylors, Meyers, Scheyers, Hagedorns, and Williamsons, this project can offer a better look into immigration in the American West. This is intended to be a small case study that contributes to broader understandings of European immigration and cultural adaption in the American West. This cultural maintenance was not always a binary—there was fluidity between cultural preservation and assimilation into American culture. Nevertheless, though, cultural maintenance was evident in marriage patterns and religious practices specifically within German families, as this project will demonstrate. 

This thesis also borrows from public history methodology and discusses the nature and significance of exhibit curation. Originally inspired by a physical exhibit on European immigrants in Latah County, this project further examines culture among four of the families highlighted in the exhibit. To further solidify its public history aspirations, this thesis is available on Scalar, a digital site for the humanities. The stories of these four immigrant families are used to conduct a micro-historical analysis of culture in Latah County, draw broader conclusions about the nature of immigration to the American West, and act as accessible history written for the residents of Latah County.

Readers will also be introduced to the place of land acquisition during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to better understand the place of this immigration to the American West. Readers will encounter a section on religion and churches in Latah County as well. Religion—and specifically these churches—served as a point of cultural maintenance for German immigrant families in particular.

This project is not intended to act as a comprehensive study on every immigrant in Latah County. Rather, it shines a spotlight on a collection of immigrants who were present in the Latah County Historical Society archive and also in the broader county. Using genealogies and personal family collections housed at the Latah County Historical Society, this platform serves as a project meant for scholars and interested viewers alike who wish to learn more about immigrants in the region.

Existing historiography on immigrants in the American West is, unsurprisingly, vast. This project focuses on four immigrant families in hopes to add to this existing historiography on the American West. This section will address some of the most influential works that influenced the contextualization of these immigrant families in Latah County. Readers may also find some of the mentioned texts interesting, as many of them expand on the ideas and analysis present in the following chapters.

Diane Pearson’s The Nez Perces in the Indian Territory: Nimiipuu Survival (2008) aids in contextualizing the place of the Nez Perce and other Indigenous tribes in the Latah County area. This text contributes specifically in the context of land acquisition and the Taylor family. Pearson examines the exile of the Nez Perce tribe following the Nez Perce War of 1877. The Nez Perces in the Indian Territory offers a background to the Walla Walla Treaty of 1855 and subsequent treaties and policies passed to the detriment of the Nez Perce: “Like other Native nations whose members were not yet U.S. citizens, the Nimiipuu experienced staggering losses of land, were segregated on reservations, and were subjected to restrictive laws and policies that did not apply to U.S. citizens.”[1] Referencing Pearson’s study on the displacement of the Nez Perce—as well as their perseverance and resilience—strengthens the analysis of Indigenous populations in relation to Euro-American immigrant families.

Richard Scheuerman and Clifford Trafzer’s Hardship to Homeland: Pacific Northwest Volga Germans (2018) helps to contextualize the place of religion in immigrant German families. Sheuerman and Trafzer argue that religion acted as a mode for cultural maintenance in Volga German populations in the Pacific Northwest. Hardship to Homeland contends that “the church was an institution within Volga German society that remained significant once the immigrants had moved to the United States.”[2] The Meyer, Scheyer and Hagedorn families retained religious practices after immigrating to Latah County; Scheuerman and Trafzer’s assertions on religion as indicative of cultural continuation is supportive of this project’s argument.

Emmons' Beyond the American Pale: The Irish in the West, 1845 - 1910 (2010) conceptualizes the role of Irish immigrants in white American expansion. Emmons specifically examines Irish immigrants to Butte, Montana. However, he argues that the Irish sought difficult work in Butte’s mines because of the promise of job security: "More than most, the Irish wanted to be depression-proof, or as close to it as they could get. That meant either government work--usually local--or jobs with the largest and most economically invulnerable corporations they could find."[3] Irish immigrants, according to Emmons, valued steady work more than most other Euro-American immigrant groups. Emmons’ analysis on the economic desires of Irish immigrants conceptualizes specifically the life of Nathaniel Williamson as a successful business owner. Williamson’s success, in many ways, is indicative of the aspirations of Irish immigrants during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[4]

Historiography relating specifically to Latah County also influenced the production of this project. This secondary literature includes the thesis of Ray Osterberg, a graduate student at Eastern Washington University, titled “Swedes in the Inland Empire.” This paper discusses Swedish immigrants specifically in Troy, ID and Spokane, WA. Furthermore, Latah Legacy, a journal press connected to the historical society, published a journal in 1990 titled “Swedes, Norwegian, Danes Make Up Latah County’s Scandinavians.” This work provides a brief overview of these ethnic groups in the county. Wayne Schow’s “The Scandinavians in Idaho” offers a study on Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish ethnic groups in the state. (Many of these historiographies were identified through an annotated bibliography created by University of Idaho graduate student Linnea Marshall in 2001.)[5]

Land Acquisition: The Homestead Act and the Indigenous Presence
One of the most prominent causes for immigration westward in the United States was the Homestead Act of 1862. The Homestead Act was passed to promote settlement, and many immigrants were drawn to vast regions because of it. Readers will be introduced to families later in this project who utilized the Homestead Act themselves. The act allotted 160 acres of government land to any adult Euro-American man, provided he had never borne arms against the United States.[6] The General Land Office would oversee the homesteader and their allotted land for five years. If the homesteader made the land their primary residence (essentially proving their domination and occupation of the land), they could then file for a deed of land. As readers will see later, the Homestead Act also enabled immigrants to become citizens of the United States.

The Homestead Act and settler-colonialism in general cannot be discussed without also addressing the Indigenous presence in the American West. Federal Indian policy of land removal and assimilation directly influenced the formation and successes of the Homestead Act. In Latah County and close regions, many wars were fought over land rights between the United States government and the Nez Perce, Yakama, Spokan, Walla Walla, and other Indigenous tribes. In 1855, the Treaty of Walla Walla was signed into effect. This treaty involved the Walla Walla, Umatilla, Cayuse, Palouse, Yakama, and Nez Perce tribes. The treaty mandated that the tribes cede large portions of their ancestral lands to the United States Government.[7]

The Nez Perce present an appropriate and enlightening lens into this history. In many ways, the issue of land presented in the history of the Nez Perce reflects similar struggles faced by other tribes in the Columbia Plateau region. Following the 1855 Treaty, multiple other similar acts were passed. As J. Diane Pearson notes in her book The Nez Perces in the Indian Territory: Nimiipuu Survival, the foundation of the 1855 Treaty was intended to further colonize Indigenous governance. She writes: “The Nimiipuu tried to adjust to the terms of the treaty of 1855 because most of the headmen had signed the agreement…. The events leading to the treaty of 1863 involved stolen Nimiipuu resources and a trail of land cessions and theft that led to war with the United States in 1877.”[8] The multiple subsequent treaties only sought to occupy more land for the United States government and further push the Nez Perce from their ancestral homes. The examined European immigrant families were undoubtably settling on the ancestral lands of the region’s native tribes.

Religion: Ethnic Churches of Latah County
Many immigrant families actively practiced their culture through religion and religious practices. As this project will demonstrate, some immigrant families held onto religion firmly following their immigration to Latah County and the broader American West. This seems to have been mostly prevalent in German immigrant families and communities.

In order to better understand the place of religion in immigrant families to Latah County, one should first be introduced to the ethnic churches in Latah County. For the purposes of this project, attention will be given to the attachment of German families to churches specifically. The Meyer, Scheyer, and Hagedorn families—all from Germany—have historically had special attachments to the St. John’s Lutheran Church in Genesee and the German Methodist Episcopal Church (now the First United Methodist Church) in Moscow. St. John’s Lutheran Church and the German Methodist Episcopal Church were explicitly German affiliated in its earliest years, and both churches present an important insight into cultural retention in these German immigrant families. St. John’s Lutheran Church was founded in Genesee in 1890.[9] The church became self-supporting in 1898. Prior to the turn of the century, services were only held in German. Even after services began being offered in English, German services continued until approximately until 1930.[10]

The German Methodist Episcopal Church—later named the First United Methodist Church—was founded in 1876. At that time, church members gathered and held services in a small schoolhouse. In 1883, construction of the church building began, and in 1887 the structure was completed and services began in the church itself.[11]

The church was first located at the corner of 6th and Jefferson St., but by 1902 construction of a newer and larger building began. This new location was at 3rd and Adams St., where the church is still located. While the history of the church's German affiliation is not as clear as St. John's, the church acted as a stronghold for the Hagedorn family specifically. 

In Hardship to Homeland: Pacific Northwest Volga Germans, Richard Scheuerman and Clifford Trafzer write on the significance of religion as a source of cultural continuation among Volga German immigrants: “Although the Volga Germans were quick to understand the social structure and cultural elements of the larger society, they held steadfastly to some of their customs, teachings, and general techniques of their past lifeway. This was particularly apparent in their religion.”[12] St. John’s Lutheran Church and the German Methodist Episcopal Church presented a strong ethnic tie to a German identity. Though the history provided here on the churches themselves is brief, they both presented a strong ethnic tie to a German identity. The cultural significance of religion is essential to examine when considering the continuation of culture that occurs during and after immigration to the American West.
[1] Diane Pearson, The Nez Perces in the Indian Territory: Nimiipuu Survival (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008), 3.
[2] Richard D. Scheuerman and Clifford E. Trafzer, Hardship to Homeland: Pacific Northwest Volga Germans (Pullman: Washington State University Press, 2018), 133.
[3] David M. Emmons, Beyond the American Pale: The Irish in the West, 1845 – 1910 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010), 224.
[4] The historiography influencing this project also consists of secondary literature that provide an analysis of immigration to the American West. Texts that readers may consider for further historical investigation on European immigration include the following: Carl L. Bankston and Danielle Antoinette Hidalgo’s Immigration in U.S. History; Christina A. Ziegler-McPherson’s Selling America: Immigration Promotion and the Settlement of the American Continent, 1607-1914; Jorgen Dahlie’s A Social History of Scandinavian Immigration, Washington State, 1895-1910; Lorenzo Veracini’s Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview; Frederick C. Luebke’s European Immigrants in the American West: Community Histories; Dolores Hayden’s The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History; James Casey’s The History of the Family; George T. Flom’s A History of Norwegian Immigration to the United States from the Earliest Beginning down to the Year 1848; Janet Elaine Rasmussen’s New Land, New Lives: Scandinavian Immigrants to the Pacific Northwest and Michael Anderson’s Approaches to the History of the Western Family, 1500-1914. These manuscripts compliment this project and conceptualize not only immigration in the broader sense but also settler-colonialism, family patterns, and ethnic groups.
[5] In the broader sense, this project has been influenced by many texts that examine Latah County, the Pacific Northwest, and the broader American West. These secondary manuscripts include the following: Katherine G. Morrissey’s Mental Territories: Mapping the Inland Empire; Carlos A. Schwantes’ The Pacific Northwest: An Interpretive History; D.W. Meining’s The Great Columbia Plain: A Historical Geography, 1805-1910; Keith Petersen’s Company Town: Potlatch, Idaho, and the Potlatch Lumber Company; and Alexander Campbell McGregor’s Counting Sheep: From Open Range to Agribusiness on the Columbia Plateau. These texts include environmental histories, cultural histories, and offer a deeper look into the place and space of Latah County.
[6] “Homestead Act,”, accessed 28 March 2022,
[7] “Treaty of Walla Walla, 1855,” Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs, accessed 28 March 2022,
[8] J. Diane Pearson, The Nez Perces in the Indian Territory, 14.
[9] Jerilynn Harris, “St. John Lutheran Church, Genesee, Idaho, Records, 1889-2012,”, Archives West, 2012,
[10] Jerilynn Harris, “St. John Lutheran Church, Genesee, Idaho, Records, 1889-2012.”
[11] “Our Church History,” Moscow First United Methodist, accessed 3 April 2022,
[12] Richard Scheuerman and Clifford Trafzer, Hardship to Homeland, 133.

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