Homesteaders were not always Farmers

Historically, homesteading was quite risky. It not only required steely determination, the most successful homesteader also held an arsenal of skills that were needed for his survival.  One such man was William Campbell, the son of Scottish immigrants. He established his homestead in 1897 on the edge of the Salmon River in the mountains of Central Idaho.

Campbells Homestead close up
William Campbell’s Homestead site

A recent gold discovery at nearby Thunder Mountain brought an increase in travelers looking to strike it rich. Seeing the need to get men, supplies, and cattle across the river, he began a ferrying business which proved to be very lucrative. William Campbells FerrySuccessful homesteaders earned their living by various means and were not always farmers. Their prosperity was reliant on the needs and opportunities of the surroundings and the ability to recognize and respond to those conditions. William Campbell was able to provide a necessary service for his community while eking out a moderately comfortable lifestyle. Unfortunately, his dream was cut short, lasting only about five years. He disappeared in a

Scenic River of No Return
Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness

snowstorm and was never found. His name lives on in Campbell’s Ferry, a spot near the main fork of the Salmon River.



Bauer, Jennifer K. “Where wild still rules: New book on Campbell’s Ferry examines history of remote Salmon River Canyon ranch.” November 27, 2013.

Scenic River of No Return Wilderness.

The Trust for Public Land.

“William Campbell.”


2 thoughts on “Homesteaders were not always Farmers

  1. I would argue that homesteaders were indeed always farmers, just not exclusively farmers. The type of personality it takes to be a homesteader is the jack-of-all-trades type. If farming was what was needed they would absolutely have done it, along with every other thing necessary to exist in that place. He may have been an entrepreneur but assuredly he did his share of gardening, orcharding, and animal rearing.


    1. I totally agree with you in regards to William Campbell. I was referring to many “homesteaders” that settled in Idaho who came in response to the gold and silver strikes. Mining was a huge draw for many Idaho settlers. If they came with a family, animal husbandry and other agricultural pursuits were without a doubt most necessary. Thank you for your comment.


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