A Century as a Quaker Outpost
By Natalie Needham
As with many small towns around Idaho, you’ll know you’ve reached Greenleaf when the speed limit slows to 35, if you happen to be traveling on Highway 19 (or Simplot Blvd., as it is also called) west of Caldwell. If not for the slower speed limit, you might not even notice Greenleaf, which is situated about halfway between Caldwell and Wilder, only thirteen miles from the Oregon border as the crow flies. It perches up on a bench that overlooks the Treasure Valley and also offers views of the Owyhees.
My husband and I moved to Greenleaf early in 2009 to be close to his folks and to the academy where our son attended school. I remembered Greenleaf as a small, quiet community that I drove though on occasional road trips when I was younger, but never thought it would become a place I would call home. We both commute to Boise, a thirty-mile drive one way, and to me it was a difficult adjustment. But over time, I grew to love this quiet place, and it became an endearing, peaceful refuge that seemed the perfect place to raise our kids.
This tiny hamlet came to be just after the turn of the 20th century, with the very first settlers arriving in 1903. The landscape was desolate—a dusty expanse of desert sagebrush. The location, however, was ideal for the purpose of carving out a new way of life.
The first settlers to arrive had come to Caldwell by train, and from there set out to find a piece of land they could claim as their own. The land they chose was five miles from Caldwell, just below the bench that would grow to become Greenleaf. The first four families together would start a community based on their Quaker roots—a community built by faith, independence, determination, and a brand of hard work that was the benchmark of the early American pioneer.
The first community Christmas tree was a decorated clump of sagebrush. The first party was a taffy pull. The first homes were built with the assistance of neighbors and friends. The first reference to this tiny town in its infancy was Mountain View. By and by, it was officially named Greenleaf, after the famous Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier.
I had the privilege of speaking with Harold Tish, whose family stepped off that train in Caldwell so long ago to become one of the very first Greenleaf settlers. His grandfather John Tish used to tell of how during the family’s first few years in the area, Indians would pass through Pipe Gulch to the east to trade items with the Greenleaf settlers, such as moccasins, knives, beads, and trinkets.