The Court-Martialed Priest

Toussaint Mesplie, Idaho Pioneer

By John J. O’Hagan

In 1862, gold was discovered in the Boise Basin. Thousands of miners—many of them Irish Catholic—left the pretty much depleted California goldfields and settled in Idaho. Bishop Blanchett of Oregon dispatched Father Toussaint Mesplie and Father André Poulin to the Idaho Territory to minister to these men.

Mesplie was a Catholic priest and United States Army chaplain whose claim to fame, or perhaps more accurately, claim to infamy, is that he was the only priest in the history of Idaho ever to be court-martialed and drummed from the corps. As a student of Idaho history, I am fascinated with little-known stories of obscure persons who never made the conventional history books but who had a large impact on our state history. Toussaint Mesplie was one such person. I discovered that a conscientious search of the more well-known Idaho histories turned up scant references to his name. Nevertheless, his tumultuous path from heroic pioneer to dishonored soldier is illustrative of the rapidly changing history of Idaho in its territorial days.

Father Mesplie’s story leaped out at me as I was writing a history of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Boise. An invaluable resource in that effort was History of the Diocese of Boise—1863-1953 (Caxton Printers Ltd, 1953), by Cyprian Bradley and Edward Kelly. While the more conventional histories may have skipped over Mesplie, their book devoted a chapter to him, which was enough to start me on a sleuthing expedition through sources as varied as the Congressional Record, the National Archives and the Pacific Northwest Quarterly. None of these resources had any extensive treatment of him, but a fragment here and a fragment there allowed me to construct a  pretty good picture of his time in the Northwest.

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