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Early Black History in Moscow & Surrounding Areas

Updated: Jan 16

This history was researched and compiled as part of the Black Research Institute for Flourishing & Thriving (BRIFT) project in partnership with the University of Idaho Black History Research Lab.


Deary High School basketball team, 1933. Unknown Black man in second row. LCHS Photo: 04-06-004.

The town of Moscow, and surrounding areas, have a large, recorded history of pioneers and early settlers that cultivated the land and established themselves on it. The first pioneers in the area arrived in 1871 and began establishing themselves on the prairie, which eventually led to the founding of the town of Moscow in 1887. According to the 1890 census, 1,139 people lived in the town of Moscow, and by 1900 it had grown to 2,484 [1]. Moscow was one of the only established towns in the area at the turn of the 20th century, with other smaller towns being established like Deary and Tensed soon thereafter. Despite the lack of large population centers in the area, people continued to move and settle in the town of Moscow, which eventually led to the settlement of the area by the Crisemon family. 



The Crisemon family is the first recorded Black family in the town of Moscow, settling sometime in the early 1890s. The family consisted of Lewis E. Crisemon (the Patriarch of the family and Stepfather to Jennie), Louisa (Matriarch), Jennie Eva Hughes, Edna Gertrude Chrisman (daughter of Lewis and Louisa), and Lousinda (daughter of Lewis and Louisa) [2]. Once settled in Moscow, Lewis opened a barbershop and Louisa found work as a housekeeper. The Crisemon’s daughters (outside of Lousinda, which seems to have no recorded documentation) have been discussed in length in other articles, but just to summarize their significance on the community, Jennie Eva Hughes was the first Black graduate at the University of Idaho in 1899[3] and Edna Gertrude Chrisman attended U of I, but only in its Preparatory school and her freshman year of college in 1908 [4].  After their time in Moscow, both of these Crisemon children left, with Jennie moving to Spokane, Washington and Edna briefly moving to some property over by Coeur d’Alene until she moved to California. Outside of these two sisters, there seems to be almost no recorded history on the rest of the family, with the last documentation being of Jennie’s son Berthol who unfortunately died in 1919 while attending U of I. Certainly, the most influential Black family in the town of Moscow, they were not the only Black individuals in the area.

           

Another Black individual of note was Eugene Hoyle Settle, a man of mixed ancestry, (e.g. Black and Native American) who was originally from Mississippi but resettled in the West.  Born in either 1895 or 1896, Settle was born to John Settle and Jane Doe. The family would move from the Mississippi area to Bluestem, Washington in 1898 [5]. In Bluestem, Settle’s father would find some work at the local timber companies until he eventually found a tract of land outside of Moscow that he could mortgage. As such, the Settle family would move again, this time to a parcel of land outside of Moscow that they would homestead on.  From the interviews conducted by the Latah Historical Society, it seems life in rural Moscow was easy enough for the Settle family, with Eugene Settle noting that all the other white children saw him as just another face in the crowd. In 1918, Eugene Settle was drafted into the US army and went overseas, where he found himself in the 139th Infantry regiment, a segregated unit composed mostly of Black soldiers from Missouri and Kansas. He would spend a couple years in France before he eventually returned home.

Eugene Settle during his WWI Army service,ca.1917. LCHS Photo: Settle.E.01.

The Settle family had three children in all, Eugene, Stella, and Booker T. each of whom would stay in the Moscow area for some time. Once he moved back to the States, Settle would initially work in Portland as a welder until he returned home. In the 1940s, Settle would start up work at the Latah County Grain Growers, where he would eventually become a warehouse superintendent. During this time, Settle noted that there was job discrimination within the town of Moscow, wherein certain restaurants and hotels had strict policies against hiring Black employees [6]. He would eventually marry and have a daughter, who would go on to get her masters and Ph.D., and a teaching job at California Tech in Berkeley, California. 

           

The younger brother of the family, Booker T. Settle, finished college in 1929 most likely at the University of Idaho, which if true, would make him the second black college graduate at U of I after Jennie Eva Hughes [7]. After finishing his undergraduate degree, Booker T. moved to Petersburg, Virginia where he began work as an Assistant Professor at the Virginia State College. He would come back to the Pacific Northwest to finish his master’s at WSU and eventually work towards his Ph.D. at Cornell University, but he never finished it. Instead, he moved back to Petersburg and bought 667 acres that he would ranch for the rest of his life. As for his sister Stella, there seems to be little to no documentation of her story. 


Eugene Settle noted in his interviews with Sam Schrager, that there were other Black people in the area, with the other notable family being the Wells family. Joe Wells, the patriarch of the family, was originally from North Carolina where he had been born into slavery in 1858. He moved west with Crom and John Wells, two brothers from the family that used to own him, who treated him as a brother which led him to take on the Wells family name. Lou Wells also accompanied them, eventually marrying Joe. The Wells were one of the first families in the Deary area, where they ran a popular halfway house and helped build up the community [8]. Old Joe and Old Lou had three children Chuck, Roy, and Mary. Chuck followed in his father’s footsteps, working as a gyppo logger and Roy worked as a sheep herder, taking him all over the United States. The Wells family is credited as being one of the founding families of Deary, Idaho, homesteading the land and helping to clear timber out of what would be Deary proper [9].


Joe and Lou Wells, ca. 1907. LCHS Photo: Wells.J.01.

There is one more Black family that was in the area that needs to be mentioned and that is the King family. Calvin King, the patriarch of the family, was a sharecropper from North Carolina that tossed his name into a homestead lottery and won 160 acres just outside of Tensed. As such, Calvin and his wife Lunar moved their seven children to the Tensed area in 1910 [10]. The people that still live in King Valley (valley was named after the King family) have nothing but admiration and respect for the Kings, who were noted as being hard workers and always willing to give a helpful hand [11].  As of today, all of the King family is unfortunately passed, with the last King son passing in the 1980s, but the residents of King Valley still honor their name through a monument whose inscription reads "King Valley: Calvin and Lunar King, who with their family, homesteaded on this site in 1910.” 

Written and compiled by Brody Gasper


[2] Paul Frazee, “Jennie Eva Hughes Smith,” April 21, 2021, https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/jennie-eva-hughes-smith-1877-1939/.

[3] Michelle Shannon, “The First Black Gradaute - Jennie Eva Hughes,” February 2020, https://www.lib.uidaho.edu/blackhistory/features/hughes.html.

[4] Brody Gasper, “Edna Gertrude Chrisman,” February 2020, https://www.lib.uidaho.edu/blackhistory/features/chrisman.html.

[5] Eugene Settle, interview by Sam Schrager, June 3, 1975, interview 1, transcript, Latah County Oral History Collection, Moscow, Idaho.

[6] Eugene Settle, interview by Sam Schrager, August 4, 1975, interview 3, transcript, Latah County Oral History Collection, Moscow, Idaho.

[7] Eugene Settle, interview by Sam Schrager, July 7, 1975, interview 2, transcript, Latah County Oral History Collection, Moscow, Idaho.

[8] “Joe and Lou Wells,” Idaho Trail Blazers, March 19, 2016, https://idahotrailblazersdotcom.wordpress.com/2016/03/19/joe-lou-wells/.

[9] Brian Holmes, “‘They became beloved members of their community’: Black couple credited with founding Deary, Idaho in the early 1900s,” KTVB7, June 19, 2020, https://www.ktvb.com/article/news/local/208/joe-lou-wells-deary-idaho-juneteenth-history/277-32672d7b-bbd7-4e9e-a3b9-6997595724cd.

[10] Mamie O. Oliver, "Idaho Ebony: The African American Presence in Idaho State History," The Journal of African American History Vol. 91, No. 1 (Winter 2006): 41-54. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20064046

[11] David Johnson, “King’s dream in King Valley?: Black homesteaders had respect of white neighbors in Benewah County,” Lewiston Tribune, January 17, 2000, https://www.lmtribune.com/northwest/kings-dream-in-king-valley-black-homesteaders-had-respect-of-white-neighbors-in-benewah-county/article_6e5da432-21a6-509a-a4d4-00a46d685126.html.

Black history in Moscow and Northern Idaho is still being written. The gap in documentation from the 1940s to the 1990s means that this is an ongoing project. As census data is released, newspapers digitized, and more research completed, this history continues to be a work in progress. 

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