Bonneville County History

Bonneville County was established February 7, 1911, by the state legislature from the north and east parts of Bingham County. It was named for Capt. B.L.E. Bonneville, of the U.S. Army, who explored throughout the Snake River area in the 1830s. A settlement developed at the site of the Eagle Rock ferry on the Snake River in 1864. This settlement was to be known as Idaho Falls after 1891.

Today, Bonneville County stretches up from two desert floors through a fertile valley of plush crops and into heavily forested peaks. The area that became Bonneville County was first associated with Oneida County which stretched through most of southern and southeastern Idaho. It was later reapportioned and formed the northern end of Bingham County. It wasn't until 1911 that Bonneville County was formed and Idaho Falls became the County seat. But, during all of this time, and even before people started making boundaries and setting up towns, villages and governments, there was a rich part to the region. Idaho Falls did not have much activity. Indians roamed much of the county in travels to Camas Harvest and in 1808 John Corter came through the area. In 1810, Major Andrew Henry saw the country and in 1832 the man whose name was later to be immortalized by the institution of the county, Captain B.L.E. Bonneville, visited the area. It is most interesting, if not somewhat odd, to note that what is today one of the country's richest farmlands actually had it's inception as the result of gold.

The first bona fide town in the county, Keenan, was in the extreme eastern portion of Bonneville County near Caribou Mountain. Keenan boasted a population of nearly 1,000 people. Keenan lavishly brushed with gold fever nearly a century is nonexistent today. It was about this same time, 1870, that Caribou City also sprang up and Eagle Rock, the forerunner of present day Idaho Falls, began to acquire a population. There was a time during this growth and settlement period when it appeared Caribou City would outgrow Eagle Rock, but like many other gold rush towns it soon disappeared.

The gold rush into the Caribou region was not considered a small one despite the brevity of the settlements. An estimated $50 million was taken out of the region in gold dust and nuggets. Aside from the gold on Caribou mountain, cattle raising was the first major industry. Before the coming of the railroad, Matt Taylor bought and trailed a herd of cattle into the valley.

As more settlers came they too started herds and stock raising became a profitable, growing industry.

Experiments proved that many farm products could be raised in the area and farms spread over the valley. In 1888 a group of farmers planted small acreages of potatoes. That fall they sold them for 90 cents per hundred weight...and a new industry was born. By the turn of the century more experiments had shown that sugar beets could be grown successfully. In 1902 Mark Austin surveyed the possibilities and recommended that a sugar factory be built east of Idaho Falls. In 1903 the cornerstone for the building was laid. That fall the factory was in production and the small town of Lincoln built up around it.

From the building of the ferry in 1863 to 1900 the face of Bonneville County changed considerably. The Utah and Northern Railroad Company made Eagle Rock a division point, built maintenance shops and the town grew. In 1885 Eagle Rock had a population of 1,500. In 1887 the railroad shops moved to Pocatello, leaving Eagle Rock almost a ghost town. With the development of irrigation, the town took on a new life and it became the most important shipping point between Ogden, Utah and Butte, Montana.

On August 26, 1891, the name of Eagle Rock was changed to Idaho Falls because of the cataract in the river on the west edge of the city. The town became a city on April 6, 1900 with Joseph A. Clark as its first Mayor. Idaho Falls was on its way and headed for a future that would one day see it as headquarters for an atomic energy installation; but in the year of 1900, it was still a city under the control of Blackfoot. Blackfoot was the county seat of Bingham County which still harbored Idaho Falls and it was to be 11 years before Idaho Falls was to enjoy the honor of being a county seat.

Sheriff Henry (Harry) Culver Bucklin was born in Ohio and died in 1940 at the age of 67. He moved to Lemhi County in 1880. He began his career as under sheriff in Bingham County in 1908. Governor James H. Hawley appointed Bucklin Sheriff in 1910 after Bingham County and Bonneville County were divided. Bucklin was elected Sheriff of Bingham County, but decided to cast his lot with the new county. Law enforcement was Bucklin's biggest interest during most of his life. In Idaho Falls, he was captain of the Idaho Falls Police Department from 1920 to 1925 under Mayor Ralph Louis. Harry Bucklin will always be remembered for being a good Sheriff and the first Sheriff of Bonneville County.

Sheriff Joseph S. Mullimer, Jr., a Republican, beat L. F. Hanson in November 5, 1912 elections.

Sheriff Bob Oley was born in Logan, Utah. He served as Sheriff of Bonneville County from 1917 to 1918, and then again from 1921 to 1923. In between the two terms of Bob Oley, John Norton held the post. Bob Oley started his career as a policeman in Idaho Falls. He was also a deputy sheriff of Bingham County, and later became Sheriff of Bonneville County. He reported that his hardest job of all was when he served on the draft board during the war.

Sheriff John W. Norton had a reputation of being the youngest Sheriff in the Northwest. Previous to being elected to office, he served for a number of years as chief deputy and established a reputation for being a fearless and vigorous prosecutor of wrongdoers. Bootleggers and other similar evils were reported to have been practically eradicated by him.

Sheriff Charles E. Criddle was born in 1881 in Beaver, Utah. In 1923, he was elected Sheriff of Bonneville County and became the first Sheriff to have his office in the Bonneville County Courthouse. During the three terms he was Sheriff, he helped the county break up several bootlegging operations. In a cave located in the vicinity of the Twin Buttes, Sheriff Criddle broke up the largest still ever found in Idaho. In one still bust, a deputy by the name of Neil Simpkins was shot and killed by a bootlegger who was hauling whiskey from Canada.

Sheriff Harry Meppen, born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on January 21, 1894, was elected Sheriff of Bonneville County in 1929. He remained in the position until 1945 when he resigned because of bad health. Several men served under Sheriff Meppen as deputies. Among them were Daniel Owen, William McCurgy, Fred Tillman, Harry Merrill (who drowned in the Snake River near Swan Valley while on duty) and Dean Wilkie who later became Sheriff.

Meppen was a very popular Sheriff, according to many accounts. He was successful in breaking up the bootlegger stills. In one bust, he and his deputies dumped all the moonshine liquor and mash into the snow. Snowbirds and chickens were attracted by the odor of the mash and began to investigate more thoroughly and soon the drunken antics of the chicken and birds attracted the attention of some children who began making all day suckers. Understandably, it was not long before the condition was corrected. Sheriff Meppen and his men scraped up the moonshine and dumped it into the river. In breaking up the stills, Sheriff Meppen kept a detailed book which contained the names of people in the community and surrounding areas who bought moonshine. He kept the book locked in his strong room and needless to say many people would have given a great deal to have possession of it.

In 1933, Meppen became the first Sheriff of Bonneville County to use an airplane in the search of a lost man. The search over the lava beds west of Idaho Falls was fruitless because of bad weather.

Sheriff Dean Wilkie was elected Sheriff following Sheriff Meppen's resignation. He was born in Preston, Idaho in 1911, and served as Sheriff until 1956. During his term of office, the police radio was installed. He and the Chief of Police sent a letter to Senator Glen Taylor and managed to get the first police radio put into the cars and into the police station. They also helped to get radios in Pocatello, Lewiston and Boise. This in turn helped to improve the communication between police units throughout the state. Dean Wilkie also started the Idaho Peace Officers Organization which became a statewide organization. While in office, Sheriff Wilkie also worked for better state extradition laws. During this time an ordinary camera was used to take mug shots with the number hanging around the prisoner's neck. Sheriff Wilkie has said that the pay was poor and better equipment and shorter hours could have make his life a little easier.

Sheriff Fred Keefer served as acting Sheriff after Sheriff Wilkie resigned. He served in that capacity until the next elected Sheriff was sworn in.

Sheriff Al Heslop was known to be considerate and understanding of all people regardless of age, race, religion, or position in the community. He broke up the last known bootleg operation in this area and confiscated many bottles of "white lightning". During the great flood which hit the communities of eastern Idaho in 1962, he coordinated activities and gave advise to deputies which required many hours of his involvement day and night, to safely handle dangerous situations, also including the discrete use of dynamite when necessary.

Another facet of his personality was in showing great compassion for those incarcerated in jail, whether they were there on sentence, awaiting court appearances or being held for transfer to the prison. He was respected by most of his officers and fellow associates, by the community and by those going through the court system who he personally assisted.

Sheriff Lester Hopkins was the first Republican Bonneville County Sheriff in 25 years. He attended the FBI Law Enforcement Academy in Washington, D.C. He reorganized and updated the Sheriffs Office by hiring more deputies and putting the latest office equipment and procedures, including a teletype, into efficient use. He improved communication operations with law enforcement throughout the state. He was responsible for the deputies being rewarded for their accomplishments through raises in pay and recognition. Through these efforts he raised the level of effectiveness of law enforcement in department, and by expansion, throughout the community.

During the terms of Sheriff Al Heslop (1957-1965) and Sheriff Lester Hopkins (1965-71), the sheriff's role became one of a modern law enforcer.

Sheriff Blaine Skinner organized the Sheriffs Reserve in 1972 to ride with the deputies at night to help them direct traffic at accidents. In 1971, Skinner applied for a $20,000 grant to help fight drug abuse which has brought about strict enforcement and the arrest of people who sell and use drugs illegally. He also hired a resident deputy for Ririe to watch for poachers and litterers and help the Forest Service.

Sheriff Skinner attended the FBI Academy for management and law enforcement. He was instrumental in bringing the first paramedic unit into Idaho Falls and was very persevering in seeing that Bonneville County and Idaho Falls got a new jail facility and law enforcement building.

Sheriff Richard Jack (Dick) Ackerman started his law enforcement career with the Idaho Falls Police Department March 1, 1956, walking the beat working traffic division on a motorcycle, and as sergeant in charge of detective-He ran for Sheriff in 1980 while still Sergeant of Detectives of the Idaho Fall-Police Department. He retired from the Police Department with 25 years service and took over as Bonneville County Sheriff in January 1981. He is the past President of the Idaho Sheriffs Association, the Tri-County Sheriff-Association, and the Idaho Falls Police Association. He was also a member of the Jail Standards Committee, the Governors Youth Commission, the Juvenile Justice Advisor Commission, and the National Association of Counties Criminal Justice Committee. Sheriff: Ackerman graduated from the F.B.I. Academy in Quantico, Virginia, the Idaho Law Enforcement Training Academy at Idaho State University, and the Criminal Investigative School at Montana State University. He also successfully completed the Law Enforcement Executive Development Seminar at the Quantico, Virginia F.B.I. Academy.

Sheriff Ackerman was always interested in upgrading the services the department was able to give the community and was instrumental in the organization of the Bonneville County Law Enforcement Explorer Troop, Cattlemen's Association Patrol, the Scuba Recovery Team and the Boat Safety Program, resulting in greatly reducing the boat accidents and deaths. He was also instrumental in the development of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E. Program by obtaining large grants. Sheriff Ackerman also obtained a plane used for extradition and a large, well equipped boat for search and rescues, both at greatly reduced price.

Sheriff Ackerman proved to be an excellent and fair minded Sheriff, greatly respected and liked by his officers, fellow associates and the community.

Sheriff Byron R. Stommel began his career in law enforcement in June of 1966 when he began employment with the Idaho Falls Police Department. He started by walking the beat, became a Senior Patrolman working the street, worked dispatch sharing ambulance responsibilities with the Fire Department, worked in the Traffic Division, and then in the Detective Division as the Juvenile Officer. He was promoted to Sergeant, first serving in the Patrol Division and then as the Sergeant supervising the Detective Division.

He received the Idaho Falls Jaycees "Distinguished Service to the Community Award" in 1989. Stommel ran for the office of Bonneville County Sheriff in 1992, winning the primary and general elections. He retired from the Police Department with 26 1/2 years of service and was sworn in as Sheriff in January of 1993. He received the Executive Certificate from P.O.S.T. in December of 1995. His most important contributions as Sheriff have been getting a conviction the unsolved Downward double homicide case, getting the jail issue before the public that lulled in the passage of a jail bond to build a 280 bed jail with a detached 60 bed work release center, and the formation of the Sheriffs Inmate Labor Detail (SILD). The SILD program, as of March of 2000, has contributed approximately 3/4 million dollars worth of work to the Bonneville County area. Sheriff Stommel was unopposed in the 1996 and 2000 elections. Sheriff Stommel served as President of the Idaho Falls Police Association during 1974. He was President of the Tri-County Sheriffs' Association during 2000. He belonged to the lona Lions Club, been on the Advisory Committee for the Idaho State University Law Enforcement Program, and served on the Idaho Sheriffs' Association Executive Director Committee.

Sheriffs of Bonneville County

  1. Harry Bucklin - 1911 to 1913
  2. Joseph S. Mullimer, Jr. - 1913 to 1917
  3. Bob Oley - 1917 to 1919
  4. John W. Norton - 1919 to 1921
  5. Bob Oley - 1921 to 1923
  6. Charles E. Criddle - 1923 to 1929
  7. Harry Meppen - 1929 to 1945
  8. Dean Wilkie - 1945 to 1956
  9. Fred Keefer - 1956 to 1957
  10. Al Heslop - 1957 to 1965
  11. Lester Hopkins - 1965 to 1971
  12. Blaine Skinner - 1971 to 1981
  13. Richard Jack Ackerman - 1981 to 1993
  14. Byron R. Stommel - 1993 to 2007
  15. Paul Wilde - 2007 to Present