Idaho speaker has deep roots

Pioneer legacy helps ground politician

By Dan Popkey

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Jan. 14 2013 11:15 p.m. MST

Rep. Scott Bedke, center, was named speaker last month.

Associated Press


Idaho Statesman

BOISE (AP) — When Scott Bedke looks out his kitchen window, he sees exactly where he came from.

Seven miles east of his brick home in Oakley is a grassy basin known for a time as "Bedke Springs," for Frank Carl Bedke, among the first settlers in 1878.

Steeped in history, Oakley has an opera house, Victorian homes and threads of Mormon history that include Mitt Romney's father, George, who spent part of his youth in the Cassia County farm town.

"There were other prominent founding families," said Marge Woodhouse, a volunteer at the Oakley Museum. "But the Bedkes stayed."

Three generations later, Bedke and his brother, Eric, run 1,300 cow-calf pairs on 130,000 acres of federal grazing allotments in Idaho and Nevada, an operation that is among the largest 2 percent in the United States.

"The Bedkes have been here the whole time," said Scott Bedke's wife of 32 years, Sarah, as the couple prepared breakfast together last month, shortly after he became Idaho's House speaker.

Bedke defeated three-term speaker Lawerence Denney in the 57-member Republican caucus, becoming the first speaker in memory to unseat an incumbent.

He credited his heritage and parental high expectations.

"There's a legacy of industry, of hard work, of just making it happen," Bedke said. "It's important to me that I'm in the fourth generation and that I don't do anything to wreck the good name.

"And there's a fifth generation, and a sixth. That's lasting. You want to do a good job and take pride in what you're doing."

Being speaker means more time away, but Bedke intends to stay grounded. "Sarah and I really enjoy our time in Boise, but you know every person here. There is no place like home," he said.

Leaving Prussia

Frank Carl Bedke left behind the family flour mill in Prussia in 1861, at age 15. A sailor for five years, he jumped ship to end his indentured servitude. He worked as a lumberman and miner across the West, until he saw the promise of selling produce to workers. After raising milk cows in Utah, he finally landed in Oakley in 1878.

Four years later, he married a woman half his age, Polly McIntosh; the couple had 13 children. They lived through drought, a winter that killed all but three of their cattle, cricket infestations and a shooting war between cattlemen and sheepmen.

They also endured social stigma. Polly was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Frank wasn't.

"It was no small thing," said Bedke. "Although the word 'disowned' has been used, I don't know that that was the case. I think they got over it. I mean, how mad are you going to stay at the ne'er-do-well that your daughter brings home?"

Called Frank Carl by family, the patriarch expanded his holdings and was active in civic affairs, including education and music. His friends included famed lawyer and Gov. James Hawley, who represented "Diamondfield" Jack Davis in a range-war murder case.

"They were achievers," said Woodhouse, an amateur historian who said more than 80 percent of the 1,500 people now in the Oakley area are Mormon. "They were well thought of, even though they were not LDS."

Happy at home

Envy isn't tolerated by the Bedkes.

"My water's just as cold as John D. Rockefeller's," Bedke's grandfather, Ray Bedke, used to say.

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