John Francis Cook III, an African American, attended Howard University a private, historically black university in Washington, D.C. obtaining a degree in Pharmacology in 1888.
In 1892, J.F. Cook arrived in Bonners Ferry on the Great Northern Railway. He quickly realized he was the only man of color in town. Not to be discouraged, he opened a drug store on Main Street in August of that year, giving H.W. Gate’s Drug Store some competition. Within the year, he moved to a different location on the northwest corner of Main and Bonner.
J.F. well liked and accepted in the community, was elected in 1893 to the board of trustees for the part of town known as Bonnerport.
He returned to Washington, D.C. in 1894, to visit his family; while back east, he traveled to Philadelphia where he married Elizabeth Rebecca Abele on December 4th. Upon returning to Bonnerport with his new bride, they were given an unexpected charivari by the town people. When the train pulled in at the station, they were met by a crowd of 100 cheering men and boys. They were conducted to a waiting sleigh and literally pulled by the crowd to the International Hotel for a celebration! The Cooks attended the New Year dance in town.
“We never heard the story of how a colored man came to northern Idaho, became the postmaster of the largest and most important town in the north, but such he was, and served faithfully and well for many years. Let us all drop our feelings of racial aloofness, come down to earth and realize that the blood of all mankind is red, and go and visit the old pioneer.” Quote by D.P. Dayton, 1931
During 1895, J.F. and Elizabeth had an addition built on their home (the location of which is unknown to historians). By October, she was missing her family in Philadelphia, so she went home to spend the winter with them. Elizabeth informed J.F. she was with child and decided to stay in Philly for her pregnancy. J.F. departed from Bonnerport in May, 1896 for a six week trip after which he returned with his wife and new 12 pound baby girl.
In 1896, J.F. was appointed chairman of the board of trustees of Bonnerport. He had applied for a position as Postmaster and in 1897 was appointed to that position. He opened the post office in his drug store, moving to a larger location on Main Street (present site of Youngwirth Accounting).
J.F. and Elizabeth had a total of four children, the last three being born in Spokane as that is where she appeared to be residing while J.F. remained in Bonners Ferry.
J.F. over-extended himself financially: a 1902 endeavor to provide power to the city by building a power plant at the Moyie Falls and possibly the cost of maintaining two residences, caused marital problems. Elizabeth left J.F. in 1906 taking the four children and moved back to Philadelphia.
J.F. was reappointed Postmaster of Bonners Ferry in 1906; but his problems seemed to continue. The Herald reported that Cook had been giving poor service and by 1910 a new postmaster was appointed. J.F. refused to turn over the post office to the new postmaster. The problem was eventually resolved with the new Postmaster buying the building. J.F. kept a room in the rear of the building until 1911 at which time he leased the Albert building and reestablished his pharmacy (present site of optometry office).
In 1912, Elizabeth filed for divorce, and J.F.’s pharmacy stock and fixtures were put up for auction to satisfy the $6,000 settlement. At the request of his mother, J.F.’s brother, Fred, bought the stock back for $500. J.F. then moved the pharmacy stock into a corner room in the Bonner Hotel (present site of Mugsys) to reopen his drug business. He was sued for unpaid rent and then lost his entire stock when the Bonner Hotel burned in 1917.
Not much more is known about J.F. Cook; he is mentioned several times in the newspaper receiving funds from the county commissioners and the Poor Farm Fund, but the reasons for the payments is unknown. Living in a room in the Casey Hotel (present Boardwalk), J.F. is described as “Sick, impoverished and friendless, except for the kind ministrations of Henry Ferbache, the hotel clerk.”
On April 7, 1932 John F. Cook passed away. His body was to be shipped to Washington, D.C. for burial; however, there was a change in plans. J.F. was interned at Grandview Cemetery in Bonners Ferry. There is no record of this burial in the record books at the cemetery, and no grave marker to be found.