Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Wild West History Association Roundup: Amazing Idaho History Event, and More

The 2013 Roundup (Annual Conference) of the Wild West History Association came to Idaho last week, continuing into Saturday. With talks at the Riverside Motel in Boise, and a tour of Idaho City, the event was a jewel for those interested in Western history. It was a special treat for someone interested in Idaho history. After the first day of presentations on Thursday, I “felt like I had died and gone to [historical] Heaven.”

Virtually every talk had great material, so I cannot possibly do justice to all of them. Mike Hanley, rancher and author, kicked off the presentations with a talk about Hill Beachy. Beachy, you may recall from my blog of October 11, detected and brought to justice the men who murdered packer Lloyd Magruder in 1863. Mike covered those events, plus more on Beachy’s later career as a stagecoach line operator.

Next, Priscilla Wegars gave a fine talk about Polly Bemis, a Chinese woman who was brought to the United States in 1872. Starting as a concubine (probably), she somehow won her freedom, and ended up marrying pioneer Charles “Charlie” Bemis. Although legend said Charlie won her in a poker game, Polly denied that story and there is no other evidence to support the notion. She lived out her life deep in Idaho’s Salmon River wilderness … respected, loved, and honored by her white neighbors.

During the lively discussion after the talk, an audience member asked a key question: “Of all the scores, if not hundreds, of Chinese women in Idaho during the era, what made Polly different? Why did she become a legend, while the others disappeared from history?”

The question had a complex answer, but they generally boiled down sheer force of character. By all accounts, Polly had a sly, mischievous sense of humor, which was both endearing and funny.

Several talks concerned various connections between Idaho and Butch Cassidy and/or members of “The Wild Bunch.” These went well beyond the (in)famous 1896 bank robbery in Montpelier, Idaho.

Phillip Homan, associate professor at Idaho State University, discussed Kittie Wilkins, “Horse Queen of Idaho.” As noted in one of my blogs, Wilkins was a renowned horse raiser. She was also an attractive and personable woman, who caused a media sensation wherever she went. As expected, Homan – who has researched Kittie extensively – presented a wealth of fascinating information about her. Just one example: Records show that Kittie’s ranch supplied thousands of horses to the British Army for use in the Boer War of 1899-1902. I strongly encouraged Phil to “get busy and write” the book he plans about Wilkins.
Old Idaho Penitentiary. Ada County.

On Friday, we visited the Old Idaho Penitentiary and then went on to Idaho City. At the Old Pen, we heard an interesting talk by R. C. “Bob” Sobba about Harry Orchard (real name: Albert Horsely), who assassinated ex-Governor Frank Steunenburg in 1905. Sobba had also given an excellent talk on Thursday about the assassination and conspiracy trial. A retired long-time lawman, Bob gets frustrated when cold-blooded killers like Orchard, and other habitual criminals, somehow become “folk heros” and celebrities.

The tour in Idaho City had a great range of events: Reenactments of the Patterson-Pinkham shootout and two examples of vigilante justice against crooked sheriffs, a stagecoach ride, and a walking tour. (Full disclosure: I helped narrate the walking tour, so I’m not quite a dis-interested judge.)

We had more excellent presentations on Saturday, but I’m well past my preferred length here. So I’ll just repeat that we had a wonderful conference: History buffs who missed it should consider attending the next Roundup, which will be held next summer in Denver (Golden, actually), Colorado.

No comments:

Post a Comment