Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Horse Queen of Idaho

by Heather Blanton

Some girls dream about princess dresses and tea parties. And then there are girls like Kittie Wilkins. Yeah, she liked the more genteel, refined things in life, like her piano, but all that was a poor second to her beloved horses.

Kittie, who became known as the Horse Queen of Idaho, was born in Oregon in 1857, but moved with her family to Idaho where they began ranching. As Kittie grew, so did her skills with horses. Astounding skills. She rode as if she’d been born in the saddle. Passion, skill, and an effervescent personality combined to make Kittie the perfect woman for building a successful horse operation.

By 1880 her father had invested a fair amount of time and money in horses and the payoff was beginning to stream in, especially in the form of his daughter. By ’87 Kittie was making spectacular contributions. Not only riding, roping, and breaking horses better than most of the hands, she was the head salesperson and marketer. Newspapers loved the story of the pretty little filly, pun intended, who could not only do a man’s work but excelled at it. Kittie loved playing to the male reporters who were stunned but, in most cases, also admiring of her success.

For thirty years plus, the Wilkins Horse Company at Bruneau's Diamond Ranch supplied thousands of horses for customers all over North America. Thanks to Kittie’s leadership, it built and maintained a sterling reputation. Sales were strong for decades and the Diamond Ranch counted some pretty impressive customers among its fold, such as the US Army and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

One cowboy later wrote about Kittie’s tough reputation, “If a man weren’t a good rider when he went to work for Kit Wilkins, he was a good rider when he left or he wasn’t riding at all—unless in a hearse.”

Now that’s how you make a cowgirl … a supportive father and a little burning determination.

If you’d like to learn more about Kittie, allow me to recommend a couple of fascinating articles: http://cdapress.com/columns/syd_albright/article_4dd5755c-a08d-11e5-9fac-97c77a19e031.html and https://ruralwomensstudies.wordpress.com/2015/09/16/meeting-miss-kittie-my-friendship-with-kittie-wilkins-the-horse-queen-of-idaho/ 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

My favorite holiday is approaching fast. The gathering of friends and family to give thanks makes me look forward to Thanksgiving more than any other holiday.

Although my family, and many others, goes for the ‘traditional’ turkey dinner for Thanksgiving, the first one—a three-day feast of thankfulness hosted by the Pilgrims and a local tribe of Wampanoag—is thought to have consisted of lobster, rabbit, chicken, fish, squash, beans, chestnuts, hickory nuts, onions, leeks, dried fruits, maple syrup and honey, radishes, cabbage, carrots, eggs, and goat cheese. 

Due to the size and abundance of wild turkeys, the turkey became a Thanksgiving mainstay by the time President Lincoln issued his proclamation declaring the last Thursday of November as a national Thanksgiving holiday. Some historians claim Lincoln was also the first president to official pardon a turkey (his son’s pet turkey). 

A few turkey facts:

The average turkey purchased for Thanksgiving is 15 pounds.
The heaviest turkey recorded was 86 pounds.
A mature turkey has approximately 3,500 feathers.
Turkey is the most popular ‘leftover’ food.

We all know Thanksgiving is followed by Black Friday. I’ve been there done that, and will never do it again. It’s just not my cup of tea. I much prefer to stay home reflecting upon the wonderful gathering we’d experienced the day before. However, if any of you are shoppers and plan on going out on Black Friday, I hope you find deals of a lifetime!

I’m thankful for the life I live every day, but relish the one day I can celebrate the fact we live in a wonderful country, our freedom, our right to worship God, our family, friends, and all the obvious, bountiful, and even sometimes taken for granted things.

Blessings to each and every one of you during this wonderful holiday.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

From Sea to Shining Sea—the Cross Country Ride of Nan Aspinwall

One of my dreams when I was young was that my parents would drop me by the side of the road (in this case, The Belt Parkway in Brooklyn, NY) and I would get on my horse and just ride away clear across the USA. Little did I know that, as far as the cross-country ride was concerned, another woman had beat me to it some fifty years earlier.
Nan Jane Aspinwall was also born in New York, in 1880, but she spent most of her formative years in Nebraska where her parents were shopkeepers. By 1899, she was performing in burlesque as an oriental dancer by the name of Princess Omene, but by 1906 she had reinvented herself once more as ‘Montana Girl.’ With this moniker came a reinvented history—that she had been brought up on a ranch in Montana.  Whatever the truth of the matter, she did manage to learn trick roping, stunt riding, steer riding, archery, sharp-shooting, and other rodeo show events, eventually gaining medals and becoming the highest paid artist in the combined Buffalo Bill Wild West and Pawnee Bill Far East show. Also in the show was husband Frank Gable, whom she had married around 1900. Apparently, it was on a bet from Buffalo Bill that she undertook the cross-country ride carrying a letter from the mayor of San Francisco to the mayor of New York.
Going against advice to ride a sturdier horse, Nan chose instead to ride her Bay thoroughbred, Lady Jane. Now think about this:  in an age when women were still not permitted in many states to ride astride, Nan, aged 31, undertook this ride of 4,496 miles, over some 180 days, alone and with full responsibility for her horse—whom she had to shoe some fourteen times herself. She supported herself by giving roping and riding demonstrations and hoping for hospitality, which was not always forthcoming. Two towns at least disapproved of her so greatly, that she shot off her gun in disgust.
Somewhere between Shafter NV and Procter, Utah (now, apparently ghost towns), Nan turned off onto an old prospectors’ trail she believed a shortcut through the mountains. Unfortunately, the trail petered out, and the
horses’ hooves had not left marks in the granite. She apparently rode aimlessly without food or water until nightfall and in the morning left Lady Jane to climb up a peak to try to get her bearings. It was only the horse’s whinny that let her find her way back to the mare. The next day she led Lady Jane to alleviate the horse’s burden, finally deciding to mount and let the mare lead the way—which the animal did, straight down a mountain into a railroad camp where Nan collapsed. This adventure cost her a week in hospital.
She crossed the desert, sixty-five miles with only arsenic water available, in one day. At other times, she made as much as ninety-five miles a day, but from San Francisco to Denver she averaged forty-one miles a day and thereafter only twenty-seven. On July 8, 1911, Nan completed her journey, drawing a crowd to City Hall Park where she delivered the letter to the mayor. She also took her horse into the freight elevator and went up twelve flights! News articles of the day all mention the fact she was wearing a divided skirt, an item just coming into fashion according to the New York Times.
Nan and Frank ran their own Gable’s Novelty Show after 1913, a sort of vaudeville Wild West show. Frank passed away around 1929 and sometime in the 1930s, Nan remarried to an Al Lambell who also predeceased her.  For whatever reason, Nan removed herself from public life. She moved from Seattle, where she had been living, to southern California in 1954, apparently to be near a brother. She was childless, heavily involved with the Christian Scientist church, and spent her last seven years on a farm in San Bernadino, where she died in 1964.
Nan’s amazing ride was immortalized both in a radio show and in a 1954 TV episode of Death Valley Days.  At a time when nice girls rode side-saddle, and barbed wire had already cut across the country, Nan faced both prejudice and open hostility as well as the hardships of the elements and geography.
It makes me think that perhaps that little daydream of mine might have turned into a night-mare.

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