Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Horse Queen of Idaho

At the turn of the twentieth century, Kittie Wilkins (Katherine Caroline Wilkins) was a horse breeder in Idaho, something that women didn’t do. During those years, she was the only American woman who made her living solely by selling horses.

Kittie was born in Jacksonville, Oregon, near Medford, in 1857 and spent most of her childhood moving from place to place in Idaho and Oregon. Kittie’s father owned and was successful in several businesses, but became interested in the Bruneau area in the 1880s.

John Wilkins built a ranch near Murphy Hot Springs, close to the Nevada/Idaho border. Official records state, “J.R. Wilkins acquires Wilkins Hot Springs/Kittie’s Hot Hole; 120 acres on Robinson’s Fork (Jarbidge River) of the Bruneau River, 100 yards from Sommercamp house”

A quote from the Coeur d’ Alene, Press says, “She wasn’t a suntanned, masculine-looking, rough-talking, gun-totin’ woman of the Old West; she was feminine, pretty, blond haired with blue eyes and still part of the Victorian Age — wearing long dresses and the latest fashions, rode side-saddle and at first was even against women voting.

Her father realized Kittie had a special knack with not only horses, but she was a genius at marketing. Because of Kittie, the Diamond brand of the Wilkins Company became well known all across the country for quality horses. At one time, the Wilkins owned ten thousand horses.

In 1885, Kittie told a newspaper interviewer that, although the ranch raised cattle and horses, she wasn’t a cattle queen as some newspapers had called her. Her specialty was horses. The headline referred to her as The Horse Queen, and she was called that for the rest of her life.

Unheard of at the time, she became a very successful woman in a man’s business. To make the Diamond Brand the top of the line, Kittie played on the fact that she was news to further advertise her business.

The Wilkins imported registered stock early on to upgrade their herds. They raised Percherons and Clydesdales for heavy hauling and Morgans for saddle horses. During the time they were in business, which lasted over thirty years, the Wilkins Ranch sold thousands of horses all across the United States and Canada.

In South Africa, in 1900, fighting in the Boer War was intense. The military needed horses. Kittie filled an order for 8,000 head for a buyer in Kansas who sent them to Africa. She could have been the war’s biggest supplier of horses.

Kittie not only ran the horse operation, she handled all the marketing and sales. Never married, she almost always traveled by herself, which was not done by women of that era.

The invention of the automobile caused a decline in sales of horses, but during World War I, the Diamond brand had a revival as Kittie sold thousands of horses to the Army.

This amazing woman appeared in public for the last time at the Fort Boise Centennial Celebration in 1934 and died two years later in Glenns Ferry, Idaho.

Her name is misspelled on the headstone, but they got the title right.

She lived the way she wanted, was close to family and friends, and gave generously to the poor and unfortunate. When you think of women who broke the mold, think of Kittie Wilkins, The Horse Queen.


Julie Lence said...

What a very interesting lady, and one to be admired. In your research, did you find out what ever happened to their ranch? Does it exist today?

Kristy McCaffrey said...

What an interesting woman. Thanks for sharing, Stephanie!

Jacquie Rogers said...

We Owyhee County girls are definitely proud of Kitty. What a gal! I used her persona in a couple of my books.

Licha said...

This is so interesting, and so are the pictures! Thank you so much for sharing this. I learned some things by reading it. :)