Those of us who grew up in the 1950s & 1960s in the U.S. have some definite mental images associated with the history of the western states: the wild west of Gunsmoke & Bonanza & Rawhide, not to mention the countless Western films, both those starring John Wayne & those that didn’t.
But as we know, the history of the western U.S. was different than that—more complex & in many (perhaps evenb most) cases bearing precious little resemblance to the stereotypical screen portrayals—both those from the big & little screens alike. For instance, some years ago, the nearby town of Council, Idaho received quite a bit of money for a downtown renovation. The town has been plagued with economic hard times pretty much since its founding in the early 20th century, having suffered from the boom & bust cycle that’s so familiar to much of the U.S. west. First there was mining; then the railroad; then the sawmill; all of these industries are gone. Anyway, it was decided that the renovation should have a historic theme, & the local politicos were quite excited about log columns that could be installed along the sidewalk on the town’s main street—a sidewalk populated with shops of various sorts, most of which are even in business at any given time. The consultants pointed out that such a log cabin-like look in actuality wasn’t historical at all—in the early 20th century, the town had a distinctly Victorian look. Undaunted by fact, the politicos prevailed & the log posts went up.
I tell this story because of the photo at the top of the post, which was generously given to me by our friend Gayle, who’s one of the local historians. The photo was taken in the early 20th century in Warren, Idaho, a mining town that was founded in the late 19th century & that still exists today. Warren is only accessible on a circuitous, washboard dirt road, & its population is listed at between 12 to 16. It was a gold mining boom town in the past, however, & look at the musical instruments you could find there: a trombone, a neopolitan mandolin (okay, possibly called a “tater bug” mandolin), a cornet, a clarinet, a harp guitar (!) & two violins! There's even a fancy autoharp on the wall. Wild west indeed!
Thanks again to Gayle for this wonderful photo. If you’re interested in western history, please check back next Wednesday & every other Wednesday following for Eberle’s fine series, Adams County Makes the News.
On a completely unrelated note, please tune in tomorrow for Writers Talk with Mairi Graham, an excellent poet. You won’t want to miss it!