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Carrie Adell Strahorn

Mother of the West

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Hailey Main Street
Photo: Courtesy The Community Library

People continued to remind her that the remote West was not a place for a lady, but Adell ignored them. Inspecting mine tunnels, canoeing down rapids, sleeping on mattresses stuffed with oat grass: nothing seemed to faze her.

In 1878, she described a tense night in a stagecoach traveling to Montana at the height of the Bannock Indian war. She reported that Indians had attacked and burned the stage ahead of them, stealing the horses and killing the driver. In Yellowstone, they barely missed being knocked over and drowned in an unexpected geyser eruption. In Hailey, she witnessed a hanging.

The couple often found themselves at isolated stage stops where as many as seventeen people might crowd together on an earthen floor with only burlap bags for blankets. Their companions were all manner of travelers including unwashed miners who snored all night, women with coughing children, and wealthy tourists in pinstriped suits. Food was unpredictable. Beans, bacon, and bread were ubiquitous, but sometimes a whole day might pass with little solid food. In many remote outposts, they slept outside under the stars, rolled in blankets on a bed of pine boughs.

Adell was sympathetic toward the lonely hermits who confided their secrets of the heart. Many had left sweethearts behind, and respectfully sought her advice. She empathized with the ceaseless hardships endured by the women who withstood the demands of keeping house on a lonely homestead. With genuine emotion, she tells of a child who drowned at Soda Springs, and of a baby killed by a rattlesnake in the lava beds. Although she carried some of the prejudices of her times about Indians, Mexicans, and Chinese, her feelings changed during later trips to Alaska and Hawaii. There she began to question the wisdom of “forcing distasteful customs and habits on native people that will destroy all that is picturesque and beautiful in their primitive existence."

As manager of the Idaho-Oregon Land Improvement Company, Robert Strahorn made several fortunes in real estate and utilities investments. When the company was notified of intended railroad paths, they laid out townsites with land reserved for stations, and promoted and built the towns.

The Strahorns were instrumental in founding towns in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. “Our children," as Adell called them, “of which we are justly proud."

On a treeless alkali flat fifteen miles from Boise, the Strahorns built the first home in Caldwell, a town the Land Company located in December 1883. "There were many a night when our house was surrounded by coyotes howling as only a coyote can howl, every one making more noise than three or four dogs." One year Adell used a large sagebrush for a Christmas tree.

The Strahorns’ home was a place where townspeople gathered for Sunday dinner and where “young men could find good coffee, doughnuts, and sandwiches, and perhaps ice-cream and cake.” Visitors were always dropping by.

“That meant chickens in the pot, cakes in the oven, bread in the pan, to an unlimited degree. In season there was fruit to preserve, pickles to make, jellies to be boiled, conserves to be mixed and cooked, bottled, labeled, and stored on call. I had to be ready all hours of the day to take friends and strangers for a drive." >>>

 

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