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Carrie Adell Strahorn

Mother of the West

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Wood River Times offices with view of Della Mountain:
Photo: Courtesy The Community Library

Adell was active in church affairs, and attended concerts, socials, and fairs. She was involved in founding the Presbyterian Church of Caldwell, and in raising money to build the first church. Fifty years later, Margaret Boone, the pastor’s daughter, recalled: “Mrs. Strahorn was a lady. . .quite an elegant lady, large, imposing, well-groomed, and always with an impressive array of diamonds. She was the social arbiter of the town. . .”

Caldwell was but one of the children in their nursery.

The original second-home owners, the Strahorns established homes in Hailey and Denver, as well as an apartment in the rough railroad town of Shoshone. One night in Shoshone, Adell missed the stage to Hailey and was forced to wait until morning for another. “Shots were singing through the air, drunken brawlers were yelling and swearing . . . There was no respectable hotel in the place, and what rude shacks there were about the town were given up to saloons and dance halls. Hardened, weather-beaten countenances glowered from under every hat."

In the early 1880s, the Strahorns began coming to the Wood River Valley. On their first visit, Pard got a shave in a roofless, log tonsorial parlor in Bellevue. “It was snowing so hard that he was soon covered with sleet and snow."

In 1881, the Idaho and Oregon Land Company established the town of Hailey at the confluence of the Big Wood River and Croy and Quigley creeks. After buying out John Hailey, they proceeded to promote the town as “the Denver of Idaho."

When the town of Hailey was laid out, Della Mountain was named for Adell Strahorn, probably by her husband. “The mountain. . . reared its head high above all the surrounding hills, and was named Della Mountain when the town was first started. I felt that I would have to grow some to meet the dignity of such a namesake."

Adell also wrote, “Hailey was at first the most orderly mining town imaginable, and its citizens were largely a class superior to those of frontier settlements." The land company invested in rebuilding the Merchant’s Hotel, which had burned twice already, and was involved in the county seat contest that threatened the prominence of Hailey over Bellevue. In 1885 the Strahorns personally selected all the furnishings for another one of their investments, the Alturas Hotel. On the dark side, living across from the courthouse, Adell witnessed a “repulsive” hanging that followed an attempt at lot jumping.

In 1888, retired from his official job with the railroad, Pard purchased the Hailey Hot Springs and built a hotel. Although the hotel was a financial and social success, the Hailey Hot Springs Company partnership soured in less than a year.

During the year they owned the resort, the company also bought the Hailey electric light plant. In addition, they planted thousands of orchard trees and bought 150 head of Kentucky cattle for the hot springs property.

After closing the hotel for the Christmas holidays, Pard traveled to Caldwell on business. Two days later, a winter storm deposited five feet of snow around Hailey. Accompanied by a few local miners coming out of the hills on horseback, it took Adell three hours to get from the springs to the main road and several more hours of floundering at eight degrees below zero to travel the remaining two miles to town and the Alturas Hotel. “There I had to wait until the 7th of January before a train could get out of Hailey.”

After 1890 the Strahorns turned their attention to the state of Washington, living around the Bellingham area. Pard suffered significant financial losses on investments there, so they moved to Boston for awhile, and Adell took up her music studies again. But the West had staked its claim on them, and they later returned to Washington, settling for awhile in Spokane before eventually moving to San Francisco.

Despite her childhood vow, Adell Strahorn would be called a pioneer.

“Here I was at the threshold of a new land . . . and the title of ‘old settler’ was to be forever attached to me and mine."

When she died in San Francisco at the age of 71, newspapers praised her pioneering role, referring to her as “the mother of the West” and “queen of the pioneers."  She was more than a pioneer, though. She was an explorer, one who lived up to the dignity of her mountain namesake in Hailey.

An editorial in the  Portland Oregonian, published March 17, 1925, compared her with the wives of explorers Wilfrid Grenfell and Sir Richard Burton, who accompanied their husbands on arduous journeys to difficult lands. “But as a traveler in out-of-the-way places in our own country,” the editorial concluded, “Mrs. Strahorn in all probability deserved the palm."

 

Florence Blanchard is a local freelance writer. She has edited commemorative centennial publications for both Hailey and Bellevue, and is currently a grant writer, publicist, and program coordinator for the Sawtooth Botanical Garden near Ketchum.

 

 

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