Spring Theme: "Endangered Species" by Pamela Craig
Some months ago in Boise, Idaho, there was a hearing and some folks wanted the homosexual couples to use a different florist for their weddings. Some folks wanted to only serve people who served the Lord. Protect their rights; preserve the religious foundations of the state. We are a Christian nation. Why can you not remember?
If you need reminding, now is a good time to visit Silver City, Idaho. The days are warmer and the snow is melting. You will see the old buildings steeped against hillsides, tilting and slowly easing into the ground. You will see the old cemetery and hear the whispers of Idaho’s first pioneers. Do you remember now?
Their decay leached into the water and the Chinook Salmon opened their mouths wide and carried them along the rivers. The pioneers course through us and we drink in the myth of the American West over and over, an endless haunting digestion. Fill your cup to the brim.
In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner was worried about the closure of the American Frontier and the loss of a space that cultivated the independent and democratic spirit of white, male pioneers. Where will men erect more towns like Silver City? Where will they mine and cut into the earth when it has all gone? How will the men learn of hard work and family values?
Tilt your cup towards Idaho’s blue skies; drink every last drop.
Before the closure of the frontier, Joe Monahan moved west in the 1870s. He took a turn at mining in Silver City, and eventually purchased over forty acres of land near Succor Creek on the Idaho/Oregon border. He maintained his homestead and tended his cattle. His neighbors and friends admired his horsemanship and gun slinging skills.
Idaho’s current governor’s name is Butch and he wears boots and a cowboy hat with his creaseless suits. He is a Republican and says he believes in tradition, hard work, and family values.
Joe Monahan voted in the Idaho Republican Primary in 1880 so he probably would have supported a dude like Butch. Joe probably wore boots like Butch. They both had cattle and worked the land, and they carried the spirit of the American West in their blue tin coffee cups. They drank a cup or two before setting out to work in the morning sun. Can you smell the crisp air? Surely you remember now: this legacy of men, leather saddles, callused hands, and women who mind the children.
Except in 1880, Ezra Mills, a census enumerator and Joe’s neighbor, noted Joe’s gender as “Doubtful”.
Except in 1904, William Schnabel, a friend of Joe’s, wrote letters explaining that “it was always surmised that Joe was a woman […] He was a small, beardless, little man with hands, feet, stature, and voice of a woman.” Schnabel added, “He would never reveal his identity and all cowboys respected him”.
Joe was trans and living in Idaho at the turn of the century.
Joe Monahan died in 1904 in the home of Barney and Kate Malloy. He never made it to the valley rangelands with his cattle that winter. Members of the community prepared his body and discovered his secret. His friends and neighbors attended his funeral anyway.
There are less Chinook Salmon swimming through Idaho rivers, less of them to carry the legends of Silver City and the stories of men with boots and callused hands. We are scared of what we will come to know in seeing the empty waters, with our clarified reflections peering back at us and our lips moving and whispering truths we have always known.
Pamela Craig is the Associate Editor of GirlSense and NonSense Magazine. Follow her @pamelajcraig.