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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.

www.donnafletchercrow.com

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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History

 

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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History

A traveling researcher engages people and places from Britain's past and present, drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today's reader.

A Nostalgic Look at the Fourth of July

By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ June 28, 2019

  Boise Extravaganza, 1907: A young Kuna pioneer experiences blow-out celebrations and a history-making trial.

 “Merrick, that’s impossible. We can’t just up and leave Kuna to go all the way in to Boise—no matter how grand their Fourth of July celebration promises to be. Papa plans to hold a brush arbor meeting and I—I. . .” Kathryn faltered to a stop. This intriguing Scotsman with his twinkling eyes did come up with the most out-landish notions.

After a deep breath she continued. “Well, I was planning to play the organ. I’d been practicing so hard—‘America the Beautiful’ and ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’. I was just ready to start on ‘Yankee Doodle’—but last night while I was practicing—the bellows just blew out. There’s a big split. . .”

 Merrick saw his chance and increased his insistence that Kathryn and her father Adam accompany him to Boise for the Fourth of July. By the time he had finished describing the parade, the bands, the theatrical entertainments, picnics, and shopping offered by the city of 17,000 people she was breathless. In her almost twenty years she had never experienced such a day. And since coming to a homestead in Kuna, Idaho, from Nebraska there had been little enough time even for such daydreams.

She blushed and demurred, however, when he described the Natatorium, the elaborate wooden building at the end of Warm Springs Avenue that offered natural hot-water swimming. She did not have a bathing costume. The last time she had gone swimming she had been about ten years old. She smiled, remembering the hot summer’s day and splashing in the Little Blue River in Nebraska with three other girls.

Adam, at first doubtful, showed increased interest in the excursion, however, when Merrick reminded him that, if they stayed over an extra day they might get seats in the courthouse for the continuing trial of Big Bill Haywood for his alleged part in the assassination of Governor Steunenberg.

Adam nodded. “Been reading about that whenever I can get ahold of a copy of the ‘Statesman’. Sounds like that Clarence Darrow fellow’s putting up a good show to get his client off. Even if the fellow’s sure to be as guilty as sin.”

Merrick agreed. “Not every day we get a fancy lawyer from the East in these parts. But the word is that the local prosecution’s giving him a run for his money. My guess is we’ll be hearing more from both James Hawley and William Borah.”

So it was decided. The arbor meeting was postponed, their neighbor would take care of the farm animals, and on July 3 Kathryn got her long-cherished wish to spend a night in the elegant Idan-Ha Hotel.

After breakfasting on scrambled eggs, muffins, and coffee (which she didn’t have to prepare) at a small, round, linen-draped table in the hotel dining room, Kathryn straightened her hat, smoothed the skirt of her blue dress, and, wishing her outfit were as fashionable as those she saw around her, went out on the sidewalk beside Main Street to await the parade.

Boise’s paved street had been cleared of traffic, leaving the two streetcar rails gleaming in silver solitude down the center. American flags fluttered in pairs every two hundred feet or so from ropes stretched over the street. Likewise, flags fluttered from poles atop the bunting-draped buildings. The highest, of course, was from the cone-capped, fairy tale tower of the Idan-Ha.

The boom of a bass drum made Kathryn look to her left. Just in front of her the Columbia Band struck up a rousing version of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

“I’m afraid that’s better than ‘Yankee Doodle’ on the organ.” She stretched up to speak right into Adam’s ear so that he could hear her above the noise.

Next came Mayor John M. Haines, Grand Marshal of the parade, in a gleaming Ford “Black Beauty,” its brass fittings sparkling in the sun.

Now it was Kathryn’s turn to have someone speak into her ear as Merrick leaned down. “Did you know Boise has its own Ford assembly plant? Henry Ford’s brother-in-law runs it out on the edge of town.”

She stared open-mouthed at the amazing horseless carriage, wondering what it would be like to ride in one.

A contingent of Boise policemen marched by in blue uniforms with brass buttons and shiny badges, their bell-shaped hats and swinging nightsticks making them look like pictures Kathryn had seen of Keystone Cops. Six white horses pulled the Liberty Car, filled with white-robed, flag-waving young women. Next came the Boise fire department with three horse-drawn wagons of the latest in fire-fighting equipment.

Later, bands, horses, and flag-waving children would blur in Kathryn’s mind, but one group she never forgot: the half-block-long Chinese dragon that undulated down the street supported by members of Boise’s Chinese community. The red, green, and gold cloth-and-paper dragon danced and skipped to the explosion of firecrackers under its pajama-clad legs. The fearsome, fanged face suddenly rushed straight at Kathryn, making her step back to avoid its flowing beard. For an instant Merrick’s arm steadied her. Then she was again firmly in balance, standing by her father.

Later she asked Merrick about the Chinese. “How did they get to Boise?”

“Came to work in the Boise Basin gold fields, then stayed to enter more stable businesses—laundries, restaurants, vegetable gardening.”

Merrick led them just two blocks up Main Street to see Boise’s colorful Chinatown. Kathryn loved the dragon-adorned, red-roofed buildings, but shuddered as Merrick told her of the vast system of tunnels the Chinese had dug under the streets to connect their various buildings.

“No, I would not like a tour, thank you.” She would never voluntarily enter a place of close, dark underground channels, no matter how mild she insisted her claustrophobia was.

At noon they picnicked in a cottonwood grove at Riverside Park, where they were serenaded again by the twenty-member Columbia Band. Merrick provided a hamper (Kathryn was never quite sure how) full of ham, cold chicken, potato salad, pickles, and those greatest of God’s creations, fresh tomatoes and fresh peaches.

“Oh.” Kathryn sighed, biting into her third bright red, sweet tomato. “I’ve tried so hard to grow these, but they always blight in the heat.”

At the end of the concert when the band, brandishing their instruments, got into waiting automobiles and drove off for a serenade of the city, Kathryn was amazed anew at how modern everything was in Boise.

She thought a single day could hold no more excitement. But she was wrong. Merrick gathered up their picnic leftovers and suggested they go back to the hotel where Kathryn could have a rest before the theatrical that night.

“Theatrical?”

“A touring company from the East’s been performing at the Columbia Theatre. I’ve heard tell they put on quite a show: Niagara Falls by moonlight with boiling mist; a working train engine with fourteen cars and a lighted caboose; and a horse race right on stage with real horses.”

With all that to look forward to, Kathryn found resting difficult that afternoon, but she was glad for a time of quiet. She found that the excitement of the city and its crowds was tiring in quite a different way from the hard work of homestead life in Kuna.

That night, after dinner at the hotel, an elegant affair served in five courses by white-jacketed waiters, Kathryn was enchanted with the Columbia Theatre. She had never seen anything like its black and white, zebra-striped stone arches and twin, cone-topped towers. The play, whose numerous spectacular effects followed a plot line of the hero’s falling into traps set by the villain and being rescued by the sobbing, golden-haired maiden, was punctuated with frequent explosions and billowing smoke. Kathryn felt the evening—the whole day—left nothing possible to be desired.

The next day Merrick was off about his business affairs before Kathryn and her father went down for breakfast. She and Adam ate quickly, then stepped onto the streetcar, as Merrick had directed the night before, to go to the Ada County Courthouse.

They were in luck. There were still a few high-backed wooden chairs empty in the back of the room.

At first Kathryn was fascinated by the scene before her. Dark-suited men sat at tables filling the front of the room. The panel of three judges sat to the right. The visitors’ seats were packed with men and flower-hatted ladies who appeared to come from every walk of life.

The confessed assassin Harry Orchard sat in the witness stand, a stocky, dark-haired, mustachioed man. The question at this trial was, since the motive for the assassination was trouble among the miners in northern Idaho, who had paid Harry Orchard? Who had masterminded the plot? Who was really responsible for the murder of Governor Steunenberg?

Three Colorado mining bosses had been extradited to Idaho, and suspicion fell most heavily on Big Bill Haywood, leader of the Western Federation of Miners.

Harry Orchard was the star witness for William Borah’s prosecution. The public had already been shocked by Orchard’s blithe confession that he had committed more than twenty violent crimes against enemies of the miners’ union. Now Borah was directing Orchard to testify that his salary for committing these atrocities came directly from the union payroll. It seemed obvious to Kathryn, as to almost everybody, that Harry Orchard had not acted alone.

Then Clarence Darrow, Haywood’s attorney from Chicago, cross-examined Orchard. Kathryn watched in amazement as the young, brown-haired attorney, forehead knit in a perpetual look of concern, elicited statement after statement from Orchard that cast doubt on his former certainties. Yes, someone had paid him. No, he never received a check signed by Haywood. No, Haywood never gave him any money in person. No, he had never dealt directly with Haywood…

The crowded courtroom got hot and stuffy. Kathryn could no longer force herself to follow the intricacies of the trial. The fact was that a fine man had been brutally murdered. It was an act of unmitigated evil. Whether or not Haywood was responsible hardly seemed important to her, although she believed the guilty should be punished. Her mind filled with thoughts of the evil in the world. She felt the room closing in, darkness coming closer. She began breathing faster, her hands at her throat.

“Kathryn. Let’s get some fresh air.”

Her father’s calm voice and steady hand led her from the room.

On the street, flags still flew from yesterday’s celebrations. The sun was golden, the sky blue. She gulped deep breaths of sweet, fresh air. Now she felt silly for her panic. Yet she knew that at least some of what she felt was true. Although one seldom experienced evil as a real presence, she did live in a world rife with corruption and ugliness.

She sank against the leather seats of the hansom cab Adam hailed, closed her eyes, and prayed for help to see the light, the good, rather than the dark, the vicious.

Then she looked around her. Adam had directed the cabbie to drive them up elegant Warm Springs Avenue, which was lined on both sides by fine mansions. Every residence was set in the midst of a sculptured lawn. All the gardens were bright with long-stemmed white daisies, delicate purple cosmos, and bright yellow black-eyed Susans. In one yard a brilliant red climbing rose still bloomed in a shady spot.

“Thank you, Papa.” She squeezed his hand on the seat beside her. “I needed to be reminded of the beauty in the world.”

“I’m sorry you don’t have more of it where we live, daughter.”

Kathryn nodded. She was sorry too. But she said, “I know, Papa. But just knowing that it exists is a help. Remember when I was little and I was jealous of Betty Sue’s porcelain doll? You told me to be glad she had it. That I could share in her joy, and I could take heart from the fact that if someone had such a treasure it meant that it was possible I might have something like it—when the time was right.”

Adam gave a wry smile. “I’m not sure that’s such a comforting analogy. You never did get a porcelain doll.”

“No, not a porcelain one. But don’t you remember—my very next birthday I got that beautiful rag doll that I loved so dearly. I slept with her for years. The Lord knows you can’t sleep with a porcelain doll. He gave me what I really needed.”

The cab stopped in front of the Boise Music Company just a block off Main Street, and Kathryn went in to buy her new bellows. She was a little worried since they didn’t handle Sears & Roebuck organs. She didn’t want to have to wait the weeks or even months it might take to mail-order the part.

But she was in luck. The bellows for their Esty organs were just the right size. And the man gave her a bottle of foul-smelling grease. “You treat your leather with this good—once a month at least—it’ll keep it from drying out and cracking.”

So her trip was successful in every way. As they rode homeward back to Kuna with the lowering sun, long shadows stretching behind them, Kathryn gave a contented sigh.

“Glad you came?” Merrick’s eyes softened as they always did when he looked at her in quiet moments.

“Oh, yes! It was all I could have dreamed of—no, it was far more than I could ever have dreamed of!” She sat silently for several moments, savoring her delight. She knew that the excitement of the parade, the fun of the picnic, the pleasure of the theatrical—as much as she had enjoyed them—had not been the heart of the matter. In the city she had encountered evil and experienced elegance. She had found much of the beauty she always longed for in dignified mansions with well-watered lawns. But the deep joy she took home with her from her trip was the awareness that she was glad to go home.

Home to her brown, powder-dry desert with jackrabbits and flying ants. Boise was filled with tree-lined streets of Queen Anne houses set in gardens radiant with flowers. And she would carry some of that beauty with her in her mind always. Even as she spread her laundry to dry on a sagebrush bush.

 

Adapted from Kathryn: Days of Struggle and Triumph, Book 1 in The Daughters of Courage pioneer Trilogy, by Donna Fletcher Crow

Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.

www.donnafletchercrow.com

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I loved reading this slice of a past world, and the reminder that there is always good as well as evil.
-Sheila Deeth, July 2, 2019

An interesting account of 1907 Boise Idaho on July 4th. And a visit to the courtroom
-Sylvia Charlton, July 3, 2019

Sheila and Sylvia, thank you both for taking time to read my story and leave a comment! I hope you are both having a lovely Fourth of July. (Or as my son says, Brexit 1776 Day.
-Donna Fletcher Crow, July 4, 2019

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