Traveling theatrical companies in the 1860s, with stars like Julia Dean Hayne, went wherever there were audiences, and Idaho City was then the largest town in the Pacific Northwest. A count taken in 1863 showed that Idaho City had 6,275 people when Portland, the metropolis of Oregon, had 4,057.
This explains why one of the greatest actresses of her time was willing to travel into the wilds of Idaho by stagecoach over rough and dusty roads to perform in the raw and sometimes rowdy mining camps of Boise Basin. The Idaho World reported on March 18, 1865, that, We have been shown a private letter from Mr. J.S. Potter to Mr. Fred Bell of this city, dated Portland, February 27th, in which he states that he has engaged all the available dramatic talent of California, Oregon, and British Columbia, for the entertainment of the citizens of Boise Basin generally, and Idaho City in particular.
Among the well-known artistes of this engagement are Mrs. Estelle Potter, Miss Florence Potter, Mrs. Julia Dean Hayne, Mrs. Leslie, Miss Belle Divine ... . On April 29, 1865, the paper noted that the Potter Dramatic Troupe is now performing in Placerville, and will remain for the season. Starring in the troupes performances that spring were Julia Dean Hayne and John S. Potter.
On May 6, 1865, the World reported that the new Forrest Theater was nearly finished. It will be a cozy place, surely, and the seats will be comfortably cushioned. The roof has been raised to a height corresponding with the requirements of the stage and an arched ceiling put in. The arrangements are such that all the audience can have a view of the stage; and the seats will be as good as could be reasonably expected. The parquette and the pit will seat 216 persons, dress circle, 80, side galleries, 24, private boxes, 16, and upper gallery, 50 making the full count 386 crowded, say 400.
When Julia Dean Hayne performed the lead roles in Camille and East Lynne, the Idaho World enthused, She is justly entitled to her title the Star of the North. Other plays in which she starred that week were Leah the Forsaken, The Hunchback, and The Stranger. She had played the lead in Camille as early as Nov. 17, 1857, in Sacramento. Mark Twain, then a reporter for the Territorial Enterprise of Virginia City, Nev., wrote in August 1863, Mr. Frank Mayo and Mrs. Julia Dean Hayne left this morning for San Francisco. The citizens tendered Mrs. Hayne a benefit on last Friday evening at which she was presented with a small silver brick by a few of her friends. In June 1864, Twain, writing of San Franciscos Metropolitan Theatre said, It opened under the management of the new lessees, Miss Annette Ince and Julia Dean Hayne, with a company who are as nearly all stars as it is possible to make it.
In August 1865, The New York Times reported in a story from Salt Lake City that Julia Dean Hayne and the Potter troupe had arrived by stagecoach from Idaho to perform in the Salt Lake Theatre. Mrs. Hayne has already appeared in Camille, The Stranger, The Jealous Wife, Griseldes, The Hunchback, and Leah. Mrs. Haynes advent commences a new era in Salt Lake theatricals. Her chaste and finished personations come to the public here like a new revelation. The theatrical world of Utah, like Camille with her lover, have unexpectedly found a new joy, entrancing as a vision, and perhaps like her, they will bewail its inevitable departure by and by. But so long as the glorious illusion endures, all classes seem determined to make the most of it, for every evening of performance do old and young, Jew, Mormon, and Gentile, throng parquet and circles of the immense temple of the drama in this city. Brigham Young, who was fond of theater, became a great admirer of Mrs. Hayne, and on occasion entertained her in his home.
A history of Salt Lake City summed up Julias impact: The years 1861-2 saw the building and opening of the grand Salt Lake Theatre, of which Julia Deane Hayne afterwards became queen. She went on to perform in the countrys leading cities and was acknowledged everywhere as a star of stars. Alas, she died in childbirth in 1868, only three years after her visit to Idaho, when at the height of her dramatic powers, to be long remembered by all who had ever seen her perform.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.