Idaho History

Love and marriage in early Idaho were ... well, a little different

The relationship between married couples is revealed, discussed and pontificated on in early Idaho newspapers, often in an amusing way, but this example from the Idaho World of Idaho City of April 6, 1866, was hardly amusing to either party. “To the Public. My wife Mary Remish, having left my bed and board against my consent, and without any fault of mine, I therefor hereby give notice that I will not become responsible for any debt that she may incur. Signed, Louis Remish.”

The Owyhee Avalanche printed this in October 1870: “Any young lady, who is willing to sew on buttons, mend torn shirts and lacerated pantaloons, and who is a good cook, can hear of something to her advantage by addressing Joseph Long, Avalanche office, Silver City, I.T. We would suggest that Mr. Long would not have to wait long if he would state whether he is single or a married man. Young ladies frequently have a preference, though of late it appears it is a distinction without a difference.”

Humorist Josh Billings was frequently quoted in frontier papers in a tortured style of phonetic spelling that is tedious for modern readers, although his 19th century fans apparently felt that it added to the humor. Here are examples, the first as written, and then a couple without the funny spelling: “Sum marry because they think wimmin will be skarse next year, and liv to wonder how the crop holds out.” “Almost everybody gets married, and it is a good joke.” “Married life has its chances, and it is just what gives it its flavor. Everybody loves to fool with the chances, because everybody expects to win. But I am authorized to state that everybody don’t win.”

The Owyhee Avalanche contributed this item in October 1875: “Returned — Mrs. Marion Bunyard who ran away from her husband here some two years ago, has repented and returned to the arms of her liege lord, who has freely forgiven the erring wife. She arrived from Virginia City three or four days ago, and happiness, peace and contentment once more reign supreme in the Bunyard family.”

That month the paper offered this bit of etiquette advice: “It is not the correct thing for a gentleman to wink at a lady. It is always the lady’s place to wink first.”

In October 1889 the Statesman published “A Breezy Letter by a Western Girl about Western Women.” Betty Brown wrote, “We have run so far to woman’s rights that we have lost sight of that great, good life God made woman for — to be a wife and mother. In my mind, to be a mother, to bring a soul into the world, and train it for eternity, is the grandest object she can have. God made her to do this and what he made was good.

“I say that girls were made to be wooed and married, and that old maids, cranky as they always are, are freaks in nature.” (This cruel comment surely betrays the writer’s youth and inexperience.) “I hope young girls who in this age are being led to the opinion that lovers and marriage are things to be ashamed of, or mentioned under one’s breath, may take heart from this. If a girl has a lover, she should be proud of it, just as a man is proud of honor thrust upon him.” Obviously when Miss Brown writes of a girl having “a lover,” she means a “sweetheart.” She would certainly have agreed that adultery is a sin.

This 1890 item from the Pocatello Herald was reprinted in the Idaho Statesman: “It may serve as a warning to women who feel inclined to address their lords in disrespectful terms: ‘Last Tuesday evening Charles Peterson made complaint against his wife Kate, before his honor A.W. Fisher on the charge of using language unbecoming to one of her sex. A trial was held before a jury in which Katie was found guilty, and sentenced to pay a fine of $50, in default of which she was to spend a few weeks in jail.” Guess who paid the fine and took her home.

Next week, more on marriage, with a few quips from Mark Twain on the subject.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email