In honor of Sesquicentennial Plus One, I’m devoting the Speaking of Idaho blog to my family’s history during August.
Or, how about someone who never really took up residence here, but wrote two novels in Idaho? Discuss among yourselves, but that criteria allows me to write a little Idaho story about an author who was wildly popular at one time.
B.M. Bower wrote, by my count, 68 novels—many still in print—and over a dozen screenplays. She is often favorably compared with Zane Grey, one of her contemporaries.
She was born Bertha Muzzy in 1871. Her family moved from Minnesota to a dryland homestead near Great Falls, Montana in 1889. At age 19, she eloped with a homesteader cowboy named Clayton Bower, thus giving her the pen name she would use for the rest of her life. Rather than Bertha Muzzy Bower, she chose B.M. so that readers could assume she was a man.
She would marry three men, divorcing two of them, and teaching one, her second husband Bill Sinclair, how to write a Western novel. He wrote 15 of his own.
Bower wrote her novels from homes in Montana, Washington, and California. She wrote two of them in Idaho, on brief visits. The Good Indian was written while she visited the ranch home of David Bliss, for whom Bliss, Idaho is named.
Bower’s second Idaho book was called Ranch at the Wolverine. She pumped that one out during a stay of about two months in 1913 at the home of my Great Aunt Agnes Just Reid, best known for her book Letters of Long Ago. The Just/Reid family home is in the Blackfoot River Valley below Wolverine Canyon. Agnes and B.M. spent much of that summer riding horses, exploring the canyon, and often riding into Blackfoot, about 15 miles away.
B.M. Bower loved to write details into her books from personal experience. In September 1913 the War Bonnet Roundup would take place in Idaho Falls. There was to be a women’s saddle horse race, and Bower talked Agnes into riding the 18 miles to the Roundup and entering the race the next day.
Agnes Just Reid remembered it this way: “Bower wanted to ride in the race for the sensation of it. Dressed in our long, divided, skirts of corduroy, so the wind would not blow them and show our ankles, we raced our fat, old cattle horses around the track far behind the professionals. But we got our sensation and the dust.”
Ranch of the Wolverine and The Good Indian are still in print.
In our family archives we have a B.M. Bower manuscript with charred edges that survived a fire in the home of Agnes and Robert E. Reid. When I learned that, I thought we might have a rare, unpublished novel by Bower. Alas, the manuscript was not unique and the novel was among the dozens she published.
Bower passed away in 1940 at age 69. Her friend, Agnes Just Reid, passed away in 1976 at age 90.