Jo showed up in Ruby City, Idaho Territory in 1867 or 1868 determined to try his hand at mining. He was a slight little guy, no more than five feet tall, but he was a real worker. He dug with the best of them for several weeks, then decided mining was just too tough.
Jo Monaghan then became a sheepherder, spending three years mostly in the company of sheep. After that, he worked in a livery for a time and took to breaking horses for a living. He was so good at it that Andrew Whalen hired him to work in Whalen’s Wild West Show, billing the bronc rider as Cowboy Joe. Whalen offered $25 to anyone who could find a horse the man couldn’t ride.
Eventually Jo homesteaded near Rockville, Idaho. He built a cabin and raised a few livestock, living a quiet life. He served on juries and voted in elections. Jo Monaghan was a respected member of the community. A quiet man. Except that he wasn’t
In 1904 Jo Monaghan passed away. The Weiser Signal marked Jo’s death with the headline, "Sex is Discovered After Death" and noted that, "There are a number of people residing in Weiser, who knew the supposed man intimately, and never had a suspicion that she was not what she represented to be."
Jo Monaghan was a woman. Who that woman was is still open to speculation. One story often told is that she was from a wealthy New York family and had found herself in a family way. As that story goes, she left her child for her sister to raise and headed West. It wasn’t uncommon for women at that time to travel as men to help assure their own safety. Jo may have done that and simply found it convenient to keep up the ruse.
The story has fascinated people for decades. A 1993 movie called The Ballad of Little Jo, written and directed by Maggie Greenwald and starring Suzy Amis as Jo told a version of her life.
The part of the story that always interested me was that he voted. No, make that SHE voted. She might have been one of the first women to cast a vote in the United States.