History doesn’t always stay within the tidy borders of a state. At least, that’s the excuse I’ve come up with today to tell you a story that took place in Wyoming.
Richard Leigh was a blue-eyed, red-headed man who spoke with a Mancunian accent, dropping his H’s as you would expect someone from Manchester, England to do. He was born there in 1831. He had fought in a war and worked for the Hudson Bay Company before setting out on his own and settling in the Teton Valley on the Idaho side of those mountains.
I could tell a lot of stories about Richard Leigh, and probably will in future postings. Known as “Beaver Dick” because of his proficiency in catching the creatures, he was a well-known figure in early Idaho. A few bullet points:
--He served as a guide to the Hayden Expedition to Yellowstone in 1872.
--He may be the only historical figure to have two Idaho highway historical markers, one in Boise and one near Rexburg.
--Leigh Lake in Grand Teton National Park is named after him. Nearby Jenny Lake is named after his first wife.
--Beaver Dick lost his entire first family, wife Jenny and four kids, to smallpox.
--Leigh helped a Shoshoni woman give birth to a daughter, Susan, who was promised to become Beaver Dick’s wife. He didn’t think it would ever happen, but they did marry 16 years later after Leigh lost his first family.
But this story is about Beaver Dick’s daughter Emma, from that second family.
The mountain man and his family were camped at Two Oceans Pass in 1891 when the story took place. Two Oceans Pass is in Wyoming, where Two Oceans Creek splits into two streams, Atlantic Creek dropping off the Continental Divide to end up eventually in the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Creek going West to find its way to the mouth of the Columbia.
The Leigh family was camped alone, at first, but their peace was interrupted by the sound of a robust voice coming into the clearing that would soon prove to be that of Theodore Roosevelt. This was ten years before Roosevelt would become president. Beaver Dick and Teddy hit it off and spent a pleasant evening swapping hunting stories in Roosevelt’s tent. Ten-year-old Emma hovered around the story-telling and began to make herself a pest.
Emma wrote about the memory in later years:
“At last, father got so provoked he stood up and pointed to the tent flap and ordered me to “pike away!’ I knew what that meant. But as I rushed past Mr. Roosevelt who was a short man and sat with his boots outstretched, I stumbled over his boots and fell on all fours. Before I could get back on my feet, Roosevelt reached down and pulled me across his lap, and then with his opened hand he gave a good spanking on my bottom side up.”
Emma felt bad about it, but apparently, Roosevelt did, too. The next day he asked her to show him how well she could shoot. With a rifle he handed her, Emma hit the bullseye on a target.
Emma said, “I heard Mr. Roosevelt shout ‘Bravo!’ It was the first time I’d heard that word but I knew it meant something good. And the best was yet to come. Mr. Roosevelt called me by name. ‘Emma,’ he said, ‘I hereby present you with this rifle and hope it will ease some of the pain I caused you last night.”
I’d heard this story from an elderly family member of mine but wondered about its veracity. Emma was named after my great-grandmother, Emma Thompson Just. I thought it might just have been a good spin on a lesser story passed down through the years. The story seems to be true, though, and is mentioned in many accounts of Beaver Dick’s life, the most authoritative of which may be the 1982 book Beaver Dick, The Honor and the Heartbreak, by his great-grandson William Leigh Thompson and his wife Edith M. Shultz Thompson. The quotes from Emma were found in that book.
The photo is Richard “Beaver Dick” Leigh and his second family. L-R: Sue Tadpole, William, Emma, Leigh, and Rose.