Pioneer Theatre in the Boise Basin: 1863-1899 [Review]

Pioneer Theatre in the Boise Basin

Pioneer Theatre in the Boise Basin: 1863-1899

Charles E. Lauterbach, Ph.D.

United States: CreateSpace, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-615-73445-3

218 pages, $18.00

Entertainment at our fingertips is taken for granted in 2014. Rarely do we consider a time when a variety of entertainment options were hard to come by here in Idaho—long before Netflix, television, or even Hollywood. Dr. Charles Lauterbach’s Pioneer Theatre in the Boise Basin: 1863-1899 pays homage to the foundational years in Boise’s popular entertainment history. The book chronicles a relatively unexplored aspect of our state’s history when performers braved long and treacherous journeys to bring Idahoans an occasional evening of escape. Against this backdrop, Lauterbach examines the historical circumstances that allowed Boise’s theatrical entrepreneurs to secure Idaho’s place on the “show-town” map of early 20th century America.

Professor Emeritus Charles Lauterbach served on the faculty of the Theatre Arts Department at Boise State University from 1971 through 2001. Although his post-retirement research includes the theatrical history of the entire Gem State, his 2013 publication focuses on the city of Boise, beginning with the entertainment seeds planted in Idaho City and Silver City during the mining boom. By analyzing the decades preceding the 20th century, Lauterbach demonstrates how the city endured through years of entertainment fits and starts, until the widely respected “show-town” status took root and flourished in the new century.

Pioneer Theatre synthesizes Lauterbach’s research into a detailed account of the array of “entertainments” offered to Boise’s early residents. Drawing largely from his investigation of archival newspapers, the study enumerates a broad scope of activities including local and touring theatrical productions, circus acts, dog and pony shows, operas, minstrel shows, elocutionists, and such sensational events as “an exhibition of mind reading, hypnotism, and rope-tying” (123).

Four chapters present Lauterbach’s findings chronologically: “Gold Rush Theatre 1863-1869”, “The Lean Years 1870-1879”, “Railroads and Opera Houses 1880-1889”, and “End of the Century 1890-1899.” Each chapter is further broken down into a year-by-year account of the entertainments presented. Although this arrangement sometimes lends itself to extensive listings of production titles, cast lists, performance dates, and venues, the author anticipates diverse reader needs and invites those desiring less detail “to skip over some listings of plays and players and get to the many colorful anecdotes” (Introduction, xx).

Indeed, Lauterbach delivers as promised. He engages the reader throughout with amusing contemporaneous accounts of audience and reviewer reactions to performers and dramatic spectacles such as steamship explosions, sinking ships, children being carried away in the talons of an eagle, an “electrical duel,” a “shower of fire” (148), and heroic rescues by acrobatic teams. In addition to the approximately 600 newspaper citations, key figures in Lauterbach’s story are highlighted with 49 photographs and illustrations from the collections of institutions across the country including the University of Washington, Harvard University, and New York Public Library.

From the earliest productions staged in Boise’s Idaho Saloon, to the crowning glory of the era realized with the completion of the Columbia Theater in 1892, Lauterbach delivers a fascinating account of Boise’s pioneering years in entertainment. As explained in his introduction, the book is particularly significant because “…to date no complete history of early theatrical entertainments in the Boise Basin has been written…it adds another book to the relatively small collection of books about the nineteenth century theatre in the American West” (Introduction, xvii).

And so as he salutes the pioneers of Boise’s entertainment industry, I salute Lauterbach’s pioneering effort to document this largely forgotten history, and hope that it will encourage further exploration. An interesting read for scholars or casual history and theatre buffs alike, Lauterbach’s work helps us appreciate Idaho’s theatrical roots and the “show-town” we are fortunate enough to enjoy today.

Gwyn Hervochon is an archivist/librarian at Boise State University.

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Lands Never Trodden: The Franciscans and the California Missions [Review]

lands never trodden missions

Lands Never Trodden: The Franciscans and the California Missions

John J. O’Hagan

Caldwell, ID: Caxton Press, 2013

ISBN: 978-087004-563-9, paperback

309 pages, $18.95

The Spanish missions in California constitute such a major part of American history that it’s a wonder so few Americans know about them. John J. O’Hagan addresses this in his introduction to Lands Never Trodden, and proceeds to do his part to remedy this by sharing a readable history of that period. The Revolutionary War likely commands the focus of most students’ learning of this period, but O’Hagan shows that even before the Declaration of Independence, industrious Franciscan missionaries from Spain were establishing missions, creating the foundation for what we now know as California.

O’Hagan does well to draw on primary sources to paint a picture of Mission-era California; excerpts from some of these documents enrich the narrative. Of course, any modern historian looking to tell the whole story of the missions is confined by the fact that surviving documents, almost without exception, came from Spanish sources, rather than those of natives. Lands Never Trodden does include some writing from Pablo Tac, a Luiseño Indian who traveled to Rome, but as O’Hagan laments, he wrote little of himself.

The status and treatment of Indians in the mission system has been the source of considerable historical controversy. Though he perhaps gives the Spanish too much benefit of the doubt, O’Hagan recognizes and addresses this controversy. While he insists on judging the missionaries by the standards of their day, he also does not hesitate to condemn some of the clear atrocities in the historical record. While he acknowledges that European diseases and poor living conditions were responsible for the deaths of many thousands of Indians in the missions, he fairly argues that the intentions of the missionaries make “genocide” too strong a word for what Wikipedia calls a “clash of cultures.” The book’s title, Lands Never Trodden, is surely misleading in that it describes lands that many Indians tread, though in O’Hagan’s defense, the phrase is borrowed from a missionary’s writings.

After three introductory chapters, a chapter is dedicated to each of the 21 missions, in the order each was founded. Each of the chapters ends with information on the state of the mission site today (all have been preserved as historical sites or parks, though in some cases, the buildings themselves are replicas). Taken on their own, these sections would make a handy travel guide for anyone interested in taking a trip through California in the footsteps of the colorful historical figures profiled in the book.

Lands Never Trodden contains a wealth of information on the missions and the men and women who drove them, but it also contains some errors that should have been caught in copy editing; these are occasionally distracting. The book also lacks an index, making tracking down specific subjects more troublesome than it should be. Nevertheless, it is an informative book that belongs in any good collection of Californian or American Catholic history.

Alex Kyrios is a Metadata and Catalog Librarian at the University of Idaho.

A Million Steps [Review]

million-steps

A Million Steps

Kurt Koontz

United States: Self-published, 2013

ISBN 978-061585-292-8, paperback,

212 pages, $15.95

Let me start by acknowledging my ignorance of El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Before beginning A Million Steps by Kurt Koontz I had never heard of the almost-500 mile hike from St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France across the Pyrenees Mountains to Santiago, Spain. Nor did I know the history or background of the pilgrimage (or that it had been a pilgrimage since medieval times), that millions of people have walked El Camino –The Way in English–for centuries (including John Adams, who walked from Santiago to Paris in 1779 to enlist French aid for the American Colonies during the American Revolution), or that Christian tradition has it that the remains of St. James of biblical fame are entombed in the cathedral at Santiago—the main reason for the pilgrimage in the first place. I intended to read A Million Steps because a student at one of my schools excitedly told me that his uncle had written the book; to encourage young readers in pursuit of pleasure reading, I told him I would read the book myself over spring break. Imagine my surprise (and delight) when The Idaho Librarian had the title up for review! I’m sure Mr. Koontz and others who have walked The Way would smile and say that there are no coincidences; everything we experience is connected. And they may be right.

This relatively small self-published book reads like an abbreviated diary of Koontz’s 30-day journey. He chronicles his experiences– the sights along the trail; the food in the fancy restaurants, the small cafes, and the smaller tiendas (markets) along the route; the nights in the crowded albergues (hostels) and the occasional 5-star hotels; and his encounters with the locals and with fellow pilgrims from all over the world. The language is simple enough for most young adult to adult readers, although adults will identify more with Koontz’s underlying reasons for his journey—the physical, intellectual, and spiritual lessons he learned.

After every chapter (each representing one day of Koontz’s trek), the reader is treated to several black and white photos representative of the day’s encounters. Be aware these are not National Geographic or Ansel Adams photographs, and the graininess of the printing makes the panoramic shots unremarkable; however, the portraits of Koontz’s fellow travelers are vibrant and full of life.

There are several pages of appendixes listing resources about El Camino and the author’s musical playlist on his walk; the resources were valuable while the playlist was only marginally interesting.

Koontz took me back to my college days hiking the Grand Canyon when my hiking bible was The Man Who Walked Through Time by Colin Fletcher. I still have that dog-eared book in a place of honor on my shelf, and it will be joined by this new friend. I also read up on El Camino and watched the film The Way and enjoyed seeing the landmarks described by Koontz.For the serious or casual walker, A Million Steps may be the catalyst for a personal trip to experience El Camino de Santiago. For those who make the journey, as they say along The Way, Buen Camino!

The book would make a good addition to all types of libraries.

Tina Roehr is an Alternative Schools Librarian/Teacher in the Meridian School District in Southwest Idaho.

Godforsaken Idaho [Review]

 

Godforsaken-IdahoGodforsaken Idaho

Shawn Vestal

Boston: New Harvest/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013

ISBN 978-05440-2776-3, paperback
209 pages, $15.95

When I first saw Shawn Vestal’s book with its picture of Joseph Smith on the cover and its title, Godforsaken Idaho, my first thought was “Hey, that’s where I grew up. What a great title.” By the time I got about half way through this collection of nine short stories, I was thinking that an alternative title could have been “Godforsaken Families.”

The pivotal story in this collection is the first one, “The First Several Hundred Years Following My Death.” In it the protagonist, Rex, experiences an afterlife filled with trips to the cafeteria, reunions with deceased family members, and a quest through his own past to find wonderful events that he can relive. What he finds, though, is a troubled search that starts with a hunt for perfect days and then degrades into a search for “great afternoons” or “great nights” (13-14) until he’d be satisfied with finding “One great hour”(18). Eventually Rex concedes that “you find it hard to land in a single untroubled moment. Every second is crowded with life, with misery and anxiety that just won’t be stomped down” (14). And by the end of the story he settles on a moment that “lasts thirteen minutes and forty-seven seconds” (26) as he stands smoking cigarettes on the Perrine bridge in Twin Falls.

What makes this first story so pivotal is the way Vestal connects his nine of stories through a significant family event – a dinner. After he’s been dead for a few hundred years, Rex attempts to have a large reunion dinner with his ex-wife and children who have also died. His plan to have dinner with just his immediate family falls apart when grand-children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and nieces are also invited. During this dinner he finds himself surrounded by many members of his family, the Todds, and his ex-wife’s family, the Warrens. What makes this so important is that many of these characters appear again as the reader progresses further into the collection – finally meeting Joseph Smith himself in the final story entitled, “Diviner.” Rex says that he conceives of the family dinner idea 326 years after his death, so from first story to last covers about 500 years of his family’s history of bad decisions in chronological order from the future into the past. Sara Warren, Rex’s great-great-grandmother, appears again in “Gulls” debating with herself as to whether or not to become one of Bishop Warren’s wives during the 1848 “miracle of the gulls.” Sara is also mentioned in passing in “Families are Forever.” And Rulon Warren, is the central character of “Opposition in all Things” which takes place in Franklin, Idaho, a few years after WWI. Somewhere in each story is some small link to the first story that gives this collection an overarching continuity that I wasn’t expecting in any author’s first published story collection.

In the third story in the collection, “Families are Forever,” the narrator describes his girlfriend’s parent’s house and an ornate sign in their dining room “done up in curlicues: FAMILIES ARE FOREVER” and then he adds that this message “sounded like a threat” (49). This threatening notion is a theme that the book keeps circling back to – but I don’t want readers to get the impression that Vestal is saying that families are a bad thing. This book is really an open-ended examination of the complex and, often, poor choices made by the protagonists and how their family history influences those choices and how those choices influence the future of their families.

Since this review is for The Idaho Librarian, I’ll throw in a warning that this book is not without controversy. Many of the book’s critics are labeling it as “anti-Mormon” because Vestal is a former member of the LDS church, and many of the book’s less than moral characters are also LDS, therefore, according to these critics, the book is anti-LDS. My personal response to that criticism is that the characters in this book are not being held up as examples of perfect moral behavior. I can’t think of any religion that would hope for their members to act the way these characters act. The protagonists in these stories are surrounded by bad choices and poor examples that they think they are unable to overcome. It is a very dark book, frequently moving, and often hilarious with great moments of insight into some very difficult families.

I would certainly recommend this book to any academic or public library interested in developing its collection of Idaho or Pacific Northwest authors.

 

George Williams is the Access Services Manager at Latah County Library District.

Spoiled Milk: 37 OLD Expired Health Beliefs with a Fresh NEW Perspective [Review]

SpoiledMilk

Spoiled Milk: 37 OLD Expired Health Beliefs with a Fresh NEW Perspective

Angela Young, DC

Eagle, Idaho: Aloha Publishing, 2013

ISBN: 978-1612060521, paperback

184 pages, $14.95

Spoiled Milk reads like a series of magazine articles strung together, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Each chapter begins with a “Spoiler Alert” and then closes with “Fresh Ideas to Extend Your Expiration Date.” Angela Young’s 2013 publication, Spoiled Milk: 37 OLD Expired Health Beliefs with a Fresh NEW Perspective is a brief, informative collection of the author’s views on current personal practices for health, nutrition, and well-being. None of the chapters is longer than a few pages, and one could easily read the book in one sitting. Accepting Young’s invitation, however, could take some time and commitment. The author “encourages the development of new beliefs to change the American mind-set regarding health” (14).

Seven areas of discussion are offered, namely: Wellness, Food, Movement, Emotions, Chemical Peer Pressure, Popular Health Beliefs, and Chiropractic. Of the 37 “myths” Young busts, all have been presented either in other recent publications, on various medical or holistic websites, or in current medical or holistic journals. However, as Young conveys, much of what passes for news regarding health and wellness is possibly the result of the “advertising, marketing, and self-interested research that drives these fads” (13). One example of a debunked myth is the notion that one’s genetic profile will determine one’s health. Consider, she suggests, that one’s “genes can either be turned on or off by lifestyle choices” (33). Another mythical idea debunked is the lack of control over the way one feels. Referring to the forged neural paths and muscle memory which one has the ability to actually change, Young argues that if you feel unhappy or unwell, “you may feel that way out of habit” (105). Regarding this ability, she quotes health guru and wellness expert Dr. Andrew Weil, “Among other things, neuroplasticity means that emotions, such as happiness and compassion, can be cultivated in much the same way that a person can learn through repetition to play golf and basketball or master a musical instrument, and that such practice changes the activity and physical aspects of specific brain areas” (108).

None of this information is actually very new, and none are the author’s own discoveries, but there is some value in having all of it laid out in one book, along with the perspective of a doctor of chiropractic. The field of diet, nutrition, and best practices in personal wellness is a vast and ever-evolving one in which last week’s fact could quickly become this week’s fiction. If one is confused about the myriad of conflicting opinions and information available on health, nutrition, and well-being, learning about and implementing any of a number of these ideas might prove beneficial. Angela Young is a practicing chiropractor in Boise, Idaho.

Because Spoiled Milk could serve as a springboard for further research, I would recommend this book to both public and high school librarians.

Kathleen McVey is a Youth Services Library Assistant in the Meridian Library District.

Harvest Heritage: Agricultural Origins and Heirloom Crops of the Pacific Northwest [Review]

HarvestHeritage

Harvest Heritage: Agricultural Origins and Heirloom Crops of the Pacific Northwest

Richard D. Scheuerman and Alexander C. McGregor

Pullman, Washington: Washington State University Press, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-87422-316-3, paperback

186 pages, $32.95

When you hear the opening notes of the song “America the Beautiful” by Katherine Lee Bates and you listen to the words of the first stanza, “O beautiful for spacious skies,/For amber waves of grain,/ For purple mountain majesties/Above the enameled plain!/America! America!…” Like me, your first thoughts are of expansive fields in places like Nebraska or Kansas. You can picture the lakes of wheat undulating from the soft breeze while the rays of sun soak the fields. What you do not think about is the states of Oregon or Washington where the sun has a habit of taking a vacation. However, you would be remiss to do so according to Richard D. Scheuerman and Alexander C. McGregor. In their book, Harvest Heritage: Agricultural Origins and Heirloom Crops of the Pacific Northwest, the authors recount the long history of agriculture in the Pacific Northwest, which undoubtedly includes wheat.

In Harvest Heritage Scheuerman and McGregor explore in detail the agricultural settling of the northwest. The book takes the reader on a journey exploring the movement of companies, fur traders, missionaries, Indians immigrants and military men. Although these people come from vastly different places they are all transformed into farmers and settlers of the northwest. The shaping of this bountiful, but decidedly more wet region, required thoughtful experiments by farmers and ranchers who utilized the constant influx of immigrants to supply them with a menagerie of wheat, oats, barley and rye, as well as, cattle, pigs, sheep and goats. Through trial and error and lots of hard work they are able to find the hardiest varieties for this unique climate.

If you are a seasoned history buff, you will appreciate the attention paid to the histories of the many people who helped settled this lush country and who were instrumental in developing the unique agriculture of this region. For those readers who enjoy reading about the fine points, this book offers many details. For example, the sheer varieties of red winter wheat mentioned can alone scare away the most seasoned of history readers. However, I urge you forward. This book will give you a better understanding and tremendous respect for the people who have settled this land.

It is clear that Dr. Scheuerman’s background in history coupled with McGregor’s family ties to the land has formed this distinctive look into the Pacific Northwest. However, this reviewer was left reflecting on the possible “under-represented” history in the area. A famous quote, often attributed to Winston Churchill, says that the winners write history. I couldn’t help but feel that some aspects of this book were minimizing difficult parts of our history while overly focusing on the farmer as unsung hero. The settlement of this region meant many Native American tribes were pushed off their ancestral land which many times lead to acts of violence. There appeared to be a large influx of immigrant populations, but there was no mention of the unique difficulties these people experienced. I would have appreciated an additional chapter focusing more on the “losers” in history in this region with the same attention to detail given by the authors.

Harvest Heritage would be a good addition to a public or academic library collection. The casual weekend history buff would find this book engaging and interesting, especially since they could visit the many sites mentioned in the book. The academic would find this book useful to expand their research or as part of a reading assignment for courses focusing on the Pacific Northwest.

Nicole Silvester lives in Idaho and is a MLS Graduate Student at Texas Woman’s University.

As Rugged as the Terrain: CCC “Boys,” Federal Convicts, and World War II Alien Internees Wrestle with a Mountain Wilderness [Review]

 

As Rugged as the Terrain

As Rugged as the Terrain: CCC “Boys,” Federal Convicts, and World War II Alien Internees Wrestle with a Mountain Wilderness

Priscilla Wegars

Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Press, 2013

ISBN 978-0870045400, paperback

394 pages, $21.95

When I chose this book to review it was to quench a real curiosity. I had some knowledge about the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Idaho, but that is where my knowledge ended.

Most of us know about the CCC as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal work program in the 1930s. The U.S. Forest Service building, aka the “Log Cabin Literacy Center,” proudly stands adjacent to the Boise Public Library. It stands as a testament to the CCC’s skills. The CCC performed numerous activities in the central part of Idaho, including building part of US Highway 12 and constructing many Forest Service roads to name a few. A great story detailed in the book is how the CCC protected the camp from a bear using a flashlight!

Was there a Japanese internment camp in Idaho? Most people including myself would reply – Yes, at Minidoka! When I mention there was also one in Kooskia – first I have to explain where Kooskia is, then mention that it was the location of Idaho’s second internment camp.

U.S. Federal Prison #11 was also in Kooskia. It is hard to believe that a Federal Prison was built and staffed in the middle of the wilderness. Only inmates that were “flowers of the system” were allowed at #11. One very interesting portion of the book was Appendix B. It discussed camaraderie of the inmates and the educational program the inmates established. They taught each other various subjects, including bookkeeping, Spanish, placer mining, English, radio code and math.

Did you know there were Prisoners of War (POWs) in Idaho? The majority of the POWs were sailors/merchant marines from German and Italian supply and cruise ships. At the start of World War II, enemy ships were held at US ports as enemy combatants. There were German and Italian POWs all over northern Idaho, with one of the main camps in Kooskia. The discussion of the meals consumed by the POWs made my mouth water! This is especially true if you have ever visited and consumed food in Germany or Italy. The cooks and bakers from the enemy cruise ships provided elegant and nutritious food besides staying within their assigned rations.

As a former Medical Librarian, the discussion of the medical treatment provided by the German POW medical doctor, the Japanese internee dentist and others was interesting. Talk about emergency medicine in a hardship situation – they had their share of trials! The discussion by Wegars on the “quack” doctor was interesting and worth reading; it was amazing that it took months to uncover his quackery.

All Idahoans owe a debt of gratitude to these groups for their perseverance in building US Highway 12 and other projects throughout in Idaho. This book is definitely not fiction! Who should read it? It is a must for Idaho or World War II History buffs! Patrons interested in “old” medical techniques would thoroughly enjoy the chapter on medicine. Who should buy it? Public and academic librarians should make this a must-have Idaho History book. As the librarian for Idaho Transportation Department, I am recommending it to my staff for the US Highway 12 road history alone. This is a book that anyone should enjoy reading, if only for the comical antics of the various groups.

If this book piqued your interest in the Japanese internment camp at Kooskia, you should also read Priscilla Wegars’ other book, Imprisoned in Paradise: Japanese Road Workers at the World War II Kooskia Internment Camp. I just started it and it is very hard to put down.

Inez Hopkins is a Senior Research Analyst at the Idaho Transportation Department in Boise, Idaho.