Idaho Humanities Council Research Fellow Philip A. Homan, a scholar-librarian and an associate professor at Idaho State University’s Eli M. Oboler Library, will give the slide presentation “Queen of Diamonds: Kittie Wilkins, Horse Queen of Idaho, and the Wilkins Horse Company” at the Marshall Public Library on Saturday, September 26, 2009, at 1:00 p.m., in the Dr. Minnie F. Howard Community Room. The program is made possible in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, the state-based affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The boss of the Wilkins Horse Company in the Bruneau Valley of Owyhee County, Idaho, and owner of 10,000 range-bred horses, all branded with the famous Diamond brand, the Queen of Diamonds was the only woman at the turn of the twentieth century whose sole occupation was as a horse dealer. The Wilkins herd was the largest owned by one family in the American West.
Idaho State Historical Society (GR 62-50.59)
Kittie Wilkins sold horses by the carloads in the livestock markets of the Midwest. Newspapers in cities along the Union Pacific announced her arrival at the stockyards with headlines such as “The Only One of Her Kind,” “Is Consistent Womanhood,” and “She Is a New Type,” and papers throughout America spread the word about the Idaho girl who was making a fortune selling horses.
The San Francisco Examiner first introduced Wilkins in 1887 as the “Idaho Horse Queen,” and the interviews in the Denver, Sioux City, Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis, New Orleans, and Chicago newspapers were re-run in papers across the country, such as the Boston Advertiser, New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore American, Washington Post, and Atlanta Constitution. Most of the over 500 newspaper articles Homan has identified so far about her, her family, and her friends and associates are news reports, feature stories, and interviews from newspapers in 37 of the lower 48 states, as well as the District of Columbia, plus Canada, England, Scotland, and New Zealand.
Homan believes that Wilkins—who made Idaho a household word across America—was the most famous Western woman of her generation, becoming for Americans the very model of the West.
In fact, Kittie Wilkins made the largest horse sale ever in the West. In 1900, she sold about 8,000 head in a single sale to Erwin, Grant & Co., of Kansas City, Missouri. In August of that year, 540 horses in 21 cars were shipped from Mountain Home, Idaho, to Kansas City—the first of a regular twenty-car train of around 520 horses to be sent every two weeks. The following June, a shipment of 30 carloads was made from Mountain Home to Kansas City to complete the transaction. Great Britain was shipping the Diamond-brand horses from New Orleans to South Africa for soldiers in the Boer War of 1899 to 1902. According to statistics, Wilkins supplied over ten percent of all the American horses sent to South Africa for the Boer War.
Descended from early settlers in Owyhee and Twin Falls counties, a fourth-generation Idahoan, and a Magic Valley native, Homan earned the BA in 1984 and the Master of Arts degree in 1987 from Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington, and received the Master of Library Science in 2002 from St. John’s University in New York City, where he worked for The Bronx County Historical Society. He is a member of the Idaho Library Association Executive Board, a presenter at library conferences, and a contributor to Idaho Magazine.
Homan is writing the first biography of Wilkins. His research has also been supported with grants from Nevada Humanities and Colorado Humanities and is featured in a display in the Eli M. Oboler Library at Idaho State University through September.