Friday, April 23, 2021
Polly Bemis’ Life in the Idaho Wilds to be Highlighted
The Polly Bemis house is a favorite stop along the Main Salmon River, along with Buckskin Billy’s castle and, of course, hot springs.
Sunday, February 28, 2021


Polly Bemis was a diminutive woman who stood just over four feet tall.

But she looms large in Idaho history as one of the first pioneers to settle along the Main Salmon River where she cared for a number of animals including a cougar and saved her husband from a burning house.

Learn more about this amazing woman when the Hailey Public Library hosts a virtual talk at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 4.

The talk will feature historical archaeologist Dr. Priscilla Wegars, author of a new biography on Bemis.

Born about 1853, Bemis was sold by her father at age 18 for two bags of seed during a prolonged drought in her village in rural northern China.

Smuggled into the United States, she was sold as a slave in San Francisco for $2,500. She ended up in Warren, Idaho, near McCall where she worked in a mining camp saloon, took in laundry and ran a boarding house.

After marrying Charlie Bemis, she spent years along the Salmon River until her death in 1933 at age 80. Even today rafters and jet boaters love to stop and see her cabin, which has been restored and turned into a museum.

“Her life was greatly romanticized in the novel 1,000 Pieces of Gold, later made into a popular movie,” commented Kristin Fletcher, the library’s programs and community engagement coordinator. “Dr. Wegars’ captivating research reveals a smart, adaptable and well-respected woman, just over 4’ tall, who made a successful life in the wilds of Idaho’s mining camps at the turn of the century.”

 Dr. Wegars will also show and discuss historical objects from the Asian American Comparative Collection that represent items that Polly Bemis used or would have been familiar with during her life.

 Wegars received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Idaho where she founded the Asian American Comparative Collection, a unique resource of artifacts, images and documentary materials.  In 2017 the Idaho State Historical Society granted her its Esto Perpetua award “in honor and recognition of significant contributions to the preservation of Idaho history.”

 RSVP to to join the discussion.


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