ISU Headlines

Horse Queen of Idaho’s connections to Denver studied

Posted May 15, 2008

An Idaho State University scholar is visiting Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel, Denver Public Library and Colorado Historical Society as part of an effort to retrace the “Horse Queen of Idaho”’s connection to Colorado.

The Colorado Humanities Council has awarded a grant to Philip A. Homan, ISU assistant professor, to support his research on the business of Kittie C. Wilkins, in Denver. Homan is also a reference/cataloging librarian at the ISU Eli M. Oboler Library, Pocatello, Idaho.

The boss of the Wilkins Horse Company in the Bruneau Valley, Owyhee County, Idaho, the Queen of Diamonds was the only woman at the turn of the 20th century whose sole occupation was horse trading. She owned 10,000 horses all range-bred and branded with her famous Diamond brand.

While staying at the Brown Palace Hotel in September 1902, arranging for a shipment of Clydesdales to a buyer in Denver, Wilkins gave an important interview to the Denver Post, headlined “The Only One of Her Kind.” It was published in the Sept. 18 issue, and subsequently ran in the New York Times. Wilkins made one of her rare statements to the Denver Post reporter about her hatred of automobiles, which she believed threatened her way of life.

“I don't like them,” she said. “They are ugly, and they are unsafe. Look at the accidents that are always happening. Now, behind horses that you know and who know you—and if you and your horses don’t understand each other, you should part company at once—there isn’t the slightest particle of danger. Nothing serious can happen. Your horses are as ready for an emergency as you are, and will help you meet it.”

Wilkins checked into Room 234 in the Brown Palace on Sept. 14, 1902. Her signature is in the Brown Palace guest register, according to Julia Kanellos, Hotel Historian.

Homan will spend 10 days this summer at the Denver Public Library, the Colorado Historical Society, and the Brown Palace studying Wilkins’ business deals in Denver, as well as the life and career of her brother Bert, also a horse dealer, in Denver. Homan is writing the first scholarly, book-length biography of the Queen of Diamonds.

Newspapers in cities along the Union Pacific announced the arrival of Wilkins at the stockyards and hotels with headlines such as “The Idaho Horse Queen” (San Francisco Examiner), “She Deals in Horses” (St. Louis Republic), and “Queen of the Ranch” (Chicago Tribune).

Homan has so far identified more than 475 news reports, feature stories, and interviews of Wilkins from newspapers in 36 of the lower 48 states, plus Great Britain.

Homan believes that Wilkins was the most famous Western woman of her generation, defining for Americans the West and the Westerner.

Wilkins visited Sioux City, Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis, New Orleans and Chicago each year, but the first stop on her annual horse-selling trips was Denver. Well-known at the Union Stock Yards and in the Denver hotels in the 1890s and early 1900s, Wilkins gave a number of interviews to Denver newspapers, which were re-run in newspapers across the country.

In 1900, Wilkins had contracted with Erwin, Grant & Co., of Kansas City, for the sale of 7,000 to 8,000 horses, the largest sale of horses ever made in the West, according to Homan. In August of that year, 540 horses in 21 cars were shipped from Mountain Home, Idaho, through Denver, then to Kansas City, the first of a regular 20-car train of around 520 horses to be sent every two weeks until the sale was complete.

In June 1901, a shipment of 30 carloads was made from Mountain Home to Kansas City.

The Diamond brand horses were in great demand by the British government, which was buying horses from Erwin, Grant & Co. for British soldiers in the 1899-1902 Boer War in South Africa.

Affiliated with the National Endowment for the Humanities, Colorado Humanities is the only statewide organization in Colorado dedicated exclusively to supporting the humanities. It strives to improve the quality of humanities education for all Colorado citizens, to encourage the application of the values of the humanities to the decision making that will influence the future of Colorado, and to serve the more than 200,000 people in the 30 counties in Colorado through its programs, grants and special events. The 20-member Board, including six governor’s appointees, is comprised of Coloradans selected throughout the state for their effective leadership, scholarly expertise and community involvement, as well as for the ethnic diversity that characterizes Colorado.