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Prairie Pulse

Following the trail to Florence

I hadn't planned to write about Florence again so soon. But an impromptu trip yesterday with Dan Doherty of Slate Creek led through the wilds of Idaho County to what remains of the gold rush town.

He called early in the week and said the weather would be perfect this week, and may be the last opportunity of the year. It's a picturesque and winding drive through logging country taking us past Little Slate Creek Saddle, Miller's Creek and Baboon Gulch.

We drove a total of 62 miles from Slate Creek to Florence via Riggins and Alison Creek Road. This leg took us 3.5 hours and we arrived shortly before sunset. We drove another 47 miles from Florence going north to Four Corners and Banner Ridge Road back to Slate Creek.

In "Pioneer Days in Idaho County, Volume One" Sister M. Alfreda Elsensohn recounts how Florence nearly remained known as Millersburg.

"In less than a week the black basin was white with tents. Our party located a 'city' where we first pitched our tent, with the express office as a nucleus. Look at your map, tracing up from Lewiston over Craig's mountain and Camas prairie, and you will find 'Millersburg,' looking as big on the map as any town in the west..."

Along the drive, we discussed Cherokee Bob and the gunfight leading to his death. I shared my wonder over whether the fight regarded the legendary "Red-Headed Cynthia." Dan confirmed for me this was in fact the truth.

If you read my blog posted Oct. 22, you will remember I mentioned how Orlando "Rube" Robbins and Jakey Williams shot and killed Cherokee Bob Talbotte.

The whole affair is detailed in Sister Alfreda's book and was relayed to me by my father-in-law as we traveled to Florence.

Cynthia was a "painted lady," or woman of ill repute, who arrived in Florence with H. J. Talbotte. Talbotte was referred to as Cherokee Bob because his mother was half Cherokee.

The following is recorded in Sister Alfreda's book:

"Not long after their arrival, a ball was held and Cynthia insisted that she must attend. Having made known her desire to Bob, he said in reply, 'You shall go and be respected as a decent woman ought to be.' So he asked Willoughby, who was suspected of being a member of the famous Plummer gang, to take her, at the same time remarking, 'If things don't go right, just report to me.' ... The women present were determined to leave the room if Cynthia was allowed to remain. The managing committee, after holding a conference, informed Willoughby that he and his partner must retire, which they did."

According to Sister Alfreda, Williams and Robbins were managers that evening and Cherokee Bob was furious over what he felt was an indignation against Cynthia. He and William Willoughby determined to confront the managers the next morning.

Unfortunately, things did not go well for Willoughby. He was shot and killed instantly in the ensuing fight. Cherokee Bob was carried to his saloon and died three days later.

As mentioned in the Oct. 22 blog, Robbins and Williams were tried for the deaths of Willoughby (listed as Willoby in the court document) and Cherokee Bob. The defendents were discharged and Idaho County paid $47.90 for the investigation.

In my Oct. 22 blog, I mentioned my curiousity over the location of Boot Hill. We arrived at the site shortly before nightfall and my father-in-law hadn't let on that this was the infamous Boot Hill of Idaho County.

I did not find grave markers for Cherokee Bob, Willoughby, or the Red-Headed Cynthia. In fact, most of the markers are listed as unknown.

There is little else remaining as a notation of Florence's existence. The Nez Perce National Forest has installed historical marker signs with information for visitors.

Through my research I also heard accounts of alpine swamps. Coming from a land where wetlands on flat country are more common, I was curious to find what the appearance of an alpine swamp might be.

We were in luck to find one just before the sun dropped below the horizon.

A trip to Florence is well worth the investment of time. Between spring and early fall, plan to head out early and spend some time visiting with the ghosts of the past.

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