Post by Philip A. Homan
Photo of Kittie Wilkins courtesy of Mountain Home Historical Museum, Mountain Home, ID
The second episode in Idaho Public Television’s new Idaho Experience series will feature Kittie Wilkins, the Horse Queen of Idaho, one of the most well-known horsewomen in the late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century United States.
The boss of the Wilkins Horse Company, headquartered at the Diamond Ranch in the Bruneau Valley of Owyhee County, Idaho, Wilkins ran 10,000 horses, all branded with her famous Diamond brand. The company’s herd was said by the newspapers to be the largest owned by one family in the American West.
According to the newspapers, the “Queen of Diamonds,” as Wilkins was also known, was the only woman at the turn of the twentieth century whose sole occupation was horse dealing. In fact, she sold horses by the trainloads. From 1887 to 1902, she traveled each year to the stockyards of the Midwest, helping to supply America’s horsepower. Newspapers along the Union Pacific announced her arrival with headlines like “The Only One of Her Kind.”
However, Wilkins was no Calamity Jane. Trained as a classical pianist at the first college west of the Mississippi to give the baccalaureate to women, she told the newspapers, “Next to petting my favorite horses, I like nothing better than to sit down at my piano and let my fingers drift along the keys ….” Indeed, she was an ambassador not only of the American West but also of Western American womanhood. Solidly Victorian, she subscribed to many of the tenets of the so-called Cult of True Womanhood. Nevertheless, as not only a horse dealer but also a commercial traveler, she was successful as a woman in a profession that not only took her out of the home and into the marketplace for months at a time but that had also helped to define American manhood at the turn of the twentieth century.
Wilkins also made what was said by the newspapers to be the largest sale of horses in the West. In 1900, she sold 8,000 head in a single sale to be shipped by the British Army Remount Department from New Orleans for the South African War, 1899-1902. According to statistics, Wilkins supplied over seven percent of all American horses sent to South Africa for the war.
“Taking the Reins” will premiere on IdahoPTV on Thursday, May 24, at 8:30 pm MDT, and will repeat on Sunday, May 27, at 7:30 pm MDT. The episode will be available for free streaming online approximately May 29.