I found it years ago on a back shelf in an antique shop in beautiful downtown Wallace, Idaho. With "$19.95" written in pencil on the inside page, I could tell that Steamboats in the Timber (1952) was read and reread many times. There were other charms, too: The uncredited cover art is retro-cool. (That's a facsimile of it on this week's cover.) And I was already familiar with author Ruby El Hult, who also wrote the classic Lost Mines and Treasures of the Pacific Northwest.
But there was mystery, too, hidden in that musty stack of books. I was not aware of Steamboats, but I knew snippets of old steamboat lore surrounding Lake Coeur d'Alene. I wanted to learn more. And I didn't know that El Hult was a local, having grown up on the shores of the lake, on a farm near Harrison. Then I flipped to the dedication page: "To my sister, Emerald Hult, age 5, who was taken away on a steamer to Coeur d'Alene. Had she returned, my whole life would have been different."
Wow! Where do you start? Was poor little Emerald taken to town to see a doctor, never to recover? Did she leave with a better-off Aunt and Uncle for a new life in San Francisco? Did she just vanish? Ruby doesn't say another word, and neither does the Internet. History can be very personal, indeed, as every passing steamer must have reopened El Hult's emotional wound.
Of course I bought it, and we used El Hult's book as inspiration for this week's cover story, which is also featured in our new Inlander Histories, Volume 2 — on sale now at some of your favorite shops. In our new collection, which follows up last year's Volume 1, we're republishing Inlander stories from as far back as 1994.
Did you know that one of the biggest fights between labor and capital was waged here on the streets of Spokane? Or that the Northwest microbrewery craze can be traced to the Lewis and Clark expedition, when a clever private conjured suds from a cache of semi-moldy camas bread? (William Clark declared it "excellent beer.") Or that the most existential passage in American fiction has to do with a man named Flitcraft who was hiding out in Spokane?
Some history sits right in front of our eyes, in that giant steamboat propeller at the Museum of North Idaho, for example, or in the carved beasts of the Looff Carrousel. Just like fading chapters of our collective story, the best books keep a little mystery between their covers. I hope readers come across either or both volumes of Inlander Histories and get hooked. ♦
More To The Story
Shortly after this issue hit the streets, we heard from a Deer Park reader named Don McConnell, who sent this email:
I just read your article, "Hooked on History" in the Inlander and was interested in the story of Emerald Hult. I am a military historian currently working on articles about soldiers stationed in Washington Territory prior to the Civil War. The online tools I rely on for military research are useful for other genealogical research.
Others have probably sent you similar information on Emerald. If not, below is what I found on a girl I believe is mentioned in your article. Attached is her death certificate from Ancestry.com. She is buried in Coeur D'Alene in Forest Cemetery, plot D-27-06, according to Find-a-Grave.
Here is the death certificate information McConnell sent our way:
Name: Emerald Leone Hult
Birth Date: 26 Feb 1915
Birth Place: Idaho
Cause of Death: Appendicitis
Death Date: 1 Jan 1920
Death Place: Coeur D'Alene, Kootenai
Father's name: J.A. Hult
Father's Birth Place: Minnesota
Mother Name: Caroline Pearson
Mother's Birth Place: Sweden
Certificate Year: 1920Certificate Number: 030131