Charlie and Polly Bemis in Warrens

USDA Forest Service
Payette National Forest, Heritage Program
July 2002
Kathleen Prouty

Lalu Nathoy, locally known as Polly, was born in Peking, in the northern reaches of China. As famine stripped the provinces of food, Lalu's family fell on hard times and traveled south. In 1869, Lalu's father exchanged his daughter for money to by seed in order to save the remaining family members )Elsensohn 1987: 16-18). In 1871, with two other young Chinese girls, she was shipped to the United States from Hong Kong (Idaho Statesman, 1924, reprinted 7-8-1954). Lalu was eighteen when she landed in San Francisco harbor An old woman smuggled her up to Portland where she was sold to a Chinese resident of Warrens for $2,500. The buyer hired another Chinese man to bring her by pack train to Warrens (Gizycka 1923).

C.J. Czizek, former State Mine Inspector and manager for the Little Giant Mine in the Warrens District (Idaho County Free Press 1919: p.1), was a friend and resident in Polly Bemis' boarding house in Warrens. In a 1933 interview by The Idaho Statesman, Czizek said he knew Polly first about 45 years ago. "At that time (in the 1870's)," he said, "there were about 1500 white men and 1500 Chinese working in the mines and but one woman, a Mrs. Johnson. 'Big Jim' an exceedingly tall handsome Chinaman, was the leader of the Chinese colony… He managed all their affairs. He always dressed in elegant brocaded silk robes and wore a mandarin cap with a scarlet button on the top. He brought a half a dozen Chenese women to the camp.

It was in Warrens that Polly met Charles A. Bemis, the son of Alfred Bemis for who Bemis Point, once the richest property in Warrens is named. Czizek said, "The younger Bemis was a jewler in a Connecticut town and his father persuaded him to come out to the camp. The easterner fell for Polly at once and they became great friends (The Idaho Statesman, September 24, 1933)." Czizek also declared that Polly was not a poker bride as was widely believed.

Charles became involved in the saloon business early in life and by 1880 owned a saloon in Warrens. Polly's name first appears in the Warrens census in 1880 (the census lists her place of birth as Peking, her age as 27). She is recorded as living in the same residence as Charles Bemis. Her occupation is listed as "housekeeping" (U.S. Census, Washington (Warrens) Precinct, Idaho County, Idaho Territory).

Other newspaper reports form The Warrens Times give brief glimpses into the life of Polly and Charles. In 1887, the Bemis' house burned in a fire and all but some gold dust and coin was lost. In 1889, Charlie had the job of deputy sheriff in Warrens. Also , during that year on July 4th, he raced his horse, named Dash, twice and lost. Charlie Bemis was shot in the face during a gambling brawl in September 16, 1890. The bullet shattered his cheek and he was in danger of dying from his wounds. When the doctor gave up on him Polly nursed him back to health.

In 1893, the couple bought a mining claim near the Salmon River, 1 miles from Warrens. Charles A. Bemis and Polly Nathoy were married on August 13, 1894. Herb McDowell, a Warrens resident recalled that every summer they would come to town to visit and to sell at the things they had raised on the ranch (McDowell 1987:2). In 1904, a devastating fire burned the business district of Warrens taking with it several buildings owned by Charley Bemis, including the saloon.

The Bemis's went on to become legends in the Salmon River country. They have become the subjects of many a romantic tale in books and even a movie, A Thousand Pieces of Gold, based loosely on their life. Charlie Bemis passed away on Oct. 22, 1922 and Polly on November 6, 1933. They are remembered as possessing the spirit of adventure and tenacity required in the early days of the Idaho frontier.