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Idah Meacham Strobridge

At a glance:

Born: June 9, 1855
Died: February 8, 1932
Maiden Name: Meacham
Race/nationality/ethnic background:  Caucasian
Married: Samuel Hooker (Whitmarsh) Strobridge
Children: three sons, died in infancy
Primary city and county of residence and work: Lassen Meadows (Humboldt County)
Major fields of work: ranching, mining, bookbinding, writer, cultural affairs
Other role identities: wife, mother 

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Biography: Strobridge image

Idah Meacham was an only child, born on June 9, 1855, to parents who were ranching at Moraga Valley, California. While still a young, impressionable girl, she moved with her family that homesteaded a ranch in northern Nevada at Lassen Meadows about halfway between Winnemucca and Lovelock. There her father built the Humboldt House, a popular hotel and cafe, which served as a rest stop for many travelers passing through Nevada from all over the country and the world. In Idah’s everyday life she watched wagon trains headed west, the new railroad bringing more homesteaders, Mexican vaqueros, Chinese placer miners and Native Americans from the Paiute and Bannock tribes. From this eclectic childhood, Idah went on to pursue her formal education at the Mills Seminary in Oakland, California, starting in 1878 and graduating in 1883.

While there, she met and married Samuel Hooker (Whitmarsh) Strobridge of Auburn, California, who was the adopted son of James H. Strobridge. The young married couple moved back to Nevada and ranched on land near her parents which was a gift from Idah’s father. She gave birth to three sons, Earl, Gerald and Kenneth, before her life spun out of control, presenting her with tragedies that would have broken most women’s spirits.

Her first-born son died the day after his birth. Then came the devastating winter of 1888-1889 when the blizzards killed most of the family’s herd of cattle and pneumonia took the lives of her husband and one other son. She was left with just one child who died a year later. Suddenly, Idah was stripped of everyone in her family except her parents. Later, in "The Lessons of the Desert," she left behind a haunting description of the desert that must have come partly from this experience:

"Just a little flour, a piece of bacon, a handful of coffee, one’s blankets, enough clothing for comfort—that is all. When one stops to think of it, it is astonishing to find how little one really needs, to live. It is only after you have been on a rough trip of weeks, when it was needful that you should debate well and long over not every pound, but literally every ounce of extra weight that you were to carry—casting aside all things but those that were vital to your absolute needs—that you came to realize how much useless stuff one goes through life a-burdened with."

Idah did not give up on life after her tragic losses; instead she found solace in her work and in the vast, silent Nevada desert. In July 1895, a Mining and Scientific Press reporter found Idah hard at work on the "Lost Mine" claim:

"...persistent searches were made for the mine, but each time were abandoned until this spring when a cultured woman of the new age appeared in the person of Mrs. Ida M. Strobridge, in company with a young man lately employed on her father’s ranch near Humboldt. She is a most remarkably bright woman, and will climb a precipitous cliff where the average man would not dare to venture. In addition to mining she looks after the business of her father’s cattle ranch, and is quite a sportswoman and would probably carry off first prize in a shooting tournament, as she brings down her game every time. She wears a handsome brown denim costume, which she dons in climbing the very steep and rugged cliffs of the Humboldt Mountains. She has located five claims on the lode, laid out a new camp and named it after her father, "Meacham," and reorganized the district anew as the "Humboldt"; she has four men to work and is superintending operations herself. She has also located the water and springs flowing over her claims, which are nine miles east of the Central Pacific Railroad, at the Humboldt House. She is the New Woman...Mrs. Strobridge is now engaged running a tunnel under the shaft where the vein is showing up finely, and if the present appearance is maintained the New Woman will in due time be reckoned a millionairess, and all by her indomitable will and perseverance. She is now sacking ores for shipment."

The luck predicted did not occur, and possibly to make ends meet, Idah began two other projects at her ranch house. One was the "Artemisia Bindery," a book binding business established in the attic of her ranch home. The other was to begin writing at the age of forty, first under the pseudonym of "George W. Craiger." She published three volumes of books, most based on her experiences and love of the desert. Editors of Sagebrush Trilogy, a compilation of those works, call her "Nevada’s first woman of letters."

By May of 1901, she was finished with the ranching and mining phase of her life. She sold her property and moved to Los Angeles with her parents. Here she embarked on a totally different lifestyle among the cultural leaders of Southern California. Among her friends were authors like Mary Austin, and Charles Fletcher Lummis, publisher of the literary magazine Land of Sunshine, later renamed Out West.

Actually, she stopped writing at age fifty-four and spent the last twenty-two years of her life working on civic clubs and genealogical societies in the Los Angeles area. She was a member of the Friday Morning Club, the Southern California Press Club, and the League of American Pen Women, as well as the National Genealogical Society and its state organizations in California, Connecticut and New Jersey.

Although she lived her final years among the coastal cultural crowd of Southern California, she apparently never lost her love of the desert solitude. She created a special retreat in San Pedro called "The Wickieup" which she described to a Los Angeles Examiner reporter in 1904:

"It is not alone the open which attracts me and the untrammeled natures of the people. It is the life utterly without pretense. I am not a city woman, neither do I like that country life which savors of the city. I despise the suburb. An existence wholly away from those conventional things hampered by man is what I long for. It is the life on the desert wholly apart from everything of pretense. I cannot give it up entirely and so I have furnished in fitting manner the 'Wickieup,' my substitute for the desert... "

Idah died on February 8, 1932, leaving only two cousins, one of whom she made a home with in Los Angeles. She is buried in Oakland’s Mountain View cemetery next to her parents, husband and sons.

Biographical sketch by Victoria Ford

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Published works:

Strobridge, Idah Meacham. In Miners' Mirage-Land. Los Angeles: Baumgardt Publishing Company, 1904.

Strobridge, Idah Meacham. The Loom of the Desert. Los Angeles: Artemisia Bindery, 1907

Strobridge, Idah Meacham. The Land of the Purple Shadows. Los Angeles: Artemisia Bindery, 1909

Strobridge, Idah Meacham. Sagebrush Trilogy, Idah Meacham Strobridge and Her Works. Reno and Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press, 1990.

Sources of Information:

Zanjani, Sally. A Mine of Her Own, Women Prospectors in the American West, 1850-1950. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

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