Kittie Wilkins: Idaho's Horse Queen

As part of honoring Women’s History Month, we sat in on this month’s Fettuccine Forum of the Boise City Department of Arts & History that featured Idaho State University Professor Philip Homan’s discussion of Kittie Wilkins, Idaho’s Horse Queen. She certainly did not fit what one might expect of a “horse trader” at the time, especially not one whose business had such national and international influence. Described by many as a “womanly horsewoman,” Kittie had a demure demeanor and adherence to Victorian dress that belied her trade of raising and selling horses in what most deem a tough industry. Recognized for the largest single sale of 8,000 head at one time to a horse dealer in Kansas City, Missouri (horses were destined to support the British Boer War in South Africa), Kittie had business acumen that was as keen as her commitment to feminine dress. One media interview quotes Kittie’s description of selectively breeding range horses for their desirable traits. “I have stallions running upon the range that have cost me … fifteen hundred dollars each …. I have Percherons, Clydes, and Hambletonians …. You understand we horse breeders must keep up with fashion as well as do milliners and dressmakers,” Kittie said in another interview.

We asked Professor Homan if he thought it possible that some of the horses Kittie raised were ancestors to the wild horse herd that comprise the Saylor Creek Wild Horse Herd Management Area south of Glenns Ferry. He responded that it is very likely that they are, considering the locations that Kittie ran and watered her horses – including on the Inside Desert and at Dove Springs within the Jarbidge Field Office. The BLM manages wild horse herds on public rangelands and carefully considers traits like good conformation and color when we return wild horses to Herd Management Areas to maintain horse numbers within the Appropriate Management Level. If you would like to learn more about Kittie Wilkins, Idaho’s Horse Queen, you may consider watching Idaho Public Television’s production “Taking the Reins.”

Kittie Wilkins San Francisco, 1876, (Owyhee County Historical Society
Kittie Wilkins, San Francisco, 1876 (Owyhee County Historical Society)
Kittie Wilkins, Denver CO 1893 courtesy Mountain Home Historical Museum
Kittie Wilkins, Denver, CO, ca. 1893; Courtesy Mountain Home Historical Museum
Driving a Bargain; Chicago Tribune 2/3/1892
Driving a Bargain... Chicago Tribune 2/3/1892
Kittie Wilkins; Idaho State Historical Society; "Blooded Horses shipped from Massachusetts
"Blooded Horses shipped from Massachusetts" Idaho State Historical Society. According to Kittie's interview "A Woman Horse Trader" in the New York Sun on January 3, 1897, the Wilkins Horse Company had 41 blooded stallions at the time.