With a life that included two husbands, nine children, a father killed in a gunfight, a stepfather lynched in Lewiston and a son-in-law convicted of manslaughter, Isabella Kelly Benedict Robie’s story is one that should not be overlooked by history.Troy historian Herman Ronnenberg works to preserve the events of her life in his biography, “Pioneer Mother on the River of No Return.”
Born in America of Irish immigrants, Isabella came to Florence, Idaho County, with her family when she was 14. The town bulged with gold miners and bustled with the gun fights and vigilante justice the early West is known for. Isabella figured into this tale when she eloped with the town’s blacksmith, Samuel Benedict, against her father’s wishes. She was 15. Benedict was 27. Their son, Ulysses Samuel Grant Benedict, was the first Euro-American child born in Idaho County.
The couple were living at the confluence of White Bird Creek and the River of No Return in 1877 when the Nez Perce War began at their feet. After her husband was shot by Indians, Isabella fled with her two young children on foot up the White Bird trail. For days she hid them in the brush, giving her baby girl drinks of water from her little shoe. They encountered the U.S. Cavalry, whose attempt at rescuing her and the children would be laughable if the situation wasn’t so dire. In the end, it was a Nez Perce man who helped save her.
Isabella lived until 1911, when she died four days after a stroke. She is buried in the White Bird Cemetery. The book contains a biography, index, photos and letters from the period. It goes into detail about the war and the communities Isabella and her descendants helped shape, including Florence, White Bird, Grangeville and Slate Creek.
Ronnenberg is the author of “Beer and Brewing in the Inland Northwest,” “John Lemp: The Beer Baron of Boise” and several other books.
“Pioneer Mother on the River of No Return”
By Herman Ronnenberg
Heritage Witness Reflections Publishing
218 pages, $14.95