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  • Writer's pictureWilliam F. Stratton

How Idaho Ike Went Into The Show Business

Updated: Dec 31, 2021

By Frank N. Stratton

The Olympian, November 1903.

IDAHO IKE, aroused from sweet slumber, wearily drew on a few articles of clothing and stumbled sleepily after the straggling procession of citizens hurrying to the wreck.

“Seems like some folks is allers in a rush,” he yawned. “Reckon them cars’ll stay thar fer a while? What’s th’ use uv hurryin’.”

He seated himself comfortably upon a great gray boulder a short distance from the track, and calmly contemplated the confusion.

Dimmed and deadened by the pall-like mists of the morning, the flitting forms of rescued and rescuers, the roar of escaping steam, the crackling of lurid flames, and the lamentations of hysterical passengers formed a miniature pandemonium suddenly projected into that land of mute mountains and calm canon, whose heights and recesses had hitherto echoed only the voices of adventurous gold-seekers, the cries of wild beasts, and the semi-daily whistle of a passing locomotive.

A man, lean and long-haired, another, short and rotund, and a woman leading a sobbing little golden-haired girl, issued dejectedly from the envelope of mist and approached Idaho Ike’s perch.

“What’s th’ matter with th’ kid?” Ike called out.

“Frightened, sir, only frightened,” answered the lean man, glad, apparently, to have excited interest in even so unkempt a questioner. “Nobody hurt much. But baggage burnt. Our costumes, instruments and paraphernalia all destroyed. Irreparable loss, sir, irreparable.”

“Pairfurnally—what’s them?”

“Properties, sir, stage properties. You behold, sir, the DeArcey Philharmonic Company, celebrated in the East, celebrated. Musical artists—and I do a neat turn in magic. My transformation scene—”

“And th’ kid—what does she do?”

“Marguerite? The juvenile Patti, sir. Wonderful voice—for her age—only six. You should hear her in—”

“An’ ye need a grub-stake.”

“I beg pardon.”

“What fer?”

“Grub-stake? I don’t quite understand—”

“Oh, I say yer up against it—busted —stranded.”

“Ah. Yes. True, sir. Quite true. Nothing left but our tickets. And booked for Yellow Rock to-morrow night.”

Idaho Ike slid down from his perch. “Foller me,” he commanded.

The DeArcey Philharmonic Company obeyed. In their distress they would have followed anybody.

Down the one street of the straggling town, to the foot of the rise across the gulch, marched the queer procession. Idaho Ike halted.

“Lemme carry th’ little gal,” he said, half imperiously, half entreatingly. “It’s a hard climb.”

The child nestled in the long, strong arms, her tired, golden head on the flannel-shirted shoulder. Straight up the slope they toiled, to the rude “hotel” hastily erected to accommodate the miners engaged in developing the “Lucky Fall” mine.

“Make yerselves to hum,” said Ike, regretfully surrendering his burden. “I’m boss here, an’ ye’ll git th’ best we got. Ye’re a-goin’ to show here tonight Ye’ve got a date with Mister Isaac Irick, manager. That’s me. I’m a-goin’ into—”

“But, my dear sir,” ejaculated the lean man, “impossible! No instruments—no opera house—no music—no properties—”

“Dem th’ properties! What kind o’ instruments do ye need ?”

“Well, a piano, two violins, and—”

“Pianer! Why, pardner, they hain’t no pianer in a hundred mile o’ here— ner violins, neither.”

The long-haired man groaned, and wrung his bony hands.

“Ef ye could make out with a fiddle—Sant Cox has got a fiddle—an’ Dutchy’s got a flute.”

“Excellent, my dear sir, splendid! Senor Arello can play the flute. We can manage without music. If the good people will come.”

“Come? You bet th’ good people’ll come—an’ th’ bad ones, too. You jest rest up, an' look after th’ little gal, while I see th’ boys. We’ll fix it.”

To the wondering miners, called from their task, Ike, mounted on a dump-car, made his first essay at oratory.

“Fellow-cityzens—boys—owin’ to th’ wreck this mornin’ we hev strangers within our gates, an’ one uv ’em is sure a angel. They’re stranded, an’ needin’ a helpin’ hand. By which I mean th’ Dorsey Phillips Harmoniky Kumpany, includin’ th’ kid.”

“They haint askin’ fer no hand-out. They’re goin’ to give value received—by which I mean they’re a-goin’ to give a show here to-night what is a show, an’ we want to turn out hansum.”

“We’re a-goin’ to knock off work on th’ mine this arter-noon, and ye’ll all draw yer pay. Then I wants sum uv ye to hustle over to town, an’ up an’ down th’ gulch, an’ give th’ tip to th’ stragglers an’ prospectors. Th’ rest uv ye yank that loose lumber down into th’ gulch, where it widens out yander. We’re a-goin’ to build a opry house, an’ I’m a-goin’ into th’ show bizness, fer a limited time, only.”

At seven o’clock that evening numerous lanterns and innumerable stars illumined a roughly constructed stage and “dressing-room,” and a motley assemblage that filled and overflowed the four rows of plank benches.

“Why, it’s not inclosed!” exclaimed the astonished ‘DeArcey.’ “And no box-office—no tickets—no—”

“Don’t need no tickets,” drawled Idaho Ike. “You make a bit an’ ye’ll git th’ stuff. Couldn’t keep ’em out with a forty-foot fence, nohow. Now, let ’er go.”

Mrs. “DeArcey,” greeted by vociferous cheers, stepped forth upon the creaking stage, glanced confidently down upon the area of unshorn faces, rolled her eyes tragically upward toward the starry heavens, and proceeded to “let ’er go.”

Her rendition of “Der Erl Koenig,” accompanied by the wailing fiddle and flute, failed to evoke enthusiasm. Perhaps it was because Mrs. DeArcey could not sing. Perhaps it was because she was even hoarser and flatter than usual. It might have been partly for the reason that a melancholy and amazed coyote, silhouetted, far up the mountain, against the sky, had generously added his howls to hers.​To the doubtful encore the lady responded with a perpetration of “Una Voce Poco Fa,” in which the coyote assisted with redoubled vigor.

There was an ominous murmur and shifting of the audience when the singer retired.

“Lookee here,” said Idaho Ike, impatiently, “th’ boys won’t stand fer no sich bizness. They wants music. Sumthin’ lively an’ devilish. Give ’em th’ fiddle an’ flute, once.”

Mr. DeArcey and “Senor Arello” glided smilingly out of the “dressing-room” and began to droll the overture to “Poet and Peasant.” The enraptured coyote threw his whole soul into his accompaniment, and was rewarded by a volley of revolver-shots from several of the suffering audience, a proceeding so startling to the two artists that they suddenly disappeared before the “Peasant” had had his innings.

Cries of “Fake,” “Bum,” “Shoot 'em up,” followed the exit.

“I tell ye they won’t stand fer this,” Ike expostulated. “They’ve be’n lickerin’ up, an’ ye must give ’em sum music.”

“Music! Music!” cried the trembling DeArcey. “My dear sir, we are offering them the choicest work of the best masters, the soul-symphonies of—”

“Cut out yer sole simfunnys,” howled Ike. “Don’t ye know enny music—th’ Arkansaw Traveler, er—”

“Sir,” cried the long-haired man, “you insult us. We are artists ”

A chorus of wild yells, punctured by revolver shots, interrupted his protest.

“There’s a-goin’ to be fragments uv artists scattered up an’ down th’ gulch in about two minnits ef ye don’t ante up,” observed Ike.

“If I only had my properties,” whimpered the quaking “DeArcey,” as a premonitory volley of stones rattled against the walls of the “dressing- room, “I would soothe them with a manifestation of magic—”

“It’ll take some manyfestashuns uv magic to git ye out us this,” cried Ike, wrathfully. “What’d ye tell me ye could play fer? Ye’ve bunkoed th’ boys into turnin’ out to hear a lot uv—”

The little girl ran to him, pulled him down, and whispered something in his ear, eyeing her parents guiltily.

“That's th' stuff,” cried Ike jubilantly. “Give 'em a song,” and he pushed her toward the stage.

The “DeArcey” interposed.

“Never, sir, never, shall my child descend—”

“Git out’n th’ way,” yelled Ike, pushing him back, “unless ye want to descend into that mob.”

The child sprang fearlessly forth, and at that moment the great, round moon crested the mountain and shone down, full and glorious, upon that little, golden-haired figure, dainty in pink and white, smiling and throwing kisses right and left in all the grace and innocence of childhood. At sight of that vision, a calm like that which stilled the Sea of Galilee settled upon the clamorous crowd.

Clear and sweet as a silver bell arose the childish voice.

“It ain’t no use to sing them songs to me; I love the tunes that have the melody, Like ‘Suwanee River, ‘Dixie Lan’, an’ lots more’—”

Half way through the second verse fiddle and flute chimed softly in, and the audience swayed to and fro with the measure.

Roars of applause followed the little singer’s exit, roars that increased until she re-appeared, smiling, and singing as she came forward:

“If you ain’t got no money, you needn’t come round ’’

Then the crowd, taking the hint, arose, laughing and cheering, and another fusillade, not of stones, but of coin, some of it wrapped in greenbacks, rattled upon the stage.

“Gather it up an’ foller me,” said Idaho Ike to the long-haired man, as he swung the exhausted child to his shoulder, leaped from the rear of the stage, and started up the slope toward the “hotel.”

“One more ?” he asked.

“I’ll try,” she panted.

“Make it ‘Down On The Swanee River.’ ”

Three hundred loyal subjects followed the singer up the slope, and three hundred rough voices joined in the song with a vim that made the mountains ring.​At the door of the “hotel” Idaho Ike kissed the laughing child on both rosy cheeks, surrendered her to her mother, and pulled off his hat.

“It’s up to us, boys,” he said, as he deposited the first contribution. “Don’t crowd. Ye’ll all git a chance to chip in.”

When the morning train pulled out the little singer stood, with the happy “Company,” on the rear platform, tossing tiny kisses to the flannel-shirted throng that was sending up three cheers “fer th’ kid.”

“She is sure a peach,” muttered Idaho Ike, gazing wistfully after the disappearing train, “an’ I’m mighty proud about goin’ into th’ show bizness—fer a limited time only.”

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