Shoshone County, Idaho GenWeb Project

Idaho's Lady Sourdough, A Woman Miner, Ida Stedman


Russell Arden Bankson, "Interesting Westerners: Idaho's Lady Sourdough, A Woman Miner," Sunset Magazine (July 1923): 44-45.

FACING the perils of lonely mountain trails is a commonplace experience for Mrs. Ida Stedman. Wielding pick and shovel in mine tunnels and managing crews of miners has been to her merely a part of the day's work. Mrs. Stedman is known as the woman sourdough of the Coeur d' AIenes and there is hardly a mining district in the West where she has not prospected or operated a mine. She has done these things for twenty-five year---ever since she was a young bride.

"It is all in my blood so strong that it is a part of my very life," she told me.

We were sitting in the "parlor" of her neat little log cabin on the property of a mine which she is operating in the Wallace district of north Idaho. Her face lights up when she tells of experiences she and her husband, the late L. W. Stedman, had in "sourdoughing" through the wilderness.

"My husband was a real pioneer of the hills, being one of the prospectors who first went into Leadville in 1878," she said. "In 1897 I came out to Montana from the east and there I met and married him. That same year we headed out into the wilderness from Kalispell, Montana. Together we went into the unknown country. We were among the first to discover coal in the Crows Nest pass district of British Columbia but the Canadian government would not let us locate coal claims then. Later we returned to the Coeur d' Alenes. In one summer we packed one thousand miles, prospecting as we went along. There were many times when we faced death on the trail, but no matter what the adventure, we went into it together.

"I have shot grizzlies when it meant death to miss them. I have known what it was to be cold and hungry. I have rushed from my home to save my life, and watched great snow-slides wipe out that home and all else that we possessed. Yet I have stuck to it, even since my husband's death, for the lure of the prospector's trail has never left me. I don't have to go up into the hills and work in the mines. It is no longer a matter of necessity. Our labor has not been for nothing. We have struck it in several places. I do it, though, because I love to do it and because I can not let my husband's work drop. His death left me desolate, for we were constant pals and companions. Together we located the two mining properties which I am now opening up---this one here in the Wallace district and another group of claims in the Kooskia district of central Idaho.

"Oh, yes, I have had callouses on my hands from mucking ore and I have bossed crews of I. W. W. mine workers who were most rebellious. But I like hard work and adventure. I have followed the occupation for which I was best suited. l think every person should do that, regardless of sex. If a woman wishes to be a miner I believe it is her privilege, just as much as it is the privilege of a man to choose his vocation. My boy is growing-up and I am looking forward to the time when he will want to take the trail with me---if his inclinations are that way."

Accompanied by her son Donald, Mrs. Stedman went to their properties in the Kooskia district last fall and they did all the assessment work themselves.

Living a man's life and doing a man's work have not detracted from Mrs. Stedman's natural refinement. Her home in the heart of the mountains is tastefully arranged. When she doffs the rough clothing of a miner and lays aside pick and pack-saddle she wears dainty gowns.

Mrs. Ida Stedman owns and "bosses" various mining properties in Idaho. Ida and Idaho have been pards, as it were, ever since she and her pioneer prospecting husband went on their honeymoon into the wilds of the state. when not on the trail she done the usual frills of femininity.

Her voice is quiet and well modulated. Her familiarity with ores, mines and mining terms is bewildering to the layman. She is an expert on minerals and at the mine she is now managing and which is producing she is the actual "boss." She is a director on several mining company boards an active participant in mining transactions of the Coeur d' Alenes, and her counsel is frequently sought by mining men who respect her dear, keen understanding of their problems.

But always she is thinking of the open trails.

Thanks to Matt Friend, state coordinator, for tracking down this article!