New book ‘Wicked Boise’ explores injustices in Idaho history

“Wicked Boise,” by local author Janelle Scheffelmaier, details what she says are the most “wicked” parts of Boise's history.

“Wicked Boise,” by local author Janelle Scheffelmaier, details what she says are the most “wicked” parts of Boise’s history.

Arcadia Publishing

In tales of murders, vigilantes, unjust laws and questions of morality, the upcoming book ”Wicked Boise” uncovers many of the city’s darkest moments.

The book, written by local author Janelle M. Scheffelmaier, who described it as “historical true crime”, is an installment of the “Wicked” series owned by Arcadia Publishing. The series features over 110 stand-alone books illustrating the dark pasts of cities across the United States.

“Most of us don’t take a lot of time to think about what our city was like 100, 150 years ago,” Scheffelmaier told the Idaho Statesman in an interview. “The stories were heartbreaking at times, what happened to folks.”

The most recent addition to the series, “Wicked Boise” looks through Idaho’s history from the early 1800s to the 2010s, revealing that Boise harbors “a few skeletons in its closet.”

In bringing said skeletons to light, Scheffelmaier found that the same question often appeared in the forefront of every conflict.

“What one person thinks is the absolutely right thing to do, there are people who 100% do not approve of that,” Scheffelmaier said. “The big question is, how can we decide what’s right and what’s wrong? But more importantly, how can we come to some agreement in the middle?”

The book contains 14 stories divided among four topics: vigilantism in southern Idaho, prostitution in early Boise, prohibition, and morality laws, which were created to police what lawmakers considered to be immoral behavior.

“This is one of those areas where right and wrong are very gray,” Scheffelmaier said. “These laws are passed, you know, to help make sure the right thing happens, people do the right thing, but in some cases, that’s not what ended up happening. All the way.”

Boise’s historical ‘true crime’

Although the title suggests the outcomes of these historical tales are anything less than cheerful, the lead-up to the end proves that the lines between unfortunate and malicious are often blurred.

Scheffelmaier ends the book with the story of a widow with “a heart of stone” believed to have shot her husband, whose portrayal as a confused young woman during a trial for her husband’s murder succeeded in getting the jury to sympathize with her and give her a light sentence despite all the conflicting evidence. Once the woman learned that her lover, whom she had blamed for the murder, had been hung, she displayed no emotion and was simply grateful that she would “still be a young woman” once she was released.

From being accused as a possible murder suspect to being perceived as a victim herself, the question of whether widow Jennie Daley was innocent to deceivingly use the court’s sympathy in her favor is left unanswered.

“I thought that was probably the most actually wicked thing that I wrote about in that book,” Scheffelmaier said.

Other stories in the book date to before Boise was even named as the state’s capital. The book’s first story, contained in the prologue, “The Stolen Capital,” makes it known that the city’s path to becoming Idaho’s most powerful city was not without its deception.

Lewiston, the state’s most populous settlement amid the gold rush, was confident in its future status as the state’s capital. When the acting governor of the territory rode into Lewiston with a military escort and took the territorial seal, which violated court orders suggested by northern lawyers, a rivalry between northern and southern Idaho was born. Boise was ruled as Idaho’s capital a year later.

“It’s a feud that this author — a North Idaho native living and working in southern Idaho ⁠ — can attest still exist to this day,” Scheffelmaier wrote in the book.

The word “history” is not reserved for events outside our own lifetimes. The book makes reference to a 1994 case in which a gay Idaho man was convicted of sex crimes based on the state’s “crime against nature” law, despite the same “crime” being legal for a straight man.

“These points are still very relevant,” Scheffelmaier said. “I think we can look at a lot of the things that have been happening in the news lately about someone wanting to pass a law, or do this because it follows their moral beliefs but doesn’t follow everyone’s.”

Idaho history you won’t find in history books

In conducting research for the book, Scheffelmaier spent much of her time in the state archives by the Old Idaho Penitentiary, as well as looking through old newspaper archives at the Boise Public Library or at her home.

One archive source frequently mentioned throughout the book is the Idaho Statesman, which Scheffelmaier said helped her find documented accounts of people and events in Boise throughout the years.

“So many of those aren’t really in a history book, anywhere,” Scheffelmaier said. “So that’s really where I spent a lot of time, was digging into old newspapers.”

Another valuable source was a 1991 master’s thesis written on prostitution in early Boise by a Boise State student, Jo Anne Russell.

“That was an invaluable source, and I would like to like, buy her a drink or something for all the work that she did that I was able to take advantage of.”

The book’s epilogue once again turns to the question of what is fair and just. With the passage of time, the growth of the city and the introduction to new problems and ideas, what can history teach us?

“Is it what’s best for everyone? That question doesn’t ever go away,” Scheffelmaier said. “I think that those questions are just going to come more and more to the forefront as more people live here and the diversity increases and we come into contact with more people that think differently than we do.”

Two books centered on Idaho cities, Coeur d’Alene and Lewiston, already exist in the “Wicked” series. Boise will be the third.

This will be Scheffelmaier’s second book, which she was approached to write by Arcadia Publishing after their search for an author to take on the project.

“Wicked Boise” is scheduled to be released on Monday, June 13, on the Arcadia Publishing website and in bookstores. Scheffelmaier will be speaking and signing books at 11:00 am Saturday, July 9, at the Old Idaho Penitentiary.


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