Polly Bemis, The Chinese Immigrant Who Built a Legacy in Idaho

Polly Bemis may not be a household name, but her legacy lives on in Idaho thanks to her tenacity and kindness in the remote and unforgiving Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

Born in Peking, China, in 1853, Polly arrived on horseback in Warren, a small mining town, in 1872. Her journey to the U.S. was long and traumatic after her parents, facing drought and famine, sold her to be a concubine.

After leaving her Chinese owner, she met Charlie Bemis, whom she lived with and nursed back to health after he suffered a near-fatal shot to the face in a gambling dispute. Polly managed Charlie’s boarding house while being the only woman living in Warren at the time.

The two married in 1893, helping Polly secure U.S. citizenship, and they built their lives homesteading. The couple’s ranch, nicknamed “Polly’s Place,” became a refuge for locals and travelers. Polly sold produce from her garden and served as an ambassador to the area until her passing in 1933.

The Polly Bemis Ranch is now a National Historic Site where travelers can visit via a jet boat or whitewater rafting trip to see her cabin and historical artifacts from her life.

Polly Bemis’s early life was marked with trauma, but her kindness and tenacity brought her marriage, happiness and a lasting legacy in Idaho’s remove wilderness. Photo courtesy of Idaho Department of Tourism

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