Frequently Asked Questions
After reading Polly Bemis: A Chinese American Pioneer, by Priscilla Wegars, students always want to know more about Polly and Charlie Bemis. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about them.
Made as part of a 4th grade history lesson.
Questions about Polly and Charlie
One newspaper story said it was about four acres. They used much of that to grow hay to feed their horses in the winter.
She was born somewhere in the north, near Beijing, but we don't know the exact town or village.
It was Chinese custom for a girl to be owned by her father, and he could sell her if he wanted to. When she grew up and got married, her husband owned her. These customs are illegal in China now.
After she came to America, Polly said very little about her life in China. We don't know if she had any brothers and sisters or any pets. According to Chinese custom, her feet were once bound. That meant that she could not work in the fields, so her family probably lived a comfortable life at first. Later, they became poor, and her parents sold her because they had no food.
Polly never said how she felt, but she was probably very sad. When she was growing up, Chinese children were trained to respect their parents and to obey their wishes, and to not complain even if something made them unhappy.
No, she never saw them again.
We don't know what happened to them. Because it was more than 150 years ago, they would all be dead now. If she did have brothers and sisters, though, they may have descendants who would be related to Polly. Unfortunately, we can't find out anything about them because we don't know the name of the town or village in China that was Polly's original home.
Because Polly was from northern China, she spoke one dialect of Chinese. Her language was either Mandarin Chinese or an ethnic minority language. Most Chinese immigrants came to America from southern China. They spoke Cantonese or some version of it. Therefore, Polly and the other immigrants could not understand each other because their Chinese pronunciation was too different. Polly had many Caucasian friends and learned English by talking with them.
No, they did not. They got married in 1894 when Polly was 40. Although that was not too old for her to have children, she may not have wanted to have any of her own. Then, in Idaho and the West, many people were prejudiced against Chinese persons. If she and Charlie had children, the children would be half-Chinese and half-Caucasian. Some grownups might have been mean to them and some children might have teased them.
Charlie was bedridden for a couple of years before he died. He might have had a lung disease, such as tuberculosis, which was then called consumption. When their house burned, he breathed a lot of smoke. That was very bad for his health.
Polly probably had a stroke, which put her into the hospital. She never recovered, and may have died from a combination of the stroke and old age (she was over 80). Her death certificate says that she died from "chronic myocarditis," which the dictionary defines as "inflammation of the muscular part [myocardium] of the heart wall."
Charlie is buried where he died, which is at the Shepp Ranch. Although Polly was originally buried in Grangeville, Idaho, people later exhumed her (dug her up) and reburied her next to her house on the Salmon River. In China, husbands and wives are often buried in separate places.
Polly used a wood stove for cooking, and their house was roofed with wood shingles. Maybe the chimney got too hot and set the ceiling on fire or some sparks blew out of the chimney and set the wooden roof on fire.
We don't know what Polly's first name was. Some people have called her "Lalu" but we don't know where that name comes from. Her last name is on her marriage certificate. It was "Nathoy" or maybe "Hathoy."
They could buy seeds at stores in Warren or order them from a catalogue. Both Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward had catalogues then.
Questions about their neighbors:
Charlie Shepp died in 1936, three years after Polly died. Pete Klinkhammer died in 1970, age 89.
Charlie Shepp is buried on the Shepp Ranch next to Charlie Bemis. Pete Klinkhammer is buried in Grangeville's Prairie View Cemetery.
Questions about their animals
We don't know what the cougar's name was. If you had a pet cougar, what would you name it?
Since the cougar ate at the table with them, they probably fed it table scraps. That long ago, I don't think there were any companies that made special cat food and dog food in cans or bags.
One written source says, "Eventually the cougar had to be put away." What do you think that means? Why do you think the cougar had to be put away?
Questions about Johnny and Gay Carrey
Gay and Johnny both grew up and got married. Later, they died. Johnny is buried in the Riggins, Idaho, cemetery.
Johnny was a sheep rancher. He wrote books about the history of the Salmon River and Idaho County. He also wrote poetry.
The information about Polly that is in the book comes from newspaper and magazine articles about her when she was alive. The Idaho State Historical Society Library and Archives in Boise has many photographs of her. The Historical Museum at St. Gertrude in Cottonwood, Idaho also has many photographs of her, and they have some of her personal belongings such as clothes, needlework, jewelry, and household items. The Bicentennial Historical Museum in Grangeville, Idaho has Polly's wedding ring.