Local Legends

‘Shorty’ Hill cast a long shadow

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY DAVID WAHL
Photo courtesy David Wahl


Riding into the past with renowned stagecoach driver, ranch hand & bootlegger of north central Idaho Miles Kelly “Shorty” Hill was a legend in his time as a cowboy, ranch hand, teamster and stagecoach driver for Felix Warren.

Warren operated 30 coaches and 500 miles of stage lines at the peak of his career and started trips to Grangeville from Lewiston around 1902. The 84-mile journey took 12 hours.

Reader David Wahl knew Hill in the 1940s and ’50s. His family knew Hill since the ’20s, or earlier, said Wahl, who lives on a farm 6 miles east of Genesee.

Wahl preserves family legends and stories by writing them as poems, and he shared his historically-accurate poem, ”Shorty,” along with a photo of Hill, with Inland 360 as part of its Local Legends series.

“The age-old reason for poetry is to make events easier to remember,” Wahl said.

Local readers will recognize many of the landmarks in the poem, but some no longer exist. This includes the “wedded pines,” two pine trees on the Old Waha Road that were connected by one limb that grew between them. In the 1930s, the tree included a plaque that read: “The wedded pines, what God hath put together let no man put apart.”

The Waha ice cave also is mentioned. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Waha Lake was a popular summer recreation destination for the people of Lewiston. The Waha Store, built in 1892, served as its post office and stagecoach stop. According to the Lewiston Tribune archives, the store’s owner, S.C. Canter, discovered a subterranean shaft of cold air in the corner of its cellar. He enlarged it to act as a natural cooler, which never got above 38 degrees. It came to be called the ice cave.

click to enlarge A 1934 photo of the wedded pines.
A 1934 photo of the wedded pines.


SHORTY


Felix Warren built an empire on his stagecoach driving skill,

And he was proud to hire a driver by the name of "Shorty" Hill.


Shorty stayed at my Uncle's place when he was getting very old.

He'd worked for every ranch about when he was young and bold.

And I used to marvel at the stories that he told.


About a mob that lynched his brother at the Whitman County Jail.

What he'd do to the leader if he met him on the trail.


But revenge was not his to seek: His Mother made him vow.

So he composed a vengeful story which I will tell you now:


To chase the villain to Montana, there to make him beg,

Tying him to post and saddle-horn, and pulling off his leg.


Shorty was bowlegged as a wishbone; you could walk a pony through.

People thought it was from riding, but it wasn't really true.


Robbing bees in a silo, his fall was quite a fright.

He broke both of his legs and they didn't set just right.


Now both his legs were broken and he couldn't work for pay.

The Sheriff caught him stashing moonshine on a winter day.


"Come out with your hands up." He heard the Sheriff say.

"I can't, I'm on crutches." Was Shorty's quick reply.

The sheriff said "Is that you Hill? Well come out anyway!"


He drove stage to Cashup Davis' grand Hotel on Steptoe Butte.

He could ride wild bucking horses, and he knew how to shoot.


He'd ride those bucking horses and gesture toward the stands

While rolling pointy-ended cigarettes with his free left hand.


He drove the stage from Genesee, down the Lewiston hill

A steep descent along a hog-back, it was quite a thrill.


This was years before a gentler route was made:

Long before Van Arsdol designed the spiral grade.


From Lewiston on to Grangeville, and then returning back.

The route goes through Soldiers Meadows and Icicle Flat.


Through Cottonwood and Forest and past the wedded pines

The descent to Waha would straighten up your spine.


Look down the road in terror: Do you think the view is grand?

You can touch the piney-treetops if you extend your hand.


Take refreshment from the ice-cave at the Waha Store.

Twenty-One Ranch marks the miles off to the valley floor.


He drank milk at the age of 80; he had such temperate ways,

A change from the stronger stuff of his younger wilder days.


A fellow down in Oregon wrote of the early days,

About a wagon's tense descent down a tight-wound grade.

He wrote of the little driver and attested to his skill.

He got the name a little muddled: He called him Milo Hill.


The days of old horsemen were bold. They risked both life and limb.

In all times past not many men would be a match for him.


Of stature small, he gave his all, his duties to fulfil.

Recall the name, proclaim the fame, of our own Miles Kelly Hill!


  • David Wahl

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