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Ada Tingley, Lady Trapper of the Bruneau Country

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

In March, 1917 Mrs. Ada Tingly began trapping predatory animals for profit. She trapped throughout Bruneau Country, a section of Idaho centered around the town of Bruneau, south of Mountain Home. Her husband Frank had been working as a trapper for several years already for the United States government. Describing the beginning of her job as a trapper, Ada said "when I first started trapping on my own, it was the first of March in 1917 and during the month I made $48. I asked my husband for a saddle and a few more traps. My son, Alton, who was too small to leave at home, I took with me."

Setting traps up to ten miles away from camp, Ada mothered a child and carried out the laborious task of setting traps in the remote wilderness of the Bruneau. In July that same year, Frank and Ada moved on to work the Juniper Mountains of Southwestern Idaho. While trapping the region that September, government inspector, L.J. Goldman, paid a visit to their camp as Ada returned with four coyotes slung over her horse. The inspector was so impressed he offered Ada a job trapping for the United States Government, making her the first woman to be employed as a trapper by the federal government. Her starting salary was $75.00 a month, or approximately $1,516.97 in 1917. Trapping together with her husband back in the Bruneau Country centered in Hammett, Idaho, the couple purchased 14 pack horses so they could increase the prey they could trap. Ada’s salary increased to $90 a month, or $1,820.36.

In 1918, while trapping around “Indian Hot Springs, where the Jarbridge River enters the Bruneau Canyon,” Frank and Ada, as well as Frank’s father, caught the Influenza, or the “Spanish Flu” a terrible malady that actually started in Fort Riley, Kansas. Held up in a tent near the Canyon, the elder Tingly died and was buried at the base of “the 2,000 foot cliff where the Jarbridge and the West Fork meet.” Describing her time trapping the Bruneau Canyon, Ada wrote “we covered about 40 miles of the canyon and it was awfully rough. There were all kinds of Indian graves, caves and ladders. The Indians used to wrap willows and make ladders maybe 10, 20, maybe 40 feet long to get up to the canyon rim.” She also claimed to have had Idaho’s Wild Man as a neighbor, describing how “he started up to our cabin in the spring one year. He came up to help with the roundup but when he saw there were a lot of men there he broke and ran down into the canyon again.” Captured later, Ada remembers that the Wild Man of the Bruneau turned out to be a stone mason from Nevada with a swollen brain which, when operated on, relieved the pressure and led to a return to sanity. Reporting from the time, however, indicated that he was actually a prospector from Finland and was able to return to his home country when healed.

The Tingley’s trapped the Bruneau until 1921, when they were forced to stop their trade due to Mr. Tingley’s ill health. Ada began to cook at the Owyhee Hotel in Boise and did so for many years. Frank died in 1951 and is buried in Boise’s Morris Hill Cemetery. Ada lived until 1966; she is buried next to Mr. Tingley. While trapping, Ada averaged 16 animals a month and she caught animals such as coyotes, bobcats, wolves, bears, and mountain lions. In one month, Ada caught 46 coyotes killed, her personal record.

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