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The Cat Lady and the Convict

In July of 1914, the American Express office in Boise received a crate addressed to Miss Bessie Kouba, at 413 Grove Street. It was a prepaid delivery and was shipped from Cleveland by the same Miss Kouba. When the expressman went to deliver the crate, he found no one by that name at that address, and the caretaker at the boarding house refused to accept the crate. A later attempt to deliver the crate was met with the same result.

Another crate or package may have been marked undeliverable and returned to sender, but this one was urgent for it contained nine fully grown cats. Not well-bred Persians, but nine regular city cats, which puzzled the expressmen who were forced to care for the felines while they searched for someone to claim them. As the cats ate up all the fish the expressmen could provide, the crate grew smellier, a fact which did not escape the attention of the city health officer and was becoming a small embarrassment for the American Express company, that had just recently almost lost $2600 of gold destined for Boise.

It was leaked to the Statesman that a telegram was received by the express company, addressed to one of the correctional officers at the penitentiary, asking if he could take possession of the cats. Unfortunately, the unnamed officer could not take responsibility for the cats, because he could not keep them at the Pen. When the Statesman inquired at the prison, none of the officers admitted to receiving the telegram. No one in the city seemed to know who this Ms. Kouba was.

Three days after receiving the crate, the expressmen had no other choice but to turn the animals over to the city veterinarian to be cared for. It was just as the cats were being dropped off that the mysterious owner appeared to claim them. Turns out, these cats were Idaho cats that had gone with Ms. Kouba while she attended business college in Cleveland. She had been delayed on her return trip, or she would have arrived the same day as her feline companions. She told the Statesman, that people probably thought she was crazy, but it meant so much to have them with her across the country.

I could not find a photo of Ms. Kouba, but I imagine she looked something like this

This part of the story has a happy ending, with the mystery being solved and the traveler being reunited with her pets. But, this is where the story gets really interesting.

Soon after, Ms. Bessie Kouba left Boise and returned to Salmon, Idaho where she had run the City News Stand before leaving for business school. She arrived in Salmon by train on November 29th, 1915, and was married to Guy Buster on the 30th. Guy had also recently returned to Salmon from Boise, not because he had been away at college, but because he was living at the penitentiary.

On April 17, 1913, Guy shot 63-year-old Henry Brown three times, killing the rancher at North Fork, Idaho in Lemhi County. Brown’s housekeeper, Mrs. Aggie, and her 15-year-old son were walking to the post office when she encountered then 22-year-old Guy Buster on the road, and the two returned to Brown’s Ranch together. Brown, who had apparently previously warned Guy to stay away from his place because “...he knew of his intimacy with Mrs. Aggie.”

Brown went after Guy with his cane, beating the young man until it broke. Guy tried to block the blows and move away, but the old man kept on, so Guy pulled his pistol and fired four times, three of the rounds striking Brown and causing instant death. Guy immediately turned himself in and he was tried on a 1st-degree murder charge, with the threat of the death penalty hanging over his head. He was convicted, but spared the noose thanks to three of the jurors’ refusal to go forth with the 1st-degree charge, but allowed a 2nd-degree murder charge to stick. The judge handed down a sentence of 10 to 30 years in the pen.

Idaho Inmate #2070- Guy Elvis Buster

A number of Guy’s friends got together to help him appeal his case, and the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that he should be granted a new trial. The sheriff retrieved Guy from prison returned him to Salmon and allowed him to marry Miss Kouba. After a change of venue to Shoshone and a delay because of Guy’s appendicitis, the second trial proceeded. When it came down to the jury, Guy was acquitted of all charges and released, but his ordeal was not over.

A number of Salmon’s citizens disagreed with the verdict given at Shoshone and gathered together to see what they could do about it. This meeting was basically the formation of a vigilance committee, groups of men who in the pioneer days came together to fight the lawlessness that pervaded the new settlements. These committees would usually vote to mete out three forms of punishment on the accused; horsewhipping, banishment, or hanging. The possibility of violence was high, and the sheriff actually warned Guy after the acquittal that he needed to be careful or risk death at the hands of the citizens.

Unlike the meetings of the vigilantes of old, the Salmon committee’s meeting was not a secret and was reported on in the paper. Those gathered decided that banishment would be the best option and sent for Guy’s father. The elder Buster had already suffered much from his son’s ordeal. He was broke from providing for his son’s legal defense and had recently gotten bested in a fistfight on the train over it. The committee told the father that Guy had to leave town immediately, but Mr. Buster begged for some mercy. He told them that Guy could live on their mining claim downriver, and never be seen in town, but the committee insisted.

Ten days after his jury trial ended, the sheriff, fearing Guy would soon meet a date with a rope, drove Guy to Tendoy where he could catch the train without being seen by the vigilantes. When Guy reached Dillon, Montana, he sent word back to the sheriff that he was safe, but his legal troubles were not over. On the same day Bessie arrived to meet Guy, and while the couple was awaiting a train to eastern Idaho, the sheriff of Beaverhead County arrested Guy. It seems he mailed a bottle of whiskey from Montana to someone in Salmon. Because Idaho was already dry and Montana was still wet, it was a federal offense. Guy ended up serving some time in jail in lieu of a fine and was released after a trial in Butte.

The Salmon City Vigilance Committee, as I am now calling it, was not satisfied with kicking the young man out of town. They admonished the jury that acquitted Guy and then drafted a resolution to send to the governor and the state legislature, calling for a tougher response to crime. Bessie and Guy seemed to finally drop out of the news after the liquor trial, although trying to find someone with the surname Buster gets a little daunting in the era of Buster Brown and Buster Keaton. They did stay married until Guy passed away in Reno in 1944 of pneumonia. Bessie followed 30 years later.

The Idaho Statesman July 22, 1914 July 23, 1914 The Idaho Recorder December 3, 1915 February 9, 1917 February 16, 1917 The Idaho Republican February 23, 1917

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