Beyond the Western
The Matter of the Meandering Credenza
Steve Levi


Beyond the Western

Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department had met his match. The two were in mortal combat and it was not as if either one was besting the other. In fact, it was a stalemate in the sense both were locked in an embrace from which neither could break free or claim victory. Noonan was flexing every muscle he had and the desk drawer had managed to wedge a ruler or pen against the overhang of the desktop and was resisting what could not be described as Noonan’s herculean efforts.

Not one to give up, he did. And, when one is faced with an enemy of superior strength, one calls for support. In this case, his second in command. Reinforcement, in the singular, was Billy-Bob George “Handsome” Weasel, who spent as much time in the weight room as before a mirror. Weasel gave the drawer a tug and the drawer, in the face of superior power, relented. But not without leaving a splintered army of ruler shards behind.

Noonan was finding and eliminating the army of splinters when his administrative assistant and office common sense guru, Harriet, in a jovial mood, sidled up to the detective. “What comes with a hat, has three handles, is spelled wrong, is part of an inheritance and wanders aimlessly across the landscape?”

Noonan was stumped. “That’s quite a list of qualities. Do you have any other clues to guide me through your puzzle swamp.”

“Sure,” Harriet snapped. “Ask the guy on Line 1.”

* * *

“Noonan here. I hear you have a problem relating to handles and inheritance.”

There was silence on the other end of the line. Then a cautious voice came on, “I’m not sure what you’ve been told so I don’t know what to say. It’s hard enough for me to make this call.”

“Well, start at the beginning.”

“OK. This is Stephano Watson. I’m the owner of an antique store in Willing, Idaho. I have a problem the police cannot handle and they said you were a specialist for the odd and unusual. I and my store are the target of all I can say is a meandering credenza.”

“Credenza? Isn’t that some kind of a table?”

“End table. Yes. More of a sideboard to a dining table, if you want to be historically correct. It’s out of the 14th Century. Italy, usually. Or originally. The translation to English is ‘credence,’ and in the 1600s the word was synonymous with credenza which was the act of servants tasting the food and drink to be served to the master to make sure it was not poisoned.”

“Credenza? Where have I heard that word before?”

“Now that you mention it, I can answer your puzzling question. In Dr. Seuss, in THE CAT IN THE HAT, there was a three-handled family gredenza. But that was credenza with a g, not a c.”

“I see,” Noonan said and looked toward Harriet’s office. “I’ll see that gets corrected. Now, why is it meandering?”

“That’s a good question. The quick answer is I don’t know. We, that is Willing, is a very new city and my business, Watson’s Antiques, is a brand new business. Willing is located between Idaho City and Placerville. We are a fairly rich retirement community. A lot retirees didn’t want to settle in Boise or Pocatello because it was too expensive. And crowded.”

“Crowded? Where in Idaho is it crowded?”

“Boise for sure. Depends on what your definition of too many people is.”

“You’ve got a point,” Noonan said. “Go on.”

“We choose to live in Willing because we love Idaho and wouldn’t live anywhere else. So we formed a corporation and bought a huge tract of land. Then we built the city. All the homes are to two acre plots. We have our town center with a mall, bank, grocery store, clothing mall and liquor store. Over the past year a post office was established and our taxes are paying for a magistrate. Not a full-fledged judge yet, but we’re on the way. We named ourselves Willing after George M. Willing who gave Idaho its name.”
‘Ok,” said Noonan and hinted, “. .. and the meandering credenza?”

“About a week ago we started getting text messages on our phones. That is, we, as in the workers of Watson’s Antique. The message said, ‘Come and get me, I’m yours if you act fast,’” and came with a closeup of an antique credenza. Then it gave a location in Willing. The credenza was clearly an antique and probably worth in the range of $2,000.”

“Did you go looking for the credenza?”

“Absolutely. But when we got to the location given in the text message there wasn’t anything there. Just a note that read, ‘You missed me. Try faster next time.’”

“That’s it?”

There was a sigh at the far end of the telephone line. “Yup, that’s it. Except it kept, keeps, happening.”

“Are the locations the same? I mean, day after day, do the locations rotate?”

“Not in the sense you mean. That is, yes, some of the locations are the same but they are not consistently the same. Since the texts keep coming, we, the staff here, prepare to scatter every morning to the places where the credenza has been to see if the credenza is there. The moment the text comes we scatter. So far, no luck.”

“Have you reported the meandering credenza to the local police?”

“Of course. But to them it’s a novelty, not a crime. No antique credenzas have been reported stolen so there’s nothing they can do other than write up a report.”

“I agree. There’s no crime where. At least not yet. So, let me guess, they suggested you call me.”

“That’s the size of it.”

“OK, yes, it’s odd and, yes, let me think on it. I’m going to give you a list of questions. When you get all the answers, call me back. In the meantime I’ll do some research on my own. Got a pen and paper?”

“Shoot.”

“How big is Willing in both population and area, does the bank do business with any large companies outside of Willing, what’s the biggest payroll in town, what percent of the people drive out of town regularly, is there is special event coming up, is there any cult or extremist organization in the area, do you have an airport, how often does Greyhound come through Willing, are their Natives in Willing, is there an Indian Reservation nearby, is there gambling in Idaho, is marijuana legal in Idaho and how do you know from a picture on a cellphone that the credenza is worth upwards of $2,000?”

“And you want all the answers at the same time? Because I can answer a lot of these questions right now.”

“All at the same time. I need some research and think time on my own.”

“When do you want me to call back?”

“How about the day after tomorrow.”

“You got it.”

* * *

Whenever Noonan was faced with a loo-loo call, he turned to his two tried and true sources of crime fighting: history and the newspaper. While many states had a lackluster transformation from raw land to territory and then statehood, Idaho’s journey was convoluted, turbulent and unsettling. It had not been included in land acquired by the Louisiana Purchase but was originally part of what was generally known as the Oregon Country. This landscape, uncharted, was jointly claimed by both the United States and Great Britain. The United States eventually gained undisputed ownership of the land in 1843 and it included present day Idaho as part of Oregon. Complicating matters, what is now present day Idaho had also been part of both the Washington Territory and the Dakota Territory. President Lincoln created the Territory of Idaho in 1863 but it would be another three decades, until 1890, before Idaho became a state.

However, depending the which myth one wishes to believe, when Montana became a state in 1889, the year before Idaho became a state, it was necessary to survey a border between the two landscapes. Unlike the borders of the rest of the states west of the Mississippi, the Montana-Idaho border is jagged. Originally the demarcation was to be the Continental Divide but ended up being the peak line of the Bitterroot Range. Some say the jagged border was because the surveying crew lost its equipment. Others attest the survey crew was too drunk to draw a straight line. Then there are those who believe some disreputable, well-heeled Montana resident ‘persuaded’ the survey crew to give Montana the lion’s share of the range. In any case, the border was from mountain peak to mountain peak along the spine of the Bitterroot and that is where it remains to this day.

Things had never been peaceful in the territories which would eventually include Idaho. The discovery of gold in the 1860 lead to flood of prospectors into the region and, predictably, an extended period of Indian wars. There was the Bear River Massacre in 1863 followed the next year by the Snake War. Things were somewhat settled until the Nez Perce War of 1877 which culminated with the 1,200 trek – combat along the way – with Chief Joseph trying to reach Canada. (He was stopped 40 miles short of the border).

Whites were not immune to the Idaho baptism by fire. Within the first handful of year of statehood, Idaho was submerged in a sea of union/management violence. The union/management confrontation did not build in the early years of Idaho, it erupted. Within a short period of time the state was subjected to widespread strikes, unionizing, management malfeasance which stretched across the decade and state lines and spilled into Colorado, Montana and Washington.

The culmination of the era violence came on December 30, 1905, when the former Governor of Idaho, Frank Steunenberg, was killed by a bomb which had been rigged to the gate to his home in Caldwell. Within an hour more than a 100 citizens had been deputized and were searching for the culprit. It did not take long for a suspect to be located: Albert Edward Horsley aka Harry Orchard aka at that time Tom Hogan. Known in the historical record today as Harry Orchard, it was almost as if he wanted to be caught. He was so well-known to be a violent union man he was quickly recognized by a detective from the Mine Owners’ Association. A search of Orchard’s hotel room turned up forensic evidence related to the bombing and he was arrested.

In order to escape the death penalty, Orchard told a wild and implausible story which included confessing to killing at least 16 other people. Allegedly, according to Orchard, he had been ordered to kill the former governor on the “orders” of three prominent leaders of the Western Federation of Miners, most notably William Dudley “Big Bill” Haywood. The assassination was – again, supposedly – was for the ex-governor’s draconian measures during a labor struggle in Coeur d’Alene six years earlier. With the aid of the Pinkerton detectives, the three leaders of the Western Federation of Miners were tried with Clarence Darrow defending the trio. None of the trio were convicted; Harry Orchard was and spent the rest of his life in prison, dying in April of 1954.

Of historical interest, Noonan noted, in 1918, “Big Bill” Haywood was convicted of hindering the Draft during the First World War and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He skipped bail and fled to Russia where he died in 1928. His body was cremated and half of the ashes were buried in the Kremlin Wall. The other half was transported to Chicago where the cold embers were interred near the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument. Interestingly, the ashes of two other Americans are interred in the Kremlin Wall: Charles Ruthenberg, founder of the Communist Party USA (1920) and Socialist journalist John Reed (1920). Reed has been memorialized in the movie REDS starring Warren Beatty in 1981.

Noonan was surprised when he discovered Idaho’s nickname was the Gem State. Had he been asked before he knew of the tidbit, he would have expected Idaho to be the Potato State. But Gem State it was because of the rich veins of gold, silver, copper, cobalt, lead zinc along with precious stones such as opal, jade, topaz, zircon and the State Gem, star garnet. The star garnet is only found in two places: Idaho and India.

Idaho became a potato state late in the development of the vegetable. The first known people to harvest the potato were the Incas about 8,000 Before the Christian Era. The Conquistadors took samples back to Europe where they were met with skepticism, particularly in France. The French actually banned the potato as it was thought to be a source of leprosy. That lasted until the 1770s when French Agronomist Antoine-Augustin Parmentier went on a campaign to raise awareness of the dietary blessing of the potato. In addition to serving potatoes to the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Antoine Lavoisier, he cleverly seduced the French public into accepting the potato on their dinner plates. One of his most successful antics was to publicly plant 54 acres of potatoes and putting armed guards around the crop.

But only during the day.

True to human nature and the guise of Parmentier, the French stole the potatoes at night and learned to love the vegetable.

The potato came to North American in the 1620s when the British Governor of the Bahamas gave the Governor of Virginia enough to develop an industry.

Maybe.

Other sources list the first potato harvest in New Hampshire in 1719. A little over a century later, in 1836, a missionary by the name of Henry Harmon Spalding convinced the Nez Perce to grow the vegetable in Idaho. Today, nearly one-third of all potatoes on American dinner plates come from Idaho, about 100 million hundredweight pounds a year.

Willing, Idaho did not have a newspaper. It was apparently so new – or small – it did not warrant coverage in other nearby community’s papers so Noonan was left with Wikipedia.

Did it tell a tale!

George Maurice “Doc” Willing was from a prominent Philadelphia family in the 1820s who became a doctor. He ran afoul of the authorities early in life because he performed abortions and had to flee to California. He then moved to St. Louis, Missouri and thereafter became part of the gold rush to Pike’s Peak in 1859. He ran to be a delegate from the area, the Jefferson Territory, lost, but went back to Washington D. C. as an unpaid delegate. Or lobbyist, depending the historical source. It was there he came up with the name Idaho.

Now the story becomes murky. Willing claimed the word Idaho was from the Shoshone for “Behold, the sun coming down the mountains.” Other sources, including Willing, suggest the name came from a woman named Ida. Or a steamboat named the IDAHO. Or he simply created the name out of thin air. In any events, the name stuck. Regardless, in 1863, the Idaho Territory was created.

But that was not the end of the story of George Maurice “Doc” Willing. He wandered the West and ended up in the Prescott, Arizona area where he claimed he had a acquired a Spanish land grant from someone named Miguel Peralta in 1864. The transaction was more than unusual. The real estate transaction had been concluded at a campsite and the deed was a “greasy camp paper” with signatures. He took the “greasy camp paper” into Prescott where he offered to sell half of the land to a livery stable owner and suggested the two of them sell the land to settlers. The livery owner, James D. Monihon, did not bite. He said it was a scheme which could get Willing hung. Willing took the hint and joined a survey party leaving the Santa Fe the next morning.

When it comes a scam, there is always one more chapter. It came in 1871 when Willing tried again. This time he joined forces with a St. Louis forger. The two originated documents of questionable authenticity which Willing filed in the Courthouse in Prescott.

In March of 1874.

March 12, 1874.

On the morning of March 13, 1874, he was found dead.

There was no official investigation of his demise.

* * *

When Stephano Watson called back Noonan had a quick question. “Just a quick question before you give me my answers, George Maurice “Doc” Willing was not exactly an upstanding character. How’d the town come to be named after him?”

“Good question. The quick answer is the town was initiated when six homesteads were combined to form the city. I suggested Willing because I have a letter from Willing which admits Idaho was a made up name. I bought it from an antique dealer several decades ago. Was the letter an original? I don’t know. I don’t really care because I’m not trying to use it as an historical document. I have it framed in my store. Publicity for the store, basically. Everyone liked the idea of naming the town after a loveable scoundrel. There are so few of them.”

“OK. Now, how about my answers.”

Noonan heard a shuffling of paper. “I don’t know what good the answers will do for you but here goes. The city has a population of 567 but the area has close to 1,500. The bank does some business with the locals but the big business is with the Natives in the area. Shoshone mostly. A large casino is being built and the Willing First State Bank, is the nearest, most convenient bank to use. Casinos are required to have cash available by state law so that’s where the cash is stored when it’s not in the casino. There is a lot of construction for the casino and outbuildings. There are also a number of mines in the area, not large but large enough to need much more than a bookkeeper on site. The Willing bank handles their payroll, bills, transportation costs and the like. It’s not as large as a big city bank, like in Boise, but it is large by our standards. The biggest payroll in town is the Native casino but that payroll is unusually large because it includes construction workers, teamsters, HAVC, plumbing, wiring folks who will not be on payroll when the casino is finished.”

“Is the casino open now?” Noonan asked.

“Yes, on a growing basis. It started small five years ago and has been growing by leaps and bounds. It also sells marijuana. Marijuana is not legal in Idaho but you can indulge on reservation land. Just don’t leave reservation land with so much as a seed. If you meant is the casino as large as it is planned to be, no. If you mean are people spending money there now, yup with an explanation point. It is a big time money maker for the area because all of the workers spend their money in Willing. We’re very happy about that.”

“I see,” Noonan said as he wrote. “Go on.”

“Let’s see. Most people who live in town are retired so they do not drive out of town much. There is no special event coming up for the city but the casino keeps sponsoring special events and floor shows. It also sponsors local ethnic events. For the Shoshone people.”

A dull clang rang in Noonan’s brain.

“Ethnic events? Like what, for example?”

“The casino sponsors all manner of Shoshone cultural exhibits, celebrations and contests. The casino is more than just a business. It is a means of channeling money to the residents of the reservation. This includes scholarships, reservation school funding, libraries, health clinic upgrades and it sponsors a lot of tourism events.”

“Does the casino sell Native goods like handicrafts, blankets. That kind of material?”

“It encourages local artists so yes, it sells handicrafts, but it also sells work by Natives that are not cultural. Like paintings, for instance that do not have Native themes. And jewelry which may not be visually Native, if you know what I mean.”

“OK. Go on.”

“We do not have cults or extremist groups in the area the way you mean it. There are some old fashioned Shoshone types but we are talking men and women in their 80s. We have a landing strip servicing six flights a week, mostly casino traffic. We do not have a standalone Greyhound Bus terminal but a waiting room attached to the Willing Mall and, and, as to your last question, no, we do not know for sure the credenza is worth $2,000 from a picture on a cell phone. But we’d like the credenza even if it’s wasn’t worth that much. If it’s free to us, so to speak.”

Noonan thought for a moment then asked. “Your business. Does it have a vault for antiques?”

“Well, yes, but not as secure as a bank. It’s basically a large closet we lock up every night. We don’t keep cash there. We rarely get cash and when we do, we run across the street and deposit the bills in the bank. We don’t deal in diamonds or precious stones so there’s no real reason to break into the vault.”

“OK, how many workers do you have?”

“Six. Four regulars and two part time. And we have a handful of appraiser types who come and go.”

“Do you handle Native artifacts?”

“No. We have an arrangement with the casino. We don’t sell Native artifacts and they don’t deal in antiques.”

“When your staff scatters to look for the credenza, do you all go at once?”

“No. One person stays behind the run the store while the rest of us look for the credenza.”

“Are any of your employees Shoshone?”

“Three. Why do you ask?”

* * *

Noonan was peering at the backs of a pack of card scattered across the top of his desk. They were all face down. He would occasionally lift one up, look at the face of the card and then shake his head sadly. Then he would try again. Harriet came silently into his office, letter in hand, and watched the detective turn over three more cards before she asked, “What are you doing?” “This are supposedly marked cards,” Noonan whined. “But I can’t see the marks.” “Well, maybe they aren’t. How do you know they are marked?” “Every weekend I lose to the twins. They can’t be that lucky.” “Well, why not stop playing cards?” “Because then I’d have to deal with their girlfriends all day.” “Go to the beach. It’s cheaper than playing cards. By the way, you got a letter from a casino in Willing, Idaho. Didn’t you do something for an antique guy in Willing.”

“Two weeks ago. He had a meandering credenza.”

“Yeah. I remember him. Did they ever find the credenza?”

“It’s a long story.”

“I’ve got time.”

“Well, if you remember . . .”

“I remember the credenza part. It was everywhere.”

“Right. It was all a ruse. See, someone . . .” said Noonan as he pointed at the letter in Harriet’s hand, “had something in the antique shop they wanted. So they lured everyone out of the shop to look for the credenza. It was all a ruse to get the right people left in the shopat the same time.”

“To steal something?”

“In a way, yes. Did you know the name Idaho is made up?”

“Like invented?”

“Yup.”

“No. How’d someone pull that off?”

“Guile, Harriet, guile. And the man ‘who done the deed’ wrote about it in a letter.”

“And . . .”

“The letter was hanging in the antique shop. It wasn’t an antique, but a bit of history on the wall.”
“So?”

“So, the letter was from a man named Willing who the town is named after. It was a letter admitting the name Idaho was made up.”

“OK. And so?”

“Well, supposedly, the word had come from Shoshone. But that was lie.”

Harriet thought for a moment. “Let me guess, the local Natives didn’t like the letter.”

“Maybe not the Natives per se, but the casino for sure. My bet, the casino people in charge of the cultural events go tired of telling casino patrons Idaho was not a Shoshone word. And I’m sure some of them said something about seeing the letter in the antique store.’

“My bet too.”

“So one day,” Noonan said with a smile, “while the antique store employees were out chasing the elusive credenza, the letter vanished.”

“Disappeared?”

“Not disappeared, Harriet. Replaced. The new letter looked just like the old one. That’s what took the antique store owner so long to spot it. The original letter was gone and a bogus quote from an Idaho text was in its place.”

“Well, what happened to the original letter?”

Noonan shrugged. “Who knows. But then again, the antique store ended up with a free credenza so, financially speaking, all’s well that ends well.”

“Then what’s this letter?” Harriet said as she shook the paperwork. “It says you are invited to the Grand Opening of the E Dah Hoe Craps Gallery.” She smirked, “E Dah Hoe sounds a lot like Idaho.”

“Supposedly the fake name for Idaho. People have been pushing that myth for a century and half. Without the Willing letter, you know, people might come to believe E Dah Hoe in Shoshone is the origin of the name Idaho. Just between the two us, goes to show the Shoshone have a sense of humor.”

Harriet chuckled, “It’ll give some historians a laugh.”

“Probably. By the way, do you difference between a church and a casino?”

“A joke? No.”

“When you pray in a casino you really mean it.”



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