Many mining towns of the nineteenth century boasted a rip-roaring spirit of adventure and plenty of rowdiness – Murray, Idaho was no exception (see last week’s Ghost Town Wednesday article here). Murray sprang up as nearby Eagle City faded, becoming the seat of Shoshone County in 1885. The town also had its share of “colorful characters”. Three of them are buried in the Murray Cemetery and the subject of today’s article.
Maggie Hall, a.k.a. Molly B’Damn
Maggie Hall, born in Dublin, Ireland, immigrated to America in 1873. According to How the Irish Won the West by Myles Dungan, Maggie was well-educated and confident enough but unable to secure reputable employment upon her arrival. While working in a bar she met a well-to-do man named Burdan, whose family would not have approved of his marriage to Maggie – in fact, they kept it a secret so that he could continue to receive his allowance.
But, his parents eventually found out about his marriage to an Irish immigrant and cut off his allowance. Burdan apparently saw the potential in his beautiful wife and began, well, pimping his wife. Burdan kept all of the money, so Molly (as he then insisted she be called) decided to strike out on her own and head West where, in those days, there were wagon loads of money to be made – especially in her profession.
As was the story all across the West, a mining town would spring up and the brothels and saloons would make their money until the town went bust and then move on to the next boom town (see this Far-Out Friday article about “Madame Moustache”).
In 1884 she made her way to the gold-strike town of Murray in the Coeur d’Alenes of Idaho. Her thick Irish accent was hard for the locals to understand – instead of “Molly Burdan” what they heard was “Molly B. Damn”. Although today Murray is considered a “semi-ghost town” the residents still celebrate the gold rush with Molly B. Damn Days, a two-day festival every August – not so much for her storied life as a prostitute, but her legendary compassion.
As she made her way to Murray in 1884 she saved the lives of a stranded woman and child on Thompson Pass. When a smallpox epidemic struck the area in 1886, Molly organized efforts to treat the sick. With the assistance of a fellow Irishman, they cleaned the hotels and set them up as hospitals, with prostitutes serving as nurses.
In late 1887, Molly’s own health began to decline with frequent bouts of coughing and fever. Diagnosed with consumption, she became bedridden and within six weeks died on January 10, 1888. Her funeral was well-attended and presided over by a Methodist minister. Dungan relates the tone of her eulogy:
In his eulogy he described the young Irishwoman as generous to a fault with her world’s goods, and with her bodily strength, she was one in whom no sacrifice was too great. She was a ministering angel to the sick and suffering when exposure or illness laid men low. Neither snow nor heat kept her from an unfortunate’s bedside and these kind acts have been recorded in the Book of Books to her credit, overbalancing the debt side.
Dungan notes, however, that the local Catholic priest had no such opinion of Molly – he “resolutely refused absolution to a ‘notorious brothel keeper.’”
At her request, she was buried as Maggie Hall.
Edith lived such a short life, making it difficult to find much information about her. Information gleaned from the 1900 census yielded the following:
Edith McCorkendale was born in Utah in 1882. Her father was Canadian and her mother was born in Pennsylvania. Edith had been married a little over a year and a half (October 15, 1898) to Carl A. Arnberg, also born in Canada. That year Edith was eighteen and Carl twenty-five. While many other residents of the town were gold miners, Carl was a plumber. No occupation other than “wife” was listed for Edith.
Edith, however, was a prostitute (see her grave marker) – and apparently an ill-tempered one at that, hence the moniker “Terrible Edith”. Not much else is known about Edith McCorkendale Arnberg, except what is implied on her tombstone. She lived a brief life, dying in 1905. Interestingly, there is a “Terrible Edith Mine” in the area – whether or not it is named after her is unclear since it was so-named in 1926 according to one source.
First of all, the information on his grave marker is mostly incorrect based on verifiable historical information. Addison Ovando Toncray was born in Fort Madison, Iowa in 1842 to parents John Goodson and Mary Desire (Fish) Toncray. Mary was John’s second wife. Sometime in the mid-1840’s the family migrated to Hannibal, Missouri where they were enumerated in the 1850 census.
John opened the Virginia Hotel and Saloon on the levee, according to Mark Twain’s Autobiography (Volume II). Addison was drafted from the Eighth Congressional District for service in the Civil War. He eventually made his way west, although the date is unclear since I found no 1870 census record. In 1880, however, he was still single and a farm laborer in Red Bluff, Montana.
Somewhere along the way, Addison would begin to boast of himself as captain of the Key West steamboat, earning him the moniker “Capt. Tonk”. From the tone of the footnote in Twain’s Autobiography, this was a dubious claim. In 1884 he migrated to Murray, Idaho. Again, according to notes in Mark Twain’s Autobiography, he “was known as a habitual drunk, he was well liked and lived by odd jobs and hand-me-downs.”
Because he grew up in Hannibal and apparently was acquainted (or at least knew of) Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, he must have begun spreading the claim that he was the inspiration for Twain’s character Huckleberry Finn. Whether or not Twain knew about such a claim is unclear, although Twain did in fact respond to the claim after Addison’s death.
Addison’s half-brother Alexander had written a letter to Twain, reminding him that he and Twain had been classmates years before. Enclosed was an article from the February 3, 1906 edition of the Los Angeles Times (where Alexander lived at the time). It was an article that was picked up and run all over the country that day:
Dear Mr. Toncray:
It is plain to me that you knew the Hannibal of my boyhood, the names you quote prove it. This is an unusual circumstance in my experience. With some frequency letters come from strangers reminding me of old friends & early episodes, but in almost every case these strangers have mixed me up with somebody else, and the names and incidents are foreign to me.
Huckleberry Finn was Tom Blankenship. You may remember that Tom was a good boy, notwithstanding his circumstances. To my mind he was a better boy than Henry Beebe & John Reagan put together, those swells of the ancient days.
Nevertheless, Addison’s original claim must have became legendary since his grave marker makes note of it (not to mention all the newspaper articles following his death announcing Huck Finn’s “passing”). Addison “Capt. Tonk” Toncray died on February 3, 1906 and is buried next to Maggie Hall, a.k.a. Molly B’Damn. How he rated a spot next to Molly is unknown.
Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!
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