Her place in this world: First lady Teresa Little has extensive ties to Moscow area

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EMMETT — When 25-year-old Daniel Gamble arrived in Lewiston in the fall of 1880, he didn’t own much more than a horse and a good Irish brogue — and the horse was donated.

The young Presbyterian minister had emigrated to America 11 years earlier, at the age of 15. He’d grown up in County Donegal, in the northwest corner of Ireland, where his father also was a minister.

Like millions of his countrymen, Gamble came west looking for opportunity. He worked in Philadelphia for a time before moving on to California, where his older brother taught school. After graduating from the San Francisco Presbyterian Seminary, he was immediately dispatched to the Palouse.

According to family lore, he and William McConnell, then a prosperous Moscow store owner, met in Lewiston. They rode up Lewiston Hill together — McConnell a future governor and Gamble a future state representative.

Neither could have imagined that, 139 years later, Gamble’s great-granddaughter would be Idaho’s new first lady.

Family pride

Those who know Teresa Little describe her in simple terms: genuine, humble, down-to-earth, gracious.

“She’s one of the kindest people I know,” said Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot.

Despite her husband’s lofty position, Little doesn’t put on airs — and she doesn’t much tolerate them in him, either. Several years ago, for example, she met then-state Rep. Raul Labrador at an event. Afterward her husband, who was lieutenant governor at the time, mentioned a rumor that Labrador was going to challenge him for the post.

“Oh, he’s a nice guy,” Little responded. “He might do a better job than you.”

While she may keep her husband in check, one area in which Little does take great pride is her family history.

Her grandmother, Lola Gamble Clyde, was a Moscow teacher and longtime community volunteer. Her Gamble roots date back to 1880 on the Palouse. The Clyde side arrived even earlier, by wagon train in 1877; they homesteaded about 5 miles south of Moscow, along what is now Zeitler Road. Little’s cousin, Ken Clyde, continues to farm the property today.

By non-American Indian standards, her husband’s family also has a lengthy history in Idaho, as Little noted during her introductory remarks at the Jan. 4 inauguration.

“Brad’s maternal grandfather, James Laidlaw, emigrated from Scotland at the age of 23 in 1892,” she said. “His paternal grandfather, Andy Little, was 24 in 1894, when he arrived by train to Caldwell after ship’s passage from Glasgow, Scotland. He and his border collies walked 20 miles to the Aikman ranch near Emmett to seek work herding sheep.”

By ship and train, horseback and covered wagon, these ancestors “came to Idaho to create a better life for themselves, their families and their descendants,” Little said. “Countless other families did the same. Their life stories are woven into the very fabric of our state. Their lives of hard work, courage, raw determination, resilience, duty, hopefulness and faith brought us to where we are today.”

During the inauguration, Little’s task was simply to introduce her husband. She could have focused on his accomplishments or his record of public service. That she chose instead to talk about family and pioneers and their collective aspirations for the future spoke volumes about her perspective and priorities.

“It felt important to mention that we were missing his mom and dad, and my mom,” Little said recently. “It evolved from there. (The inauguration) was the one time when we had an opportunity to open a window into who we are as a family. I worried my comments might be too personal, but then thought, no, this is a topic that taps into every person and relates to every family. I just really want this next phase of government to be something we’re doing hand-in-hand. It’s not us-versus-them; it’s all of us together.”

Coming to Paradise Valley

That was the case in Moscow’s early days, when many of the town founders arrived together and later intermarried.

In a 1974 oral history interview, Lola Clyde noted that the 1877 wagon train that brought her Clyde relatives to the region also included the Snows and Finneys, the Van de Walkers and Hokes.

Several of them came from Kansas, Little said, where they had endured two years of drought and grasshoppers.

The Kansas Historical Society says the 1874 grasshopper plague “began in late July, when millions of Rocky Mountain locusts descended on the prairies from the Dakotas to Texas. The insects arrived in swarms so large they blocked out the sun and sounded like a rainstorm. They ate crops out of the ground, as well as the wool from live sheep and clothing off people’s backs. Paper, tree bark, even wooden tool handles were devoured. Hoppers were reported to have been several inches deep on the ground, and locomotives couldn’t get traction because the insects made the rails too slippery.”

Small wonder that, when they finally arrived on the Palouse, the settlers described the area near Moscow as Paradise Valley.

It wasn’t an easy life, though. In a 1982 history of the Clyde-Gamble families, Little noted that grain yields those first years were just 10 bushels an acre. The fields were initially harvested with scythes; a hard-working man could cover 2 acres per day.

Civil War veteran William Zeitler and his wife, Mary Jane, were part of the 1877 wagon train as well, along with Mary Jane’s parents and the Zeitler’s 8-year-old daughter, Emily.

Zeitler served in the 5th Iowa Regiment during the war. He was shot in the face in 1864, losing part of his jaw. As a Union veteran, he received a pension of $5 per month. Family history says there were times when the Palouse economy was so bad, that $5 was all they had to live on.

Zeitler never fully recovered from his wound and died in Moscow in 1895. Two years later, his daughter Emily married Wells William Clyde, who was a wagon driver in the ‘77 train. They continued to work the Zeitler Road property her parents had homesteaded.

Emily Clyde “was a tall and slender woman, with a quite stern air,” Little wrote in her family history. “She was a neat and tidy woman, highly skilled in all handwork — knitting, crocheting and quilting. She was also a very good cook.”

The Clydes had two sons. Earl, the youngest, was born in 1903.

“Earl was educated at Moscow Elementary School and then went to Clarkston to live with an aunt and attend high school,” Little wrote. His father died of a stroke during this time. It was 1918 — the height of the Spanish flu pandemic, which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

Earl wanted to finish high school, Little wrote, but “about halfway through a flu epidemic closed school for the rest of the year. The same thing happened the following year, so he remained home on the farm. He was 16 at the time, and the farm was 320 acres.”

Earl later married Lola Gamble, whose father had come into town with William McConnell. David Gamble represented Latah County in the Idaho House in 1895-96, when McConnell was governor. The two remained lifelong friends; Lola and McConnell’s daughters were also acquainted.

Remembering his roots

Little’s relatives on her father’s side found their way to Moscow as well.

Philip Soulen, her paternal great-grandfather, moved his family there from Iowa in 1906. He taught at the University of Idaho and later served as superintendent of the Moscow School District. Her grandfather, Harry Soulen, received an agricultural degree from UI and subsequently started a large sheep operation near Weiser, where Little herself grew up.

A recent online article for the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission indicated the Soulen ranch had 12,000 sheep and 1,800 cattle at its peak. It has slimmed down since then, but remains one of the larger sheep operations in the state. Little’s brother now runs the business.

The sheep are trailed hundreds of miles overland each year, from wintering grounds south of Boise to summer pastures near McCall. Little still helps out during shearing season. She also installed a small tent and cot in the attic of her Emmett home, using the same equipment that’s found on trail drives. She put it there to amuse her four grandsons — but also to remind them of their heritage.

“Teresa and I, my mom and dad, her dad — we were all raised shearing and shipping and lambing,” said Brad Little. “It’s important to her to take our grandkids out shearing, to experience what generations of our family have done.”

Like his wife, Gov. Little’s respect for Idaho’s pioneer families was evident from his inaugural address:

“Idaho was built on our shared values of hard work, independence, persistence and commitment to family,” he said. “Our ancestors struggled against innumerable challenges and overcame them. Where there were no roads or schools, they built them. Where they lacked energy, they built hydroelectric dams. Where the land was dry, they built the most sophisticated irrigation systems in the world.”

That concept — neighbors working together to benefit their communities — pretty much encapsulates the governor’s vision of a well-functioning state.

“I’ve been called a libertarian,” he said recently. “That’s not a bad place to start: Why should government be doing this? There are a couple of places where government has a monopoly — roads, foster kids, the judiciary. It should be as efficient as possible in those areas and not put its thumb on the scale any more than necessary in other areas.”

‘An example to people across the state’

Although their grandparents knew each other, the Littles themselves didn’t meet until their freshman year of college. Teresa Little earned a “very practical” home economics education degree from UI and later taught school.

She and Brad married in 1978. She started collecting the family history shortly after their son Adam was born in 1979.

“I wanted him to have a sense of his place in the world,” Little said.

Her own place in the world is now a bit more public than it’s been in the past.

As first lady, Little said she wants to “support those things that are specific to Idaho” and that represent the state as a whole. She has also made it a point to attend the weekly luncheon events for legislative spouses, to make sure they feel welcomed and important.

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said there’s no expectation that the first lady come to those functions, but he wasn’t surprised that Little does.

“She wants to be with people,” he said. “She’s complimentary of others and doesn’t put herself above anyone. I think she’ll be an example to people across the state. She focuses on things that really matter in life.”

That doesn’t necessarily include government policy. Little said she’s “not really very political,” although she’s not uncomfortable in the company of people who live and breathe the stuff.

“Most are happy to talk about their family background,” she said.

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, admires that perspective.

“Sometimes we forget our roots, so I appreciate that she brings it back to family,” he said. “That’s one of the awesome things that makes Idaho great: We recognize our ancestors and all the hard work they did. I think she’ll be a great first lady.”

There will likely be some firm boundaries on her public role, though.

“I don’t want it to overtake my whole life,” Little said. “Those grandkids grow up really fast. I don’t want things to get out of whack with our family. That’s pretty important.”

Spence covers politics for the Tribune. He may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

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