Revolutionary Idaho: Two Unlikely Heroes


April 27, 2009 by Gsmith


The North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River

In the summer of 1860, one Isaac Arkwright of Ohio fathered a daughter by a mistress whose name history does not record. Isaac named the child May. At about six weeks of age, May’s mother absconded and was never heard from again, leaving her in the care of a father who didn’t know exactly what to do with her. At the age of eight her father and his family moved ‘out east’ to Philadelphia, leaving her behind to care for her blind and infirm grandfather.

Grandpa’s favorite pastime was to go to a public park in what is now the city of Youngstown. They weren’t attracted by the sunshine, but by the socialist soapbox orators which could be found there at all hours, every day of the week.

In the fall of 1860, Levi “Al” Hutton was born on a farm just north of Fairfield, Iowa. He was orphaned at the age of six. From then on he lived an unenviable life, alternately doing farm work for various relatives and sometimes bunking in haylofts.

In the spring of 1878 Al Hutton disappeared without so much as a farewell, and would never be seen in his hometown again. His journals suggest he may have worked for several months on a timber harvest in California, before being transferred to Idaho’s booming Silver Valley to take a job as the engineer of a freight train. It was, in the popular perception, a dream job for the orphan boy from Iowa. Al arrived in Wild Idaho aound 1881.

In the summer of 1882 May Arkwright married a mule-team driver named Munn. Mr. Munn disappeared less than a year later, and was never heard from again. Abandoned by all, with no prospects for a future in Ohio, May Joined a caravan of pioneers going to “Idy-Ho”. She landed in the town of Murray, a town named after a prospector’s mule, in early 1884.

A clever and resourceful woman, May Arkwright was perhaps the first example of industrial espionage in North America. Through the use of paid informants she gained the location of a proposed railroad junction and opened a saloon and restaurant on the spot. Wardner Junction, pioneered by May Arkwright, would one day become the city of Kellogg.

Al Hutton was the engineer on this train, hijacked by striking workers

Al Hutton's Train, Hijacked by Striking Workers in 1899

On 29 April, 1899, Al Hutton was making his usual run from Wallace to Wardner Junction when over a thousand striking workers appropriated his train. Of the five men who took him prisoner, one would later report that “while we held a rifle on him, none of us could bring ourselves to harm the man, he told such stories of his childhood out east that we took him for a brother.” The workers let Hutton go unharmed before destroying the concentrators at the Bunker Hill mine. Hutton waited out the battle in the restaurant of May Arkwright.


Levi "Al" Hutton

By 1890, May was a successful restauranteur, married for the second time to Al Hutton, the engineer. It’s said that his brush with certain death prompted him to finally settle down. May, an extremely tall woman of nearly three hundred pounds, sewed her own dress for the wedding and cooked the supper besides, hosting her own reception for over fifty guests. Aside from her skill as a hostess and seamstress, May Arkwright was also famous for being one of the best educated people in the Coeur d’Alenes. She regularly held study groups after hours for the children of the miners. Among her favorite authors were Bernard Shaw and Karl Marx.

The Huttons had invested in a worker-owned mining collective themselves, and by 1901 they had seen it pay off. May sold the restaurant, Al bought a new home in Wallace, and both pledged their newfound wealth toward bringing revolutionary change to the mining district.

May Arkwright-Hutton in drag, Spokane WA

May Arkwright Hutton in drag, Spokane WA

In 1903, The Huttons entertained Teddy Roosevelt at their home. Roosevelt, famous for remarking that “a woman’s name ought to appear only twice in the record, on the day of her marriage and the day of her death” got a lecture on women’s suffrage. He later spoke highly of May Arkwright Hutton and his visit to Wallace.

By 1907 the Idaho legislature had granted the vote to women, in large measure due to May’s tireless activism. Now wealthy, the Huttons moved to Spokane, Washington in an effort to export the revolution westward. Washington’s territorial assembly had granted universal suffrage in 1883, but revoked it in 1887.

Once in Spokane, Al began construction on what would someday be known as the Hutton building, located today at the intersection of Sprague Avenue and Washington Street. May made activism her profession, giving the same sorts of soapbox lectures she listened to in childhood, often dressed in tails and tophat.

In 1912, May Arkwright-Hutton represented Spokane’s district at the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore, Maryland. She was greeted with a standing ovation, and surprised by a song, written and sung in her honor on the convention floor.

In 1915, one year after the Hutton’s began construction of their first proper home, May Arkwright-Hutton died. Five years later, the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution of the United States extended universal suffrage to every state in the union — including Washington.

It was a bittersweet victory for Al. He’s said to have spent the day at his wife’s tombstone.


Girls Cottage No. 1 - The Hutton Settlement

In the fall of 1915, the now childless widower Al Hutton bought a large tract of rural property near the Washington-Idaho border, and began the construction of his most ambitious project. The Hutton Settlement was intended to be a permanent home for orphans and children in crisis, providing food, lodging, education and entertainment in a secular environment for one hundred children and houseparents. It was unique in its day not only for being co-educational, but also for having no religious, racial or ethnic exclusion policy.

Al Hutton began campaigning through the area in an effort to raise awareness of child welfare. He may be the first American man to openly talk about childhood physical and sexual abuse. Less than a month after one such stump-speech, the Imperial Potentate of the Shriners was moved to begin construction on what would become Washington’s largest public hospital.

The Hutton Settlement opened in 1918. Built on nearly four hundred acres it featured four cottages, a schoolhouse, a swimming pool, a theatre, a large garden and sports facilities. Levi Hutton endowed it with a million dollars, which was projected to keep it operational for at least one hundred years. Among the first clients were several descendants of the miners who had spared Hutton’s life, during the famous train hijacking which had occurred some twenty years earlier.

Levi ‘Al’ Hutton died in 1928.


The author is grateful to the Idaho Bureau of Mines and Geology, the city library of Coeur d’Alene, the Idaho Historical Society and Eastern Washington University.

The Hutton Settlement continues to serve needy children without regard to race or religion. It is located in its original location, between the present day cities of Post Falls, Idaho and Opportunity, Washington. Tours are available by appointment and donations appreciated.

Coming Soon: The Battle of Bunker Hill


One thought on “Revolutionary Idaho: Two Unlikely Heroes

  1. Daniel says:

    This is an amazing story. I’m looking forward to reading more of them. I went to the Hutton Settlement site, and that’s so inspiring what one man can do outside of religion to care for the outliers on the fringes of our society.

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