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Peter Beemer, Music Manuscript

Peter Beemer, Music Manuscript

Handwritten musical scores recorded in the 1860s by Peter Beemer in the mining camp of Warren, Idaho, of songs and dance music performed by his band and others; with videos of modern performances of several of the pieces.

In the early 1860s, when gold was discovered in central Idaho, a new town popped up in what was then still Washington Territory: Warren’s Diggins. Known as a peaceful community,  Warren was inhabited mainly by miners. One of its cultural amenities was a small dance  orchestra led by Peter Beemer (sometimes spelled Beamer). Beemer was both a miner and a musician. He collected tunes that he heard and recorded them in a canvas-bound book with his own hand-drown music stoves. He filled the book with 124 instrumental tunes, including mazourkos, polkas, waltzes, quicksteps, schottisches, vorsoviennes, and quadrilles. The book today is known as the Peter Beemer Manuscript (MSS 268) and is owned by Boise State  University.

After Peter Beemer, the manuscript was used and owned by Charles Bemis, saloon keeper, violinist, and a longtime resident of Warren, who was a member of Beemer’s original orchestra and husband of the acclaimed Chinese immigrant Polly Bemis. The third owner of the book was Taylor Smith, who learned to play the violin from Charles Bemis. He wrote the first history of the book in 1961. Smith described the dances that look place in Bemis’s saloon as respectable.

The bar was closed and covered with a canvas, the pictures turned to the walls, tables stacked out of the way and the chairs placed with backs to the wall about the perimeter of the room, thus converting the saloon info a dance hall. In those times ladies were not allowed in saloons, so in their following this procedure the ladies were not entering saloons as such, they were attending dances – respectable dances. No smoking or drinking was permitted in the *dance- hall.” Approximately 75-100 people attended- the ratio being about five men to one woman. …The dance hall opened early Saturday evenings and the dances lasted sometimes until daylight Sunday mornings. They had intermission of midnight to give the musicians a break and of that time the ladies would serve supper buffet style (from the lunches that the folks had placed upon the “counter” when they arrived earlier in the evening) along with hot coffee.

Smith allowed the Idaho Stole Historical Society and the University of Idaho to make photocopies of the book. Subsequent private owners occasionally let scholars examine the original. Two masters theses were written about the book in the 1990s: The Warren collection: music manuscript book from the Warren, Idaho mining camp, 1864, by John Cochrane (M.A. thesis, Boise Stole University, 1994) and A Survey of musical activity in the mining camps of  Idaho through June of 1865, by Rob McIntyre (M . Music thesis, University of Idaho, 1993). In 2008, Vivian Williams researched the manuscript and wrote a book about it: The Peter Beemer manuscript: donee music collected in the gold mining camp of Warren’s Diggins, Idaho in the 1860’s (Seattle, Wash.: Voyager Recordings & Publications). Her book contains transcripts and notes about the music. In 2008, after 146 years of private ownership, the Peter Beemer Manuscript was acquired by Boise Stole University. This important cultural artifact from Idaho’s early years is now preserved in the Special Collections deportment of the Boise Stole University library. It is reproduced in its entirety in this digital collection, accompanied by four audio recordings mode by Vivian and Phil Williams in February 2011.

Project development and narrative by Erin Passehl.

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