Once Upon a Horse: The Story of Old Selam
On the outskirts of Boise, its forbidding walls juxtaposed against a botanical garden overflowing with roses and herbs, crouches the Old Idaho State Penetentiary. Its construction began in 1870, just ten years after Idaho became a U.S. territory. Over the years, hundreds of convicts labored in the sandstone foothills, hewing out blocks to build the walls and cells within which many of them would perish.
As you might expect of a prison built by its inmates, the Old Pen has a long history of escaped prisoners. Some 500 escape attempts are on record, 90 of them successful. Two of these escape attempts occurred in late December, 1901, with the help of an horse called Selam.
Selam is reputed to have been an unusually good riding and driving horse in his day, but by 1901, he was growing old and had been assigned to the Old Pen as a cart horse. On December 24, prisoner Bob Meeks — the only member of Butch Cassidy’s gang to be arrested for the Montpelier bank robbery — cut Selam loose from his wagon and headed for the hills. Unfortunately for Meeks, trackers caught up with him the next day and both prisoner and horse were returned to the penitentiary. Merry Christmas.
Just five days later, on December 30, prisoner Samuel Bruner disappeared from his privileged post in one of the Old Pen’s power plant duty stations. Convicted of grand larceny in 1899, Bruner had apparently slipped away astride old Selam. Neither horse nor prisoner was ever found.
In 1976, three years after the Old Pen was retired as a correctional institution, the Southwest Idaho Trail and Distance Riders group established an annual endurance ride that attempted to retrace the two convicts’ possible escape routes. Originally, ridecamp was set up right at the reportedly haunted penitentiary, but trail restrictions have since forced several relocations. Nevertheless, the Old Selam Endurance Ride remains Idaho’s oldest endurance ride to have been held every year since its inception.
Nobody knows what became of Sam Bruner and old Selam. Perhaps they did pass through the area near Idaho City, where this year’s ride will take place. Maybe, just maybe, Aaruba and I will retrace their footsteps to freedom, or else kick up the dust of their long-forgotten bones.
Countdown to Old Selam
Off to the Races
It’s Official: We Do Endurance!
The First of Many! 50 Miles at Old Selam
Shot in the Dark: Friendship
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