Nell Shipman famous silent screen actress and professional animal trainer moved to PriestLake where she had a movie studio at Lionhead Lodge in the 1920’s.
PriestLake in Northern Idaho was the location for the filming of silent movies that she wrote, directed and produced.
In l977, Nell Shipman had a point of land at Priest Lake named after her, “Shipman Point” and it was dedicated to her for her 2 ½ years of movie work at the lake.
I was a member of Women in Film/Seattle for five years, and during that time I wrote a monologue about Nell Shipman. Below is an excerpt from that play.
Nell is talking about a near-death experiences she had while living at Lionhead Lodge.
I have a queer dislike for water unless to swim in it.”
One moonlight night I had gone out on the ice to see if the dog team was coming.
A couple of the boys had gone to Coolin to collect the mail, and we needed money for wages and food.
Something had to be done for my Friend, Bert; he was my assistant director on “Back to God’s Country” and he’d suffered frostbite when making the picture. He was in constant pain. I knew if I didn’t get him to a hospital soon, gangrene would set in.
It was a bright cold night. Walking across the ice and looking up at the darkening rim of the mountains I was in despair. Where had I gone wrong, God?
The winter was hard, we were near-famine. We were having difficulty feeding the livestock, let alone ourselves.
We’d rigged a homemade net and gone to Lionhead Creek to try for enough Whitefish to smoke for dog food.
Only the Indians were allowed to net the streams or trap.
There was stock to feed, the barn was empty, and the old witch-howl of the north wind went clear through to my bones, and if matters could not be bad enough, the sheriff comes up-lake to nail a paper on the storehouse door.
NELL PULLS OFF NOTICE
His timing couldn’t have been better.
If you had come for the camera equipment, I’d said, “Sheriff, take it and welcome!
But not the animals or their remaining food! We harness these animals and are responsible for their care.
And we will take care of them! As long as we can cut frostbite from carrots and apples, scratch peanuts from the bottom of sacks, find a pound of flour, barley or a wisp of hay and oats”
“This ‘zoo’ you are attaching is comprised of dozens of
highly trained animals and their loss would involve a small fortune.
Are you prepared to take care of them? Supply them with
proper food and care? You’ll need a vet and at least two experienced keepers to do this,” the Sheriff said.
“You realize if you take our animals, you’ll tie our hands. We’ll have to waive our responsibility for the zoo.”
By this time the Sheriff is looking like he’d rather be in anywhere else than where he was.
The coup de grace was when I I look in the direction of the elk, and say in a menacing tone of voice…
“And some of them are rather dangerous, so you better not
turn your back on any of them!”
t was a pretty good speech; especially since I become
almost tongue-tied around film backers and motion picture
NELL PINS NOTICE BACK .
But when it comes to defending my beloved animals I find my tongue!
I was mulling over these thoughts as I made my way across the ice.
Suddenly I heard a soft rumbling which became a loud, snapping noise: Kind of like the lash of a whip.
I felt a tilt, like I was standing on a manhole cover that had
lost its balance,
And next thing I knew, the ice had broken and I was foundering in
The ice break was a neat chiseled circle and I was in the middle
of it, treading water in a bottomless lake!
I was a long way from the lodge. The windows were tiny
dots of lights in the forest. Even if I shouted at the top of my lungs, no one would hear me.
I had no business being out on the ice so far. My hole was becoming larger as more chunks of ice broke off.
I tested each foot of my ice-fence carefully but none were large enough to hold my weight. I determined to save the binoculars. Anything with a lens I held sacred.
I carefully removed the strap from around my neck, and
threw the binoculars along the ice at chin level. It made a pretty ice spray as it slid toward the shore.
I circled round and round in the icy river. My hole was getting bigger. I could feel the current tug under me. I was drowning.
But, oddly enough, I wasn’t panicked. All I was thinking was that at least there was no watching recorder of my adventure in drowning. No camera trained on my stricken face. Nor did I want one!
I’d always slaved for a Camera! And for what? What did I
have to show for it? Nothing. I garnered not a soupcon of
its promised riches. Indeed, filmmaking had bankrupted me.
And I was drowning, for goodness sakes! I wondered how
long it would take them to find me. Maybe one of the gang would find my frozen carcass.
I knew it wouldn’t be Bert. He couldn’t walk. But he’d find my diary and publish it.
My legs were numb, and my arms felt like they were weighted down with iron.
If I drowned, there would be no one to help Bert pullout of his bankruptcy; no more Nell Shipman, Writing Woman.
I think I prayed. I rested my chin on the rim the ice, and worked my legs as I riding a bicycle under water. And I peddled for dear life!
Now in the movies, there would something to indicate that your prayers were answered; a shaft of lighting, a break in the clouds, heavenly music. Something to indicate to the audience in the dark that you had been heard.
Nothing. Zip. Nada. But then the miracle happened! The
chunk of ice there I rested my chin held firm, and I took hold of it and pulled for all my life.
There was no more sickening, cracking sound of ice
breaking: it held firm. I began to pull myself onto the ice; face, breast and then waist. When I heard my belt buckle scrape the edge, I wanted to cry from relief!
Next, trembling knees, legs, ankles, and finally the faint,
soggy sound of my shoes draining on the ice. I was out of
I scooted over the ice, reached over to retrieve the
binoculars, stood up, and then I started to run! I was
squishing water, and nearly frozen but I headed toward the light of the lodge; toward the home smoke drifting through the trees, back to Laddie running to meet me and Brownie shuffling in her cage when she heard my voice.
I ran past the animals and straight into the cabin. No one must know I’d been out on the forbidden ice!
I striped in my bedroom, rubbed myself dry, got in a pair of dry woolens and went into kitchen to fix supper.