The Austrian Settlement

By Rachel Holt

Eight Families and an Old West Scam

For me, the word “scam” describes something that happens in far-off places, to other people. I’ve never really thought about it happening to me or someone I know, and I certainly never considered it happening to someone a century ago.

That’s why when I saw a flier for the Owyhee County Museum Sesquicentennial Celebration that promised a presentation on a hundred-year-old scam, I was intrigued. After driving through rolling hills to Murphy, I met with Joe Demshar, director of the Owyhee County Museum, who would be giving the presentation. He has a very personal connection to the story. The scam concerned members of the “Austrian Settlement” near Homedale, from which Joe descends. He’s a fifth-generation Demshar, one of eight families who settled there in 1914. The other families were the Dolences, Cegnars, Kushlans, Bahems, Jesenkos, Marcheks and the Miklovichs. They were originally from Slovenia with the exception of the Bahems, who were German.

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of founding of the Austrian Settlement. Despite many obstacles, the families who stayed in the area survived and thrived. To honor them, Homedale will erect a monument to the settlement. On February 15, more than three hundred people crowded into the Homedale Armory to hear Joe’s story. Here’s what he said: 

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