Born in Northern China to impoverished farmers, Lalu Nathoy was sold to bandits during a prolonged drought for two bags of seed and shipped to San Francisco where she was auctioned off as a slave for $2,500 in 1872. Her buyer, Hong King, ran a saloon in Warrens, a mining camp in Idaho, where Lalu—renamed Polly—worked until she won her freedom.
As a free woman, Polly ran a popular boarding house in Warrens and lived with Charlie Bemis, a saloon keeper who'd befriended her on her arrival. In 1894 the two married and settled on the River of No Return. Polly, who twice saved Charlie's life and outlived him by ten years, was renowned for her generous hospitality, humor, skill in nursing, and love of animals as well as people.
Respected and loved by many in life, Polly became a legend in death. Her final cabin, now a museum, is in the National Register of Historic Places, and at the dedication ceremonies in 1987, Idaho's Governor Cecil Andrus declared, "The history of Polly Bemis is a great part of the legacy of central Idaho. She is the foremost pioneer on the rugged Salmon River."
The 2004 edition of THOUSAND PIECES OF GOLD, a biographical novel about Lalu Nathoy/Polly Bemis, includes an essay in which the author, Ruthanne Lum McCunn, documents her research for the book and her discoveries in the years since.