Portrait courtesy of the Library of Congress.
After nearly six years and over six hundred profiles, the Strangest Names In American Political History can point to Idaho as being a state with a very meager amount of representation here on the site. With just Burpee L. Steeves (a former Lieutenant Governor) and Trowbridge C. Egleston (a former Mayor of Caldwell) keeping the flame alive for the Gem State, Idaho gains another profile here due to the political service of Kirtland Irving Perky, who for several months represented that state in the U.S. Senate due to a vacancy.
A lawyer based in Nebraska prior to his removal to Idaho, Perky briefly served as a state district court judge prior to his short stint in the U.S. Senate. A native of the Buckeye State, Kirtland Irving Perky was born in Smithville, Wayne County, Ohio on February 8, 1867, being the son of Dr. John Firestone and Esther Martin Perky. Young Kirtland's early education took place in the state of his birth and at age thirteen removed with his family to Nebraska. Despite their move, Perky continued his higher education in Ohio. graduating from Ohio Northern University in 1888 with his Bachelor of Science degree. He married in April 1891 to Ella Hunter (1870-1921), with whom he would have one daughter, Esther (1892-1980).
Returning to Nebraska following his graduation, Perky took up the study of law in Lincoln, first with the law firm of Bryan and Talbot (the Bryan being William Jennings Bryan.) Perky continued to study with the firm of Cornish and Tibbetts and for one year studied law at the University of Iowa, being admitted to the bar in 1890. He established his first practice at Wahoo, Nebraska, where he remained until 1894. He shortly thereafter relocated to Albion, Idaho, and after several years in that location moved his practice to Mountain Home. It was in this city that Perky first entered politics, being appointed as a state district court judge in 1901, filling a vacancy. Perky would briefly serve in that post, declining to run for election in his own right.
Around the same time as his service as judge, Kirtland Perky took on additional political duties when he was named as chairman of the Idaho democratic central committee, holding that office from 1900-1902. He would continue with his law practice for the next decade and in 1912 achieved national prominence when he was selected by then Governor James Hawley to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate. This vacancy had been occasioned by the death of two-term senator Weldon Brinton Heyburn, who had died shortly after collapsing on the floor of the U.S. Senate in October 1912.
From the Boise Evening Capital News, November 17, 1912.
Kirtland I. Perky officially took his seat in the U.S. Senate on November 18, 1912, and would serve in that capacity until the close of the Senate term in February 1913. On February 5, 1913, former Idaho Governor James Henry Brady was duly elected by the Idaho legislature as Heyburn's successor and Perky retired to Boise to resume the practice of law. Following his return, Perky became a senior member of the law firm of Perky and Brinck and in 1916 was part of the Idaho delegation to the Democratic National Convention held in St. Louis.
In 1923 Kirtland Perky removed to Los Angeles, California, where he continued to practice law. In 1932 he reemerged on the political scene on behalf of his friend Ralph W. Eckhardt, who was then running for the California state assembly. As both men had known one another from their time in Idaho, Perky took to the stump for his friend, describing him as a "man of staunch loyalty and a Democrat in the truest sense of the word."
Perky continued to reside in Los Angeles until his death on January 9, 1939, at age 71. He was preceded in death by his wife Ella, who died aged 51 in 1921 and was buried in Boise. Following his death, Perky was interred at the famed Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, the resting place of such luminaries as L. Frank Baum, Wallace Beery, Humphrey Bogart, Jean Harlow, Aimee Semple McPherson and Michael Jackson.
Perky during his time in the U.S. Senate, courtesy of the Library of Congress.