Profile of a North Idaho Mountain Man

“They hug you with their neck,” said Tom Knoll of Coeur d’Alene. Knoll has owned “Jesse,” a 25-year-old mule, for 23 years.

By Shane Richard Bell

Staff writer

Some people know with a voice of clarity what they are supposed to be in life. Tom Knoll of Coeur d’Alene knew what that voice was saying from a young age and has been following its direction ever since.

Knoll has been exploring the outdoors in North Idaho for more than 40 years. He is an outdoorsman, a mountain man, and a man among nature. He hunts, fishes, and takes his mule, “Jesse,” on long-distance mule-packing trips through vast mountain ranges of wilderness.

Nature is something that has always been there for Knoll, a constant source of satisfaction throughout each phase of his life. Ironically, it all began with a film. When he was 14 years old, his grandfather showed him a documentary that he had made on one of his mule packing trips. “Ever since I saw that movie I’ve been interested in the [outdoors],” Knoll said.

A spark flew after seeing his grandfather’s documentary and Knoll began dreaming and thinking of his own hunting adventures. Soon after, his uncle took him dove hunting in Green Bluff, Wash. Then it was duck hunting. When he was 18, he shot his first deer on the banks of the Spokane River.

Since 1962, the year Knoll started hunting, he has successfully hunted elk, moose, Rocky Mountain goat, bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer, cougar, bear, and waterfowl. Hunting animals to accumulate trophies is not one of Knoll’s goals for hunting. “My successes are counted by the days in the field and not by the animals I’ve hunted,” Knoll said. “The days in the field are most important, we’re lucky to have that. If you get a nice animal while hunting, that’s just frosting on the cake.”

Following these animals has led Knoll to backcountry places many people never even see, often on mule packing and hunting trips in Idaho and Montana that have covered more than 100 miles. But he doesn’t make the trips alone. “I have to tell him how pretty he is every day,” said Knoll, commenting on his “gregarious and intelligent” packing mule, “Jesse.” The mule accompanies Knoll on his trips and can carry at least 200 pounds of game meat for up to 25 miles at a time. “He’s my buddy,” Knoll said. “He’ll let me lay on him.” The 800-1,000 pound mule will also sit beside him with its hind legs resting on the ground while Knoll puts his arm around him, like two friends sitting on a bench posing for a picture together.

Knoll’s favorite thing in the world is to be in the mountains. “I love everything about it. I love the smell of the animals. I love the smell of the leather. I love seeing the tamarack forest. I love the creeks and the birds,” Knoll said. “Most guys don’t get to do this ever when it’s an experience that everyone should have the chance to do.”

Trying new things has always been Knoll’s modus operandi, especially if it involves the outdoors. For a while he helped his brother, Dave Knoll, open up Black Sheep Sporting Goods in Coeur d’Alene. Dave Knoll still owns the sporting goods store, and his son, Brian Knoll, is the general manager. He also worked at the White Elephant Surplus Store. He’s been on Mount Spokane’s Ski Patrol, guided fishing trips in Alaska, and recently installed wiring for Washington State University’s Martin Stadium as a journeyman electrician. “I can’t even think about all the things I’ve done,” Knoll said. “That’s what I like about life, you can try all the things you want.”

Yet it is the place where he begins and ends his days, his home and property near Alpine Lake between Hayden Lake and Athol, Idaho, where he finds what matters most to him. Outside, standing on the berm near his home, surrounded by his horses, mules, and Labrador “Maddie,” Knoll looks out to the group of aspen trees that turn gold in autumn. “It doesn’t get any better than that,” Knoll says, “and sitting by the fire in the middle of winter reading old Western books.”

Cda native crowned Miss Rodeo Idaho 2012, excited for fair

Caitlin Thornton, Miss Rodeo Idaho 2012, presents the American flag at the Eagle Rodeo in Southern Idaho.

By Shane Richard Bell

Staff writer

She speaks in front of large groups of people. She models, poses for pictures, and partakes in interviews with the media.  She skillfully rides, jumps, and showcases horses.  She knows the rodeo, has a vision for its future, and loves to reach out to the fans. That’s why Coeur d’Alene native Caitlin Thornton was crowned Miss Rodeo Idaho 2012.

Thornton will be visiting the North Idaho Fair Friday, Aug. 24 through Sunday Aug. 26. This rodeo will be one of around sixty she is scheduled to attend this year, but the North Idaho Fair is her favorite, says Thornton. “It’s the one I grew up watching and you also get some of the top cowboys throughout the country. One cowboy, Trevor Brazile, I met is the best cowboy in the country, and nobody can beat him right now.”

The cowboys are a great source of inspiration to Thornton. “These guys are real, hard working people. They love the sport and they love the fans,” Thornton said. Oftentimes a cowboy will perform around 100 rodeos per year. “They are very determined. You don’t meet many people who travel with a horse trailer as much as they do. These guys are not only competing but they’re great friends and they are willing to help anybody out. It’s a really tight knit family. You can ask any of these guys for help and they will help you.”

Cowboys aren’t the only ones who work hard for the rodeo, though. “When I originally won, I don’t think it really sunk in. I had been working since January and it was July,” Thornton said. “So when I put on the banner and the crown for the first time at the rodeo, it fully sunk in that this is what I am going to be doing for the next year,” said Thornton, speaking of her announcement as Miss Rodeo Idaho 2012 in July of 2011. As winner of Miss Rodeo Idaho, she won awards for personality, rodeo knowledge, photography, and horsemanship.

Rodeo was the goal for Thornton but many other experiences were the steps. She joined 4-H in Coeur d’Alene, and trained younger horses to compete on with her father. “My dad grew up on a ranch in Southern Idaho. He has the horse bug,” Thornton said, “but I really had it bad, and it kind of blossomed from there and it didn’t stop.” Her father fully supports Caitlin’s choices. “I would rather have her fooling around with horses than horsing around with fools,” said Dan Thornton. Caitlin agrees: “Going out and riding was the best thing I could have done growing up.”

As an ambassador of rodeo, Thornton has the opportunity to educate people in the arena of rodeo. Thornton takes pleasure in answering questions from people who have never been to a rodeo.  “It’s about being able to transform someone who has never been to a rodeo before into someone who is going to come back and bring family and friends and be lifetime fans,” Thornton said.

Mentoring girls is one of Thornton’s greatest missions as a rodeo queen because she relates her past to her present position, using both to reach the next generation of rodeo. “These girls look up to whoever is Miss Rodeo because they want to be her someday. The sport of rodeo and being a rodeo queen cannot continue unless we have a good future to go on to,” Thornton said.

Thornton admits her journey hasn’t been flawless. “I’ve been told I walk like a cowboy. Modeling for me has been very hard. I was never at the top. In high school I was in the middle of the pack, but now being at the top of the pack, it’s been very unusual. But now I have gotten used to it,” Thornton said.

Now, Thornton feels comfortable in her role. “I can talk a lot and have a great conversation. I can talk to anybody and inform them about the sport.”

Three weeks ago, while Thornton was moving equipment out of the arena to make room for a rodeo event, a little girl spotted the rodeo queen through the slats of the fence.  “Are you a real princess?” the girl asked. Turning around, Thornton smiled and said “yes.”

A schedule for the 2012 PRCA Rodeo at the North Idaho Fair can be found on the above page. “This sport was made for all families to watch and appreciate and enjoy. And what is so great is that this fair and rodeo can bring a family together, for at least one night, “ Thornton said.

Hypnotist reveals story, coming to 2012 Kootenai Fair

By Shane Richard Bell 

Staff writer for the Coeur d’Alene Press 



Jerry Harris, one of the most talented and sought after hypnotists in the country, poses for a portrait.


He had the ticket in his hand but something was holding him back.  The small charter flight was about to depart but the notion of flying on a four-seat aircraft made him feel nauseous and uncertain. Forfeiting his ticket, he took a seat and waited to reschedule his flight.

Minutes later the charter flight crashed and no one survived. Jerry Harris, at the time a vice president for a major corporation, was dumbfounded. It was 1985 in Florida, and for a man who thought he was at the top of the world with a successful career, a wife and three girls, he felt utterly lost.

For him to avoid fate so intensely had to mean something greater. “For all the miles I logged, I never had an accident,” Harris said. “Somebody was watching over me and I am thankful for that. We’re all being guided through life and it was obviously not my time to depart.”

That night he told his wife to pursue a nursing career in case something should happen to him. Instead, she secured a $1 million dollar life insurance policy for her husband.

Six months later, the same tragedy happened again: another commuter flight he held a ticket but did not board crashed and no one survived. Stressed and overburdened with work, Harris began exploring hypnosis upon the recommendation of his wife and doctor.

He was hooked, and immediately started studying hypnosis. Twenty-four years later, Jerry Harris, a professional hypnotist, is traveling the country an average of 300 days per year to perform a dynamic show blending “entertainment with education.” He’ll be performing at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds on Wednesday, August 22nd through Sunday, August 26th.

While many people have had a glimpse of hypnosis, defining it remains murky. “It’s nothing more than a combination of concentration and relaxation,” said Harris, who compares the mental state to watching a movie and becoming lost in its story and graphics.

“Everyone thinks it’s this bizarre thing,” says Harris, “but really we do it all the time.”  Harris claims a person under hypnosis is still conscious. “But in that moment their inhibitions are lowered, so they can be Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber [without] caring what the audience is doing.”

But hypnosis goes beyond the lights of the stage for Harris. “It’s a tremendous tool. I need to write a book about the people I’ve helped. The mind is the most dynamic tool in the universe. If you can help people go into their mind and release endorphins, you can see the pain go away.” Using hypnosis, Harris tells stories of helping people with multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and arthritis.  

“For me personally I am as much an educator as I am an entertainer. Every time I perform I think, ‘there are people in this audience who really need this tool.’’

For instance, one girl who came to his show lost her wallet with $200 that she had received for her birthday. She looked to no avail. Harris helped “take her back to the moment” when she lost her wallet. Yet she still couldn’t remember. Later that night, however, she found it and e-mailed Harris to tell him of her breakthrough.

Other stories highlight pure entertainment. Harris recently turned a group of burly men into Russian ballerinas. While spinning and prancing, they spoke Russian to each other. “They were so good, so animated, that I made them sing,” said Harris. Afterwards people commented that they were hoarse from laughing so hard for so long.

“I truly love what I do and I am really looking forward to coming to Coeur d’Alene,” concluded Harris. “I love Coeur d’Alene.”

To find show times for Jerry Harris at the 2012 Kootenai County Fair, visit