Mona Bell

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Mona Bell (January 13, 1890 – June 1, 1981) was an American rodeo rider, newspaper reporter, and the mistress of entrepreneur Samuel Hill.[1]

Born in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, she went for one year to the University of North Dakota across the state line in Grand Forks, North Dakota; she apparently stood out there for her skills at basketball. She was also a fine rider of horses and good with a rifle and a pistol. By her own account, she appeared in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, although her biographer John A. Harrison was unable to verify that.[1] In any event, it is clear that she was both a rodeo rider (in male disguise) and later a reporter.[1][2]

In 1910 she met Samuel Hill,[1] a prominent entrepreneur 33 years her senior, who was by then almost entirely estranged from his wife, although they never divorced.[3] She moved to Portland, Oregon, in 1920 to be near him,[1] and in 1928 he bought her 35 acres (140,000 m2) on the Columbia River and built her a 22-room house, to which she added an elaborate garden.[2] That same year, she bore him a son. An arranged marriage to Hill's cousin Edgar Hill allowed the son, Sam B. Hill, to be raised as legitimate.[2] The house was eventually lost to the construction of the Bonneville Dam.[2]

In her 20s and 30s she had a career as a reporter for various newspapers around the United States,[1][2] including becoming, in San Francisco, the first female crime reporter in the country.[2] Some time before 1926 she swam the Strait of Juan de Fuca, an achievement possibly exceeding Gertrude Ederle's famed 1926 feat of swimming the English Channel.[2]

Hill was clearly the love of her life,[1][2] although she had two brief marriages, one to a dentist and one to a doctor.[2] Hill had other lovers besides Bell and, indeed, had two other children besides Sam B. outside his marriage, each by a different woman.[4]

In 1933, the U.S. government decided to obtain Bell's land for the Bonneville Dam project. They offered her US$25,000. She went to court and in 1935 received $78,661,[1] ($72,500 plus interest).[2] After a two year round-the-world voyage including six months in Africa,[2] she moved back to Minnesota, where she raised her son, then in 1953 to Riverside, California. In both places, she was known for her elaborate gardens.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i John Terry, Mona Bell won entrepreneur, beat government, stood tall on her own,, 2010-01-31, retrieved 2010-08-04.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Tuhy 1983, pp. 286–289.
  3. ^ Tuhy 1983, passim., p. 86 for Hill's failure to seek divorce.
  4. ^ Tuhy 1983, pp. 282–286.


  • Tuhy, John E. (1983), Sam Hill: The Prince of Castle Nowhere, Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, ISBN 0-917304-77-2 

Further reading[edit]

  • John A. Harrison, A Woman Alone: Mona Bell, Sam Hill and the Mansion on Bonneville Rock (2009), Frank Amato Publications, ISBN 1-57188-452-1.