BLACKFOOT – The seven-foot statue of a somewhat weatherworn cowgirl in a short skirt that marks the driveway to Beaders Paradise just north of Blackfoot may catch the eye of people whizzing past on Highway 91 daily, but most have no inkling of the interesting merchandise, curios, and treasure that await inside the otherwise nondescript red brick building.
In fact, if beads were gold, the heirs of the late Wilma and Martin Mangum would be rich beyond measure, for inside the store sit tens of thousands of them, ranging in size from some so tiny there’s no needle on earth that can pierce them, to some big enough to bend a slender neck if used in a necklace.
The building — known for years simply as Mangum’s Barn — has seen many people come and go as it operated under three different business names since its construction in the early 1950s, but it will soon close its doors and no longer belong to the family.
As the only child of the Mangums, Marietta Womack has been managing the store since the mid ‘80s and says with an audible sigh, “I’m 78 and I have things I want to do.”
Mangum’s Barn is being sold to relatives currently living in Alaska, not due to retire for two more years, she said. What it will become next, she doesn’t know. “It will be somebody else’s project,” she said. “I’ll be making quilts.”
In the meantime, she’s surrounded by beads in display cases, beads in boxes, and beads on shelves, along with books on how to do anything that it’s possible to do with beads, thread, and the tools of the beader trade. She hopes they will all be disposed of within the year.
But what about the treasure? If you should visit the store, you’ll only get to see a small sample of what’s tucked away in another area and may someday end up in a museum. For want of a better term, the treasure is music boxes, ranging in size from a shoebox to a piano and dating from the mid-1880s to the mid-1930s.
They were the forerunners of the modern day jukebox, only a few powered by electric motors, and most having a spring that had to be wound. They brought music to people all over the country, from coast to coast and the dance halls of Texas to the dance halls of the Yukon where they gladdened the ears of lonesome gold miners.
“My parents collected them,” Marietta said. “Whenever they went on a bead-buying trip they would stop at every likely place and ask if they had any music boxes for sale. Now we have about a hundred of them. We haven’t decided what to do with them, but I’d like to see them in a museum where other people could enjoy them.”
Mangum’s Barn, which started as a dance hall, morphed into a western wear store and ended up as Beaders Paradise, was a product of her parents’ love of square dancing. “They got together with some friends who shared their love and formed a club called Calico and Jeans,” she said.
The club met in the basement of a couple of local elementary schools for a time, but the members grew tired of dancing in borrowed places, so Martin and Wilma decided to build their own dance hall. Martin was in demand as a caller and they also traveled to other states and were invited to put on exhibitions, and that’s how it morphed into a western wear store.
Because some of the dancers were short on a certain type of dress required for exhibition dances, mainly men’s western shirts, the Mangums began stocking a little clothing at the dance hall.
At that time, Marietta said, some native people from the Fort Hall Reservation who came to Blackfoot were not happy with the treatment they received in local stores. “We had friends among the Shoshone-Bannock people,” she said. “When they learned we were selling western wear, we became the place they came to, and my folks began stocking more and more clothing along with boots.”
As the original dancers aged, dropped out and no one took their place because the square dance craze was fading, the dance hall became Mangum’s Western Wear. Some of the Fort Hall people began asking Wilma to order fringes for their shawls, Marietta said, and inevitably, they suggested that she should stock the beads they needed. “She ordered some, and they sold so quickly, she was in the bead business as well.”
Between the beads and the western wear, Mangum’s had a brisk and steady clientele, much of it from tourists passing by on Highway 91. Then Interstate 15 came along, Highway 91 traffic dried up and the boom ended, and Mangum’s Western Wear slowly faded away. The couple gave up the ghost in the mid ‘70s, and the Barn morphed again, becoming Beaders Paradise. Her parents traveled the world in search of the highest quality beads, buying most of them from Czechoslovakia and Italy.
“You won’t find any plastic in here,” Marietta says firmly.
The store has beads of every shape, size and color in glass, along with metal and even a few made of rock. There are beads suited to every purpose for which beads can be used. They range in size from 5-20, along with the aforementioned tiny ones, which are called “micro-beads,” too small for any needle.
In her purchase of the latter, Marietta said, she believes her mother accidentally bought the entire world supply. “They haven’t been made since the 1800s.” When used they have to be strung on the finest of threads, the end of which has been made stiff enough by some means to go through the hole, she said, and while people can look at them in the store, they won’t be among the items for sale.
The stock also includes what are known as “trade beads,” she said, beads made in Italy where they are called “millefiori.” These were purchased by slave traders to be used in trading in Africa and other countries for the people they later sold. The beads came to America with the fur companies, who traded them to native trappers for pelts. They come in different sizes and are purchased now for making necklaces.
Because beads are something of a specialty item, Marietta said, in recent years the doors to the store have been open only on Thursdays and by appointment. The phone number is 208-604-1841.