Prescott Arizona’s Children of the Night

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

The following is excerpted from Good Time Girls of Arizona and New Mexico: A Red-Light History of the American Southwest.

One of the worst perils a working girl could face was becoming pregnant. Unmarried mothers were frowned on society to begin with. Prostitutes, already burdened with being societal outcasts, could be put out of work by such a malady. Many girls used birth control, but in frontier Arizona there were few reliable remedies. The girls found that using opiates sometimes suspended menses. Diaphragms, the most common type of birth control available, could be fashioned with beeswax, eel skin, a hollowed out orange half or a large glob of Vaseline. Wealthier girls could perhaps afford condoms made from animal intestines or later, rubber. Douching with a choice of anything from water to more dangerous substances such as alum or sulphate of zinc could actually push sperm farther into the uterus. Thus, those who employed these practices were susceptible to their birth control failing them.

If a woman found herself pregnant, she was naturally left with two choices: either have an abortion, or carry the baby to term. But abortion operations could be hard to come by, especially after Congress passed the Comstock Act in 1873, an “Act of the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use.” Such literature included information about abortion and contraception. While women could still access information about such things via a friend, neighbor or other means, the subject remained largely forbidden and the information unreliable. Few frontier doctors were skilled, willing, or even allowed by law, to perform abortions. Within the red light district might be a woman who knew how to perform abortions, but such an operation came with great risk of infection or a botched procedure that could result in dire injury or death. Such back-alley “grannies” were only sometimes charged if their patients died. Abortion in the United States had long been outlawed, and by 1900 the procedure was a felony in every state.

On the other end of the pendulum was how word of such an operation might further deplete a girl’s already tarnished reputation. Those desperate to terminate their pregnancies could try jumping up and down, running, prolonged horseback riding, douching with dangerous chemicals or even throwing themselves down a set of stairs. Some women tried to induce miscarriages with home remedies. Perhaps the most dangerous of these was Ergot, a fungus that was already in use by some doctors to control bleeding after childbirth. The user could indeed induce a miscarriage, but risked other such dangerous side effects as cramps, vomiting, convulsions and even gangrene of the extremities. Quinine could also be used, but the large doses required might damage the kidneys. Consumption of numerous herbs including Black Cohosh, Saffron and other kitchen spices might induce an abortion. Or not. In the latter case, an abortion was the only other alternative. Many women who could not afford such services were forced with no other choice but to give birth. Much of the time, if the infant survived it was given away, abandoned, or turned over to an orphanage. But shame over their unwanted child and the means by which it was conceived could also persuade a woman to keep her baby and try to raise it herself.

In Prescott, the shady ladies of Granite Street, just one block south of “Whiskey Row” along Montezuma Street, were mostly extended freedom and acceptance when it came to selling sex. Prescott was in fact quite lenient in its laws against prostitution, often looking the other way when the ladies violated territorial prostitution laws. Those women who strayed beyond the designated “restricted district” or broke other loosely-worded city ordinances only came into the limelight when a real crime or violence was committed. Notably, little appeared in the newspapers about how officials dealt with children of the women. Various records, though scant, do illustrate how the fine citizens of Prescott accepted, adopted and looked after orphans and abandoned children in their community.

A favorite story from Whiskey Row is about Violet “Baby Bell” Hicks, who was intentionally abandoned by her mother at the Cabinet Saloon. Men in the saloon noticed the “comely young woman” who dropped her off, but apparently made no attempt to stop her. The forty or so men present gathered around the little bundle, and in due course some of them offered to adopt her. Legend states the men played dice with the stipulation that the winner would get the baby. In truth, Probate Judge Charles Hicks, who handled adoptions in town, was summoned and subsequently took charge of the child. They say the men present sent Hicks off with $300 for the baby’s care. What is known for sure is that Hicks and his wife Allie adopted and raised Violet in due course.

Most unfortunately, Violet Hicks proved an exception to so many children who never lived to school age. Lack of prenatal care, qualified physicians in rural areas, and general knowledge of childcare could hinder a child’s growth and make it susceptible to illness and disease. It is no wonder, in the days before aspirin, penicillin and other medicines we depend on today. People, and especially children, were subject to such illnesses as cholera, smallpox and measles. Poor sanitary conditions could produce a number of fatal intestinal diseases. And, there were always colds which easily developed into a deadly flu.

In Yavapai County, the first documented child of a prostitute was Mariana Bran [sic], who is recorded in the first Arizona Territorial Census as living with Santa Lopez. Santa was noted as being the mistress of “Negro Brown.” One-year-old Mariana may have been Brown’s child, her surname misspelled by the census taker. What happened to Mariana remains a mystery, but by 1870 even a well cared for inner-city child had only a 50 percent chance of making it to the age of five. At least three children were surviving in Prescott’s red light district during the 1870’s. In July of 1870, the census noted that one house, occupied by three young women known as Maria Quavaris, Pancha Bolona and Joan Arris, also included an eight month old infant, Savana Deas, who had been born in Arizona. Any one of the women might have been the child’s mother.

Overall, most prostitute mothers did not welcome the idea of a pregnancy or a child interfering with their professional lives. Only a small number of children followed in their mother’s footsteps; most were raised by family members, or sent off to boarding schools by those mothers who could afford it. Other times, the child was left behind with a relative, or perhaps even abandoned along with the father. When Ellen “Nellie” Stackhouse (nee Ellen L. Crane) was murdered in 1877, it was noted she had a husband and child in San Francisco.

Infant mortality rates due to their mother’s doing had become so rampant by 1877 that Arizona Territory enacted a law against women killing or concealing the death of their “bastard” children, as follows:

“If any woman shall endeavor, privately, either by herself or the procurement of others, to conceal the death of any issue of her body, male or female, which, if born alive, would be a bastard, so that it may not come to light, whether it shall have been murdered or not, every such mother being convicted thereof shall suffer imprisonment in the county jail for a term not exceeding one year; provided, however, that nothing herein contained shall be so construed as to prevent such mother from being indicted and punished for the murder of such bastard child.”

Plenty of living infants and children were present in Prescott’s red light district along Granite Street. In 2005, archaeological excavations in portions of the red light district revealed marbles and other toys, indicating that at some point, children lived among the ladies. The 1880 census proves this also, revealing that prostitutes Mary Healey, Mollie Martin, Juana Lugo, and Francisa Traney all had children residing with them in their brothels. Mary Healey and Mollie Martin both lived with Madam Ann Hamilton in a plush house on Granite Street. Mary Healey had an 8 month old son, Henry, born the previous September. Very little is known about mother and child, save for the census information. According to that, Mary had been born in 1861 in California. Henry was also born there, and the only information known about his father is that he had been born in Massachusetts.

A little more is known about Mollie Martin and her daughter, Edith. Mollie was born in 1856 in New Jersey, and told the census taker she was married. Edith had been born in Arizona in 1878, and her father had been born in Virginia. Mollie was either pregnant with Edith or had already given birth in April of 1878 when she was involved in a scuffle. The Weekly Arizona Miner reported that she, Willie Beatty and Jennie Warren had appeared in court on assault and battery charges. The threesome pleaded guilty, and were fined $25 each. “The fines were paid,” concluded the paper, “and the damsels discharged.” An excavation of Ann Hamilton’s brothel in 2004 revealed a small porcelain doll head. Did the doll belong to Edith? The truth will likely never be known.

Little is known about Juana Lugo’s three year old daughter, Josephine, except that she was born in Arizona. In the case of Francisca Tranery, the thirty-year old woman actually had two children living with her. One was her daughter, a ten year old named Rosa who was born in Arizona. The other, six year old Francisco Fryo, is listed in the 1880 census as a “boarder”. No other information about the boy, except that he had been born in Arizona and his parents born in Mexico, is known. Children also were present with prostitutes living at the mining camps in the Bradshaw Mountains close to Prescott. At the Peck Mine was 25-year-old Josepa Noreiga of Mexico. Josepa lived with stable keeper W. J. Milvenon and miner Thomas Gormley. Also in the house was Josepa’s son, two year old Charles Noreiga, listed as a nephew of Milvenon. Charles’ birthplace was listed as Arizona. His father was born in Ohio. Since Milvenon claimed to have been born in Massachusetts, and Gormley was from Connecticut, it can be safely assumed that neither man was Charles’ father.

By 1900, the mortality rate for children on average was slightly lower than before, with toddlers averaging a 75 percent chance of surviving to the age of five years. Those who were born into a union, before their mothers turned to prostitution, were probably the most fortunate. There were exceptions, however. In Prescott, Bessie Covell told the 1900 census taker she had been married for two years and had given birth to two children, but that both had died. Several other working girls in the census were widows and likely forced by their station to work as prostitutes. Such women included Daisy Martin, a widow at the young age of 22, who told the census taker she had a child who did not live with her. Thirty-eight-year old Emma Wilson, also a widow, claimed five children who were still living, with no indication of where they might be. Mattie Wasson was not as fortunate as Emma Wilson. She too had been married for ten years before her husband died, and two of her four children had also died. The hard-core harlot Stella Shank, featured frequently in newspapers due to her antics and brushes with the law, had it even worse. Stella became an unwilling widow after nine years of marriage, and only one of her seven children was still living.

Like Stella Shank, Minnie Moore also made occasional headlines. Minnie was an immigrant from Spain who also was a widow. She had given birth to seven children, but only three were still alive. The pain of losing her children aside, Minnie was known to have lived in Tempe in 1893 when she was arrested for prostitution. No mention was made of her children in reports of her arrest. In Prescott, Minnie shared a house with Minnie Smith who recorded no children of her own. Nor were Minnie Moore’s children living with her, leaving their whereabouts unknown.

Surprisingly, the women of Granite Street were quite open with the census taker in 1900, aside from fibbing about their true occupations as prostitutes. The giddy girls of Prescott had no qualms about revealing whether they were married and had children. In all cases, both husband and said offspring were apparently living elsewhere. One of these women was Flora Freese who said she was born in California, had been married for eight years, and had two children. Likewise, Amelia Hernandez also said she had been married, for six years, and had four children. Fifty-five-year old Carrie Neal revealed frankly that she was single but had given birth to a child sometime in her past. When she died in 1918, no known family member came forth to claim her remains.

By 1901, firm laws were in place with regards to furnishing “necessary food, clothing, shelter or medical attendance” for children by their parents. There also was a law against abandoning any child under sixteen years of age “in any place whatever, with intent fully to abandon it”. Violation of this last law could result in prison time. Unfortunately, the law could do little about the reckless behavior of parents, especially those in the red light district. In April 1907, Faustina Cruz and Alfonso Moreno “shot and carved, respectively”, one Angle Perez in a Granite Street saloon. Just a month later, on May 10, Faustina gave birth to a stillborn baby at her home at 219 North Granite Street. Prescott’s funeral home records are full of these cases. Just down the street from Faustina, in 1910, Refugio and Adela Staragosa’s thirteen day old baby, Manuela, died of apparent crib death at 242 South Granite.

Even as Prescott’s known working girls eventually wandered away from Granite Street, the old red light district continued to be a dingy, unhealthy place. Due to its raucous past, no decent citizen would live there, leaving the neighborhood open to inhabitants of the poorer class. Witness Macario Castaneda, the child of Macario Castaneda and Delores y Tuarte who succumbed to colitis in June of 1919. The death took place at 220 Granite Street. Similar deaths were reported between 1921 and as late as 1936, the deaths of these children occurring in quarters formerly occupied, or sometime still occupied, by red light ladies. Such common maladies as whooping cough, pneumonia, scarlet fever and other childhood illnesses were countered with blatant notes on the babies’ care. “Poor food. Lack of intelligence in feeding,” read the cause of death for a nine-month old baby at the home of Aoroa Cruz on South Granite Street in 1926.

For the most part, the fates of babies born into prostitution were seldom covered by newspapers or anywhere else. Local newspapers did make the most of the case of Lucille R. Bedford, the three-year old child of sporting woman Eileen Bedford. Born Eileen Glassel Mitchell, Eileen was the former wife of Charles Bedford, a well known saloon man. The couple had been married at Prescott on July 18, 1901 and lived happily at their home at 232 S. Marina Street through 1904. The marriage did not prove suitable, and the couple eventually divorced in 1906. Charles moved to Los Angeles, while Eileen remained in Prescott. There, she rented Room 16, an apartment above the Wellington Saloon on Montezuma Street.

Despite being from a wealthy family and inheriting part of an $800,000 fortune left by her grandfather, Eileen was “well known to the pleasure resorts” of Prescott. Whether she actively worked as a prostitute is unknown, but she was generally regarded as “a woman of excellent education, quiet, unassuming and of rather fine disposition.”xxi Little Lucille had been sent to live with her grandmother when Eileen grew despondent, probably over the failure of her marriage. In March of 1907 she attempted suicide with a gun, but it was taken away from her. On April 9, after a day of drinking, Eileen was escorted to her room by proprietor B. F. Winn of the Wellington. Both Winn and his bartender tried to talk Eileen out of drinking any more, and Winn retired to his room. Sometime later he heard Eileen groaning and rushed back to her room, only to find she successfully shot herself in the heart with a Colt .38. She was only 25 years old. Eileen’s body was removed to Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles for burial.

Eileen had in fact been planning to visit her mother, Mrs. Susan G. Mitchell, in Los Angeles within a few days. Her reasons for choosing suicide were unknown, but they could have been because she feared facing her mother and revealing her current occupation. And, learning of her daughter’s occupation may have indeed been what caused Mrs. Mitchell to become ill. Following Eileen’s death, the grieving mother made a will and bequeathed her $250,000 estate to be divided between Eileen’s estate and her other daughter, Mrs. Lucie [sic] Lamborne.

A 1908 lawsuit by little Lucy’s guardian ad litem alleged that shortly before Mitchell’s death in December of 1907, Lamborne had drawn up another will and made her mother sign it. The new will decreed that Lamborne would receive her mother’s house, its furnishings and $10,000 in stock in the firm of Lambourne [sic] & Sons. Little Lucille would get half of what remained, but later reports claimed the amount was only five dollars. This suit was apparently dropped. Charles Bedford also filed suit, in 1909, contesting Eileen’s will. Bedford lost his appeal in court; however, Lucy Lamborne agreed to give half of the fortune left to little Lucy on the condition she be allowed to adopt her.

Lamborne got her wish, for in 1910 little Lucy was living at the Lamborne home in Los Angeles. When Lucy Lamborne died in 1930, her obituary stated she was little Lucy’s mother. But little Lucy was long gone from the home, having married Donald Bryant and relocated to Bakersfield, California where she lived happily with her husband and two sons. Either the family fortune was gone as well, or Lucy Bryant turned her back on it. Census records for 1930 and 1940, as well as various California city directories, indicate Donald worked in the oil fields throughout the southern portion of the state.

I Knew You Were Coming! A Psychic in old Prescott, Arizona

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Frontier Gazette.

The psychics and seers which swept the nation during the 1890’s were not lost on Prescott. Ouija boards and crystal balls were all the rage, making for colorful tea parties and other soirees. Thus Prescott saw more than its fair share of clairvoyants in town. One such person, Mrs. Weils-Bedell of Denver, set up shop for about a week right next to Brinkmeyer’s Hotel in 1896.

But Mrs. Weils-Bedell had nothing on the great hypnotist, psychic and mind reader Dr. Alexander J. McIvor-Tyndall. Born in England, Tyndall had immigrated to America by 1893. The earliest articles about his psychic “gifts” place him in St. Louis, Missouri where he not only hypnotized at least one fellow, but also played out his most magnificent talent: driving a carriage, blindfolded, while reading the thoughts of whomever sat next to him to figure out where he needed to go.

News writer Theodore Dreiser later recalled how Tyndall requested several men to accompany him on the ride. “And, amusingly enough, I was ordered to get up the committee,” said Dreiser, “and sit on the seat and do the thinking while he, blindfolded, raced in and out between cars and wagons, turning sharp corners, escaping huge trucks by a hair only, as my thoughts directed him. When written up as true, which it was, it made a very good story indeed.”

At an 1899 appearance in Ouray, Colorado, it was announced that Dr. T’s fees were “not less than $5 in any city in the world. For the next few days, however, he will give his full $5 reading at a special rate of $2.50, and a short reading at $1.00. Those who cannot afford these fees will please not call, as McIvor-Tyndall’s time is limited. He is a busy man.”

Prescottonians surely had their money in hand when Tyndall arrived in town on New Year’s Eve in 1901. The Arizona Weekly Journal Miner called him “the celebrated exponent of the occult”, who “enjoys the distinction of being the most famous scientist along psychic lines of the present day, and his demonstrations are unique, mystifying and highly entertaining.” The good doctor stuck around for over a month, ending his visit with the famed blindfolded carriage ride.

Notably, the Journal Miner recalled a time in the not-too-distant past when the same carriage ride was attempted by Tyndall in San Francisco. After riding around for several hours unsuccessfully, the psychic had become “unconscious and remained in a trance for seven days”. Another time, in Seattle, businessman Herman Miller bet $1,000 that Tyndall could not open his safe by gleaning the combination by reading Miller’s mind. The feat was carried out successfully, but a passing police officer saw the men in the dim light of Miller’s office, believed them to be thieves, and arrested them as “safecrackers.”

The incidents in San Francisco and Seattle didn’t seem to bother the good people of Prescott. They wanted to see the blindfolded carriage ride, and they got it. In this instance, “a committee of prominent citizens” were to hide an item somewhere in the city. Tyndall would then drive around town, blindfolded, and find it. Whether Tyndall’s ride was successful was never reported, but the celebrated carriage ride performance eventually faded in favor of his giving lectures and writing books—as well as a titillating love triangle.

Around the same time he was in Prescott, Tyndall found a new love in his life, just as was predicted by a London psychic many years before. She was an actress named Laura Hughes, who eventually moved in with Tyndall as well as his wife, Margaret. Most surprisingly, Margaret didn’t mind. “Is there any chance for me to fight against fate?” she explained. “It is the cosmic law, the cosmic urge.”

Even after Laura became pregnant and married Tyndall in 1917, Margaret continued living with the newlyweds in Illinois where they were “celebrating, eating ice cream in a world peopled by nomads and tadpoles and Philistines, blissful in their own company and scornful of carping jeerers. It is a strangely contented triangle.”

Predictably, Margaret eventually disappeared from the picture as Tyndall continued his tours and writing under various names. The new Mrs. Tyndall and her husband became pastors of various spiritual churches in New York. By 1940 the couple had returned to California. When he died there in 1940, Tyndall was remembered as “one of the most astounding workers ever to appear on the platform” across America.

The Ups and Downs of Bumblebee, Arizona

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Frontier Gazette.

Much like the fuzzy little insect, Bumblebee—located in southern Yavapai County just off of Interstate 17—has seen several flights of fancy. Since 1863 the tiny community has served as a short-lived mining camp, stage stop, post office, tourist attraction and these days, an historic landmark for ghost town enthusiasts.

There are no less than three stories explaining how Bumblebee got its name, all involving the flying critters and a nearby creek. Only forest ranger L.J. Putsch, however, ever offered evidence of a first-hand account. “Uncle Tom Saunders told me that in 1863 he and some other prospectors found a bumblebee’s nest full of honey in the cliffs along the creek,” Putsch wrote to historian and rancher Will C. Barnes. “Several of the party were badly stung so they named it Bumble Bee Creek.”

It should be noted that Bumblebee was originally not called that at all. The community was first known as Snyder’s Station after rancher W.W. Snyder. The name stuck until the first of several post offices was established as Bumblebee in 1879. Snyder was naturally the first postmaster, but Bumblebee’s series of stop—and—start post offices are indeed an enigma; postal stations were established and discontinued there twice in 1879, twice again in 1888, once in 1901 and a final time in 1928.

Although those early bee-bitten prospectors did find a bit of gold, by 1877 Bumblebee had become most useful as a stage stop between Prescott and Phoenix with several mining camps in between. An article in the Arizona Weekly Miner that year talked of a man named Besler who planned to build a stage station at “Bumble Bee Flat.” Mines such as the Bumble Bee and the Lucky Mack were staked in 1879 without much luck. In 1880 James Bobo served as station agent and postmaster, making around $46 per month.

News of Bumblebee over the next twenty years was scarce, but the town was still buzzing enough in 1902 to merit a postal contract extending to the town of Richinbar down today’s I-17 under J.R. Lowry. The Snyder family was still there too, as evidenced by an article about the marriage of W.W.’s daughter in 1907. Other prominent citizens included pioneers William Martin and Carl Anderson who settled in 1911 and 1912 respectively, and storekeepers William and Edna Martin.

As with so many rural towns, death visited Bumblebee often. Newspapers reported on the deaths of Carl Smith and a Mrs. Jackson’s new baby in 1907. In 1924, widow Susan Neatherland died at the Hidden Treasure Mine near Bumblebee. There were also a few murders, including the 1925 beating death of 75-year-old Thomas Glasgow, the 1929 shooting death of sheep herder Juan Chacon, and the killing of Carl Wester by gunshot in 1931. And in 1933 an unidentified man, apparently a suicide, was also found near town.

During the late 1930’s, business entrepreneurs saw gold in Bumblebee yet, and worked to turn it into a tourist mecca. New construction, credited to one Jeff Martin, added old—fashioned looking buildings to the site. A souvenir trading post and café was established in the old school. The “new” portion of the town was actually located some 250 feet west of the original site, but over time people lost interest in both. Bumblebee in its entirety was put up for sale in 1949.

In 1960 there were still ten souls living in Bumblebee proper. That year, eastern newspaper owner Charles Penn made news when he bought the town. Penn moved to Bumblebee and intended to open a railroad museum there, but died in 1962 before he could achieve his dream. The community was still privately owned in 1969, but the post office remained active until 1972.

Today Bumblebee is home to a large ranch and several private homes. The old faux buildings are gone, the souvenir shop is closed and there are no open businesses at this time. The town is visible from the Sunset Point rest stop along Interstate 17 (see photo) and is accessible via Exit 248. Although the trip to Bumblebee is worthwhile, visitors are advised to drive carefully, watch for off-roaders, and respect private property while visiting.

Ghosts of the Bradshaw Mountains, Arizona

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Frontier Gazette.

Of Yavapai County, Arizona’s many ghost towns, quite a few are located in the beautiful Bradshaw Mountains, located just south of Prescott along a bevy of back roads. Many well-known places such as Bueno and Goodwin no longer exist, while lesser-known places such as Catoctin and Bolada are barely remembered at all. There are, however, enough ruins and fantastic views left to make the trip worthwhile.

One of the earliest towns in the Bradshaws is Bradshaw City. Both were named in honor of William Bradshaw, who came to Arizona in 1863. Bradshaw City was primarily a supply town for the nearby Tiger Mine. Eventually there were saloons, restaurants, two hotels and a peak population of 5,000 people. Saddle trains traveled between Bradshaw City and Prescott weekly. A post office was established in 1874 but only lasted ten years. Although nothing remains of the community, the cemetery is still accessible.

Closer to Prescott, the Senator Mine was staked during the 1860’s. Three miles of tunnels made up the mine, and there was a saloon, store and boarding house. After the mine was purchased by Phelps Dodge in the 1890’s, hotels, restaurants, a school and a church were built. Despite a labor strike in 1903 another mine, the Maxton, also opened. It was named for store owner Max Alwen. Senator’s post office finally opened in 1915 but only ran for three years. Even so, the mine produced until the 1930’s and is still highly visible.

In 1875 prospectors E.G. Peck, C.C. Bean, William Cole and T.M. Alexander were trying their luck in the Bradshaw Mountains. Peck found a rock rich in silver, and established the Peck Mine. When a small town was founded there it was named Alexandra. The town eventually had between 75-100 structures, from stores and saloons to a butcher shop and brewery. The post office opened in 1878 and the mines around Alexandra operated for several years. Even after the post office closed in 1896, mining operations continued into the early 1900’s. Nothing is left of Alexandra, but the nearby Swastika Mine has a few ruins.

As travel increased in the Bradshaws, Alfred and Matilda Spence pursued their dream of building a stage stop. In 1875 they built Palace Station (pictured) halfway between the Peck Mine and Prescott. The Prescott & Phoenix Stage made it a regular stop beginning in 1877. A saloon and rooms were available to travelers. The Spence’s daughter Elsie remembered seeing “fancy ladies” arrive in town to service miners on payday. Today the historic building is occupied by a caretaker for the Forest Service (for more about the good time girls of Yavapai County, see Wild Women of Prescott, Arizona, available by clicking here).

One of the last towns of the Bradshaws in the 1800’s was Oro Belle, named for the Oro Belle Mining & Milling Company that was established in the late 1890’s. Oro Belle’s post office opened in 1904 and the community was lucky to have a sheriff and justice of the peace. After the post office closed in 1918, a bar from the saloon was moved to Crown King. Today, several remnants of buildings from the town survive.

The early 1900’s ushered in a slew of more new towns. One of these was Fort Misery, built by Al Francis as his home. Two misnomers exist about this remote place. First, Fort Misery was never a military fort; Francis so named it for the bleak existence he led there. Second, Francis’ place should not be confused with Fort Misery in Prescott, Arizona’s oldest log cabin that was built in 1864 and is now on display at Sharlot Hall Museum.

The history at Middleton is a little clearer. Middleton was named for George Middleton, who owned the DeSoto Mine above town. Because the railroad ran nearby, there was an assay office, boarding house, blacksmith, warehouse, post office (established in 1903) and several homes to over 100 people. Miners rode an overhead tram to the mine. The post office closed in 1908, reopened in 1916 under the name Ocotillo and closed a final time in 1925. Travelers on the way to Cleator from Mayer will pass through what remains of the town.

Words to the wise: Obey no trespassing signs and stay out of mine shafts which are extremely dangerous. Take only pictures, and make your visit a safe one.

Visiting a Pioneer Schoolhouse

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Prescott Daily Courier

Back when my husband and I lived in Mayer, Arizona, there was an area south of us with plenty of dirt roads to explore. One of them, near Cordes Lakes, ran by the site of an old school outside, with a short and easy hiking trail from a primitive parking lot. The schoolhouse site always intrigued me because there were no other homes close by and the nearest landmark was the Agua Fria River. How far, I often wondered, did children have to walk to attend this school?

Naturally I wanted to know more about this early house of education. I found that although it was opened on September 9, 1889, the ruins are now known simply as the “1891 Schoolhouse”: a plain 16′ x 28′ wood building perched upon a sturdy rock foundation. Based on archaeological assessments, a door, several windows and a single chimney completed the structure. Only surveyor notes and a Yavapai County Superintendent’s Report give limited information about the school and its use. “The school has sufficient school grounds that are suitably improved, is well ventilated,” reads one notation, “but poorly supplied with furniture and apparatus, and has no library but a water closet.”

In order to justify building the school, officials needed to find ten prospective students within a two-mile radius of the chosen spot. They found willing participants in the way of rancher’s children, scattered throughout the area and perhaps as far away as Cordes. These hearty kids walked or rode horses to the school each day, beginning on the second Monday in September and continuing for the next five to eight months.

For fourteen years, both male and female teachers taught here. Their names are lost to history, as are those of the students who learned here. If this was actually the Big Bug School which some historians refer to, some of the pupils would have been from the Cordes family ranch some four miles west. Both the Big Bug School and the “1891 Schoolhouse” closed in 1903, according to documentation, due to a decline in enrollment. Depending on what you read, the decline was caused by a sweep of scarlet fever, small pox, and /or local mining labor disputes that closed down operations in the area.

By the time this schoolhouse was rediscovered and documented 2009, the building was long gone. An interpretive sign includes an artist’s rendering of what the school might have looked like. The drawing strongly resembles the only known image of the Big Bug School, which can be viewed at Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott.

What I like to imagine is how the kids and even the teachers overcame the urge to dip their feet in the river just some 50 feet away on a hot day. And I wonder how long it took them to get home after class since the remote area was, and still is, filled with overhanging trees, rock strewn pathways, beautiful flowers, lizards and frogs, and two big, beckoning swimming holes. Stopping to play along the way must certainly have been a learning experience unto itself.

A Toast to the Ghosts

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

Yeah I know Halloween is a long way off, but this writing has nothing to do with that sacred holiday. Rather, I’ve just recently been tracking down cemeteries in my area, and it turns out that there are lots of them. Some are still used, some are abandoned, and some have no trace left to show that they were there to begin with. For me, however, a graveyard is a sign that someone lived nearby, be it a ranch or homestead or an actual town. And often, just reading the name, date and inscription on a tombstone can tell you a lot about the occupant and how they lived.

When you are an historian, the people you fall in love with in your line of work are, unfortunately, dead. They cannot rise from the grave and tell you about their past. There is no pointing the way to where they were born or where they lived. Unless they left written record, there is no way of knowing their favorite color, or what they liked to eat, or how they felt about themselves and their lives. Thus their end is often my beginning as I look for the graves of my subjects to glean information and research for the story of their lives. Doing so brings closure for me, since a grave is literally the last place a person is seen. I find it ironic that the beginning for me starts with the end of another.

Having spent years studying old mortuary records and exploring graveyards, the frontier approach to death fascinates me. It is surprising, for instance, how many people died without socks—a standard item appearing on most mortuary forms. Death came so often in those days that caskets were given elaborate and comforting names—the “Fairy Couch” comes to mind, usually sold to widowers or the mothers of young girls. And, long after the burial, families once made day excursions to picnic at the graves of their loved ones on a regular basis.

Like those families of yesteryear, I like cemeteries. They are quiet, and peaceful. Their graves are, or were, lovingly tended by their families. When I see a flower vase on its side, or a flag that has come out of its holder, or leaves and mud covering a flat gravestone, I can’t help but tidy it up a bit. I have been known to talk to the occupants, sympathizing with their plight at the end. Sometimes I read their name out loud, because it has probably been a long time since someone did that. I like to think I am making sure they will never be forgotten.

Cemeteries also provide the proper thrills if one’s in the mood for a jolt. My mom and I once visited a wonderful graveyard in Colorado on an appropriately overcast day. I noticed that a vault door was slightly ajar, and as I moved away I swore I saw the door move. We were leaving anyway, but my heart missed a beat when the car inexplicably wouldn’t start. “Oh God, Mom!” I whimpered, grabbing her arm. She had a good laugh as she tried again and the car fired right up. Another time I accompanied the melodrama actors in Cripple Creek, Colorado on their annual “final show” jaunt to the local graveyard (sadly, they don’t do this anymore). It was late and very dark; I thought I was very clever for sneaking ahead and laying on a grave, waiting to pop up and scare someone. It was quite comfortable there, until I became aware that the voices around me had grown faint. Sitting up, I discovered everyone had headed out of the entrance far away from me. As much as I scrambled to get out of there, I never did catch up with them and felt like I was being watched as I walked very quickly towards the gate.

There are those who think cemeteries are creepy, and as someone who has heard voices and the cry of a baby while alone in one, I can certainly understand. But hearing voices, and the sounds of the living in places where nobody is alive, is normal in my line of work even if it does occasionally give me chills. These aren’t ghosts, to me anyway. It’s more like they are people lost in some sort of ethereal time warp, walking and talking as if they were still on this earth. And all of them have a story to tell. I don’t get vandals and other creepy people who think it’s ok to tip over tombstones and spray paint memorials. One day (unless you’re into cremation, which I am not), each of us will end up in a graveyard—the last sure sign we were ever on this earth to begin with. Be respectful.

That brings me to one of my favorite stories, and a good one to end with. Several years ago in California, I read of a woman who kept dreaming about a particular house. The dream was quite vivid, always ending with a strange man in a butler outfit looking horrified when he opened the front door. This went on for years, until one day the woman was forced by construction work to detour through an unfamiliar, fancy neighborhood. There, she saw the house from her dreams. Of course the woman stopped, went to the door, and rang the bell. Sure enough a butler answered. He gazed at her in horror, just like he did in the dream. Quickly she explained why she was there, ending with the question of whether the house was haunted. “Yes it is,” the butler stammered, “and YOU are the ghost.”

Faded Trails in Arizona: Alexandra, A Mining Dream in the Making

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article first appeared in the Frontier Gazette.

The story of Alexandra begins with Thomas and Catharine Alexander, who migrated to Prescott back in 1864. Thomas served as a director of the Prescott and Mohave Road Company, became a postmaster in Prescott, and later established a cattle ranch in Sycamore Canyon. In 1875, Alexander joined prospectors Edward G. Peck, Curtis Coe Bean and William Cole in exploring the Bradshaw Mountains. Peck noticed an unusual rock that turned out to be rich in silver, and the Peck Mine was staked on June 16, 1875.

Over the next decade, the Peck would produce over a million dollars in silver. By September of 1876 a community of 20 buildings near the mine was home to roughly 60 men. They called it Alexandra after Thomas Alexander. In addition to his investment in the Peck Mine, Alexander also staked the Black Warrior mine and eventually opened a mercantile.

Newspapers began taking note about the goings on at Alexandra beginning in 1877. In June, the Arizona Miner newspaper predicted that Alexandra would be “quite a place,” reporting there were “two large stores, Alexander & Company, and Andres & Rowe; three boarding houses, four places were spiritual refreshments are provided, two livery stables, one butcher shop, one blacksmith shop,” and more. The Peck partners had expended nearly $2,000 laying out the town and even grading the main streets.

Because the nearest mill was at Aztlan some thirty miles away, Alexander next built the Peck Mill in December 1877. “The general impression is that this is destined to be the best camp in the whole Territory, if not on the whole Pacific slope,” predicted the Miner on July 26, 1878. Just a few weeks later, on August 6, the post office opened, with Joseph Drew as postmaster. More hotels, restaurants and saloons opened, as well as John Ellis’ “Gold Room Resort” and even a brewery.

Alas, the good times were not destined to last at Alexandra. In 1879, the Peck partners got into a dispute over rights to the mine, which closed during litigation. People began leaving town. By 1880 the Alexanders had returned to Prescott, and it was Catharine who finally sued the Peck Mining Company “to recover the value of stock in that company”. She won, too, in January of 1881 to the tune of $80,000. “In many respects this is the most important case ever tried in the Courts of the Territory,” concluded the Arizona Miner.

Alexandra never had an official cemetery, but there were some deaths and subsequent burials. The first of these was a Mr. Marson, who accidentally fell into his partner’s bloody butcher knife in 1877. He was buried somewhere near the town. Then, in December 1890, a freighter named Grant LeBarr was shot to death at Alexandra. A letter from Sheriff “Bucky” O’Neill to LeBarr’s father—in—law, Dr. O.J. Thibode of Phoenix, explained that LeBarr and James M. Stoop were amongst those drinking at Refiel’s Saloon when a “dispute arose between the two in regard to some trivial matter.” The men made up their differences, but Stoop left, returning with a revolver. The man “took deliberate aim” and shot LeBarr, who died within minutes. O’Neill assured Thibode that LeBarr “has been buried at the Peck mine in the best shape possible, the entire camp suspending all work during the funeral.” Stoop, whom witnesses said had a “break down” in jail, ended his own life by swiping a fellow prisoner’s razor and slitting his own throat.

Alexandra’s post office closed in 1896. Two years later, Catharine Alexander died, followed by her husband in 1910. A new shaft had been sunk at the Peck Mine in 1903 and the railroad came through on the way to Crown King in 1904, but it was all for naught and Alexandra was abandoned. Arizona’s arid climate kept the old buildings preserved for some time. During the 1970’s, several houses remained at Alexandra. Virgil Snyder, who lived in the last standing house in town, was the last caretaker beginning in about 1985.

In about 2016, the Peck and several other mines were purchased by Q—Gold Resources, which was exploring further silver potential at the mine. Meanwhile, not much remains of Alexandra and its surrounding mines. The townsite lies high on the mountain about four and a half miles west of Cleator. Four wheel drive or an ATV is required to visit, but be aware of no trespassing signs.

Cripple Creek v.s. Oatman: An Ass For An Ass

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

Here is something unique to see, and something tourists of all ages love: the sight of a semi-wild donkey herd, ambling through town and panhandling for snacks. Some folks say there is nothing like it, being jostled around by a group of smelly, furry four-leggeds as they nudge food out of your hand. In Colorado, Cripple Creek is well known as the place to watch, feed and pet upwards of a dozen donkeys, some of whom are said to be descendants of the same equines who once toiled in the hundreds of mines around the town. But Cripple Creek isn’t the only place to find donkeys; that claim also lies with Oatman, another historic mining community in Arizona.

Naturally these are two different places in their make-up as a whole. Oatman is located along old Route 66 in the desert hills near the Nevada and California borders. At its peak, the population only hovers between 43 and 135 souls. The hamlet is much smaller than Cripple Creek, whose population of over 1,000 people does not include people living in and around the Cripple Creek District including the City of Victor. In spite of a vast difference in altitudes—Oatman lies in the high desert at just over 2,000′ while Cripple Creek on the backside of Pikes Peak is close to 9,500’—both towns have amazing histories that continue to draw tourists from all over the world.

Despite their differences in population, altitude and accessibility, both Cripple Creek and Oatman offer quirky shops, museums and plenty of history. There are no hotels in Oatman, although the historic Oatman Hotel offers up libations and the honeymoon suite where actors Clark Gable Carol Lombard spent their wedding night in 1939. Three other saloons—Judy’s, the Olive Oatman Restaurant and Saloon and Shotgun Willie’s—offer lots of local color. Funky little cabins, gift and antique stores, and annual celebrations also are star attractions. In comparison, Cripple Creek has legalized gambling with a number of casinos, restaurants and hotels, as well as some unique gift shops and three museums.

It would seem that Oatman and Cripple Creek are vastly different, but the two cities do have several things in common. Both are located in remote places that were once teeming with life and money from local mines before fading to almost nothing before being revived as tourist towns. Both are highly accessible from well-traveled highways and are located near larger cities for a convenient getaway. Best of all, Oatman and Cripple Creek are also notable as the only two hamlets in the United States to have their own herd of wild donkeys.

The tale behind the donkeys (pardon the pun) in Oatman and Cripple Creek is similar: The sturdy little animals were brought to the mines more than a century ago as service animals, hauling ore and pulling wagons. Some were born and raised in the mines where they worked. When mining became unprofitable, the prospectors and their families moved on. Left behind, the donkeys wandered off or were befriended by the dwindling populations. In time, the former beasts of burden gained popularity among visitors and residents alike, and boosted tourism to a great degree.

Today, Oatman hosts a roaming herd of donkeys that includes descendants from the mining days, but also wild burros who wander into town on a regular basis. Because they have no natural predators, overpopulation in the last several years have resulted in occasional round ups by the Bureau of Land Management and even a contraception program beginning in 2018. In town, certain shops offer feed and carrots for tourists to hand out to the animals. There are also plenty of donkey-esque souvenirs for sale, including postcards, figurines, joke books, jewelry and other items featuring the furry figures. Donkeys adorn advertising, billboards, signs, t-shirts, bumper stickers, magnets and anything else used to tell the world about Oatman.

Like Oatman, Cripple Creek remains very proud of its donkey herd, which numbers somewhere around a dozen. The donkeys have been looked after by the not-for-profit Two Mile High Club since 1931, which sees to their care and shelters them during the harsh winter months. Visitors are hard pressed to find snacks for sale, but certain shops do carry them. The club also oversees the annual Donkey Derby Days celebration, a three-day event featuring music, vendors, parades and donkey races.

One more item of note: most everybody in Oatman and Cripple Creek loves their stinky, scruffy, ornery and totally loveable jackasses around town. Visitors coming to see them must follow these simple guidelines to assure a safe, fun and happy visit:

  • The donkeys and burros of Oatman and Cripple Creek are considered wildlife and are protected by Federal law. Harming or harassing them is illegal.
  • Donkeys are not toys. Respect them as you would any other wild animal and approach them gently.
  • Although they are approachable and love having their ears scratched, visitors should use common sense and refrain from trying to ride them.
  • Donkeys will bite, nip and kick, especially when snacks are involved. Be aware that they may surround and jostle you when they see you with snacks, so watch yourself and your children. The best way to feed them is told hold the food out with your hand flat to prevent getting your fingers bit by accident.
  • Candy, cigarettes, bread, crackers, popcorn and chips are just some of the items that are never appropriate to feed wildlife donkeys. Donkey-approved snacks are sold at some retailers, or you can bring your own horse biscuits or carrots (never, ever feed a carrot to a baby donkey; it will choke).
  • Feeding donkeys on the road not only holds up traffic, but it also makes them think it’s ok to stand in the road. Donkeys seldom run away; when you see them, park safely and walk to where they are.
  • Please watch for donkeys on the road and slow down, especially at night.

The Hash Knife Around Holbrook, Arizona

Chapter Two: Holbrook

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

The following is excerpted from The Hash Knife Around Holbrook, Arizona’s famous cattle outfit, available in paperback, Kindle and on audio at Amazon.com.

Arizona had a lot to offer the Hash Knife brand: lots of land at a good price, ample water, a workable climate and the chance to start over from the rough days in Texas and Montana. Arizona Territory had been established in 1863. By the 1870s, communities and ranches were springing up along major water sources, including the Little Colorado River dividing the north and south portions of the Territory. New settlers to the region included Mexican families, Mormons from Utah, and pioneers from the east.

Near the confluence of the Little Colorado and the Rio Puerco rivers was a place called Horsehead Crossing. At this remote spot, Juan Padilla built a house and Berado Frayre, or Frayde, ran a trading post and saloon. The trading post was also owned by Santiago Baca & Company for a time. It was said that “nobody left without food, even if they could not pay.” Edward Kinsley, of Boston, first laid eyes on Arizona as part of a survey team for the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad. At the time, the railroad was planning to lay tracks from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Mojave, California. The new rails would run very near Horsehead Crossing. When Kinsley returned to Boston, his mind was still on the abundant land he had observed in Arizona. Such a vast area would be the perfect place to raise cattle.

The Atlantic & Pacific Railroad made it to the Little Colorado in September of 1881. A year and a half later Baca, along with Pedro Montano, Henry H. Scorse and F.W. Smith, filed a plat for the town of Holbrook two miles west of Horsehead Crossing and right along the tracks. One of the first structures built at Holbrook was the depot. The community grew quickly as the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad made Holbrook a regular stop. The Aztec Land and Cattle Company saw an immediate opportunity to use Holbrook as a shipping point. Beginning in 1884, the company began bringing stock cars filled with cattle from Hash Knife operations in Texas. Holbrook soon became a popular shipping point and center of commerce in the region.

Twin brothers Adolph and Ben Schuster opened their A & B Schuster Company at Holbrook in 1884. For decades the Schusters reigned as prominent businessmen in Holbrook. The business later expanded to include a third brother, Max. Holbrook’s business district grew up around A & B Schuster’s and the town depot. Other early businesses included a Chinese restaurant, two saloons, a drugstore, a mercantile and William Armbruster’s blacksmith and wheelwright shop. A German immigrant, Armbruster first came to Arizona in about 1975. He would flourish in Holbrook for over 25 years.

In December of 1884, Edward Kinsley partnered with nephew Henry Kinsley, Frank Ames, James McCreery and a New York bank, Seligman & Seligman, to form the Aztec Land and Cattle Company. The men purchased a million acres from the Atlantic & Pacific for fifty cents per acre. By buying only the odd-numbered sections of land from the railroad, the company prevented other cattle companies from accessing the even-numbered sections. Thus the Aztec Land and Cattle Company owned the million acres they bought, and also had undisputed and sole access to another million acres. As the Aztec Land and Cattle Company began shipping cattle to Arizona, the Hash Knife brand was registered in Apache County on June 2, 1885. Henry Warren filed the paperwork and published and advertisement about it in the June 11 edition of the St. Johns Herald newspaper. The brand was also registered in Yavapai County, on August 22.

The first Aztec headquarters was constructed in 1885 ten miles west of Holbrook, on the south side of the Little Colorado River. The company spent $850 to construct a small ranch house measuring 14 feet by 24 feet, a tiny cookhouse and one or two outbuildings. Hash Knife cowboys were obviously not meant to spend much time here, but rather out on the range, spending the night at line camps as necessary. The line camps were scattered across the Aztec Land and Cattle Company range. At these remote places cowboys could rest, corral cattle, brand and perform other chores. Beginning in 1885, more line camps were built at Chavez Pass near Payson, Pine Springs, Mormon Mill, Sycamore and near Winslow, to name a few.

Edward Kinsley, meanwhile, had hired his nephew Henry, to work for the Hash Knife in Texas before appointing him assistant treasurer of the Aztec Land and Cattle Company. Despite allegedly receiving only room and board during his first year, the Boston city boy appears to have taken to cowboy life quickly even if he was occasionally spoiled by his uncle. Soon after Kinsley’s arrival, in 1887, a second Aztec headquarters was located on Washington (later Santiago and then Alvarado) Street in Holbrook. The company shared quarters with the Masonic Lodge, renting the bottom floor for $150 annually. Henry Kinsley was living at the headquarters in 1888. Old timers say the Hash Knife also used the nearby Brunswick Hotel as a headquarters, but the hotel was not known by that name until the 1890’s.

A third headquarters was built four miles south of Joseph City not long after, or even in conjunction with, the headquarters at Holbrook. Most historians agree the construction date was 1886 and that buildings included a kitchen and dining room, the grain house and the main office. Plenty of cowboys whose names still ring a bell worked for the outfit back then. They included Tex Roxy, George Smith, “Peck”, Tom Pickett, Buck Lancaster, Don McDonald, George Agassiz, Ed Simpson and Frank Ames. The cook was Billy or Jeff Wilson. Hash Knife cowboy Frank Ames expressed his fondness for the brand by taking several photographs of the outfit during the 1880’s. Ames, from a well to do Massachusetts family, hired on in Texas, came to Arizona and eventually became the Aztec’s land agent. Thanks to Ames, images today include pictures portraying other cowboys for the outfit: wagon boss Ed Rogers, John Taylor, Charlie Baldridge, Jim Burdette, Don McDonald, Bill Smith, Tom Smith and Tom Beach. Surveyor William Vinal and area ranchers often stopped by the various headquarters for a visit. The Aztec Land and Cattle Company had plenty of neighbors with large spreads in their own right. Some of them later became involved with the Hash Knife. Well-known ranchers and businessmen of the area included Burt Potter, Jug Jackson and Joe Woods. Potter was Woods’ nephew. Both men did business over the years with the Hash Knife; Woods later ran the Pioneer Saloon in Holbrook. He also served as sheriff there.

As the Aztec Land and Cattle Company settled into Arizona, Holbrook continued to grow. A number of other businesses blossomed around the depot along the south side of the tracks. Holbrook’s population was about 250 citizens, with homes scattered around the downtown area. On June 26, 1888, a warehouse filled with wool inexplicably burst into flames burning most of the downtown. A & B Schuster’s, the Cottage Saloon and Frank Wattron’s drugstore were among the businesses to rise from the ashes. Within a year, other new businesses included a feed store, livery stable, restaurant and the Mormon Arizona Cooperative Mercantile Institution. Houses, some of which survived the fire, are still visible in the small neighborhoods adjacent to the downtown area. Holbrook’s fire actually enabled A & B Schuster to build even bigger and better. The company’s success eventually allowed the brothers to open branch stores and trading posts across Arizona, hiring managers to run them. By 1892, the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad depot had been rebuilt at Holbrook and the town was back in full swing as a busy transportation center. Pack trains such as the one pictured here hauled wool and other goods to and from the station. The rail stop was also used to haul sheep and thousands of Hash Knife cattle. Passenger service was available too.The Schusters eventually moved to Los Angeles. Ben died in 1911 and Adolph died in 1934. In 1952, A & B Schuster in Holbrook was recognized as the oldest continuously operated grocery outlet in Arizona.

The Adventures of Captain Jack: A whimsical little woman combined her own stories with her vivid imagination to create a colorful life in Colorado.

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article were originally published in All About History magazine.

“I was born November 4, 1842, in New Lantern, Nottingham, England.” So begins a seemingly plain and humble autobiography by a woman who was anything but plain, or humble. Ellen Elliott Jack’s book, The Fate of a Fairy, or, Twenty Seven Years in the Far West, would later tell of the spunky little woman’s amazing adventures. And although her facts were often sprinkled with a good dose of fiction, her story is very much worth telling.

When she was seven years old, Ellen met a “gypsy queen” at Nottingham’s annual Goose Fair who touched her on the head. “This child was born to be a great traveler, and if she had been a male would have been a great mining expert,” the gypsy said. “She is a Rosicrucian, born to find hidden treasures. She will meet great sorrows and be a widow early in life. Fire will cause her great trouble and losses.” Indeed, Ellen had already lost one sister in a fire. And as a teen, she had a brief romance with a man, “Carl,” who stabbed her in a fit of jealousy after seeing her in the company of her male cousin. Ellen recovered, and when her sister Lydia and her husband sailed to New York, Ellen successfully begged to go along.

Ellen loved New York, but fell ill and was unable to return to England with her sister until she was well. Upon boarding another ship, she recalled the horror of assisting a doctor in amputating the legs of a young Irish girl. But she also met first officer Charles E. Jack. The couple married at Liverpool in 1860 and returned to New York before Jack was called for duty during the Civil War.

The Jack’s first child, Nettie, was born between 1862 and 1864. During this time, Ellen claimed she took charge of a ring presented to her husband by General Robert E. Lee, attended a “president’s reception” with her husband during which she met President and Mrs. Lincoln, and toured Europe. After Charles Jack returned from the war with heart trouble, Ellen gave birth to a son. Both the infant and Nettie died just before the Jacks next moved to Chicago. Over the next three years another daughter, Jenny, was born. The family also lost everything in a fire, just like the gypsy predicted, and briefly farmed in Kansas before returning to Brooklyn. Ellen’s last child, Daisy, was born just before Charles Jack died in 1873.

The widow Ellen next built a hotel called the Bon Ton, but it burned in March of 1876 as she rescued her daughters and their nurse from the second floor. Daisy died three years later. Soon afterwards Ellen made friends with psychic Madam Clifford who, like the gypsy queen, told Ellen she was “born to find hidden treasures.” Ellen decided to head west, leaving Jenny with her sister-in-law. She arrived in Denver in about 1880, where she ran into her former nursemaid, Jennie. The woman advised her to go to Gunnison, but Ellen went to Leadville first. There, she was a witness when “Curley Frank” and another gambler killed each other in a shootout. A shook-up Ellen heeded Jennie’s advice and headed to Gunnison, where she arrived in the spring of 1881.

Ellen’s first night in Gunnison was spent at the Gunnison House where she paid a dollar to sleep in the lobby of the crowded hotel. The landlady advised Ellen to hide her valuables on her person, “as this is a very rough place.” Ellen followed the woman’s advice, saying she had “diamonds and government bonds sewed up in my bustle.” The next morning, Ellen was exploring the town when a stray bullet passed through her cloak. Ellen identified the shooter as “Wild Bill,” who scared her so badly that she shot him. Two lawmen appeared, but Ellen implored them to leave Wild Bill alone, “for he is a dying man.” Wild Bill gave her his gun, which the officers tried to take from her after the man died. Ellen boldy told them, “No. He gave me the gun, for you were too big a coward to get it, and you shall never have it.”

Ellen next purchased a tent with a cook stove, as well as a lot on Tomichi Avenue. She called her place “Jack’s Cabin” and began advertising a restaurant and “furnished rooms” in Gunnison’s Daily-News Democrat. Running a boardinghouse was no less exciting, for Ellen once discovered a group of Indian marauders pilfering Jack’s Cabin. Ellen said one of them was Ute leader Colorow, a “big buck” with “large gold earrings” who “came to me dancing and trying to touch my hair.” Ellen cut a lock of her golden hair for Colorow to keep, and a friendship was formed.

Eventually Ellen constructed some buildings. She rented one of them to Jeff Mickey, whom she had met on her trip to Gunnison. Mickey opened a saloon which became “headquarters for the freighters, and it was very crowded at night.” He was quite the businessman; once, the Gunnison Daily News Democrat revealed that the guest of honor at a funeral in the saloon was really only a passed-out drunk. “The joke was a profitable one for Jeff Mickey,” the paper explained. The supposed victim, with “burning candles at his head and feet, was better for business purposes, so Mickey said, than a free lunch or brass band.” Mickey also opened a gymnasium and “boxing school” next to the saloon.

Ellen would later attribute a large scar on her forehead to another Indian raid. This time, Jack’s Cabin was set on fire and she “was struck on the forehead with a tomahawk” laced with poison. Ellen claimed that she managed to kill some of the Indians before Chief Colorow declared a truce. “Pale face! Me wants to save her,” he exclaimed upon seeing her. “Bloody poison killy the white squaw, and we lovey the pale face.”[sic] There is no recorded Indian raid in Gunnison at the time, although it is true that Colorow often camped nearby. Only Ellen’s scar remained as a testament to her whimsical story.

Jack’s Cabin made the news again in January of 1882, when escaped convict Jim McClees appeared there. Ellen recalled that one of her employees told her, “There will be trouble in the bunkhouse, for Jim is full [of liquor] and has a gun, and is abusing one of the carpenters.” Ellen tried to make McClees leave. Instead, she said, McClees “pulled out his gun to fire at the man. I pulled mine and shot the gun out of his hands and part of his hand off with it.” A Sheriff Clark soon came looking for McClees and searched a room “occupied as a sleeping apartment by Mr. and Mrs. Mickey.”

When the officers found a trap door in the floor, “Mrs. Mickey” called out, “There is no use, Jim; there are fifty men here with guns, and you might as well come out without losing your life or shedding their blood.” McClees surrendered, Jeff Mickey was arrested, and Mrs. Mickey was notified she must appear in court. Ellen never admitted that she was “Mrs. Mickey.” She did admit, however, that she was unduly credited with beating everyone up during a fight in the courtroom and that a news reporter called her “Mrs. Captain Jack, the Dare Devil of the West”. All that is known for sure is that Ellen accused Sheriff Clark of false arrest while McClees bonded out and returned to Jack’s Cabin as he awaited his trial.

Ellen next decided to go to Crested Butte and told Jeff Mickey to leave. Mickey, she said, proposed marriage and promised to stop drinking. When she refused him, he told her that “when I breathe my last breath on earth it will be, ‘love for you, my fairy queen’, goodbye!” The Daily News-Democrat later explained more truthfully that “when (Mickey) took to drinking there was sure to be trouble. This last spree angered Mrs. Mickey so much that hot words followed and she left the house.” Ellen went on to Crested Butte. Later that evening at Jack’s Cabin, McClees saw Mickey with a vial of morphine powder. “Here’s the thing that will end all of my troubles,” he said. He died after consuming half of the vial.

The Daily News-Democrat noted that Ellen was slow to return to Gunnison because “the telegram instead of reading, ‘Jeff has taken poison,’ read, ‘Jeff has taken horses,’ and she supposed he coming for her with a team.” The paper also revealed Ellen was trying to lease the Miners’ Boarding House in Crested Butte “hoping in that way to get her husband away from his present business”. Ellen “thought her absence would bring him to his senses, and sober him up.” But Ellen had already placed a new advertisement for Jack’s Cabin, which appeared on the same day as Mickey’s funeral. “The business will be carried on as heretofore,” it said, “and Mrs. Jeff Mickey will be glad to see old friends.”

Within a month of Mickey’s death, however, Ellen rented Jack’s Cabin to someone else and ventured “into the mountains in Wild Cat Gulch where the Indians camped,” looking for mining investments. This time her partner was sometime outlaw Bill Edwards, who promised to share any gold discoveries if Ellen would bail him out of jail. Edwards kept his promise and for the first time, Ellen made money off of the Big Congo and Maggie Jack mining claims. She also became half owner of the Black Queen Mine near Crystal City.

In 1882 Ellen had returned to Jack’s Cabin when one of her boarders, Redmond Walsh, proposed marriage. The couple traveled to Denver, but the night before the wedding, Ellen dreamed of children crying and awoke with a sense of dread. During the ceremony, the children’s crying sounded again, as well as a man’s voice. Startled, Ellen dropped the ring on the floor, but Walsh “grabbed my hand and put the ring on my finger without any more ceremony.” Afterwards, Walsh left Ellen at a hotel and did not return.

The next morning, Ellen caught the train back to Gunnison. Walsh eventually returned too, but spent much of his time away from home. A few months later he asked Ellen to take out a note for $2,600, explaining that the Black Queen’s payroll was short. But the miners only received half of their promised pay. A cashier from the bank informed Ellen that Walsh had “duped” her, and advised that Walsh had his eye on her half of the Black Queen. “Be on your lookout for that man,” he said. “He would not hesitate to take your life to get that mine.”

There was more about the deceitful Walsh. For one thing, he was still married to another woman. Ellen confronted him about it and recalled that his face turned into “an incarnated demon, and such a hellish, fiendish look I never saw on a human face before.” The next day, Walsh tried to make Ellen sign a contract deeding half of her properties to him. When she threw it in the fire, Walsh “grabbed me and tried to stick my head in the fire. I clung to him and screamed until two men came and took him by the collar, and then he let go of me.” Ellen’s hair, she said, “was nearly all burned and my face and neck were in blisters.”

Walsh’s debtors soon came after Ellen, who next caught Walsh planting dynamite under her window. She finally divorced him, but spent two years battling him in court. She also was arrested, in 1886, for applying for the pension left to her by Charles Jack. The reason? Nobody knew her as Ellen Jack, and the court believed she was trying to steal the pension. It took almost a year for Ellen to gain an acquittal, at which time she also was embroiled in another suit with the other owners of the Black Queen. Ellen’s rollercoaster of money troubles continued: She nearly lost the Black Queen in 1888, although she did manage to invest in the Little Mandie mine. Also, however, some property she purchased in Ouray in 1891 was seized to pay an outstanding bill.

In 1894 Denver’s Queen Bee, a feminist newspaper “devoted to the interests of humanity, woman’s political quality and individuality,” at last defended Ellen. “Captain Ellen E. Jack is back on her claim near Gunnison, again,” the paper reported. “The powers that be have had the wiley Captain Jack arrested for defending her claim at the point of her pistols…Men are simply absurd or they would let her alone, and fight professional pugilists and small dogs. It is shameful how the lords of creation will condescend to badger a plucky woman just because they like to have a winning fight.”

Ellen was likely not aware of the article, for she never mentioned it. Her autobiography ends after her account of a trip she took through Utah and Arizona, as well as her musings on God and how far society had come. “So, cheer up, for the aura light is breaking through the dark circle of apprehension,” she concluded, “And this is the prophecy of the Fated Fairy and a wanderer for twenty-seven years in the far West.”

Ellen’s adventures, however, were far from over. In February, 1900, the Aspen Daily Times reported that Ellen sold her interest in the Black Queen and was heading to Cripple Creek. “She is a good rustler and will make a strike in that camp,” the paper predicted. But Ellen did not invest in any mines in the Cripple Creek District. Instead she merely rented a lodging house above a grocery store. By 1903 she was in Colorado Springs, where it was reported a year later that she had established a mining claim in nearby Cheyenne Canyon called the Mars group, with four gold and copper mines. There also was a “tent town” called Camp Jack. Ellen said the claims were averaging $21.00 per ton.

None of Ellen’s claims ever amounted to much. Beginning in about 1907, she turned to the tourism industry. One of her endeavors was generating photographic postcards, featuring herself in various scenarios. In the earliest known image, she poses along with several men, two burros and some equipment. The image is captioned hopefully, “Mrs. Capt. Jack Looking for a Company to Buy Mine.” Next, in 1909, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported that Ellen had located a cave “of wonderful formation”, but was keeping its location a secret until she could “purchase the property and turn it into a tourist attraction.”

Promotion of the cave never did come to fruition, but Ellen did establish a resort on High Drive in Cheyenne Canyon. She called it “Captain Jack’s” and told visitors colorful stories while hawking her postcards and copies of Fate of a Fairy. During 1912, her advertisement in a traveler’s guide of the Pikes Peak region commanded, “Stop at Captain Jack’s!”

Ellen also maintained a separate home in Colorado Springs, where passerby remembered seeing her “brilliantly colored parrots in the trees in front of her house.” In 1921 she filed for patents on her Cobra No. 3 and Mars No. 1 mining claims and seemed to be doing well until a flood which washed out the road to Captain Jack’s. The loss of her tourist resort was Ellen’s undoing. Her heart failed and she died on June 17. She was buried in Colorado Springs’ Evergreen Cemetery. Her long-forgotten daughter, Jenny, appeared in the hopes of gaining something from her mother’s will, but received nothing.

Ellen’s rival tour operator, Nora Gaines, purchased Ellen’s resort in 1923. The Colorado Springs Gazette noted that the “New Captain Jack’s Place Now Being Constructed on the High Drive” would offer rest for hikers and motorists, but Nora died just ten years later. The property was abandoned, and the “rotting cabins” were torn down in 1965. Today, Captain Jack’s Mountain Bike Trail outside of Colorado Springs is named for her.