Category Archives: Western History

Trinidad, Colorado Native A.R. Mitchell Painted Life As He Really Saw It

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in New Legends magazine.

On a chilly December day in 1889, a child was born on a lonely homestead west of Trinidad. Little did anyone know that, rather than follow his coal mining father’s footsteps, Arthur Roy “Mitch” Mitchell was destined to pursue a much more colorful life of an illustrator, fine artist, art teacher, historian and preservationist.

Mitchell was born at the perfect time. Trinidad, long a destination along the historic Santa Fe Trail, was surrounded by ranches. Cowboys were a familiar sight in town, and it was their hardworking lifestyles that the artist appreciated most. Mitchell knew he needed to learn the trade and find out what being a cowboy was really like in order to portray them in paint, and also that more inspiration lay beyond Trinidad.

At age seventeen, Mitchell first set out for New Mexico and worked as a ranch hand for the Adams Cattle Company. He was back in Trinidad by 1909, finishing out his schooling at the new family home on Ash Street. For a time, he also worked for Trinidad’s Chronicle News. The 1910 census, however, reveals Mitchell was doing what he really wanted to do: working as an artist.

The urge to wander soon struck Mitchell again. Within a few years he was on the road once more, traveling to the Pacific Northwestern state of Washington. When he registered for the draft for World Ware I, a city clerk in Walla Walla verified he was selling advertising for the newspaper there. After the war, he next worked for the Post-Intelligence newspaper in Seattle. Clearly, however, selling advertising failed to satiate Mitchell’s appetite for painting. On a whim and a prayer, he sold nearly everything he owned and found his way to New York, where he attended the Grand Central School of Art in New York under art professor Harvey Dunn.

Dunn proved to be an excellent mentor and friend. While in New York, Mitchell began a 30-year career of painting pulp magazine and book covers. His career continued to blossom as he followed Dunn to Leonia, New Jersey. By the 1940’s, he had rendered over 160 covers in all. His talents have rightfully earned him the title of “King of Western Pulp” by modern day art critics. Yet he never forgot the enchantment of the west, returning to visit when he could, and continuing to capture scenic landscapes and people on canvas.

In about 1944, Mitchell had seen enough of the east and returned to Trinidad, where he was offered a job as the first professor to teach art at Trinidad State Junior College. It was a position he  held until 1958, alternated with creating his own works of art. It was his more serious artwork—paintings depicting cowboys at work with special attention to detail, complimented by vividly colorful landscapes—that eventually made him comparable to the likes of Frederick Remington, Charles Russell, and even Charles Craig. His goal was to create “paintings of the real cowboy, not the movie variety”, which he achieved with a flair seldom seen in other period art circles.

Desiring the most authentic effects in his work, Mitchell collected hundreds of artifacts and items representative of the cowboy way of life, from camp coffee pots to saddles and pottery to Indian blankets, for reference while working. Outside the studio, he still favored traveling. When a particular landscape caught his fancy on the road, he was known to stop his car and paint en plein air, capturing the beauty of the solitary and wondrous scenes around him.

Being a nomadic artist was a lonely business; perhaps that is why Mitchell never married. His work was his one true love, and he followed themes that were familiar and comfortable to him: cowboys and cowgirls, horses, cattle, Native Americans, and the stellar plains and prairies of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. Some of his art was inspired by the pueblo adobes around Santa Fe. He also made paintings of more famous figures such as Billy the Kid and Kit Carson, as well as works depicting travelers on the Santa Fe trail and battles between Native American tribes.

In 1959, Mitchell was chosen to render the logo for the “Rush to the Rockies” Centennial celebration. In time, he also worked to preserve and many of Trinidad’s historic buildings, including today’s Baca House and Bloom Mansion museums. After his work for “Rush to the Rockies”, Trinidad could no longer keep Mitchell a secret. His artwork gained more and more fame, and in 1973 he was named an honorary member of the Cowboy Artists of America. The following year, he was inducted into the National Academy of Western Art at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma. And, a year after that, the Hall of Fame also bestowed the Honorary Trustee Award on the revered artist.

“You look back over the trail, and you see the fine friends you’ve made, and you see you’ve managed to make a living doing what you loved,” Mitchell once quipped about his illustrious life, “so how could anyone ask for more?” He was still painting in 1975 when he moved to Denver to be closer to his sister, Ethel Erickson. After his death in 1977, it was Erickson who spearheaded the opening of the A.R. Mitchell Museum of Art in Trinidad. The museum staged a grand opening in 1981, just a year before Erickson’s death. In 1989, the museum expanded into the former Jamieson Dry Goods Store, whose historic interior remains intact. Mitchell would have liked that.

Today, Mitchell’s iconic works adorn the walls of his namesake museum, over 350 in all. Also on display are the early western, Hispanic and Native American artworks and textiles from Mitchell’s own collection. This hidden gem of museums in Colorado is a must-see for lovers of art but also history, as well as the charmed and nomadic life of a painter who followed his dreams. The A.R. Mitchell Museum of Western Art will open for the 2018 season on May 25. Call 719-846-4224 for more information.

Image: “Gold Panner,” courtesy A.R. Mitchell Museum of Western Art

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.

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.

Busting Through Snowdrifts: the Ghost Train of Marshall Pass, Colorado

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in Colorado Central magazine.

At 10,846’ in elevation, Marshall Pass remains among one of Colorado’s most precarious roads. The pass, located in the Sawatch Range between Salida and Gunnison, was discovered by Lieutenant William Marshall in 1873 as he was making a mad dash in search of a Denver dentist for a bad toothache. But Marshall’s painful trip was nothing compared to the wild ride experienced by Denver & Rio Grande Railroad engineer Nelson Edwards, and engine fireman Charles Whitehead.

The D & RG was built over Marshall Pass during 1880-1881. Shortly after the rails reached Gunnison, however, stories began circulating of a “ghost train” on the pass, the sight of which had caused other engineers to quit out of fright. Nelson and Whitehead had paid no heed to the tales, making several trips over the pass over a two month period without incident. One evening, however, Nelson guided a passenger train towards the pass with a feeling of foreboding. Perhaps it was because of a weakened bridge and a defective rail, both of which lay ahead on this snowy night. Others would later say that Nelson’s heightened sense of danger was due to the hair-raising specter he was about to see.

The train had just passed through a snowshed when the men heard the warning whistle of another train. The signals continued as the unseen train came nearer, and when Nelson heard the conductor’s signal to stop, he brought his train to a stand-still. Next, the conductor appeared, demanding to know why Nelson stopped. “What did you pull the bell cord for?” the engineer responded. “You’re crazy,” the conductor answered, “now pull her wide open, there’s a wild train a-climbing up on us!”

Edwards opened the throttle as the wheels struggled for a purchase on the rails and Whitehead shoveled coal madly into the fire. Over the next several minutes, the men listened in terror as warning blasts came from the approaching runaway. The D & RG cars were now rocking precariously, awakening panicked passengers and breaking through icy snowdrifts as they sped down the tracks. As the runaway came into view, Edwards was horrified to see a “white figure” atop one of the cars, waving wildly. A short distance later, the engineer vainly veered onto a side track as the runaway train came up on his side. Glancing over, Edwards saw “two extremely white figures in the cab. The specter engineer turned a face to him like dough and laughed.”

Alas, Edwards was going so fast that the runaway could not pass. As he guided the train back in front, the “ghostly fireman” in the other engine maniacally sounded the whistle. Now, the D & RG train was approaching the damaged bridge, but miraculously sailed right over it. A minute later, Edwards sighted a dozen or so section workers, toiling over the broken rail ahead. There was no time to slow down; when the man applied the brakes, he felt the wheels stopping even as the train continued gliding along the icy rails. The train ran right through the workers, whose forms parted like wisps of powdery snow. Edwards looked back just in time to see the runaway hit the broken rail, jump the track, and plunge over the embankment.

When their hearts ceased pounding, Edwards and Whitehead puzzled over what they were sure was the phantom train so many had spoken of before. The men’s hearts thudded again, however, when they spotted a cryptic and badly-spelled note etched in the frost of the fireman’s window: “Yeers ago a frate train was recked as yu saw—now that yu saw it, we will never make another run. The enjine was not ounder control and four sexshun men wore killed. If you ever ran on this road again yu will be wrecked.”

To date, no documentation supports the death of four section workers on Marshall Pass, although a wreck in November of 1888 did kill two men on the train, including the fireman. As for Nelson Edwards, the engineer quit his job the minute the train reached Green River, Utah, and went to work for the safer, and ghost-free, Union Pacific Railroad out of Denver.

Pictured: A Denver & Rio Grande Train on Marshall Pass, as captured by William Henry Jackson.

Cleora, Colorado: Victim of a Railroad War

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in Colorado Central magazine.

In the great rush to settle Colorado, it was not unusual to see railroad companies vying for the quickest and most profitable routes across Colorado. The settlement of Cleora was a perfect example of the sacrifices made when one company won and another one lost.

Cleora’s history begins with William Bale, and early-day settler who purchased a ranch on the north side of the Arkansas River near today’s Salida in the early 1870’s. The ranch, located along the Barlow and Sanderson State Road running between Leadville and Cañon City, became known as the South Arkansas stage stop.

Bale, his wife Sarah, and their three daughters became well known at South Arkansas. According to local newspapers, overnight accommodations were provided in the family’s “big, rambling” log house, and “liquid libations” were served to thirsty travelers. By 1875 there also was a cemetery. The first burial is said to have been Charles Harding, a victim of the infamous Lake County War of 1874-1875.

In the summer of 1876, the Colorado Daily Chieftain predicted that South Arkansas was “bound to become a popular resort of pleasure seekers.” In December, Bale duly applied for a post office. The name South Arkansas was already in use at the site of today’s Poncha Springs. Bale decided to name his new mail stop after his youngest daughter, Cleora.

Cleora prospered. An 1877 article in the Saguache Chronicle commented that “no better accommodations can be found on any routes of travel.” The Salida Mail would later recall that “the place fairly hummed with business, the house usually being filled to its capacity and often more people camped outside than there were inside. Many of the leading men of America, and most of the leading men of Colorado in that day, were guests of the Bale house at one time or another.”

When officials of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (AT&SF) railroad purchased some of Bale’s land in the summer of 1878 to layout a town, Cleora’s future seemed set in stone. Lot sales totaled $3,800 on the first day they were offered as 200 people migrated to the new community. By 1879, Bale was “one of the best known and highly respected citizens” in Chaffee County, which was officially formed in February. Early merchants included dry goods dealer John Blake. “Old Uncle Billy Bale’s” hotel, as it was called, underwent renovations. Dr. L. C. McKinney’s Cleora Journal reported the goings-on around town as the population climbed to nearly 600 people. In August, residents gathered at Mayor W.A. Hawkins’ newly opened Grand View Hotel to vote for incorporation of their new town.

At the same time the vote was made, an article in the Rocky Mountain News announced that the Denver & Rio Grande was attempting a takeover and had managed to stop the AT&SF’s progress. “Cleora is doomed for the present to inactivity,” the News warned. Still, Hawkins and the others remained optimistic, appointing a treasurer, marshal, police judge, and corporate attorney that October. Three lumber yards supplied building materials as buildings flew up and businesses opened throughout the winter of 1879-1880. Pioneer Thomas Penrose remembered trying to cash a payroll check for $1,250 at Wilson’s Saloon in February. When the proprietor said he didn’t have enough money on hand, Penrose and his partner rode to Cañon City, cashed the check, and returned to Cleora to drink at Wilson’s. “They told us that the whiskey was in the back room,” Penrose remembered, “and that there was a siphon there and for us to go ahead and take a drink, and pay 25 cents for a drink.”

The railroad war was finally settled in April when the D&RG won the battle against the AT&SF and continued laying tracks along the north bank of the Arkansas. At Cleora, citizens watched eagerly as the D&RG line approached—and then passed them right by! D&RG officials made it painfully clear that they had no use for Cleora. Instead, they platted their own new town just 1 ½ miles away, and named it for the South Arkansas post office. Disheartened citizens of Cleora pondered what to do as the board of trustees met for the last time on May 27.

In the end, D&RG officials were not so heartless. Officials soon announced that anyone owning a lot with a house or business on it in Cleora (the exception being saloonkeepers) would receive a free lot in the new town if they moved their building over to South Arkansas. By June, dozens of structures were being heaved onto rollers and guided over the rough road to South Arkansas. The Cleora Journal hauled its printing equipment over and became the Mountain Mail. Meyer & Dale, E.H. Webb and Peter Mulvaney relocated their mercantile buildings. “The business men of Cleora are all settling with us,” the Mountain Mail announced importantly. “They see that South Arkansas is to be the town and are governing themselves accordingly.”

Not everyone chose to leave Cleora. The June, 1880 census recorded 183 residents, including William, Sarah and Cleora Bale. Still, the Mountain Mail noted in August that “buildings keep coming up here from Cleora. It will not be long until they are all here.” In November, former territorial governor and D&RG official Alexander Hunt purchased the Grand View Hotel and also moved it to the new town. “The Hawkins house has finally succumbed and gone with the rest of Cleora up to South Arkansas,” reported the Rocky Mountain News. “It was the last building to go.”

Cleora’s post office closed in 1882 as South Arkansas adopted a new name, Salida. At last there remained but one asset of value at Cleora which nobody seemed inclined to move: the cemetery. Salida’s town founders showed no interest in establishing a new graveyard. “What would be the use of one?” the Salida Mail quipped in January 1883. “People don’t seem to die here at any alarming extent.”

For a time, Cleora’s cemetery remained the only burial ground in the area—a less than ideal situation to some. “It’s a mockery to call the present burying ground ‘a cemetery’”, declared the Salida Mail in 1887. The article further lectured that Salidans should be “aroused to a sense of their duty toward a fit place to bury our dead.” It was not until 1889 that Salida at last established its own cemetery, Woodlawn (Fairview Cemetery would be established in 1891).

Cleora’s cemetery was not forgotten: Knights of Pythias, the Grand Army of the Republic, and Woodmen of the World continued hosting annual Memorial Day activities there for many years before the graveyard was deeded to Chaffee County in 1921. The last burial took place in 1948. The cemetery eventually fell victim to vandalism and the elements, cared for only by the families of those buried there.

Thankfully, Cleora Cemetery was successfully listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017. Today, Four Seasons RV Park and Rocky Mountain Livestock Sales mark the site of Cleora on the north side of Highway 50. The cemetery is across the highway, an ironic reminder of the days when Cleora was full of life.

Q & A With “Dr. Colorado” Tom Noel

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article first appeared in All About History magazine.

“Doctor Colorado’s” shingle is always out for the Centennial State’s History. Dr. Noel is an award-winning author and Colorado’s official State Historian. He is Professor of History at University of Colorado at Denver, and has authored an amazing 53 books and thousands of articles. In 2018, he was awarded the Colorado Author’s League Lifetime Achievement Award. He appears as “Dr. Colorado” regularly on “Colorado and Company” on Denver’s NBC. In 2018, Dr. Noel took time out of his busy day to talk about what he does.

Q: Being a native of Boston, what is your link to Colorado?

A: Although I was born in Boston, I must point out that I was conceived in Colorado, inside the Moffat Railroad Tunnel [insert laugh track here].

Q. Who gave you your colorful moniker, “Dr. Colorado”?

A. I received it from Colorado’s star marketing man, the late Lew Cady. He proposed that I become “Dr. Colorado” and make appearances. He set up a booth for me with signs at the front—“The Doctor is In” or “The Doctor is Out”—so I could go for a bathroom or a beer break. Then he gave me a lab coat monogrammed “Dr. Colorado.” At the time, I was mowing yards for $1 a yard. I asked if the “Dr. Colorado” gig paid. It was $100 an hour! So I have been “Dr. Colorado” ever since.

Q. Is it true that your Ph.D. dissertation for the University of Colorado Boulder was on the bars of Denver?

A. Yes. I was looking for a topic when my main advisor suggested, “Why don’t you do your dissertation on bars; you are already spending so much time there?” So I undertook to visit every single bar in Denver. I focused on the social, political and economic aspects, how they welcomed ethnic and gay groups, how they worked elections, and how they helped newcomers find a job, a home, a spouse. This was in the 1970’s when the Denver Urban Renewal Authority was demolishing many skid row bars. So I visited those bars first.

Initially my wife, Sumiko, would go with me. She was a visiting nurse who was assigned to make sure that the skid row denizens who had Tuberculosis were taking their medicine. Along with another nurse, she would go to the hotels and flophouses where the patients lived, but found that these guys hit the bars first thing in the morning. The landlords would tell the girls in which bars their patients could be found. The pair, in their nursing uniforms, would find their patients and take them, one at a time, to a back room and order them, “Drop your pants.” Then they would give them a shot of streptomycin in the fanny.

Q. What have you written lately?

Since Colorado: A Historical Atlas came out, I have co-authored with Steve Leonard on A Short History of Denver (2015), and just finished E-470: More Than a Highway: The Story of a Global Tolling Industry Pioneer. And I recently updated my book, Buildings of Colorado. Also, I signed on with Globe Pequot Press to write Boom & Bust Colorado, which focuses on booms and busts in the soaring beer and marijuana business. As the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, Colorado is reaping more than $100 million a year in taxes.

Q. Why is preserving history is important?

I have come to appreciate, promote and practice historic preservation as a way to make history come alive. With 2,000 new residents arriving in Colorado every week, it is vital to preserve the buildings that meant so much to our ancestors and can become anchors for present Coloradans. I served as chair of the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission, which has now designated more than 350 individual landmarks and 56 historic districts.

Landmark designation has transformed the lower downtown from dollar-a-night flophouses to million dollar lofts. It is the most spectacular case of how historic district designation can stabilize and uplift neighborhoods. Preservation is a way to promote a sense of place, of commitment to your neighborhood, your city. I try to build up interest in local landmarks, be they churches or taverns, parks or haunted houses.

Q. I have had the privilege of visiting your wonderful library, which spans the inner walls of your basement. Tell us more about your book collection.

A. In the last few years, my bookshelves have started groaning. I originally aspired to collect every book ever written on Colorado. Now if I acquire another book, I have to make shelf space by giving books to Denver Public Library. I have kept the most precious books, of course, hoping to take them to Heaven with me. I know I am going there, in case you wondered, because the archbishop promised me that when I finished Colorado Catholicism and the Archdiocese of Denver, 1857-1989.

Also I work with grad students and Denver Public Library to list all new Colorado non-fiction books in The Colorado Book Review. We try to list all books and review the more important ones. I have loved teaching at CU Denver full time since 1990. I am proud of many students whom I have helped to publish their own books or articles over the years, as well as those with whom I have co-authored. I do suspect my students have taught me more than I have taught them.

Q. It seems you are always on the run, giving tours for Colorado history buffs and students, History Colorado and the Smithsonian. Does it feel as though you eat, breathe, drink and sleep history?

A. My wife takes wonderful care of me and runs the household, giving me all the time I want for writing. Since I work at home, I take breaks to go out and putter in the garden, pull a few weeds, and pick flowers. I love gardening. Voltaire, the wonderful French wit and historian, concluded his masterpiece, Candide, with his final advice: “Cultive ton jardin” (cultivate your garden). Voltaire also gave us my favorite definition of history as “a trick we play on the dead.”

For more about Jan MacKell Collins, check out her website at JanMacKellCollins.com.

Women’s History Through New Yes

History Through New Eyes

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

“The last I saw of him he was passing the back of his hand slowly up and down his side…I picked myself up from the opposite side of the foyer where he’d sent me, the place all buckling around me like seen through a sheet of water.” ~ Angel Face” by William Irish, circa 1937

As recently as four decades ago, romanticism ran rampant about girls in trouble. History, both fictional and real, tell us that women were often not respected as a whole, that the public felt any woman foolish enough to get herself in trouble deserved what she got. The plights of widows, the infirm, prostitutes or any other lady sans family were hardly taken seriously. And so, while the gentler sex was often regarded as such, the same were expected to make their way in the world without fuss or fight.

A great many single women in turn worked hard to maintain some sort of lifestyle for themselves, as well as their children. But the possibilities of employment were extremely narrow by today’s standards. Cooks, nurses, maids, milliners, laundresses, prostitutes, teachers, wives – all were low paying jobs which offered no advancement and some inherent dangers. The combination of low income with a lack of government services made for a hard and thankless life, especially in an abusive household.

Strength in the female spirit served to alleviate some women and push them to better themselves. The woman’s wall of will constantly found itself up against the barrier of suppression, but somehow it persevered. Nellie Bly, the first female journalist to really make a name for herself, grew up in a broken home. When her twice-widowed mother married a third time to an abusive drunk, Nellie’s young world turned upside down. Ultimately the young girl had to testify at her mother’s divorce trial. Nellie’s testimony was stirring. “I have heard him scold mother often and heard him use profane language towards her often and call her names: a whore and a bitch…The first time I seen [sic] Ford take hold of mother in an angry manner, he attempted to choke her.”

Despite the testimony of Nellie, her brother, and eleven other witnesses, divorce in the 1870’s was neither fashionable nor acceptable no matter what the circumstances. Only by immediately resuming her station as a widow and quickly erasing the memory her third husband did Nellie’s mother escape persecution. Nellie Bly learned to be a caretaker during her mother’s abusive marriage, and she used her experiences to pursue the most sought after profession of journalist.

Another feminist who managed to burst through the wall of suppression around her was English travel-writer Isabella Bird. In 1873, Bird arrived in Colorado to have a look around. What made her trip notable was the fact that Isabella traveled alone and was unarmed – most extraordinary for a woman of her time. Among her companions and hosts were the wealthy and the poor, landlords, desperados and ranchers. The majority of these were men.

After climbing Long’s Peak and traversing the front range, Bird ultimately favored Estes Park. There she succumbed only slightly to the wiles of “Rocky Mountain Jim” Nugent, an emotionally and physically scarred ruffian who balanced his affections for her with drunken fits of rage. Considering the vulnerability of a “woman alone”, Isabella Bird managed to deal with her experiences in a forthright manner, and without falling victim to the perils of her time.

It is unfortunate that the prevailing accomplishments of Nellie Bly and Isabella Bird do not surface more often. Many women were easy prey for greedy landlords, pimps, and other unkind men who saw them as weak and helpless. The man who did not support his family was rarely chastised for it. And in the days before social security, telephones and state identification, non-supporting fathers went unreported.

Emily French was one of many women who suffered at the hands of an unresponsive husband. When she found herself divorced from Marsena French at the age of forty seven in 1890, Emily began relating her experiences in a diary. She described Marsena as “…an awful mean old fellow, I never knew so until now, I used to think even he was good.”

Indeed, two years before the divorce Emily and her sister made new wills, relieving Marsena as beneficiary. Emily later wrote that Marsena had cheated she and her sister out of $1,000 each. Left penniless by the divorce, Emily was forced to do housework in order to support her disabled sister and two children. Sometimes food was scarce. Other times, Emily ached so badly from the cold she could hardly perform her duties. Despite an educated background, Emily could find no other work.

Ultimately, Emily moved to Denver in an effort to better her situation. Using what little money she had left to buy property, Emily attempted to build a house but could not get a job. After seeking employment in the mountains and another brief stay in Denver, Emily returned to the prairie town of Elbert, and eventually remarried. Emily’s marriage voided her rights to her homestead, which fell back into the hands of Marsena French. Despite Marsena’s non-support of his children and many court battles with Emily both during and after their marriage, he was never held responsible for his actions.

In reality of the day, Emily French had it easy in that her husband never beat her. Such were grounds for the few divorces there were in Victorian times. The man who beat his wife was never publicized, although he occasionally might be told to stop by a relative, neighbor or police officer. Because the wealthy worked hard to cover such sensitive issues as spouse abuse, the poor were left to face the brunt of disapproving gossip.

Of course the lowest form of poverty often fell to prostitutes, and their complaints of abuse often fell on deaf ears. A 1901 issue of the Colorado Springs Gazette, for instance, reported on the trial of Joe Huser: “The complaining witness was Cora Wheeler, a colored woman of Myers Avenue [the red light district in Cripple Creek [Colorado], who alleged that Huser struck her in the face with a hatchet.” Beyond this tiny tidbit of information, nothing was ever mentioned of the case again. The fate of Joe Huser is unknown. Perhaps police officials failed to miss the large scar which certainly must have appeared on Cora’s face. More likely, the papers chose to have as little to say as possible about this horrible act. Prostitutes like Cora Wheeler were hardly worth worrying over, since they “chose” their profession and knew of the consequences that accompanied it.

As late as 1952 and even today, the plight of prostitutes as victims is still taken lightly. Long after prostitution was outlawed in the United States, ladies of the night became personified by actresses dressed in frilly clothes with lots of lipstick. The old dance hall days were portrayed by gay songs and silly skits, with little remembrance of what these women really experienced. It was perhaps easier to make a mockery of the profession rather than to point out its ugliness.

The Westerners Brand Book of 1952 makes an interesting account of Cripple Creek Sheriff Henry Von Phul, who pursued prostitute Mexican Jennie for murder. How Von Phul accomplished this is noted as “one of the finest pieces of detective work in the annals of these gold camps.” That this sheriff broke the law and ignored the reality of Jenny’s plight is of little consequence to the author. But Mexican Jennie, prostitute and battered woman, deserves to have her side of the story told.

By 1909, Jennie had married twice and had taken up with Philip Roberts Jr., a blacksmith. When Roberts moved into Jennie’s cabin at Poverty Gulch he became her pimp, drinking constantly and beating her when she didn’t make enough money to suit him. On Christmas night of 1913, Roberts knocked Jennie to the floor for the last time. This time, Jennie answered his abuse with a fatal gunshot. Jennie left for Mexico that night, leaving Roberts’ body in the cabin.

Three days later, Sheriff Von Phul left Cripple Creek in pursuit of Mexican Jennie. Had it not been for a delay in train service to Juarez, Jennie might have escaped. As it was, she had to travel to El Paso and swim across the Rio Grande River into Mexico. The effort took up a lot of needed time. Jennie likely offered her services to men in a group of army camp followers to get to Chihuahua City, 250 miles from El Paso.

Von Phul heard of celebrations going on in Chihuahua City and successfully apprehended Jennie. When he encountered her at the Capital Hotel, Jennie greeted Von Phul cordially. She did not resist when he took her into custody. When legal problems arose concerning taking a prisoner across the border, Jennie volunteered to walk across herself. Von Phul bribed no less than two people, one of them a criminal from his hometown of Cripple Creek, to accomplish his mission.

At no time did Jennie attempt to escape. Rather, she seemed eager to return to Cripple Creek to plead innocent by self defense. Mug shots of Jennie portray a smiling, stout Mexican woman with shiny black hair and modest earrings. At the top of the photograph are the words “Charged with murder.” After spending six years of a life sentence, Jennie was released due to poor health. She returned to Mexico, where she probably resumed her profession. In 1924, she died of tuberculosis.

Mexican Jennie suffered the unkind fate of being born into an unfair world. The public misjudged her and the authorities denied her rights. Like so many of her kind Jennie’s circumstances decided her destiny, but society rule decided her fate.

Here’s to the Ladies of Prescott Who Rode Fast Horses

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article first appeared in the Frontier Gazette.

When it was first recorded in 1884, the term “cowgirl” referred to a female rancher or even a rancher’s daughter. In time, this single word also came to mean a female cowpuncher, and soon also applied to the resolute and hardy women who rode the rodeo circuit. In the Victorian west, a woman riding rodeo must have seemed appalling to some. But those in the game knew that gals coming from ranching backgrounds, where they worked with horses and cattle daily, were tough gals indeed.

In time, rodeo women became celebrities in their own right. They were vindicated heroes to other women, and men found them both pretty and impressive. During the 1880’s, during a surge of determined western estrogen, more and more women entered the arena at fairs, round ups and shows. Seven gals in particular watched as Prescott, Arizona held its first-ever rodeo in 1888. The following year, when promoters decided to add a women’s “contest”, they were elated.

Those first seven female contestants in 1889 were all locals, who had been born and raised on area ranches. They were “Mesdames T. Atto, Celia Book, D.W. Thorne and Misses Mollie Baker, Minnie Bargeman, Mary Boblett and Lizzie Dillon.” The women would perform in a single competition. A beautiful saddle would go to the winner; her runner-up would receive a fine bridle.

The event took place at the “Driving Park” in the afternoon of the rodeo’s last day. It was Friday, and crowds made their way to see this novel attraction. A cowboy tournament was scheduled too, but the “ladies riding” proved far more appealing. “Greater interest was manifested in the latter than in any of the previous days’ sports of the track,” noted the Prescott Journal-Miner, “every available vehicle and animal in the town being pressed into service to carry passengers, business of all kinds being closed for the afternoon.”

No doubt some betting money was exchanged as the cowgirls took their places. Seven judges—George Augustine, Orick Jackson, Frank Kuehne, Juan Leibas, George L. Merritt, James Rourke and Jeff Young—assembled to watch the contest. How it all went was not recorded by local papers, but the crowd was surely amazed and amused all at the same time. Lizzie Dillon won the saddle and Mary Boblett, a cousin to then-budding historian Sharlot Hall, received the bridle.

They say that despite it’s success, no other “ladies riding” contests took place at Prescott until the 1920’s. Lizzie Dillon married Tom Turner in 1891 and settled down. Likewise for Mary Boblett, who married Amos Hall in 1890, and Minnie Bargeman, who married that same year. Notably, lots of women back then competed no more than once, settling into domestic life with a satisfied smirk on their faces. Others, however, pursued rodeo as a career and did quite well.

But it was not forgotten that those seven brazen and talented women had busted right into the rodeo industry, and their courage inspired others. Soon, trick riders—including amazing women who dove horses into water from high in the air—were all the rage. It could be said that trick shooter Annie Oakley was truly one of America’s first sweethearts. And, their gussied up and colorful outfits inspired men to start adding shiny buttons and polished accouterments to their outfits, too.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West performances, circuses and other events featuring equestrian performances were soon featuring women like Mabel Strickland (pictured) and Tad Lucas, dubbed “Rodeo’s First Lady”. During the early 1900’s, heads turned when Fannie Sperry rode “slick”, the same as the men did. Slick riding consisted of tying the stirrups together under the horse’s belly and sticking your feet in for better balance in the saddle. It could also be dangerous, since it was harder for the rider to kick free if the horse went down.

Prescott’s rodeo cowgirls of 1889 may be in the past, but plenty of other ladies have saddled up in the time since. These include such champions as three-time winner Shirley Davis during the 1960’s, rodeo veteran Alexa Allred during the 70’s, Rose Webb in the 80’s, Twila Haller during the 90’s and most recently, Sheri Sinor-Estrada. These and many others have been recipients of cash prizes and shiny buckles, and there will be more.