The Real-life Women whose Stories Provided Inspiration

Old Colorado mineMountain Charlie Forest was formerly Eliza Jane. She was a widow who came to Nevadaville in Colorado wearing men’s clothing, hoping to track down and kill her husband’s murderer. She gave up and opened a popular drinking establishment.

Some women had their own mines. Caroline Morehouse Mallen was born in Ohio and came to Colorado. She finally owned and worked (with help later) 15 mines, some in horrible mountains above 12,000 feet. She drilled, blasted, shored up her mineshafts with timber, and hauled out her own ore and wastes. She also talked to spirits, who told her where to dig, and warned her to break off her engagement  to the Czar of Russia….

Gravesite in the Colorado mountainsBaby Doe Tabor lured Augusta Tabor’s husband Horace away from her in Leadville CO, where silver was king. Grass didn’t grow there, and cats died. Baby Doe was a divorcee, and when Horace Tabor met her, he shipped Augusta and their son off to Denver and got a secret divorce. In 1893 silver crashed and Tabor died penniless, as did Baby Doe. He’d made her promise to hang on to his Matchless Mine, and she died there in rags, alone, in 1935.

Leadville was also the home of the Unsinkable Molly Brown. Born in Hannibal MO, she learned to steer a Mississippi riverboat, met Mark Twain, and moved to the Rockies after he told her how wonderful they were. Her husband made millions in Leadville silver, but she was bored, so she began to travel to Europe. She was on the Titanic and survived, supposedly rowing her rowboat for 7 hours—thus her nickname.

Many women came as “mail-order” brides. Some were cooks, some were prostitutes by choice and some found no other way to make a living. Some women went crazy with the solitude, the altitude, the snow or the heat. Children died with no medical attention or not enough food.

crystal mill JFSIn Silverton, in south Colorado, one miner’s daughter was so rich she bought not only the 92 1/2 karat Star of the East diamond, but also the Hope diamond, which came with a curse. Not a good thing to own, she found out too late.

Cripple Creek CO was a gold miner’s dream. One gold “room” was worth over a million $. Mollie Kathleen Gartner visited her son there, found gold ore in a meadow, hid the rocks in her clothes and went into town to register a claim. The assay clerk said she couldn’t do that because she was a woman. She took out her pistol and laid it on the counter. He registered her claim.

Anne Ellis lived in Bonanza CO. She wrote The Life of an Ordinary Woman, a gripping, graceful story of her life, the good people, the neighbors, the deaths, and the women who made do as wives. Returning to Bonanza later, she said the buildings “were so stooped and gray with age that they lean on each other for support; the windows are all broken like blind eyes; and the sidewalks so torn and warped that they look like twisted hands.”

Women like these in Colorado followed their men or made their own way in Nevada and all over the West, wherever silver and gold were found. Some followed their men to find new homesteads in the Promised Lands; others came to civilize the “savages.”

One of the Indian women who made a big difference in relations between whites and natives was Chipeta, wife of Chief Ouray, a Ute. They both worked to keep their ancestral land in Colorado, with little success after silver was found on it, and they traveled by train to Washington DC to sign treaties with the US government. We all know what happened to our treaties with Indians. But Chipeta still worked to better relations with whites even when forced to move to a reservation in western Colorado after Chief Ouray died.

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Further Reading

Ouray: Chief of the Utes by P. David Smith

The Magnificent Mountain Women: Adventures in the Colorado Rockies, by Janet Robertson

Colorado Ghost Towns and Mining Camps by Sandra Dallas

Guide to the Colorado Ghost Towns and Mining Camps, by Perry Eberhart

The Life of an Ordinary Woman, by Anne Ellis

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Period Recipes

Raisin Cake

Two-thirds of a cup of butter, one and a half of sugar, two-thirds of milk, three of flour, one of chopped raisins, three eggs, one teaspoonful of cream of tartar, one-half of saleratus. Bake in a quick oven.

Boiled Rice Pudding

Stove in an abandoned Colorado homesteadPick and wash clean one cupful of rice, and put into a basin with a pint and a half of cold water; set on the stove where it will cook slowly; or better still, set into another basin of water, and cook slowly. When the rice has absorbed all the water, turn on it one quart of new milk, and stir in one tablespoonful of salt; let this cook two hours, stirring often. Serve with sugar and cream. (Note: This recipe was often used when the mining camp cook was down to few supplies and had little sugar and milk left.)

Steamed Suet and Fruit Pudding (Spotted Dick Pudding)

2 1/2 cups flour

teaspoonful soda

1/2 teaspoonful salt

1/2 saltspoonful cinnamon

1/2 saltspoonful nutmeg

1 cup chopped suet, or 2/3 cup butter

1 cup chopped raisins or currents

1 cup water or milk

1 cup molasses

Sift the soda, salt, and spice into the flour, rub in the butter and add the raisins. Mix the milk with the molasses, and stir it into the dry mixture. Steam in a buttered pudding-mould 3 hours. Serve with foamy sauce.

If water and butter be used, three cups of flour will be required, as these thicken less than milk and suet. This pudding is sometimes steamed in small stone cups

(Note: A salt spoon is a tiny spoon used to take salt from a salt cellar at table.)

The Raisin Cake and Boiled Rice Pudding recipes are from The Appledore Cook Book: Practical Receipts for Plain and Rich Cooking, M. Parloa, 1886. The Spotted Dick Pudding recipe is from Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cookbook, 1887.