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Colorado's Mrs. Captain Ellen Jack: An Interview with Author Jane Bardal
Ellen E. Jack backed up her orders with a shotgun as she stood at the entrance to her Black Queen Mine. To profit from the mine, located near Aspen, she engaged in many other battles with lawyers and capitalists who tried to wrest her ore away. Mrs. Captain Jack contributed to the myth of the West by crowning herself as the “Mining Queen of the Rockies” as she entertained tourists at her roadhouse near Colorado Springs. Author Jane Bardal offers a captivating biography of a pioneering woman who fashioned a legacy through true tenacity and maybe even a few tall tales.
Jane Bardal’s previous publications include “Southwestern New Mexico Mining Towns” and “Oral Histories from the Grants Uranium District,” in the Mining History Journal. She teaches psychology at Central New Mexico Community College.
Jane, welcome to Crime Capsule, and congratulations on your new book.
Jane Bardal (00:05):
Thank you. It's great to be here.
Benjamin Morris (00:07):
Tell us a little bit about your background before we dive into Captain Jack. You are a native of Minnesota and you've now lived in New Mexico for a number of years. Tell us about yourself.
Jane Bardal (00:24):
Well, my background is actually in psychology. So, I've taught psychology in the New Mexico educational system for 30 years, and I'm in the midst of retirement now. I spent most of my years at the community college here in Albuquerque.
Jane Bardal (00:40):
So, my pathway into writing a book was maybe a little bit unusual. It actually came from being a postcard collector, and I was at a meeting of the postcard club and a couple of people brought in their books by Arcadia. And I just thought, “Well, that's interesting.” And then they were looking for authors and I thought, "Well, I could do that."
Jane Bardal (01:03):
And so, that's how I got started on my first book, Southwestern New Mexico Mining Towns. And I had a lot of postcards myself. And due to other connections in the club, there were other people who made major contributions in terms of lending me their postcards for use.
Jane Bardal (01:23):
And so, after I finished that project, I was wondering, well, what's next? And I had several of Captain Jack's postcards, and so I really just started with who is she? And trying to find out the answer to that question. And the more I looked, the more I found.
Jane Bardal (01:43):
And so, that was a journey that took several years to go through all of her cases, and she got herself into a lot of trouble. And so, there was a lot to find. And so, that's how I got going through that. And also, my interest in mining is mainly through like rock and mineral collecting. So, that was an influence that put me in that direction as well.
Benjamin Morris (02:07):
It sounds like you have these two streams, which are converging to create one larger river, which is the creation of this particular volume. Some of our listeners may not be fully aware that the visual side of history has long been a strength of Arcadia and the history press.
Benjamin Morris (02:29):
And that their Images of America series, which has been going for decades, seeks to compile historic photographs or postcards in some cases and, you know, really give the look to the story that we might otherwise have read. So, how interesting that you would enter publishing through that particular route.
Jane Bardal (02:52):
Yeah, I think that's a little bit unusual. I'm not a historian, so I don't make any claims to be, but I like writing stories about people. And so, I think my background as a psychologist comes in there. And that's what I found interesting about Captain Jack and even some of the other stories I told in my other book as well.
Benjamin Morris (04:46):
Well, you certainly wrote about what is unquestionably the golden age of mining in American history, and what a fascinating person to get to follow through these old highways and byways and trails and so forth. I mean, Captain Jack, she's one of a kind, isn't she?
Jane Bardal (05:10):
Yeah, she's a very unique person in many ways, you could say. And that was what was interesting about her. Just the fact that she was a fighter and got herself into a lot of trouble. And so, she had to fight in some cases to try to make a profit from her mines. But then some of her fighting, she got herself into some kind of nasty conflicts later on in her life as well.
Benjamin Morris (05:36):
So, you first met her through these postcards and had you ever heard of her before that moment where you — I mean, the postcards that you reproduce in the book are marvelous, and we'll talk about those for sure, because they really are such a huge part of her own story and her own sort of image of herself, the creation of her own personal myth.
Benjamin Morris (05:58):
But were you just at this sort of gatherings and you see this lady and you'd never seen her before in your life, and you think, who is she? What is her story? I mean, was this your first encounter?
Jane Bardal (06:11):
Yeah, really the postcards were my first encounter. And I quickly discovered that she had written an autobiography. And so, that was a starting point.
Jane Bardal (06:22):
But her autobiography I think is interesting and it's really the source material for anything you might find on the internet today about her. So, a lot of people really over the years repeated her story from her autobiography. So, there's quite a bit out there of people go looking for that.
Jane Bardal (06:42):
But it's kind of a partial story. So, she'll mention a few things, and then I wondered, "Well, what's that about?" So, I had to research what's the background on say divorce in Colorado, in the late 1800s. Or how about the widow's pension system that really allowed her a pension to go out west and find her fortune? So, some financial backing there.
Jane Bardal (07:09):
And so, that's where a lot of this story is kind of hard to understand without some background.
Jane Bardal (07:16):
And also, then the other thing is some of her stories were just so fantastic. I thought, "Is this true?" Because we're kind of used to a teller of tall tales, of course. And she did tell some things that were not true, but I actually found that the bulk of the material she wrote about was true to the extent that I could confirm.
Jane Bardal (07:35):
Now, some stories are just so individual you can't confirm nor deny them. But most of what I found that she wrote was true.
Benjamin Morris (07:43):
You write early on that there's a grain of salt that you have to take as you read her account. As with any autobiography, there's going to be selective framing.
Jane Bardal (07:51):
Benjamin Morris (07:51):
Kind of curated omissions, that sort of thing. So, I think we as your readers are well prepared for the fact that there's ... it's her perspective on her life, but it may not match up what is truth as they say, right?
Jane Bardal (08:10):
Right, yeah. Probably the biggest discrepancy I found is that she claimed to have shot several people in many different incidents, and there's evidence that she actually did make very credible threats against other people, but there's no evidence that she actually even fired any shots.
Jane Bardal (08:31):
So, I think her threats to kill other people were quite believable, but she didn't actually carry through on those, which is what she says in her autobiography, but I could not find in any other sources.
Benjamin Morris (08:43):
Well, let's begin at the very beginning. One of the most interesting things I think about Captain Jack being the most famous lady prospector in America of her day was that she was not, in fact, born in America. She was English as you write.
Benjamin Morris (09:00):
So, how was it that she came to this country, she grew up in England and then immigrated as a young woman? What happened there?
Jane Bardal (09:10):
Right. So, one of the early influences on her is she credits a fortune teller with telling her when she was a young girl, that she was born to find hidden treasure.
Jane Bardal (09:23):
And so, she met Charles Jack, who was the captain of a ship, and they got married in England. And then she followed him to Brooklyn, New York, where they lived and had four children. And he served in the Civil War and following the Civil War, he died of injuries related to his service.
Jane Bardal (09:48):
And so, it was after that point, three of her children had died. She placed her other child with relatives, and she went to Colorado to find her fortune.
Benjamin Morris (09:59):
Which is a fairly — it's interesting because there's this sort of incredibly important part of her life before she gets to Colorado.
Benjamin Morris (10:08):
But we only get the smallest glimpse of that. And when we really join her, it's almost like she's already loaded up the mule, she's on the trail. The vast majority of all the information that we have about her life comes at the starting point, sort of like 30 years in or something like that.
Jane Bardal (10:29):
Benjamin Morris (10:30):
So, really fascinating the way that you kind of frame that. But just help us to understand where the name Captain Jack came from. Of course, because that can be a little confusing to folks who didn't quite pick up on the sequence there.
Jane Bardal (10:44):
Right. So, Charles Jack was her husband, and he went by Captain Jack. So, it appears that after he died, that she took on that name for herself.
Jane Bardal (10:53):
And she ran a business on Coney Island in New York, and she was referred to as Captain Jack there. So, she had that name or title before she went to Colorado.
Jane Bardal (11:06):
And then in Colorado she was oftentimes referred to as Captain Jack by other people. So, you do see that in the historic record. And then in a lot of the official newspaper accounts, they would use Ellen Jack.
Benjamin Morris (11:20):
No, we're not going to sugarcoat this because you don't sugarcoat this in your book. Almost from the moment that she arrives in Colorado, she gets into hot water. I mean, she has a unique way about her where being very feisty, being very independent, being very unafraid to defend herself and stand up for herself, it just leads to some scrapes.
Benjamin Morris (11:48):
And I think one of the things I loved most about your book, Jane, is that it starts off effectively with a bar brawl. I mean, it's like one of the great cinematic sequences that you would get in the old films from the 60s or like the saloon doors are literally swinging open and someone is flying out into the dusty street with pieces of a broken chair kind of flying after him. It's wonderful.
Benjamin Morris (12:17):
What happened? What did she do? How did she get into so much trouble that fast?
Jane Bardal (12:24):
Yeah, it's pretty amazing. Well, Gunnison in 1880, it was a wild place, all these people coming from all over. And she ran a saloon and boarding house. And so, she found out from some of her borders about some of the mining activity.
Jane Bardal (12:40):
And what I find interesting about that story as well is that by the end of her life in Colorado Springs, she claimed that she had this scar on her forehead from a tomahawk blow by a fight with Indians, native Americans. And that's one of her stories that I just found no evidence to support.
Jane Bardal (13:05):
But I did find this story about the bar brawl. And it's interesting how it came about this story. I have to thank all the archivists and people who helped me find all these really hidden records. And in Gunnison, I think it was the, I want to say the clerk of the court, or, anyways, one of the county officials in Gunnison gave me access to the records that were in the basement of the Gunnison courthouse area.
Benjamin Morris (13:40):
That's a treasure right there. What a find.
Jane Bardal (13:44):
Well, it was, and I spent a lot of hours just digging through court records, and that's where I found the details of this case. So, what happened was, she writes about this in her autobiography, but she describes it as Indians coming to take the town, and that was not true.
Jane Bardal (14:02):
So, there was a lot of conflict with Native Americans. And I put part of that story in there as background and understanding of that. But what actually happened was four Frenchmen came into her bar and hot words were exchanged, and there was a fight that ensued because the Frenchmen didn't pay their bar bill.
Jane Bardal (14:27):
And Captain Jack took part in the fighting, and she got a beer bottle smashed across her forehead, and that's how she got that scar that she would have for the rest of her life.
Jane Bardal (14:41):
So, that's what really happened. She never fought Indians, although she later claimed that later on in her life as part of a Colorado pioneer. And so, the true story is just that she got into this bar fight.
Benjamin Morris (14:57):
So, it's important to note here, just for context, that Gunnison, Colorado in the 1880s, it is the West, it is not quite sort of the wild west of imagination in that you write very clearly that there is a good bit of infrastructure set up in this town already.
Benjamin Morris (15:18):
I mean, you have a press, you have a sort of news entity, which is publishing about strikes and claims and things going on in town, and you do have a legal system.
Benjamin Morris (15:27):
And what was really interesting about this particular sequence is that you actually are able to see the mechanism of the legal system at work. I mean, there's magistrate judges that she's going before their hearings and investigations and inquests and yeah, okay, maybe some of these folks are a little on the take depending on whose mind is really producing at that particular moment.
Benjamin Morris (15:51):
But rather than it being completely lawless, one of the kind of unique ironies about Captain Jack's life and really from the get go, is that we learn a lot about her life from her dealings with the legal system, don't we?
Jane Bardal (16:10):
Benjamin Morris (16:14):
So, what I would be interested to know then and maybe I've just missed something in your book, but how is it that she ended up so quickly then with her second husband who may or may not have been her actual husband, who is also involved in this bar brawl, this saloon fight, this sort of legal peril that she gets in because she actually does lose the suit against the Frenchmen.
Benjamin Morris (16:44):
I mean, she's found partially at fault in the whole scrape. But out of this comes this strange relationship with Jeff that then kind of characterizes the next few years of her life and not necessarily happily so.
Jane Bardal (17:02):
Yeah, she met him on the way into Gunnison and I think she quickly found that it was kind of a perilous existence. She doesn't seem to have traveled to Gunnison with anyone. She does not mention anyone. And I couldn't find any evidence that she actually went there with anyone, which is again, kind of an unusual situation for a woman to travel west. And even a lot of men traveled with relatives or friends or somebody.
Jane Bardal (17:30):
But she doesn't say who she traveled with at all. So, I'm not sure that she did. And so, she gets involved with Jeff Mickey and they set up the saloon and boarding house. It's called Jack's Cabin. And so, he was a saloon keeper there, and yeah, that was a very tumultuous relationship. And I don't know if you want me to talk about what happened with them or?
Benjamin Morris (17:57):
I think it's worth mentioning because as we look at many of the relationships over her life, we see that once she gets entangled with somebody, we're going to talk about the mines in a minute. But just as far as these people that she's forming relationships with, as she enters the Colorado mining scene, the thing that is so fascinating about her life, Jane, is that when she forms a relationship with someone, it's almost like she is then sort of wedded to them in some way for the next 50 years.
Benjamin Morris (18:36):
And maybe that has something to do with how sort of small and close-knit the mining community is, and everybody is kind of eavesdropping and forming deals and breaking deals and that sort of thing. That part is a little beyond me.
Benjamin Morris (18:50):
But I'm interested in the fact that you have so many of these people who enter her life early on, that she is just then in and out of dealings with until she dies.
Benjamin Morris (19:04):
And Jeff is an interesting case. Her lawyer of course is an interesting case, but there's this sort of longevity to those attachments that even after they become, say, very toxic attachments or the relationships go sour, she can't escape these people.
Benjamin Morris (19:22):
But that provides, I think, a lot of narrative energy to your book is that when is the next time that evil second husband Jeff is going to show up, and try to dynamite her while she is sleeping.
Jane Bardal (19:39):
Right, yeah. That was Redmond Walsh.
Benjamin Morris (19:42):
Jane Bardal (19:43):
She actually had a series of relationships. So, Jeff Mickey certainly a troubled character. She says that he was a drummer boy in the Civil War, and the time period would have fit. I didn't find any confirmation of that records, but it may explain why he was using opium. So, that's what he eventually used to take his life with.
Jane Bardal (20:09):
And so, following Jeff Mickey's death, she gets married to Redmond Walsh, and she says that she gets married to him primarily because she wanted protection as a single woman. And in running a boarding house, that certainly would've been important that she not be taken advantage of.
Jane Bardal (20:30):
But she certainly had a troubled relationship with Redmond Walsh. And that was a very difficult relationship as well. And so, yeah, that one keeps coming up at several points for a few years.
Benjamin Morris (20:44):
Yeah. And forgive me for mixing the two of them up. I mean, there are so many colorful characters in this particular account that sometimes it's actually hard to keep them all straight. It's like, who is the next person that's going to try to literally blow her up while she's sleeping?
Jane Bardal (20:59):
Benjamin Morris (20:59):
I was kind of charmed by that recurrence in the narrative.
Benjamin Morris (21:05):
Now, there's this moment where it's fairly early on in the book where you've actually used some of your psychological training in order to get a view onto Ellen, to Captain Jack. And you write about the role of retrospective assessments of a marriage.
Benjamin Morris (21:25):
And I thought that was really interesting because you're sort of suggesting that as time goes by, people will form different takes on the thing that they were in, which would stand in some stark contrast to the thing that they are in if you ask them about it now.
Benjamin Morris (21:42):
I mean, her view on her marriage to Jeff, marriage in sort of quotes, because you write that there's some legal sort of ambiguity around their sort of status there.
Benjamin Morris (21:52):
But her marriage to Jeff while it was going on was contentious, but while she was married, she would've said one thing, after he died and after she'd moved on and was sort of looking back on her marriage to Jeff, this is husband number two, she would've said something different about that.
Benjamin Morris (22:10):
And I was just curious how much of your psychological training as a researcher and a professor and so forth did you actually have to bring to bear on the Captain Jack story?
Jane Bardal (22:25):
Well, I did like putting in a few things like that, maybe as a way of possible partial explanation. Psychologists stick pretty close to the facts in terms of research. So, it's a bit of a connection there to then use that to interpret a story. But that's kind of what I liked doing.
Jane Bardal (22:46):
And so, my minor area of research and psychology is cognitive or memory. And so, that's kind of the lens through which I interpreted some of what she was doing.
Jane Bardal (23:00):
And so, with Jeff Mickey, she never admits to being married to him in her autobiography because she didn't admit to any illegal actions, which I think it's pretty obvious to see that in writing an autobiography, you wouldn't say, "Well, hey, 20 years ago I was breaking the law.”
Jane Bardal (23:20):
So, there's some reasons why someone would write something a certain way while she's still alive. So, that formed part of my interpretation as far as looking at why she wouldn't admit to ever marrying Jeff Mickey. And it's not really clear that she ever did.
Jane Bardal (23:38):
There's only one court document that indicated that they were married and then she would not have wanted to admit to that because her third husband, Redmond Walsh, would turn her in for pension fraud. And he said that she was married to Jeff Mickey and should have given up her pension.
Jane Bardal (23:57):
But that's why she would not have the extreme consequences to admitting that she had been married to Jeff Mickey. So, it may have been just a common law arrangement. We don't really know. Certainly, it's clear that she was with him.
Jane Bardal (24:13):
And then as far as the way she tells the story about getting married to Redmond Walsh is probably the most unromantic story of getting married you could come up with. That she claimed to hear these voices and she was kind of an unusual character in that way. And she says that like her dead children talked to her and you kind of have to understand spiritualism, the idea at the time that we could communicate with dead people. And it was a very common belief among many people.
Jane Bardal (24:45):
And so, when she's getting married to Redmond Walsh, which they went to Denver for, she says that a voice shouted no. And the ring was flung to the floor by unseen hands, and apparently, they didn't have much of a honeymoon because she returned to Gunnison.
Jane Bardal (25:05):
And it's a very unromantic accounting. And she's writing this probably in the early 1900s, so probably 20 or so years later. And so, once a marriage goes south, people tend to remember all the bad things.
Jane Bardal (25:20):
And that actually comes from psychological studies that have looked at that idea. And so, I didn't put a lot in there. I didn't go into describing the studies because I didn't want to get sidetracked. But there are those points where some of those comments really come from psychological research.
Benjamin Morris (25:39):
Yeah. And we'll talk a little bit more about that next week once we get into the idea of her sort of creation of her own mythos which I think is really important here and a major thread throughout her life.
Benjamin Morris (25:50):
But as far as the dynamiting goes, we are not going to spoil for our listeners the pleasure of reading your book and learning about husband number three, trying to dynamite her while she slept. So, for that, you do have to buy the book, everybody out there in podcast land.
Benjamin Morris (26:07):
But let's talk about the mine. The first big hit, the Black Queen. I mean, she has been prospecting, she's running her boarding house. She's kind of making her living, getting some income here and there in town. But deep down, she really wants to be out there pick and shovel and mule and finding these strikes like everybody in Gunnison in that era. So, tell us about the discovery of the Black Queen Mine and how that changed her life.
Jane Bardal (26:48):
Well, the way she tells the story in her autobiography, she says that she was out prospecting and that she discovered a silver vein, and she went to talk to the people who own some nearby territory, and she bought the claim from them.
Jane Bardal (27:06):
Now, according to the actual records, she bought the claim in February of 1884. And I suspect she may have just bought the claim from some people who are in the town of Gunnison because nobody would be prospecting in February at that location.
Jane Bardal (27:31):
So, that's probably what happened. And also, when I researched the earlier history of the mine, the mine had actually been discovered back in 1881, and the vein had been worked off and on by a few other people. And sometimes when you discover, especially silver, you don't really know what you have.
Jane Bardal (27:50):
I mean, you have something that looks like it contains some mineral, but it's kind of a long process. You have to take it to an assayer; you have to dig out a sufficient amount to see if you actually have anything. So, it's not a simple matter to just say, okay, well I struck it rich now. It's actually kind of a long-involved process.
Jane Bardal (28:11):
And so, I think her saying that she discovered the mine may or may not be true. She may or may not have been prospecting there, but what is clear is that she did buy a half interest in the mine. And so, that started her ownership of that mine.
Jane Bardal (28:29):
And then the following summer is when it was further developed by her co-owners and other miners who were working it. And that's when it really began to take off, the Rocky Mountain News called it a mineral wonder. And so, that's where she started receiving some income from the mine and started looking for someone to buy it as well. So, that's where she would've been making her profit.
Benjamin Morris (28:53):
Now, you have so much detail in your book and the detail is wonderful. Would you just sort of take us through what that process of what does she see that strikes her interest or what glint is coming up out of the ground or when she's out there on the trail and she thinks she has found something, how does a prospector know at that moment that they are actually onto what could be a productive vein there?
Benjamin Morris (29:22):
Because so much mining is now industrialized and sort of corporatized now. I mean, the days of the solo prospector are in many cases, at least in that region with that technology, those are over.
Benjamin Morris (29:39):
So, can you help us to sort of see what she was doing out on these trails on a day-to-day level?
Jane Bardal (29:49):
Yeah. Well, typically what someone would do is just look for some kind of mineralized ground. So, you have all your host rock and hard rock mining. You have much of the rock that might be cut by mineral veins, for example.
Jane Bardal (30:02):
So, you would try to look for some outcropping of a mineral vein and then do some digging to see is it going to continue, does it last, is it anything substantial? Plaster mining for gold is a whole lot easier. You just go into a stream and pan for gold. I think people are probably more familiar with that.
Benjamin Morris (30:21):
Jane Bardal (30:22):
But silver mining is a little bit more complex. And so, that's why it's not an easy matter at first to know if you really have much of anything. So, that's primarily what she would be doing. Just covering the train. There were a lot of people out doing this, by some newspaper reports in the area around Crystal, there could have been anywhere from 500 to 1000 people just scouring the hills.
Jane Bardal (30:50):
It's hard to know whether newspaper accounts are really all that accurate because the numbers tend to be inflated, but at least, quite a few people were out trying to discover mineral veins, and then once someone found a vein, they would stake the claim and then they would have to go back to Gunnison, which is quite a long distance and over difficult terrain to record the claim at the county seat. So, that would be the process for staking a claim.
Benjamin Morris (31:19):
Okay. Now this of course becomes a site or a point of major contention over the whole of your book and over the whole of her life because claim staking is not a straightforward process when you have different people with word-of-mouth issues or I was here first, or the threat of violence, that sort of thing.
Benjamin Morris (31:42):
There is also a lag time between the moment at which you I guess, plant your flag and the ground and then you have to get back to Gunnison and then get back to the claim after you've resupplied and so forth. That could be days or weeks, in which case somebody could have moved in on that claim. I mean, it's not pretty, it's not clean. It's a very messy scenario kind of all around, isn't it?
Jane Bardal (32:07):
Yes, yes. And so, that's where she got into conflict. One of the first areas of conflict was once the mine started producing good looking silver ore in the summer, the claimant next door said, "Well, hey, that's really coming from my claim."
Jane Bardal (32:23):
And he filed lawsuits and tried to say that that was really his or several times in the ensuing years, but he ended up not winning that suit.
Jane Bardal (32:35):
But that was a fairly common occurrence and she had that happen to her later as well, that she would find something and then someone else would say, "Hey, that's really mine." And I think that was a pretty common process.
Jane Bardal (32:47):
And then they would go to the court system and oftentimes the only one who would really come out ahead there would be the lawyers because they would take advantage of people's inclination to fight over whose ore it really was. And in some cases, they would make a lot of money off of that process.
Benjamin Morris (33:09):
Now, on average, and I'm sure there are different ways of looking at this, but on average, when you stake a claim, how much surface area or how big is a claim? Is it sort of 50 by 100 feet as a rule, or is it measured by sort of visual markers, this pine tree to that spruce tree?
Benjamin Morris (33:30):
I mean, how do you say, this here belongs to me, not to you without immediately resorting to fisticuffs or bellies full of lead?
Jane Bardal (33:45):
Yeah. Well, the Mining Law of 1872 set out all the requirements for staking a claim. And I can't remember the exact dimensions, I should probably know that offhand. But a claim was basically a big rectangle.
Jane Bardal (34:03):
Now, the problem with that is that what happens when you're on the steep side of a mountain, how do you stake a rectangular claim? It was not really an easy thing to set out the boundaries. And they did have mineral surveyors who had come along and make it more official as to where one claim started, and the other ended.
Jane Bardal (34:22):
The other complication in the Mining Law is that a mine owner, if the vein out cropped on their claim, they could follow it even if underground it went into another person's claim if you consider another person's claim going straight down into the ground.
Jane Bardal (34:40):
But that's where a lot of the conflict came into being because then there were lots of disputes over, well, does this belong to the Black Queen or does it belong to the neighboring claim? And so, that's where a lot of the lawsuits came about, so-
Benjamin Morris (34:55):
You describe that maybe, after some of that has been settled, when you have a verifiable ownership of a claim, say, and it's time to move on to phase two of the mining operation, you described that there is a process of sinking a shaft down into the ground.
Benjamin Morris (35:20):
Now, I was curious about this with respect to Captain Jack, because here she is, a lady working out there alone, prospecting on the Black Queen. When did she manage to acquire, or how long was it before she could get the resources and the team to really undertake such a complicated engineering measure?
Benjamin Morris (35:44):
Because sinking a shaft to get down into the actual side of the mountain. I mean, I don't know if anyone could do that by themselves. That's got to be very, very complicated. So, how does that work?
Jane Bardal (35:56):
Right. Well, she had one of her co-owners named George Farnham, and he was a practical miner, so he would've been in charge of the actual work.
Jane Bardal (36:05):
And so, then there were probably a handful of other men who would've done the actual work. She probably did not do much if any of the actual blasting and drilling and taking out the ore itself. She was too busy with her saloon, owning both in Gunnison. And then when she moved to Aspen, so in the fall of 1884, she moved into Aspen. So, she was pretty much involved with her business enterprises there, so to speak.
Jane Bardal (36:39):
She was accused of running a brothel in Aspen. And so, she was pretty busy with whatever saloon operation she was doing in Aspen. So, she would not have done the actual mining there.
Jane Bardal (36:52):
Now, in one of her other operations she did some of the mining in terms of that actual physical work of blasting and drilling and mucking it out and taking out the ore. So, she did that at some of her mines. But most of the work would've been done by other men that she hired.
Benjamin Morris (37:12):
Well, it's interesting because they always say diversify your income sources. And she's a shrewd lady. She knows how to protect herself financially, and she is doing exactly that. I mean, she's got this income producing entity over on the Black Queen, which is it's not quite the mother lode in the way that everybody ... all of the mining hype sort of made, made a lot of these strikes out to be. There's so much hype in that area. It's absolutely hilarious just to read it.
Benjamin Morris (37:44):
But it's still producing. It is actually a source of income for her, and for the first couple of years, business is pretty decent. And she's not totally entangled in all the lawsuits just yet, that will come, and we'll get to that.
Benjamin Morris (37:59):
But she's got this, which is actually making some money for her, and then she does have this other side activity going on in Aspen. I was wondering, as we sort of begin to think about these relationships that do entangle her, there's a passage in your book, which I would love for you to read for us. It's on page 46.
Benjamin Morris (38:25):
And it's interesting to me to see how when she is in town, she's got her guys doing the workout on the mountainside and she's making her money there, but in town she just kind of can't escape this complicated web. And you write on 46 kind of what this looks like on the day-to-day level. So, would you just read the paragraph that starts Ellen Jack's operation of a saloon.
Jane Bardal (38:57):
Okay. "Ellen Jack's operation of a saloon, and quite likely a brothel put her on the margins of respectable social circles. The legal system enacted laws and fines to constrain prostitutes from escaping their situations.
Jane Bardal (39:13):
Similarly, the legal system would allow Captain Jack's lawyers to impose and collect excessive fees for their services, which would constrict her ability to own and profit from the Black Queen Mine and live her life as she pleased.
Jane Bardal (39:28):
Captain Jack's view of herself as having a high status because she was the widow of a naval officer, carried little weight in her current situation, her ownership of a working-class saloon and boarding house placed her in a class of people that was viewed by the community's leaders as beneath them."
Benjamin Morris (39:48):
I think, Jane, she is caught at the intersection of so many different interests. Not just her own and what she's trying to achieve, but also of everyone that she comes into contact with.
Benjamin Morris (40:03):
And I was just struck by the way that you write about her ability … there's this tension here. I mean, she is trying to live her life as she pleased, and yet she's facing these kind of constrictions upon it from kind of all corners. So, how did you see that playing out at this moment in her life?
Jane Bardal (40:30):
Yeah. Well, one of the first things that she mentions in her autobiography is that she was born on the Fox household. And if I just go back a little bit in time, he was the founder of the Quakers in England way back when. And part of the Quaker spirit is to follow one's own inner light. And that's really what I see her doing throughout her life.
Jane Bardal (40:54):
Now, at the time, Quakers were a rather devout, pious group of people, and she certainly did not follow the morays of a typical Quaker. In fact, one commentator said that Ellen Jack professed to have been raised as a Quaker, but her language belied her rearing.
Jane Bardal (41:15):
So, she certainly had some salty language-
Benjamin Morris (41:19):
There you go.
Jane Bardal (41:19):
That was thrown in there on a few occasions. But I really see that as affecting her life and the way she viewed her life. She was a very independent person. She didn't do things like everybody else.
Jane Bardal (41:34):
And one thing I looked for is, as a mine owner, was she in respectable circles and she never was. So, you can look at old newspapers and you can look at, well, who attended this wedding and who brought gifts. And when you do that, what you see is that okay, all the high society of people attended this wedding, high society in that town, say, for all the judges and lawyers and all these people attended.
Benjamin Morris (42:04):
Future congressmen and that sort of thing. Exactly, yeah.
Jane Bardal (42:07):
Right. So, you can see the development of the social circles, and she was not in any of them. And so, you kind of see who knew who, and she was not a respectable person.
Jane Bardal (42:20):
And so, I think to me, that forms part of what's going on here, that some of the lawyers thought, well, they had a right to take what she had or to try to force her out of it. And so, I think that possibly being a saloon owner and she was accused of running a brothel. So, I think that kind of put her on the margins. Plus, perhaps just her own character could have done that too.
Benjamin Morris (42:48):
Right. No, the more that you spend time with Captain Jack, you realize she would never have been comfortable in those sort of genteel circles. And there's even one point in your book where I think she has the opportunity to kind of be bought out and settle down and so forth. And she's like, "Nope. Too boring. Too boring. Wouldn't do it."
Jane Bardal (43:08):
Benjamin Morris (43:10):
Which bless her. I love that about her. I love it. I love it. I love it.
Benjamin Morris (43:16):
So, before we wrap up on the Black Queen, I did want to ask you, I mean, there is this kind of interesting sequence where as the mine is producing, this is still in the first 5 or maybe 10 years of its lifespan, she gets these offers. I mean, she does actually get a series of offers, she and her co-owner for someone out east up in Pennsylvania and New York and so forth, to buy it out.
Benjamin Morris (43:49):
And she gets an offer of 100K, she gets an offer of 80K. And I was just kind of curious, Jane, I mean, it is so much work not just to get the thing going, but to keep it running and to keep everybody happy and to keep everybody paid and the ore has to be good and you got to get the right tonnage and all this kind of stuff.
Benjamin Morris (44:11):
Why not take the money and run? Why not take that 80K, that 100K that's being offered and pay off all your debts, which are numerous, and start something new? I mean, why didn't she want to do that?
Jane Bardal (44:30):
Yeah, I think that that's a good question. Everybody calculates that a little differently. Do I hang onto the mine and possibly become a millionaire, or do I settle for a much smaller amount of money?
Jane Bardal (44:43):
And those were the amounts reported in the newspaper, and those need to be taken with a bit of a grain of salt as well. So, I oftentimes found that in the newspaper they might have even reported inflated sale prices. And then you look at the actual records in the county and the actual sale prices is far less.
Jane Bardal (45:06):
So, if that was the case, that happened to her in other instances too, if the offers were actually that high, she certainly should have taken it. But then I think people are trying to hold out for even more to see if they can get even more. And you don't really ever know what you're going to get. So, probably would've been a good idea to take it. But what she eventually got was far less than that.
Benjamin Morris (45:32):
Well, and it is funny because you have all of these vultures and parasites coming out of the woodwork at every step of the process, the lawyers want a piece of the mine, the other prospectors want a piece of the mine. The other owners and the rival claim stakers, they want a piece of the mine. Her brother, who may or may not exist, which is this hilarious subplot in your book, he gets involved assuming he exists. We think he does, but it's not clear.
Benjamin Morris (46:09):
I think my favorite part was even the mineral surveyor for the federal government gets involved in sort of how are we really going to value this mine? And who really owns this part? And this parcel of land?
Benjamin Morris (46:27):
And this guy Robert Sterling, the mineral surveyor, I mean, he's bought off, he owns sort of stakes in the area too. And you realize that there are these vultures circling overhead. I would've taken the money and run. I would've just said, “Get me out. I need a clean break. You lot can go stuff yourselves. Fight it out. Do whatever you want. I'm out. I'm done.” But she hung on and I love that about her. That's amazing.
Jane Bardal (46:55):
Yeah. Well, she had her own circle in Gunnison, and she would win court cases in Gunnison. And then there was a group of people in Crystal who really wanted in on the mine there. And so, you start looking at the social connections, they're the people associated with Al Johnson who basically said that that was his ore and owned the adjoining claim.
Jane Bardal (47:22):
And so, you typically had groups of people who were vying for these interests. So, in some cases she was able to make some allies that helped her. And then she also had a lot of conflict.
Jane Bardal (47:35):
But yeah, a lot of conflict over trying to get a piece of the Black Queen and everybody trying to get rich themselves. And some people came out pretty well. And Al Johnson actually did not come out very well in the end, so-
Benjamin Morris (47:50):
So, she wins that round. She wins that round.
Benjamin Morris (47:52):
Well, we will pick this up again next week by looking at some of the things that happened to her later in life and seeing how her fortunes matured.
Benjamin Morris (48:05):
But thank you so much for joining us this week. This has been a pleasure. I love being out on the trail with her and it is such a joy. So, thank you.