We had a great meeting at the Highlands Ranch historical (or as James calls it, hysterical) society meeting last night. We heard from Lola Montez who was a European courtesan before she came to the states. Belle Starr, Queen of the outlaws. Silver Heels a Buckskin Joe mining camp dance girl who nursed miners back to health. Susan Magoffin, one of the first women on the Santa Fe trail who journaled her experiences for those back East. And of course, Molly Brown, the Leadville lady who wanted to impress Denver high society and survived the Titanic sinking.
Silver Heels had a mountain named after her, Mt. Silverheels. She was called that because of the silver shoes she wore when dancing. When smallpox ravaged the Buckskin Joe mining camp the women and children fled, but Silver heels stayed and nursed the men. She eventually caught the disease and it left her face scarred. She always wore a blak veil after that and eventually left the town because she was so sure that everyone thought she was ugly. The miners from town rounded up $5,000 to give to her, but when they got to her cabin she was gone, with only her silver shoes left there. They named a mountain after her to show how much they appreciated her care and it’s the only mountain in CO named after a woman.
Lola Montez wasn’t really the name of a lady that entertained people in CA, it was Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld.
She was an Irish dancer and actress who became famous as a “Spanish dancer”, courtesan and mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. At the start of the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states, she was forced to flee and came to the US where she took the stage name Lola Montez and started her entertainment career. Later in life she returned to the US and did rescue work with women in New York.
Belle Starr was a very unconventional woman.
She joined a gang who used her to spy on Union troops and when her brother was killed in the war she took over the gang. She had a child with one member of the gang and then turned to another gang member and conceived again. She was on the run from MO to TX and her husbands kept getting killed.
She married into the Cherokee nation and kept up with her horse stealing, bootlegging and harboring outlaws. Then her newest husband was killed in a gunfight. So, she married his brother (to keep her house, which was a gift from the Cherokee nation, unless she was no longer married.) Her daughter was 19 and pregnant, her son hated her, a murderer was on the loose near her ranch and one day she was shot in the back twice – her murder was never solved.
Everyone knows Molly Brown, the heroine of the Titanic, philanthropist and a woman of Denver’s high society, but that wasn’t who she always was.
She came from Hannibal, MO and knew Mark Twain! She moved to Leadville when she was 17 and worked in a department store. Jim Brown had his eye on her and they married, even though he was almost twice her age. He was poor and so was she, but she said that she’d rather marry a poor man for love than a wealthy man for the love of money. That turned out to be a good choice, because Jim wasn’t poor for long. Thanks to Jim’s engineering methods causing a great load of ore in the mine of his bosses, they were wealthy. Molly said that Jim used to put his cash in an old pot belly stove..then one day he was a bit drunk, made a fire….well, you know what happened. He said, don’t worry about it Molly, I’ll make all that back and more, and he did. They moved to Denver and tried to fit into high society, but it wasn’t until Molly came back as the heroine of the Titanic that Denver society accepted her.
Susan Magoffin was a frail thing that set out with her husband on the Santa Fe trail. She wasn’t the first woman on the trail, but she kept a journal about her experiences that helped others see what life was going to be like out West.
As they headed West they stopped at Bent’s fort where she suffered a miscarriage. Her husband, who was a trader, was headed for Mexico. Susan suffered a bout of yellow fever while there and lost another baby due to the sickness. She shared the common prejudices of the time about Indians and Mexicans, but her journal shows that as she learned the language of the people and stayed with them she came to see that they were really just like her. Eventually they made it back to MO and she had a daughter and then another child – she died soon after that birth at age 28. Though her life was short, her journal gave a wonderful picture of life during that time, traveling the trail and the people she encountered.
From her journal:
Oh, this is a life I would not exchange for a good deal? There is such independence, so much free uncontaminated air, which impregnates the mind, the feelings, nay every thought, with purity. I breathe free without that oppression and uneasiness felt in the gossiping groups of a settled home. – From the journal of Susan Magoffin from the Kansas historical society site
I hope we get to see the Legendary ladies again, they were great!