Jane Haigh has lived in Fairbanks for most of the last 35 years, except for the last few winters which she has spent in Tucson working on her Phd in U.S. History at the University of Arizona. Jane earned a Masters Degree in Northern Studies from the University of Alaska in 1993. She served as guest curator for two major exhibits at the University of Alaska Museum, and was a popular speaker for the Alaska Humanities Forum Speakers Bureau. She also served on the School Board, and ran for the state legislature, twice.
“My most recent book, Searching for Fannie Quigley is the book I began first. My efforts to uncover the real story of Fannie’s life became a quest that absorbed much of my time, and ultimately shaped my life and my career Fannie arrived in the Kantishna mining district in 1906 and her life in the area spanned the creation of the Park itself. Her wilderness life inspired many who met her to write about her unique personality and her hunting and trapping, cooking and gardening abilities. To the many tourists to Denali National Park, has become an intriguing symbol of the enduring, intrepid spirit of the original pioneers. She was described in five book chapters and at least two magazine articles between 1913 and 1955. Ironically when I began my research on Fannie Quigley nearly twenty years ago, very little was known about the facts of her life, even her maiden name was hard to find, making further research difficult, and I quickly discovered that many of the facts in the more common sources were incorrect.
When I began, I was an “amateur” historian, and a stay-at –home mom to two small children. On our first trip to Kantishna, and Quigley Ridge, I carried baby Molly in a backpack while my husband Chris backed four year old Anna up the steep parts hillsides to find Fannie and Joe Quigley’s claims. I was not a very good writer, and I had little idea how to go about writing a biography. My expertise and ability increased through work on a Masters Degree in Northern Studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks completed in 1993. As I returned to the project, I realized that a lingering problem concerned the continuing perception that Fannie was a singularly iconographic wilderness woman. I knew she had joined the rush to the Klondike, but what had other women been doing?
Amazingly enough this is when Claire Murphy asked me to partner with her in writing Gold Rush Women. Over the four years we worked on this book, I dragged my family to nearly every important gold rush site in Alaska and the Yukon. The book was published by Alaska Northwest Books in 1997, in time for the centennial of the gold rush. This led to the publication of two more collaborative books, Children of the Gold Rush, and Gold Rush Dogs. The ten or so years Claire and I worked together was like an intensive writing workshop for me, as Claire, is an author in her own right, and now also a writing instructor at Eastern Washington University.
But, while I gained a certain amount of fame as a historian in Alaska, as I contemplated returning to Fannie Quigley and completing the biography, I still felt stuck, not knowing how to put Fannie’s life as a wilderness woman in context. When I had the opportunity to pursue a PhD, working on some of the many issues presented by Fannie’s contradictory story was one of the motivations.
Meanwhile, Graham Wilson, of Wolf Creek Books in Whitehorse published two of my photo histories, and then asked if I was interested in writing a biography of Soapy Smith. I read what little was available, decided it would be a fun project, and ended up researching Soapy’s escapades in Denver, where he learned everything there was to know about con games. Reading about Soapy and the con men of Denver, I stumbled on the extensive political corruption which he took part in. I completed King Con: the Story of Soapy Smith in 2001, although it was not published until 2006. In the meantime, I had finished all of my course work for the PhD in U.S. History at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
I completed my dissertation, based on the material I stumbled into while researching Soapy Smith: “Political Power, Patronage, and Protection Rackets: Municipal Politics and Corruption in Denver 1889-1904.”
With the new film “Into the Wild” hitting the big screen, I paused to reflect that the bus where McCandless died is only about 100 miles from where Fannie not only survived, but perfected her wilderness lifestyle over 40 years.
Fannie was no starry-eyed idealist, but a realist. She did not have the luxury of placing her existence in the context of adventure, or even wilderness, but instead was focused on simply making a living, and supporting the prospecting efforts of her husband Joe.
I have often wondered whether or how Fannie understood the concept of wilderness scenery. Wilderness is a concept which, as a basically romantic ideal, leaning on the concept of the sublime, virtually requires the idea of leisure. Absent the leisure for contemplation, wilderness is only about survival. And survival, requires hard work.
Like most Alaskans, I see Chris McCandless as someone with a death wish. For Alaskans, enjoyment of wilderness is synonymous with preparation, and preparation for hard work. if you are not ready for that, stay home. Or enjoy the wilderness on an organized wilderness tour, a fly-n cabin, or somewhere, closer to the road.
Fannie made an art form out of the hard work of survival, carefully coordinating the numerous tasks of hunting, trapping, gathering, growing and preserving food, and of course, cooking.
In the first full biography of the notorious con man Soapy Smith in more than forty years, Alaskan historian Jane Haigh chronicles the rise to power of a man without a conscience. Starting as a street corner shell game artist, Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith rose to power as a gang leader in Denver, then chose raw, lawless Skagway as his headquarters to fleece the thousands of tenderfeet heading for the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897. Less than a year later he was dead, killed in a vigilante shootout on the Skagway wharf.
Well spoken and charming, Soapy could have been a businessman, minister, politician lawyer, or judge, but he chose to use his talents as a confidence man. In Skagway he gathered shills and toughs from around the West and commanding his gang as a colonel might command a battalion, he constructed an empire that any Mafia don might envy. King Con documents Soapy’s life from his infamy as a Denver crook and gang leader and his take over of early Creed, Colorado, to the fake businesses, rigged card games, and brutal murders that marked his year of dominance in Gold Rush Skagway. This fascinating biography is illustrated with period photographs that show Soapy and his gang from their glory days to his autopsy in 1898.
Jane and Claire Rudolf Murphy spent three years researching the stories in their first book together, Gold Rush Women , (Alaska Northwest Books, 1997.)
You can see many of their stories in the Threads of Gold Exhibit on-line at the University of Alaska Museum. Jane was guest curator for this exhibit in 1997 in honor of the centennial of the Klondike Gold Rush.
While reading about the women, Jane and Claire were also fascinated by the stories of the many Children of the Gold Rush, and decided to write another book, (first published by (Roberts Rinehart, 1999, and a second edition by Alaska Northwest Books 2001).
Children or the Goldrush is officially out of print. However, it is available directly from Claire, who bought out the publishers stock.