Jane Haigh’s Story

Jane Haigh

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.”

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