Hillside Press Alaska

All You Need to Know About Jane: Historian & Writer

I moved to Fairbanks in 1970 when I was 18, met my husband, and raised two daughters, was a popular speaker for the Alaska Humanities Forum Speakers Bureau. I also served on the School Board and ran for the state legislature twice while writing the Gold Rush Women, Gold Rush Dogs, and Children of the Gold Rush.

Education & Experience

I also earned a master’s degree in Northern Studies from the University of Alaska in 1993. Served as guest curator for two major popular exhibits at the University of Alaska Museum Alaska or Bust celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Highway in 1992, exhibits at the University of Alaska Museum.

How It Began

I have lived in Fairbanks for most of the last 35 years, except for the last few winters, which were spent in Tucson. In 2001, I moved to Tucson to begin the Ph.D. program in US history at the University of Arizona, focusing on US West.

From Amateur Historian to Published Author

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 packed four-year-old Anna up the steep parts of hillsides to find Fannie and Joe Quigley’s claims.

Writing A Biography

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's 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?

Row seperator

The Collaboration

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.

Returning to Fannie

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 Ph.D., working on some of the many issues presented by Fannie’s contradictory story was one of the motivations.

A New Book

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.

Writing About Soapy

Reading about Soapy and the con men of Denver, I stumbled on the extensive political corruption that 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 coursework for the Ph.D. 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.”