In 1878 authorized by the United States Congress under the Bland-Allison Act the government started buying silver. A year later, in 1879 a large load of silver was found in Leadville. Following this silver boom, a wave of prospectors flooded Colorado. Many prospectors moved to Crested Butte and established the town as a supply center. The first prospectors that were drawn to the silver boom were Irish, Welsh, and English.
One infamous prospector and entrepreneur was Captain Jack. A fiery outspoken woman who had a personality as big as the mountains surrounding Crested Butte. Ellen E. Jack immigrated from her home in Nottingham, England to the United States in the 1860s after meeting her American husband Captain Charles Jack. Ellen married Charles who was a captain in the United States Navy during the Civil War. After losing three children to disease and her husband to an enlarged heart in 1873, Ellen gave up her surviving children and took her husband's name, Captain Jack. Ellen made her way to Gunnison, Colorado in 1880 with diamonds and government bonds sewn into her skirt. She invested in the Black Queen Mine near the Crystal area and opened a boarding house near Jacks Cabin, between Crested Butte and Gunnison. Ellen E. Jack documented her life in her autobiography Captain Jack.
Captain Jack lead an adventurous and courageous life, according to her own accounts. One of her larger than life tales included getting shot the second day she was in Gunnison. Ellen was on a mission to find better accommodations as she was only allowed to sleep in the lobby of the Gunnison House Hotel the first night. As she was inquiring about renting a tent, a gunshot went through her cloak. Captain Jack describes the following, “Two more shots went close by me and into the tent. Then a man came out in his drawers and shirt, with gun in hand, and he was covered in blood.” Ellen comforted the man and said a prayer for him before he died.
Ellen settled in Colorado Springs later in life where she struggled to find the success she had in the Gunnison Valley. Ellen E. Jack passed June 17, 1921. Ellen was a unique character for the early settlers of the Gunnison Valley. Her story presents the hard-won livelihood of those who chose to live in this isolated corner of the world.
For more information on Captain Ellen Jack, visit our gift shop for her autobiography.
-Written by Museum Intern, Nathanael Gross
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