|Buckskin Joe courtesy of adamjamesjones.wordpress.com|
Back in the day, jobs were scarce for women. Positions that are mostly filled by a woman in modern times, such as a secretary or a school teacher, were usually filled by a man. Respectable positions for women included a seamstress, nanny, and maid, but most homes couldn’t afford to pay for even one of these positions. Single women who’d fallen on hard times and had no family to turn to for help were often forced into prostitution as a means of survival. While the profession is degrading to women by today’s standards, back in the day, prostitution served a role in the expansion of the west.
The Gold rush saw thousands of men pull up stakes and head west in the hopes of striking it rich. Some brought their families. Oftentimes, a man struck out on his own. Tent camps, small towns and cities sprang up throughout the west, and where men gathered, one need was shared by all; a woman. Females desperate for income or looking to escape a bad situation followed the men to provide a service. But whether working in a lavish parlor house, crib, or an in-between establishment, most didn’t get rich. And most never left the life of a soiled dove. A few women rose to wealth and fame, and some had a heart of gold. One such woman destined to help others now bears two legends—Silver Heels.
Silver Heels’ first legend states she was a parlor house girl and a dance hall girl at Buckskin Joe, a mining town north of Fairplay, Colorado. Many claimed she had a beautiful face and could dance faster and more gracefully than the other girls. She also wore glittering silver slippers, hence her nickname. It was said children adored her because she sent to Denver for candy to give to them.
Legend has it Silver fell in love with one of the miners and was engaged to be married to him. Before the two wed, smallpox struck the Buckskin Joe area and the town closed. Women went back to Fairplay, except for Silver. She stayed to help her fiancée. Sadly, he was one of the first to die from the disease. Silver remained in Buckskin Joe and moved from cabin to cabin to help the other miners stricken with the disease. She kept their houses clean, cooked meals and washed clothes all the while tending their illness. Once the epidemic broke, the town returned to life. Those grateful to Silver collected money to give to her to thank her for her help, but she couldn’t be found. She had secretly left town. Still wanting to acknowledge her good deeds, the miners named the highest mountain in the area after her.
Some years later, a woman wearing heavy black veils visited the cemetery beneath Mt. Silver Heels. The miners believed the woman was Silver Heels, returning to pay respect to her fiancée’s grave.
|Buckskin Joe saloon/dance hall courtesy of Denver Public Library 1940|
Silver Heels’ second legend is more detailed and takes place in Dudley, which is stated to be near Fairplay and Buckskin Joe. A young woman of great beauty arrived in the mining camp, fresh off the stage from Denver. The crowd waiting for the mail noticed she seemed lost and confused. Jack Herndon, owner of Dudley’s main saloon and gambling hall, helped the woman. He took her to Mr. And Mrs. Mack’s home, where she could rest and gather her wits. It’s said during her stay with the Mack’s, the woman confided her past to Mrs. Mack, which Mrs. Mack kept secret. Later, Jack learned the woman’s name was Josie Dillon.
Josie stayed with the Macks and helped in their kitchen. She also sent to Denver for candy to give to the children, often inviting them to the Macks’ home where she told them stories. During this time, she took a liking to Jack and the two fell in love.
News of the great Chicago fire spread to the area. As a community, the townsfolk wanted to do something to raise money to help the people in Chicago. Several ideas were suggested, but it was Josie who came up with the idea she would sing and dance and if folks liked what they saw, they could leave a donation in a box. Jack closed his saloon for this meeting and for two-day event featuring Josie. She appeared on stage in a short, glittery dress most thought were diamonds outfitted around the neck and edge of the dress. But it was her slippers that earned her the nickname ‘Silver Heels’. Except for toes shining in gold, her slippers were all silver.
The citizens loved Josie’s singing and dancing so much they donated over seventeen hundred dollars to give to the people of Chicago. After that, Jack sold his saloon and went into mining, and he and Josie continued to see each other. Then two sheepherders came to town. Two of them came down with smallpox and were the first to die. Josie, Jack and the Macks took care of those stricken with the disease. Jack fell ill but did not die. During the epidemic, it is said the miners remembered Josie’s performance and took to calling her Silver Heels. Jack didn’t care for the nickname, but Josie allowed it, and shortly after the crisis passed, Jack and Josie went to Denver, married and returned, only to leave for Kentucky after Jack’s father died and his mother needed help. After they left the area, legend states a survey crew came to the area. They needed a name for one of the larger mountains. The miners suggested Silver Heels and that’s how the mountain got its name.
|Miners at Buckskin Joe courtesy of www.ghphotopraphy.com|
Personally, I like the first version of Silver Heels the best, but then, a little bit of romance mixed with heartache and mystery is a fondness of mine.