Jane Haigh

I began my career as an historian and author while living in Fairbanks, where I had access to the unparalleled collections at the Archives at the University of Alaska.  One of my first projects was a Survey of Historic Buildings in Fairbanks, followed by work as a guest curator on an exhibit for the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Highway for the University of Alaska Museum of the North. (Some pieces of this exhibit can still be seen at the Museum.) She then began a project on the history of Denali National Park. But it did not take me long to zero in on Fannie Quigley. “When I began, not much was know about Fannie, and  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 packed 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.

Meanwhile, Graham Wilson, of Wolf Creek Books/ Friday 501 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. King Con: the Story of Soapy Smith was published in 2006.

But, while I gained a certain amount of fame as a historian in Alaska, I still wanted to returning to Fannie Quigley and completing the biography. To the many tourists to Denali National Park, Fannie 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 wrong. 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.

Searching for Fannie Quigley, the book I began first, was finally published in 2007.

Meanwhile, 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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