By Khaleel Herbert
When students learn about the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush, its events and key players usually revolve around men. But Colorado author, Julie VanLaanen Bell (or J.V.L. for short) gave a lecture entitled “Pike’s Peak or Bust: The Stories from Colorado’s Women 59ers” at the Center for Colorado Women’s History at Byers-Evans House Sept. 29 to highlight famous frontierswomen of this moment in Colorado history.
Michael Erickson, the education coordinator of the center, planned the lecture. Erickson says this event isn’t the first women-focused lecture or event, but this is the first time Bell has worked with for the center.
“This year we have hosted a variety of events that included a Suffragist Tea that allowed guests to learn about the connections of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and tea while enjoying tea themselves,” Erickson says, “and even held a bike repair workshop that highlighted the history of women and bikes.”
Whether it was a stroke of luck or simply coincidence, Erickson and the center encountered Bell while browsing the stacks at Denver Public Library’s Colorado Book Festival earlier this year. Bell jumped at the chance to present Colorado history since she has previously spoken at several libraries, senior centers and private organizations.
“I love reading about the lives of well-known historical women like Augusta Tabor and Elizabeth Byers, but it is the less well-known women who have stories that inspire me,” Bell says. “This lecture allows me to share some of their stories and the exciting lives they lived.”
The Lucky Hat Mine, Bell’s first novel published by New Jersey’s The Hansen Publishing Group in October 2016, is the story of Millie Virginia answering a wife-wanted ad by traveling the Great Plains. But her intended husband is dead by the time she arrives. Bell also has a second novel, The Denver City Jail, hitting shelves in 2019. The novel will focus on the relationship between settlers and Native Americans and existing prejudices in the 1860s.
“These are difficult topics that can’t be ignored. I’m a Colorado native and I grew up reading stories from Colorado’s history,” Bell says. “I’ve written for years, but I knew I had found my passion when I combined the Colorado history I love with the story of a strong female character.”
Bell’s lecture included adventures of Elizabeth Byers, the wife of William Byers who was the founder and editor of the Rocky Mountain News newspaper. Bell says Elizabeth was well-known for her charity work, including establishing Ladies Union Aid Society in Denver City, Kansas on January 15 1860, 16 years before Colorado reached statehood.
Augusta Tabor, the wife of Colorado’s Silver King Horace Tabor, worked alongside her husband in mining towns. Bell explains that Augusta was well-known and well-respected, resembling that of a typical woman living in a rough Colorado mining town, although Horace had an affair and later married Baby Doe. Other women included in the lecture were Elsa Jane Forest, Charlotte Card and Mary Randal.
Erickson hopes attendees left the lecture with a deeper understanding of contributions women made in Colorado’s history.
“As with all of our lectures,” Erickson says, “we hope our lecture series ensures women have a place in the narratives told in Colorado’s history.”
For more information on J.V.L. Bell and her work visit: http://jvlbell.com/