How an 1800’s Alice, Colorado, Gold Mine Operator Got a New Headstone Thanks to His Great Granddaughter


Sometimes the acts of our ancestors so move us, that we only wish we could thank them in person for the influences their actions would eventually have on our own lives. In most cases, however, much is said and little is done to honor their memories. Not so in the case of Susie Harper, of Phoenix, Arizona.

In 2010, she went to the trouble and expense of honoring her great grandfather, William Henry Harper, an early resident and businessman of Clear Creek County, Colorado, with a new grave marker.


In 2010, Susie made one of her regular pilgrimages back to Alice, a historical Colorado mining camp near St. Mary’s Glacier, and to visit her great grandfather’s grave in Gilpin County, only to discover that his grave marker had been stolen. Mr. Harper is buried in the Masonic cemetery near Central City.


The headstone was placed on 5 October 2010 With Much Love, Respect, Gratitude, and Admiration from Susie Harper, Great Granddaughter

Even though he died long before she was born, in 1897, her great grandfather meant too much to her not to do anything. She arranged to have a beautiful new monument carved that would include his photo.

William Henry Harper married his sweetheart, Emmarilla in Gilpin County, in 1877, one year after Colorado became a state. He, himself was born in Le Roy, Genessee, New York, and moved to Magnolia Rock, Wisconsin before settling in Colorado.  Records show that he was married in an Episcopalian Church in Central City, about a 10 mile trek from Alice (Susie’s father would trek into Central City on cross country skis to get supplies as a young man in the 1930’s to get mail and supplies).

A Civil War veteran, he served as a Union soldier from 1862-1865, spending two months of those years in a confederate prison.  He was mustered out of service in Washington D.C. in 1865, before he found the sweet bliss of matrimony.

In the years that followed, he prospered as a gold miner, mining his own claims in Alice in the 1890’s.

There was once a glory hole at Alice, left over from William Harper’s time, a testament to hard work and toil, and the men who risked their lives and capital to mine for gold, and it was a site to behold, a geographical piece of Colorado history that should have been left for future generations to see for themselves.  I’m sorry to say I don’t have a photo of it, as I would have included it with this article.  I’m not sure how deep it was, but it seemed to go down at least half the size of a football field and just as wide. Apparently residents of Alice felt it was an eyesore, or perhaps a possible danger to children, and had it filled.  What a shame.

One thing still left standing is a cabin built by Susie’s great grandfather. Susie’s family called it the ‘big cabin’ to differentiate it from a smaller cabin (see smaller cabin interior below), once owned by Susie’s grandfather.

William Harper’s cabin, the ‘big cabin’ has had a life of it’s own, through the years. It appeared in a Rand McNally print ad in 1972, and in a Hallmark Christmas movie, Stubbie Pringle’s Christmas, in 1978, starring Beau Bridges. Below is the view that Rand McNally used for it’s ad.


The ‘Big Cabin’ built by William Henry Harper

Below are photos of the smaller cabin where Susie spent time as a child.  By today’s standards, it would qualify as a ‘tiny house.’ a two room cabin, only a few hundred square feet in size. The cabin has passed out of the hands of Harper family members, but Susie has fond memories of time spent in the cabin when it was owned by her grandfather and his wife (my own aunt, a product of my grandfather’s first marriage).


Photo of the Cabin’s interior taken by Patrick Harper

Susie recognizes the importance of her great grandfather’s move to Colorado and his success as a gold miner, because she understands the influence his actions had on her own life, and the lives of her other family members.

She recognizes the privilege of growing up out West, where the western values of independence, and love of individual liberty were instilled in her. Her own brother, Patrick Harper, took these values to a higher level when he ran as a U.S. congressional candidate from Arizona in the years when the Libertarian party was barely known, or respected.


Susie and Patrick Harper building a snowman outside of the ‘big cabin’ in the 1950’s.

Susie’s brother, Patrick, before he passed away at the age of 27 in 1978 (also a professional photographer) took a photo of the cabin that I am using as a header for this blog.

Stubbie Pringle’s Christmas is based on a short story by Jack Schaefer, and according to Susie, the actress who played the character named Mrs. Harper looks much like the original Emmarilla.  A pretty good exterior shot of the cabin can be seen at about 27:37 minutes into the YouTube video of the entire movie.

The air is thin in Alice, with an elevation of 10,092 feet, and cold winters there can take their toll on the strongest of men.  William Harper succumbed to pneumonia at the age 54 in 1897, leaving behind four children, two sons and two daughters.

Thanks to his great granddaughter, William Henry Harper’s headstone will be there for her relatives, and for visitors to the Masonic cemetery for years to come.


11 responses

  1. Buenos dias Susanna,
    que gusto encontrar tu blog con informacion tan completa sobre Susie y Patrick Harper. Ha sido tambien un gusto leer sobre tus origenes y ver que tu padre era Peruano, como nosotros. Mi nombre es Tomas, estoy visitando a mi amiga Anita en Arizona, tambien peruana. Nos gusta el arte y justamente el 24 de Diciembre habiamos adquirido varias fotografias de Patrick Harper.
    Nos preguntamos como llegaste a obtener esa informacion sobre la familia Harper? De que parte del Peru era tu padre? el nombre Sayan y la hermosa ciudad de Sayan son del Norte del pais.

    • Mi padre nacio en Lima. Su madre era Peruana. El se fue con su familia a La Habana a la edad de 14 y se caso con una American. Patrick Harper era mi primo.

  2. Good morning Susanna,
    what a surprise to find your blog regarding the Harper’s. Last week a friend of mine and I acquired a few photographs of Patrick Harper, (entering photo competitions during his time in High School in 1969, and from the 3rd Arizona Photography Biennial 1971 – Phoenix Art Museum).
    Would you know if his work is shown anywhere?
    Have a great day,

    • That is a strange coincidence, Tomas. I don’t know the answer to your question, but can let his sister know of your interest. Glad to hear that you appreciate his work. He was a phenomenal photographer and person.

    • Hello Tomas!

      I am Susie, Patrick’s sister and I have a lot of his work still…. I give some of his framed work as gifts and I would love to give you some more of his work if you are interested. Please contact me, or my Cousin Susi if we need an interpreter as my Espanol is muy poquito! Thanks, Susi, for your Blog and this wonderful connection! Susie

  3. Susi,
    I loved the article. My Grampy also was a pioneer here at the same time. Also, a Mason from Aspen (Pitkin). I followed his father into Harrison Missouri and found his grave, which needed some tending as well. You have given me an idea.
    Call let’s talk.

    • Jan, I always heard good things about Grampy and Grampy’s Pancake House. I’m sorry I never got to meet him. I know he meant a lot to you. I remember you sending photos of your great grandfather’s tombstone.

  4. Susi~

    You have no idea what a wonderful “Magical Commotion” that you have caused to happen as a direct result of your Blog. I now have two new, and very lovely, friends to share Pat’s photography with…. Tomas and Anita. Thanks so very much! 🙂 Susie

    P. S. I also now know why you do not spell your name with an ‘e’ at the end like I do!

    • These are things that cannot be logically explained. I can only believe that Patrick had a hand in this. And it’s too strange that Jan accidentally got one of our emails, too, which brought her over here to read the post.

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