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.
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.
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).
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’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.