Column No. 67

How I Met My Lover – Little Jack Fraser

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

One October evening in 1903, a stranger to me, but well known as
Jack Fraser to everyone else in the Liberty mining camp post office,
was there, waiting for the mail. … I was told that the people present
said, right away, “There’s a match if ever there was one,”
so I guess it was really love at first sight.

This column continues the life story of Ines Fraser, widow of Jack Fraser, who along with his brother Al, was brutally murdered by Mexican bandits in the February 1920 robbery of the general store at the Ruby mining camp. We are telling the story in Ines’ own words, in a long letter written in 1968 to her grandson Bruce and her granddaughter-in-law Claudia:

Now, dear Bruce and Claudia, I will answer some questions you asked about how I met my husband. In the fall of 1903 I was teaching school in a small, not very successful mining camp, on the south slope of Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The camp was at the open end of a steep, narrow gulch, facing the wide San Luis Valley. It was called Liberty.

The maximum enrollment in my school was 16, from beginners in low first grade through the 6th, and two girls in 8th. These two I coached on some evenings in addition to 8th grade “regular” studies, no laboratory things, all from books, and they were able to enter the county High School at Saguache (across the Valley) by passing all entrance requirements and special examinations.

The mail came in the early evening, by wagon, from Crestone, which was a more active mining camp, really a small town, 14 miles away, also facing the south. I often went to the one grocery store, which had the post office in one corner. Other “inhabitants” and men from outlying mines gathered there, talked and really visited.

Well, one October evening, a stranger to me, but well known as Jack Fraser to everyone else, in the Liberty mining camp post office, was there waiting for the mail. Mrs. Norvell, the postmaster and storekeeper of course introduced us, and we were, “acquainted” immediately. Jack was a short five foot four inches tall and weighed about only about 130 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes. I was told that the people present said, right away, “There’s a match if ever there was one,” so I guess it was really love at first sight. We matched pretty well physically too; I was five feet tall at about 100 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.

Anyway, from then on, Jack came every day for mail from his camp 2 1/2 miles over the ridge on “Pole Creek,” and you may picture him “walking me home” to the place where I was boarding and staying pretty late. There were no “gifts” for him to bring, but there were nuts and raisins from the store! Not very glamorous, but what of it? Some evenings we walked up the canyon and visited the homes of various acquaintances. At some point I played the organ and sang; at one I coached a pupil to prepare her for High School, while Jack talked mining and geology to the parents.

My dear grandson Bruce, your grandfather, John Angus Fraser, was born on May 6, 1863 in Mulgrave, Nova Scotia, Canada. His mother’s family had originated in Scotland and his father’s family in England, but both families had lived in Mulgrave since fishing began to replace the lumber trade as the town’s primary industry in the early 1800s. Jack’s older sister Annie Elizabeth Fraser was born in 1859 and his older brother Alexander James Fraser in 1861 – both also starting out in Mulgrave. Jack told me that in 1870 all trade agreements in the fishing industry were cancelled to protect the American fish market, and the industry collapsed. Depression came to the area and by 1880 over one-third of the population had migrated to New England in search of employment.

Jack’s brother Al immigrated to the Boston in 1876, worked at a series of odd jobs for a few years, and was able to put himself through school there, earning a degree in mining engineering. Al went back to Mulgrave in 1882 to wed Amelia Beck, a local girl, and soon returned to Boston with his new bride.

Jack didn’t immigrate to Boston until 1884, but immediately caught the mining fever from Al, and soon both were looking for opportunities in the far west. Leaving Amelia in Boston, Al and Jack then started their long mining career together in several western states, mainly in Colorado, including Leadville, Cripple Creek, Boulder, Creed, Breckenridge, and finally our own San de Cristo Mountains and Liberty, where I met Jack in 1903.

Jack was fond of talking about the only two significant interruptions to this series of Colorado mining. The first was the birth of Al’s daughter Mae in Boston in 1890 and the second was Jack’s several months’ long, financially unsuccessful exploration of the Alaskan Klondike in 1897 and 1898. Jack sheepishly described himself as one of over 100,000 optimistic “stampeders” participating in the Klondike gold rush that started in 1897.

To complete my Jack’s family history, Bruce and Claudia, older sister Annie came to Boston in 1890 to help with the delivery of Al’s daughter (who by the way was given Annie’s middle name, Mae). Now a nurse, Annie stayed in Boston and soon became active in a hospital in Jamaica Plains, a suburb of Boston. Annie never married, pouring all her energy into her medical work.

Young Jack Fraser immigrated to Boston in 1884 and later became a miner with his brother Al in Colorado. (Courtesy of Connie Fraser Kiely)

(Sources: Fraser family records, courtesy of Connie Fraser Kiely)

Next Time: Jack’s Great Alaskan Adventure

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