Summit’s Historic Yesterdays: Breckenridge’s tiny tyro defends her family from danger
Summit’s Historic Yesterdays
Editor’s note: This tale comes from Mary Ellen Gilliland’s humorous local history, “Rascals, Scoundrels and No Goods.” The book captures the high-spirited antics of shysters and shady ladies, swindlers and rogues of 1800s Summit County mine camps. Old-timers interviewed by Gilliland provided most of the book’s savory stories.
The character of the pioneer mother, ready to wrestle a bear to protect her young and vulnerable, stands as classic in the legend of the frontier American West. No less noble a character was Breckenridge’s Mabel Gore, a tiny mama who packed a mighty punch. Here readers will encounter just two of several stories of Mabel’s response to peril as Summit’s memorable “pint-sized powerhouse.”
One August night in 1912 a drunken vagrant lurched up toward Curtin Hill (today’s Wellington Hill). He planned to visit a house of ill repute. Both Curtin Hill and the red light district on the Blue River’s west bank provided services of the ladies of the night. As the drunk stumbled through the intersection, he turned right instead of the correct left.
Just down the street at the Robert Gore home, the Daughters of St. John, an Episcopal club for girls and young women, sat straight-backed and prim in the Gore parlor. They stitched as Miss Agnes Finding read aloud from a turn-of-the-century romance novel. Mrs. Mabel Gore sat in the kitchen, absorbed in conversation with a friend. Young Zoe Gore had trouble concentrating on her handwork. She kept an ear alert for sound of her father, Breckenridge’s beloved Robert Gore, to return from a long day as dredgemaster of the Reliance gold boat. The dredge had for several days been bucking bedrock, a time-consuming challenge that required him to work late.
A heavy step at the front entry made young Zoe spring up. She hurried to let her father in. When she opened the door, the inebriate, reeking whiskey fumes, got a look at the fresh young miss. His bleary eyes brightened. Lunging at Zoe with breath bad enough to make her dizzy, he grabbed her and roared, “I’ll take you, Katie.”
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The young ladies in the parlor paled in terror when the vagrant chased Zoe through their midst and into the dining room. Hearing the commotion, Mabel Gore, Zoe’s mother, rose to her full 5-foot height and moved into action. She rolled up her 1900s fashion magazine, the “Delineator,” which was published monthly in a thick size. Mabel charged the dining room, using the magazine as a club and beat back her surprised victim through the parlor to the entryway and out the door, reducing him to pulp on the front stoop.
Retaining her cool, she set about making hot chocolate for the shaken up Daughters of St. John and served them the soothing drink with cookies to restore their equilibrium.
Robert Gore came on the scene just as his pint-sized wife closed the door on the disabled vagrant. Gore reported the intrusion to Sheriff Jerry Detwiler who arrested and jailed the offender. He turned out to be armed.
Both this story and the next come from a local book titled “Women As Tall As Our Mountains.”
Drunks and vagrants didn’t realize what was coming when Mabel Gore stepped into the scene. The tiny matron could summon up the ire of a mother lion when danger threatened. Earlier in 1898 Mabel had shepherded her mother, who was blind, and two little children onto a railway coach bound for San Francisco. The train rumbled west in uneventful predictability until a loud voice interrupted the calm. A drunk, spewing profanities, had lurched into the car. As he passed the Gore family, a conductor opened a door, took in the situation and ordered the man to sit down. The drunk would be put off at the next stop. Suddenly the offender pulled out a pistol, and confronted the conductor, leveling his gun at the railway man. Unarmed, the conductor froze.
Mabel Gore, always at the ready when danger struck, jumped onto the red plush seat behind the offender. She jammed her thumb into the man’s windpipe with her strong fingers constricting his neck.
“For God’s sake, lady, hold tight,” yelled the conductor running for help. Mabel held on until a brakeman and other rail men rushed to the scene. The undesirable was off-loaded at the next stop. Zoe Gore remembered that the train trip continued serene and undisturbed the rest of the way to San Francisco.
Mary Ellen Gilliland’s “SUMMIT, A Gold Rush History of Summit County, Colorado,” has captured the colorful gold rush. She details the misbehavior of history’s miscreants in her “Rascals, Scoundrels and No Goods” and recounts the story of the region’s first town in Breckenridge. Gilliland is also the author of the popular guide,”The Summit Hiker.” All are available from The Next Page Bookstore or online at alpenrosepress.com.
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