Chapter 9: In which Miss Angela Farr reveals the history of the Maverick Mine
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby
“In 1891, John Llewellyn Maverick came to Decatur County. Where exactly he came from, nobody knows. He had family back east, but they hadn’t had contact with him in years. Some say he came from prospecting in California, others said he had been cutting timber in Washington State, and a few claimed he was a fugitive from Texas. Like so many with his family name, he was a wild, troublesome man with a bad temper. He was tall, over six feet in height, hair black streaked with gray, face leathery and long. He was quick with a gun, too, and proved it at the poker tables, so it is said. And whether he had come from California or not, he knew something about prospecting and he had some ready cash. After he had made himself obnoxious to the sheriff through various misdeeds, he fitted himself out with prospecting gear and headed north.
“He was gone for four months, and people never expected to see him again. Truth be told, they weren’t too unhappy about that. But they sang a different tune when he returned.”
The speaker was Miss Angela Farr. We were sitting in her living room, which was overrun by books, papers, and cats. She told me she had pulled out and gone over the records about the Maverick Mine, and that’s why there were books all over the place, but I noticed a lot of the books were on subjects not even remotely connected to the Maverick Mine. The cats, and there must have been at least six, had free run of the place, but through some unspoken agreement left all the historical documents alone.
Angela Farr was an old woman, thin, small, and wrinkled. But her eyes lit up when she saw me, and she made me wait before she had put out tea and cookies before she settled down to the topic at hand. And as she spoke, she gestured and made faces that illustrated everything she said.
She continued, “It was the night of September 27, 1891 when John Llewellyn Maverick rode back into town. Or, rather, his horse came back to town. John was barely alive. He had four bullets in him, and the local doctor, a man whose medical education consisted of amputating limbs, pronounced him a goner.
“But what interested people about Maverick was what was in one of his saddle bags: gold nuggets, gold-threaded quartz, and hunks of sulphuret of silver. There hadn’t been much gold discovered in some decades, and the town lit up with the news.
“Maverick rallied long enough to file a claim, and then he died. He probably died from an infected wound. He left his claim in a handwritten will to his family back east. But that hardly mattered. People swarmed out to his claim, and were soon digging everywhere in the area, looking for gold and silver.
“Well, they never found much gold, but they found silver ore and galena ore, that’s lead. A lot of claims were filed. No one paid attention to Maverick’s claim, but the mine that got started was named after him. Imagine that! They were stealing his family’s wealth, and they had the nerve to name the mine after him.
“Thomas Jackson, a local man who’d gotten his money through various shady schemes, lined up various friends of his, formed a company, bought out all the claims except Maverick’s original one, and began serious mining. A nice little town grew up to support the miners. They couldn’t build much of anything out by the mine, it was hilly territory, but there was a plateau to the east, across the ravine. And there they put the town they called Jacksonville.”
Angela Farr paused, looking at me, and I made the connection. “You mean to tell me that Jacksonville was where Farnham is now, and the road out to the ravine is the road to the mine?”
She smiled, gave my knee a slight tap. “That’s exactly what I’m telling you. Now, aren’t you surprised?”
“I certainly am, Miss Farr. I’ve never seen any sign of an older town there.”
“Well, I’ll get to that in a moment,” she replied. “More tea?” She got up and got me some more, along with more cookies, before she sat down to resume her tale.
“For a year, the mine boomed. And then came the Panic of 1893 and the repeal of the Sherman Act, and the price of silver crashed. Thomas Jackson’s company went bankrupt, and the mine closed.
“It took Tom Jackson more than a year to secure financing to open up the mine again. And another boom began. A lot of politicians in the western states were pushing for the Mint to start coining silver in a big way again, and it looked like they might win in 1896. And that would make silver even more profitable.
“But Tom got trouble he wasn’t counting on. Maverick’s family back east had finally heard about what happened, and were pressing their claim to the mine. Jackson’s creditors from his bankruptcy claimed they owned the mine. And then a man who claimed to be Alfonso Estevez y Rodriguez showed up with a Spanish land deed that included the mine. It all went into the courts, but it didn’t stay there. The Mavericks hired Pinkertons, Tom Jackson called in the state militia, and the miners went on strike when they weren’t shooting or being shot at. Somehow, in all the confusion, Alfonso Estevez y Rodriguez, or whatever his real name was, persuaded the miners to support his claim, and he took over the mine.
“Meanwhile, all these lawsuits were going through the courts. And the Secret Service sent out two agents to investigate the situation, Mr. Charles Horner and Miss Lane.”
I was so astonished, I blurted out, “Miss Abigail Lane.”
Angela Farr looked at me in wonder. “Now how would you know that? I’ve never seen her Christian name in any of the documents. Where did you run across it?”
I am not a good liar. So I settled for something simple. “Uh, um, I don’t remember. Maybe I’m confusing this with something else.”
Angela Farr looked disappointed. “Well, if you do remember, please let me know. For Miss Lane is a mystery to me. I called up the Secret Service about this matter once, and they were quite unhelpful. They insisted there were no female agents back then. So who was she? Someone Mr. Horner hired to help him, a secretary? Perhaps his mistress?” Miss Farr put on a shocked look while she said that.
That I rather doubted. Miss Abigail Lane had seemed far too sure of herself to be either a mistress or secretary. But it was amazing to hear that she actually existed, and in the 1890s! To change the subject, I asked, “Why would the Secret Service be involved? I thought they protected the President?”
Angela Farr nodded. “That was what I thought. But their original mission was to track counterfeiters. I presume they were brought in to investigate the documents. But they also went up to Jacksonville itself. Thomas Jackson left behind a diary in which he mentions meeting them there once. Let me see . . .” And she went hunting through the papers, finally pulling out a small but thick volume. “Let me get my reading glasses on. Tom Jackson’s handwriting is hard to read. Oh, yes, here we are.
“‘April 3 – Miners committee shows up, tells me I have three days to leave the hotel. May have to give up hotel room and stay with troops. About noon Mr C Horner and Miss Lane arrive. Suprized to see her riding astride a horse, she usually has eastern manners. Horner tells me they can prove Estevvez papers foney. I tell Horner courts too sloe, need to get Estavez out of mine. Tell them about miners committee. Horner sends Miss Lane on an errand. We talk seriously about militia, idiot Capt. Milton, whether they can retake mine. Miss Lane returns. Horner tells me the miners wont act on their threat.’
“As the diary says, that was on April 3, 1896. Eight days later, there was a massive cave-in at the mine. Forty-nine miners were killed, along with Alfonso Estevez y Rodriguez. Once he’d surveyed the damage, Thomas Jackson agreed the mine was a total loss. When the silver interests lost in the fall elections, that spelled the end of any chance to reopen the Maverick Mine.
“The Mavericks never saw a cent out of the mine. It cost Tom Jackson two bankruptcies, though he made another fortune after the turn of the century. Alfonso Estevez y Rodriguez and forty-nine miners were dead. All in all, the Maverick Mine was a misfortune, which is probably why people wanted to forget it as soon as possible. The miners who stuck around left for the Klondike gold strike in 1898. When the census came in 1900, there wasn’t a soul left in Jacksonville. What buildings remained were carried off in a fire around 1903. The only thing that was left was the county road, which is now called the Sunrise Highway, and the road to the mine. And the bridge on that fell sometime before 1912.
“And that, Miss Sanderson, is the history of the Maverick Mine. Is that what you wanted to know?”
It was an illuminating story. We chatted a bit more, and then I did come up with one other question, one quite important to me. “What happened to Mr. Horner and Miss Lane?”
Angela Farr looked thoughtful for a moment. “They were still in Jacksonville when the mine collapsed. Either they had finished their work or they thought there was no further point, with the mine being destroyed, because they left Jacksonville two days later and never came back to Decatur County. At least there is no further trace of them in the records.”
After a bit more chitchat, I walked out of Miss Angela Farr’s house with a topographic map of the area around Farnham, showing where the mine had been and where Jacksonville had been. As it turned out, Jacksonville has sat just north of the Interstate, overlapping the center of Farnham, and in an eerie coincidence Jacksonville’s main hotel was now the site of Farnham’s motel.
More importantly, I now knew that Miss Abigail Lane had really existed back in 1896. It was puzzling that she hadn’t died here, because ghosts usually hang around where they died, where their corpse is, or one of their old stomping grounds. And she looked far too real for someone who must have been dead for decades. But those were minor mysteries. More importantly, since the area had basically been uninhabited after the mine collapsed until Farnham came into being in the 1960s, there was a good chance that she knew all about those old ghosts. Maybe they were the miners trapped in the mine. In which case, what set them loose? And why were they coming to town now, more than a century after their deaths?
It was a long drive back to Farnham. I decided on the road that I needed to fly out over the site of the old mine to see if it had been in any way disturbed recently, and then reconnoiter for ghosts. Of course, I’d have to tell Mac all about this, first. I had to rebuild my trust with him, and that meant keeping him informed.
I hadn’t thought about how keeping people informed might work both ways. I got back to the sheriff’s office, walked in, saw Mac behind his desk, dropped the keys on the desk, took up a chair, and said, “Boy, do I have a lot to tell you.”
Mac’s smile at seeing me vanished. “Same here. There’s been another death in the motel.”