On the 6th of September 1890 in the bayou country of Louisiana, probably in the family home, came a child Angeline, the seventh of ten children, and the fifth girl. Unusually for a girl so late in the birth order she was named for her mother, who went by Angie. Her father was Edward Huff, a comfortably well-off rice farmer and the deputy sheriff of Vermilion Parish. Little Angeline quickly became Angie Lou Huff, the name by which she was known for most of her early life.
Nearly 80 years later she died in the mountains of Colorado and is buried there. Her gravestone records two things she picked up along the way: “Dixie,” her preferred name after the age of about 50, and the “Munn,” the name she kept by choice from the second of her three husbands.
The symbols on her gravestone memorialize her life as a gold miner, though missing from the inscription is a title she probably bestowed on herself: the Gold Woman of Colorado. Instead, her topmost epitaph is a mere cliché, “Gone But Not Forgotten,” a phrase that implies no affection and perhaps is not meant to. In between the dates inscribed on the headstone was a life of great event, and by any description, a fabulous life. As you read, be sure to keep in mind all the meanings of fabulous.
Early Years and a Mysterious Marriage
Not much is known about Dixie’s early years and that is to be expected, in a family of ten children long before the age of social media. She gets a flurry of mentions in Vermilion Parish newspapers, all in 1907, around the time she would have been a senior in high school: a medal for penmanship, a presentation she gave on George Washington as a man and a patriot, second place in a spelling contest. She was the secretary of the Free and Uneasy Society, a social club at Henry High School, from which she graduated.
After this she attended the Louisiana Normal College in Natchitoches (now Northwestern State University) for one year beginning in 1910, but did not graduate. She reportedly taught in Vermilion Parish schools for five years, though I have found no paper trail to corroborate this.
The first mystery around Dixie is her short first marriage. Her father’s 1913 obituary (just before her 22nd birthday) names her among the surviving daughters as Mrs. Angie Morgan. The designation is one used for women who were married but perhaps not currently with their husbands. The husband in this case was Wallace Morgan, a man two years younger than herself who was also a Vermilion Parish native. I have found no record of that marriage or divorce. Perhaps it was a forced marriage. If it was, there is no record or evidence of offspring either.
Ten years later, on 16 December 1923, Dixie got married for a second time, to Arthur Munn in Colorado. The marriage license records her name as Angie Lou Morgan. It’s unclear why either of them was in Colorado, as they were both Southerners. They soon returned to the South.
An Odd Couple
Arthur Neil Munn was born in Ozark, Alabama, in 1889. Two photos survive from the early period of their marriage. They both look like the mid-1920s; one is surely in Colorado; the other is probably not.
The 1930 census finds the couple in Dalton, Georgia, in decidedly less adventurous circumstances: Arthur, 40, is the proprietor of a shoe store, and Angie, 38, is the bookkeeper in the same establishment. There are no children, and that’s notable. By this time, all of Dixie’s sisters and most of her brothers are married and raising families in Louisiana or Texas, even the baby of her family who was nearly 10 years younger than Dixie.
The couple returned to Colorado soon after the Georgia sojourn. Starting in 1932, Arthur and Dixie each set off on separate career trajectories: Arthur in shoes, Dixie in gold mines. Not much is findable about Arthur’s life as a seller of shoes but the literature on Angie’s pursuit of gold is rich. Much of it comes from a 20-page, single-spaced typed manuscript covering the years 1932–1937, of unknown authorship, but clearly based on extensive interviews with Dixie. It’s possible that the history was written by Caroline Bancroft, a friend and contemporary of Dixie’s and the author of several booklets on Colorado history. The typed history I have is incomplete; the table of contents lists 11 chapters but I have only eight and the first page of chapter nine. The history seems to have been intended for publication but did not make it there.
Did Shoes Fund Goldmines, or Did Goldmines Fund Shoes?
A second mystery emerges in trying to determine the motive and the resources for Dixie’s venture into gold. This mystery is introduced, rather than explained, in the opening paragraphs of the history above. First of all, how did Arthur Munn go from owning a shoe store in Dalton, Georgia, in 1930 to “conducting a chain of 23 retail stores in Colorado and Nebraska,” two years later? The second paragraph refers to Dixie’s losses. Losses of what? The suggestion is that she had investments that suffered in the 1929 stock market collapse, but that seems unlikely for a woman whose resume to date included only school-teaching and bookkeeping. And if she’d lost so much, how was it she had money to stake a gold miner? How did a prospector even get in touch with the wife of a shoe monger as a potential investor? These are questions that probably won’t be answered.
In any case, Dixie’s initial investment in a mining claim near Cripple Creek was successful. It clearly whetted her appetite for gold and when she was approached (as the history relates) by another prospector to invest in claims further west in McCullough Gulch, Summit County, she took the bait; this time, not only with money, but with skin in the game. Not hearing from her prospector Hugh Higham after a reasonable interval, she made her way to McCullough Gulch and set out to find him.
McCullough Gulch is a wild and beautiful place, a roughly rectangular descending basin that drains five square miles of Precambrian metamorphic rock, surrounded by alpine peaks. The elevation is about 10,000 feet at the low end and the trail up the Gulch ascends to higher than 12,000. Today it’s popular with hikers but when Dixie started climbing it for the first time, at age 42, it was unknown to anyone but Native Americans, hunters, and prospectors. It was unheard of for a woman to be there alone, let alone a woman born to assume all the accoutrements of a delicate Southern belle. But there she was with only a sketched map on a piece of brown paper, in search of the man she’d entrusted with a grubstake.
A day later and after making her way past two other intimidating prospectors with “will power, diplomatic pleadings, and finally forceful persuasion,” she found Higham at the top of the gulch at diggings he’d recently begun. The samples there were promising and over the next couple of days, Higham escorted her to the other areas in the Gulch where he’d prospected. Dixie then descended the trail, perilously, with the extra load of ore samples from the various diggings, and took them to the assay office in nearby Breckenridge.
The samples, which were largely taken from surface rocks, looked very promising and Dixie decided to go all in on McCullough Gulch. The history does not record where the money came from but she bought equipment, hired miners, and established a camp that became home to her and her crew for the next three years. She leased one existing claim, the Noon Day Sun, and staked seven other new ones in her own name, all in the Gulch.
If she’d done no more than this, Dixie would have surpassed the adventure threshold of every girl she grew up with, but it turned out that mining in McCullough Gulch was only the beginning of her mineralogical adventures. After three years in which she spent all of the working months in the Gulch, she had acquired a practical store of knowledge about prospecting, mining, primitive life in the mountains, and dealing with rough-and-ready men as a lone female at the border of civilization. She used all of this as a springboard to her next foray into gold mining.
A Central Figure in Central City
Central City sprang up in 1859, during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush, and quickly swelled to about 10,000 in population. By the turn of the 20th century the great discovery of gold in nearby Gregory Gulch was considered to have been exhausted and the population fell to a few hundred. The near doubling in the price of gold in the early years of the Great Depression revived interest in the area around Central City when it seemed that extraction could be made profitable again.
Dixie surely heard whatever rumors were circulating among miners and prospectors about the next big thing, though it isn’t clear what prompted her to shift her interests from McCullough Gulch to Central City. The biographical manuscript I have puts forth an explanation that may or may not fall into the category of fabulous: it notes that in 1936, Dixie received a letter “written in an old trembling hand” from the “Old Prospector (Wilson)”, offering Dixie her pick of 32 mining claims in Gilpin County in his possession, since he would not have the opportunity to develop them. This offer was allegedly in repayment for kindness that Dixie had shown the Old Prospector when he was ill, though it is a serious defect of the narrative that this is the first time we hear anything about this mysterious benefactor.
Whatever the case, Dixie surveyed the offered properties in Gilpin County with an engineer and decided to develop one of them: the Washington Mine, located in the Gregory Diggings which had already been designated, hyperbolically, as “the richest square mile on Earth.” She called it right: the mine produced $75,000 in gold in the first year that she owned it. She bought a house in Central City on Bankers Row (today: 205 West 1st High Street) and set herself up in distinctive style.
It’s reasonable to wonder at this point, when Dixie appears to be having the time of her life, what she has done with her husband. It’s likely that he was minding his own business, running the chain of shoe stores in Colorado and Nebraska. Apart from the pictures shown way above, I have only one other photograph of them together.
It appears to be taken at Lakeside Amusement Park in Denver, and for an occasion other than a casual visit. It must surely date from before June 1937, even if only a matter of days before:
The unexpected death of a spouse typically alters the trajectory of the surviving one irrevocably. That is true in this case, though not in ways that you might expect. Upon Arthur’s death (he did not have a will), Dixie applied immediately to be the administrator of his estate, and she was entrusted with this role upon her posting a $1,000 bond. She then set about disposing responsibly of everything that there was to Arthur Neil Munn.
As it turns out, there wasn’t a lot. Dixie’s first task as administrator was to sue Arthur’s employer, the Goldman Shoe Company of Denver, for “certain moneys, commissions, interests, goods, merchandise, chattels, and other personal property of deceased; and certain conveyances, bonds, leases, contracts, and other writings which contain evidence of and tend to disclose the right, title, interest, or claim of decedent to certain personal property and certain claims and demands of decedent against said Sam Goldman and L. Goldman.”
It sounds like a fishing expedition and it probably was. The Goldman company countered that Mr. Munn was “merely a salaried employee” and that he never at any time had any proprietary interest in the company or any of its stores or merchandise. After more legal back-and-forth, Dixie settled for $300 from Goldman Shoe, of which much more than half went to lawyers and filing fees. She was left with less than $100 from the deal.
In the end, the claims against Arthur’s estate were slightly greater than its value (about $550) and there was nothing to distribute. Dixie inherited his one-third share in all of her mining claims. There is no record of whether he originally put money into her ventures, or whether she simply included his name on the claims in his capacity as her husband.
Gold + Woman = Success
At this point in Dixie’s life it becomes even more challenging to separate the mythic woman from the real one, and this is partly due to her remarkable ability to influence what went into the official record about her. What is undebatable is that from her appearance in Central City around 1935 till her departure from Denver, a dozen years later, she elevated herself to the top tier of Colorado society while keeping her fingers in multiple pies of questionable profitability. Here’s her entry in the 1938 Who’s Who in Colorado. It contains one known factual error: her marriage to Munn was 1923, not 1932.
There is no disputing that she was presented as the Gold Woman at the 1937 Colorado Elks Parade, which took place in association with their national convention in Denver that year. Here she is, six weeks after Arthur’s sudden death.
What’s not clear is whether this peculiar distinction was a one-time event. Whatever the case, for Dixie it was an expandable opportunity. The title may have been only for an occasion, like homecoming queen, but there was no reason not to make it more enduring. There was the pleasing alliteration of gold and Gilpin to justify bringing in the county. But why stop there?
The two graphics just above, a promotional brochure and a postcard, are presumably the marketing efforts of Dixie herself. The claim to being the largest woman owner and operator of mines in Colorado is probably true, but the provenance of the title that went along with it was likely her own invention.
Though it took place largely in Denver, the administration of Arthur’s estate didn’t cause Dixie to miss a beat in Central City. A 1937 New York Times article about her, “Gold in Them Thar Hills,” (August 1, 1937) is essentially a star-struck portrait of a visiting New York writer to the Colorado mining town, where he meets Dixie and appears to be dazzled by the fortune she has amassed from the earth. She takes him on a tour of the Washington mine and gives him a pebble of gold ore worth $10 (about $170 today) before treating him to a sumptuous lunch. By the end of the article, he appears to be ready to go all in on gold himself.
Another journalist may have picked up on the New York Times story because a year later, Dixie was featured in an article of vignettes called “America’s Interesting People” in The American Magazine, a now-defunct general interest periodical:
In labeling her “Golddigger” the author must surely have been aware of the double entendre, but there’s no hint of it here, and he perhaps uses it only in a jocular way; the entirety of the article is shown in the graphic above.
A Hotel and a Haul of Furniture
During the time that her work on Arthur’s estate was still active Dixie must have made frequent trips to Denver (there was train service in those days), and she would have been alerted to an opportunity there that seems an unlikely adventure for someone fully engaged as a mine operator. She bought the Windsor Hotel.
Modeled on the Windsor Hotel in Montreal, the Denver Windsor was the grandest building to be seen in the Mountain West when it opened in 1880. By the 1930s, however, it was all faded glory, deep in debt and having been converted to a men’s hostel. There had been a failed attempt at a Chapter 10 reorganization of the hotel and in the wake of this it was sold at auction. Dixie and a group of investors bought it for $7713.04, acquiring its physical assets and the liability for all of its mortgages, debts, and taxes (Denver Post, December 20, 1938). Thereupon, while leaving her mining interests to others’ management, she began to devote most of her attention to restoring the Windsor to its former glory.
A look at the backdrop of the Windsor and other events in Colorado’s raucous early history shed some light on her fascination with the hotel. It had been host to nearly every prominent person to visit Denver since it opened, but it was particularly known for its association with H. A. W. Tabor — he was an investor in it, lived in it, and actually died in it. More particularly, the Windsor was known for its association with Tabor’s celebrated and reviled second wife, Baby Doe.
The full history of Tabor and Baby Doe is amply told elsewhere, but what is relevant for Dixie’s story is that while she was mining in McCullough Gulch in 1935, Baby Doe, then about 80, destitute, and probably demented, died quietly and alone in a cabin next to another mine not far away — the Matchless Mine near Leadville that she had inherited from her late husband. Her rigid corpse was found frozen to the floor, weeks after her death.
Baby Doe was already a living, lurid legend in Colorado when Dixie arrived there in the 1920s and the news of her death must surely have affected her imagination deeply, as it did every member of the public. But unlike other members of the public, Dixie also had the experience of living in a high-altitude miner’s cabin, where the frost-free season is only a month long. Along with Baby Doe, she knew that above all other arduous challenges, you could not let the fire go out.
Though hardly a role model for Dixie, Baby Doe preceded her in being a conspicuous woman in a world of men. Dixie also shared with her the experience of being a pioneer, a miner, and (by the time Dixie bought the Windsor) a widow. The fact that Baby Doe, in her heyday, had been put up by her husband in the most sumptuous suite in the Windsor must have made the hotel an irresistible attraction for Dixie. Along with restoring the Windsor, she set about acquiring as many of the Tabors’ artifacts as she could, especially personal possessions of Baby Doe.
As in so many other ventures in her life, Dixie got lucky with the Windsor. Not long after she bought it (if the reported story can be believed) “she was surprised to see four moving vans arrive loaded with antique furniture. They were part of the original furnishings of the Windsor which Robert W. Speer, famous mayor of Denver, had purchased from the Windsor and preserved in the basement of the City Hall. In his will he had specified they should he returned if the Windsor was ever restored” (Abbeville [LA] Meridional, May 8, 1962). This is another story for which I have not discovered a supporting paper trail but there is no question that she acquired a boatload of valuable antiques, large and small, because she kept them with her for the rest of her life. In her evolving accounts of this hoard, eventually it all had belonged to the Tabors.
The High Life in the Mile-High City
The 1940 census finds Dixie in circumstances greatly elevated from the bookkeeper’s desk at the Dalton, Georgia shoe store where she was situated 10 years earlier. She is at the top of the entries for Windsor Hotel. Other reported facts are that she worked 84 hours the previous week, 52 weeks in the previous year, and that she had income from other sources. The census also captures 180 other people at the hotel on that census day in early April, suggesting that it was about three-quarters full.
There’s no way of knowing just what her balance sheet looked like in these years, but clearly, money was flowing both in and out of her hands, and the Windsor was getting the facelift it desperately needed. It became the scene of balls, parties, and meetings. Dixie used her position as proprietor to cultivate connections among Colorado’s movers and shakers.
She was remarkably adept at securing quality 8x10 glossies that show her to good effect in her various pursuits. In 1940 she opened a nightclub in the Windsor, formerly the Bonanza Room, but now (and not surprisingly) called the Baby Doe Club. Here she is with Delos Santos and his Islanders, “direct from the West Coast”.
The following year she was host to the Prospector’s Ball at the Windsor, which featured dancing in two ballrooms and guests that included governor Ralph Carr, the lieutenant governor, mayor of Denver Benjamin Stapleton, and the Manager of Parks, as reported in the Monitor. Later that year, she traveled to California (or at least planned to) and was fortunate enough to carry this letter with her:
This is the earliest written evidence I find of her referred to as Dixie but other Windsor memorabilia, such as its letterhead and business cards, also use Dixie rather than Angeline. The name was a natural fit for a woman who was 100% Southern charm. Did she bestow it on herself, or own it after others did this?
At the luncheon below (date unknown) she is holding a brochure that says “Prospectors Trail.” This was a scenic highway route, starting and ending in Denver, that took tourists on mountain highways through part of Colorado’s mining districts including Central City. She would certainly have had an interest in promoting it.
In the wartime picture below it is not clear who is honoring whom, only that everyone is enjoying themselves. Dixie was owner and manager at the Windsor during all of World War II.
Mrs. Dixie Skelly
The woman who now appears to have it all is not lacking the one thing that every enviable woman of her day had: a husband. At some point she found another one of those too.
Sometime between 1941 and 1944 (the exact date hasn’t been found) she went from being Mrs. Munn to Mrs. Skelly — for a time. Newspaper articles and some hotel correspondence refer to her as Dixie or Angeline Skelly (1943) but again later as Angeline Munn (1948). Her trial-period husband, James Skelly, is listed as a salesman for Hiram Walker (whiskey distillers) in the Denver City Directories of the period. His last appearance in them is 1948, where his spouse is still reported as Angeline, but this seems to be merely a carryover from the previous year’s edition, because by this time, Dixie had already moved on again.
Like her first marriage, the marriage to Skelly proves impervious to inquiry. There’s no record of its beginning or end, save for the entries in the Denver City Directories. In the time that I knew her, I never heard the name Skelly from Dixie or from anyone else.
Another Hotel, and a Return to Family
Dixie began her departure from the Windsor in stages starting in 1943, when she and her co-investors sold the Windsor for $40,000 (Denver Post, October 5, 1943). Dixie continued as manager, under a lease, and continued as the owner of two bars and the Baby Doe Club in the hotel. She sold these in 1945 for an undisclosed sum but may have stayed on as manager for another year; her date of final departure is not recorded.
In the 25 years since Dixie had first come to Colorado, not one of her siblings had strayed beyond a 50-mile radius of Vermilion Parish. By this time they all had grown families. She kept in touch and made occasional trips to the South but few ventured north to see her. That changed in 1946 when she persuaded her youngest sister Lillian (my grandmother) to join her in purchasing the Creede Hotel.
The contrast in grandeur with the Windsor is almost farcical: the Creede Hotel, with 16 rooms, was situated on the then unpaved main street of Creede, a sleepy silver-mining town of 400 in the San Juan Mountains, near the headwaters of the Rio Grande. They paid about $5000 for the hotel, a fair chunk of what Dixie had paid for the Windsor nearly ten years before. The difference was that the Creede Hotel came unencumbered with debt and it wouldn’t have known what to do with a multi-thousand-dollar makeover.
I expect that the main attraction for Dixie, now in her late fifties and having struck out three times in marriage, was a return to family. Her sister Lillian was a widow at loose ends in south Texas, with all of her children grown. Two of Lillian’s sons, Orin (my father) and Ed, were just back from the war in Europe, and also without a clear path ahead. Using mostly Dixie’s money and the boy’s demobilization pay (Lillian had nothing) they pooled their resources and bought the hotel. For Lillian and her sons, it was envisioned as a career path. For Dixie, who had already been there and done that career-wise, it was a reunion with family and the beginning of her stately retirement.
Dixie eventually bought a house in Creede and settled into her new roles: mentor at the Creede Hotel, Gold Woman emerita, and Baby Doe avatar. Her role as mentor lessened as Lillian learned the ropes. In the latter two capacities she was available for anyone at a moment’s notice. The stories, once they began to flow, were difficult to stop but not unpleasant to hear. Her many years far from the South never stripped away any part of her Southern charm. Poise came naturally to her. She spoke softly in her distinctive bayou country accent, she was always cheerful, and in all the years I knew her, I never heard her utter an oath stronger than “For garden seed!”
Various items she had acquired during her years at the Windsor were wheeled out for any who could appreciate them, such as her collection of “Baby Doe’s” parasols:
She was surely never in a room where gold things weren’t present, and in the absence of antiques, baubles, or objets d’art, she was the gold thing herself. Hardly any of her regular wardrobe was without gold and she dyed her hair golden blonde right till the end.
In 1962 she paid a visit to her childhood home again, and she did not slip in quietly. Her hometown newspaper featured her prominently on the front page and devoted 24 column inches to her fabulous life:
The photo’s caption gives a flavor of the entire article: somewhat long on embellishment and thin on fact-checking, but it is surely the account of her life that Dixie would want others to marvel at.
A Long Run in Creede
The Creede Hotel turned out to be Dixie’s longest running gig, even as her role their diminished. The hotel stayed in the family for more than twenty years and became a happy home for miners who boarded there, tourists who came back year after year, a dozen staff (some lived at the hotel), but most of all, for the extended family who grew up there. Between the hotel, the bar, and the restaurant, there was a job for everyone and it became a successful family enterprise. Dixie was there most days. Her principal job seemed to be to hover conspicuously in the dining room, ever ready to hold forth on her illustrious life to a new audience. But she was helpful in the back too, where she could spend hours at the mangle, pushing through the freshly washed linens.
Lillian’s failing health forced the sale of the hotel in 1968. Two years later Dixie died, following complications from surgery for colon cancer.
The Most Enduring Mystery
The commonest trope when the subject of Dixie comes up within the family is predictable: whatever happened to all the money? There are various theories. The prevailing one is that a couple of suspicious figures who came into her life near the end got a hold of what there was and ran: one was a niece who appeared suddenly and ingratiated herself deeply, one an unrelated man who was allegedly looking after her mining claims. What is not known is whether there was in fact any or very much money.
Starting in the 1940s, along with all the other enterprises that engaged her, Dixie was attracted to the Edwards Heirs scheme. It’s a convoluted saga that has yet to be recounted definitively (Google it to get the flavor), but in a nutshell: the land on which Trinity Church stands in Manhattan was alleged to be not owned by the church but merely leased to them by one Robert (?) Edwards, long dead but putatively still in possession of the title to the land. The scheme to reclaim the land, worth millions (and today, billions), for his the descendants (numbering in the thousands) spawned numerous organizations, all with get-rich-quick appeals to possible claimants.
Dixie, along with all of her siblings, had a reliable and documented pedigree that placed them among the myriad “heirs.” In the page reproduced below, the last named person is Sarah Elizabeth Wilson, Dixie’s paternal grandmother, whose mother was Nancy Edwards (b. 1801), a direct descendant of the fabled owner of the New York City land:
Setting aside her husbands, whose worth to her in hindsight is impossible to evaluate, this undertaking was surely the most foolish one that Dixie ever invested in. Her papers are littered with documents and correspondence from organizations that hired publicists and lawyers in pursuit of these millions, but of course it all came to naught. No one knows how much money Dixie parted with in pursuit of this illusion.
So the question of whether Dixie ever had a sizable current account is one that probably won’t be answered. It seems just as likely that she spent vast sums of money almost as quickly as they came to her. Near the end of her life she borrowed from one of her nephews for living expenses, and in return, she left him her entire estate, which consisted of her house in Creede with all of its contents, and her now inactive mining claims in Summit and Gilpin Counties. But no money.
Dixie is buried in the mountaintop cemetery in Creede alongside two of her sisters who, but for her, might never have left the South and found their own adventures in Colorado. This account of her that you have read is surely not the version that she would have put forward herself, but it hits on the high points of her life, of which there were many. She never stood in the shadow of any man. Indeed, all of the men she engaged with have completely disappeared into the shadows of her life, and that’s no small thing for a girl born in 1890. She did well for herself and helped many others along the way.
I thank the clerks at the Denver Probate Court and the librarians and archivists of the Western History Collection at Denver Public Library and at History Colorado for their enthusiastic help in locating sources for this account. All photos © 2019 Orin Hargraves, except where otherwise credited.