Got History?

Front coverYou can get yourself some great local history with ANCHR’s new book, Ten Miles of Roadside Archaeology Along the Old Humboldt Wagon Road, by Gregory F. White, with contributions by Ron Womack, Josie Smith, David Brown, Michelle Rader and myself, Nancy Leek.  The book covers a lot more than ten miles of that historic road, with chapters on

  • John Bidwell’s road-building venture (by yours truly)
  • the lure of the Nevada and Idaho mines
  • hooligans and heroes of Ten-Mile House
  • wagon ruts and rock fences and how to preserve them
  • the Humboldt Road labor force, and
  • Frank Bidwell Durkee’s push for the new road.

The core of the book is Greg White’s in-depth original report about his archaeological study of a ten-mile stretch of the road affected by the 2016 Santos Fire. It’s an up-close look with fascinating finds and insights.

If you are ready for a ride on the Old Humboldt Road, then look for this book, coming soon to a museum or bookstore near you.

The ANCHR team will be doing presentations at the following events:

  • Saturday, Dec. 1:  ANCHR Annual Meeting and Luncheon at Shelly’s Creative Catering — 11 a.m. ($20 per person for the luncheon)
  • Saturday, Dec. 8: Butte County Historical Society, Ehmann Home, Oroville — 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, Dec. 15:  Chico History Museum — 10 a.m.

See you there!




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The Last Years of Two-Gun Nan

Nan’s husband Frank died in 1929 or 1930 and she gave up vaudeville soon after. Sometime in the early 1930s she remarried, to a man named Al Lambell, who she described in a letter as, “a nice little old Pal and very old-fashioned.” They lived in Seattle. She did not remarry when Mr. Lambell died in the 1940s.

She moved to San Bernardino in 1954 to be near her brother. Nan Aspinwall Gable Lambell lived in Southern California for the next ten years, until she passed away on October 24, 1964.

By the time of her death her daring cross-country ride in 1910 was largely forgotten, except when the TV series Death Valley Days used her story for an episode in 1958 (Season 6, episode 18). Nan consulted on the story (though it was probably mostly fictional), and she appeared in the introduction with the host, the “Old Ranger,” Stanley Andrews.

I wish I could give you a link to the episode, but I don’t know where to get it free. It seems to be available on the STARZ network. Here is a still from Imdb.



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The Saga of Two-Gun Nan — part 6

After her legendary ride, Nan and her husband Frank worked to capitalize on her fame. Various newspapers reported their plans for the future. Possibilities included performances in Atlantic City, teaching society women in Newport, Rhode Island, to ride and rope, and touring Europe as a Wild West performer. She may have done some of this, but there is no record of a trip to Europe.


Calexico Chronicle, Feb. 16, 1916

In the following years they appeared in rodeos, roundups, and fairs across the West and performed on the vaudeville circuit. They must have been constantly on the road.

An item in the Calexico Chronicle describes their show. Nan was not only the “Montana Girl,” doing her fancy rope tricks, she was also Nana, the Oriental dancer, and probably also La Serranita, the Spanish dancer. All it took was a change of costume.

So when did she become “Two-Gun” Nan?

During her cross-country journey, newspaper referred to her as “the Montana girl,” “the lariat girl,” and “the cowboy girl.” Nan and Frank came up with the name “Two-Gun” Nan, to emphasize her trick shooting, probably sometime in the 1920’s, when this poster appeared.

DSCF6458 (2)

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The Saga of Two- Gun Nan — part 5

Riding horseback alone across Utah, Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska in the winter must have been a bleak and chilly undertaking. And unfortunately, Nan Aspinwall Gable did not leave any recollection of her journey — no letters, no journal, no memoir. Newspaper articles are scant. It must have been a tough journey, but mostly when she was interviewed by the papers, she tried to show her “plucky” side.

In spite of claiming to have been raised on a ranch in Montana, Nan had actually grown up in Nebraska. The Red Cloud Chief announced the start of her journey, but doesn’t seem to have reported on her stay when she arrived.

Will Visit Old Home
Beatrice—Miss Nan Aspinwall, known as “the lariat girl,” who left San Francisco Wednesday for New York on horseback, is a Gage county young lady. She resided and attended school at Liberty for many years, and her relatives live there at the present, and she will visit her old home while on her journey east. (Red Cloud Chief September 15, 1910)

By the time she got to Pennsylvania, the ordeal was taking its toll.


“Nan” J. Aspinwall, Cow Girl, in Pittsburg From Frisco.

Pittsburg, June 14 – “Nan” J. Aspinwall, “the cowboy girl”, who is riding from San Francisco to New York in horseback with a letter from Mayor P.H. McCarthy of San Francisco to Mayor Gaynor of New York, has arrived here exhausted.

“I wish Mayor Gaynor would jump on a horse and meet me halfway. I am an idiot for undertaking this trip, and I’d like to quit right here,” she remarked. (Perth Amboy Evening News, June 11, 1911)

But she didn’t quit. Close to her goal, she pressed on and arrived in New York on July 8, 1911. She had traveled 4,496 miles on horseback, and spent 180 days in the saddle.

Miss Aspinwall in New York From San Francisco
NEW YORK, July 8.—Wearing a short skirt and a bright red waist. Miss Nan J. Aspinwall rode into City Hall square today, and, in dismounting presented a letter from Mayor McCarthy of San  Francisco to Mayor Gaynor’s secretary. The mayor him self was out of town. The letter certified that Miss Aspinwall. September 1 1910, had set out to ride across the continent. (San Francisco Call, July 9, 1911)


Nan and Lady Ellen deliver the letter

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The Saga of Two-Gun Nan — part 4


Headline in San Francisco Call, 29 June 1910

After she lost her way in the Nevada desert, Nan Aspinwall ended up in the little railroad town of Proctor. It was little then and it is a ghost town today, with next to nothing left. According to the article in the Salt Lake Tribune:

After a short rest under what sparse accommodation the little town of Proctor furnished for the girl and her horse, she proceeded to Wendover. From Wendover to Salt Lake Miss Aspinwall had another tough ride. She left Wendover on Wednesday and reached Salt Lake Sunday noon without having slept in a bed in the meantime. One night she sat on a railroad platform of the Western Pacific and held her horse till daylight. Another night she crawled into a barn with a horse and a mule and spent the night. At Garfield Saturday night she shared the stall with her horse.

Concerned for the safety and well-being of Lady Ellen, Nan often bedded down in the stall with her horse. She told the newspaper in St. Louis, Missouri:

“It was Lady Ellen that saved my life. When I was getting ready for the ride everyone told me I wanted a bronc. I knew better. I wanted a thoroughbred. An English magazine had negotiated with me to make the ride, but when I asked them to stake me to at least the price for horse feed they got cold feet. But I wasn’t going to be a piker, so I started on my own book. And I am going to finish the trip.”

Another adventure occurred in Mitchell, Colorado. Riding into town late in the evening, she could find no one who would offer her a meal or a place to sleep. So she pulled out her pistol and started blazing away. Or so she said.

She shot up the town of Mitchell, at the top of the Tennessee Pass, but she says it was not because she wanted to be cute or funny. She was angry. She had knocked on front doors and back doors and nobody had called to her to come in and nobody had come out. So she blazed away at every window she saw. The town woke up and she left hurriedly.

“That story got around,” she says, “and after that I could not draw my handkerchief without starting a panic, so I quit carrying the gun.”

CC19160218.2.30-a3-349wDid she really shoot up the little town of Mitchell? Something must have happened, and Nan was no shrinking violet.

It’s hard to tell how much is truth and how much is exaggeration. But the incident did nothing to diminish the daredevil reputation of “Two-Gun” Nan.



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The Saga of Two-Gun Nan — part 3


Nan Aspinwall and her mare, Lady Ellen

Nan left San Francisco on September 1, 1910, riding her thoroughbred mare, Lady Ellen. She traveled light, not even taking extra food, water, or clothing, but only the bare essentials. She planned to stay in towns when she could and sleep out in the open if she had to. Extra clothing and supplies were shipped ahead to meet her along the way.

For the most part she followed the railroad tracks. She didn’t run into trouble until she got lost in eastern Nevada. She said she had taken a prospector’s trail as a shortcut. When it petered out, she tried to retrace her steps, but found that her horse’s hooves had left no mark on the rocky surface.  She wandered for two or three days, with little food or water for herself or her horse, until she finally decided to let Lady Ellen find the way, and Lady Ellen led her to safety.

salt lake tribune

Salt Lake Tribune

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, reporting upon her arrival on October 31:

In zero weather with no shelter in the bleak mountains, no food for herself or her horse, she suddenly lost all sense of direction and for three days wandered helpless In the maze of the mountains. There were no trails, and she was forced to walk and lead her horse over mountain after mountain vainly searching for a trail. Finally she reached Proctor almost dead from exhaustion. Her shoes were worn from her feet and bleeding and fainting she stumbled into town.

Plucky hardly begins to describe her.

The story goes on to describe her appearance:

When she arrived in Salt Lake she declares she presented a sorry spectacle. However, her trunks had arrived, and Saturday night Miss Aspinwall went to church wearing a broad Stetson crown to her tawny locks, a silk negligee man’s shirt, a natty divided skirt and a pair of substantial riding boots. She was certainly a type of the charming, dashing poster cowgirl.

I am not sure what a “silk negligee man’s shirt” would look like — presumably it was made with a very lightweight fabric. She must have been quite the sensation in church.



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The Saga of Two-Gun Nan — part 2


Nan Aspinwall as Princess Omene

Nan Aspinwall, the “Montana Girl,” was not raised on a ranch in Montana. She was born in New York state in 1880 and as a small child moved with her parents to Liberty, Nebraska, where her father was a storekeeper. How she got into show business is not known, but her first experience on stage was not as a cowgirl performer, but as an oriental dancer. She was billed as Princess Omene, bedecked in glittering jewelry and gauzy veils.

Although oriental dancing had a risqué reputation as “hootchy-kootchy” dance, publicity assured the public that Princess Omene’s act was tasteful and refined, suitable for family entertainment. It was sometime after she met her husband that Nan took up the persona of a cowgirl, although she continued to also perform as Princess Omene from time to time.

Frank Gable grew up in Montana and, like Will Rogers, had an act as a lariat twirler and trick roper. Sometime in the first years of the 20th century he met and married Nan Aspinwall and introduced her to the skills that would become her new act. By 1908 Frank and Nan were performed in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Pawnee Bill’s Far East show, where Nan could do both her acts as the Montana Girl and Princess Omene.

Frank and Nan can’t have stayed with Buffalo Bill for very long, because by 1910 they had struck out on their own on the circuit, and were looking for a way to publicize their act. That’s when they came up with the idea of a solo trip by Nan across the United States. She was not the first woman to attempt such a journey, but she would be the first to complete it.



Sacramento Union 4 September 1910

She certainly had the moxie to carry out her ambition. The Los Angeles Herald reported:

Miss Aspinwall is an experienced horsewoman, not only on the range but also with “Wild West” shows. She says she has no fear of accident to herself on the ride, but desires to secure a horse that will be able to stand the trip without mishap. “If I do not get the right kind of a horse soon,” said Miss Aspinwall yesterday at the Lankershim, “I will send to my father’s ranch In Montana and have one sent me from there. Of course, on a trip like this, I must have the best animal procurable—one that will make the trip and still look well when I arrive In New York city. Along the route, If people are interested In my stunt, I will give riding exhibitions. I would have issued riding challenges to women along the way if it were not for the fact that I am just recovering from a broken leg, which prohibits any such thing. However, I am always willing to meet any of my sex in a roping contest, and will issue challenges to that effect while en route.” Miss Aspinwall is only 24 years old [she was actually 30 and married], but has lived in the saddle practically all her life.


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