Mountain Charley was a colorful character from the pages of the American West who worked as a fur trader, railroad brakeman, opened and ran a saloon in Denver, worked on a riverboat steamer and served in the Civil War. Unusual fact about Mountain Charley: she was a woman! Her actual name was Elsa Jane Forest Guerin.
According to her memoirs, she married at twelve and had two children by the age of fifteen. Shortly after the birth of the second child, her husband was shot and killed while working on a riverboat steamer. Unable to support her children, she left them at the Sisters of Mercy and dressed as a man in order to find work. She worked at all the jobs already mentioned and even tried her hand at gold mining in California, while all the time trying to find her husband’s killer.
Eventually Guerin opened the Mountain Boy’s Saloon in Denver, a combination of bar and bakery. When her husband’s killer showed up in Denver, Guerin engaged in a shootout with him. Both were wounded in the exchange of gunfire. When her husband’s killer revealed that she was a woman, “Mountain Charley” went back to dressing as a woman and married her bartender.
Not long after, she moved to St. Joseph, Missouri, then enlisted in the Union Army as “Charles Hatfield”. She spied on Confederate troops while dressed as a woman, eventually being promoted to first lieutenant.
Somewhere along the way, “Mountain Charley” wrote her autobiography. It was published in Dubuque, Iowa in 1861, and was no doubt a very interesting book!