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Legendary Annual Jackson Sowbelly Dinner

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Metal Mining Association Dinner a Squeal of Delight

By David Josselyn

  On Saturday, May 18th, The Clear Creek-Gilpin County Metal Mining Association (CCCMMA) held the 72nd Annual George A. Jackson “Sowbelly” Dinner at the Elks Club in Idaho Springs. Sowbelly is not a reference to what the doctor does after stapling your stomach, but instead the fat and meat portion from the belly of a female pig; or in other words, bacon. Alas, pork belly does not have to be salted and cured into its majestic bacon goodness to be considered appropriate for a sowbelly dinner. Traditionally, miners of yesteryear would huddle on the flatlands during the winter and then gather for a sowbelly meal in the spring before lumbering up to their claims. The meal consisted of foods that would not spoil, or at least took a long time to spoil allowing the miners to stock up on food before heading out. This tradition is memorialized in the George A. Jackson Sowbelly Dinner every year, commemorating both the reason many of our towns exist and Mr. Jackson, who discovered gold on Chicago Creek near Idaho Springs. The 72nd annual event, attended by more than 80 people, started with dinner followed by a sing-a-long, news and awards regarding CCCMMA, and finished with a presentation by The Legendary Ladies.

Better than it used to be

  The dinner was prepared by the Elks Club chef, Mickey Hagbert, and featured beef Cornish pasties, white beans with salt pork, green beans with tomatoes and bacon, coleslaw, corn bread, and apple pie. The wholesome food sampling was apparently not always quite so exquisite however, as overheard during the event the fare used to be just plain pork belly and beans and it was “terrible.” It is hard to imagine that being true as this year’s food was very tasty, aptly prepared and pleasing to the eye.

Music to my ears

  The dinner was followed by an entertaining sing-a-long accompanied by the Dave Ball Sowbelly Band. The band comprised Dave Ball on the string bass, Ron Jones on fiddle, Nancy Thorwardson on guitar and lead vocals, and Scott Johnson on guitar. You may recognize Dave and Scott from The Hoagies who play in the Denver area. The audience enjoyed singing to some oldies, but goodies like On Top of Old Smokey, Red River Valley, and Springtime in the Rockies. Much laughter was heard when hearing Scott Johnson’s favorite ‘ending’ to Clementine, “How I missed her, ‘till I kissed her little sister and forgot my Clementine.” The band ended the sing-a-long with a heartfelt rendition of God Bless America.

Hard rockers’ heartfelt indulgences

  The CCCMMA portion of the evening was emceed by Chris Stone, co-operator and manager of the Hidee Gold Mine. He updated folks on the contributions the mine has made to museums around Colorado. Other news items included the Coeur d’Alene Mine that has now been completely restored thanks to a largely volunteer force from the CCCMMA.  An award was given to Doctor David Forsythe in absentia for his untiring efforts to promote the metal mining industry and for his outstanding work in protecting and publicizing our metal mining heritage. A fundraiser is being held on June 8th on the Georgetown Loop for the Colorado Front Range Mine Rescue Team. The Colorado Front Range Mine Rescue Team headed by Jon Northern rescues people, miners and trespassers alike, trapped in mines. More often than not, their rescues are in reality recoveries which speak to the danger of investigating abandoned mines.

The Legendary Ladies

  The evening concluded with a performance by The Legendary Ladies. The Legendary Ladies are a group of women who give character portrayals of the ladies in our State’s history that have made an impact. Each member researches three to five women then writes a monologue to deliver as that woman from the past. They design their own costumes as accurately as possible to the time period. For the Sowbelly Dinner, they drew the audience into the lives of five different women. Susan Atwood hosted the show and aptly set the scene.

  Sue Pritekel started off with her portrayal of Belle Star, the Bandit Queen. Belle fell easily into the criminal element selling whiskey to Indians, robbing banks, and stealing horses. She put her two children through boarding school with stolen money. After going through four husbands, she was shot in the back in an unsolved murder at the age of 43.

  Judie Hinton then presented us with Mary Elitch Long. Mary’s childhood farm became Elitch Gardens in 1890, which she managed after her husband passed.

  Gretchen Payne then presented Silver Heels, the dancer. Silver Heels danced her way into the hearts of men in the mining towns until a smallpox outbreak flipped her occupation to nurse. Choosing to stay in town to nurse the men she danced for, she contracted the smallpox virus and survived, but found herself so hideous, walked off into the woods never to be seen again. Her name is now forever memorialized being given to a lofty thirteener, Mount Silverheels.

  Christine Nestlerode then gave us Maude Nelson, a baseball player and owner. Maude started playing professional women’s baseball in the late 1860’s before athletic bloomers were invented. Playing baseball in a corset was uncomfortable at best. Maude inherited the ownership of The Bloomer Girls team when her husband died and hired women and men to play for the team. Men were sometimes hired disguised as women and referred to as toppers.

  Shirley Voorhies ended the performance with her portrayal of Poker Alice, a gambler. Alice started gambling in Lake City after her husband died and quickly learned to carry a revolver and to smoke a cigar.

  The Legendary Ladies have two public performances coming soon. The first on June 15th at the Bemis Library in Littleton at 2:00 pm and the second on July 6th at the Gazebo in the Park for Frisco Founder’s Day. Featured characters may include Amelia Earhart, Helen Hunt Jackson, Molly Brown, and Nelly Bly.

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