Maggie Wilson Author

Historical Non-Fiction in Northern Ontario

The Legend of Caroline Maben Flower

Caroline Maben Flower, the pistol-packing Lady Prospector of the Porcupine. William Henry Peters photograph.

The historical accounts of Cobalt, Temiskaming, and points beyond predominantly feature the exploits of the men. Women very rarely merit a mention despite their equally important contribution.

If and when, however, a gal managed to get her name in the headlines, it was because her story was sensational.

Take for example, the Lady Prospector Caroline Maben Flower. The picture above was captured over 100 years ago when she came to Northern Ontario to take part in The Porcupine gold rush.

Caroline was newsworthy then and her story continues to create interest today. This picture has surfaced several times in my news feed. Just recently, she appeared again on the Historic Northern Ontario group on Facebook.

The Porcupine Advance. October 1, 1915

Site admin Richard Lamoureux wrote , “[She] registered claims throughout the Porcupine district and rallied a gang of men on her Turnbull properties to further develop them. Aside from her prospecting ventures, Caroline, a graduate in music in New York, Berlin and Paris, offered piano and harmony lessons, accepting only a limited number of pupils. Those interested were to apply at the Goldfields hotel.”

“Though there is little information on Flowers[sic], it is evident that she was hardworking and full of ambition.”[1]

Of course, that’s the line that jumped off the screen at me. The part about “little information”.

I love a good research challenge.

And that’s what I’ve been up to since before Christmas: tucking into the records on Ancestry and the newspaper archives.

I have been able to connect the dots from when she was Katrina Pugh of Minnesota to Caroline Maben of New York, and then Caroline Maben Flower when she lived in an exclusive Manhattan neighbourhood in a top-floor apartment.

Breaking News!

Caroline was used to having her name in the limelight. Notices of her social engagements appeared frequently in the Minnesota and New York newspapers. However, she would have deeply regretted the headlines that appeared at the end of February 1906, when the most unusual story broke across the entire country.

“Woman Thief Well Known to “The 400.” San Francisco Call

“Rich Society Woman’s Dual Life Exposed” St Louis Post Dispatch

“The Strange Case of Mrs. Flower of New York.” Salina Evening Journal

“Woman’s Double Life: sort of a feminine Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Iola Daily Record

This is the closest thing to a social media “meme” of the day. It appeared in several newspapers. In the centre is Mrs. Caroline Flower. On the right, she is bedecked in jewels and haute couture. On the left, her alter ego, a chambermaid, makes off with ill-gotten loot. Albuquerque Citizen March 7, 1906

Now, is that a story, or is that a story?

I was about to finish writing the piece and was all set to publish this weekend. Then I received some breaking news of my own.

There’s a diary.

This morning, I received a message from Caroline’s great-grandniece who wrote, “I can confirm that she kept a diary. I can also confirm that Caroline Pugh was quite a character, whose real life story would make a good historical article, short story or even a book.”

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that I have to pause the writing until I get more information from the journals!

But that’s a good problem to have, right?


[1]
Woodland Sisters

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42 replies

  1. You’ve been in touch with the family?! Oh, Maggie–you are good. She sounds pretty darn fascinating. “Little information,” eh? Someone didn’t do their homework.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Lois, I am rather giddy about the new developments. I’ve checked my email at least two dozen times since I heard from the family. As if that will hurry them up. [eyeroll]

      As for the “little information” cited above. I think it has to do with timing. More and more records have been digitized and made available for free, or for a reasonable subscription.

      It also has to do with time – which I have on my hands, so I can noodle around and get lost down rabbit holes and follow up on tangential leads. And that’s how I found a random notation about Caroline’s diary on an Ancestry entry.

      Her picture kept showing up on Facebook sites I follow. I did the research as far as I could months ago, and then tucked it away. When she came by again just a while ago, I said, OK, OK, I’ll publish the story.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Exciting! Several years ago I was helping a friend clean out an old house that had been in her husband’s family for many many years. We ran across letters that talked about one of the daughter’s stay in Saratoga, NY, where the tuberculosis treatments were given back in that day. Fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Maggie, Caroline is a fascinating woman. I can see why you would take to her multifaceted character. I’m looking forward to more of her story. Researching for my book brought me to Germany & the Ukraine in the 1800 & 1900s. And I made up a story about a Ukrainian healer (nurse) to fit my grandfather’s birth mother’s character. I couldn’t get enough of that history. Remember, we’re research focused blogger friends.😊🎶📚 Christine

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi research-focused blogger friend! I wasn’t going to publish Caroline’s story at first. But she kept showing up, so finally I took the hint.

      Interesting you should mention your “made up” nurse. I toyed with the idea of writing a fictionalized historical account but I haven’t got what it takes to do that. As soon as I step into the “not real” arena, I freeze up. I’m much more comfortable reporting the facts, ma’am, just the facts.

      How is your story coming along, by the way?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Maggie, you’d be surprised what your imagination comes up with making up historical character’s stories. Give it a try. My editor is working on the last chapters of the book! Exciting to almost be ready for the business part. The synopsis is coming along, and next a query letter. As you know all of this is not for the faint-hearted. Takes patience & persistence. Looking forward to your next post—research focused blogger friend. 📚🎶 Christine

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Maggie, you have found your niche in the research arena. I love the never give up attitude and look what you can now add to historical data with this discovery- because you kept at it!!
    Dare I say that this interesting woman was clearly tossed aside prior to this based on her sex, because it’s easier to assume a woman can never amount to anything much but an ornament on a man’s arm…
    Congratulations for bringing her life to the forefront 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Deb – yes, persistence pays off!

      I used to agonize over what to do to occupy my time. Now I have plenty and the subjects keep presenting themselves, no search party required!

      I think you are correct about Caroline’s story being tossed aside. She was not shy to promote herself – she had to if she was going to make inroads.Yet, wen she was in the north, the only news piece I’ve found embellishes her tale to the point that it feels like a mockery of her. Which certainly was the case in 1906. The press had a field day reporting on her trial.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A bloody brilliant problem, Maggie ! It’s easy to see that you are in your elephant, now; and everything smelling even faintly of research is grist to your mill.
    Oh, how I envy you !
    Isn’t the internet wonderful ? – how, without it, could you have found your métier thusly ?!
    You go girl ..

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, you really dug in and turned up an interesting character, Maggie. I’d be happy to read more about this woman.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Now this is a delightful mystery to solve. I adore that you referred to her as a “Lady Prospector” because it adds a bit of charm to her story. The meme is wonderful, as well. Different times.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It is a very good problem to have. You never know what you might find out. How exciting for you!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ooo, what a fun project. And a diary – that’s bound to be a gold mine itself. Looking forward to reading more.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What an interesting project! I hope you plan to share more as you delve into her story. Ms. Flower reminds me of that quote: “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Very cool! I hope you can get an article out of this, if not a book!
    Good luck, Maggie!

    Deb

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hoo boy, Maggie, you hit the motherlode with this story – a great big golden vein. Keep digging and keep bringing these forgotten gems to the surface.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. It’s a wonderful problem to have! I hope to read more….

    Liked by 1 person

  14. A very intriguing lady with a past of mystery and suspense, glad you’re sharing your work with “Historic Northern Ontario”.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. How exciting, Maggie! And so very interesting! Can’t wait for the next update! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Caroline sounds fascinating. I look forward to future updates.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. OH WOW! A Diary! You’ve really piqued my interest here!!!!! I can’t wait to read more!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Wow! That’s fantastic! I love research and this lead began as interesting, but the ongoing information has gobsmacked me! Good luck and keep us posted!

    Like

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