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Chasing the Dream: Revett’s Dredge Boats on the Lower Swan River, Breckenridge

Updated: May 17, 2022

Ben Stanley Revett achieved near-mythical status as a mine engineer and innovator in the Breckenridge area. Historians Sandra Mather PhD. and Bill Fountain put the focus on Revett in the third in their series on Chasing the Dream: Ben Stanley Revett’s Dredge Boats on the Lower Swan River.

Chasing the Dream Lower Swan front cover
Chasing the Dream Book Series

In the book, we follow Revett from his early days as a mine engineer on Farncomb Hill, the location of the discovery of the most famous gold nugget in Colorado history, Tom’s Baby. While successful at hard-rock mining, Revett’s dream was to relieve the earth of its treasure-trove of free gold deposited in the river bottoms from the action of erosion and glaciation. He knew that a fortune lay in the alluvial soils along the current and former river courses, well below the reach of the shovels and picks of a typical mining operation.

Mather and Fountain present the most detailed picture yet of Ben Stanley Revett of the three books in the series. We learn about his mining education in England, his first appearance in Colorado in the Leadville area, and his introduction to Summit County mining in the Upper Swan River Valley. Details of his personal life also emerge, including his marriage, the construction of his show-place home, Swan’s Nest, the birth of his daughter, and the estrangement from his family that lasted until his death in Denver in 1929.

While Revett can’t claim to inventing the dredge boat, though he tried, he is credited with bringing the technology to the Breckenridge area. Here, in the rich placer grounds of the Swan, Blue, and French Creek valleys, dredge boat mining found its zenith.

In the lower reaches of the Swan River, Revett began his search for the right dredge. Fountain and Mather lay out in detail each of Revett’s experimental dredge boats. Supported with extensive historical photographs of each boat, we learn about the early models and why they were ineffective.

The focus of the book is on the 9 dredge boats that turned over the rivers of the Breckenridge area. All but one is connected to Revett. The authors share historic photos that show the underpowered Risdon dredge, the unprofitable Bucyrus, and the highly successful Reliance, along with the other dredge boats. Revett had a hand in dredge boat mining in the Breckenridge area for decades.

Bill Fountain is a master at re-photography, the art of finding the location of an historic photo and taking a modern image to match. As in Chasing the Dream: Upper Swan River Valley, Fountain shares his extensive collection of current photographs to complement the historic images in the book. The Reliance Dredge, Revett’s most successful, ran aground and burned along today’s Wellington Road. Fountain shares an image of the remains today, with Revett’s great-granddaughter Derry Revett Wallace MacBride, standing next to it. Ben Stanley Revett’s life comes full circle.

The remains of two of Revett’s dredge boats on public property can be seen today. The Bucyrus is located along Tiger Road, and the Reliance is near the offices of the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center on Wellington Road. Breckenridge’s best-preserved dredge mining boat is the one that Revett did not build, the Reiling Dredge, located in French Gulch.

Chasing the Dream Lower Swan River book cover
Chasing the Dream: Revett's Lower Swan River

Chasing the Dream: Ben Stanley Revett’s Dredge Boats on the Lower Swan River is perfect for every history lover who wants to learn more about Breckenridge’s dredge boat mining industry and the celebrated man who made Breckenridge famous for this particularly unique, and destructive, method of mining. The book may be purchased from the Breckenridge History.

Take a tour of French Gulch and visit the Reiling Dredge today on your own with a short hike from the nearby trailhead, or with an experienced guide from Breckenridge History. Learn more about Breckenridge history by visiting a museum, taking a tour, or reading blog articles at the Breckenridge History website.

About the Authors

Sandra Mather, PhD.

Bill Fountain Book review

Written by: Leigh Girvin

December 2020

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