Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek Mythology, touched a hoof to the ground in the Breckenridge area and bestowed a wealth of golden riches, so the legend goes. The unmistakable imprint of a Golden Horseshoe marks the outline of the legendary gold fields of the Blue River Diggings. To these valleys of dreams the prospectors flocked in the 1860s and created the Breckenridge we know today.
Sandra Mather, PhD. and Bill Fountain introduce their series of books on the history of Breckenridge mining with a focus on French Gulch, the southern branch of the fabulously rich Golden Horseshoe. Their series, Chasing the Dream, begins here. French Gulch saw every type of mining that Breckenridge hosted. And it produced immeasurable fortunes in gold and other precious minerals.
Chasing the Dream: The Search for Gold in French Gulch, Breckenridge, Colorado launches with the earliest gold discoveries in Breckenridge in 1859. Breckenridge’s origin story starts here when Ruben Spaulding found gold worth 13 cents in his pan, the largest size nugget the shape of a flax seed. It is also here that we learn of Fort Meribeh, the first over-winter occupation west of the Continental Divide in what would become Colorado Territory.
The French Gulch area, east of Breckenridge, drains a long valley created by glaciation. Those glaciers scoured the gold from the toe of Pegasus’ hoof-print and deposited it in the creek bottom and scattered it in the broad plain as the valley opened to the west. Miners filed claims in the western reaches of French Gulch within weeks of the first documented gold discovery in Breckenridge. The chase for the dream was on.
Fountain and Mather tell the story of the vast golden wealth of French Gulch through the early claims of the Sisler family and the destructive dredge mining boats that followed. The Great Depression is also represented through artifacts still visible today.
Maps, photos and illustrations lend richness and detail to the authors’ rendering of Breckenridge history. Many of the photographs have never before been published. Fountain includes “now” photos to explain what remains.
We learn about the struggles the mine owners faced with water delivery, winter shut-downs, lack of capital investment to fully develop the mines, and the classic division of labor versus ownership.
The authors also introduce Ben Stanley Revett, a man who would change the face of Breckenridge for decades through his destructive dredge mining practices. Even today, we still see the French Gulch valley scarred with piles of cobble instead of riparian water-courses, a legacy of Revett’s dredge boats. But Revett wasn’t the only operator of the gold dredge boats. The book covers the rivalry between Revett and Herman Reiling, whose dredge boat can be visited today in the pond where it quit in 1922.
Chasing the Dream: French Gulch, offers a detailed start to understanding mining in the Breckenridge area, and introduces us to the methods, mines, and people who put Breckenridge on the map. The book may be purchased from 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 website.
About the Authors:
Sandra Mather, PhD.: Sandra Mather first came to Summit County in 1980 to complete her doctoral dissertation on the area’s geology and became enchanted with the community’s natural and built landscapes, history and people. She has published over a dozen books on the history of Breckenridge and Summit County, including the Chasing the Dream series with Bill Fountain. Dr. Mather is professor emerita in the Department of Geology and Astronomy at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. She spends her summers researching, leading tours and presenting programs on history in Summit County.
Bill Fountain: See the review for Chasing the Dream: Upper Swan River Valley.
Written by: Leigh Girvin