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Chasing the Dream: The Search for Gold in the Upper Swan River Valley

Updated: May 17, 2022

Miners tamed the vast wilderness of the valleys of the Swan River in little more than a decade in their search for gold. In the process, they destroyed their own towns, upended rivers, tunneled the mountains, and created immense wealth for themselves. Historians Bill Fountain and Sandra Mather, PhD., share the stories of the search for gold in the Upper Swan River Valleys in their second book in the Chasing the Dream Series: The Search for Gold in the Upper Swan River Valley.

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

The South Fork of the Swan River produced massive amounts of gold from that same vein in the toe of Pegasus’ hoof print that made French Gulch such a wealthy area. Into the creek beds, alluvial soils, and even throughout the hillsides, gold was scattered, awaiting only the miner’s ardent toil to be released.

The legendary city of Parkville sprung up in 1860 to service these miners. In this wilderness outpost, civilization offered hotels, theaters, saloons, a brewery and a mint. The authors share images of the coins produced in Parkville, exceedingly rare and valuable today. Parkville lasted less than a decade, eventually buried under the waste rock of the mining operations uphill from the town. All that remains today are the cemetery and the extensive collection of photographic images that Fountain and Mather share in the book, many of which have never before been published.

Fountain and Mather focus on the Fuller Placers Mining Company to explain the vast network of ditches and flumes that delivered water to the successful hydraulic mining areas of the Swan River drainages. We learn about Thomas Fuller’s consolidation of mining claims, construction of new ditches and refurbishing of old. One massive flume, which Fountain rediscovered a over a hundred years later, carried 1.683 million gallons of water per hour to mining operations down-valley.

The search for Fuller’s water conveyances is included in Fountain’s account. A significant portion of the book is dedicated to historic photos and what it looks like from Fountain’s camera today. These images of then and now enable the modern explorer to learn from the traces left on the ground. Included in the pictorial essay are comparisons using historic photos of the Wapiti Sawmill, the beginning point of the Georgia Gulch flume, the Victoria Ore Mill, and many more.

Fuller may have left Summit County a very wealthy man, but the company he started and sold ended in bankruptcy. The authors pick up the pieces of the Fuller empire with new stories about the Victoria and Wapiti Mining Companies.

We meet Ben Stanley Revett again in this volume. Backing up to an earlier time in Revett’s career, the authors chronicle his work in hard rock and hydraulic mining enterprises on the north side of Farncomb Hill. It is here that the famous gold nugget, Tom’s Baby, was discovered. Later, Revett would become the dredge boat king of Breckenridge, as we will learn in the next book in the Chasing the Dream Series: Ben Stanley Revett’s Dredge Boats on the Lower Swan River.

Carrying us into the 20th century, the authors share more information about the Campion family, well-known miners and gold collectors. They conclude with a tease about Revett’s dredge boat mining, and a few reflections of their own.

Chasing the Dream Upper Swan book cover
The Search for Gold in the Upper Swan River Valley

Chasing the Dream: Upper Swan gives the reader a complete understanding of the web of waterway and mine networks that made the upper reaches of the Swan River valleys so successful for gold extraction. The book may be purchased from Breckenridge History.

Learn more about Breckenridge history from the Breckenridge History, or by visiting a museum, taking a tour, or reading blog articles at the website.

About the Authors:

Bill Fountain: While dirt biking and exploring around the Swan River Valley in the late 1980s, Bill became enthralled with the mining sites and artifacts he found. This began his “second career” as an historian of Summit County mining. Bill started in the tire business in high school and eventually became the National Training Director for Big O Tires in Denver. It was thanks to Big O that Bill came to Summit County in 1988 when he purchased a home in Breckenridge. He has co-written five books on the mining history of Breckenridge and Summit County, and gives presentations and special history tours.

Sandra Mather, PhD.: See the book review for Chasing the Dream: French Gulch.

Book Review

Written by: Leigh Girvin

December 2020

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