The Snow-shoe Itinerant

In 1861 John Lewis Dyer was an itinerant Methodist preacher who was going blind and decided to journey to Breckenridge from Minnesota at the age of 49 while he could still see the miracles of the Rocky Mountain gold camps. After his horse falters in Iowa, he walked on to Summit County. After getting there, his eyes recovered and he preached throughout the gold camps, but had to carry the mail on skis during the winter to sustain his livelihood. He built and started the Breckenridge Methodist Church. Eventually he wrote his autobiography, The Snow-shoe Itinerant. Below is a selection from his autobiography:

I went back to Breckenridge, which shortly experienced a characteristic mining boom. A report was spread that about Breckenridge were immense bodies of gold quartz and carbonates, three feet deep. People of all classes came across the range, and, of course, the inevitable dance-house, with degraded women, fiddles, bugles, and many sorts of music, came tool There was a general hubbub from dark to daylight.  The weary could hardly rest. Claims were staked out everywhere, and the prospector thought nothing of shoveling five feet of snow to start a shaft. Saloons, grocery-stores, carpenter-shops, and every kind of business sprang up, including stamp-mills and smelters.

The preacher thought it time to secure a lot for a church. He canvassed all the town; but none had a lot to give. One was offered away out, but was refused. Giving a back-lot for a church had played out with me. In the fall I bought a lot and a cabin. It was about one hundred and fifty feet deep by fifty wide. the town Company undertook to change the survey and take about tow-thirds of it from me under pretense that the county had a claim on it. They even under-took to fence it up: but when they began, I began too. I hired men to put in posts; but as soon as I turned my back they came to my men, within forty feet of my house, and told them they would send an officer and arrest them. My hands quit.

After dinner I went to digging post-holes myself. The Town Company’s representative came with two witnesses and warned me to stop work. I never laid down my pick, but told him I was a man, and a law abiding man at that, and his were as good witnesses as I wanted; and I warned him before them to keep off my lot and to leave. By this time the witnesses stated, and he followed. He was the company’s commissioner, and was very good when he found he could not bulldoze me. I gave half my lot to the trustees to build a church on.

We carried a subscription paper till I got enough to start on; and went to the saw-mills, got all the lumber I could, and we went to work and put up a house twenty-five by fifty feet, posts sixteen feet high, and enclosed it. I nailed the first shingle, and did more work on it than any other men.

“…being well acquainted with the mountains and mining, I was paid good wages for locating claims. when the snow was deep, I went on snow-shoes, always feeling that a preacher had a right to earn his living if he could not get it by preaching; but no right to leave his charge. I could preach three and four times, and work three or four days in the week. If in fact, I sometimes earned more by moonshine labors than I could by preaching. In the summer of this year my wife boarded some men, and helped in that way…

“My practical knowledge, as before stated, made my services as a locator in demand. Sometimes I gave them to deserving young fellows whom fortune has used roughly. Two such were Candell and Thompson. In the spring of 1880 they came to me for information. Snow was more than knee-deep. They were out of money, except enough to board them a few days, and put up a log pen, ten or twelve feet square, just large enough for them to stand up in    and make a stopping place. The next thing was a job of work. I was employed to sink holes on some claims, to hold them, and gave them employment. I them, and gave them employment. I bought tools for them, and we started up the mountains, I leading. Soon the trail gave out, and we broke a path in snow waist deep. We carried picks, shovels, tent, and blankets. It was hard climbing for the boys; but they said: “If that old man can get there, we must.” And we did. I showed them where to dig. That day they had a shaft three feet deep, and slept in it at night.”

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