A great-great-grandson of Thomas Lovewell's from Illinois called a few nights ago with a straightforward question about the man I identify as Thomas in the "Pikes Peak or Bust" photograph:  You think that’s really him?  My answer was equally to the point:  Yes, I do.  I sometimes couch the matter more vaguely:  It seems to be him.  I believe it’s him.  That’s weak.  We can believe anything we like.  People believe all sorts of things that can’t possibly be true.  Mark Twain defined faith as "believing in something you know ain’t true."  So let me put it in no uncertain terms:  It’s him.

How sure am I?  I'm reminded of Maya, the analyst played by Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty," who is asked how sure she is that Osama Bin Laden is in that mysterious compound in Pakistan.  "A hundred percent he's there," she responds.  "Okay, fine, ninety-five percent because I know how certainty freaks you guys out, but it's a hundred."

I'd call it ninety-nine percent, in my case.  I like to leave myself a little wiggle-room.  After taking a first look at the large tiff file emailed to me by the Denver Public Library, I kept looking closer and closer at one of the figures, while my jaw dropped further and further by the second.  As I've admitted before, I had to get up and leave the room, while listing all the reasons why this kind of coincidence simply could not happen.  And yet, when I walked back to the computer screen, he was still there, waiting.

I spent a month trying to convince myself that I had fallen for a case of mistaken identity or extreme wishful thinking.  In the end, I just couldn't.  Every detail of the photo screams, "It's HIM," while nothing about it even whispers that it could someone else, except for those staggeringly long odds.

For one thing, we know he was there at the time.  In 1916 he told a reporter from the Courtland Register that he set out from St. Joe for Pikes Peak in 1859.  The sign painted on the wagon sheet in the photograph suggests that the owners were confident of arriving by 1860.  Thomas was tall and lanky.  Ditto the man from Pikes Peak.  In the two other photos we have of him before before the age of seventy, he has a neatly-trimmed mustache but no other facial hair.  Check.  His eyes were deeply set beneath a prominent brow ridge which lent him a permanent scowl.  Check, check, check.  In the Civil War reunion photo, the distance between his shoulders and his chin is distinctively long.  The measurement is exactly the same with the man from Pikes Peak.

According to his family, when he waited too long between visits to the barber, his hair curled up at the ends, just as we see in the Pikes Peak figure.  In the Civil War reunion picture his shaggy forelock is scrunched down by his hat, barely visible as a series of spikes, peering just below his hatband.  In the Pikes Peak photo the forelock is appropriately shaggier, and the spikes almost touch his eyebrows.  The men in both photos have strikingly prominent cheekbones and square jaws, and the lines around their mouths are wide, sweeping far back along the sides of the cheek.

Thomas did not smoke.  Of the nine men in the Pikes Peak photo, the man who looks like Thomas Lovewell is the only one without a pipe or a cigarette.  We have less information about  Thomas's brother Solomon, but in the one known photograph of him, he has a triangular face, a ski-jump nose, a drooping mustache, and mournful hound-dog eyes, just like the man standing next to the Thomas Lovewell figure in the Pikes Peak photo.  The two men are dressed alike, as if they've made the journey together, and have dropped by the same Western outfitter.

I sometimes suggest that the man I call the assistant wagon master could be Alfred Lovewell, who, after working his way west has joined up with his brothers at a predesignated rendezvous point.  That’s what wishful thinking looks like.  There are no known photographs of Alfred.  The man holding the mules seems to be the right age, in his mid-twenties.  That’s my only reason for speculating it might be him.  If we find a  pay receipt showing that Alfred worked for a westbound wagon train in 1859, I may start to feel slightly more confident. 

At the Lovewell reunion in June I showed a movie file of the head and shoulders of Thomas Lovewell from the Civil War reunion photograph slowly superimposing over the man from Pikes Peak.  He ages twenty-five years, and his eyes emerge from the deep shadow cast by the brim of his hat.  That’s the only real change that occurs.  For comparison, I’ve faded between two images that we might expect to dovetail nicely, the photograph from 1893, and the professional drawing made from the photograph.  What happens is something more like a morph between two people who resemble each other slightly.  The drawing is a freehand sketch, and the artist drew Thomas's eyes too close together, while elongating his face slightly, but noticeably.  Everything is just a bit out of place, and dissolving the pictures from one to the other, only makes the differences jump out.

At some point it becomes more far-fetched to cling to the possibility that the man with one hand on his hip in the Pikes Peak photo is somebody else who looks exactly like Thomas Lovewell, but isn’t Thomas Lovewell.

Did I say I was ninety-nine percent sure?  A hundred percent he’s there.      


© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com