Thomas Lovewell’s Wild West

A few obscure patches in the life story of Thomas Lovewell have cleared up recently with the availability of a storehouse of Courtland newspaper archives.  While filling in gaps in the record, these issues from the early 1900’s have also revealed a few genuine surprises.

We’ve long known that after two or three* journeys to Alaska, Thomas made expeditons to Wyoming in his later years, evidently accompanied by family members.  The length and frequency of his visits, the identity of members in his entourage, their exact destinations, mode of transportation, and even at least one description of an interesting discovery, are all contained in back issues of the Courtland Register and the Courtland Journal available online.

One of the earliest accounts of these excursions is in a letter to the folks back home, written by Thomas’s eldest son, Simpson Grant Lovewell, late in June 1903.

Well old boy, we are camping on the old site again in Lincoln Gulch, and will attempt to let you know something about our camp and prospects.

We are having considerable sickness at present.  Stephen Lovewell is just recovering from an attack of mountain fever and his wife is now down with the same disease.  Mrs. Emery Clark is quite sick at present, and Miss Emery has been ill but is now improving.

Thomas Lovewell has located a new lead that pans out well.  A piece of rock no larger than a walnut when mortared and panned out shows 150 colors, if not more.  As soon as all parties are able to work, we shall begin mining in earnest.

Walt Poole has just completed his log cabin, 16x24.

Spring has just arrived, here, and the trees are showing their leaves.

Everything looks fair - but “there is no place like home” you know.  Well write me a line if you get the time, and charge it up to “Auld Lang Syne.”

Grant Lovewell

I’ve always pictured the elderly head of the family boarding a westbound train with one of his boys whenever the weather was fair and he got bored, expecting to occupy a few idle weeks digging in the ground here and there.  That’s not exactly how it happened, as an item from May of 1907 shows.

Thomas Lovewell who was the first permanent settler on the White Rock creek, settling near the town of old White Rock in 1866, started last week for Woods Landing, Wyo. by wagon.

Although he is now eighty-one years old he has made this trip once a year for several years spending his summers out there mining and returning to Lovewell for the winter where his wife lives.  He is an old soldier and on account of his advanced years he receives the extra pension that is alloted all soldiers over eighty.

One other thing which I’ve long suspected, does appear to be true;  those prospecting trips probably had less to do with a quest for mining wealth, than with a vigorous old man revisiting the haunts of his youth, looking for some remnant of the raw frontier he once knew, and making sure his children and in-laws caught a glimpse of it before it disappeared for good.  

The news item seems to imply that for several years early in the century the Lovewell wagons must have been a familiar sight as they made their way along that well-trodden frontier trail, the Platte River road.  Instead of taking the south fork toward Denver as the young Mr. Lovewell had in 1859, the caravan would have continued west to Cheyenne and Laramie, then on to Lincoln Gulch, which formed their base of operations in the early days, before being relocated a few miles east to the hyphenated settlement of Woods Landing-Jelm, which at the most recent census was accounted a town of fewer than a hundred citizens.

The group would depart Lovewell in mid-May, returning in October after an absence of nearly half a year.  What transpired in the interim must have been something like a summer-long hunting trip and family barbecue, crossed with a full-fledged historical reenactment of Thomas Lovewell’s adventures in the West, complete with log cabins and gold mines.  Perhaps, in his own version of “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West,” instead of pretending to shoot Indians and scalp them to avenge the defeat of Custer, Thomas pretended to find gold, or at least pretended to believe that he would.  The final episode in this long-running series seems to have played out in 1908, the year Thomas Lovewell turned 82. 

The pioneer's great-great-grandson Phil Thornton plans to swing by Jelm on a side-trip during his next visit to Estes Park, so we may have pictures soon.  In the meantime, I’ll be content with binge-watching a few seasons of Wagon Train.

There was probably only one Alaskan adventure for Thomas

© Dale Switzer 2023