Tracing the Golden Trails

When Thomas Lovewell returned to Kansas late in September of 1903 after a summer spent prospecting at Jelm, Wyoming, he announced that “there is no doubt but he has struck the mother lode of the earth.”  Considering the fact that he continued to look for it year after year, finally giving up in exasperation in 1908, we have to assume that he never did make the gold strike of his dreams.  However, his quest has provided modern researchers with a bonanza of details concerning his activities in the first decade of the 20th century, allowing us to make one of those detailed, investigative wall maps with trails denoted by criss-crossed lengths of colored yarn, if we want to, despite having only fragmentary and contradictory evidence for the earliest years.

For instance, we’re not sure exactly where he went in 1900, or whether he ever went back.  Kansas papers reported in the spring of 1901 that Thomas Lovewell was preparing to set out on a return trip to the Klondike.  Since “Klondike” had become a generic term for a gold strike in the far north or anywhere else, and Nome was the epicenter of the mad stampede northward in 1900, the beach at Nome, two degrees below the Arctic Circle had probably been his target that year, and was surely where he intended to try his luck again in 1901, despite his own tales to Kansas reporters about having been to the Klondike.  

Perhaps coming up empty at Nome a second time made him turn his attention Wyoming late in the summer, traveling by rail for a quick look around.  The fact is, there’s precious little evidence that he went anywhere that year, except for the published report in late September that an unclaimed letter addressed to him was waiting to be picked up at Laramie.  An item in the Laramie Boomerang in 1902 reported that Thomas Lovewell had set out “with supplies for the Independence mountains.”  Before accepting the news at face value, we might point out that the Independence range lay over 600 miles away in northeastern Nevada, while there was an Independence Mountain in Colorado, only about 60 miles southwest of Laramie.

1903 may have been the most newsworthy summer any Lovewell ever spent in Wyoming.  It was the year Thomas convinced much of his family to join him on his summer pilgrimage, for better or worse, chiefly worse.  Thomas’s son Grant wrote home to announce that by June 12 it had snowed constantly for three weeks, and that his brother Stephen Lovewell and Stephen’s wife had both come down with a case of “mountain fever,” while their sister Josephine was enjoying the comforts of a cabin her husband Walt Poole had built.  It was the first cabin that someone in the extended family built that spring, and the first to be destroyed a few months later.  In August Josephine fell into a creek and caught a chill that sent her health on a downward spiral.  She and one of her children were still ailing when they had to flee after a box of dynamite caught fire, blowing their new cabin sky-high.

After the miseries and adventures of 1903, Thomas caught a train to Laramie in April 1904, accompanied this time by his youngest son, William Frank Lovewell.  We don’t know why, but Thomas soon returned to Jewell County.  He had been ill earlier in the month and may have felt a relapse coming on, or was summoned home by a telegram waiting for him at Cheyenne or Laramie.  Whatever had called him back, he was soon ready to rejoin William Frank, declaring his intention to stay with his claims this time.  As promised, he and William Frank did not return to their farms until September 10.  Thomas probably couldn’t resist the urge to survey his 150 acres at White Rock that had been flattened by a hailstorm a during his absence.

1905 was a soggy year in southeast Wyoming.  Thomas returned home by mid-August with tales of rain every day, but then hurried back to Wyoming late in the month.  The Courtland paper reported that “It is surmised that mining developments in his near vicinity accounts for his sudden return, as the old gentleman had not contemplated returning there again this fall.”

Hometown papers contained no details concerning Lovewell’s enterprise in the western mountains in 1906, noting only in the Oct. 26 edition of the Courtland Register that “Thomas Lovewell returned last week from his mines in Wyoming.”  Thankfully, we learn a few more scattered details by leafing through papers from Wyoming, where Thomas continued his practice of dropping by to chew the fat with local editors.  The May 18 Laramie Republican published an item announcing that “Thomas Lovewell, the mining prospector in the Fox creek district, who owns some valuable claims there, is in the city for a few days and was among the pleasant callers at this office this morning.”  A legal notice printed in October suggests that Thomas had plenty of company for his adventure that fall.

The following mining claims in the Hurley district, near Lake creek, were filed today:

By Jennie Pool, the Last Chance; by Walter Pool, the Lunetta; by Mrs. O. J. Lovewell, the Rosefelt No. 3; by Thomas Lovewell and others, the Lovewell and the Edna Lode; by Thomas Lovewell, the Rosefelt No. 2 and the Ora, and by Grant Lovewell and others, the Jewell.

“Lunetta" was, of course, named for Walter and Josephine (Lovewell) Poole’s eldest daughter.  “Edna" was the name of Stephen Lovewell’s second daughter, who would grow up to become one of the first women to practice law in Nebraska, while “Rosefelt” was probably a homespun spelling of the name of the 26th U. S. President (much more on this later).  

Whether the whole Jewell County gang was present on the scene in 1906 or Thomas merely filed claims for them as their authorized agent is not yet known.  A firsthand look at the paperwork may be in order.  In August of 1907 Orel Jane had clearly been left back home in Jewell County when word arrived that her husband “who is in the mountains of Wyoming is sick.”  He had started out on the first of May, intending to drive his team on a side-trip to Chimney Park, Colorado, 50 miles south of Cheyenne.  After recuperating he returned to Kansas September 18, and was game to head west again the following April.  

An item from the May 5th edition of the Laramie Republican noted the 82-year-old Thomas’s arrival with his son by horse-drawn wagon, but also contained the seasoned traveler's admission that he was clearly getting too old for this sort of thing;  any further long-distance trips would have to be made by passenger train.  However, after he and William Frank returned home in August, the trail west grows cold.  Thomas Lovewell's great golden quest through the hills of Wyoming and Colorado seemed to be over forever.  

© Dale Switzer 2023