Breckenridge or Breckinridge: Local historian breaks it down
Ryan Summerlin June 13, 2009
BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado – The town of Breckenridge was likely named either for a vice president turned Confederate Army general or a guy who lost his burro on a nearby pass – or both.
The former, John C. Breckinridge, is well-known for his role in the town’s naming. But research suggests the latter, Thomas E. Breckenridge, was the actual namesake for the town.
Local historian Bill Fountain has a year’s worth of research on the topic to be presented June 19 at Breckenridge Town Hall as part of Kingdom Days. The presentation is also to include research on the discovery of gold in the town.
Thomas E. Breckenridge was part of a roughly 60-man topographical corps in 1845 that traveled into Middle Park – or the Breckenridge area – with Lt. John Fremont, according to Fountain’s research paper, “Breckenridge or Breckinridge – for whom was the Colorado town named?”
Breckenridge lost an animal on a mountain pass and when he came back, Fremont scolded him. The pass – near today’s Boreas Pass – was named in honor of Breckenridge, Fountain said.
The area was at that time in Utah territory. Before it was named in 1859, Breckenridge was part of Blue River Diggings.
Fountain said many young men came to the area searching for gold after a financial panic in 1857. Several had little to no mining experience.
“They came in here just thinking you could pick this stuff off the ground,” he said.
Fountain’s source materials include an essay in a 1900 issue of Summit County Journal, an 1896 issue of The Rocky Mountain News, a 1906 issue of the Breckenridge Bulletin and several more articles.
He also researched the memoirs of Thomas E. Breckenridge, which are stored at the University of Missouri in Columbia.
The spelling of the town’s name varies among maps, newspaper articles and other documents.
The last name of John C. Breckinridge – who served as James Buchanan’s vice president from 1857 to 1861 – was likely used to expedite the process of bringing a post office to the town. He joined the Confederacy during the American Civil War, and historic documents regarding the town – at that point – began turning the “i” back to an “e.”
Fountain has combined the dates and facts from the various sources to derive what may be the most accurate story of the town’s name.
Robert Allen can be contacted
at (970) 668-4628 or