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Breckenridge gold discoveries may be mistaken

Robert Allen
Summit County Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

SILVERTHORNE, Colorado ” Breckenridge is home to the first documented gold strike on the Western Slope, but the story as told may be inaccurate.

“A deeper level of research has opened my eyes to a change in the discovery of gold,” said local author and historian Mary Ellen Gilliland. “New evidence will show perhaps the discoveries we know are erroneous.”

Gilliland is at work on “Breckenridge,” a book to be released next spring to coincide with the town’s 150th anniversary. She’s holding back the historic revelations until then.



The author compares her research to “burrowing like those miners” through layers of mountain, revealing “cathedral-type rooms” along the descent.

Sources include the Denver Public Library’s Western history department and a network of Summit County historians.



Following the information-gathering, Gilliland sits down and hand-writes the book’s manuscript. She said this approach allows her to polish and refine word choices.

All of her books have been handwritten and edited before they’re typed into a computer.

The new book will also include up-to-date walking, biking and skiing tours to guide folks to local ghost towns and other sites of historic relevance.



The field guides will update the Breckenridge book she wrote in the 1980s, for several structures have since fallen.

“We’ve lost so many buildings,” she said.

Some of the most pertinent sites have disappeared with development. For example, the town’s first structure is believed to have been located a few feet from Wells Fargo in the shopping center on North Park Avenue.

Fort Merbah was built in about August 1859 to fortify its residents against the Ute tribe, 1,500 of whom were “just down river.”

“But the Utes turned out to be kind and generous,” Gilliland said.

Following that first winter, the town’s pioneer population exploded from a handful of 18- to 22-year-old men, and very few women, to a boom of thousands in summer 1860.

Gilliland’s book will also include profiles of “people of history who’ve remained in the shadows.”

She said the stories of Barney Ford and Edwin Carter have been well-discussed, but several others have received less notice than deserved.

Thomas H. Fuller, for example, was a “cutting-edge leader in placer mining.”

In the 1870s, he began buying up mining claims and assembling them into large companies. He also used sluice boxes to separate gold from other materials.

Gilliland said Fuller may be one of the individuals featured in her book.

Alpenrose Press of Silverthorne will publish the book.

Other titles by Gilliland include “Summit: A Gold Rush history of Summit County, Colorado,” and “Rascals, Scoundrels and No Goods,” both available at local bookstores.

Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or

at rallen@summitdaily.com.


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