The president’s hunting guide |

The president’s hunting guide

Kathy Heicher
Eagle County Historical Society Jake Borah, hunting guide, 1894. Photo taken at Gypsum, with Red Hill in the background. Teddy Roosevelt was among Borah's clients.

EAGLE COUNTY – A newspaper once described Jake Borah, as “the most intrepid bear hunter in the Rockies, and the man who will take the most desperate chances and ride after the dogs”. Borah was the legendary hunting guide who ran his outfitting business out of Gypsum at the turn of the last century. He loved roaming the backcountry, hunting bear, lion, wolves, coyotes, and bobcats.He befriended an American president, and was as comfortable with the rich American and European businessmen and politicians who were his clients as he was with the cowboys who helped manage his pack animals. Home in the wildsHis hunting success was legendary. During the winter of 1894, hunters led by Borah claimed 65 mountain lions in the territory surrounding Gypsum. Ten years later, in 1904, Borah’s clients killed 43 bears and 34 mountain lions.Some sources describe Borah as “sincere” and “gruff.” Other accounts cite his “pleasing personality” and “obliging disposition.” He was known for his sly sense of mischief and quick wit. Often, some of his rich clients were the butt of his home-spun jokes. There were no dull moments in Jake Borah’s hunting camps.With his outfit of 75 pack animals, 20 hounds and accompanying mess wagons, Borah could set up a comfortable camp in any location. “There was always a hot coffee pot on his campfire, and elk, venison or bear steak sizzling,” reported Borah’s eulogy in the July 29, 1929 Eagle Valley Enterprise.Born in 1847 in Butler County, Ky., Borah was a man of meager education. He struck out on his own at age 15, moving to Mississippi, then to Wisconsin and Iowa, where he dabbled in farming. He and his brother, Alfred, came to Colorado in 1875 seeking gold.The Borah brothers tried mining in Leadville. By 1885, Jake had migrated to the Gypsum Creek Valley, where he established himself as a hunter, trapper and tourists’ guide. He and his wife, Minnie, ran resorts at Trapper’s Lake on the Flat Tops in 1896 and at Deep Lake from 1898 to 1899.He was as comfortable in the wilds of the Flat Tops as the animals he hunted, yet he also socialized comfortably with the president of the United States.Some of Borah’s descendants still live in the valley. Monica Jacox, who lives on the Colorado River at the mouth of Red Dirt Creek, and her brother, Jake Borah of Eagle, are great-great grandchildren. Gypsum resident Terry Davis is a great-grandson.One of the stories that has been passed down through generations of the Borah family involves Borah playing a startling joke on some clients.A day before taking the party out on a bear hunt, Jake would head out along the trail the hunters were to take, and dump some raspberry jam on a rock or log easily visible from the trail. After drying in the sun for a few hours, raspberry jam takes on a distinct likeness to bear scat.The following day, while escorting his clients, Borah would locate the rock, point at it, and suggest the red sticky stuff with the berry seeds in it was bear sign. Then, while the astonished hunters watched, he would stick his finger in the jam, lick it, give a thoughtful look and announce something like “350 pound bear, passed by here about six hours ago.”

The hunting cabinetBorah’s outfitting business was already thriving in March of 1905, when he and Glenwood Springs outfitter John Goff were tapped to lead President Theodore Roosevelt on a six week big bear and lion hunt on Divide Creek, about 25 miles southwest of Newcastle. Borah was 58. It was a huge production of a hunt, with 30 trained dogs, and 30 to 40 head of stock. Roosevelt, an avid hunter and conservationist, brought along hunting companions, and his personal physician. The entourage included a camp cook, the hunting guides, and several wranglers. All told, there were 12 men in the hunting camp, whom the president referred to as his “hunting cabinet.”A “temporary White House” was set up at Glenwood Spring’s luxurious Hotel Colorado. Three Western Union operators were set up in Newcastle to handle communications. A courier was hired to bring mail up to the camp every other day.The hunt started during the last week in March, and ended the first week in May. The affable president quickly drew the respect of the outfitters for his common-man ways, and his talent as a hunter.”The president did not stand apart as a ‘dude,’ but joked and ate with us, rode and talked with us, as only a cowpuncher could,” Borah told the Denver Post in a post-hunt interview.Borah teased the president by calling him a “dude” – most often behind the president’s back. When Roosevelt got wind of the situation, and demanded an explanation, a back-pedaling Borah explained that a dude “is a man who wears store clothes, and a white collar and necktie.” The president pointed out, with good humor, that he was not dressed in store clothes, but rather was wearing the same leathers and flannel that all the other men were wearing.The hunt was a phenomenal success and also one in which numerologists might be interested. On the first day, Roosevelt bagged a bear. The next time out, the group returned with two bears. The third trip brought in three bears. The fourth trip brought in four bears. Historical accounts credit Roosevelt for killing six of the 10 bears. The party also brought in five “lynx cats,” and shot two elk that were used for camp meat.At one point, the dogs chased down two small yearling bears, but Roosevelt insisted the animals be called off, allowing the bears to escape. That story was reportedly the inspiration for a Glenwood Springs toy-maker to stitch together the trend-setting “teddy bear” as a gift for Roosevelt’s young daughter, Alice.Borah, in his interview with the Denver Post, recalled the president’s reaction when the guide’s favorite dog, a terrier named Spot, was killed by a bear.The dog had bayed the bear up the side of a mountain. One wrangler was sent up above the bear to drive the animal toward the president by pelting it with rocks. However, the bear never budged, choosing instead to fight the dog. When the whole pack of hounds arrived, the bear turned particularly aggressive, grabbed Spot with his teeth, and snapped the dog’s backbone moments before Roosevelt rode up and shot the bear.The guides had to shoot the dog to put it out of its misery.”The president was happy to think that he had bagged that bear, but mighty sorry for poor old Spot,” Borah later recalled.

“I don’t like to see a good dog killed like that,” the president told Borah. “I wish I had shot a little sooner; I think I might have saved Spot.”Equal in the woodsThe few visitors who were allowed at the camp reported the president, his guides, guests and wranglers were all on equal footing, eating at the same table and participating in the fun and conversation.Borah later recalled Roosevelt spoke of his happiness at the opportunity to be an “ordinary man” for three weeks, without the Secret Service surrounding him and following his every move.Eventually, the business of running the nation, which was experiencing a jittery stock market, and a recurrence of Roosevelt’s malaria, forced the hunting party back down to civilization. When greeted by the eager press, Roosevelt was complimentary.”We found the bears all right in quality and quantity. I have been out with a first class type of Colorado citizen in Jake Borah, Johnny Goff, and their packs, too,” the president told the crowd. The president and the guides parted company, with the intent to get together that night for an end-of-the-hunt dinner at the hotel. The guides were in the midst of unpacking their gear, when suddenly they were summoned by the president to report to the Hotel Colorado immediately. Mystified, Borah and his fellow guides and wranglers did as they were told. When they walked into the president’s suite, they found Roosevelt dressed in a formal silk hat, and tails, and sporting a big grin.”Come on boys. I want you to see what a real ‘dude’ looks like,” laughed the president.The celebratory dinner that night was informal dress, with flannel the clothing of choice and no silk suits in sight. When the president observed that some of his outdoorsmen guests were confused by the numerous pieces of silverware at their formally set places, he advised them to “grab the implement nearest ya, boys, and dig right in,” according to Borah’s account. Throughout the evening, the group told jokes and stories and re-lived their hunting adventures.The following day, when Borah brought his family to the hotel, the president greeted Mrs. Borah cordially, then gave each of the boys a $50 bill, which he had signed “from your father’s friend, Teddy Roosevelt”.After the huntGuiding the president brought Borah some lasting fame. “Jake Borah and John Goff were the heroes … they are now recognized as national characters, and, so far as we know, they are the best in their line. As for national repute, no better Americans live, nor truer men make their living by toll,” heralded the May 11, 1905 Glenwood Springs Avalanche Echo.Operating out of Gypsum, Eagle, and Glenwood Springs, Borah advertised guided hunts for mountain lions, bobcats, timber wolves, coyotes and bear. His clients included senators, New York bankers, and Denver businessman Lawrence C. Phipps.Borah’s wife, Minnie, died while giving birth to a baby in August, 1907. In 1909, Borah guided Teddy Roosevelt’s son, Theodore Jr., on a hunting trip.

Shortly afterwards, Borah sold his hounds, horses, and camp equipment, and announced his intent to retire. Eventually, Borah invested in a small ranch adjoining the property of his two sons on Gypsum Creek. There he lived alone during the summers with only a hound or two. Winters were spent with his son, L. J. (Little Jake). A few years before his death, the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs offered Borah a “splendid” salary if he would make his home at the facility, and entertain guests with stories about his guide and outfitting experiences. Borah curtly refused.He rode horses until he was 80, traveling back and forth to town for supplies. A stroke forced him to give up riding. After two years of poor health, Borah died on July 29, 1929 at the County Hospital in Gypsum. He is buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery at Gypsum.Editor’s note: Sources for this story included the archives of the Colorado History Museum in Denver, the Eagle County Historical Society in Eagle, the Frontier Historical Museum in Glenwood Springs; and the personal archives of the Borah family.==========================================A note from the presidentAmong the heirlooms Jake Borah’s descendants have held onto is a faded copy of a typewritten letter President Theodore Roosevelt sent from the White House to Borah on Jan. 10, 1906. Dear Jake:No letter that I have recently received gave me more pleasure than yours. But by George, it made me jealous to think of your getting thirty-three bears, and of Thompson getting seven bears and three lynx beside – and above all about that big seven hundred pound bear! Well, I hope I can get out with you again before all the bear are gone, but I suppose it is doubtful. I shall tell Dr. Lam I am glad the dudes on the spring hunt did not make any such break as crippling a dog!…Sincerely yours,Theodore Roosevelt==========================================Vail, Colorado

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