Tales from the Tread: A tooth for liquor

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In 1986, the Tread of Pioneers Museum was given a rather odd gift from Guthrey Drake. The gift was a human tooth — a gold tooth, to be exact. Guthrey Drake’s father, George Drake, we are told, found the tooth in 1900 while he was searching for gold as a prospector in Hahns Peak.

Tales from the Tread

Tales from the Tread columns publish the first and third Wednesdays in the Steamboat Today.

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This gold tooth, donated to the Tread of Pioneers Museum by Guthrey Drake, is said to have been used by an early Hahns Peak miner as payment for a bar tab.

If you go

What: Brown Bag Lecture Series — Hahns Peak: Boom to Bust

When: noon to 1 p.m. Friday

Where: The United Methodist Church, Eighth and Oak streets

Today, Hahns Peak, approximately 25 miles north of Steamboat Springs, refers to both the mountain and the small community near the mountain’s base. Before it was known as Hahns Peak, the area was actually comprised of several small camps located around mining sites.

According to our museum collection records, the Drake family believed a miner used the tooth as payment for drinks in a Hahns Peak saloon. This miner may have been down on his luck, and he may have had to extract the only thing of value he had in order to pay his bar tab.

When you consider the history of Hahns Peak from the late 1870s to the early 1900s, this “tooth for liquor” story becomes more believable. Hahns Peak was once the largest town in the county, and because it was a mining town, the population was almost entirely young, unmarried men. After working a long, hard day, miners had little else to do with their time (or money), so the saloon became the social center, for better or worse. It didn’t start out this way, though.

In 1875, a wealthy businessman, John V. Farwell, bought six placer mine filings. The conglomerate was called International Camp. The community was mostly comprised of Farwell’s employees, including 75 adults and no children. Farwell had good intentions of keeping his company town-respective — he built a church and did not allow dancing or liquor.

Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before a sister camp was created about a mile away from International Camp. “Poverty Flats” defiantly did have alcohol and a saloon … several saloons, actually. To the miners who chose to live in Poverty Flats, International Camp became known as “Bugtown” because that is where Farwell’s company officials, or “big bugs,” lived.

By 1880, Farwell sold, out and business moved to Poverty Flats. Eventually Poverty Flats became known as Hahns Peak. During Hahns Peak’s heyday, miners were recovering gold, silver and other ore, and word was spreading around the state and beyond about the potential lying in Northwest Colorado. In these early days, Hahns Peak boasted the largest population in the county and served as county seat from 1878-1912.

Because some gold was found, much mining production took place. Some miners dedicated their entire lives to finding “the mother lode.” Some made a little money, but many, like Farwell and our mysterious miner whose tooth I now hold in my white-gloved hand, put in more than they were able to extract from the famous mountain.

Hahns Peak holds many more fascinating stories, so take a scenic drive up north and visit the Hahns Peak Historical Museum this summer. Also, don’t miss this week’s Brown Bag Lecture, “Hahns Peak: Boom to Bust,” with Becky Hicks, from noon to 1 p.m. Friday at the United Methodist Church on Eighth and Oak.

The above column is reprinted from from this summer’s new monthly blog titled “Curator’s Collection Spotlight,” written by Tread of Pioneers Museum Curator Katie Adams. Read more of Katie’s blogs at treadofpioneers.org/blog.

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