A “tailing tale” of Alfred Gambell

A Colorado Pioneer

By Maggie Magoffin

Born January 27, 1822, to Seth and Retsey (Thayer) Gambell, in Richard County, Ohio, Alfred D. Gambell grew to manhood on his parent’s farm and attended the local school.

In 1844, when he was twenty-two years old, he made his way to the shores of Lake Erie and secured a job on a steamer, later temporarily locating in Buffalo, New York. He traveled extensively in the Midwest and New England before securing a position in 1847 on a whaler bound for the Arctic regions. One year later, he returned to the United States, soon after securing passage aboard a ship bound for California by way of the Horn.

He arrived in San Francisco in February 1849 and in April of that year headed to the mining region. After one year of prospecting and mining, he returned to San Francisco where he boarded a ship bound for New York City via the Panama route. He then returned to his family home in Ohio.

In the autumn of 1851, Alfred married Esther Loutsenheizer and spent the next four years quietly farming in Williams County, Ohio. The couple had two children, Seth and Minnie.

In 1855, Alfred left Esther to look after the farm and returned to mining and prospecting in California, one year later returning to Ohio.

In the spring of 1859, Gambell organized a party of men who set out for Colorado, arriving in Denver in May of that year. They followed an old trail to the site of Golden where they spent one night before heading on into Boulder Canyon. There they stopped to hunt game for provision of meat for the next stage of their journey, which would take them far up into the mountains. Others camped in the vicinity attempted to dissuade the Gambell party from traveling any further, telling them there was no chance of finding gold. The only thing they would find further up the mountains was ice and snow.

Still determined to seek their fortune, the men ventured on with all their possessions on pack mules. Near the summit of Boulder Canyon, they encountered a blinding snowstorm. As they had brought no feed for the animals, they sent them back to the valley and trudged on through snow-covered ravines with their possessions on their backs. Upon reaching a tributary of the Boulder, where a gulch intersected and formed a flat, they setup camp and built a hut of brush. The next day, crossing frozen ground, they advanced up the gulch, where they discovered indications of excellent placer gold. As the stream was frozen, making panning impossible, Gambell built a huge fire of logs upon which the dirt taken out of the frozen ground could be thawed, and panned in water obtained from melted snow. On June 5, 1859, Gambell proved correct in his assumption that the site held gold. He named the place Gambell’s Gulch, and it became a noted producer. From that original, small excavation Gambell took out eight dollars’ worth of gold. However, being convinced that nothing in the way of a successful endeavor could be undertaken until the frost and snow disappeared, the men returned to the valley for supplies. Later that spring, the Gambell party cut a wagon road up to the site to carry lumber for a cabin and sluices.

Gambell, having a roving disposition, remained at Gambell’s Gulch for only a short time before Governor Steele came to the camp and persuaded him to travel on to the area now known as Nevadaville. Ben Burroughs had recently discovered his famous lode in that area, enticing Gambell to setup camp and a gulch claim just below that of Burroughs. There Gambell built one of the first cabins in the district.

One year later, Alfred returned to Ohio to gather his family and bring them to the Colorado Territory, and soon after organized, with Sam Link, a mining district after the customary formula which was brief and to the point, distinguishing it as “New Nevada.

Gambell built and successfully operated the first stamp mill in Colorado, erected at Nevadaville, where he had extensive mines, being run for years at its full capacity in reducing ores from his claims.

In the midst of his success in mining. Alfred’s wife’s health failed necessitating her to return to Ohio for medical treatment. She found a suitable place in Toledo, Ohio, and there in 1863 he joined her. Finding her condition much improved, they came west again to Nebraska, purchasing land near Grand Island where he returned to the occupation of his youth as a farmer.

After Esther’s death in 1879, Alfred went with his daughter, Minnie, to the Black Hills of South Dakota and for several years devoted his attention to erecting and equipping mills. Being an expert mechanic with special qualifications for making and placing in operation intricate machinery he had no trouble finding employment. Among the works that stood strongly to his credit was a large mill in Grand Junction, nine miles from Custer.

In 1882, he disposed of his interest in South Dakota and collecting a force of workers went to the vicinity of Hartville, Wyoming to develop the mineral wealth of that locality. Among the leading mines he opened there was one that bore his name and belonged to him, one of the richest in the state and later operated by a Colorado syndicate. He superintended the construction of all machinery for the mineral industries in the area and did other important work in bringing its products to the knowledge and use of the country.

Gambell was among the organizers of The Colorado Pioneer Society, an active Freemason, holding membership in Toledo Lodge, No. 144, and throughout his mature life he was an active worker in the ranks of the Democratic party. Although he supported political campaigns for the party for more than sixty years, and frequently allowed the use of his name by many high political persons, he held no interest in running for office himself.

Alfred D. Gambell died in 1908 and is buried in Fairmont Cemetery in Denver


The Real Pioneers of Colorado, by Maria Davies McGrath, Denver Public Library, 19345

Progressive Men of Wyoming by A.W. Bowen & Co., January 1901

History of the State of Colorado, Embracing Accounts of the Prehistoric Races and Their Remains: Vol. 4, 1895, by Frank Hall

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