Encounters in Avalanche Country
A History of Survival in the Mountain West, 1820-1920
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: University of Washington Press
Series Page, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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Map of Avalanche Country Study Areas
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Introduction: Arrival in Avalanche Country
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Dr. Charles Fox Gardiner found his first day in the mountains fundamentally strange. A self-described “tenderfoot,” Gardiner arrived in Crested Butte, Colorado, in the 1880s. As he walked toward his hotel, the towering mountains, deep snow, thin air, and residents skiing about made an immediate impression. Then he “heard a distant...
1. Survival Strategies: 1820 - 1860
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The first European Americans to live year-round in the Mountain West were the fur trappers and traders who began to arrive in the early 1820s. Money and a hope for excitement lured some, like Warren Angus Ferris, who left the bustling streets of St. Louis in 1830 to work as a trapper for the American Fur Company. He later wrote in his...
2. Mountain Miners, Skiing Mailmen, and Itinerant Preachers: 1850 - 1895
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The discovery of gold at Sutter’s Fort in California in 1848 changed everything in the West. The population of European Americans in California jumped from 14,000 in 1848 to 223,000 four years later.1 The discovery of gold in Cherry Creek near present-day Denver, Colorado, in 1858, ignited a similar rush to the Rocky Mountains of...
3. Industrial Mining and Risk
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The gold and silver strikes that propelled prospectors westward also attracted corporate investors who had the capital and technical capabilities to extract the minerals from underground. Of the 75,000 hopefuls who rushed to Colorado after the 1859 strike, most found their expectations of striking it rich dashed. Some turned to other...
4. Railway Workers and Mountain Towns: 1870 - 1910
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Winter work on the rails, in Howard’s opinion, was not just a job; it was a war against a daunting enemy undertaken by American men willing to put their lives on the line. By comparing railroad work to the battlefield, Howard conjured up striking images for readers, tying the themes of man versus nature with images of righteous battle and American might...
5. Who's to Blame?
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In 1893, Christopher A. Pilgrim sued his employer, the Denver & Rio Grande Railway Company (D&RG), asking that the company take monetary responsibility for the injuries he received when a snowslide hit the train he worked on as a porter. He filed his case in district court in Arapahoe County, Colorado, and won. But in an appeal by the...
6. Disaster in the Cascades
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On February 22, 1910, Sarah Jane Covington, age 69, boarded Great Northern (GN) Train 25 in Spokane, Washington. As she settled in for the trip to Seattle she probably thought little about the particularities that allowed a train to climb through the Cascade Range. She might have caught a glimpse of the train’s engineer, firemen, or brakemen...
7. Topping v. Great Northern Railway Company
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In Feb ruary 1913, attorney Fred M. Williams filed the paperwork that began a legal action against the Great Northern Railway Company (GN). William Topping, whose son had died in the Wellington avalanche in 1910, hoped his lawyer could prove that his son, Edward W. Topping, had died as a result of the “the negligence and carelessness” of the...
8. Departure from Avalanche Country
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On April 3, 1898, prospectors newly arrived on the west side of Chilkoot Pass in Alaska— the gateway to the Klondike gold rush— were inducted into the perils of Avalanche Country. Native Tlingit packers warned the gold seekers away from the pass because conditions indicated a slide could happen at any time, but those anxious to get...
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Publication Year: 2013