- Associated Press - Saturday, September 3, 2016

DURANGO, Colo. (AP) - Dana Ivers was approaching Stony Pass on horseback on the Colorado Trail, nearing sunset, when she made the decision to leave the trail.

Ivers, along with a packhorse and her Catahoula heeler, Toby, descended below the tree line so that she could tie her horses up for the night and make camp. As the mid-August day came to an end, she then turned west onto an old cowboy road along Pole Creek, called Stony Pass Road, the original path into the small mountain town of Silverton.

It was then the realization hit that she was retracing the steps her ancestor traveled nearly 160 years ago in one of the first prospecting expeditions into the San Juan Mountains, reported The Durango Herald (https://bit.ly/2bPeflR).

“It was very poignant to feel like I stepped back in time for a few hours and touched my ancestor’s energy,” Ivers said. “It was very nostalgic.”

Ivers’ ancestor is Benjamin Harrison Eaton, who prospected the San Juan Mountains in search of gold and silver as a member of the Second Baker Party Expedition before returning to the Front Range to eventually become Colorado’s fourth governor.

“I was just touched that I could carry on that tradition of tough travel by horse and packhorse,” said Ivers, a longtime Durango resident who runs Cow Creek Outfitters in Ridgway.

Expedition comes up empty

In the summer of 1860, with most spellbound over the discovery of gold at Pike’s Peak near Colorado Springs, Capt. Charles Baker convinced a prosperous mining company to finance an expedition along the San Juan River.

That fall, Baker sent word to Denver that precious metal reserves were “sufficient to give profitable employment to all who come” to the mountains around Silverton.

Not long after, on Dec. 14, 1860, the “Second Baker Party Expedition” left Denver, a massive caravan that fluctuated between 150 to 300 travelers that immediately ran into countless whiteout blizzards and impassable roads.

Among them was Ben Eaton.

By April, the party reached Cascade Creek, about 18 miles north of Durango. There, the explorers spent the subsequent months scouring the area for gold and silver, but to no avail. Historians note there was not a geologist or mining engineer among them, and the party, “completely unaware of the rich silver deposits in the black sands,” missed veins that held the real riches.

“He, like most people, didn’t make any money,” local historian Duane Smith said. “But he did it.”

Eventually, Eaton lost confidence in the area, and by the summer of 1861, headed south to New Mexico, where in a fortuitous turn of events, he learned irrigation techniques that would ultimately earn him his fortune near Greeley.

“He’s a frontier father,” said Ivers, who said Eaton is one of 16 depicted on the state Capitol dome.

Indeed, even in The Durango Herald archives, it was apparent Eaton commanded respect. An 1884 editorial noted:

“Ben Eaton is not a prohibitionist … and not a drunkard, but has struck a happy medium.”

Trail tests Ivers, too

For Ivers, 68, to follow the footsteps of her great-great grandfather struck a chord as her two-week solo expedition held many trials of its own.

“It’s just not an easy trail - it’s just pass after pass after pass,” she said. “Even my horses would look around and go: Oh no, not another.”

At Cataract Lake near Lake City, one her dogs, a 2-year-old Akita named Wally, ran off, and she was forced to push on because of an approaching storm.

Yet, a few days later near Molas Pass, a fellow hiker told Ivers the dog had been spotted where it went missing. She cut her trip short to look for it.

“I found her,” Ivers said. “It was just so lucky.”

Ivers, who has lived in Durango since 1972, is set this September to take another round of hunters into the wilderness to search for elk. Having been estranged from her family history until she moved to Colorado, rediscovering her ancestry has been a fulfilling experience.

“I loved it,” she said of her trip. “I did not want to come back.”


Information from: Durango Herald, https://www.durangoherald.com

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