CHRONICLES

IN A LAND OF GORE

The man whose name adorns a dozen or so natural landmarks had a large appetite or excess and the money to fuel it .


The rugged mountain range that can be seen from almost anywhere in Vail and beyond has drawn people to this valley for generations. The only word that really describes it is “majestic.” From certain angles, under certain light, it could be the backdrop of a movie. It’s called the Gore Range and how it got its name has always been a mystery. 

We have the Gore Range, Gore Creek, Gore Lake, Gore Mountain, Gore Wilderness, Gore Pass, Gore Canyon, Gore Trail — all named after an Irish nobleman who came to the American West in the mid-1800s to hunt game. However, Sir St. George Gore never reached any of the places. 

Sporting the title of “Eighth Baronet of Manor Gore” in Ireland, George Gore enjoyed a healthy income from Irish landholdings. In European hunting circles, the Baronet heard stories of the abundant game in Western America and so planned an expedition. And Gore, who was extremely wealthy, produced the most elaborate hunting campaign ever known in America. 

Gore was described as a stocky man, light-haired, prematurely balding, his full beard the color of straw. He was known as a scholar, horseman, marksman, fisherman, a connoisseur of Irish whiskey and a man with a temper. On the first leg of the trip, Sir William Thomas Spencer Wentworth- Fitzwilliam, the richest man in the British nobility, accompanied Gore. 

After arriving in New York in 1854, Gore and Wentworth- Fitzwilliam traveled to St. Louis where they were outfitted by the American Fur Company. Soon, Gore received his passport to travel in Indian Country from the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Colonel Alfred Cumming. Henri Chatillon, the Great Plains hunter, was to be Gore’s guide. The cavalcade left St. Louis on the Oregon Trail with an entourage of cooks, teamsters, camp tenders and freight wagons. They had 10 tons of equipment, 28 carts, 115 horses, 20 oxen, and 50 hunting dogs, foxhounds and greyhounds. An ensemble that huge was unlike anything previously seen in the West. 

At Fort Laramie, Gore added fifty-year-old Jim Bridger — a trapper, trader, merchant, Indian interpreter and army officer who would also guide. Despite their differences in backgrounds, Gore and Bridger became great friends. Leaving Fort Laramie, Chatillon led the party on horseback while Bridger drove a two-horse carriage carrying Gore and Wentworth-Fitzwilliam. Painted bright yellow, the carriage sported padded seats, a sunshade top, coil springs, and converted into a bed if necessary. Strung out behind the carriage were 21 two-wheel, one-horse carts, each painted red. Bringing up the rear were four white-topped Conestoga wagons — six-hitch teams — packed with supplies and tools for repairs. 

Sir St. George Gore had particular habits and niceties that could be called “eccentric.” For instance, he had a brass bed frame and feather bed, a fur-lined commode, fine pewter ware for dining and a bathtub emblazoned with his family’s coat of arms. He slept inside a green and white linen tent, its floor covered with French carpets. And, although the hired help retired at dusk and woke at dawn, Gore stayed up past midnight, snoozed until 10 a.m., bathed in his tub, ate a leisurely breakfast and then began his hunt for the day. When he stopped to shoot, an attendant would hand him a loaded firearm. Upon reaching a stream to fish, Gore would instruct his fly expert to check the hatch on the water and create feathered lures to match. 

The massive expedition ventured into the wild, with Bridger leading the way to Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas. And all the while, Gore killed game indiscriminately. They also made excursions to Grande (Colorado) River and Grand Lake — but never to any of the landmarks that were eventually named for him. 

In mid-July 1854, Gore hunted in the Medicine Bow Mountains and parks of Colorado before his party dispersed and he wintered near Fort Laramie. The next spring Gore assembled his posse and headed into the Yellowstone River Valley to the Tongue River where he built a fort. Until the spring of 1856, he enraged the Crow Indians by killing hundreds of trophy animals, leaving carcasses where they fell. 

The following summer, Gore prepared to leave America and arrived at Fort Union. Fueled by his stock of whiskey, his Irish temper flared and a disagreement with the American Fur Company erupted over the settlement of his goods. In front of the fort, he set fire to all his belongings, including his banknotes and personal journal. 

In August of 1856, without bank drafts, Gore could not purchase bigger boats to send his animal trophies downriver to St. Louis, so arrangements were made for some of his goods to be transported there on riverboats. At the same time, Bridger obtained maps to the Black Hills, an area that was unexplored and considered sacred by the Sioux Indians. For Gore, this became a challenge. And without camp luxuries, Gore, Bridger, 11 men, 65 horses, and 50 hunting dogs began the ascent of the Little Missouri River Valley. While Gore slept, his men and stood guard. 

Soon after, just southwest of Sundance, Wyoming, the group was surrounded by 135 Sioux Indians led by the Hunkpapa chief, Bear’s Rib. They were given a choice: be killed or hand over all possessions, including clothes, and leave. The men chose to leave. 

For five weeks, the men trekked 300 miles without suitable clothing or firearms. To survive, they ate bugs, roots and small game. At the mouth of the Little Missouri River, the men were befriended by Hidatsa Indians. That winter Lord Gore lived like a native and in the spring, by using a fake voucher, Gore arranged passage for himself and Bridger to St. Louis. From there he traveled home in time for the spring stag hunt. 

In Colorado, Gore left his name on soaring peaks and sparkling streams. Although he never set foot in the Gore Range or fished Gore Creek, Lord Gore’s name is stamped on our maps. And, over the years, many people have questioned the reasoning behind that. Gore created the most massive caravan ever assembled in early America, killing game without restraint. 

Due to his excessive elimination of wild animals, officials in Summit County, through which the Gore Range also stands, have suggested that Gore’s name be replaced on maps. The native Ute spoke of the Rockies as the Shining Mountains, and if a local group gets its way, that’s what they intend to rename the range. 

Shining Mountains. Now that’s a name this writer could live with!

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