On December 31, 1891, Arthur Fulford ate the remains of a fluffy biscuit and washed it down with a swallow of nail-bending coffee. Glancing out the window of the Lanning Hotel in Nolan’s Camp, he watched snow fall. The hotel was located in White Tail Gulch at the end of a 22-mile trek from Eagle and a little above Polar City. Arthur knew he should be home in Red Cliff with his pregnant wife and two young sons. Yet here he was in a miner’s camp close to 9,800 feet in elevation; a place where women had no place and where men lived to work.
Art checked his pocket watch. It was after 10 a.m., and partner Byron Barthoff had not arrived. He pressed his handlebar mustache between his thumb and forefinger and smoothed his dark hair. A tall man at over 6’4”, Art got up from the table, having decided that he couldn’t wait for Byron. They would meet later.
Pulling his coat collar round his neck, Art went outside and strapped on his snowshoes. His shoulders were quickly covered with snow. The air was frigid, but he trudged away from Nolan’s Camp and climbed nearly 1,500 feet to the top of New York Mountain and past the Polar Star cabins. The going was difficult and he could barely see to the edge of the mountain. When he reached his goal, Art marked his claim. Now his hands were almost frozen, his lashes covered with snow crystals, his cheeks cold. Turning away from his claim, Arthur Fulford climbed down the mountain. He headed to Bowman Gulch where he would meet Byron at the Bayreta cabins, structures Art had built with his brother, Mont, and their friend, Solon Ackley, in 1886. He and Byron would then hike out the Lake Creek drainage then board a train at Berry Creek and ride to Red Cliff to file the claim.
The wind howled and the snow piled up. Very cold now, Arthur hurried as the route grew steeper. Suddenly, he heard a loud noise like a gunshot and looked down. The mountain of snow beneath his snowshoes was moving. He opened his mouth to yell, but instead, was suddenly swept off his feet.
On January 1, 1892, Byron started up on the backside of the New York Mountain looking for Art Fulford. He followed Arthur’s tracks to the point where they entered a massive snow slide on the Lake Creek drainage. Horrified, Byron returned to camp to get help. Thirty men returned to the site and began the search for Arthur. They found his body five days later.
Arthur’s body was taken to Red Cliff and buried in grand style. For years afterwards, tales were told of a fabulous fortune that Arthur had hoped to claim.
What was so important to Arthur that he risked his life to stake a claim? Perhaps we will never know.
Arthur was born to Edward and Sarah Fulford in Canada in 1857. When Art was 14, Edward, a Methodist-Episcopal minister, moved the family to Fairborn, Nebraska. Art was the eldest of the children which included Adelaide, Albert, Marshal “Mont”, Francis and twins Harriet and William. He left home to venture to Leadville, Colorado, in 1879, when the silver boom began and soon married 19-year-old Annabelle Donald. However, the union did not last and Art migrated to Red Cliff where, at age 24, he was elected town marshal, serving two years. A big man, who demanded respect with his six-shooter on his hip, it was said that Arthur could tame a rowdy saloon by stepping into it.
After discovering several mines, Arthur began prospecting around a fledging mining camp called Nolan’s Camp, which was tucked some twenty miles south of the town of Castle. It was first named for William Nolan, an early prospector who, one day in 1887, was hiking up a creek when his gun discharged, the bullet entering his jaw and severing his tongue. After Nolan died from his wound, his friends named the creek after him. The area above Nolan Creek was in the direct line of the Battle Mountain and Aspen mineral belt and a new mining area began to grow. Now it contained two towns, sitting side by side: Nolan’s Camp and Polar City.
In 1887, Edward and Sarah Fulford moved to Brush Creek area with their younger children to join their older sons. Edward purchased a ranch ten miles up Brush Creek, which later became the “Halfway House,” a rest stop for travelers going from Eagle to the mining camps above Nolan Creek. Edward built a large barn where teams of horses could be brought inside, turned around and fresh horses then hitched to the carriage.
Many tales persist about Fulford: a lost mine, piles of gold, murder, a map to the treasure. Yet, the end of the tale stopped with Arthur Fulford. Probably this most popular theory involved a man named Buck Rogers and over the years, the fascination with this little town and its possibilities continued.
As the story goes, … In 1849 Buck and a group of men from Ohio passed through Colorado on their way to California. Finding some color in Brush Creek, Buck and several other men decided to stay to find the mother lode. They found an enormous amount of gold. However, winter set in and the group was low on supplies. The men sent Buck to the nearest camp to get provisions. Buck lingered, dousing himself with rot-gut liquor. More than a month later he returned to the mine on Slate Mountain but, to his shock, discovered that a snow slide had covered the mine entrance and any sign of his partners. Buck never found his mine and on his deathbed, supposedly, gave those present directions to the mine. Over the years, however, the directions changed hands several times.
One day a prospector arrived at the Halfway House in need of a horse to go to the mines. He and Arthur became friends and, eventually, he asked Arthur to become his partner in the lost mine. Two weeks later the man was killed in a barroom brawl. It is said that Arthur searched the man’s cabin and found the map to the mine. However, he needed to stake a claim before the end of the year – and that was why Arthur took off on that fateful day – December 31, 1891. Weather was not going to stop him!
After Arthur died, Nolan’s Camp and Polar City were combined to form one town that was renamed Upper and Lower Fulford. Those were the glory days in the mining camp when men swarmed the mountains in search of gold. At its peak, the Upper Fulford district had more than 500 mining claims. Some of the more profitable mines included Polar Star, Cave, Adelaide, Lady Belle, New York, Iron Age and Killier B. Lower Fulford, too, eventually grew in popularity and finally became the prominent town with just the name Fulford.
Rumors of Buck Roger’s lost mine continued. In a time when word was spread by mouth or sketchy newspaper reports, such a story was typical of the dime novel entertainment that took place in the 1880s. The story grew and by 1890 the directions to the lost mine had been published in a Denver newspaper, bringing flocks of adventurers following the clues to Slate Mountain. All they found, however, was a cluster of log cabins high against New York Mountain. But, no mine.
The mines continued to produce in Fulford until 1895, with 1893 being the high point of boom with the gold frenzy. At one time, over 600 residents lived in Fulford. In 1896, the 59-acre Fulford town was platted in the Eagle Country Courthouse. At that time, Fulford claimed 100 residents with 25 buildings, including two hotels, two general stores and three saloons. Of all the mines, the Polar Star was reputed to be the richest in the district. During boom times, ore from the Polar Star mine was processed at its own stamp mill around the clock.
However, darker days loomed for the town of Fulford. Few new strikes were found after 1895 and profits began to decline. In 1901, Mrs. Lanning closed her Fulford Hotel for the winter season. Other locals followed suit. By 1902 only eight students were enrolled in school. In 1908 the Eagle Valley Enterprise reported, “practically no work being done on any of the mines in the Fulford District.” And the school closed its doors in 1912.
Some towns never die. So it was with Fulford. In 1913, the Lanning Hotel was once again filled with customers when a fresh strike in the 1913 Tunnel was discovered. However, the boom only lasted a few weeks and even the coming silver boom of 1912-1913 did not bring Fulford back to its heyday and the town grew quiet, the cry of a winged jay the only sound on the mountain.
In 1948, a tax assessor, by the name of Hemberger, bought most of Fulford land. When he died, his estate liquidated the town lots. Few lots were sold. In 1974, the Scandian Corporation of Denver bought the remaining Hemberger lots. These lots were put up for sale to the public.
However, the little town of Fulford did not slip from history. It had too much character, too many memories and was a bucolic spot in a lodge pole pine grove. Eagle County residents and those looking for an isolated vacation or second home climbed the road to Fulford and bought one of the lots. Today the town has 80 landowners from all over the country. Mixed in with many of the old mining shacks are now some $250,000 log cabins and Fulford lots are still advertised for sale.
Just as it was 100 years ago, today life in Fulford is not easy. Cabins with adjacent outhouses are laid out along a total of eleven dirt streets. Newer log buildings sit beside dilapidated dwellings. No public utility service is available to the town. Propane tanks are filled in the fall and electricity comes from solar or hydroelectric generators. Satellite dishes can be seen pointing at the sky. Snowmobiles are parked like cars, awaiting the first snowfall, since there is no road access to Fulford during the winter. Most of Fulford’s residents are summer residents, yet a few stay year round, which is a challenge. And those who do live there year round are some of the heartiest, hardworking and sincerely environmentally conscience people anywhere. They may have changed the area from ghost town, but they are in many ways preserving a way of life, in a newer style.
For many years, Harvey Icks was the sole resident of Fulford and self-proclaimed mayor of the town. During his tenure at Fulford, he communicated with the outside world by band radio and each day radioed the weather conditions to the local forestry service. He also kept a guest book. One year, between June and November, he recorded over 1,900 signatures. Harvey lived in Fulford until the mid-1970s when his health caused him to move to Eagle.
The 2010 census listed two permanent residents in Fulford. Although not actually a ghost town, Fulford is now quiet compared to the noise of the boom days of prospecting for gold, from the plod of horses, to the strike of the pick and shovel, to the clink of glasses at one of the two saloons. Tourists come and go during the summer months and hearty souls arrive via skis or snowmobile in the winter. It remains an enchanting place but more importantly, its history is filled with sweat and tragedy and tales of riches found and lost.
Because there is no earthly fascination as absorbing as searching for gold, the Buck Rogers story has lingered for generations. To this day, people drive up the mountain road to Fulford with a copy of the directions to the Buck Rogers mine.
One blog on Rocky Mountain Profiles reads: September 11, 2011. My name is Wade. I grew up in Eagle and as a teenager hiked in the New York range with my father and did some prospecting. We researched the “The Lost Buck Roger’s Mine” and had a map to the mine. After several years of searching, we found the mine portal, including some of metal and tools, square nails and a cabin foundation. It is located above timberline in a spooky valley between the peaks. The location is covered with boulders and would take heavy equipment to re-open the entrance. The only access is by rope. It’s a gravesite up there now. So spooky and chilly, yet so beautiful. It remains one of my favorite places on earth. This is a true story.
Fulford now stands quiet as the slender shafts of the pines stand motionless in the cold air. It started with the promise of riches and also ended the life of Arthur Fulford, a man who was larger than life.
Today you can drive up the winding road along Brush Creek, past ranches a snow-covered golf course to the Yeoman Park trailhead. Breathe the pine-scented air and snowshoe or cross country ski to up East Brush Creek Road to the Nolan Creek Road. From here it is a half-mile climb to the upper town. Once there you will understand the allure of the town, the place, and the adventure of searching for gold.