Dutch Henry Born: Wild West legend

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Dutch Henry and family at Born’s Lake homestead cabin.

The life of Dutch Henry Born, “The most notorious outlaw in the West,” took a sharp turn toward the better circa 1870 when he showed up in Summitville and Creede while prospecting for gold in the San Juan Mountains. It’s a good bet he’d gone back to visit Ida Dilabaugh, “the girl he’d left behind” in Michigan and she told him, “Yes, I want to marry you, but you’ll have to give up your life of crime. We don’t want our kids to have an outlaw daddy.”
In the 1870s, Summitville turned out more gold than any other mines in the San Juan Mountains. Summitville was located on South Mountain at an elevation of about 11,800 feet, the highest gold mine in the United States.
By 1887, Summitville had at least 14 saloons and a complete inventory of other businesses including a weekly newspaper which at one time reported that the snow was so deep a widow stepped out of her second-story window and snowshoed to do her grocery shopping, and at another time, “The driver of the supply wagon coming up the mountain from Del Norte last week had to put snowshoes on his Percherons.” I’m a bit suspicious of the veracity of those two stories, but I do admire the editor’s sense of humor.
In any case, Dutch Henry joined a passel of miners with a pick over their shoulders, gold pan in their packs and a burro to carry the heavy stuff, and started looking for his fortune in the rocky Southern San Juan Mountains. I’ve heard it said that when the heavy snows (average 40 feet deep) came in the winter, the Summitville miners dropped down the San Juan River East Fork to Pagosa Springs, cut their burros loose, and spent their winters thawing out in the hot springs and drinking whatever they could afford. Pagosa had plenty of bars in those days and the town marshal was kept busy corralling the abandoned burros. Old abandoned buildings remain at Summitville to this day, now considered a ghost town.
Dutch’s family says he discovered one of the richest mines at Summitville, but somehow was cheated out of it. Later, he opened the successful Happy Thought Mine at Creede, the center of a silver strike which attracted an estimated 40,000 or more fortune hunters. In the 1890s, he filed a 160-acre claim on the West Fork of the San Juan River near the foot of what became Wolf Creek Pass.
In 1899, he accomplished a life-long dream by marrying Ida and the couple developed a business based on a fishing lake and raised a family. The lake became known as Born’s Lake. More next week.
If you look up Dutch Henry Born on the Internet, you will find a considerable number of stories replete with a considerable variety of “facts.” My main source of information was Mable Bennett, of Pagosa Springs, one of Dutch’s daughters.