John Lewis Dyer
|John Lewis Dyer|
March 16, 1812|
Franklin County, Ohio
|Died||June 16, 1901
|Cause of death||Paralysis of the throat|
|Resting place||Cedar Hill Cemetery in Castle Rock, Colorado|
|Occupation||Methodist Episcopal clergyman|
(1) Harriet Foster Dyer (married 1833-1847, her death)
Joshua Dyer (1834-1865)
|Parent(s)||Samuel and Cassandra Foster Dyer|
John Lewis Dyer (March 16, 1812 – June 16, 1901) preached for the Methodist Episcopal for four decades, first in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and then in the mining camps and other communities of his adopted U.S. state Colorado. He became known as Father Dyer, because of his age, relative to the young prospectors of Colorado. He is considered one of the sixteen principal 19th-century founders of Colorado, enshrined in the state Capitol rotunda.
Dyer was born in Franklin County in central Ohio, one of eight children of Samuel Dyer (1786–1871) and the former Cassandra Foster (1792–1869) and largely reared thereafter in Illinois. He had little formal education and was considered eccentric. He was converted to Jesus Christ at the age of eighteen. He was a veteran of the Black Hawk War of 1832. The next year, he wed the former Harriet Foster (1812–1847), and the couple had five children. He farmed and then worked in the lead mines near the village of Potosi in Grant County in southwestern Wisconsin. Harriet died at the age of thirty-five in 1847. Two months later, still 1847, their 13-month-old daughter, also named Harriet, also succumbed. Dyer was quickly remarried to a widow, Sarah Whiting, but he ended the arrangement when he found that she had never been divorced from a former spouse. Whiting subsequently perished in a flood in 1851.
One day in the mine shaft, Dyer felt that he was about to suffocate when he claimed to hear the voice of God calling to him. He left mining and dedicated his remaining years to proselytizing for Christ. Dyer promptly left his four surviving children, Joshua, Elias, Elizabeth "Abbie", and Samuel, in the care of a sister while he accepted the call to the circuit riding ministry, based on the technique used in England by John Wesley. The commitment kept him away from home for weeks at a time. After a decade of circuit riding in Wisconsin and Minnesota, Dyer, at the age of forty-nine in 1861, left Lenore, Minnesota, for Denver. He was likely the oldest of all the circuit riders at the time.
Because Dyer feared the possible loss of his vision, he was determined to see Pike's Peak and the Rocky Mountain West while he could. He made it to Omaha, Nebraska, before his horse could no longer carry him, and then walked with a wagon train the six hundred remaining miles to Denver. There he was briefly reunited with his second son, Elias Foster Dyer, who had left Minnesota the previous year to take a job as a store clerk.
Dyer then walked another hundred miles to Buckskin Joe, a mining camp near Alma and Fairplay in Park County, Colorado. Having lost thirty pounds on his travels west, Dyer showed renewed energy in preaching in the mining camps from South Park to the Continental Divide. In his autobiography, Dyer referred to South Park as "a view of grandeur never to be forgotten."
Employed by the Methodist South Park Circuit, he was so poorly compensated that he took a second job carrying mail from Buckskin Joe to Leadville. The work paid $18 per month. To preach the gospel, he crossed the 13,185 foot Mosquito Pass several times per week and in all weather conditions. During winters, he used "Norwegian snow shoes" (skis) to maneuver over Mt. Mosquito. He preached in the camps, three times a week, and three times on Sunday. He traversed steep, dangerous terrain by horse or mule, when possible. He preached against the common activities of miners, such as gambling, alcohol, and prostitution. He performed marriages, tended to the sick, and became known as a selfless individual. Dyer was aware that, by comparison, mining revenues went to few individuals. Miners faced back-breaking and dangerous work, but he directed his ministry as a message of hope. Dyer preached wherever he could find listeners, even in saloons. He went as far south as New Mexico to proclaim the gospel.
In his autobiography, Dyer describes one particular trip over Mosquito Pass which resulted in frozen feet and near death, spared only by a three-week recuperation assisted by a willing friend. Dyer was so thrifty, a necessity for his small salary, that he once walked a hundred miles from Buckskin Joe to his small cabin in Mosquito Gulch. While the trip took two and a half days, he saved $20, $2 more than his monthly pay for delivering the mail. For his innovation of snow shoes and skiis for general travel, even though his device was not meant for athletics, Dyer was posthumously honored by induction into the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in Vail.
John Chivington, known for the Sand Creek Massacre, served as a Methodist circuit rider and later a presiding elder; he entered the military, after Dyer had arrived in Colorado. Others emulated Dyer's work on the mission field.
In 1870, Dyer wed Lucinda Lord Rankin (1827-1888), a native of Maine and the widow of Joseph Rankin, who had died in 1862. She lived in Cherry Creek near Castle Rock, the subsequent county seat of Douglas County south of Denver. The Dyers lived in Breckenridge in Summit County, where he was instrumental in building a church, the Father Dyer United Methodist Church. He donated land for the church building and physically worked on the construction. He preached the opening sermon in 1880. (The church has since been relocated within Breckenridge and undergone two renovations. It is located at the intersection of Briar Rose and Wellington.) Dyer retired from the ministry after the dedication service but returned to Breckenridge, again (from 1885 to 1887), as interim pastor.
In 1882, the Dyers returned to their ranch in Castle Rock but could not make a living; two years later, they swapped the ranch for a house in Denver. In 1885, Dyer was named the first chaplain of the Colorado State Senate. In May 1894, Dyer was injured in the town of Howbert in Park County while he was returning from a sermon; he recovered and lived another seven years. Dyer spent the last eleven years of his life in Denver with his daughter and son-in-law, "Abbie" and Clinton Streeter. When Dyer expired, his daughter Abbie remained his only child alive.
In addition to the Father Dyer United Methodist Church in Breckenridge, a log structure known as "Father Dyer's Chapel" is located in the restored mining community of South Park City in Park County. The building was formerly a hotel in Montgomery, Colorado but was dismantled and moved to Fairplay and rebuilt as a Methodist church in 1868. Dyer was the driving force behind the move.
In 1900, his stain-glassed portrait was unveiled in the Colorado State Capitol. By then he was affectionately called "Father Dyer", a term first to refer to Dyer as early as 1868 at a Sunday school meeting at the Lawrence Street Methodist Church in Denver. The term has not been since adopted by the Methodist Church to refer to its ministers.
The 13,615-foot mostly isolated Father Dyer Peak in Summit County, part of the Tenmile Range, is named in his honor. Dyersville, a now ghost town in Summit County in central Colorado, also bears his name. Dyer was assigned to Summit County in 1862 through the Blue River Mission.
Dyer's biography, written by a former minister, Mark Fiester, is entitled Look For Me In Heaven: The Life of John Lewis Dyer.
Dyer died in Denver in 1901. His eldest son Joshua, a prisoner of war of the Confederate States of America, died in 1865 at the age of thirty-one in a steamship explosion off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. His youngest son, Samuel, returned from the American Civil War in 1865 with a foot missing and died thereafter in California. Second son Elias, the former store clerk, became a probate judge in Chaffee County in central Colorado and was murdered in Granite by a mob in his courtroom in 1875. Judge Dyer's death was part of a general conflict called the Lake County War; his killer was never apprehended. He was first buried in Granite.
Father Dyer is interred beside his wife Lucinda, his older son Joshua, his namesake grandson, John Lewis Dyer, II (1873-1947), and the re-interred graves of his father, Samuel, and his second son, Elias, at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Castle Rock, Colorado.
A marble marker commemorating Father Dyer is at the top of Mosquito Pass between Alma (east) and Leadville (west).
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