One of Colorado’s most colorful pioneering personalitities was an itinerant Methodist Pastor named John Lewis Dyer, better known as Father Dyer. The “Father” title was not a religious one, but rather a nickname the miners gave him because he was much older (around 50 at the time he came to Colorado) than the average miner in his twenties.
Born in 1812, Dyer came from a farming family in Illinois. He moved to Wisconsin, raised a family and worked in a lead mine and lived a relatively uneventful life. During his mid-30s, however, Dyer heard the voice of God while almost suffocating in a mineshaft. He dedicated the rest of his life to religious service after this experience, and became a circuit riding Methodist preacher, primarily in the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Around the age of 40, Dyer felt directed to take his ministry to the Colorado territory. Even though he was one of the oldest circuit riders in the United States at that time, he set out on his horse for the nearly thousand mile journey. His horse gave out in Nebraska, so Dyer walked the remaining 600 miles in the company of a wagon train.
Once in Colorado, Dyer decided to base his preaching ministry in the the mining camp of Buckskin Joe (now a ghost town), near current day Fairplay and Alma in Park County, Colorado. Having lost 30 pounds during his travels West, the spry Dyer preached in nearly all the small towns from South Park to the Continental Divide. In addition to standing up to the mining corporations’ treatment of miners and fighting for their rights, Dyer spent his days preaching, performing marriages, and working with the sick.
Like many other itinerant preachers this work didn’t earn enough for his daily bread. To supplement his finances, Dyer took a second job delivering mail to the small communities between Buckskin Joe and Leadville, a trip he made several times a week, no matter what the weather. His route took him over Mosquito Pass (elevation: 13,185 feet) and in the winter Dyer used Norweigan snow shoes (now known as skis) to take him over the snowiest parts of the route. Few pioneers knew the terrain and topography of Colorado's mountainous passes like Dyer; he soon became a most beloved and respected member of many pioneering communities for his dedication in serving remote areas.
Around the age of 60 Father Dyer married the widow Lucinda Lord Rankin. They settled in Breckenridge, Colorado and founded the Father Dyer United Methodist Church. Not only did Dyer preach there; first he bought and donated the land to the church and then built the building. Although the church has been relocated, it still exists and can be found at the intersection of Briar Rose Ln and Wellington Road.
Dyer served the state of Colorado in numerous capacities until his death in 1901: he continued to ride his horse thousands of miles to preach at different churches as an itinerant pastor, was named the first chaplain of the Colorado State Senate, and ranched in Castle Rock. As one of the named 16 founders of the state of Colorado, Dyer has a stained glass window with the other 15 founders in the state capital dome. Father Dyer Peak (13,615 ft), part of the Tenmile Range in Summit County also honors his legacy. Posthumously, he was honored by the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in Vail for the innovations he made to snow shoes and skis during his years of delivering the mail.
Today, the Father Dyer Postal Route Ski Race honors this early pioneer and challenges ski enthusiasts with Dyer’s weekly route. The roughly 25 miles long course includes approximately 6,500 ft. of vertical gain and loss. The race takes participants up three peaks over 12,000 ft. including Dyer Mountain (13,855 ft.), Ball Mountain (12,300 ft.), and East Ball Mountain (12,947 ft.). The Father Dyer Postal Route Ski Race is the highest backcountry course in North America.