Papa (Thomas Fitzgerald); The Miner


As John D. Fitzgerald, sculpted his family history into story form, he applied generous amounts of poetic license. John's childhood had spanned a transition in eras. The world he and his siblings knew had moved from wooden sidewalks and horse drawn wagons to paved streets and automobiles. While the tales he heard around his family dinner table stretched from his family's immigration experiences to the cessation of World War I. All of those people, eras, and experiences would be wrapped into his books.

To craft and tell the story poetically, John was judicious and creative. The first living soul he sorted out and worked through was his father, and life hero, Thomas Fitzgerald. In life, Thomas "Fitz" Fitzgerald, Sr. had been a college graduate in the field of pharmacology, miner, saloon prorietor, real estate mogul, city councilman, and investor. Not to mention father, brother, son, husband, and neighbor. Making space for his life story was John's first task. He chose to start with the miner.



 


When Thomas Fitzgerald left his hometown of Towanda, Pennsylvania, he had one goal in mind. Strike a claim. North America was bursting at the seams with a life rush like no other. Wagon trains of families pulled west looking for the dream of homesteading. Iron trains and ships were loaded with hungry prospectors hoping to claim their life fortune in one fell swoop. Thomas heeded the cry. He was Canada and Alaska bound. Like all who are driven by wanderlust he had no idea where his uncharted dream would take him.


Crossing the Miles


From Pennsylvania there were two travel options. Either the Overland Express, which followed the foot trail forged by Oregon Trail and Mormon Pioneer wagon trains. Or the seafaring routes which ran either through the Isthmus of Panama or the further south route around Cape Horn. Which route Thomas took is undocumented. Whichever route he took, he would eventually be deposited in San Francisco. From San Francisco a miner could head any direction and find opportunity. Thomas ranged north. Taking a ferry to Seattle to purchase and collect his gear. In Seattle he boarded another crowded ship and headed to Alaska.


The Cradle by Henry Sandham
Placer Mining

Claims


Thomas was a placer miner. Working the sluices and cradles hoping to strike a claim and land a lottery of gold. It wasn't easy work, nor rewarding if you never caught anything. Which by all accounts, was true of Thomas' initial efforts.


Word of new strikes and claims cropped up daily. Feverishly tribes of prospectors would flock to the new local, set up their gear and try again. Thomas was among the hoards. By his second decade of mining, Thomas had a new idea, settle in and stay. His plan worked. He set down in Contact, Nevada long enough to strike his own claim. However, lady luck didn't stick by him. He received word that his father, Thomas Fitzgerald, Sr. was ill and dying. "He sold out for a pittance." his daughter Belle wrote. He headed back to Pennsylvania after two decades of absence.


Striking Gold


Price Co-Operative Mercantile - Price, Utah
Where Thomas' Gold Was Found


Thomas didn't remain long following his father's funeral. Belle wrote,

"The West intrigued him. He loved the mountains and after his father's death, he went to Ida. (Shoshone). There he had a cafe and a Saloon."

The wanderlust of previous years still drove him. He pushed on from Idaho to a small town named Price. His intent was to improve his cafe and saloon success from Idaho, this time serving coal miners and army men from the nearby Fort Duschene. What he hadn't counted on was striking gold at the local mercantile. Behind the counter was a beautiful blond Scandinavian woman, twenty years his junior. She would steal his heart forever. He would never fully wander again.


#PriceUtah, #mining, #oldendays, #TowandaPennsylvania


Sources:

Handwritten biography by Belle Fitzgerald

Obituary Sun Advocate; April 29, 1937

Utah Since Statehood biography

Newspaper clippings: Eastern Utah Advocate/Sun Advocate

Conversation Henry Farley, Mayor Borough of Sayre, Pennsylvania

Precious Dust by Paula Marks

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