Biography of Famous Preacher Father Dyer Part 1

About the famous American frontier preacher Father Dyer, history and information.

FATHER DYER (1812-1901)

The circuit-riding frontier preacher is as authentic a figure of the pioneer West as the gunslinger or the cowboy. And John Lewis Dyer, known to history as Father Dyer--the Snowshoe Itinerant--probably comes closest to matching folk myth with actual deeds.

Dyer had passed 49 rather undistinguished years when he left the comforts of Minnesota in the spring of 1861 and followed the gold rush to Pikes Peak. He set out with his carpetbag, Bible, Methodist hymnal, and $14.75 and ended up walking most of the 1,000 mi. to Buckskin Joe, a raw boom-camp located on the Continental Divide. For the next 29 incredible years, Father Dyer trekked up and down the spine of the Colorado Rockies, in all extremes of temperature, preaching burning hell in every home, barn, saloon, mining site, and fancy house that would have him, clear to the Mexican border.

After his death, the State of Colorado enshrined his likeness in stained glass beneath a gold-leafed dome of the State capitol. In life he was accustomed to far less posh surroundings. When he was 6, he hired out as a farmhand working for whiskey wages. After a man-sized drunk in a flax field at age 9, he swore off the stuff for life. Dyer fought in the Black Hawk War as a young man and later farmed and worked the Wisconsin lead mines.

His 1st wife died, leaving him to raise their 5 children alone. A disastrous 2nd marriage ended as soon as John Lewis learned his bride had neglected to terminate an earlier union, making the earnest miner a party to bigamy.

The burden of sin weighed heavily. One day, deep in a mine shaft, Dyer felt he was suffocating. Then he heard the voice of his redeemer. He laid down his pick and shovel and walked out of the mine to a new life proselytizing for the Lord.

The sturdy Methodist had already preached his way well into middle age when he joined a caravan West, hoping to see his son, who had left the previous year. He rode until his horse gave out in Omaha. Then he walked another 750 mi. to Buckskin Joe, shrinking his gaunt frame from 192 to 163 lbs.

"I found that a man at 49, getting fat, could walk, work, and preach off all the fat," he recounted later in his autobiography.

Father Dyer was to continue hiking the Rocky Mountain wilderness and preaching wherever he found listeners until he was 79. He saw many lesser men come West attempting to emulate his mission, but all fell far short.

He made his pastoral rounds to the rough mining camps 3 times a week and 3 more times each Sunday. He traveled the steep, dangerous terrain by horse or mule when conditions would permit it. When they didn't, he disounted and continued on foot. When the snow deepened, he hand-fashioned 2 11' Norwegian-style skis, which he called "snowshoes." He kept right on going.

Once Dyer was forced to shovel snow for 3 1/2 days in order to travel as many miles. He soon became a legend, crossing the Continental Divide twice a day on his rude, oversized "snowshoes."

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