Lead, Bread, Gold, Plows, and Mountain Men

The Amazing Stories of Hugh and Sam Livingston

Above: Sam Livingston
Below: Sam Livingston's embroidered elk-hide jacket, c. 1890, displayed in Glenbow Museum, Calgary [image courtesy Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons]

Sam Livingston's Embroidered Elk Hide Jacket, c. 1890, from Glenbow Museum. Photo courtesy Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Posted by Hannah Hill Rudstam on Wed, 07/24/2013

Hugh Livingston, the son of Robert and Mary Watson Livingston, was one of the earliest emigrants to come to Crow Branch, WI from the Vale of Avoca, Ireland. His cousin, Sam Livingston, the son of Hugh and MaryAnn Fitzimmons Livingston, came to Crow Branch shortly after Hugh. Sam was just 16 or 17 years old when he left Ireland. Both Hugh and Sam worked in the Crow Branch lead mines for a short time before “gold fever” broke out in California. Attracted by adventure and by the hope of quick riches, both young men headed to the California gold fields, leaving March 7, 1850. Though we know little about their experiences in the gold fields, we do know that they stayed in California a couple of years. We don’t know exactly how much gold they came upon. But we can surmise that, though they didn’t strike it rich, they did both leave California with some gold in hand. Their paths from California led in different directions. Hugh wanted to return to Crow Branch, WI. Sam seems to have caught “mountain fever” and wanted to stay out west.

Hugh’s journey back to Wisconsin was long and hard. It seems he walked alone all the way back. He later told the story that he was so hungry he stopped at a cabin somewhere in Missouri asking to buy some bread. Apparently desperate, he offered the housewife living in the cabin $50 in gold nuggets for a loaf of bread. She refused, saying that she could not feed her children gold nuggets. (From this, we know that Hugh did not return empty handed from the California gold fields.) It seems, though, that Hugh’s gold nuggets did not go to waste. He returned to Crow Branch, Wisconsin, purchased land, became a successful farmer and business owner and founded the village of Livingston in Wisconsin.

Sam never returned to Wisconsin. After leaving California, he seems to have quickly shed his miners and farmers clothes for buckskins and moccasins. His amazing journey led him to Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Montana, British Columbia, the Red River Valley in western Canada and ultimately, to Calgary, Alberta.

Some ten years after the gold fields, Sam married Jane Howse in Fort Victoria, Alberta in 1865. When they were married, Sam was 34 years old and Jane was 17. Jane’s life story was as fascinating as Sam's. She was a Métis (of Scottish and Cree Indian heritage) from the Red River valley in Alberta, Canada. The two had 14 children and eventually became Calgary, Alberta’s founding settlers. Once in Alberta, Sam became widely respected for his innovations in agriculture.

Though widely seen as a “mountain man,” the picture we get of Sam was of someone who actually had not completely let go of his early Irish/British roots. He hired an English tutor for his 14 children and started a school which he named the “Glenmore School.” Glenmore was a place in Ireland Sam knew as a child; the “Glenmore Reservoir” near Calgary, Alberta was named after the Glenmore School. Also, I was surprised to read in Sam’s obituary that Sam told one of his friends he always wanted to return to Ireland “as a gentleman.”

Sam and Jane Livingston’s life stories are given in a book written by their grandson, Dennis Dowler. Excerpts from this book can be found at this link.

Bust of Sam Livingston at Calgary International Airport