Alexander Toponce

Alexander Toponce Born: November 10, 1839, Belfort, France

Died: May 13, 1923, Ogden, Utah

Toponce was born in Belfort, France, on November 10, 1839. Seven years later his family emigrated to America and settled in New York. Unhappy at home, Alexander ran away when he was ten and by age fifteen had journeyed west.

Young Toponce was ready for adventure. He began by whacking bulls for the famed freighting company of Russell, Majors and Waddell. Then he drove a stage line on the Santa Fe Trail, rode pony express (see notes below), and eyed the Mexican girls, whom he described as "dolls when rigged out in the dancing costumes." In 1857 he became assistant wagon boss for General Albert Sidney Johnston's army during the bloodless Mormon War.

Toponce remained closely associated with Utah for the rest of his life. He knew many prominent Mormons, including Brigham Young, whom he praised as "the squarest man to do business with in Utah, barring none." Declining conversion to the Mormon faith, Toponce nonetheless respected the Mormons, viewing them as energetic pioneers intent on carving out an empire. Yet he never could resist taking an occasional humorous jibe at a few of the wayward brethren.

By 1860 the stampede to the gold fields in Colorado had drawn Toponce to the mining camps near present-day Leadville. Here, in the vicinity of French and Georgia gulches, Toponce spent two years making and losing money and watching others wield miners' picks and strike it rich. In the fall of 1862, Alexander sold all his holdings for a few horses and mules, a wagon, and $250 in food supplies. Then, in early 1863, he headed a wagon train bound for Montana. He had just turned twenty-three.

The discovery of rich placer deposits at Bannack, Alder Gulch, and Last Chance, Montana, brought hundreds to the Montana gold fields. Within a year's time this northern wilderness was the scene of wild activity in mining, freighting, trade, and settlement.

Toponce was one of the many who went to Alder Gulch in the spring of 1863. He located a claim, built the town's first sluice box, and collected $20,000 in gold dust. Then his talents took a new turn: he began freighting. Gathering together a few wagons, horses, and oxen, Toponce hauled flour, sugar, tea, coffee, eggs, butter, shovels, picks, and a six-hundred-pound pig to the gold fields and boomtowns of Montana. Eventually he was operating one of the largest freighting outfits in the Northwest.

freight-train
Early-day freight train serving the inter mountain region.

Though he continued freighting in the years after 1865, Toponce found time for many other occupations and adventures. He drove cattle to California, chased renegades, supplied beef to railroad crews, raced horses, and saw "vice and all kinds of sin" at the silver metropolis, Virginia City, Nevada.

Katie Toponce Alexander's marriage to Katie in 1870 did not slow him down at all. He dabbled in ranching, owned a slaughter house and butcher shop, helped build the Bonanza Road in Idaho, ran a stage line from Blackfoot to Challis, Idaho, served as mayor of Corinne, Utah, and was generally so full of schemes and ideas about how to turn a dollar that one wonders how he ever made it to the old age of reflection.

But he did. Still active at age eighty, Alexander Toponce wrote down his reminiscences-a record of his fabulous life as one of the "good old boys" who helped win the West.

Source: Robert A. Griffen, Introduction to Reminiscences of Alexander Toponce, March 15, 1971.

There has come to light with recent investigations that Toponce may not have, in fact, ridden for the Pony Express. His name appears on a number of lists. The earliest listings are in John Ellenbecker's, The Pony Express written in 1937. He is also listed in Chapman and Settle and Settle. Kate B. Carter gives a very good description of Toponce and his activates, including the statement that "..in 1860, Alexander began carrying the mail for the Pony Express. The journal continues: 'One of the pioneer developments was a fast mail service up the Platte River.' "

HOWEVER, the actual reference to this activity as reported in his biography (written by Himself) says that the "fast mail service" referred to was a development of the Mormon War of 1857. He rode this route for about two months. Later in his biography Toponce says that from January 1859 until the summer of 1860 he rented a large saw mill in Waverly, Missouri. In early fall of 1860 he went to the Pike's Peak area of Colorado where he was a miner until 1863 when he was off to the gold diggings in Montana. This chronology, in his own words, shows that during the operation of the Overland Pony Express of 1860-61 Toponce was otherwise engaged and could not have ridden as a Pony Express rider.

Since many histories are just repetitions of other works (including most of what appears on this web site) it is very important to seek out primary resources as much as possible.