Archive for the ‘Colorado History’ Category

In early August of 1864, Private Thomas Holliman of Company A, Wells’ Battalion, 3rd Texas Cavalry Regiment, an obscure Confederate military unit stationed at Fort Belknap, Texas, on the far western edge of the rebel empire, was captured hundreds of miles behind enemy lines, deep in the mountains of Colorado Territory.

Private Holliman was one of twenty-three men from Company A which had been given orders to ride from Texas to Colorado to recruit Southern sympathizers in the mining camps of the Rocky Mountains. In addition to recruiting for the South, the men of Company A were ordered to harass Union supply trains, mail deliveries, and gold shipments they might encounter along the way.

Private Holliman and eight others, including brothers Jim and John Reynolds, two early-pioneers of Colorado, and the founders of the town of Fairplay, from Company A penetrated deep into the Rockies carrying out their orders. Ambushing and raiding stagecoaches along the old Fairplay-to-Denver stage road that ran along the South Platte River, the nine men from Company A became known as “The Reynolds Gang.” Along the way, the band robbed a number of stagecoaches and buried an estimated $40,000 (in 1864 money) in cash and gold somewhere in the foothills west of Denver along the South Platte.

On the night of July 31, 1864 a posse of local Colorado militia under the leadership of Captain Jack Sparks came upon “The Reynolds Gang” camped out in high alpine cirque in Geneva Gulch, near present-day Grant, Colorado. A gunfight ensued, one man from Company A, Private Owen Singletary, a 23-year-old former Texas Ranger fell dead, and Private Jim Reynolds who was the “Captain” of the group was severely wounded, his arm nearly being shot off.

As the skirmish carried on between Company A and the posse carried on, the surviving members of “The Reynolds Gang” scattered, on foot, in different directions, vanishing down Geneva Gulch into dense timber and pitch-black darkness.

A few days later, Private Thomas Holliman staggered into an old stagecoach depot called “39-Mile Station” over fifty miles away from the scene of the fight. Private Holliman was incoherent and exhausted, and told the depot keeper he had not slept in three days.  The keeper ushered Holliman into a small room at the back of the log depot building. Holliman collapsed in the corner and fell into a deep sleep.

The depot attendant, having been aware of “The Reynolds Gang” their recent raids on several stagecoaches, and the manhunt underway, grew suspicious of the weary traveler he had just given safe harbor to. As Private Holliman slept, the depot attendant dispatched a helper to ride with all speed to Fairplay, which was roughly 39 miles away.

Within hours, a posse from Fairplay led by a shady character named Hugh Murdock descended on 39-Mile Station, and stormed the room where Private Holliman still lay, sound asleep. Holliman was roughly jostled to his feet, and hauled out of the station to a pack of mounted men waiting to take the bandit back to Buckskin Joe, a mining camp that served as the county seat back then.

At Buckskin Joe, Private Holliman had his boots and socks taken, his beard shaved off, and his head shaved bald. His tattered effects, which included random bits of Confederate butternut issue clothing, were taken. Holliman was then given an all black suit of ill-fitting pajamas and taken to a nearby cabin, which served as a makshift Courthouse.

Private Holliman appeared before a board of respected locals which included Charles Hall, a well-known Colorado pioneer, and a young Horace Tabor who in subsequent years would become a millionaire from his silver mines in the Leadville area.

Holliman’s interrogation was a brutal affair- The Private was beaten ferociously by the men of the posse as members of the panel asked him to divulge the secrets of “The Reynolds Gang.” Holliman, at first, refused to waver, with his refusals, the torture became more and more brutal. Finally, a noose was tied around the Private’s neck, the rope thrown over a rafter in the Courthouse. Holliman was slowly lifted off his feet, strangled under his own body weight, to the laughter and jeers of the posse surrounding him. Just as he was about to succomb, the posse released the rope causing Holliman to fall to the ground. Still, Holliman would not speak. So the process of slowly lifting him off the ground, strangling him to near-death, then dropping him abruptly on the floor continued several more times.

Finally Private Holliman buckled, and begged for mercy. The committee offered Holliman a deal- If he were to divulge the whereabouts of the rest of “The Reynolds Gang” and help lead the local militia to the band, Holliman’s life would be spared, and he would be set free.

Faced with continued torture and certain death, Private Holliman took a gamble that his captors were honest men, who would honor their pledge to spare his soul. Holliman, battered, bruised, and near death, gave a lengthy, scattered, rambling, statement to the committee, which appeared in its entirety over a two-day span in the August 31 and September 1, 1864 issues of Black Hawk, Colorado’s “The Daily Mining Journal” newspaper.

Within a few days, Private Holliman, his hands still tied and barefoot, was placed on a horse at the head of a posse, and he led them to a ranch near Canon City, Colorado where five more members of “The Reynolds Gang” were hiding, including the badly wounded Jim Reynolds.

Interestingly, Private Thomas Holliman disappears from “The Reynolds Gang” narrative at this point- Most versions of the legend say he was ridden off into the woods and hung by the posse, his body left to rot in the elements. However, a cryptic entry in the records of the 3rd Texas Cavalry Regiment indicate Thomas Holliman surfaced after the war in Linn County, Oregon under the name “Thomas Holman” and he died in 1878.  Had the Colorado posse kept their word and released Holliman after he aided them in catching the other members of “The Reynolds Gang”?

Presented in full is the statement of Private Thomas Holliman, one of six Confederate soldiers captured in Colorado Territory in the summer of 1864 (author’s notes will be in red) :

“I was born and raised in southern Missouri. Have lived for the past two years in northwestern Texas. I had known Jim Reynolds in Texas about a year before we left there.

I lay hid in the brush in Texas, with many others, about three months, to avoid being conscripted in the Confederate service.”

This statement is false, Thomas Holliman had enlisted in the Confederate Army on November 18, 1861 at Fort Arbuckle, Indian Territory as a member of Captain John Scanland’s Cavalry Squadron. Confederate Army enlistments lasted the duration of the war, and Scanland’s Squadron was an elite unit assigned to the far western frontier of the Indian Territory to monitor Union troop movements as Union recruits from Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas headed east to the major theaters of the war. Scanland’s Squadron served with distinction, and was used by Brigadier General Douglas Hancock Cooper as his personal body guard unit on several instances when the General visited the frontier. After Captain John Scanland resigned his commission due to old age and ill health, Scanland’s Squadron was renamed “Company A” of  Lieutenant Colonel John W. Wells Battalion, 3rd Texas Cavalry. Following the unit’s restructure as Company A, Wells’ Battalion, they were sent to Fort Belknap, Texas, the farthest western outpost in the Confederate States and were charged with patrolling the far western reaches of the Confederacy. Holliman would meet Jim Reynolds at Fort Belknap in the fall of 1863 following Reynolds’ enlistment in Company A.

“Jim (Reynolds) wanted us to go with him to Colorado where he had formerly lived, that it was out of the war, times were good there, and we could make money there and not be molested by the draft.”

Another partially false statement. Yes, Jim Reynolds had lived in what would become Colorado from 1856 to early 1863, and was the founder of  Fairplay, Colorado. No, times were not good in Colorado, especially for Southern men- Jim Reynolds and his brother John had been arrested and imprisoned in October 1861 for being members of the secessionist faction in Colorado. They escaped prison in Denver with the aid of the Confederate underground, likely the Knights of the Golden Circle, in February of 1862, afterwhich they returned to the Fairplay area and continued recruiting for the South, before leaving Colorado for Missouri sometime in early-1863. 

“He (Jim Reynolds) had the names of about 50 persons he said had agreed to go. We left Fort Arbuckle about the middle of April with 22 men mounted. Some furnished horses of their own, others were taken from the Confederate government. McKee got us a pass out through Fort Belknap.”

Again, a misleading statement. Company A was garrisoned at Fort Belknap in April 1864, not Fort Arbuckle. Confederate records indicate 48 men of the unit’s 50 man total strength were ordered west into New Mexico Territory to carry out a raid on wagon trains traversing the Cimarron Cutoff od the Santa Fe Trail near Fort Union. The 48 men from Company A rode under the leadership of Lieutenant Julius Harshaw, succesfully carried out two separate raids in April-May and returned to Fort Belknap with a large number of captured mules and equipment taken in the raids. Confederate Officers viewed the raid as a success and a second, more daring mission, this time to Colorado Territory was ordered in June 1864. It was this time around that 23 men, roughly half of Company A’s strength, left Fort Belknap under the leadership of Sergeant Abraham C. Brown and “Captain” Private Jim Reynolds, both of whom had been imprisoned in Denver in the winter of 1861 for their ties to the South. The “McKee” mentioned by Holliman was Captain Joel McKee, a Texas Ranger, and Colorado exile, who, like Brown and Reynolds, had been incarcerated in Denver in 1861. McKee commanded a Texas State Trooper militia along the Red River frontier in 1863-1864, his unit allied with, but falling only nominally under the command of the regular Confederate Army forces in the region. McKee would not have given the 23 men from Company A any “pass” out of Fort Belknap, that would have been issued by Lieutenant Harshaw. Captain McKee would have likely aided the men in crossing or “passing” the Red River into the no man’s land that separated Texas, the Indian Territory, and New Mexico Territory.

“We traveled in as direct of a course possible to the Spanish Peaks (landmarks in southern Colorado) taking rations for a few days only, fearing the Confederate authorities would suspect we were going out of the country and would try to detain us. We lived on game, and when that failed, we lived on horses, killing two of our pack horses.”

Holliman again wavers back contradicting his previous statements that they were given horses and “pass” by the Confederate authorities, claiming they were once again fearful that the authorities would learn of their intentions to head for Colorado, when in fact they were on direct orders to ride to Colorado. Furthermore, if the men were indeed “hiding in the brush” and dodging conscription for months, how could they have drawn pack animals and been issued a pass by the government? His story is already full of misinformation.

“Had several fights with Indians, at one time fought them for two days, mostly Apaches. We became very weak for want of provisions. Came up the Canadian River, crossed the left fork, then came to a road leading from Santa Fe to the (United) States. Here we saw a train of wagons, an ox train on the road, and we sent out scouts. There were about 30 Mexicans with the train and they showed fight. We told them we were friendly and only wanted provisions. Jim (Reynolds) traded them a horse for some grub, and after staying with them all night, we left.” 

Holliman is describing events that happened along the Cimarron Cutoff of the Santa Fe Trail in April 1864 during the first mission which had nothing to do with the second raid into Colorado Territory, but his captors were unaware of this at the time.

“Soon after, we captured another ox train on the same road and took provisions. Then we came on to another road, suppose it was the road leading to Santa Fe. We captured a Mexican mule train on this road, we took the mules, a lot of arms, and a large quantity of money, five or six thousand dollars in bank drafts, a large amount of greenbacks, and about two thousand in coin.”

Holliman is describing the April 1864 Otero wagon train raid, in which Company A captured $30,000, several hundred ox and mules, and a moderately sized cache of arms- A raid which evidence I’ve uncovered suggests was an inside job, having the full knowledge and support of the Otero family of New Mexico.

“The leaders quarreled here and 13 turned and went back and we saw no more of them. The other nine of us cached (buried) most of the money and the extra guns and moved on.” 

Another misleading statement. Holliman has combined details of the first and second missions here- There were 48 men on the first raid when the Otero train was taken. It is thought that the money and arms were buried somewhere near Rabbit Ears mountain in northeastern New Mexico, the oxen, mules, and other provisions taken in the raid, along with all 48 men of Company A returned triumphantly to Fort Belknap around the first week of June 1864. The 22 man party Holliman speaks of, which split into two groups, was the second mission into Colorado that July.

“We passed no houses or settlements on the way until we reached Craig’s Ranch on the Huerfano (River). Got supper there, paid for it, and left. Came onto the Greenhorn (River) and camped that night and laid over the next day, and came on next to the Arkansas (River). We got to Peck’s Ranch near Pueblo in the morning and had breakfast. Crossed the river (Arkansas River) at Rock Canyon bridge, and rode to Turkey Creek and camped.”

This part of the confession is interesting, it is my opinion that Holliman was divulging partially-true information since the start, in order to protect the others who were still on the run at the time, which would explain the confusing web of details and combination of the two raids described previously. Here, Holliman claims the men stopped at “Craig’s Ranch” on the Huerfano River- This being the ranch of Captain William Craig, a loyal Union man, and the Depot Quartermster of Fort Union in New Mexico. A platoon of Confederate cavalrymen fresh off of a major raid in the region, embarking on a second raid would not be stopping for refreshments at the home of a prominent Union Officer. So what was Holliman talking about?  A short distance west, along the Huerfano River, was the tiny Mexican settlement of Badito, which alternately known as “Huerfano” and, at the time of these events “Boyce’s Ranch” or “Bo Boyce’s.” “Bo Boyce’s” was the phonetic pronounciation of the French name “Beaubois” the last name of a rancher and descendant of the old fur trders in the area, who also happened to be a vehement secessionist, pro-Southerner, and member of the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC). Company A did not stop at Craig’s Ranch as Holliman claimed, that was pure deception, Company A did however stop at “Boyce’s Ranch” on the Huerfano, a safe house for rebels in Colorado, where they would have been aided in the next leg of their journey- The Greenhorn River and Alexander “Zan” Hicklin’s ranch, the next safe house in the KGC network of Colorado.

“Found three horses running loose, caught them, and soon two McAlister boys came along hunting the horses. Jim (Reynolds) knew them, and he and I went to the road to meet them. Jim talked with them a long time about the country, etc. and invited them into camp.

After a while Jim said we must go, and that the McAlister’s would let us have the three horses, and we would give them four of ours that were giving out. The McAlister’s took the ponies we gave them and went back, and we took theirs and came on to Beaver Creek and stayed at Connelly’s (boarding house or station?) paid our bill, and next day came on to the Four Mile Creek near Canon City. Jim sent all but one and himself down to Bradley’s Store to buy some grub and clothing. We went and traded about $100 for clothing, grub and whiskey. Paid for them, and came on and overtook Jim who told us the reason he didn’t go by himself was because Bradley knew him and they were enemies, having had a quarrel in the mines some time ago.”

This shopkeeper named “Bradley” that knew Jim Reynolds and was described as an enemy may have been, and was likely one of the Bradley’s imprisoned in the Colorado Territorial Jail with the Reynolds brothers in the winter of 1861. Incarcerated with the brothers were a pair of  men “James M. Bradley” and “James N. Bradley.” Both of these James Bradley’s were arrested and held on charges of treason for their secessionist beliefs and pro-Confederate views. It appears that one of the James Bradley’s escaped in the Febraury 1862 breakout, while the other remained behind, taking the Oath of Allegiance, renouncing his rebelious ways, and gaining his freedom in President Lincoln’s amnesty of political prisoners in March-April 1862. It is likely this “reformed” James Bradley who owned the store on Four Mile near Canon City, whom Jim Reynolds wanted to avoid.

“Passed through Canon City without stopping, and rode on up to Currant Creek, was very late at night when we got there, all were pretty drunk, and some got lost with two horses, but joined us in the morning.

Went on the next day to 19-mile ranch on Currant Creek, found two herders there- Burr and Jerome. Jim enquired if Byers and Young, the owners of the herd were there, and was told they were not. Burr invited us into the house and gave us some milk. Jim asked for a good place to camp and get grass (for their horses) was told up back in the hills, we went up back of the house some miles and camped. We stayed their about two days and let our stock rest.

We left three horses there to be taken care of by Burr until we came back. Went on to 39-Mile Station and stayed there all night. Judge Bradford and Mr. Hinsdale, a lawyer, were staying there overnight, on their way from Court. Told them we were from Arkansas and were going up late to the mines. Paid our bill and traveled up the next day to Guiraud’s (Adolphe Guiraud) Ranch in the Park (South Park) below Fairplay. Jim had a good deal of talk with Guiraud that night. Jim wrote some letters to some friends of his in Fairplay.”

There was a long-standing relationship between Jim Reynolds and Adolphe Guiraud dating back to 1860 when Guiraud opened a mercantile in the now long-gone mining town of Hamilton which was a short trip from the Reynolds brothers rich strike on the South Platte River which became Fairplay. In the early days, Guiraud’s store would have been the nearest source of supplies for the fledgling camp where the Reynolds brothers worked the gravel for gold. Guiraud was a product of the boom days of Leavenworth, Kansas, where a number of the leading secessionists who drifted to Colorado got their starts. Circumstantial evidence strongly suggests Adolphe Guiraud may have been a member of Knights of the Golden Circle, the secret secessionist underground working “behind the scenes” prior to and during the Civil War.

“Jim asked Guiraud when the coach left Buckskin (Buckskin Joe, mining camp and county seat of Park County at the time) as he wanted to beat it to McLaughlin’s Ranch. (Jim) Mailed a letter to Denver. After we got up the road some distance, Jim told us he intended to take the coach. McLaughlin and another man overtook us at the creek where we came into the Fairplay Road. Jim said he would them prisoner and keep them until we got to McLaughlin’s Ranch. When they rode up Jim told them he was a Confederate soldier, and told McLaughlin, who had a good horse, that he must swap horses with him. McLaughlin refused and was starting off when we drew our revolvers, the other man (McLaughlin’s partner) told McLaughlin he had better give up his horse, which he then did. We rode on, Jim and McLaughlin ahead, the other man and I rode next.”

Jim Reynolds wrote and mailed a series of letters after reaching Guiraud’s Ranch, some went to Fairplay, another went to Denver. Who was Reynolds contacting? It is likely these letters were destined for KGC agents- Namely J.N. Cochran of Denver, alerting them of the presence of Company A in Colorado, and that it was time for the KGC underground to come into action, spreading word among the Confederate sympathizers trapped in Colorado, that the time was uipoin them to rally and join Company A. In this first hostile action in Colorado Territory, Jim Reynolds clearly identifies himself as a Confederate soldier, contrary to later accounts which make no mention of this fact.

“When we got to the house (McLaughlin’s Ranch) McLaughlin treated us to whiskey and ordered his wife to get us some dinner. The man who came with McLaughlin was put under guard, Stowe (Corporal Addison F. Stowe, former Denver bartender at the Arbour House) stood guard on the outside. When the coach drove up Jim and I went outside, I think there were but two men in it (Billy McClellan and Absalom “Ab” Williamson) Jim asked if they had any arms, the driver said he had two. Jim told them to get out, they seemed to think we were fooling. Jim then told them sharply to get out and go in the house. We drew our revolvers, they got out, and a guard was placed over them. We demanded Ab Williamson hand over his money, be he declared a stage driver had never before been accused of having any, and search found nary red.” (The term”nary red” being an archaic way of saying “no money”)

This firsthand account states no money or personal property was taken from Absalom Williamson, in the “accepted” version of The Reynolds Gang legend a key part of the story revolves around Williamson’s rage after being robbed of a pocket watch and a 17 cents. 

“Jim and another one of our boys took out the Express trunk, got the key from one of the men, opened it, took the money, there was also about three or four thousand dollars in gold dust. Jim ordered me to cut open the mail bags and gave me his knife. I cut them open, we took out the letters and tore them up, taking what money there was in them. Jim said he wanted to do the United States all the damage he could, and ordered me to cut up the coach wagon. I got an axe, and one of the others took the axe and chopped the coach wheels to pieces while I went on other duty. After dinner we released the men under guard, and drove on to the Michigan Ranch to get the stage stock. McLaughlin went with us. We took two horses from McLaughlin, and left him two mules and one horse.”

Note: The prisoners were released after the coach was robbed. Jim Reynolds also traded out animals with McLaughlin, as he had done with the ranchers Burr and Jerome near Canon City previously. Holliman’s account contradicts the legend which claims they beat and murdered those they encountered, and robbed them of their stock leaving them stranded and helpless.

“We searched the Michigan House for arms, took money from two or three men there, and some canned fruit and other things out of the house. Took several good horses and mules from the corral and stable.

Rode on to Kenosha House, Jim said not to pay for it, as he had quit paying bills. I paid the boy for the whiskey and we rode on down the Platte. Met Harriman who kept the Kenosha House, told him what we had done and took his overcoat and paid him ten dollars for it. Met some men with a wagon, took blankets and grub from them, and two revolvers.”

Kenosha House was a stage station located atop Kenosha Pass which separates South Park to the west, and the drainage of the North Fork of the South Platte to the east.

“Went up, passing Slaght’s to the right (Azel Slaght’s Ranch, present site of Shawnee, Colorado) and came up to Parmalee’s (present-day Parmalee Gulch) no one at home, supper on the table partly eaten. We ate supper, then rode on to an empty house. (Identified as St. Louis House, another stage station) camped out back of it, this was about three hours before daybreak. Put out a guard.

Went on to Omaha House next morning and ordered breakfast. I was sent on to the hill behind the house as a guard. Two men came along, I arrested them and brought them to the house and put them under guard. I took a revolver and coat from one, and horse from the other. Got breakfast and went on guard again. There was an Irishman or Dutchman camped here with a load of freight bound for Georgia Gulch, he gave us the signs and grips of order, and told us where we could get recruits.”

“He gave us the signs and grips of our order” meaning the secret hand signs of the Knights of the Golden Circle, the rebel underground. The KGC had a series of subtle hand signals, or “grips”, which were used between to members to identify each other. Georgia Gulch was a mining camp along the Swan River above present-day Breckenridge, Colorado, which, at the time, was populated almost entirely by Georgians and other southerners, throughout the Civil War, it was a known hotbed of KGC and secessionist activity. In fact, the first violent death in Colorado Territory attributed to the Civil War occured in Georgia Gulch in October 1861 when a Confederate sympathizer gunned down a member of the fledgling 1st Colorado Volunteers (Union) who had come to keep an eye on rebel activities in the gulch.

“Went on to Junction and Toll Gate (present-day Pine Junction, Colorado) some there knew Jim Reynolds and shook hands with him. We searched both houses for arms, found none, and found no horses. Jim said the news had gotten ahead of us, and we must go. We went on the road towards Bergen’s (present-day Bergen Park) about three miles and turned back, doubled our trail, and camped near Junction. We put out a guard, stayed all day, and that night went back to Junction House.”

Word had spread by now of The Reynolds Gang’s robberies in the area, and the proprietor of the station at Pine Junction had moved his animals and guns prior to the gang’s arrival.

(Back at Pine Junction station) Jim told them they had lied and must tell the truth. A boy went on and got the stage horses and we took them, and also some guns we found secreted in the house. Jim had a good deal of talk with Hotchkiss, the toll gate keeper.

We had intended, if news got ahead of us, to ride to Bergen’s and get fresh horses, then ride to Central City and get two or three recruits, then ride with all speed to Denver, communicate with friends (the KGC) get recruits, and go on through Colorado doing no more damage along the road. Go down the mountains to Pueblo, get recruits in the Arkansas River valley, go on up to Canon City, “clean out” Bradley’s store- Jim Reynolds said Bradley was “mighty black” and that we had only lent him the money we had paid for the goods, and we must get it back. Go on back to 19-Mile Ranch, rendezvous there about fall and recruit. 

If too many men got after us we would go over about the head of the Greenhorn (River) near Zan Hicklin’s place, if not we’d go up in the Park about Fairplay and take out all of the southern men, and if the people should show fight, we would take the town (Fairplay) at a time when all of the miners were at work in the gulch. 

(Holliman now returns to Pine Junction in his statement) Went from Junction to Omaha House and got breakfast. Turned off the road and went up Deer Creek to the Range. Saw a party of men passing along the road. Jim took out a spyglass and counted 22 going towards the Omaha House. We went up on the head of Deer Creek and took up positions for defense and put out pickets. After a while, saw a party of men coming on our trail. Jim looked through the glass and said they were citizens (a posse hunting the gang) and we would fight them. When they got nearer, we went on in single file some distance, scattered, then doubled trail, came back outside the first trail and ambushed in a canyon along the trail. When the party got nearer, the held a council, then turned back. We could have killed the most of them at the first time they came on by us following our trail.

We went on top of the Range, then down a fork of Deer Creek, stayed all night. Next day Jim proposed we take a scout afoot, which was objected to, but next day we all agreed and picketed our horses.

I went down to the Platte above Slaght’s and camped near the road. Next morning went down outside of the road and say horses at Slaght’s and looked for soldiers, intending to fire on them. A wagon came along with men in it. Robinson (Private Jackson Robinson, former member of the Denver City Home Guard and KGC agent who helped the Reynolds brothers escape the Colorado Territorial Jail in Febraury 1862) said it  ust be the coach going up, and proposed we fire on it. Jim said they were private citizens and refused to fire. 

We went down opposite of Slaght’s. Jim went to the house, got his breakfast, returned, and said he had ordered breakfast for 14, to make believe we had recruited. We all went down and got our breakfast, Azel Slaght was not home. We got some rations and paid Mrs. Slaght for it, took on U.S. gun and left. 

Turned up the gulch to the right. About an hour after this Bobbitt (Corporal John Bobbitt) fell behind and we saw no more of him. Went on to where the Clifford Cutoff crosses the Divide and saw a party of eighteen men hunting for our trail. Passed around them and went into camp.”

It would have been at this point, as the gang camped where the cutoff crossed the Range, that, according to the John Reynolds deathbed confession of 1871, that he and Jim Reynolds took the gold, cash, and coin from the robberies, and rode on ahead of the gang into neaby Geneva Gulch, burying the plunder in an old prospect hole near a high alpine swamp. Near the swamp one of the Reynolds’ brothers horses became mired in the mud and had to be abandoned- The horse carcass becoming one of the clues in the search for the buried loot.

(The following day the Reynolds brothers rejoin the party) “Jim concluded Bobbitt had deserted and said he would shoot him if he ever saw him and didn’t rejoin us before leaving the mountains. Started the next morning for the Park. Traveled alongside of the Range- scattered. Stopped to rest our horses and I went on guard.” 

At this time, which would be the evening of July 31, 1864, as the Reynolds Gang stopped to camp and rest their horses in a secluded meadow somewhere in Geneva Gulch, Captain Jack Sparks was leading a posse of local militia from Gold Run, a mining camp near Breckenridge, over the divide onto the headwaters of Geneva Gulch. Sparks and his posse from high above spied the flickering campfires of The Reynolds Gang below, and descended on them under the cover of darkness. The Sparks posse crept in close, hiding behind large boulders and trees, witnessing Jim Reynolds and others chatting around the campfire. Reynolds was apparently measuring a quantity of gold dust, when the fire flickered and illuminated the face of one of the members of the Sparks posse. A gunfight ensued in which Private Owen Singletary of the 3rd Texas Cavalry fell dead, and Private Jim Reynolds was badly wounded, his right arm being shattered above the elbow by a revolver round. The Reynolds Gang scattered on foot into the dense timber and overgrowth of Geneva Gulch, vanishing into the night. The Sparks Posse determined it would be impossible to track the men in the dark, and camped at the site of the shootout taking up the trail the following morning. Private Thomas Holliman found himself fleeing down the gulch in darkness all alone. His confession continues-

“I then left them for good. Bobbitt and I had talked together of deserting the day before. I took no horse and went down to the Platte, crossed it, and stayed all night in a gulch high up on the side of the mountain. The next morning I crossed the mountain five or six miles east of Kenosha House and went down into the Park, and across to Guiraud’s Ranch which I reached after dark, and slept in the haystack. Next day I went down the road to 39-Mile Station, got supper, and after dark some time, Hugh Murdock and others came from Fairplay.”

Hugh Murdock ran a hotel in Fairplay and was a respected early-Colorado pioneer who was also a freighter and the owner of a mercantile store in Denver. Murdock also had a dark secret- He was a former employee of Captain A.B. Miller, one of the leading secessionist agitators in Colorado in 1861-1862. Murdock also worked part of 1860 on the Reynolds brothers calim in Fairplay, collecting the gold dust he needed to fund the construction of his mercantile shop in Denver. Murdock’s nephew Anderson Wilson worked on the Fairplay mining claim of Jim and John Reynolds in 1860-1861, and Wilson was one of the 44 secessionist recruits bound for the Confederate army who were captured in southeastern Colorado in October of 1861. Anderson Wilson also happened to be a Private in Company A, Wells Battalion, 3rd Texas Cavalry, the same unit as the Reynolds brothers and the rest of the Reynolds Gang, though he was attached to Sergeant Abraham Brown’s platoon which split from the Reynolds platoon near the Emery Gap/Branson, Colorado in mid-July 1864. Murdock also owned a ranch southeast of Denver on Cherry Creek near Russellville, and a secret KGC recruting camp and safe house was located somewhere near Russellville during the Civil War era. Simply coincidence or was Murdock a KGC agent? Murdock was the first to arrive upon word of an exhausted stranger staying at the 39-Mile House, was Murdock looking for his nephew who he thought was with the Reynolds brothers?

“Jim Reynolds had intended then next day, after I had left him, to make his way into the Park at the north end near Jefferson, and keep along the mountains to Hamilton, get some recruits, go to McLaughlin’s, get some grub, then go to Fairplay- Get some men he knew there who he said would join us, then go back to 19-Mile Ranch, rendezvous, and get recruits until he had at least 50 men. 

Two of the boys went down about 39-Mile Station about the time I was captured there. I saw their tracks as I was brought up. I think they will get together about the 19-mile ranch.”

Holliman had seen the tracks of Private John Reynolds and Corporal Addison F. Stowe who had escaped the skirmish in Geneva Gulch and were fleeing separately from Jim Reynolds and the others. John  Reynolds and Addison Stowe had, in fact, fled to 19-Mile Ranch, as Holliman had presumed in his statement, which leads one to believe that Jerome and Burr who worked the ranch, and had aided the group on their way in to South Park were “in” on the plan, and were perhaps KGC initiates.

“Jim Reynolds will not leave the mountains until he gets a party large enough to return to go back to Texas and do what he pleases, or raid around through this country until it gets too warm for him. He is ambitious of being a second Quantrill. Quantrill has a big name around the South and particularly in the Southwest.” 

Holliman has now mentioned “recruits” several times in his confession, which lends credence to the strong trail of evidence suggesting “The Reynolds Gang” were not bandits, and were in fact Confederate soldiers on orders to recruit southerners in the mining camps of Colorado for the rebel army. Another clue is Holliman stating that Jim Reynolds needed 50 recruits and would not return to Texas until he had reached that number- 50 was the standard Company strength under the Confederate Order of Battle at the time, so Reynolds and his men were charged with recruiting a full Company of men from Colorado. For additional consideration, if, in fact, the men were deserters why would they ride all the way back to Texas where they would have been wanted on desertion charges which carried the death penalty at the time? Sergeant Abraham Brown’s platoon, part of the 23 which left Fort Belknap for Colorado in June of 1864, did in fact return to Fort Belknap in September of 1864 and served out the rest of the war honorably with the 3rd Texas Cavalry. Deserters do not return to their uniot after several months away without any repercussions, especially in the time of war. Paint it any way you want, “The Reynolds Gang” was no such thing, they were Company A, Wells’ Battalion, 3rd Texas Cavalry Regiment. They were active duty Confederate soldiers of an officially recognized, regular unit, carrying out orders to recruit and disrupt Federal mail and gold shipments in Colorado Territory.

William Clarke Quantrill was a noted Missouri Confederate leader. He was considered the leader of a “guerrilla” unit by the North, but was viewed as an apt leader of an officially recognized military unit by the South- And the debate still carries on today. Quantrill led numerous raids in Missouri, Kansas and elsewhere. Denver’s secessionist leader Charley Harrison joined Quantrill’s Raiders in 1861 after his showcase trial in Denver for treason, in which he was allowed to leave Colorado Territory if he vowed never to return. It is also claimed that George A. Jackson, the founder of Idaho Springs, Colorado rode briefly with Quantrill in 1863, and his name does appear on one roster from the unit. Some historians have stated that Jim and John Reynolds also rode with Quantrill’s Raiders in 1863, during the period in which the whereabouts of the brothers are unknown- No supporting evidence for this claim can be found, although one entry in the records of the 3rd Texas Cavalry states that Reynolds brothers joined Company A, Wells’ Battalion “via Missouri” this is the only piece of evidence suggesting any possible connection to Quantrill’s Raiders.

“Jack Robinson was guard at the Denver Jail when the McKee party broke out, he carried them grub after they were out. Jim Reynolds was in jail with the McKee party. The two Reynolds’ and Robinson had taken the oath  and had been regularly initiated into the order of the KGC in Texas. They wanted all of us to take the oath before we left, but we did not. Jim had us take the oath and initiated us when we went in camp at the 19-Mile Ranch. The oath Jim got up the best he could from his recollection.”

McKee being Captain Joel McKee, the Texas Ranger-turned-prospector who was also a Colorado secessionist leader in 1860-1861. McKee was the same man mentioned at the beginning of Holliman’s confession as allowing The Reynolds Gang to “pass” the Red River Frontier out of Texas.

At this point it is noted that Private Holliman gave the interrogating committee all the “signs” and “grips” of the KGC that he could remember.

“I had intended after I left the party to go down on the Arkansas River about Pueblo, and go to work on a farm. I have two brothers in the Federal Army, and one in the Confederate. One of my brothers had his arm shot off in the Battle of Pea Ridge. He is in the Kansas 6th, the other with Blunt. I was herding stock with others near where the Battle of Pea Ridge was fought, and was taken prisoner, and remained with Colonel Cooper until they retreated back to Texas.”

Private Holliman’s closing statement is interesting from many angles- He said he had two brothers in the Union Army, one in the Kansas 6th. No records can be found indacting anyone named Holliman, Holloman, Holiman, Holman, served in the unit. Holliman was perhaps trying to throw a veiled jab at, or pray on the sympathies of his Union interrogators because, in fact, the 6th Kansas had just been killed to a man by Brigdier General Stand Watie’s Cherokee and Choctaw Rifles a few weeks earlier, there was not a survivor of the slaughter, and Holliman, as a member of Scanland’s Squadron which became Company A, Wells’ Battalion, had served under General Stand Watie and his Cherokees until 1863 as part of the frontier defenses of Confederate Indian Territory.

Holliman then states he was taken prisoner while herding animals near the Battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862, which was true. Scanland’s Squadron, which Holliman had enlisted in in November of 1861, was known officially as Company E of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifles at the time. They were the only all-white unit serving in the Indian Nation, and were used as a scouting force for the Confederate Indian Armies under command of Colonel (later General) Douglas H. Cooper and Colonel (later General) Stand Watie. As the Battle of Pea Ridge commenced, Scanland’s Squadron was held back in reserve, so Holliman’s claim that he was tending animals pans out. Union forces prevailed at Pea Ridge, taking large numbers of Confederate soldiers prisoner. As transporting, guarding, and feeding prisoners was a logistical nightmare in the day, the practice was to conduct a prisoner exchange shortly after the battle, where the warring parties would swap prisoners. This seemingly odd Civil War practice explains how Holliman was able to rejoin Colonel Douglas H. Cooper on his retreat to Texas.

Holliman’s clsoing statement does however strongly contradict his opening statements, where he claims he and the others were draft dodgers and deserters, and proves that he was an enlsited Confederate soldier since November of 1861- Confederate enlsitments lasted the duration of the war.

As we can see from Private Thomas Holliman’s statement to his captors, many questions were answered, but many were raised as well. It is my opinion that Holliman purposely divulged half-truths and misinformation in an effort to save his own hide, and to buy time for the rest of the men from Company A, in hopes that they might escape back to Texas. Holliman’s tale is riddled with holes and gaps, and a mixture of fact and fiction, but it is the only surviving first-hand account from a member of Company A as to what a handful of Confederate Cavalry soldiers from Texas were doing over 750 miles from their base, and over 500 miles behind enemy lines, in Colorado in the summer of 1864.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Travel pretty much anywhere in the western half of the United States and you’re sure to come across the iconic “false front” store. False front architecture is almost as synonymous with the Old West as the Colt Pistol and John Wayne- We see examples of the false front in nearly every vintage photo of the Old West, and any classic western film would be incomplete if it didn’t contain at least one false fronted store somewhere in the story.

But what is the reasoning behind this strange architectural style? There are several answers, and they are all based in practicality-

First, the false front was often added to impermanent structures such as large tents for stability. Tent colonies were commonplace in the early years of westward expansion and the gold rush era. People would flock to an area and the quickest, easiest and most affordable dwelling to put up was the tent. As prairie or mountain winds whipped, and the colder weather moved in, settlers would shore up the sides of the tent with logs, making somewhat of a “half-cabin.” Others, in many cases businesses being run out of tents, would add a false front with a formal door. This gave an impression of permanence, as well as providing additional security to the contents inside via the proper locking door on the front.

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As time went on, and the tent colonies grew into permanent log, brick, and milled lumber towns and cities, the false front carried on- This time the false front served both as advertising space, and as a decorative facade. The large flat surface was perfect for painting the name of your hotel, saloon, or general store. The wealthier and more prosperous you were, the fancier and more ornate your false front would be, featuring time consuming scrollwork, cornices, and gingerbread trim. The false front soon became the status symbol of the Old West, and merchants and hoteliers would engage in spirited attempts to one-up each other, much like men do today with their pickup trucks.

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Today, the false front hangs on across the West. Some retain their their glory, and for many others that glory has faded to a forlorn, splintered, black-brown-gray of rotted and neglected wood.

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With the meteoric population explosion in Colorado, more and more of the State’s past is being lost to the bulldozer and replaced with new construction. Here is one last look at 25 old dwellings before they vanish- 

#1- Lake County

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#2 Washington County

anton1#3 Saguache County

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#4 Baca County

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#5 Teller County

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#6  Weld Countyjeo1

#7 Park County

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#8 Costilla County

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#9 Lincoln County

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#10 Hinsdale Countycapc2

#11 Park County

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#12 Morgan County

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#13 Costilla County

Russell#14 Weld County

Farmhouse Near Grover#15 Teller County

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#16 Gilpin County

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#17 Las Animas County

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#18 Gunnison County

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#19 Chaffee County

16best12#20 Park County

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#21 Costilla County

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#22 Las Animas County

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#23 Summit County

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#24 Baca County

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#25 Costilla County

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I hadn’t been to Silver Plume, Colorado in a couple of years, and decided to make a visit this morning. It was a perfect day to park the Jeep and aimlessly wander up and down the streets of Silver Plume, and imagine how it must have looked in it’s glory days of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

Silver Plume is still one of my favorite places in Colorado to snap photos- There is just so much there to see, and I always find something new-old thing I missed before. I make it a point to always leave a street or path unexplored, and I also visit Silver Plume only once a year, that way there will always be “something new” on my next visit. One day I will have seen it all, but that just means I can start over and do it all, street-by-street again, and take photos from entirely different angles!

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West of Golden, Colorado in Golden Gate Canyon is a remarkably picturesque stone structure called “Centennial House.” It has sat empty for many decades now, but Centennial House was once an important stop on the stagecoach line from Denver and Golden to the mining towns of Black Hawk, Central City, and Nevadaville. As the name suggests, Centennial House opened for business in 1876, though construction had begun in 1872.

Treveling west through Golden Gate Canyon you will notice Centennial and a scattering of small stone and wood cabins and sheds on the north side of the road. If you are traveling east down Golden Gate Canyon towards Denver, you might just miss it as the impressive old building sits tucked away behind pine trees, tall grass, and long neglected overgrowth. A small turnout allows for parking, but the entire site is private property, fenced, marked, and under surveillance so please admire from the turnout and avoid trespassing.

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If a competition were held to crown “Colorado’s Most Unique Town” Guffey would certainly be in the running.  Guffey, in the past, has elected cats and dogs Mayor, and until 2011 the town held an annual chicken launch.

Today the town could be classified as a “living ghost town” with a healthy population of around 100. The dirt streets that run through town are home to old cars, cast iron claw-foot bathtubs, coffins, wagons, mining equipment, and just about anything else old and rusty you can think of. A couple of saloons are open to greet thirsty visitors and weekend road-trippers, and there are a large number of picturesque, historic buildings to admire.

Guffey got it’s start in the late-1890s as a typical Colorado mining town, gold, silver, lead, copper, and zinc being found in the area. By 1905 Guffey was already a “has been” among the mining centers and most of the town’s 500 people had moved on. But Guffey never totally “died” and is a very intersting and fun place to visit today.

Guffey is located 46 miles southeast of Fairplay, just off of Highway 9 on Park County Road 102.

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In 1971 a book titled “The Killer Legions of Quantrill” was written by Carl Breihan, in the book a previously unpublished (see below) photo of William “Bloody Bill” Anderson, the famous Missouri Partisan, and a man identified tentatively as Confederate General Joseph Orville (Jo) Shelby. The photograph immediately stirred controversy, as many felt the photo depicted niether man.

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Bloody Bill Anderson (left) and a mystery man circa 1862, Missouri- The mystery man has been identified as General Jo Shelby or Fletch Taylor

Professional analysis of the photo confirmed that the taller man with the light eyes was, in fact, Bloody Bill Anderson without his signature long hair and beard, around 1861 or 1862. However, positive identification could not be made of the made on the right of the photo. The Missouri State Historical Society which has a copy of the photo identified the man not as General Jo Shelby, but as another famous Missouri Partisan- Fletch Taylor. Both Taylor and Anderson being noted members of Quantrill’s Raiders. But this identification of the man as Fletch Taylor resulted in more argument, as many felt it clearly was not Taylor.

While researching the history of the Confederate underground and secessionist movement in Colorado Territory 1858-1865, I stumbled across the only known photograph of Colonel John Hiffner in an obscure history book chronicling the influential people of Jackson County, Missouri. Colonel John Hiffner had funded and raised a regiment of Confederate sympathizers numbering 600 to 1000 men in southern Colorado in 1861 and 1862. Following the Confederate retreat from Glorieta Pass in early 1862, and the subsequent Union dragnet of Colorado Territory to weed out Southern sympathizers in the spring and summer of 1862, Colonel Hiffner’s Mace’s Hole regiment disbanded and “scatterred to the four winds” with many of the recruits heading to Missouri, including Colonel Hiffner himself, who had family in Clay County, Missouri. Hiffner’s brother and other relatives were continously hounded by Union authorities throughout the war for aiding and abetting Confederate partisan units in Clay County, and John Hiffner never enlisted in any regular Confederate unit, though his biography does claim he served the length of the war in Missouri under General Stirling Price and General Jo Shelby, which lends credibility to the theory that John Hiffner was attached to a lesser-known Missouri Partisan unit.

The only known photograph of Hiffner (below) taken around 1900, shows a gray man, who strikes an uncanny resemblance to the unidentified mystery man in the Bloody Bill Anderson photo. Hiffner’s timeline places him in Missouri, in the same locale as Bloody Bill Anderson in 1862,  and it is my opinion that the mystery man in the photo is Colorado’s John Hiffner.

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The only known photograph of Colorado’s Confederate Partisan leader Colonel John L. Hiffner, taken later in his life, circa 1900, while living in Jackson County, Missouri

A comparison photo of the Bloody Bill Anderson image and the Hiffner image as well as those of Jo Shelby and Fletch Taylor are provided below for comparison to the Bloody Bill Anderson and mystery man photo. To me, the man clearly resembles Hiffner the most based off of facial structure, eyes, hairline and hairstyle, eyebrows, and the long, slender nose, features which are considerably different on Shelby and Taylor.

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Is the mystery man in the Bloody Bill Anderson photo John L. Hiffner?

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Three images of General Jo Shelby- Note the substantial difference in the eyes, facial shape, and hair,  from the mystery man in the Bloody Bill Anderson photo.

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A wartime image of Fletch Taylor (left) with Jesse (standing, right) and Frank James (seated)- Taylor shows very little resemblance to the unidentified man in question.

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Fletch Taylor, later in life, bears little resemblance to the man in the Anderson photo, or the Hiffner photo

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Enlistment Records of “The Reynolds Gang”- Proof that Colorado’s Most Notorious Bandits Were in Fact Confederate Cavalrymen from Texas!

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“Hoot Owl Trees” and Rock Pointers of the KGC- Evidence of the Confederate Underground in Colorado

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