Posts Tagged ‘Colorado Legends’

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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Described in contemporary accounts (and nearly all subsequent descriptions) as a ragtag band of drunken brigands sympathetic to the Confederate cause who ransacked, raped, plundered and murdered their way across the South Park region of Colorado in 1864 “The Reynolds Gang” has long been one of, if not the greatest, “outlaw” legends of Colorado.

Depiction of The reynolds Gang robbing a stagecoach in South Park.

Depiction of The Reynolds Gang robbing a stagecoach in South Park.

For those not familiar with the legend, here is the “accepted” version of events surrounding The Reynolds Gang-

In the summer of 1864 during the waning stages of the Civil War a group of “bandits” appeared in South Park region of Colorado Territory and set about plundering the towns and stagecoaches in the area. Led by brothers Jim and John Reynolds, the group was quickly dubbed “The Reynolds Gang.” Operating in the South Platte River drainage from Fairplay to the foothills just west of Denver near modern day Conifer, The Reynolds Gang was soon blamed for every missing penny, gunshot in the distance or unexplained bump in the night.

Terror swept the countryside where the band operated, and the citizens of South Park fell into a panic. It is a confirmed fact that stagecoaches were robbed between Fairplay and McNassar Junction  (modern day Conifer) in July of 1864, and, it is a fact The Reynolds Gang was responsible for these robberies. Accounts of what was stolen by the gang are greatly exaggerated ranging from a few jars of gold dust and a pocket watch, to several hundred thousand dollars in gold and silver coins, paper money, arms, and jewelry.

Exactly what The Reynolds Gang took will never be known. Some accounts state the plunder was to be funneled back to the South to fund the Confederacy, other accounts claim the loot was taken solely for the personal indulgences of the gang. Eventually, a posse composed of angry citizens and law enforcement officers from Fairplay, Jefferson and Montgomery was formed who set out to apprehend The Reynolds Gang following the robbery of the stage station at Kenosha Pass.

By chance, on July 31, 1864, the posse stumbled upon the gang one night, tipped off by the flickering flames of their campfire on a secluded stretch of creek (some accounts say Handcart Gulch, some say Geneva Gulch, some say Deer Creek) near modern day Grant, Colorado. A wild shootout between The Reynolds Gang and the posse ensued in the darkness, and the men of the gang fled on foot and on horseback into the dense timber. The surprise attack on the robbers camp. At daybreak, the posse discovered one outlaw had been killed in the skirmish- Various identities have been given to this man over the years, some say it he was a man named “Showalter” others claim he was Addison Stowe, and yet other accounts (the majority) state the outlaw was named Owen Singleterry or Singletary. Whomever the dead man was, the angry posse from South Park mutilated his corpse by severing his head to carry around as a trophy of their exploits. The robbers’ headless body was left to rot in the sun. (Some accounts state his body was buried by members of The Reynolds Gang, but these accounts are false since the gang fled in the heat of the shootout on July 31, 1864 and scattered in separate directions to avoid capture.)

The head of the dead man was taken back to South Park, and was preserved in a jar of alcohol. This macabre trophy would be displayed in windows of various shops throughout the region for many years. Eventually, the gruesome relic disappeared and people forgot all about it until one day, a prospector poking around in an abandoned mine shaft near the site of Montgomery discovered a human skull. Further investigation proved the skull was the long-forgotten head of the man killed in the shootout many years prior.

The Outlaw's Head

The Outlaw’s Head

The Reynolds Gang, having split up after the shootout, disappeared into the hills. Several days later five men of the gang had been located and captured. Two (some say three) more members including John Reynolds made their escape into New Mexico Territory, last being seen by the pursuing troops of the 3rd Colorado Territorial Cavalry on a high rise in the Spanish Peaks moving south.

The trail for the escaped bandits soon went cold, and it was accepted as fact that they had escaped to New Mexico Territory. The five captured members of the gang were beaten, interrogated and put on trial in Denver. Accused of rape, murder, and robbery the men were found guilty only on the charge of robbery, and ordered to march, under military escort, to Ft. Lyon where they were to be sentenced. En route to Ft. Lyon, the five men attempted an escape and were shot dead by troops of the 3rd Colorado Cavalry at remote area somewhere near the old Russellville settlement in Douglas County. ReynoldsGangExecution Prior to their deaths, during interrogation, the captured men told their jailers the stolen money, gold and other loot had been stashed in the mountains around the time of the shootout (some say before the shootout, some say after). None of the men knew the exact location, or the precise amount that had been hidden though.

In 1871, seven years after the shootout near Grant, two men were involved in a gunfight near Taos, New Mexico following an attempted cattle theft. One of the men was named “John Reynolds” and on his death bed he confessed a tale of buried treasure in the hills west of Denver. He described the 1864 shootout in detail, and drew a crude map of the approximate location of the plunder. Without a doubt, this was the same John Reynolds who escaped the posse in July of 1864 and fled south into New Mexico.

Copy of the crude map drawn by John Reynolds on his death bed in 1871.

Copy of the crude map drawn by John Reynolds on his death bed in 1871.

Countless people have searched the hills between Conifer and Fairplay looking for the lost treasure of The Reynolds Gang. For over 150 years this has been one of Colorado’s greatest outlaw and treasure tales. But many gaps in the various accounts of events paint a murky picture of what actually happened in the summer of 1864, and questionable twists in the story leave many wondering who exactly were the men of The Reynolds Gang? Who were these bandits that suddenly showed up, terrorized South Park, then vanished as quickly as they had appeared? Why are there so many different versions of events when the topic is studied in depth?

I delved deeper into the subject and found a disturbing story far different than the one that has been told and accepted as the “truth.” The facts regarding the men of The Reynolds Gang, and long suppressed historical evidence which has recently been uncovered paint a very different portrait of the events of July 1864. So who were the “real” Reynolds brothers, and what was the “gang” that robbed the stagecoaches in South Park if they weren’t the outlaws we’ve been led to believe? First, we must set the stage that led to the events of 1864 by reviewing the facts relating to Colorado Territory in the early 1860’s, then, we can look into the matter of who and what was The Reynolds Gang-

In 1860 and 1861 tensions were high across the United States as talk of secession sprang up everywhere. Colorado Territory was no different. Many, around 40 percent, of early Colorado miners came from Georgia, Alabama, and other southern States, and sentiment for the southern cause ran high in the mining camps across the territory. So high in fact, that when hostilities broke out in April of 1861, the “rebel” Bonnie Blue flag was flown for three days over the Wallingford & Murphy Mercantile before being torn down by Unionists.  Letters of support for the Confederacy were sent out to Jefferson Davis by prominent Denver businessmen and southern-born military officers stationed in the region assuring President Davis that Colorado Territory could be easily secured for the Confederacy.

The early

The early “Bonnie Blue” flag of the secessionists. Flown over Denver for three days in 1861.

Minor armed skirmishes broke out across the state in various mining camps and saloons between unionists and secessionists, some of the worst occurring in Georgia Gulch near Breckenridge (which, ironically was named for John C. Breckinridge, the 14th Vice President of the United States, who would later become Jefferson Davis’ Secretary of War for the Confederacy. Breckinridge’s alliance with the Confederacy, resulted in the townsfolk of then “Breckinridge, Colorado” to change the spelling to it’s current “Breckenridge”, a little know tidbit of Colorado history.)

The fledgling Colorado Territory was on the brink of chaos, and, all early indicators pointed to the Territory “going Confederate.”  On the orders of President Abraham Lincoln, William Gilpin was rushed to Colorado, named the first Territorial Governor, and ordered to secure Colorado for the Union cause. Gilpin was charged with establishing law and order in the Territory, and quelling the secessionist uprisings which were springing up across Colorado. Abraham Lincoln and William Gilpin knew that the vast mineral resources of Colorado were an invaluable resource to the Union in a time of war, and they also knew this vast mineral wealth could very easily tip the tide in favor of the Confederacy were Colorado to fall into secessionist hands.

gunfightH-300

Skirmishes broke out in the mining camps between unionists and secessionists.

To fulfill his duty of restoring order and securing the Colorado gold for the Union, Governor Gilpin commissioned a former Methodist preacher named John Chivington to become the military strongman of the Territory. Given the rank of Major by Governor Gilpin, John Chivington would rule over Colorado Territory with arbitrary sway for the next several years. Chivington controlled Colorado with a heavy hand, often acting without orders from his superiors, and with the passage of time, his reputation has gone from that of being an early Colorado hero, to being the greatest murderer and coward the State has ever known.

chivington

Major John Chivington

With the framework set surrounding the political climate in Colorado Territory in the early 1860’s, we return to the subject of The Reynolds Gang-

James (Jim) and John Reynolds were brothers who first came to what would become Colorado Territory in the mid-1850s. Voting records from the Arapahoe County, Kansas Territory election of 1856 name Jim and John Reynolds as two of the thirteen registered voters in the county- Arapahoe County, Kansas at the time spread from the far western edge of Kansas Territory all the way to the base of the Rocky Mountains in the west, land which now makes up eastern Colorado. The Reynolds brothers homesteaded at, or near, a place called Syracuse Creek in far western Kansas along the Arkansas River before coming to the Rockies in search of gold in 1859. The Reynolds brothers first stopped in Denver, then made their way to Gregory Diggings (Central City) then onward to Tarryall, a bustling placer mining camp in South Park. By the time the Reynolds brothers made it to Tarryall, all the claims had been staked, and finding no ground to work, the brothers made their way down the South Platte River where Jim Reynolds struck it rich poanning the gravels of an alluvial plain where the South Platte flows into South Park.

Here at the new camp, the Reynolds brothers made a decent living panning gold in the placer fields of the Platte River. With Jim and John Reynolds was their brother-in-law, a man alternately identified as “Harvey” “Haron” or “Aaron” Briggs. One night, while sitting around the fire with other miners, discussing who laid claim to what, and who had the rights to work the area, a man named Little Ward said “All I want is fair play” to which Briggs responded “That is all I ask for as well” then, Jim Reynolds rose to his feet and is quoted as saying “There by God it is, all men here shall have fair play!”  The camp, lacking a name at the time, soon became known as “Fair Play” and later “Fairplay”, a name which the town still retains to this day.

fairplay

“Fair Play”, Colorado Territory around 1861

With tensions boiling over across the nation, and men answering the respective battle cries of the Union and the Confederacy, Jim and John Reynolds, Harvey Briggs, and two men named Anderson Wilson and Charles Basye who had been working the Reynolds’ claimwho left the gold fields of Fairplay, Colorado in the late summer of 1861. No record exists of the exact date the party left Fairplay, but Charles Basye claims he passed through Denver in September 1861, where he boarded a coach bound for Weston, Missouri and the nearest Confederate recruiting camp.

reynolds bros

In the late summer and fall of 1861 hundreds of Colorado secessionists rallied under the leadership of Charley Harrison, a Denver saloon owner, Captain A.B. Miller, a freighting magnate and pro-slavery veteran of the “Bleeding Kansas” epoch, and Captain Joel McKee, a Texas Ranger turned prospector who was secretly runninmg guns and supplies out of Colorado to General Benjamin McCulloch’s Texas troops advancing on Missouri. Charley Harrison and Joel McKee were arrested and held without charges in Denver, and Captain A.B. Miller after a show of force outside the Denver Court House left the territory in September 1861 with around 400 secessionists follwers, bound for Ft. Smith, Arkansas to join the Confederate Army. Charley Harrison was released from jail, fined $5000 and banished from Colorado. Harrison fled to Missouri and joined Quantrill’s Raiders. Joel McKee remained imprisoned through the winter of 1861.

In October of 1861 there was a broad, general uprising across Colorado Territory by the secessionist faction, though no major violence or skirmishes ocurred- There was just a considerable amount of pro-Confederate activity reported in the newspapers. Bands of armed and mounted men were seen across Colorado heading south towards Texas and Missouri. Other more vocal secessionists tormented and fired pot-shots into the camps set upo by Union volunteers around the territory.

 

Around mid-October a band of forty-five secessionists calling themselves “Texas Rangers” under the leadership of George A. Jackson, the founder of Idaho Springs, was captured and taken prisoner in southeastern Colorado by Union troops from Ft. Wise. Among the forty-four (one rebel escaped) men taken prisoner that day were Jim and John Reynolds, Harvey Briggs, and Anderson Wilson. Anewspaper clipping from the November 28, 1861 Colorado City Journal lists the names of the 44 men taken prisoner . Among the names on the list are two more names we will hear more about later “Abraham C. Brown” and “Addison Stowe” (incorrectly listed as “Addison Stone” in the newspaper article.)

Confederates Captured at Mace’s Hole

November 28, 1861 Colorado City Journal clipping with the names of Confederates captured in southeast Colorado, including James and John Reynolds.

 

These 44 Confederates captured on the Greenhorn in October 1861 upon arriving in Denver were locked up in the City Jail where they awaited their trials for treason. In January of 1862 a group of armed men attempted to free the imprisoned Confederates from Denver City Jail, the attempt failed. A second attempt was launched on February 27, 1862 and, with the help of a jail guard named Jackson Robinson (who will resurface again later in the story) 36 of the 44 Confederates captured at Mace’s Hole, as well as the secessionist gun-runner Captain Joel McKee escaped the Denver jail. Among those successfully making the escape were Jim and John Reynolds.

Roughly a year passes, and there are no records of the whereabouts of the Reynolds brothers, although a Rocky Mountain News article from early-summer 1862 mentions a party of 15-20 secessionists who were known to be imprisoned with Joel McKee over the winter were camped out on a ranch near Fairplay for several weeks. This spotty evidence may indicate the Reynolds brothers, the founders of Fairplay, had made a retrun after their jailbreak.  Whatever the circumstances were, by the end of 1862 the Reynolds brothers had made their way to Missouri, then on to the Confederate Indian Territory by early-1863 where both enlisted in Company A, Wells’ Battalion, 3rd Texas Cavalry- A unit which was home to a number of other Colorado exiles including Abraham C. Brown and Addison Stowe, who had escaped the territorial prison with the Reynolds brothers back in February 1862. Also enlisted in Company A by this time was the former Denver jailer who aided in the escape- Jackson Robinson.

The Third Texas Cavalry was a  frontier guard and reserve unit in the Trans-Mississippi Confederate Army, charged with guarding the Texas frontier and Indian Territory from northern aggression. Surprising to many unfamiliar with Civil War history, the Third Texas Cavalry (as well as numerous other Confederate units) was composed of a diverse group of men- Native Americans of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Tonkawa, Kiowa and Comanche tribes, Mexican and Spanish “Confederados”, southerners from the Rocky Mountain gold mines, and west Texas frontiersmen.

The Third Texas Cavalry saw action in numerous battles in the Indian Territory (modern day Oklahoma) and wherever they were needed  to reinforce Confederate forces in the region. The battle flag of the Third Texas Cavalry pays homage to the units’ record as fighting men.

Battle Flag of the 3rd Texas Cavalry Regiment

Battle Flag of the 3rd Texas Cavalry Regiment

benavides brothers

Hispanic “Confederados” of the Texas Cavalry

Cherokee_Confederates_Reunion

Reunion of Native American Veteran’s of the Confederate Army- Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Armies of Indian Territory

Muster sheets of Company A, Wells’ Battalion, Third Texas Cavalry indicate several of the men in the unit had ties to Colorado, and were among the Confederates captured at Mace’s Hole in 1861, and who escaped the Denver City Jail in early 1862. Among the men listed in Company A  were:

Private James (Jim) Reynolds

Private John Reynolds

Private Jackson Robinson (the Denver jailer who aided the escape of the Mace’s Hole confederates in 1862)

Private Thomas Holloman

Private Addison Stowe

Private Anderson Wilson

Private Washington Nutt

1st. Sgt. Abraham C. Brown

Corporal John T. Bobbitt

Private John Andrews

Private John C. Brown

Private Uriah Carlton

Private Ben Jackson

Private William Jackson

Private Thomas Knight

Private Thomas Masoner

Private Chastine McCracken

Private Owen Singletary

Private L.C. Tatum

Private William Tatum

Private Allen Wiley

Private John Wiley

Private William Tipton

johnreynolds

John Reynolds

AbeBrown1

Abraham C. Brown

jaxrobinsonTX

Jackson Robinson- Texas

JimReynolds

James “Jim” Reynolds

The Wells’ Battalion of the Third Texas Cavalry fell under the command of General Douglas Hancock Cooper. Cooper was a decorated Captain in the Mexican-American War, and was recognized for bravery at the Battle of Monterrey. He served the Mississippi State legislature as a politician, and later he became an Indian Agent in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) as well a General in the Confederate Army.

General Douglas Hancock Cooper

General Douglas Hancock Cooper

It was under the command of General Cooper that the Wells’ Battalion made their way into New Mexico and Colorado Territories in 1864, and it was on his military orders that “The Reynolds Gang” appeared in South Park.

Cooper, realizing a strong pro-Confederacy camp among the locals (Three votes on Colorado Statehood during the Civil War- Which would have freed up Federal funding and Union soldiers to guard the would-be new State of Colorado were soundly defeated on July 10, 1862 by a vote of 4,500 against statehood to only 1,200 in favor, February 12, 1863, and again on February 8, 1864. Colorado’s “strong secessionist movement” and “Copperheads” aka southern sympathizers in the Territory being blamed for the failed votes.) organized the Wells’ Battalion into a specialist force of men with extensive knowledge of Colorado and New Mexico Territories to carry out raids on the military roads and recruit locals for the southern cause.

Cooper also noticing the increasing number of valuable Union supply trains flooding into Colorado Territory with arms and equipment to put down “rebel” threats, issued the order to the Wells’ Battalion to cross the borderlands into Union controlled territory in April of 1864.

Acting upon the orders of General Cooper, 50 cavalry troops from Wells Battalion set out for Colorado Territory from Ft. Belknap in April of 1864. Many of the men involved had been in Colorado Territory prior to the war. The Wells’ battalion carried out several small raids in northern New Mexico before returning to Fort Belknap in Indian Territory. Cooper and the Confederate Officers considered the first raid a success because it sowed the seeds of worry in the Union garrison at Ft. Lyon in Colorado, and reports of “Texas Cavalry scouts” in the region caused hundreds of Union soldiers to be rerouted and tied down looking for the wayward band of rebels.

Cooper and his staff ordered Company A of the Wells’ Battalion to prepare immediately for a second raid into northern New Mexico and Colorado. Just days after returning to Ft. Belknap, the men of Company A, this time numbering only around 30, hopped back on the trail for Colorado.

Crossing the Ft. Lyon-Ft. Union military road near present-day Branson, Colorado, Company A split into two groups. One group, under the command of Jim Reynolds would strike northwest and deep into the Rocky Mountains. The second group under command of Abraham Brown would operate along the foothills in the Greenhorn River drainage southwest of present day Pueblo, Colorado, and very near the old Confederate camp at Mace’s Hole.

The group under Reynolds would drive up the Arkansas River, through South Park, and down the Platte River canyon to Denver. According to testimony given by men of the Reynolds band after their capture, the plan was to raid Union supply trains and gather Confederate recruits from the mining camps of the high Rockies, after which the column would descend upon Denver and rout the small garrison defending the city.

Under Brown, the group operating around the Greenhorn River would presumably mimic the actions of the Reynolds group- Harassing Union columns and gathering recruits for the southern cause. It is speculation that the Brown group could have been sent to serve one of the following purposes-

A) The Brown band, having gathered recruits and supplies from the pro-Confederate locals in southern Colorado, would have pushed north and converged on Denver from the south at the same time as the Reynolds band was riding on the city from the northwest.

B) The Brown band was positioned strategically to intervene with Union troops from both Ft. Garland in the Sangre de Cristos and Ft. Lyon on the Arkansas were either to send to troops to Denver. The Brown band would not have been strong enough in numbers to defeat Union troops heading from the Forts to Denver, but theoretically, they could have delayed and tied down Union forces just long enough for Reynolds and his men to sack Denver.

Texas Cavalry Soldiers

Texas Cavalry Soldiers

But, we will return to the facts regarding the case-

In early July of 1864 the first accounts of “The Reynolds Gang” appear in Colorado history. Witnesses say a small group of soldiers “…heavily armed with both pistols and rifles…” wearing “union blue” rode into Canon City, a small town founded in 1860 by a group of miners who set out to develop the coal, iron and copper resources in the area. This band of “soldiers” were hungry and desperately low on provisions, having stated they’d already eaten one of their horses. In Canon City, the battalion tread lightly, so as to not give away their true purpose and identity as Confederate soldiers.

Having rested for short time at  a “friendly” (i.e. secessionist) ranch north of Canon City, the battalion moved northward into South Park. Once in South Park the battalion ambushed a Union supply stagecoach near Fairplay, another near a ranch at the site of present day Como, and finally the unit raided a supply train near Kenosha House, a stage station on the top of Kenosha Pass.

Another supply train carrying arms and provisions to Georgia Gulch near Breckenridge was mysteriously allowed to pass. Later, under interrogation it was learned that the driver of the supply train had greeted Jim and John Reynolds with the secret hand sign and pass word of the Knights of the Golden Circle, a pro-Confederate secret society that operated throughout Colorado and the west in the 1860’s, of which Jim Reynolds was supposedly a member. The arms he was transporting were destined for Confederate sympathizers that controlled Georgia Gulch. KGC During the robberies, the battalion breached a code of “outlaw” etiquette when they took the pocket watch a 16 cents from Absalom Williamson, the stagecoach driver. The practice being at the time, to only rob the goods being transported and to leave the passengers and drivers alone.

Absalom Williamson, however, was not the innocent and simple stagecoach driver he claimed to be at the time of the robbery- Williamson was a member of the Colorado State Militia under the command of Major John Chivington. Williamson relayed the tale of the robbery and this outrageous breach of honor to anyone within earshot, and soon the newspapers caught wind of “The Reynolds Gang” terrorizing the civilians of South Park. ColoTerr Media sensationalism grossly exaggerated the exploits of The Reynolds Gang, painting a portrait of rape and murder and brigandage not seen since the dark ages. They were labeled bloodthirsty bandits and drunks hell bent on burning every settlement and dwelling they came across and funneling the gold and riches away for their own perverse pleasures, and even more horribly, sending some of the loot back to the Confederates who were on their way to ransack and pillage Denver.

Word spread across the mining camps and supply stations and soon the entire pro-Union population of Colorado Territory was in a panic. There is even an account of “every citizen of Denver City” taking up arms one night to defend the town from the invading Confederate army funded by The Reynolds Gang that was heard charging towards the city in the distance. It turned out to be a stampede of cattle running from a storm, and the grief stricken citizens of Denver went back to bed, being spared their lives from rebel muskets at the very last minute!

Following the raid on Kenosha House and the far-fetched newspaper accounts, the story of The Reynolds Gang regains some sense of truth with the accepted version of events-

A posse was summoned in Fairplay in July of 1864, and a manhunt ensued for The Reynolds Gang across the South Platte basin. On the night of July 31st, the battalion was betrayed by the flames of their campfire, and Reynolds and his men were ambushed by the posse. Twenty-three-year-old Private Owen Singletary of the 3rd Texas Cavalry, was killed in the gunfight somewhere along Geneva Gulch, near present day Grant, Colorado. His body decapitated, his head put on display afterwards.

OwSingletary

Owen Singleterry (Singletary)

The remaining members of the battalion split into two groups and fled the area of the shootout. Private Thomas Holloman, Private Addison Stowe, and Private John Reynolds disappeared into the dense timber along Geneva Gulch and escaped southwards towards Confederate held territory in New Mexico. Thomas Holloman was captured a short time later.

The second group consisting of Private John Andrews, Corporal John T. Bobbitt, Private Thomas Knight, Private Jackson Robinson (the Denver jailer) and “Captain” James (Jim) Reynolds were captured near Canon City attempting to make their way back Confederate lines.

The five men were interrogated privately, along with Thomas Holloman who been captured earlier. All the men except Holloman testified that they were Confederate soldiers acting under direct military orders of General Douglas Cooper. Thomas Holloman gave the only dissenting account, claiming the group were deserters, begging for leniency from his captors. The six were tried on charges of robbery, rape and murder, but found guilty only of robbery- factual evidence and eyewitness testimony proving the men had never raped or killed anyone, and the only robberies they committed were of Union supply trains and stagecoaches.

They were held in the Denver City Jail following the trial. After being found guilty of robbery, Major John Chivington contacted his commanding officer at Ft. Lyon asking for directions as to what punishment to mete out to the prisoners. Chivington contended in his dispatch to Ft. Lyon that the men were traitors and should be executed. However, Chivington’s Commanding Officer was away from Ft. Lyon at the time, and orders were sent back that Chivington did not have any authority to carry out any punishment, let alone an execution since the men were only found guilty of robbery- A crime which was only punishable by a prison term.

Orders were issued that the men should be transported under guard to Ft. Lyon where their sentences would be handed out once the Commanding Officer was back from his leave and the case against them had been reviewed. Chivington seized upon the absence of the Commanding Officer of Ft. Lyon to fabricate a “situation” where his own wishes would be carried out. Chivington selected the guards who would transport the prisoners to Ft. Lyon. The troop was commanded by Sgt. Alston Shaw of the First Colorado Cavalry, and soon the prisoners and their escort were en route to Ft. Lyon from the Denver City Jail.

Denver City, about the time of the events in this story.

Denver City, about the time of the events in this story.

About thirty miles south of Denver at the then recently abandoned settlement of Russellville (in present day Douglas County near Franktown) the escort was ordered to stop.  Sergeant Shaw ordered the prisoners to be blindfolded, then shackled together around the trunk of large tree near an old spring house. Shaw then issued the order to execute the prisoners. His guards however refused his order, stating that the men were military prisoners of war, guilty only of robbery, under their protection. Shaw became enraged and ordered his troop to fire. His men fired this time, all but one soldier raising their rifles into the air and firing over the heads of the shackled prisoners. One prisoner fell dead, killed by a shot from a Colorado Cavalry guard named Abner Williamson- the same Abner Williamson who was driving the stagecoach robbed by the band, and who had suffered the indignation of having his watch and 16 cents taken. At this point, Sergeant Shaw apparently became enraged at his troops who refused to carry out the murder of the remaining prisoners, and took matters into his own hands. Shaw shot the next prisoner at point blank range in the head, but Shaw himself became sickened at the sight, and refused to kill another. At this point members of the guard stated Abner Williamson took over with much zeal for the job, and carried out the murders of the rest of the prisoners, berating and screaming obscenities at the men as he fired.

The remains of Russellville in Douglas County, Colorado near Franktown. Some of these structures are believed to date to the 1860's, and it is thought that the murders took place near the tall building on the left.

The remains of Russellville in Douglas County, Colorado near Franktown. Some of these structures are believed to date to the 1860’s, and it is thought that the murders took place near the tall building on the left.

Sergeant Shaw ordered the men to return to Denver and not mention the events that had just taken place. The “official” cause of the prisoners deaths was listed as a “failed escape attempt” and that the shackled men were fired upon as they fled their military escort. This was the story printed in the newspapers and discussed in saloons across Colorado Territory for several weeks following their deaths.

Word soon traveled around Confederate sympathizers in the region, one of those sympathizers being the famous early Colorado pioneer “Uncle” Dick Wooton. Wooton was a known secessionist, and a highly-respected long-time trader and what many consider to be the first resident of Denver where he kept a hotel and saloon on the banks of cherry Creek in 1859.

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Wooton caught wind of the deaths of The Reynolds Gang, his interest piqued, Wooton set out to find the bodies of the dead men. Wooton described his grisly discovery, a discovery that would lead to questions about the events that took place at Russellville. Upon reaching Russellville, Wooton found the decomposing corpses of the five men, shackled hand-in-hand around a tree (it is claimed that a sixth man survived the day of the execution and escaped, badly wounded, only to be killed a short time later.) Wooten was outraged, and demanded answers as to how five men shackled together to a tree could possibly be “…shot while attempting to escape…”  An inquiry was opened, and testimony of the members of the guard was put on record describing the true events of the day, and not the “escape” story fabricated and claimed by Chivington, Shaw and Williamson.

It appears, upon investigation, Chivington chose Russellville specifically for the site of the murders because Russellville, although nearly a ghost town by 1864, had been a stronghold for southern sympathizers- Most of the residents of Russellville and the surrounding hills having come in 1858 and 1859 from Georgia with the William Green Russell Party that first discovered gold in Cherry Creek thus beginning the great Colorado Gold Rush of 1859. (As a side note William Green Russell also left the gold fields to join the Confederate Army, returning to his Colorado claims after the war.) It is believed Chivington carried out the murders here to serve as a warning to any “rebels” left in the area.

Jesus Silva and

Jesus Silva and “Uncle” Dick Wooton. Wooton discovered the girsly murder scene at Russellville.

As the facts of the events played out, another, more repulsive event in Colorado history that can be attributed to John Chivington played out- the Sand Creek Massacre where, acting on Chivington’s orders, 700 troops of the First and Third Cavalry of the Colorado Territorial Militia opened fire on Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians under Chief Black Kettle, who were camped under the protection of the American flag which identified them as peaceful or “friendly” Indians. Quickly the news of the massacre spread, and the deaths of the 163 Indians, mostly women and children, overshadowed the murder of the Confederate prisoners of war at Russellville.

The Sand Creek Massacre

The Sand Creek Massacre

Subsequent investigations into Chivington’s orders and behavior resulted in strong reprimands of both he and his troops, but no official punishment of any kind was ever given to Chivington or his men. The 3rd Colorado Cavalry was disbanded after only 100 days of active service in 1864- with 168 murders to it’s credit earning it the nickname of “The Bloody Third.” Recently discovered documents show that on February 6, 1865 the convictions of the captured Confederate soldiers of The Reynolds Gang murdered at Russellville in 1864, were overturned upon review, and the men posthumously pardoned.John Chivington was found to have acted alone, and against orders when he directed Sergeant Shaw to carry out the executions. John Chivington, the Methodist preacher, in a final act of cowardice, had all his personal records regarding the case destroyed shortly before his death in 1894.

It is said that “The victor writes the history” and in the case of “The Reynolds Gang” this is very true. Described as brigands, rapists and murderers in our history books today, long suppressed documents and recently discovered documents show their story was quite different- We now know that “The Reynolds Gang” were actually documented, Confederate soldiers of Company A, Well’s Battalion, Third Texas Cavalry acting on direct military orders from General Douglas Cooper to disrupt Union supply lines in Colorado Territory. These Confederate soldiers were captured in the summer of 1864, tried and found guilty of robbery, and were murdered in cold blood on the orders of a madman, while being transported to Ft. Lyon.  Their case was reviewed, and their convictions overturned in February of 1865. Unfortunately to this day, the victor’s version of events is still told, and the bodies of these Civil War soldiers lay somewhere in Colorado, in unmarked graves, vilified by history and forgotten by time.