Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Eberle’

Colorado has plenty of ghost towns but what about “lost” towns- Towns that have disappeared entirely, or almost entirely from the face of the earth?  It is hard to imagine but there are “lost cities” here in Colorado. Cities and towns and settlements that have vanished almost completely over the years. Most appeared and disappeared with the boom and bust days of the gold and silver rush. Others were ranching and farming towns hit hard by the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s. Still others came and went with the fortunes of the railroads.  These make up Colorado’s “lost cities” and below is a collection of then and now photos of six of them. (Click on the circles for larger images.)

1. Querida, Colorado

Querida in Custer County was once a booming mining town laid out at the base of the Bassick Mine.  Today nothing remains but one old house, some debris from other buildings, and the massive tailings pile from the Bassick Mine.

2. Independence, Colorado

There was more than one “Independence” in Colorado- This is the Independence in Teller County near Cripple Creek and Victor. Independence was one of many towns that sprawled out around the mining operations in the Cripple Creek/Victor area in the late 1890s. Today some mining structures and equipment mark the spot, and a one or two homes can still be found scattered among the workings. Most of the town however was buried under the tailings from the mine, or torn down.

3. Caribou, Colorado

Caribou was one of Colorado’s top producing silver mining towns in the 1870s and 1880s boasting a business district, hotels, saloons and schools. The silver crash of 1893 spelled doom for the thriving community located on a windswept mountainside eight miles above Nederland at nearly 10,000 ft. elevation. Most of the population left around 1895, but a few struggled on in the mines until around 1920. Today a couple of stone buildings and one tumbledown log cabin are all that mark the spot of Caribou- The rest of town having been lost to forest fires, dismantling, and the elements over the years. A few foundations can be found in the deep grass at the site but its hard to imagine thousands once lived here.

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Colorado Ghost Town Guide Book- The Gold Belt Region by Jeff Eberle $20!

4. Manhattan, Colorado

Deep in Larimer County northwest of Ft. Collins a couple of gold discoveries were made high on Elkhorn and Manhattan Creeks. Manhattan once had around 500 residents, but the ore was low-grade and there wasn’t much to be found.  An accident in a shaft took the lives of several miners in 1892, and shortly after Manhattan was abandoned.  Sometime in the 1950s or so, the Forest Service had the log buildings of Manhattan torn down.  All that marks the town site today is a tiny graveyard on a hillside where the miners from the 1892 accident are buried.

5.Berwind, Colorado

In the sandy foothills northwest of Trinidad numerous “company towns” existed. These towns were built by mine owners for their employees and their families. One of the larger company towns was Berwind. Berwind once had over 3000 residents, hundreds of homes, a two-story schoolhouse, railroad station, businesses, and a jail.  When the coal mines closed, the mine owners evicted the families and bulldozed the housing so they wouldn’t be taxed on the structures. Berwind Canyon today is lined with concrete foundations, staircases to nowhere, and modern day “Roman Ruins” overgrown with shrubs and trees. The tiny jail house remains and is guarded by a fat squirrel.

6. Carrizo Springs, Colorado

Carrizo Springs in the far southeastern corner of Colorado in remote Baca County was a very unusual place- It was a mining town on the great plains.  Around 1885 a group of prospectors from Missouri were looking for the Rocky Mountains and became lost as they traveled through Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and Kansas. When they had just about given up they saw hills and bluffs that they assumed were the Rocky Mountains. They began prospecting along Carrizo Creek and found some streaks of copper ore and a few streaks of silver as well. The Mexican ranchers in the area told the miners they were still a couple hundred miles from the Rocky Mountains. The miners decided to stay at Carrizo Creek and soon word spread of their strike. Around 1887 the town of Carrizo Springs was born, and one account says 2000-3000 people flocked to the settlement. Carrizo Springs lived a short, violent life. Cattle rustlers and horse thieves wandered through town from Kansas and Texas, gamblers and prostitutes set up shop in the saloons, marauding bandidos all the way from Mexico terrorized the town on occasion. Soon though it was realized the copper and silver ore along Carrizo Creek was poor and the town vanished. By 1889 Carrizo Springs was empty having lived only two years.  Today it takes a very sharp eye to spot anything marking the site- A few crumbling stone foundations, a weathered hitching post here and there, and shards of broken glass and porcelain on the prairie are all that is left.  No period photos of Carrizo Springs exist.

I just returned from a short but satisfying trip through the San Luis Valley of Colorado and a small chunk of northern New Mexico between Taos and Chama. I was out to snap a few photos of the past- The faces of the forgotten and forlorn buildings of the region- A region still very much alive, but where the past coexists side-by-side with the present.

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Garcia, Colorado

There is a unique energy in this part of the world. I can not describe it, but things just look and feel “different” in some way as you travel down the lonely stretches of blacktop that run the length of the San Luis Valley and North-Central New Mexico. There is something about this area and it’s vast openness and sweeping views, the surreal aspect of the Great Sand Dunes butting up against the jagged snow-capped peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Taos plateau and the great defile of the Rio Grande Gorge that rips through the middle of it- This is an area of intense natural beauty and quiet, peaceful, solitude. Some even say this is an area of supernatural or otherworldly energy- Cattle mutilations, UFO sightings, and the “Taos Hum” which reportedly only about 10% of people can hear, are evidence of this theory.

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Hooper, Colorado

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Along a back road in northern New Mexico

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Mosca, Colorado

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Moffatt, Colorado

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Colorado Ghost Travels- The Gold Belt Region Guide Book by Jeff Eberle Only $20!

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Penitente Morada, Abiquiu, New Mexico

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Tres Piedras, New Mexico

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Garcia, Colorado

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Moffatt, Colorado

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18th Century Spanish Colonial Church, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Moffatt, Colorado

2016 Ghosts of Colorado Calendar by Jeff Eberle only $14.99!

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Garcia, Colorado

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico

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Hooper, Colorado

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Costilla, New Mexico

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Moffatt, Colorado

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Abandoned Church, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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New Mexico

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Costilla, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

Quite often I get asked if I have any photos of Independence. The answer is yes, but I don’t think they are very good, and I need to make a trip back to Independence to get some better shots. I took these several years ago when I just started developing an interest in both ghost towns and photography- This was also many only trip to date to Independence.

The subject matter at Independence is fantastic, I just didn’t really know much about angles, light, and framing my subject back then (still don’t know much now!)- You can see it in these photos. For me these are a fun trip back to one of my first outings with a camera.  I decided to do these in black & white, and overexpose the hell out of them because that makes the gigantic speck of dirt that was in the middle of my lens that day disappear!

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2016 Colorado Ghost Town Calendar by Jeff Eberle Only $14.99!

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2016 Historic Gilpin County Calendar by Jeff Eberle Only $14.99!

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A few years ago while hiking into some back country beaver ponds high above Grant, Colorado in search of undocumented populations of Greenback Cutthroat trout I paused to rest along a small creek. I stopped to rest in a particularly steep and miserable section, and, as I hacked and wheezed in an effort to catch my breath, I began to question why I was on this hike. Staring around at the terrain, I noticed some bleached white bones poking up through the moss alongside some large boulders on the edge of the creek. I went over to investigate, assuming them to be those of an elk or deer.

As I dug them out of the moss and mud, it became apparent that these bones were very old, and they belonged to an animal much larger than an elk or deer. I found the mandible bone and it was halfway dissolved by time and the elements, a handful of large teeth, and several leg bones.  I had no idea what kind of animal this was, but it was large, and it was definitely out of place at 12,000 feet elevation where the mountains meet the sky, and the trees stop growing.

I contemplated what I was looking at. How did this huge animal make it up here to this remote gulch at the top of the world? Why did this animal come up here? How did this animal die? After I had rested up, looked over all the bones, and pondered this mystery, I decided to continue my trek up the steep slope to the ponds above. Before leaving the bones though, I decided to photograph them and take the mandible bone I had found back down the hill with me.  As I left the site, a few feet away, higher up on the hillside, I stumbled upon the old rusty head of a shovel. I inspected it, and found a “U.S.” stamp on the shaft.This area was picked over by prospectors for many years, and I figured the shovel must have fallen out of a pack long ago.  I didn’t think anything of it at the time, I was there to fish, so I put it back on the ground and went about my journey to the ponds.

After I returned home I posted the photos on a website/forum that dealt with identifying and dating unknown bones. I received several responses, and the mutual consensus was that I had discovered some very old horse bones. One of those who responded was a Professor at an English University (I honestly can’t remember which one, or his official title) and he requested some detailed photos. I sent him more photos, and, in his opinion, judging by the advanced decay of the bones, that they were around 150 to 160 years old. This opinion would date the horse bones to around 1860-1870. Paired with the old shovel I had found near the bones, I decided it must have been a prospector’s horse that fell and met it’s fate on the steep slope many years ago. I put the old horse jaw on a shelf and forgot about it. Little did I know these bones would set me on the path of a mystery that has never been solved.

The 150-160 year-old horse bones I found high in Geneva Gulch.

The 150-160 year-old horse bones I found high in Geneva Gulch.

A few more years went by, and, as my interest in the area grew and I delved deeper into researching the history of the area around Grant, Colorado, I first learned of the old “Reynolds Gang” legend. A legend about a group of bandits that terrorized the South Park region of Colorado in the summer of 1864. Much has been written about the Reynolds Gang over the years, and I won’t go into depth regarding the legend, I’ll just give the short version and how it relates to my find-

The Reynolds Gang robbed several stage coaches in the summer of 1864 between Fairplay and Kenosha, Colorado. A posse was summoned to hunt the gang down. One night, high in Geneva Gulch near present day Grant, Colorado, the gang was ambushed by the posse. A gunfight broke out, and one member of the gang was killed. He has been identified through the years by numerous sources as “Owen Singleterry” or “Singleterry”. His head was removed from his body by a member of the posse and taken back to Fairplay, Colorado where it was displayed in a jar for many years as a macabre trophy.

The remaining members of the Reynolds Gang scattered into the wilderness. Somewhere along the way, either shortly before the ambush, or immediately after, brothers Jim and John Reynolds, the leaders of the gang, buried an estimated $20,000 in stolen gold and currency somewhere in the mountains above Grant, Colorado. Of the remaining gang members five were captured, stood trial, convicted of robbery, and were executed by Colorado State Militia near Franktown, Colorado in late 1864. Three men escaped the posse- John Reynolds, Addison Stowe and another unnamed bandit, and supposedly disappeared to New Mexico.

A man was shot seven years later in 1871 while attempting to steal cattle from a ranch near Taos, New Mexico. On his death bed he confessed to being “John Reynolds” of the Reynolds Gang, and he drew a map showing where he and his brother Jim had buried the gold and currency in 1864. He also stated on his death bed “You go up Geneva Gulch a ways, and follow the mountain around to the right. You’ll find a horse carcass where he mired in the mud and we had to leave him. Then up around 12,000 feet at a swamp you will find the gold. If you can find the horse, you will find the gold.”

When I read this story, I remembered the bones I had found, and began to wonder if I had stumbled onto the clue John Reynolds mentioned on his death bed “If you can find the horse, you will find the gold.” I had moved a few times since my find, and the old jaw bone was now buried in a box somewhere among my things. I finally found it, and stared at it, wondering what stories it could tell.

The old horse mandible

The old horse mandible

I have spent countless hours ever since studying the terrain, looking at satellite images, graphing, mapping, reading every single tidbit and varying account of The Reynolds Gang I can find. I have stacks of old maps, documents, newspaper clippings regarding the legend. I’ve found other evidence in my quest that has led me deep into other quests- And the seemingly simple, cut-and-dry case of a few outlaws robbing stagecoaches has developed into a complex case study in the sociopolitical climate of Colorado and it’s little known, but potentially at the time, vital role in determining the outcome of the Civil War. In a previous blog I have written, which can be found here: Exonerating The Reynolds Gang I go into the facts regarding “The Reynolds Gang”  and their actual status as Confederate soldiers of the Third Texas Cavalry Regiment acting on military orders from Brigadier General Douglas H. Cooper to disrupt Union supply trains in Colorado Territory.

General Douglas Hancock Cooper

General Douglas Hancock Cooper

At this point we will return to Owen Singletary, the bandit killed in Geneva Gulch in July of 1864 who had his head cut off and put on display. The facts I uncovered and presented in my previous blog on The Reynolds Gang was that Owen Singletary (or Singleterry in some accounts) was, undeniably, enlisted in the Wells Battalion, Third Texas Cavalry Regiment, Confederate States Army, where he held the rank of Private. Singletary rode out of Ft. Belknap in then Indian Territory with around 50 other men of the Wells Battalion on orders to disrupt Union supply columns in New Mexico and Colorado Territory. Singletary was among the 25 men who crossed the old Granada Military Road in far northern New Mexico Territory with Jim and John Reynolds, and, crossed into Colorado Territory where the buttes meet the prairie near present day Branson, Colorado. Singletary was among the “…unknown group of heavily armed men in blue uniforms…” that were seen lurking in the forests near the little settlement of Canon City, Colorado in early July of 1864. He was among those who stayed the night a Giuraud’s Ranch near Fairplay in mid-July 1864. He was in Geneva Gulch on the night of July 29, 1864 when the gunfight broke out. It is claimed in nearly every written account of the skirmish, that Owen Singletary was killed in the gunfight, his head taken as a trophy. But was Singletary really killed on that July night over 150 years ago?

Where the buttes meet the prairie near Branson, Colorado- Approximate location where the Third Texas Cavalry crossed the frontier into Colorado Territory in 1864.

Where the buttes meet the prairie near Branson, Colorado- Approximate location where the Third Texas Cavalry crossed the frontier into Colorado Territory in 1864.

Guiraud's Ranch near Fairplay, Colorado where Owen Singletary spent a night in July 1864.

Guiraud’s Ranch near Fairplay, Colorado where Owen Singletary spent a night in July 1864.

As I’ve studied the legend and read the numerous accounts of the events in Geneva Gulch on the night of July 29, 1864, I have discovered a number of conflicting stories, and recently while researching the family tree of the Singletary’s I came upon some strange discoveries. I’ll start with the conflicting or unusual aspects of the accounts of The Reynolds Gang, and then return to the Singletary family tree-

The most glaring detail of the case is what happened to Owen Singletary’s corpse after he was supposedly killed in the gunfight in Geneva Gulch?

The accepted story line is the rest of The Reynolds Gang dispersed in separate directions fleeing the posse who was hot on their tails. The posse took possession of Singletary’s corpse, cut off his head and left his body to rot somewhere near the site of the skirmish.  Although the most simple of the accounts regarding Singletary’s fate, it makes the most sense and leaves no questions other than what happened to Singletary’s corpse after it was left to rot? The logical answer to that is the corpse simply decomposed and was swallowed by time, earth and the elements leaving no trace.

But then we find other accounts that state Jim and John Reynolds buried Singletary’s body, and marked his grave by breaking off a knife blade in a tree trunk. The knife blade marked Singletary’s resting place, and pointed in the direction of the buried treasure nearby. The question here becomes if the rest of the gang had fled the skirmish in haste disappearing into the woods, how does Singletary’s corpse reappear in the narrative as being buried by the Reynolds brothers in a crudely marked grave? Did the Reynolds brothers remain in the area and return to give Singletary a proper burial? I highly doubt the accounts stating Singletary was buried by the Reynolds brothers because hard evidence points to the fact that the Reynolds brothers were being tracked southward across Colorado Territory and were seen by Colorado State Militia, on a rise crossing into New Mexico Territory where their trail went cold. There was no time for them to bury Singletary.

Another version of the tale states that many years later a treasure hunter ventured into Geneva Gulch in search of the gold and found “…a headless skeleton, and white felt hat nearby…” This treasure hunter claimed it to be Singletary’s bones and hat. This story would corroborate the accounts stating that the posse took his head and left his body to rot in the elements. But, I question this account because the treasure hunter did not bother to collect any of the bones or the hat he supposedly found, and was not able to confirm exactly where he found them. But, given the benefit of the doubt, treasure hunters are not in the business of collecting bones and hats- they are after the treasure itself. Furthermore, if the treasure hunter had in fact found these concrete clues, why would he give an exact location of his find?  Another interesting aspect of the old treasure hunter’s account is the “white felt hat” he claims to have found- If the harsh elements of Geneva Gulch could reduce a clothed corpse to a pile of bleached bones over the years, how could a felt hat remain?  Would the elements not reduce the hat as well? Would rodents and birds not haul it away bit-by-bit to make nests? It seems highly unlikely a felt hat could survive for years in these conditions, but one part of the hat story could confirm it as true- The old treasure hunter said the felt hat was “white”, members of the Confederate Cavalry wore “butternut” felt cowboy hats. Butternut was a very light gray/yellow color, that after fading in the sun for years would certainly appear white. Furthermore, the first officially accepted account of The Reynolds Gang describes them as an unknown military unit, heavily armed, wearing blue. Confederate Cavalry often wore a motley assortment of uniforms, including pre-war light blue Federal uniforms. It is not unrealistic to think The Reynolds Gang, who were as evidence has proved, enlisted Confederate soldiers, might be wearing bits and pieces of their military uniforms.

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A surviving example of an actual Confederate “butternut” cavalry felt hat. Easy to see how it could be called “white”.

One other account states it was not Owen Singletary who was killed in the skirmish, but another of the gang named “Jack Stowe”, but we find no records of a “Jack Stowe” being part of the Third Texas Cavalry Regiment. An “Addison Stowe” was, however, a well-documented character in the narrative and is described in detail in my previous blog regarding the true history of The Reynolds Gang. Addison Stowe had long connections to Colorado and was one of the “Mace’s Hole Confederates” captured along with the Reynolds brothers in 1861 who subsequently was jailed in Denver, escaped, and joined the Third Texas Cavalry a couple years later. This singular account stating it was a man named “Stowe” and not Singletary who was killed in the gulch is the most peculiar and vague of the accounts. Why would this one account stray from the others regarding who was killed in the fight? What happened to Addison Stowe following the gunfight? Who was the “Jack Stowe” killed in this version of the legend?  Were “Addison” and “Jack” one in the same? Were they brothers or relatives? Had “Jack” come along and joined the gang after they crossed into Colorado Territory? John  Reynolds claimed Addison Stowe was one of two men who escaped with his group and fled to New Mexico Territory and freedom in 1864. I’ve often discredited this account of “Stowe” being killed and not Singletary, but as in every great mystery there is always a twist. This is where we return to the Singletary family tree.

While researching the Singletary bloodline I came across some interesting entries- I learned that Owen Singletary came from a large family. His father was named Evan Savera Singletary and was born in 1813 in North Carolina. Evan Singletary moved to Texas where he was a farmer. He was married twice and fathered eleven children.  Evan Singletary joined the Confederate Army (Corporal, Quinn’s Company, 1st Frontier District, Texas State Militia) in February 1864, proceeded in service by two of his sons- Owen Singletary (Private, Wells Battalion, Third Texas Cavalry Regiment) and Joseph Singletary (Teamster, Wells Battalion, Third Texas Cavalry Regiment). Clearly, the Singletary family was sympathetic to the Confederacy and served throughout the latter stages of the war.

Of note regarding the service of the Singletary family is that brothers Owen and Joseph both served in the Wells Battalion, along with the three Reynolds brothers- Jim, John and George, but it does not appear that Joseph Singletary accompanied the rest of the Battalion as they crossed into New Mexcio and Colorado Territory in 1864. Records show that Joseph was listed as “in the Choctaw Nation” in 1865 when the conflict ended. One footnote in the family genealogy states Joseph did in fact venture into Colorado with the rest of the Regiment, but there is no explanation of how, when or why he returned to Indian Territory and finished up the war among the Choctaw. This has me asking the question was Joseph Singletary the mysterious third man who escaped south into New Mexico with John  Reynolds and Addison Stowe? Was “Joseph Singletary” actually the man killed in Geneva Gulch in July of 1864, and did his brother Owen Singletary escape the ambush and return to the Choctaw Nation assuming his brother’s identity?

Why would I speculate that Owen Singletary survived, escaped and returned to Indian Territory under his brothers identity? One account of the story brings  Owen Singletary’s fate into question and gives no account to what became of him- This is the claim that it was a man named “Jack Stowe”  and not Singletary that was killed. If this “Jack Stowe” was killed, that means Owen Singletary survived. But if an “Addison Stowe” escaped to New Mexico with John Reynolds, who was killed on July 29, 1864? If Owen Singletary and Addison Stowe both escaped the man who died in Geneva Gulch is a mystery. Could  a Confederate Pension application issued in 1899 solve the case?

Among the Singletary family records a note appears that on June 2, 1899 Owen Singletary applied for a Confederate Pension under application #1228976, and was approved the pension under certification #119620. Apparently, Owen Singletary who had been listed as “dead” since July 29, 1864 was once again alive and collecting his Confederate Pension 35 years after his death! What is more interesting is that his mysterious brother Joseph Singletary, who may or may not have been in Colorado in 1864, was never mentioned again after April of 1865 when he was listed as a Teamster detailed to the Choctaw Nation by Brigadier General Cooper- He never applied for a pension, and no record of his death exists

. It strikes me as highly unusual that the surviving son disappears from the record in 1865, and the “dead” son who was supposedly killed in 1864 is granted a pension 35 years later in 1899.

What are the circumstances regarding Owen Singletary’s miraculous resurrection and return in 1899? I’m waiting for copies of the pension records, and hopefully some light can be shed on this strange case. Did Owen assume Joseph’s identity and fade off into the sunset in 1865, taking with him the secret of the Reynolds Gang treasure? Did Joseph survive and claim Owen’s pension in 1899? Does the fate of the buried gold lay in the hands of the Singletary family to this day?  Is there a headless skeleton in Geneva Gulch waiting to tell it’s story? It is a confusing, convoluted mystery that may never give up it’s secrets.

No doubt about it Colorado is a wonderful place to live- It started around 10,000 years ago when the earliest ancestors of today’s Native Americans began coming to what is present day Colorado to enjoy the bounty of this wonderful region. We’ve had farmers, ranchers, miners, railroaders,tech wizards, musicians, nature lovers, skiers and snowboarders, and marijuana enthusiasts all flock here to set up roots. We have everything you could desire except for maybe a white sand beach and an ocean to surf in, but who needs that when you have the Rocky Mountains? In recent decades Colorado experienced a couple of distinct population booms which have drastically altered the look of the Front Range and seen the entire I-25 corridor from Ft. Collins to Colorado Springs turn into one vast, sprawling, urban metropolis.

Can Colorado's historic sites like Geneva City (pictured) be saved from the encroachment of modern man?

Can Colorado’s historic sites like Geneva City (pictured) be saved from the encroachment of modern man?

Colorado has had booms throughout it’s modern “American” history, which began when the Spanish conquistadors first came through the area in the 16th and 17th centuries. They told of the great natural wealth of the area, and a few hearty Spanish ranchers would lead their herds and flocks into what is now Colorado. Following the early Spaniards came fur traders of all origins, although the French showed a particular fondness for Colorado. On the tails of the fur trade came the prospectors who found gold in large quantities in 1859 which sparked the great “Colorado Gold Rush.” After the Gold Rush, Colorado had the silver boom of the 1870’s and 1880’s. The railroads provided work and a reason for even more to come here. Then we had the ranchers, farmers, and the industrialists with their mills a smelters for refining the ore mined in the mountains.

The first of the recent “modern era” booms came in the late 1980’s and 1990’s- What became known as the “Tech Boom” brought thousands to the state to work for the technology and computer giants based at the foot of the Rockies. Towards the end of the 1990’s the Tech Boom slowed and population growth in Colorado mellowed. Then, in recent years, Colorado has experienced another boom. Some of the new boom is more affluent people fleeing urban centers on the east and west coast, bringing their wealth to Colorado in search of quieter, less stressful living. And, like it or not, the other cause for the recent population spike in Colorado is the “Weed Boom” following the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012.

According to census statistics and projections found on the State of Colorado website colo.gov. the state has seen 16.9% increase in population since the year 2000- That’s around 1.6 million people in the last 15 years!  Growth in the early 2000’s was around 1.1% annually, increasing in the years 2010-2012 to around 1.5% annually. Following marijuana legalization the state has seen growth jump from 1.5% in 2012 to 1.75% currently, with a projection of 1.9% for 2016. According to studies conducted by CBS News, 60 Minutes and The Business Insider nearly 25% of those coming to Colorado since 2012 fall into the 18-34 year old age bracket. Denver proper is the 6th fastest growing city in the United States, and, overall, Colorado’s population growth is double the national average.

The urban sprawl of Denver...once described as

The urban sprawl of Denver…once described as “…a dusty little cow town on the plains…” now one of the Top 10 fastest growing cities in the United States. Denver’s rapid expansion has led to an influx of visitors to the mountains nearby.

This massive influx of over a 1.5 million new residents, many of whom are young and active, seeking fun and adventure in Colorado’s great outdoors, brings with it a burden on our National Forests Colorado was not prepared for. From lack of parking and facilities at hot spots such as the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Guanella Pass, Herman Gulch, etc., to traffic congestion on the weekends on nearly every road and trail on the east slope of the Continental Divide, Colorado’s mountains are groaning from the pressure.

Can we find a balance between the encroaching wants and desires of the modern world and the reminders of our past? How do we satisfy the the growing demand for “organized recreation” in our National Forests? By “organized recreation” I mean today’s weekender in the National Forest expects to find zip line tours, rafting trips, comfy “civilized” dude ranches with horseback rides, guided nature walks along groomed trails, lodges offering 5-star dining, and paved campgrounds with electrical hookups and flushing toilets…and maybe a few trails to take their ATV’s or mountain bikes out on in the afternoon. How do we accommodate those who want all the creature comforts of the city AND the great outdoors experience at the same time? Dying are the days of the outdoorsman who ventured into the back country in his beat up 4X4 with a can of Vienna Sausages, some beef jerky, a tent, fishing pole and some water.

Today’s Coloradan (native and new) is largely urban born and bred, with little or no real “back country” experience. This isn’t an attack on anyone, it’s just the plain truth. Colorado is urban these days, most of us are city people. And, for the most part, urban people, especially the younger ones, have not been raised on weekend camping trips to unknown spots deep in the mountains. As a result, they have not been taught to respect the wilderness. Protecting the environment to most modern city dwellers is putting your dog poop in plastic bag, attending a “Save the Whales” protest, or car-pooling to work- But when it comes to handling environmentalism in the wilderness close to home on the weekends, most would get failing grades for the path of garbage and destruction they leave behind when they transfer their city practices to the mountains.

In defense of the the urbanites flocking to Colorado they have come from cities that are no where near any wide open forest areas and/or mountains like we take for granted as native Coloradans. And, those who have come from areas where there were at least public recreation areas like parks and lakes, etc. they became accustomed to creature comforts like toilet facilities and trash cans. Many have never been exposed to back country camping where you are expected to clean up after yourself. “Pack it in, pack it out” the  well-known mantra of natives here, is an unknown concept to new arrivals who are accustomed to park rangers and waste management crews taking care of the debris field they leave in their wake.

Unfortunately, many of the historic sites within our National Forests and on BLM land open to the public are falling victim to those who come seeking weekend adventure and relaxation. Increasingly on my personal trips to the mining camps and ghost towns of the Rockies I’m finding more and more discouraging signs of modern man’s encroachment- old buildings stripped of their wood for use in camp fires, antique mining equipment shot full of holes or simply stolen from where it has sat for the last 100 years, graffitti scrawled into the walls of buildings and cabins, headstones toppled, vandalized or stolen from historic graveyards, evidence of 4X4’s and ATV’s going off designated trails and damaging sites and destroying wetlands. And trash, trash everywhere- plastic bottles, beer and liquor bottles, black trash bags full of garbage ripped open by animals and the contents strewn all over the surrounding mountainside. Yes, this has ALWAYS happened in modern times, but being someone who spends the majority of my time in these once hard to reach, remote places, it has really become an epidemic in the last five years or so as the population has surged, back country roads have been improved, and overall human pressure on the wilderness has increased.

Photo of trash left behind at a campsite. Taken two weeks ago by friends of mine. I've seen similar too many times to count in recent years.

Photo of trash left behind at a campsite. Taken two weeks ago by friends of mine. I’ve seen similar too many times to count in recent years. This illustrates the importance of teaching the “pack it in, pack it out” principle.

What can we do to help stop the destruction of Colorado’s history and forests? We must understand that most of the people in Colorado, native and new, don’t have much interest in the state’s history, and they don’t think twice about that old cabin or that rusty old boiler alongside the trail as they whizz by on their dirt bike. They’ve come for the trail, and the camping, not the cabin and the boiler. To them, it’s just “old junk” so what’s the big deal if they shoot it full of holes or tear boards off of it to throw in the campfire?  Some even think they are helping by tearing down old structures that they personally deem “unsafe.”

What looks like rusty, old junk to some, is actually Colorado history, and is protected by Federal laws.

What looks like rusty, old junk to some, is actually Colorado history, and is protected by Federal laws.

What looks like firewood to some is actually the remains of a historic cabin, and is protected under Federal law.

What looks like firewood to some is actually the remains of a historic cabin, and is protected under Federal law.

The big deal to those of us who are history buffs, is that these piles of “old junk” represent Colorado’s past- Whether they be a Native American site or a rusty stamp mill at a mine, they are equally valuable and important to Colorado’s history, and they are protected by the law. They are our connection to the early days of the state, from the indigenous populations who once called Colorado home, to the hearty miners and prospectors, pioneers and trappers who set up roots here and helped create the fantastic state we live in today. These piles of “old junk” are their legacy to us, and are sacred to many of us, and are disappearing at an alarming rate from the forces of Nature, and sadly, the destructive forces of man.

History, not rubbish.

History, not rubbish.

As our mountains get more and more pressure from our growing population- both native and new, our past is being destroyed and lost forever. In recent decades we have lost entire historic sites to man’s destruction- The ghost town of Tiger was burned to the ground by the Forest Service in the 1970’s to rid it of the hippie colony that had squatted in the abandoned buildings. The simple marble tombstone of two-year-old Clara Dulaney who died in 1865, was stolen from the Missouri Flats site by some sick pervert in recent years. ALL of the tombstones have been stolen from the Caribou cemetery above Nederland.

Protective fence recently erected at Missouri Flats to protect the grave of little Clara Dulaney whose simple tombstone was stolen in recent years by some pervert.

Protective fence recently erected at Missouri Flats to protect the grave of little Clara Dulaney whose simple tombstone was stolen in recent years by some pervert.

Manhattan was torn down by the Forest Service because it was a “fire hazard.” We lost the old ghost town of Ninetyfour near St. Mary’s glacier to private owners who bought the land and built a custom home- This once public ghost town still stands, but is now off-limits to visitors, although you can still sneak a photo of the old post office with a zoom lens.

The now privately owned and off-limits post office of Ninetyfour taken through a zoom lens.

The now privately owned and off-limits post office of Ninetyfour taken through a zoom lens.

About a decade ago an annoying, immature, and inconsiderate radio host from Denver who could be described more accurately with the use of profanity, illegally held a 4X4 rally on clearly marked private land above the Hendricks Silver Mine near Nederland and destroyed a couple of acres of wetlands that the mine owner had spent many years rehabilitating and returning to health. American City and Baltimore above Central City had their historic buildings ripped down by developers and replaced with modern summer cabins and the sites have been closed off to the public.

Places like Dyersville which were long lost to history and found in an almost undisturbed state many decades later have fallen victim to vandals who destroy the cabins and loot the artifacts left at the site. In the subdivision of Ken Caryl Ranch many homeowners have long called for the demolition of the historic Bradford House (because it is an “eyesore” in their prestigious community) which was a stagecoach stop and Civil War era recruiting station, only through the efforts of a group of preservationists was the building allowed to remain. Near Cripple Creek, the old blacksmith shop and schoolhouse that marked the site of Anaconda were bulldozed around a year ago by the owners of  the Anglo Gold-Ashanti CCV gold mine in order to expand operations, when they could have easily and cheaply been moved and preserved among the other historic artifacts displayed in the area.  The buildings of Waldorf were lost to an arsonist a while back.

Old abandoned buildings...such a temptation to arsonists.

Old abandoned buildings…such a temptation to arsonists.

Countless numbers of old mining machines have been illegally hauled off hillsides and sold for scrap or put on the market in recent years to satisfy the desires of collectors, fashionable bar and restaurant owners, and interior designers capitalizing on the trend of “re-purposing” old industrial equipment. TV shows even glamorize and document the theft of historic artifacts that are in turn sold for profit.

In recent years, some City/County Governments, the EPA, and other environmentalist organizations have jumped in on the act and have taken great pride in trying to erase Colorado’s past as a mining state- Boulder County being a prime example- Boulder, along with the EPA has taken almost orgasmic pleasure in the destruction of old mining camps in the name of “restoration and environmental cleanup” as a result the numerous ghost towns and camps that dotted the hills above Boulder have been completely erased. Boulder County seems so vindictive of their past that it almost appears that they want to rewrite their own history and make no mention of the gold mining that created their present day. Boulder County even brazenly turned the historic Catholic Church in Ward into the community garbage collection and composting site for a few years, but recently they stopped this practice, although they still use the church to store road construction equipment. Magnolia, Lakewood, Balarat, Tungsten, Camp Tolcott, Camp Francis…the list of historic sites now lost in Boulder County goes on and on- How much longer will it be before Summerville is destroyed? And, lest we forget natural disasters out of our hands like the forest fires and floods of the last few years that took even more of Boulder County’s history- Soon there will be nothing left of Boulder County’s past.

How much longer will Summerville last before some official with Boulder County decides it's "unsightly" or "unsafe" and needs to be destroyed?

How much longer will Summerville last before some official with Boulder County decides it’s “unsightly” or “unsafe” and needs to be destroyed?

One of those misguided souls who set out to “help” make Colorado “safer” wound up in Federal Court about 6 years ago, being sued for millions of dollars and looking at jail time, after he bulldozed an entire ghost town in the San Juan Mountains on public land!  His defense was he thought it was “unsafe” because people were stopping and taking photos of the tumbledown buildings- He truly felt in his own mind he was doing the right thing to protect public safety by destroying the ghost town!!!

Everyday historic sites across Colorado are demolished to make way for new housing, parking lots, resorts, luxury condos, ski runs, and the “organized recreation” the new Coloradan wants in favor of the “outback wilderness experience” many of us natives grew up on. But where does it stop? Where does our responsibility as Coloradans come in to play in the preservation and protection of our history and heritage? We can’t simply bulldoze, pave, and stripe off  the Rocky Mountains in the name of comfort, ease of access, and safety, which seems to be the desire of so many these days. There has to be, and needs to a disconnect between the modern world and the wilderness- That is what wilderness means.

Boulder County uses this historic church at Ward as an equipment storage garage for road crews, and, recently even used it as a community garbage collection point and compost heap. Boulder County can do better, this is a historic site, and a sacred place to many.

Boulder County uses this historic church at Ward as an equipment storage garage for road crews, and, recently even used it as a community garbage collection point and compost heap. Boulder County can do better, this is a historic site, and churches are sacred places to many.

Dyersville, dating to the 1880's. in Summit County was largely intact and undisturbed until the last four years. When I first visited Dyersville in 2011 there were around twelve structures, when I returned in 2015 there were six, the remaining cabins had been vandalized by graffiti and showed signs of having logs and boards removed for use in campfires. It won't be long until Dyersville is totally gone.

Dyersville, dating to the 1880’s  in Summit County was largely intact and undisturbed until the last four years. When I first visited Dyersville in 2011 there were around twelve structures, when I returned in 2015 there were six, the remaining cabins had been vandalized by graffiti and showed signs of having logs and boards removed for use in campfires. It won’t be long until Dyersville is totally gone.

The Bradford House located inside the Ken Caryl Ranch subdivision west of Denver which was the topic of a heated battle between preservationsists and people who wanted it torn down because it was an

The Bradford House located inside the Ken Caryl Ranch subdivision west of Denver which was the topic of a heated battle between preservationists and people who wanted it torn down because it was an “eyesore” in their opinion. This was Colorado’s Union recruiting station in the Civil War!

What can those of us that want to protect Colorado’s history do to stop this unfortunate destruction of our past?  There are Federal laws already in place that strictly prohibit taking, destroying, or metal detecting for any items or structures at historic sites over 50 years old. (I believe the law makes it a felony to metal detect at historic sites, and a felony to remove any item over 5 pounds, I’m not 100% sure though.) The problem with these laws, like most laws, are they are virtually unenforceable.  Who among us hasn’t taken home an old rusty nail, a bottle or a rusty can you found along the way? I know I have! These laws were designed to stop people from outright looting of historic sites like taking doors and windows, furnishings, machinery, and even grave robbing. Realistically, it’s not the nails and the tin cans the law set out to protect. There is absolutely no way the Forest Service can patrol every historic site in Colorado, and they shouldn’t have to. How can private citizens like most of us who consider ourselves “ghost towners” and amateur historians do anything to help?

How long will this old Ford remain hidden in the pines untouched before someone finds it and steals it or shoots it full of holes?

How long will this old Ford remain hidden in the pines untouched before someone finds it and steals it or shoots it full of holes? This is what the Federal laws protecting historic sites are designed to save, sadly the laws are hard to enforce.

There are many state and local historic preservation clubs and societies that exist that we can join, and many of them are actively taking steps to protect and preserve sites, but funding and time constraints limit the extent of their efforts. We can stay in contact with each other and share remote sites we’ve found, and make our own efforts to at least clean up the modern trash we find left at the sites by those who don’t care. We can lobby and request our lawmakers do something to protect more historic sites. But, all of this stuff has been done before, and clearly, it isn’t working well enough. The efforts are appreciated, but somehow more needs to be done to stop the onslaught of destruction. Too many people just don’t care, and somehow we need to change that.

The Rock Creek Stage Station preserved for all to enjoy.

The Rock Creek Stage Station preserved for all to enjoy.

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My only thought is those of us who do care and want to keep Colorado’s history in a state of “arrested decay” for future generations to enjoy, is that we spread the word to everyone we know. Just ask them to respect and appreciate the history that surrounds us in Colorado, the history that made Colorado what it is today. And, even if you don’t care about the history, just don’t destroy something for the sake of destroying it. Treat every old cabin and every old mine like a grave, and show it some reverence and respect. If you’re out and find a spot that has been trashed or vandalized, clean up the mess. If you see someone taking something from a site or defacing a structure, ask them to stop and explain that it’s not just “old junk”, it is Colorado’s past they are ruining, and it is protected by Federal laws. Take only photos to document the fading reminders of the past, even without man’s destruction and abuse, nature will soon swallow what little is left, we can preserve it forever through photographs and written descriptions.

The schoolhouse at Malta, preserved for future generations instead of destroyed.

The schoolhouse at Malta, the only structure left to mark the towns location, preserved for future generations instead of being destroyed or vandalized.

It is my greatest fear that in the very near future in Colorado our only historic sites and ghost towns will be turned into “pay-at-the-gate” tourist traps and fabrications made to look and feel old like Bodie and Calico in California. Colorado has a great wealth of free history to be found in the forests, but we have to educate the people using the forests these days not to destroy what they find. It might not make a bit of difference, but maybe if enough of us who care become active, and stop and explain the history of these places in a friendly manner to the people we find there, they will leave with a new found appreciation for what they viewed as merely “old junk”. I’ve done it a few times myself and I’ve always gotten a positive reaction from the people I’ve stopped and talked to. We just need to find some way to protect what is left and we should all exchange ideas and suggestions.

“Pay-at-the-gate” Calico, California, a largely fabricated ghost town tourist trap. Is this the future of Colorado? Let’s hope not, we’re better than this.

I was raised to respect the wilderness and whatever I might find lurking within the trees be it an animal, or an old cabin, or a mine shaft. There are just a few simple rules when enjoying the wilderness that all of us should remember and share with our friends. If we can just follow some basics the wilderness will be better for all of us:

-Treat every old cabin or structure like a grave. Look at it, explore it, but leave it as you found it, don’t vandalize or destroy it.

-Pack out EVERYTHING you pack in. Leave the forest better than you found it. Take out someone else’s trash along with your own and make the woods better for everyone.

-Keep your ATV, dirt bike or 4X4 on the trail, There are so many trails in Colorado it is unnecessary to go “make your own”, and keep them out of the wetlands and beaver ponds where they will do serious damage to the ecosystems.

-Don’t shoot your guns on holiday weekends when the forests are crawling with people. Don’t shoot into old buildings, vehicles or equipment you find, and don’t take your old TV’s to the woods to shoot!  (I’ve seen about 10,000 shot up TV’s in the past year and they make an awful mess!) We recently had an innocent man enjoying a campfire with his family die due to a stray bullet fired irresponsibly on the 4th of July weekend. Discharging firearms within 150 yards of ANY road, dirt or paved in the National Forest is illegal, please exercise your gun rights responsibly. If all of us gun owners act responsibly fewer people will attack our rights, it’s common sense. Go above and beyond with your gun safety in the woods and never fire over a hill, into the air, or on a busy weekend or holiday when others are camping in close proximity.

-If you are on the trail use trail etiquette and always yield to allow the vehicle coming uphill the right of way.

-Never kill an animal unless you are going to eat it.

-Always put your campfire completely out. Douse it in water, bury it in dirt.

Old school bus shot full of holes near Stumptown above Leadville, surrounded by modern day garbage- an armchair, plastic milk crates, assorted TV guts and electronics...disgusting!

Old school bus shot full of holes near Stumptown above Leadville, surrounded by modern day garbage- an armchair, plastic milk crates, assorted TV guts and electronics…disgusting!

We all have the right to access and enjoy our National Forests, but like every right, there comes responsibilities as well.

Colorado History- Enjoy it, don't destroy it!

Colorado History- Enjoy it, don’t destroy it!

A few days after my father had passed away unexpectedly, my brother and I decided we needed a road trip to clear our heads, reminisce about the old man,  and share some laughs. My brother asked me if we could visit southern Colorado, an area he had never seen before, and I gladly obliged. We hopped in the car and headed for the foothills in the area between Pueblo and Trinidad- Colorado’s great coal belt. I’d visited the region several times on my own, and I knew my brother would enjoy the scenery and history of the area.

We buzzed south down I-25 passing the huge, dormant, Colorado Fuel and Iron steel mills of Pueblo which line the interstate. These huge rusty, dilapidated, structures with their towering red brick smokestacks were once the backbone of Pueblo- Employing thousands of men through the years and providing a “life” for many families, families whose descendants still call the area home. Today, the giants are silent, their smokestacks crumbling, and the neighborhoods of tiny houses around them, still occupied by the proud families who sprang from the mills, sit in a state of slow, but steady decay, the windows of their corner stores and saloons boarded up, and one more empty house each time I visit.

Crossing the Arkansas River the Colorado scenery changes, and the arid rolling hills give off a totally different feeling than the rocky, pine covered slopes of the area closer to Denver. Here, Colorado takes on a definite high desert, “wild west” aspect. There is also a distinctly Hispanic culture in this area- This land was Mexico for many years, and prior to that it was Spain’s northernmost territory in the new world. The first settlers of the region, dating back to the 1700’s with a few roaming shepherds and ranchers, were of Spanish origin, and that culture remains strong to this day in these parts.

It is down in the narrow canyons and bluffs of this area, where the mountains meet the plains, that we found Colorado’s coal belt, or, more accurately, the remains of Colorado’s coal belt.  West of I-25, and south of Walsenburg to Trinidad lays an enormous coal pocket, and throughout these hills we find the trace remnants of the company towns that once stood here. Places like- Tabasco, Berwind, Starkville, Morley, Hastings, Tollerburg, Tioga, Cokedale…the list goes on and on. But one name stands out among the rest “Ludlow”.

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A simple sign along the interstate a few miles north of Trinidad reads “Ludlow Massacre Memorial Exit 27” I’d visited Ludlow once before, and snapped off a few pictures in haste as the sun sank behind the mountains in the west, but I’d wanted to come back and spend more time in this place.  I thought my brother would appreciate these hallowed grounds as well, so we took Exit 27 and just a mile or two west of bustling I-25 Ludlow came into view.  A few tumbledown buildings marked what was left of the main street in town, and the railroad tracks that hauled the coal out of the dumps here still pass by.

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To the north of Ludlow there is a small picnic ground with a few tall trees and a couple of sheds and a parking lot. Most people probably stop by just to use the public restrooms and to get out of the hot Colorado sun without ever noticing the fenced in area just beyond the picnic tables, and the monument of a man, woman and child within the fence. This is the Ludlow Massacre Memorial erected by the United Mine Workers of America to honor those who died in the massacre of April 20, 1914. There is also a strange steel door, painted white on the ground, within the fenced in area of the memorial. When opened there are stairs leading down into a dark abyss.

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What was the Ludlow Massacre? And why is it important that we all remember it? Why is it not taught in our school system?  Because Ludlow was dangerous to the ruling class of big businessmen. What happened at Ludlow changed the way American businesses treated their labor.

To simplify a long and complex story, the Ludlow Massacre was the tragic culmination of tensions between the working class and the managing class/governing class in what became known as the “Coal Wars” of 1913-1914. Massive social, political, and economic changes swept the country from the mid-1800’s through the early 1900’s as a result of the industrial revolution. Some got rich, some lost everything, while most toiled away for just enough to barely scrape by. Among the people most affected by these changes were coal miners across the country. The widening gap between the “haves” (mine owners, managers, and politicians in their pay)  and the “have nots” (the miners and their families) led to strikes, confrontations and armed clashes between the two groups, culminating in the April 20, 1914 massacre at Ludlow where eighteen people (mostly children) were murdered by the Colorado National Guard sent to protect mine owners and break the strike.

Colorado National Guard and Mine Goon Squad

Colorado National Guard and Mine Goon Squad at Ludlow 1914

Miners and their families were forced to live in “company towns” which were small private kingdoms bought and paid for by the mine owners. In these company towns, the mine owners controlled nearly every aspect of the lives of their employees. Mine employees were paid in virtually worthless “scrip” which were tokens or paper “money” that were only valid at the company store or saloon. The company store and saloon, were owned by the mine owners and they were generally stocked with cheap, poor quality goods that were sold at tremendously inflated prices to the workers. Often, the miners did not have enough scrip to pay for the necessities of life, so the mine bosses benevolently extended lines of credit to the miners and their families. These lines of credit were often over extended, and the miner had no choice but work whatever hours and shifts the mine owners demanded, because they were in such in deep debt to the boss. This was a way mine owners and their cronies turned the working class into indentured servants with no way out. The miners had little choice but to tolerate the conditions, as everything they had from their homes to the shoes on their feet and the food on their table was owned by the mine bosses.

Ludlow Railroad Station

Ludlow Railroad Station and Company Store

On top of the crippling economic practices inside the company towns, mine bosses also limited the freedom of speech, religion and education- Churches and schools were set up in the company towns, but they were staffed by preachers and teachers hand selected by the bosses. Private police patrolled the company towns and cracked down on anyone critical of the mine owners or the conditions in the town. These police were nothing more than brutal thugs and bullies who kept order and silence through fear.

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Conditions inside most company towns were awful. The powerful mine owners were allowed to get away with outright abuses and borderline slavery because, as is all too familiar today, the bosses had the money to pay off politicians and police who would then look the other way.

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In 1913 and 1914 life in the Colorado coal camps became intolerable, and the miners went on strike. A series of skirmishes and confrontations ensued, and finally, the mine owners called on their paid off politician friends to intervene. The Colorado National Guard arrived by rail to the numerous coal camps and company towns  that lined Berwind Canyon, among them Ludlow.

Ludlow Saloon

Ludlow Saloon

The striking mine workers and their families were living largely in a tent city at the time, and when hostilities boiled over between the striking miners, the company goon squads, and the Colorado National Guard, chaos ensued. Members of the Colorado National Guard and the company thugs who were aching for a fight opened fire on the striking miners, many of whom were armed as well. The gun battle between the two sides sent the wives and children of the tent colony running for cover. Many had dug pits under their tents as makeshift shelters in anticipation of such an event.

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A fire soon broke out in the tent colony, and amidst the smoke, flames and mayhem troops of the militia opened fire into the tent colony with an assortment of outdated military rifles and a few Colt-Browining M1895 “Potato Digger” machine guns. The screams of the wounded and dying permeated the miner’s camp.

When the bullets stopped flying, and the fires had been put out, the Red Cross arrived on the scene to find the charred battlefield still smoldering. As the miners and the Red Cross began to survey the damage, they came across a scene of unspeakable horror, when they found the scorched bodies of eleven children and two women in one of the makeshift pit shelters under a burned tent. The youngest victims of the massacre were found here, aged three months and six months old. In future accounts of the tragedy this became known as “The Pit of Death”. In all, eighteen men, women and children died in the Ludlow Massacre- some by bullets, some by fire. Among the dead lay the entire Costa Family.

“The Pit of Death”

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Public outrage and unrest ensued throughout the region as news of the slaughter spread as fast as the flames did across the tents of Ludlow. Riots, beatings, gun battles, and overall maniacal rage between the warring factions over the following days became known as the “Ten Day War”. Order was finally restored when the United States Army was called in to disperse the Colorado National Guard and the hired goon squads of the mine bosses.

The repulsive slaughter of the innocents at Ludlow turned the tables in favor of organized labor, and in following years working conditions for the “average” American greatly improved. The eight hour work day became industry standard. Overtime was paid for any hours over eight you worked in a day, and overtime was paid for any hours over forty in a week. Gone were the abusive company towns and the cut throat company store. Working conditions and safety measures improved across mines, mills and factories nationwide. Wages and benefits were drastically improved.

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For a few sweet decades following Ludlow, largely in part due to the efforts of labor unions and Federal legislation, life became better, and in many cases good for the average American worker. It seemed the only people unhappy with the changes were the large employers who saw a small dip in their profits as they were required to start treating their employees like humans.

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As always, things change. The average American, enjoying unprecedented wealth and free time to enjoy it, became more and more materialistic and competitive with their neighbors, who were also enjoying new found wealth and freedom. The rat race was born, and our great lust as Americans to “out do” or “one up” our neighbor to show them that we were the “best” or “more successful” then them began to alter our minds on a deep level.

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More and more American workers two or three generations removed from Ludlow began to ask for more hours, more overtime, a second job…because, driven by our own profane consumerism and “need” to be the best, we became willing to give up the eight hour day, or forty hour work week the families of Ludlow died for. Few of us had ever heard of Ludlow. Fewer of us cared. We wanted the biggest and the best of everything. No, we didn’t want it, we NEEDED it. We absolutely, under any circumstances, HAD to have it.

So, we burned the hard won rights of the Ludlow miners to fuel our incessant lust for new gadgets and status symbols. In the 1990’s, many generations removed from Ludlow, Congress quietly did away with the laws requiring employers to pay overtime for anything more than eight hours in a day. Almost overnight across industrial America, the twelve hour shift reappeared after many years under moth balls. With the twelve hour shift, only two shifts are needed, and the business owner saves money even if they pay overtime to the workers- Because the entire second shift of workers can be eliminated. No more hourly wages for the second shift, no more benefits packages, no more vacation time- By reverting to the two-twelve hour shift model, the business owner gets fat raking in the money that would have otherwise been spent providing a stable job with livable wages to the entire second shift.

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Sadly, we American workers, blinded and driven by our consumerism, greed, and societal expectation that we participate in the rat race wound up collectively in a mountain of insurmountable debt. So, when the big boys in the suits behind the scenes dictated that the workers would be required to work twelve hour shifts, those of us lucky enough to keep our jobs gladly accepted the offer. The bosses “rewarded” us with a four day work week in most cases, and blind to the monumental shaft we were getting, we all flocked forward with smiles on our faces thinking “Wow, eight hours of overtime every week and a three day weekend! This is the best!”

The fat cats got fatter, the middle class shrank with the elimination of the second shift, and those of us who held on to our jobs greedily accepted our “new deal” thinking we were doing alright.  But, just like before, greed and materialism blinded many. “Maybe I’ll start working a few Saturdays and Sundays, the boss always needs help, and I can use some more cash to pay down some of the bills…or better yet, to buy that new boat!” No boss has ever turned down someone willing to work seven days a week for half of the money they would have made on the old “anything over eight is overtime” law. So the average American thinks they are getting a good deal and making tons of money, when in fact they are earning less than they would have under the old laws, and the entire second shift is standing in the unemployment line sucking up welfare that comes out of, you guessed it! YOUR paycheck! Taxes give you less money, which means you have to work more hours to pay for the boat and the bigger house and the newest phone to “one up” your neighbor…and the only person making any money at all is your boss.

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Our societal illness has led us to back into the shackles of indentured servitude to our Employer-Masters. Without our Employer-Masters we are nothing, so we willingly accept their corrupt and one-sided “new deals” justifying the immense screwing we are allowing ourselves to get, because of our own greed. We stand blank-eyed and emotionless as our employers cut our benefits each year, and we jump for joy and dance like excited puppies, tails wagging when our Employer-Masters toss us a bonus now and then, or benevolently “offer” us overtime which we suck up gladly like the money driven whores we have all become. In the mean time our Employer-Masters are busy making deals behind the scenes with politicians and regulating agencies which allow them to keep pumping us full of chemicals and poisons long banned in other countries as known carcinogens. Safety measures are skirted by the suits, and we all think they care for us because they give us ear plugs and safety glasses and paint yellow lines on the floor so we don’t get run over by forklifts, all the while the walls, roofs and pipes of America’s factories are crumbling and just months away from caving in a crushing the workers beneath them.  All those bonuses and overtime wages represent but a small fraction of what the boss man is pocketing each month in savings by working us like dogs, eliminating the second shift, skirting environmental and safety laws, and allowing our nation’s facilities to crumble in order to save a buck or two.

Our yearly wages, bonuses, overtime and benefits are but a small fraction of what we COULD HAVE all made if we had remembered the lessons of Ludlow and stood up for the rights won following the massacre. Instead, we became complacent. We allowed the laws to be changed, we allowed ourselves to become blinded by consumerism and greed, and now, we’ve allowed ourselves to become indentured servants again- Like the miners of Ludlow.

Unlike the miners of Ludlow, I don’t think the average American worker today has the backbone to stand up for what is right, and to put their life on the line for it. The rich will get richer, the middle class will continue to shrink, and the poor will grow by leaps and bounds.  Perhaps, sometime in the distant future, when things get so bad again as they were at Ludlow, the American worker will rise up and fight, but it won’t happen today in our current mindset- The lesson of Ludlow has been lost, and the few who know of Ludlow don’t care…at least not right now at this moment.

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It is my personal opinion that everyone, especially those with children, before working that next day of overtime, or three more hours because the boss asked you to, go visit the memorial at Ludlow. Read the names of those who died at the hands of their employers. Pause and stare hard at the names of the innocent children, some so new to this life they had yet to speak their first words. Then, open that heavy white steel door on the ground and gaze long into the black abyss- “The Pit of Death” where those eleven children were found dead. Then ask yourself what is truly important in your life- Overtime for that next toy to impress the neighbors or spending the day on the back porch grilling hot dogs with your kids instead of being at work? Does that black pit you just looked into represent the abyss of your own greed and materialism? Will you stand up and say enough is enough? Or will your insatiable greed for “things” enable the monster that will one day eat your children?

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“Remember when one gazes long into the abyss, the abyss gazes long into you.” -Nietzsche

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 known 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.

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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 Sycamore Creek in far western Kansas 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.

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“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.

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 running 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-four secessionists reported to be “Texas Rangers” including George A. Jackson, the founder of Idaho Springs, were captured and taken prisoner in southeastern Colorado by Union troops from Ft. Wise. Among the forty-four men taken prisoner that day were Jim and John Reynolds, Harvey Briggs, and Anderson Wilson. A newspaper 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 “rebels” 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 men captured near Ft. Wise, 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, Harvey Briggs, and Anderson Wilson.

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 vanished- Possibly to Missouri, and from there on to the Confederate Indian Territory by early-1863 where they enlisted in Scanland’s Squadron of 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 Scanland’s Squadron by this time was the former Denver jailer who aided in the escape- Jackson Robinson. By the autumn of 1863, Scanland’s Squadron had been renamed “Company A, Wells’ Battalion, 3rd Texas Cavalry Regiment.”

The Compnay A, Wells’ Battalion was a  frontier guard and reserve unit in the Trans-Mississippi Confederate Army, charged with guarding the Texas frontier and Indian Territory from Union rading parties who would steal livestock and produce from the Native Americans living in the territory, as well as to defend settlers in the region from Kiowa and Comanche war parties. Surprising to many unfamiliar with Civil War history, the 3rd 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-speaking “Confederados”, southerners from the Rocky Mountain gold mines, and west Texas frontiersmen.

The 3rd 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, 3rd Texas Cavalry indicate several of the men in the unit had ties to Colorado, and were among the men captured near Ft. Wise in October of 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 in the escape of February 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 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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GGcover

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.

Having had enough of Colorado’s never ending winter of 2013 my friend Jered and I, one night in a drunken stupor, decided it was time to force the issue of the spring thaw and go camping in warmer climes. It seemed only reasonable that we pick the arid Book Cliffs region and the ghost town of Sego, Utah- a five hour drive across the snow capped peaks of the Rockies. Weather reports indicated that the mid-March temperatures in the area would be in the balmy 50’s which was about 40 degrees warmer than the eternal icebox Colorado had been suffering through for the last several months.

In the days leading up to our desert journey my partner and I secured our provisions which consisted largely of cheap domestic canned beer, cigarettes and beef jerky. We departed our snowbound gulag and made good time crossing the continental divide and beginning our descent into the semi-desert corner of Utah where we’d camp, stopping one last time in Grand Junction, Colorado to requisition more beer…just in case.

Crossing the border in Utah we left Interstate 70 for the less traveled remnants of old Highway 6, long neglected, beaten, broken, and pock marked. We bounced down the road until we came to the big, sweeping bend that marks your arrival to the “almost ghost town” of Thompson Springs, Utah. It was my third trip through Thompson Springs, and it looked no worse for the wear than it had in my previous visits. Isolated and remote, Thompson still hangs on, with around ten hearty souls remaining.

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Thompson Springs was a small railroad terminal on the Amtrak line for many years, as well a place to stop for a meal or catch some rest along old Highway 6. Thompson Springs began it’s decline when Interstate 70 bypassed the town a mile or two to the west, and Amtrak followed suit a short time later, closing the terminal which hastened the communities demise.

My friend and I didn’t waste much time as we passed through Thompson, we were on our way to Sego, which lies a few miles north east of the town.  As we left town, a sign on the fence of one of the few occupied homes in town read “In this Vale all knees shall be bent, and all beards shall remain untrimmed”- clearly in reference to the owners’ Mormon faith. We wound up the narrow sandy canyon, stopping to admire a grouping of ancient rock paintings, said, by the local Native American tribes to represent the “Star People” who visited earth in the days before time, and brought us knowledge. It is estimated that these magnificent paintings are anywhere from 4,500 to 10,000 years old!

The Star People

The Star People

Standing with the Star People

Standing with the Star People

A hand print, many thousands of years old.

A hand print, many thousands of years old.

Leaving the Star People we stopped to explore the ghost town of Sego, a small collection of ruins that mark the sight of coal mining town that once operated in the canyon from around 1890 to 1950. The company store still stands proud, and a forlorn Chevy coupe used for target practice for many, many years are the main attractions at Sego. Carefully tip-toeing through the thick sagebrush, prickly pear cactus, and other things that poke and sting, keeping a vigilant eye out for rattlesnakes, several other fallen down buildings, and a few more bits and pieces of old cars can be found at the site.

The company store at Sego

The company store at Sego

We left the town site and continued up the narrowing canyon in search of a suitable campsite, beer thirty was rapidly approaching and we’d spent enough time in the Rover for one day.  Finding no spot in Sego Canyon large enough for our tent, we took the branch leading up Thompson Canyon, and found a perfect spot at the site of “old” Thompson Springs. Beneath several gigantic and very old cottonwood trees was small flat clearing, surrounded by rugged canyon walls. Two or three old stone dwellings marked the site, half carved into the walls of the canyon.  The “spring” from “Thompson Springs” bubbled up through the ground and ran out of an old iron pipe into the tiny creek bed below our camp. Although we brought plenty of water with us, It was reassuring to have a fresh water source in the middle of the desert.

Stone houses carved into the rock at Old Thompson Springs

Stone home carved into the rock at Old Thompson Springs

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We set up our tent, and then Jered was assigned the task of making fire- No person on earth create fire as quickly and effectivbely as Jered can. We’ve camped often, and if Jered can not make fire, we break camp and call it off because it is a bad omen. Having established a fire, we got drunk, and proceeded to tell each other lies about how great we were and all the grand and fantastic things we were still planning to do. 

Jered, the fire maker, precariously perched above a desert chasm

Jered, partner on many camping trips and the top fire maker in the world, precariously perched above a desert chasm

Around noon the next day, hungover and confused, I tumbled out of the tent and made a very poor pot of coffee and made enough noise to wake my partner up.  We decided to drive back in to Thompson Springs and see the sights.  

We parked the Rover and started to walk around downtown Thompson, which is one east-west street and one north-south street. We peered in the open doors and broken windows of the abandoned businesses, and snooped around the old Amtrak station which still had a sign warning “Parking for Amtrak Customers Only”.  A small group of men at the RV Park, one of Thompson’s only active businesses, were lazily putting up a storage shed, and one man on a riding mower watched us carefully for a minute or two before waving then going about his business.

Walking in downtown Thompson Springs

Walking in downtown Thompson Springs

The Amtrak Station

The Amtrak Station

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As we were leaning through the door “almost” trespassing into an old shed, snapping photos of a great old 1950’s era diner sign, a small truck appeared on the road to the east and a cloud of dust kicked up behind it as it made it’s way towards us. As it approached I noticed an older man with long white beard driving, and he slowed down and parked right in the middle of  Main Street. I was sure we were about to get an earful and the customary twenty questions about who were where, where were we from, why were we there and when were we leaving. I also feared the long white beard meant this was the Mormon elder of the town and being from a state with few Mormons, and only tall tales about them, I felt a little bit scared.

The great old sign I was photographing when the local came by in his truck.

The great old sign I was photographing when the local came by in his truck.

My worries were quickly put to rest when the local approached us with an open hand and greeted us with “Welcome to Thompson Springs, I’m just a lonely desert dweller.”  We chatted for a few minutes with the friendly stranger who showed us the work he was doing on the old diner, and said he hoped to be up and running selling simple sandwiches and soup in the summer months to the few visitors who pass through Thompson. Then, as we were winding up the conversation he asked “You guys wouldn’t happen to have any weed would you?”  Not expecting that, Jered and I snickered and looked at each other and informed the stranger that no we didn’t. Sadly, he explained to us that saw our Colorado license plates the day before as we came through town, and knowing that dope was legal in our state, he was hoping we had brought some along. He told us how the two biggest problems he faced as a weed smoker was- 1) Living in Utah and 2) Living in the desert “Where the air is so dry all I can grow is stems!” We informed him that we didn’t smoke marijuana, and we were sorry we couldn’t help him out.  He was shocked we weren’t enthusiasts, and he made sure we at least drank beer, and telling him that, yes, we drank beer, he seemed to feel a little bit better and he bade us farewell saying he better get back to his old lady before she drank the last of his beer. As he opened the door of his truck a couple of empty beer cans cascaded out the door and he picked them up and threw them in the back. He waved goodbye with a fresh beer in his hand and headed back from whence he came, disappearing in a cloud of dust.

Laughing about our strange desert encounter Jered and I hopped back in the Rover and headed for the gas station along the I-70 frontage road a mile or so west of Thompson Springs. I topped off the gas tank and headed inside to grab some peanuts and a coke. I opened the door and standing there in front of me was my second biggest fear when traveling through Utah- the Grand County Sheriff. Rumors abound regarding the harsh and sinister ways of Utah law enforcement officers and in ten previous trips through the  Industry state, I had avoided contact them, now I stood face-to-face with John Law. He was a tall and solidly built man, with short cropped light hair, a dark green shirt with gleaming badge, and tan polyester pants with large chrome plated revolver hanging from his hip. My initial reaction was to stop, turn around, and leave, but this would have been suspicious, so I nervously wandered the aisles searching for peanuts in a cold sweat. The Sheriff, noticing me, nodded his head, and went back to talking with the cashier at the station as if I wasn’t there. My fears soon faded when I heard him discussing the previous night’s poker game down the road at Crescent Junction, and how he had to tell a couple of underage kids not worry, that he was off duty and there to play cards and get drunk too.  He laughed and joked with cashier and proved himself to be the exact opposite of all the horrible and dreadful things I had heard about Utah Sheriffs. He even wished me a good day as I left, and paid me no further notice as we drove away.

Back at camp Jered and I laughed about our new friend in Thompson Springs, and what an unexpected encounter that had been, as we enjoyed our dinner of buffalo steaks and wild sage. Later that night as we sat around the wood stove in the tent bullshitting, a rogue gust of wind blew back a spark out of the stove and our tent caught on fire.

Our tent that caught on fire.

Our camp at Old Thompson and the tent that caught on fire.

 

 

 

As I sit on my balcony above Central City, Colorado, I look west and watch the sun sink behind the high snow-capped peaks to the west.  Yesterday I was hiking a slope on those very mountains following a grueling two-hour 4X4 trek in my ugly old Range Rover. The “road” I traversed was the old stagecoach line that ran from Central City to the mining camps of Alice, Fall River and then on to Georgetown in the heyday of the Colorado gold rush. Along it’s way, the stagecoach passed over a high windswept knob at roughly 11,500 ft. elevation. Covered by only a handful of scrubby, wind blown pines, low patchy grasses, lichens, and surprisingly in the summer months, a dizzying array of beautiful and fragrant wildflowers of all shapes, colors and sizes, lay “Yankee Hill”.

Wild flowers of all shapes, sizes and colors at Yankee Hill

Wild flowers of all shapes, sizes and colors at Yankee Hill

Rumor has it Yankee Hill was named after Union sympathizers that poked around at the ground looking for gold and other precious metals on the hill during the Civil War. Soon, a settlement or more likely a small camp sprang up on the slope and declared itself  the town of “Yankee Hill”.  Very little is known about the earliest days of Yankee Hill, although it is clear that people were there looking for gold as early as 1860. The Russell Brothers of Central City fame had even constructed a canal across Yankee Hill bringing water from Fall River to Russell Gulch by the early 1860’s- a truly amazing feat if you have ever seen the hellish landscape between Yankee Hill and Russell Gulch.

One of the two remaining cabins at Yankee Hill

One of the two remaining cabins at Yankee Hill

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Square nails in the cabin wall

Square nails in the cabin wall

As time passed Yankee Hill scratched out a name for itself an important stagecoach supply and rest stop on the road to and from Georgetown and Central City.  A hardy bunch managed to bust through the crust of the hill and locate a few paying veins of gold, silver, copper and iron ores.  Prospect holes, or “coyote holes” dotted the hill, and many are still visible today along with some of the larger, more profitable workings.

Steel button from a miner's coat

Steel button from a miner’s coat

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Root cellar

Root cellar

One of the two remaining cabins at Yankee Hill

One of the two remaining cabins at Yankee Hill

Bed frame

Bed frame

Nature takes her course

Nature takes her course

Room with a view

Room with a view

The citizens of Yankee Hill, whipped by endless winds, vicious electrical storms, blizzards and every other imaginable alpine hardship some how hung on to their precarious post on top of the world, and made it work.  The people lived in any imaginable type of shelter- tents, huts compiled of the low scrubby pines on the hill,  sturdy log cabins, dressed lumber houses, rock huts, even caves and dugouts composed of both rock and timbers.  By the 1880’s what few records exist suggest Yankee Hill had a hotel and at least one saloon, the stage stop, and a handful of other mining related businesses. In the late 1890’s a couple of mills were erected with concrete foundations in an attempt to make refining the low-grade and complex ores of Yankee Hill profitable, but, they were of little success and by 1905 the mines had all closed down and Yankee Hill was abandoned following 45 very hard years of existence.

Columbines

Columbines

Cellar full of debris

Cellar full of debris

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Part of a "false front" to an old building

Part of a “false front” to an old building

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Very little is known of the people and businesses in Yankee Hill. No photographs exist to show what it looked like in it’s prime. The few people who passed through Yankee Hill or lived there are long deceased. What little we can glimmer into the past of Yankee Hill comes from minimal and spotty records, a newspaper clipping, an old story told long ago. Yankee Hill is largely a Colorado mystery these days.

Mine "cut"

Mine “cut”

Three rock foundations showing the site of three miner's dugouts

Three rock foundations showing the site of three miner’s dugouts

Collapsed mine building

Collapsed mine building

Stumps of trees cut over 100 years ago to build the town and shore the walls of the mines

Stumps of trees cut over 100 years ago to build the town and shore the walls of the mines

But there is one interesting story surrounding Yankee Hill and it involves a legendary man that, like Yankee Hill, has been forgotten by time.  His name was Willie Kennard, a black man and former slave. Kennard was freed from slavery sometime prior to the Civil War and he joined the U.S. Army where he worked as a weapons expert for reportedly 25 years.  At the ripe old age of 42, Willie Kennard found himself in Colorado Territory looking for work. the year was 1874.

An advertisement appeared in the Rocky Mountain News seeking a town Marshall for Yankee Hill- the town’s previous Marshall having been shot dead by an outlaw, murderer and rapist by the name of Casewit who had terrorized Yankee Hill for around two years.

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Another faint reminder of the past

Another faint reminder of the past

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Kennard traveled to Yankee Hill to investigate the rumors and respond to the advertisement he had read. The townspeople were stunned at the sight of a black man arriving in Yankee Hill, and the town council was even more shocked when he informed them he had come to be Marshall.  After some tense negotiations the council agreed to give Kennard a shot at being Marshall of Yankee Hill and he sworn in to duty.

Stormy skies over one of the 1905 mill foundations

Stormy skies over one of the 1905 mill foundations

Nature reclaiming herself

Nature reclaiming herself

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Rock foundation

Rock foundation

Among Kennard’s first matters of business was to hunt down the rapist and murderer Casewit that had held Yankee Hill in a state of siege for so long. Kennard soon found Casewit playing cards in the town saloon and as Casewit went to draw for his guns Kennard pulled his twin .44 caliber Colts and fired on Casewit. The bullets from Marshall Willie Kennard’s .44’s pierced the leather of Casewits holsters and damaged his guns rendering them useless.  Casewit was placed under arrest, tried the next morning for the rape of a 15 year-old girl and the murder of her father who had come to her defense. Found guilty, Kennard ordered Casewit hung, and from a beam behind the blacksmith’s shop the villain Casewit met his end.

Chimney from long gone cabin

Chimney from long gone cabin

The slope where the town of Yankee Hill and Marshall Willie Kennard once stood

The slope where the town of Yankee Hill and Marshall Willie Kennard once stood

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As for Marshall Willie Kennard- He remained at his post in Yankee Hill until 1877 when racial tensions overlooked Kennard’s record as a fair and just lawman. Kennard was either removed from his post, or resigned to avoid conflict. Willie Kennard left Yankee Hill in 1877 and was never heard from again. No photo exists of Kennard, and no record of his burial is on record. As mysteriously as the “Black Marshall of Yankee Hill” arrived in Colorado, he disappeared into the pages of history and Wild West lore.

Today, Yankee Hill is just that- a hill.  The literal “winds” of time have toppled what few permanent structures once marked the spot.  Grasses and wild flowers and tiny pines struggling to survive dot the hillside and have swallowed up much of the remains of the town.  Here and there you’ll see very trace remnants of human habitation- a tumbledown rock foundation, an old rusty nail, a tin can, broken porcelain or a shard of glass.  But mostly, nothing. And each weekend in the summer throngs of 4X4 enthusiasts and ATV riders buzz past the site, unaware they are riding over the streets Willie Kennard once restored order to with his lightning fast .44’s over 140 years ago.

Rock foundation

Rock foundation

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I visited the site twice this week, and took photos of what little is left before it is all gone.  A made a crude map of what ruins I found and how the town may have been laid out so long ago.  I even found one lonely grave high on the windswept slope of Yankee Hill marked “RF”.  It is hard to imagine people lived and died and gun battles were fought on this isolated, rocky stage so many years ago.

Satellite view with location of structures still visible (barely) at site of Yankee Hill

Satellite view with location of structures still visible (barely) at site of Yankee Hill

The lonely grave on Yankee Hill

The lonely grave on Yankee Hill

Yankee Hill will soon fade into obscurity, these are some of the last photos that will record the site before it is totally reclaimed by time and earth. Today, the only residents of Yankee Hill are a few marmots that peer at you curiously from their rocky thrones high above the valleys below, and colony of chipmunks and ground squirrels that have turned the hollowed out stumps of trees cut down over 100 years ago into a metropolis of their own.  We are often told and taught that once a man cuts down a tree or digs a hole, or clears a patch of land for a building or a roadway, that that damage can never be overturned- Man’s destruction is final and nature can not recover.  Yankee Hill is living proof that nature is resilient and vibrant and strong, and can and will recover from our abuses if given the chance.  Yankee Hill began as a mystery, lived as a mystery, and soon when she is reclaimed by nature, she will die a mystery.

Chipmunk in his Alpine Skyscraper

Chipmunk in his Alpine Skyscraper

A curious marmot investigates what I'm doing

A curious marmot investigates what I’m doing

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Rock and log cabin remnants

Rock and log cabin remnants

 

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