Posts Tagged ‘The Reynolds Gang’

Twice in the past month, as part of the research I am doing for a book I’m writing, I have visited a secluded area of Douglas County, Colorado where the Confederate underground was known to have operated in the 1860s- An area where several buried caches of Civil War era arms and ammunition have been found through the years. I set out to search for any signs or evidence of these long-forgotten Confederate agents who smuggled weapons and supplies through Colorado Territory.

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Old Stage barn constructed in 1861 in Douglas County, Colorado. The Confederate underground operated in the hills nearby throughout the Civil War.

Known as the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC) the Confederate underground was a secretive, fraternal order loosely based on the Masons. Active throughout the southern states, and western territories in the waning years of the Civil War the KGC possessed a tremendous amount of wealth and influence. Many high ranking officers of the Confederacy were KGC members, and thousands of rank and file soldiers were initiates in the secret order as well. Among the most notable members of the KGC were Frank and Jesse James, William “Bloody Bill” Anderson, John Wilkes Booth, General Douglas H. Cooper, Colorado pioneer Alexander “Zan” Hicklin,  James and John Reynolds (see my previous blogs regarding the Reynolds Gang in Colorado) would-be assassin Lewis Powell (Payne) and the well-known Freemason Albert Pike (who many believe founded the KGC.)

Famous Freemason Albert Pike, Thought to be the Founder of the KGC

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The primary objective of the KGC was to accumulate wealth (aka gold and silver) and weapons by any means, which usually meant robbery, for use in a future “second” Civil War against the Union. Hidden in caches across the south and west, the KGC employed agents or “sentinels” that stood guard over the buried treasure for many decades. Dating back to the days leading up to the Civil War, KGC initiates used a series of “grips” or hand signals to indicate their membership in the order- To the casual bystander, the “grips” wouldn’t seem unusual, but to a fellow KGC member they would be easily recognized.

Four famous members of the KGC demonstrating one of the Orders’ “secret” grips-

The right hand grasping or tucked inside the lapel.

Left to Right- “Bloody Bill” Anderson, Jesse and Frank James, John Wilkes Booth.

KGC initiate Lewis Powell (Also Known as Lewis Payne) attempted to kill Secretary of State William Seward on April 14, 1865. These photos taken after his arrest show him giving what former members of the KGC confirmed were secret “grips” of the order.

Also employed by the KGC in their nefarious activities was a secret alphabet or code, and messages would be carved in trees, rocks, or passed between members on scraps of paper. A first hand account given by a ranch hand of Alexander “Zan” Hicklin of a guerrilla traversing Colorado Territory  bound for Confederate lines in New Mexico in 1862 states:

“Hicklin was suspicious of the man at first. I saw him hand Hicklin a scrap of paper covered in symbols and scribbles. Hicklin then eased and provided the man with food and provisions for his journey.”

It is clear the “…scrap of paper covered in symbols and scribbles…” was a message in the KGC code vouching for the wayward guerrilla.

Key to the KGC Secret Code

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The KGC was a very real, very powerful order which lasted well into the 20th Century. Reports of second and third generation KGC sentinels standing vigil at burial sites persisted until the 1930s! In the late 1800s and early 1900s numerous cases of confrontations and even shootings at the hands of mysterious armed men deep in forests have been attributed to KGC sentinels watching over their loot. Around the outbreak of WWII, suspected KGC activity seemed to disappear.

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KGC cache sites were marked with a series of nondescript signs- Treasure hunters have spent years deciphering the signs of the KGC and documenting anomalies found at known KGC cache sites. A common series of markers used by the KGC, which would go unnoticed by the casual passerby, has been documented-

  1. “Hoot Owls”– Trees which have been deformed, grafted or otherwise “engineered” into unnatural shapes are the most common KGC marker. “Twin” “Triplet” or unusual clusters of trees the exact same height and age also indicate KGC activity, as they were purposely arranged in such a fashion.

Examples of KGC “Hoot Owls” found at cache burial sites in the south/west.

2. Rock Carvings– Some complex, such as those using the KGC code or symbols-pyramids, eyes, numbers, etc. Other carvings were as simple as a cross or a series of holes bored into the rock.

Examples of known/suspected KGC rock carvings (complex)

Examples of suspected KGC rock carvings (simple)

3. Marker Stones– A series of stones, often triangular or “arrowhead” shaped placed along the path to a cache, these stones would appear ordinary to most, but to a KGC agent, they would point the way to buried goods. Also used as marker stones were ordinary looking rocks that might not be of a type native or normally found in the area, for example quartz markers left in an area where there is only sandstone.

Examples of KGC marker stones from confirmed cache sites.

4) Burned out tree trunks and holes bored into tree trunks-The burned out stump was a popular KGC marker meaning “Buried cache in a hole nearby.”

(No photos available of “burned tree trunk/stump markers”- Information based on data and claims compiled/made by Military Historian Dr. Roy William Roush, Ph.D., in his book “Knights of the Golden Circle Treasure Signs”)

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Colorado Ghost Town Guide Book- The “Gold Belt Region” by Jeff Eberle Only $19.99!

 

Using the known examples of KGC markers, I set out to find if any of these KGC markers were present at the Douglas County site- I didn’t expect to find much, but I was surprised at what I found, and I believe that a KGC cache once existed at the site, or still exists waiting to be discovered. My findings-

1. “Hoot Owls”– I stood on a small rise over the creek bottom I was investigating and scanned the treeline looking for anomalies- Anything that didn’t look right, any tree that wasn’t growing in a natural way. I found several examples of “Hoot Owls” over a one-mile stretch of creek bed, including a near perfect “arch” made by two trees bent inwards towards each other, and a “triplet” tree of nearly perfect proportions, both pictured below.

“Hoot Owls” found at the Douglas County, Colorado site- Including an “arch” and a nearly perfect “triplet”- Highly unusual for such a large concentration of “naturally” occurring anomalies to be present in an area of less than a mile. Also of note- Each of the trees was large/old enough to date to the Civil War era.

 

2. Rock Carvings– Across the one-mile stretch I investigated I found several rock carvings of the “simple” style- A “key”, a “cross”, two “eyes”, and series of stones with between one and four holes bored into them. There were tons of boulders and rocks in the area- Only about eight had carvings, and the stones bearing “eye” carvings all had a distinct depression or hole in the ground directly below the “eye”…former site of a buried cache???

Cross, key, and eye rock carvings found in Douglas County, Colorado.

“Eye” and simple hole pattern carvings at the site-

3. Marker Stones– Rocks that shouldn’t be there, or arrow shaped stones in unusual places. I found only one “arrow” shaped stone that was 110% out of place, sitting on top of a rounded, water worn boulder in the creek. An angular, pointy stone is very out of place in a creek bed. It was definitely put there by human hands- When?  Who knows, maybe three days ago, maybe 150 years ago by a KGC agent.  What was intriguing was the huge open hole in the rocks just beyond the “arrow”  looked like a perfect spot to hide something.

“Arrow” marker stone and hole in the rocks behind it.

I also noticed red stones, all of a uniform size, placed at regular intervals along the creek. The stones were roughly fist sized, and unlike the native stones in the area. When I reached the near perfect triplet “Hoot Owl” tree, the trail of red stones stopped. I found no more for the next half-mile before I turned around and headed back.

Red marker stones found at regular intervals along the creek.

4. Burned Out Tree Trunk– I was not expecting to find a burned out tree trunk, but on a steep side slope of the tiny valley cut by the creek this old stump, clearly cut off by the hand of man many, many years ago caught my eye. It was so old that it was dry rotting and would crumble in your fingers, and the base had been hollowed out long ago by a fire.  It was the only tree cut down by human hands on the whole hillside, and was located at a steep point next to a promontory rock that caught your eye. Directly across the creek from the burned out stump was the “Hoot Owl” arch mentioned previously.

Three views of the burnt out stump, and the “Hoot Owl” arch directly across the creek.

 

5. Strange circular clearing surrounded by very old felled timber- From the burnt out stump, I crossed the creek and walked through the “Hoot Owl” arch. On the other side of the “arch” was a large patch of felled timber, very old and gray with age, obviously having been down for many years. In the center of the felled timber was a nearly perfect circular patch, void of timber with the exception of one very young pine tree and short grass. I’ve seen similar circular patches in the Rockies where meteors fell, or at the site of dormant freshwater springs. This spot was similar, but the felled timber surrounding it seemed to be situated in a uniform depth of 6-8 logs which seemed unusual to me. Is this clearing the site of a forgotten KGC cache???

Circular clearing beyond the “Hoot Owl” arch.

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Buried Confederate arms and ammunition have been found in this same vicinity of Douglas County in the past. Based on the evidence I found, I think that more waits to be discovered.

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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.

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 and Alabama 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 union flag flying in Denver was torn down by secessionists, and 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 military commanders 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.

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

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

gunfightH-300

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

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

chivington

Major John Chivington

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

James (Jim) and John Reynolds were brothers who first came to Colorado Territory in late 1859, traveling with a group of prospectors who had left the placer fields and gold mines of California. Some evidence suggests that the Reynolds brothers briefly stopped at Gregory Diggings (Central City) then made their way 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 to a tiny new camp along it’s banks.

Here at the new camp, the Reynolds brothers eked out a living panning gold in the placer fields of the Platte River. One night, while sitting around the fire drinking and discussing events with other miners, a fight broke out between two men over who laid claim to what, and who had the rights to work the area. Jim Reynolds broke up the fight and is quoted as saying “All men shall have fair play in this valley!”  The camp, lacking a name at the time, soon became known as “Fair Play” and later “Fairplay”, a name which the town still retains to this day.

fairplay

“Fair Play”, Colorado Territory around 1861

With tensions boiling over across the nation, and men answering the respective battle cries of the Union and the Confederacy, Jim and John Reynolds, along with a third Reynolds- a man named George who was either another brother or cousin, left the gold fields of Fairplay, Colorado in the summer of 1861. No record exists of the exact date the Reynolds brothers left town, but their names would appear again in Colorado lore a few months later.

reynolds bros

In the late summer and fall of 1861 hundreds of Colorado Confederates rallied in a secluded valley about 30 miles southwest of Pueblo at an old trading post called “Mace’s Hole.” Soon the Colorado Confederate encampment numbered between 600 and 1000 men depending on various sources.

Colorado Territory, south of the Arkansas River was sparsely populated, but very pro-Confederate. Soon every rifle, pistol and provision available in the region was being funneled to Mace’s Hole to equip the unit. Captain George Madison and a mysterious Colonel John Heffiner (most likely an alias) were in command of the Colorado Confederate volunteers at Mace’s Hole, and were given orders from General Henry Sibley to disrupt mail service, capture Union supply columns, and then rally at a later date with Sibley’s Confederate Army of New Mexico.

Word soon spread to Union troops in Colorado about the “rebel encampment” at Mace’s Hole, and forces were sent to intervene before Captain Madison and his men could put the Confederate plan into action.

“Signal Mountain” at Mace’s Hole (present day Beulah, Colorado) where confederate troops stood watch in 1861.

In October of 1861 Union forces converged near Mace’s Hole and several insignificant skirmishes broke out. The overwhelming majority of Confederates at Mace’s Hole dispersed into the surrounding hills and scattered to New Mexico, Texas and the Indian Territory over the next few months where they would join Confederate forces.

Other members of the Confederate camp were out on recruiting missions, dressed as civilians, in the mining camps in the foothills near Denver at the time of the Union actions near Mace’s Hole. Of the 600+ Confederates operating out of Mace’s Hole, very few were actually present when the Union army arrived. A report states that 100 “rebels” under the command of a Captain Miller fought Union forces resulting in the death of one soldier.

After the skirmish, a handful of “rebels” were taken prisoner near the Greenhorn River in the vicinity of Mace’s Hole, and marched to Denver where they were jailed and charged with treason. A recently discovered 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- “James Reynolds” and “John Reynolds”, and 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 at Mace’s Hole, including James and John Reynolds.

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

Roughly a year passes, and there are no records of the whereabouts of the Reynolds brothers. It is assumed during this time period the brothers make their way south the rejoin the Confederate Army. Recently uncovered documents from the archives of the Third Texas Cavalry (Confederate States of America) indicate the Reynolds brothers as well as the mysterious George Reynolds reappear in 1863 and the three Reynolds’ boys enlist in Company A, Well’s Battalion, Third Texas Cavalry.

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

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

Battle Flag of the 3rd Texas Cavalry Regiment

Battle Flag of the 3rd Texas Cavalry Regiment

Confederate Soldiers

Confederate Soldiers

benavides brothers

Hispanic “Confederados” of the Texas Cavalry

blackconfederates

Black Confederate Soldiers, Many Served in the Indian Territory

Cherokee_Confederates_Reunion

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

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

Private James (Jim) Reynolds (captured at Mace’s Hole in 1861)

Private John Reynolds (captured at Mace’s Hole in 1861)

Private George Reynolds

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

Private Thomas Holloman

Private Addison Stowe (captured at mace’s Hole in 1861)

Private Anderson Wilson

Private Washington Nutt

1st. Sgt. Abraham C. Brown (captured at Mace’s Hole in 1861)

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

(rank unknown) L.C. Tatum

(rank unknown) William Tatum

(rank unknown) Allen Wiley

(rank unknown) John Wiley

(rank unknown) William Tipton

Jm.Reynolds

James (Jim) Reynolds enlistment record for Well’s Battalion, Third Texas Cavalry

John Reynolds enlistment record

John Reynolds enlistment record

Enlistment record for George Reynolds, Well's Battalion, Third Texas Cavalry

Enlistment record for George Reynolds, Well’s Battalion, Third Texas Cavalry

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

General Douglas Hancock Cooper

General Douglas Hancock Cooper

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

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

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

Acting upon the orders of General Cooper, 50 cavalry troops from Wells Battalion set out for Colorado Territory from Ft. Belknap in April of 1864. Many of the men involved had been in Colorado Territory prior to the war. The Wells’ battalion carried out several small raids in northern New Mexico and made a brief incursion into southeastern Colorado 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 around the Greenhorn River, would have pushed north and converged on Denver from the south at the same time as the Reynolds band was attacking the city from the northwest.

B) The Brown band was positioned strategically to intervene with Union troops from both Ft. Garland in the Snagre de Cristos and Ft. Lyon on the Arkansas were either to send to troops to the aid of the besieged garrison in 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 secure Denver for the south.

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 Abner 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.

Abner 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 Third 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.

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.

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.