Tuesday, March 27, 2018

COLORADO'S UNCOMFORTABLE HISTORY - LYNCHING





When you think of Colorado, you think skiing, mountains, and hiking or driving some remarkably beautiful scenery. However, as I work on my paper for the PPLD Annual History Symposium, this years topic, 'Remarkable Rascals, Despicable Dudes, & Hidden Heroes of the Pikes Peak Region', I ran across the need to research lynching for my despicable dude. While an uncomfortable subject, it became important to the story. You see, the 'Despicable Dude' I'm researching was allegedly almost lynched twice.

It is said that lynching as we know it took its name from from Lynch Law, usually attributed to Charles Lynch of Virginia. There are also those who claim it was William Lynch, also of Virginia, that should be accredited. Either way, there seems to be no evidence that either were responsible for the death of any person they sentenced. Lynch law was considered as imposing extrajudicial punishment.


In Colorado, lynching usually resulted in the death by hanging. In the book "Lynching in Colorado, 1859-1919" by Stephen J. Leonard, the author states there were 175 documented cases where a lynching occurred, although most agree there were more that were not documented.


As seen by this article from the Fairplay Flume Aug 30 1888, lynching was a much used word in the papers and for certain areas of Colorado, a not unusual, although not frequent, occurrence.

"The following special appeared in the Leadville Journal : Glenwood Springs, Aug . 24 .James Riland Sr., well known throughout Colorado, especially in Leadville, was shot through the breast by C . A . Babcock. The cause of the shooting is unknown. Babcock has given himself up . Jamea Riland Jr. has gone to his father's ranch to look after tbe old gentleman . It is said that lynching may follow if the wounds prove fatal."

Or this short notice in the Ft, Collins Courier from April 19, 1888

"A lynching took place at Cheyenne Wells, on Monday, a man named Franklin Baker being the victim. Baker had the day before killed two young men, named J . B . McConnell and John C . Morrison because in looking for land they bad crossed Baker's field contrary to his orders. Baker was hung to a coal chute a short distance from the depot."

A more complete story of lynching appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette on July 28, 1877


"LYNCHING AT LA VETA . A dispatch from La Veta , dated last Tuesday, says: The jail guard at this place was overpowered last night by a vigilance committee, and Marcus Gonzales, the murderer of the Browns, taken from custody and lynched to a telegraph pole in the public square. The murder, which occurred near this place in November last, was one of the most brutal recorded in the annals of crime, an aged couple being the victims and money the incentive. Gonzales went to the house of the unfortunate family and asked to stay over night, and killed Mr. Brown while he was caring for his horse . Returning to the house the wretch killed Mrs. Brown and left their daughter, Mrs . Rice, for-dead, obtaining the paltry sum of four dollars for his butchery; The murderer escaped to New Mexico, but was hunted down by detectives and brought back here for trial, and upon a preliminary examination was positively identified by Mrs. Rice, who, pointing to Gonzales, said : You are the man who murdered my father and mother and nearly killed me. He was also suspected of several other murders. The lynching took place at 11 pm . About seventy five men participated. They were quiet and orderly but determined ."

The idea of lynching was not wholly accepted by the populace as evidenced by this piece in the Colorado Daily Chieftain from January 22, 1884.

:"The saddest thing about the Ouray lynching is the fact that it made an orphan of a little two year old girl. It is said that the people of Ouray endorse the action of the mob, but we predict that they will soon regret it. That act has placed a stigma upon Ouray which will require many years to outlive and wipe from the memories of law abiding people."

Yet, searching the early newspapers during the time my 'despicable dude' was suppose to be active show no reports of his being threatened with a lynching in the regions he was active in. Colorado has a history of extrajudicial punishment. An author friend had a relative who was 'lynched' in Canon City, Colorado. She has researched and written about the event, including the writing of a song. 

As Colorado went from birth to statehood and beyond, it was paved with many events including lynching. Not pretty, not necessarily something you talk about, but a part of the history.

For those who want to find out more about Lynching in Colorado, the book mentioned above is a place to start. There is also those searchable resources such as 19th Century Newspapers, Newspaper Archives and Colorado Historic Newspapers. 

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Member of National League of American Pen Women,
Women Writing the West,
Pikes Peak Posse of the Westerners

Angela Raines - author: Where Love & History Meet
For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here 
Photo and Poem: Click Here 
Angela Raines FaceBook: Click Here

12 comments:

  1. There are many historical topics that are uncomfortable to think about, let alone include in a novel. Even so, it's important for writers to portray the times and characters as accurately as possible. Informative post, Doris!

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    1. Thank you. I've always felt if you are going to be telling a story from history, you need to include the appropriate history, even when it's not pleasant. Doris

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  2. A good report, Angela. The legendary Old West has often been romanticized and the brutality, racial and religious prejudices, and rampant lawlessness sometimes glossed over. The highly respected Texas Rangers were absolutely brutal toward Mexicans and Indians. To this day Mexican communities speak of the terror. I address some of this reality in my novels and have been in a few instances criticized for it, but it is the reality and I'd be less than honest not to address it to some degree. I'm not saying we should all address these brutalities, every novel has a different flavor, but if it fits the story, we should not shy away from it either.

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    1. Agreed. With a background in criminology, I tend to gravitate toward the 'criminal'. Like you say, people's actions were not always pure, and to deny that is to repeat it.

      Thank you for your support and kind words. Best on your writing. Doris/Angela

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  3. Excellent post. As writers of historical fiction, we have a responsibility to do the research and portray our characters and times as accurately as possible. As a side benefit, in doing so, we often uncover little gems that lead us to another story.

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    1. Thank you Dennis. It's true, you never know down which road your research will lead you. I can spend hours in the archives and then my mind is whirling and I love it. Doris/Angela

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  4. With a partner, I own two ranches in Colorado. One small and one large. Over time I have learned much of the history of this state. SOOOOO MUCH OF THE HISTORY IS NOT GOOD. Worse is the treatment of miners, coal and hard rock miners for gold. Laborers were treated horribly and killed in mass and at random. I think more died by the bullet, but LYNCHING seem particularly brutal.

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  5. Charlie, you hit on a rather important subject. I've studied as written about the miner's strikes in Cripple Creek, and of course Ludlow in the early 1900's. Leonard's book is fascinating if you get a chance. There is a lot of great history, like the women doctors, but also a lot that we would like to say never happened. Still, I don't want to live anywhere else. (Smile).

    Out of curiosity, what part of the state are your ranches in? Doris/Angela

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  6. Southern Colorado, on the Front Range, 15 miles and 25 miles west of Walsenburg.

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  7. Ah yes, beautiful country down there. Fort Garland museum and La Veta are some of my favorite places to visit. Of course, the history...(Sigh) Doris

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  8. Doris, what an excellent "first" post! In with a bang, I say! LOL I love history -- yes, even the uncomfortable kind. I'm not well versed in Colorado history, so I always love to learn every little piece I can through blogs like this. I think you did a great job on this (of course!) and always look forward to reading your historical blogs.

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    1. Thank you Cheryl. I suppose my background in working with 'criminals' does play a part in what interests me. Still, this piece of research took me to an area I wasn't quite expecting. I will say, it does add more dimension to my understanding of my adopted state's history. I'm glad you enjoy my research. It is what keeps me going, and adds to my writing. Doris

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