Tuesday, June 23, 2020


Post by Doris McCraw
writing as Angela Raines

Sharing again.

Nathrop, Colorado - Wikipedia
Church in Nathrop, Colorado
The Lake County War, full of vigilantes, traveling preachers, judges, criminals, and chaos. To this day the true story isn't fully known. Into this mix is Charles Nachtrieb, an early settler in the area. While I knew of the Lake County War, I was unaware of Nachtrieb until research on his daughter, Dr. Josephine Dunlop, brought his story to my attention.

Mr. Nachtreib, born April 20, 1833, in Germany, arrived in the Lake County area around 1859. He was a candidate from Lake County to the convention to admit Colorado as a state in 1865, which was approved by the voters. Although a constitution was adopted, President Andrew Johnson rejected the petition in 1866. (Colorado was not admitted as a state until 1876, becoming known as the Centennial State)

In addition to having a business along with being postmaster in Nathrop, Colorado, Nachtrieb also owned land in Gunnison County where his large ranch was located. (Nathrop is an Anglicized version of Nachtrieb). He is also credited with having the first grist mill west of the Mississippi.

In 1879, Nachtrieb, along with Otto Mears and Issac Gothelf filed article of incorporation with the state for the Poncho (Poncha), Marshall and Gunnison toll road. The toll road was expected to cost twenty-five thousand dollars and run from Poncha Creek in Chaffee County to the Gunnison River. Apparently, there was a verbal agreement between Mears and Nachtrieb that Mears would build from the Gunnison side to the top of Poncha Pass and Nachtrieb would build from the Lake County side. This arrangement came about due to the above-mentioned grist mill and the farming, especially wheat, along with the higher price paid in places like Oro City and other mining communities in the area.

Otto Mears - Wikipedia
Otto Mears
On October 3, 1881, according to newspapers of the time, a man named Burt (Bert) Remington shot and killed Nachtrieb in his store. Some reports say he was a disgruntled former employee. Remington escaped and the search was on. On Thursday, October 6, 1881, Governor Pitkin issue a proclamation and offered a reward of $300 dollars for the arrest of Remington. Nachtrieb was forty-nine at the time of his death.

How does the Lake County War fit into all of this?

In 1874 Elijah Gibbs and George Harrington quarreled over property, fencing, and water. About fifteen days later, one of Harrington's outbuildings was set of fire and when he went to deal with the blaze he was shot and killed. Due to the quarrel, Gibbs had with Harrington, he was the prime suspect. Tempers and gossip fueled the incident and soon Gibbs was marked for a lynching. Cooler heads prevailed and they were bound over for trial. With emotions running so high, a change of venue put the trial in Denver. There Gibbs and his hired hand McClish were found not guilty. McClish left the area, but Gibbs returned to his home in Lake County (Now part of Chaffee County).

Things appeared to return to normal, but in January of 1875 the vigilantes got a warrant for assault, for the first quarrel, and went after Gibbs. Gibbs, along with others made a run over South Park and ended up in Colorado City. The sheriff secured warrants and followed them to Denver. Gibbs and his cohorts left the Denver hotel, where the sheriff allowed them to stay, due to implied lynching stories put out by the papers in Denver.

Collegiate Peaks
Photo property of the author
At the end of January of that year, the Committee of Safety organized in response to Gibbs and the Regulators he was purported to be a part of. This Safety Committee, composed of most of the prominent men in the region, including Nachtrieb, intended to rid Lake County of all suspected murderers, cattle thieves, land grabbers, and any other undesirables. In following through with their agenda, the flames grew greater. Anyone coming into the area was questioned, and if they were determined to be 'undesirable' they were asked to leave. One of the men questioned was Judge Elias Dyer, son of the itinerant preacher 'Father' Dyer. He took exception to being told to resign when he told his inquisitors he believed Gibbs was not guilty. Dyer eventually returned to the area and while holding court was shot and killed. There were those who said Dyer, by his actions, brought about his own demise, while others said the opposite.

Judge Dyer, in writing his thoughts in the matter, indicated that the man who killed Charles Nachtrieb was the nephew of Mr. Harrington, the man whose murder started the whole affair. To this day, the who, whats, and wherefores are hidden in time and memories. Story after story offers conflicting information. In the end, was Charles Nachtrieb killed over 'wages' or the 'war'. We may never know. The Lake County War, a year-long, impacted the lives of so many. Like the death of Charles Nachtrieb, we may never know the whole true story.

What I've shared is just a small part of the story of Charles Nachtrieb and the Lake County War. For more on the War, the book by Don and Jean Griswold, “History of Leadville and Lake County Colorado” is a good place to start. There is additional information by Gayle Gresham, whose great great grandfather was also involved, in the book “Rush to the Rockies” published by the PPLD as part of the Regional History Series.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -

Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History

Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet
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  1. Great Information,
    Thank you for sharing..

    1. You are welcome. It is a complex and fascinating piece of history. Doris

  2. First Time reading about Lake County War in CO. I think Nachtrieb's claim of the "first grist mill west of the Mississippi" may have been his personal boast. Ceran St. Vrain had grist mills in Taos, and Mora, NM and near Fort Garland,CO before the Civil War.

    1. I thought the same myself. The whole mountain man, early fur trading forts era is one I am fascinated with. That is another post further down the line. Doris

  3. I couldn't help wonder why Nachtreib left Germany and came to Colorado. Did he want to escape religious persecution in Germany? And obviously he must have been wealthy to own a huge ranch in Colorado. Very interesting reading, as usual, Doris.

  4. Elizabeth, I don't know. I came across his part in this story when I was researching the early women doctors. His daughter, Josephine was one of the early doctors. She practiced in Pueblo, Colorado and her daughter also became a doctor. They both ended up moving to Texas.

    I'm happy your found the story interesting. I have a friend who helped research a book on the war. It hasn't been released yet, but I know I look forward to reading it when it does come out.