Centennial sins — 100-year-old or older Colorado crimes
Centennial farms and ranches are commemorated for benefits those 100-year-old or older properties bestowed on Colorado. Way to go! Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the spectrum lies Colorado dirt. Not earth that those rural treasures were built upon, but rather the kind of dirt known in the vernacular as crimes, sins, offenses, misdeeds.
Committing such shady deals or outright violent acts were scallywags, swindlers, charlatans, robbers, or slayers who hoodwinked, hornswaggled, bamboozled or murdered their targets. Then, as now, motives included jealousy, greed and rage. Ah yes, rage.
Joseph Alfred “Jack” Slade, born in 1831 in Illinois, was infamous for his untamed temper. He served for the U.S. Army in the Mexican War. He later became a freighting teamster and wagonmaster, subsequently served as a stagecoach division superintendent, helped launch the Pony Express, and… shot and killed Andrew Ferrin, a subordinate who was hindering a freight train’s progress along its route. Temper, temper, Mr. Slade, It will be your downfall.
In March 1860, Slade was ambushed and left for dead by Jules Beni, a stationkeeper at Julesburg, Colo., (named for Beni) who Slade accused of improprieties, including alleged horse theft of Overland Stage animals that Slade confiscated upon discovering them at Beni’s ranch.
Emptying a six-gun and both barrels of his shotgun into his adversary, Beni indignantly listened to what he thought was Slade’s dying declaration: “I’ll live long enough to wear your ears on my watch chain,”
Beni cruelly laughed.
It’s said that he who laughs last laughs best, but it was Slade who likely had that final, best guffaw. After miraculously recovering, he eventually killed Beni. And, as grotesquely vowed, Slade reportedly then slashed off his enemy’s ears, those rotting, reeking human lobes long-adorning his watch chain and driving off all within olfactory range.
Some tales label Slade as a wild, heavy drinker who robbed stages, rustled cattle/stole horses, and viciously murdered folks. Slade is elsewhere conversely said to have enforced order and assured reliable Pony Express cross-continental mail service between Washington, D.C., and California just prior to the start of the Civil War. People who actually knew him dubbed him a generous gentleman and competent manager for the Overland Stage Line. Such conflicting accounts.
Following a drunken spree meriting a mere charge of disturbing the peace in Montana, Jack Slade, age 33, was hanged by vigilantes on March 10, 1864.
One of the towns that best knew the colorful Old West character was Virginia Dale, Colo. And there his legend lives on. The Virginia Dale Community Club, an organization that maintains the historic stage coach station on U.S. 287, has theatrically celebrated Slade thanks to multi-talented local man Gordon Chavis.
Chavis portrays that rascal Jack in an original one-man play performed there and in several venues across Larimer County, including as part of the 150th Anniversary Celebration of the Virginia Dale Stage Station; and elsewhere as recently as 2021.
Besides depicting Slade, Chavis operates a rural gourmet cheese-making enterprise with milk he collects from his ever-growing herd of dairy goats.
NOTHING IS SAFE
Then as now, 100ish-year-old crime ran the illegal gamut of ways to get rich or get even. Here’s just a spattering of those reported in newspapers of their day.
• Fort Collins, Colo., on Nov. 12, 1924: A safe was blown at A.P. Jordan’s grocery.
• Per The Denver Post: The Woolworth Store was robbed of $400 on March 7, 1922.
• On Nov. 14, 1925, six men filed the Fort Collins jail bars.
• “July 25, 1927: Bandits robbed the Fort Collins post office of $10,000 and fled in the direction of (on back of card)”
NOTE: What? Looks like newspapers back then also had typos.
* “July 26, 1927: No trace of bandits.”
(NOTE: Maybe bad guys’ location is on the back of that card.)
“Victor, Colo., March 24 (year not shown but likely early 1900s)
Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad train No. 60, southbound, leaving Victor at 9:50 p.m., was stopped last night by five masked robbers just outside the city limits. The bandits went through the mail and express car, but found nothing valuable. The robbers then compelled the express messenger to take the lead, and, going through the coaches, they robbed several passengers, taking two or three gold watches and some money. Two of the masked robbers were tracked by a bloodhound and captured in a log cabin in the woods.”
NOTE: Vague reporting about casual robbery. Nevertheless, the bad guys were caught. (But from the way it read, they were captured by the bloodhound! “Put yer paws up! Yer under arrest. Barr-roooo!”)
“Fort Collins Express-Courier,” 1927
Fancher Sarchet came to Fort Collins in 1906. His flamboyant personality made him a likely target, as people either loved him or hated him.
“In a manner bearing all the marks of a professional gunman, local attorney (Fancher Sarchet) was shot with a shotgun by an unknown assailant.
“It took place on the Adult Highway, about six miles northwest of the city at 10:30 p.m., Friday night. The victim of the attack is at Larimer County Hospital, where he is in serious condition. It is feared that he may lose the sight of his left eye. Officers were baffled. The eye was later removed. A complaint was filed, charging J.J. Verstraten, Perry W. Johnbeck and Clyde J. Bartelson with assault with intent to kill.
“Bartelson is alleged to have confessed to the shooting. He said Verstraten hired himself and Johnbeck to do it. Verstraten was tried in May in District Court in Greeley, Weld County. Jury disagreed after being out 50 hours. Bartelson confessed to the actual shooting; he was sentenced to serve from 18 months to 14 years. The charge of attempted murder is pending against Johnbeck. He drove the rented automobile, according to Bartelson. A new trial for Verstraten was set for December. The cases were taken to Weld County. This was after prosecutor obtained order for a change of venue, after charging prejudice upon part of the Larimer County people.
“The case was reopened again in January, amidst charges of jury tampering. The jury and witnesses were dismissed for the day. Verstraten was found not guilty of assault with intent to kill. The case against Johnbeck was dismissed due to lack of evidence.”
NOTE: So, what’s the moral of this strange story? Ask Mr. Bartelson. He was the only one of the accused trio who confessed and he was the only one who served time in prison. Proving, once again, that honesty is always the best poli… nah!
ALL CRIME PAYS
Certainly crime is detrimental, right? In hindsight, it’s actually beneficial. As in, “It’s an ill wind that blows no good.”
Rising crime rates in early or earlier Colorado created a thriving market for guns; locks; attorneys; nooses, gallows and those who worked on them; jail cells, bedding, furniture and other equipment; guards/wardens’ jobs; their uniforms; inmate uniforms; prison food and cooking utensils i.e. pots, pans, plates, flatware, stoves, dishwashing equipment; and so much more).
Other careers resulted: stagecoach guards; gallows’ builders and supplies; reform school employees; private investigators. All types of law enforcement jobs. Their salaries spread far and wide. And just think. Who rode/herded re-claimed horses/cattle back to their owners when thieves/rustlers were caught and hanged? Maybe posse members? Pay them, too.
Old West crimes created a market for 1920s and forward comic books, novels, radio/TV programs/movies and their commercials plus merch (i.e. The Lone Ranger). All the rising stars that lit up Hollywood because of them benefited. Even by tours of the homes of famed Western actors. Like that one famous cowboy movie star turned politician; believe his name was Reagan?
Old timey crime was just as injurious to victims as crime is now. But it does pay, always, with no time limit on the re-runs.
Cold Case — Can You Solve It?
Per the “Fort Collins Express-Courier Newspaper” in 1922 (month not given):
“Fourteen-year-old Ellen Ryder had her hair stolen as she slept on a curtained porch at the rear of her family’s home at (900 block) W. Mountain Ave. Apparently an intruder lifted the hooklatch with something and then punched through a small slit in the screen. They found some scissors on the dining room table. He/she returned to the porch, where he/she cut the long braided hair (which reached below the waist), possibly intending to sell it.”
NOTE: Possibly to sell it… but the story seems full of holes. Age 14? Didn’t she wake up as a hair-coveting stranger happened along, popped the porch door latch, slit the screen, entered, just happened to spot a pair of scissors conveniently left on the inside table, lifted the girl’s head a bit to cut her long braid; and escaped slick as a whistle? You do the math. My guess is the girl chopped her own flowing locks to give to her teenage beau. Mama and Papa were never the wiser! Young love, sigh. Just a guess.
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