Past Episodes

E1: MURDERED! The life and Bloody Times of Baxter Stingley

Baxter Stingley was one of Colorado’s most memorable law enforcement officers.

His legacy includes heroic shootouts bloodier and most exciting than any Hollywood movie. And the way he helped transform a dusty frontier camp to one of the most modern cities in the west can’t be denied. The man planted trees in a sage desert, stood toe-to-toe with some of the toughest men in the west, and he made Salida a place that hardcore criminals avoided. By any definition, the man was a hero.

But Baxter Stingley’s story also has a dark side, one that includes friendships with criminals, a failed political career, and participation in a vigilante gang that murdered settlers in the Arkansas Valley.

SHOW NOTES

(00:07:41) The Mountain Mail, 1882 article on Jesse Stingley's marriage with Ernest Christison as a guest  Read the article, Married on page 3.

(00:12:20) The Mountain Mail, 1883 article about Deputy Bathurst's murder and Baxter Stingley wounding. Read the article,  Read the article Murder Most Foul on page 3. Also on page 3 is the coroner's inquest.

(00:24:10) The Mountain Mail, 1883 about Marshal Stingley's murder. Read the article, Brave Baxter, on page 3. Also on page 3 read the article, Sad Rites. 

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MURDERED! The Life & Bloody Times of Baxter StingleySteve Chapman
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EPISODE 1

MURDERED!

The Life & Bloody Times of Baxter Stingley

 

Baxter Stingley was one of Colorado’s most memorable law enforcement officers.

His legacy includes heroic shootouts bloodier and most exciting than any Hollywood movie. And the way he helped transform a dusty frontier camp to one of the most modern cities in the west can’t be denied. The man planted trees in a sage desert, stood toe-to-toe with some of the toughest men in the west, and he made Salida a place that hardcore criminals avoided. By any definition, the man was a hero.

But Baxter Stingley’s story also has a dark side, one that includes friendships with criminals, a failed political career, and participation in a vigilante gang that murdered settlers in the Arkansas Valley.

Sit back, turn up the volume, and let’s explore the life and bloody times of Marshal Baxter Stingley.

Welcome to History Does Rhyme. I’m your host, Steve Chapman.

You can find every episode on this site and for free on HeartOfTheRockiesRadio.com and HistoryDoesRhyme.com. You can contact me on Facebook at History Does Rhyme or email, Steve@HistoryDoesRhyme.com.

Each week, we’re going to chat about the past, diving deep into stories you only thought you knew, and exploring a few tales you’ve never heard.

Benjamin Baxter Stingley was born in 1845 in Missouri. He arrives in Colorado’s Arkansas Valley, twenty years later, probably searching for gold like the tens of thousands who flooded the area with dreams of riches.  

When he is 30, Stingley joins the Lake County War, a two-year fight typical of the frontier days—a bloody struggle over water and land and grazing rights. You can find such ‘wars’ in every region during the frontier days. Whether you call these men vigilantes or heroes probably depends on which side of the gun you’re on. Stingley and his crew murder several men and run a bunch of others off their homestead claims. Then, most of them turn into solid citizens that history refers to as founding fathers and pioneers of the modern west.

Among those Stingley and his gang push off their land is Ernest Christison. Remember that name, because Christison has a way of popping up throughout Stingley’s story, not always in a positive way.

Baxter Stingley never marries, and he has no children, but one relative joins him in Salida, a brother name Jesse, 14 years younger.

Baxter Stingley is a man without direction. He tries his hand at mining, runs a saloon for a while, chases every new boomtown, always searching for quick riches, but it’s as a lawman that he makes his mark on history.

And what a mark he leaves…

The interesting part of Stingley’s story begins when he shows up in the new town of Salida. Salida popped up out of nowhere in 1880 because of the arrival of the railroad, which is another story for another episode. Right away, he builds a house in town and becomes part of the establishment which isn’t hard to do when there’s only 200 people in the whole area.

What Baxter Stingley wants are riches and glory. He opens a saloon and gives it an original name—Stingley and Company. It’s a drinking joint and a pool hall, and apparently a pretty good one because the newspaper gives it praise. But it only takes a few months for Stingley to lose interest and decide the real money is down the road in the new boomtown of Poncha Springs. So, he sells out to his partner and moves down the road.

Well, eight months pass in the new town, where he opens another saloon, by the way, and Stingley again changes his mind, thinking, nope, Salida really IS where the riches are to be made. So, he returns right back where he started and takes a job as deputy marshal.

The movies make the life of a lawman sound glamorous and full of action, but the truth is a deputy marshal in 1881 spends most of his days chasing stray dogs and telling folks to clean up the garbage in the street and to stop throwing their sewage in the alley. Fact is, people are filthy in 1881. They have horrible hygiene and think nothing of walking through trash or re-using bathwater.

Luckily for Baxter Stingley, Salida went through Marshal’s like ice cream at a birthday party. Most men didn’t have the guts or the work ethic to run a frontier town. A lawman is on call 24/7 in 1881. There is no personal time or family leave. Day or night, sober or drunk, when things happen a Marshal is expected to respond—even if wearing a nightshirt.

Before Stingley takes the job, Salida changes Marshal’s every other month for about two years.

Another thing the movies never tell you is there is a not white hat, upright, morally pure Marshal. A good lawman has a bit of outlaw in him, sometimes a lot. Marshals in 1881 have to be tough, sometimes vicious, and since the job pays next to nothing, most have side hustles to help pay the bills. Baxter Stingley is no different.

Think about it. For about $2,000 a month in today’s dollars, would you be on call 24/7, dealing with drunks on a regular basis, and constantly facing being shot or knifed or beaten and NOT consider a few under the table deals?

After two years of changing Marshal’s every other month, Salida is happier than a school kid on a snow day to have a lawman who stays on the job two years, which is what Baxter Stingley did. The only reason he leaves the job is, well, he gets his self killed.

Let’s talk what leads up to his murder.

Before we have that chat, let me be clear about something.

There is zero doubt that Marshal Baxter Stingley is a tough man and a good peace officer. Unlike those before him, he never neglects his duties, doesn’t hesitate to confront outlaws the moment they ride into town, and no one can question his dedication to Salida.

But then, there’s the rest of the story…

Where I first have trouble with seeing Baxter Stingley as all things wholesome and good is in April 1882 when his brother Jesse gets married. Jessie is 23 by now and among the guests at Jesse’s wedding is Ernest Christison. Yes, indeed, the same Ernest Christison that Baxter Stingley helped run off his property seven years earlier during the Lake County Wars.

I don’t know about you, but I’d hold a grudge over such a thing.

Yet, there they are, two peas in a pod at the wedding of a man they have in common, Jesse Stingley.

Why, you ask? Good question. So, don’t stop listening.

One of the things that strikes me odd about his career is how often Baxter Stingley has connections to the crimes he investigates. Sure, there’s only 300 people in town by 1882 so the odds are good he knows everyone. Still, things often seem odd.

This one time, for instance, a man name J.W. Cozad gets poisoned and dies. When the pair who did the poisoning are located, a watch is found. Right away, Stingley says the watch is his and that he loaned it to the poor dead man. Cozad is dead, so he can’t say different.

But a poor Marshal owning an expensive timepiece is strange, to say the least, and him loaning the watch is even weirder. Why the heck would you loan a watch that you can’t really afford in the first

place?

What makes me even more skeptical is not long after this Stingley borrows a different watch from a friend so he can keep track of arriving trains and watch for outlaws.

By the way, that borrowed watch ends up saving Baxter Stingley’s life.

Baxter Stingley has ambitions. He tries to get elected as a delegate to the county Republican convention and loses. In fact, he loses bad. Of the 15 candidates, he gets only 8 votes. Then Stingley runs for county sheriff and loses that contest. And it wasn’t even close. The newspaper says he’s well-liked and all, but he doesn’t have support to run for elected office. So much for those dreams.

Soon it wouldn’t matter. In fact, a failed political career is about to become the least important thing in Stingley’s life.

Wednesday, May 30, 1883, is a typical day in Salida.  People are running their businesses, children are in school, saloons and restaurants are busy, and ever-present dust covers the entire town. The dust is nonstop.

Around 6 p.m., the Ninemeyer gang is inside Bender’s Hotel restaurant.

Hold on, you say. Who the heck is the Ninemeyer Gang and where does Bender’s Hotel come from?

Okay, let’s rewind.

The Bender Hotel is one of the first lodging businesses in town. It’s on West First Street, where the Salida Opera house sits today. Like most such places, it has a combination restaurant and saloon.

The Ninemeyer gang is Thomas Ninemeyer, his brother, Boon (I love that name), their father, and two friends, Bill O’Brien and Tom Evans. These boys are from the nearby community of Brown’s Canyon, where Ninemeyer works as a charcoal burner. He’s known as the local tough guy, a bad man who ran roughshod over the locals.

Two months earlier, Ninemeyer filed criminal charges against a Salida ‘shady lady,’ that was the nice term for a prostitute, claiming she robbed him. Marshal Baxter Stingley and Deputy Marshal James Bathurst investigated, but the woman denied the charges, and, with no evidence, the lawmen dropped the matter. But that doesn’t work for Thomas Ninemeyer. He is furious and swears revenge.

You’re all caught up now, right?

So we’re in the Bender Hotel, Ninemeyer and his gang are drinking like crazy, and as they get drunk they get mean and violent. At least they pretend to be drunk and crazy. The men shout they’re going to kill the waiter and then scream they’re going to shoot the cook. Tom Evans even walks around the restaurant waiving a big knife in some faces.

A railroad worker takes over as waiter hoping to calm things down while Joe Bender, owner of the hotel, sends for the Marshal.

Enter Marshal Baxter Stingley with his deputy, James Bathurst.

Things are going to be okay now, right? Not so fast.

As soon as the Marshal steps foot into the Bender Hotel restaurant Tom Evans lunges at him with the big knife.

Deputy Bathurst doesn’t hesitate. He quickly draws his revolver and fires, shooting Tom Evans in the chest. Evans staggers outside onto the sidewalk where he dies.

But this fight ain’t over.

The instant Deputy Bathurst fires, the entire Ninemeyer gang is standing and shooting. As one member of the group later admitted, this whole event is a setup, designed to start a gunfight with Stingley and his deputy because the Ninemeyer gang wanted payback for what they saw as an earlier miscarriage of justice.

It’s just that simple.

In the fracas, the gang shoots Deputy Bathurst in the chest and he dies the next morning.

J.D. Gannon, an innocent blacksmith from the railyard, stands up to run away from the fight, but Thomas Ninemeyer shoots him in the chest, and Gannon does instantly.

The outlaws shoot Marshal Stingley a few times, on the left side of his chest and the left side of his groin.                                                             

Then the shootout ends as quickly as it begins.

Thomas Ninemeyer decides it’s time to make a getaway and he dashes out the restaurant door, running west on First Street, towards G Street.

The whole town heard the shooting. As Ninemeyer sprints from the scene, two local men try to stop him, but Ninemeyer shoots at them, and they do the smart thing and back off.

But this is the old west and such behavior can’t go unpunished, so a mob of about 50 men quickly gets together in the streets and starts chasing Thomas Ninemeyer, who is running for his ever-loving life because lynchings are common in 1883, especially for men who murder a Marshal.

Ninemeyer doesn’t want to get caught by the mob because that never ends well, so he fires several shots in their direction and the group runs like hell for cover.

Not being a fool, Ninemeyer turns toward the foothills and keeps on running.

On the far west side of First Street, a teamster named William Brown is watching all the craziness.

When the citizen group runs for cover and stops chasing Ninemer, William Brown realizes the shooter is going to escape. So, he borrows a gun, unties one of his horses, and takes off to capture the criminal.

As Brown gets within 30 yards of Thomas Ninemeyer, Ninemeyer turns, fires his revolver, and kills William Brown, knocking him from his horse.

That’s when Ninemeyer see an opportunity—if he can mount the horse, he has a great chance to escape.  

But the horse is upset by all the gunfire and won’t stand still. Before Ninemeyer can calm the animal, three citizens catch up and capture the murderer.

Salida Judge William Hawkins is part of those surrounding Ninemeyer, and the judge shouts they should hang the man right away. Man, do I love judges like that.

The mayor and the justice of the peace are also part of the group, and they convince the angry men to let the law handle the situation, avoiding a lynching—for the moment.

Nightfall comes not long after the shootout. Men start drinking and getting angry and brave, and the talk int saloon quickly turns to murders and how they should hang the son-of-a (cough).

The county sheriff is in town by now, and he knows where things are going. If he doesn’t do something, Thomas Ninemeyer is going to be dangling by a rope come morning. So the sheriff sneaks Thomas Ninemeyer to Buena Vista under cover of darkness and locks him in the county jail.

But, as tended to happen back then, before a court can hear the case of Thomas Ninemeyer, he and ten others escape from the Buena Vista county jail, and Ninemeyer disappears into history forever.

 

How’s that for a happy ending?

So, what happened to Marshal Baxter Stingley? Well, Stingley was a lucky man that day.

Do you remember the watch I mentioned? The one he borrowed from a friend?

Stingley had it in his left vest pocket, and the bullet struck dead center in the watch, saving Baxter Stingley’s life. He received a punctured lung from the shot, but hitting the timepiece caused the bullet to fragment, and fate spared Baxter Stingley’s life.

Sadly, the pocket watch wasn’t as fortunate, and you can view the remains of the timepiece today in the Salida Museum.

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It’s now September of 1883, and Marshal Baxter Stingley is fully recovered from his gunshot wounds, and back on the job. But his troubles are only beginning.

Two well-known cowboys, Frank Reed and Bent Jamison wander into Salida one morning. Stingley meets the men as they enter town and advises them of the ordinance against having weapons in public.

The cowboys take the hint and decide to move on. So, they head back to the stable to retrieve their horses.

After chatting with the cowboys about their guns, the Marshal heads back to his office and learns there is a warrant out on Bent Jamison.

Frank Reed and Bent Jamison are in the stable, getting their horses ready to leave town when the Marshall arrives with a deputy to take Jamison into custody.

Bent Jamison has other plans.

Baxter Stingley is a cool Marshal and experienced in dealing with desperate men, so he approaches Bent Jamison calmly, keeping both hands in his coat pockets. He appears harmless. But in one pocket, Stingley holds a pistol. In the other, he has the warrant.

When Marshal Stingley announces he’s going to arrest the man, Jamison draws his gun and says, “I will never be taken alive.”

Stingley thinks about shooting Jamison with his hidden pistol, but he looks over his shoulder and sees Frank Reed sitting on his horse with a rifle aimed at both the Marshal and the deputy.

Frank Reed is an intimidating fellow about 5’8, 175 pounds, with square shoulders, wide cheekbones, a dark complexion, and black eyes. The rifle makes him appear even more menacing.

For the only time in his law career, Baxter Stingley backs down. He tries to appear calm and walks slowly outside the stable, then he runs fast to his office for a shotgun and more deputies.

By the time the lawmen return, Reed and Jamison are gone.

Every night, Marshal Stingley makes the rounds of all the saloons to be sure everyone is following the law.

Around 8:30 p.m. on October 28, 1883, five months after his shootout at the Bender Hotel, Stingley walks into Arbour’s Variety and Dance Hall, located on First Street in Salida, just west of G Street. The place is known for welcoming outlaws and being okay with all sorts of illegal activity.

As soon as Marshal Stingley enters the dance hall, he runs into a newspaper reporter.

The reporter knew of a peace commission Stingley held moments earlier, outside the saloon near the train tracks. The purpose of the meeting was to arrange for the peaceful serving of warrants against several criminals who were inside drinking.

Stingley has a brief conversation with the reporter before turning toward the end of the bar. There stands a cowboy, hands in his coat pocket, and talking to the bartender. The cowboy is Frank Reed. Drinking with Frank Reed is none other than Ernest Christison.

Marshal Baxter Stingley always carries two guns when on patrol. One pistol has an ivory handle with a bulldog pattern and a barrel made from blue steel. The other weapon is a silver-plated Colt .45.

Without hesitating, Stingley pulls the bulldog patterned gun out of the holster and walks across the saloon, directly towards Frank Reed.

But the Marshal screws up. He’s an experienced gunman and knows what he should do is leave space between him and Frank Reed, so Reed can’t grab his gun or start a fight. Instead, Marshal Stingley walks up to Reed and puts the gun barrel against Frank Reed’s ribs and says, “Frank, I have a warrant for you. Throw up your hands.”

This is going to be the last mistake the Marshal ever makes.

Why does Marshal Stingley mess up so badly?

Maybe Reed getting the drop on him a few weeks earlier in the stable has bruised Stingley’s ego and he needs to show that he is the toughest man in town. Maybe the peace commission held a few moments earlier with Reed’s friends causes the Marshal to let his guard down. Maybe Baxter Stingley just makes a fatal mistake.

To make things worse, Stingley may not know one important fact. Two months earlier, after his business partner was lynched in Canon City, Frank Reed boasted in a saloon that he would never be hung because no Marshal was tough enough to take him in.

The man who was lynched is Edwin Watkins. We’ll get into his story in a moment but know that Frank Reed helped Watkins steal cattle. Two other interesting names were part of the cattle rustling operation—Ernest Christison and Jesse Stingley. That’s right, the Marshal’s brother has his hand in crime.

Frank Reed is a tough and reckless cowboy. He is no poser. And Marshal Stingley knows this. Still, he screws up by being toe-to-toe with the outlaw.

Well, turns out Frank Reed meant what he said about not being taken alive and he yanks a revolver out of his coat pocket and fires the gun without hesitation. Then Reed runs for the rear entrance of the saloon. Of course, the Marshal follows, so Frank Reed fires a second time.

Marshal Stingley is a tough man himself and he gets off one shot of his own as Frank dashes for the back door, which leads to the alley.

Reed wants to make sure the Marshal doesn’t follow him, so as he heads out the alley door, he turns, fires and disappears into the night.

But Marshal Baxter Stingley does not give chase.

He just stands in the doorway, his legs wobbling, his world swirling around him.

Mr. Arbour, the owner of the saloon, asks the Marshal if he is hurt.

“Yes,” Stingley says. “He shot me three times.”

Mr. Arbour and a few patrons grab Stingley and lay him on a table. They pull off his boots for comfort and are shocked to see both booths have already filled with blood.           

Frank Reed’s bullets hit arteries on the Marshall, and blood gushes from the wounds like a river.

One bullet went through Baxter Stingley’s right thigh. One gunshot blasted through his left arm. The last bullet entered about two inches below Stingley’s left nipple.

The doctor is on the scene quickly, but there is nothing to be done. In less than 30 minutes, Marshal Baxter Stingley bleeds out and is dead at 38.

He had been the Marshal of Salida for exactly two years.

The 1880s are a rough time to be alive, and life is cheap by any measure. As if to illustrate that truth, two weeks after the murder, partygoers laughed and danced and drank and chased dance girls at the Arbour Variety and Dance Hall, seemingly oblivious to the enormous bloodstain beneath their feet—the last mark of Marshal Baxter Stingley.

The nation is stunned by Marshal Baxter Stingley’s murder, which makes the pages of every newspaper, including The New York Times.

The entire State of Colorado is shocked and outraged.

Colorado Governor Grant issues a $1,000 reward for the capture of Frank Reed (about $25,000 in today’s money), and Chaffee County offers the same amount. The city of Salida posts a $500 reward.

But that’s where this story gets complicated.

Before we discuss what happens to Frank Reed and why let’s fill in the gaps of Edwin Watkins and the illegal cattle operation he ran with Reed, Ernest Christison, and Stingley’s brother, Jesse.

To put everything in context and start tying solid knots on all the players in this tale, we need to go back in time to August 1881, before Stingley was a lawman.

1881 is part of the rough-and-tumble, mostly lawless days of Salida when life is nearly as cheap as the whiskey and the whores. One evening, A big group of cowboys ride into Salida and cause a tremendous amount of trouble. The rowdy group includes Roe Cameron, Ernest Christison, and Edwin Watkins—the man who would be lynched in Canon City two years later.

Roe Cameron is the brother of Nettie Maria Cameron, the woman Jesse Stingley marries one year later, in 1882.

These men storm through the saloons, revolvers drawn, daring anyone to try and stop them. They’re drunk, shooting their guns in the streets, and starting numerous fights with strangers, even going so far as to rob a man and his wife walking near the bridge.

It’s surprising no one gets killed, as the local Marshal hides inside his house, terrified by the out-of-control cowboys. Only the actions of a deputy sheriff save the day when he recruits a few local men who band together and arrest the wild bunch.

In July of 1883, three months before Baxter Stingley’s murder, police officers arrest Ernest Christison in South Park, along with four other men. The men stole cattle and changed the brands, but they’re not very good criminals and did a sloppy job. The original brands are easy to see.

Edwin Watkins ranch is where the outlaws kept the cows.

A group of ranchers go to Watkin's place and claim a lot of the cattle on Watkin's place are not his. The ranchers pull their guns and remove the cows they say are stolen.  

Edwin Watkins has a different take on things. He says he owns the cows legally and swears out a warrant against the ranchers.

When the ranchers arrive in Salida to face charges in court, a man with the last name of Mix gets in their face. Mix has a lot of Edwin Watkins friends with him and threatens to kill the ranchers the first chance he gets, but the cattlemen play it cool and don’t say a word or do anything to start a fight.

Mix is a partner of Watkins and operates what everyone knows is the worst gin-mill and gambling place in town, a known hangout for thieves and gangs. Mix also owns a brickyard where Frank Reed works when he’s not a cowpuncher.

Marshal Baxter Stingley tells the ranchers to keep their mouths shut and to leave town as soon as the hearing is over, and that’s exactly what they do.

You see, Edwin Watkins and Baxter Stingley are friends. Often, the two men share beers in a local saloon, and they once lived together.

They are also practically family.

Edwin Watkins married Nancy Cameron, Roe Cameron’s sister. Edwin Watkins and Jesse Stingley are brothers-in-law.

That puts a few knots into the rope, doesn’t it?

The ranchers return on August 15 for their trial, but this time they are prepared to do battle, bringing thirty gunmen as protection. Whether or not the cattlemen know of the friendship between Stingley and Watkins, they have figured out that the law isn’t going to protect them in Salida.

As they exit the train, the ranchers send word to the Marshal that the guns are for safety, not a fight. They want to be sure there is no misunderstanding. Stingley sends word back telling them to stay at the Monte Christo Hotel until the next morning.

And that’s what the ranchers do. They avoid the saloons, remain quiet, and lay low, being polite and respectful to everyone.

The next day, after breakfast, the ranchers wait at the hotel until 2 p.m. when the trial is to begin. Then they make the long walk down F Street to the location of the hearing, 30 gunmen all around them for protection. A group of local ranchers join the thirty gunmen to provide extra security.

Edwin Watkins loses his lawsuit when the court rules the cattle on his ranch do not belong to him. Then HE is immediately arrested on charges of cattle theft and transported to Canon City for trial.

During the trial for stealing 18 cows, the same cows he filed a lawsuit for in Salida and lost, Edwin Watkins tells the judge he has papers proving he paid for the cattle and asks to be allowed to return home and retrieve the evidence.

The judge thinks the request is fair and tells the sheriff to go with Watkins by train, out to his ranch near Salida so the defendant can get the papers he claims will prove his innocence.

After the trip to his ranch, Edwin Watkins and the sheriff return to Canon City on the midnight train.

The two men are walking in the dark to Canon City when over a dozen masked men rush out of the shadows. A few of the men grab the sheriff, saying he won’t be hurt if he keeps quiet.

Edwin Watkins receives no such a guarantee.

When they cut Edwin Watkins body down the next morning—it is hanging from the bridge—it’s clear a savage act has occurred.

The coroner says Watkins was shot in the right breast, the gunshot coming from above, meaning Watkins was lying on the ground when murdered. The evidence indicates Watkins was dead before he was hanged and thrown over the side of the bridge.

No record indicates whether Edwin Watkins carried proof of his innocence.

It is after this murder that Frank Reed makes his statement about not being taken alive.

At the time of the lynching of Edwin Watkins, Marshal Baxter Stingley is in Texas on business. He hops on the first train back to Salida, where he swears vengeance on whoever murdered his friend and his brother's brother-in-law.

Jesse Stingley feels no such loyalty, or perhaps he fears his murder is next because Jesse leaves for the Washington territory and doesn’t come back to Salida until nearly a decade later.

Jesse Stingley’s other brother-in-law, Roe Cameron, also flees for Washington, and while there is no record, timing and logic suggests he is also part of the cattle theft ring.

All of the court records of the case against Edwin Watkins are stolen or destroyed shortly after his murder.

A month later, in September of 1883, the cattle growers have their convention in Poncha Springs and many ranchers speak freely about Edwin Watkins and his gang, claiming that cattle thieves have operated freely in Chaffee County for some time, stealing over $200,000 of livestock, about $5 million today. The cattlemen say the thieves are smart, stealing only 60 or 70 head at a time, but they find it odd that no one has ever been caught or punished.

It’s only today that we know Baxter Stingley’s brother, Jesse, is a partner in the Edwin Watkins cattle company. And we now know Ernest Christison is a key player in the group. Frank Reed also appears to be an occasional member of the gang. And supposedly, D.P. Fulmer, superintendent at the Calumet Mine, is part of the operation. So perhaps it isn’t so surprising that a network of cattle thieves operates around Salida, Colorado, with impunity.

Then again, it is conceivable that a cunning group has outsmarted Watkins and company and set them up to take the fall for others’ crimes.

After his murder, Watkins widow, Mary, file a lawsuit against T. Witcher, a Cotopaxi, Colorado rancher who was one of the men taking cows from Watkins ranch—the ones he faced charges for.

Mrs. Watkins wins her lawsuit, which says her husband is the rightful owner of nine of the cattle.

She is awarded $225 (about $5,00 today) and plans other lawsuits but soon sells the family ranch and leaves the Arkansas Valley. Before she leaves, Mrs. Watkins writes a long,  scathing letter to the editor, naming names and claiming powerful ranchers conspired with the sheriff to murder her husband to cover the tracks of their crimes.

The most logical truth is that Edwin Watkins was a cattle thief, at least part-time and that his competitors were engaged in similar criminal activities. In November 1883, Ernest Christison is again arrested while driving stolen cattle from Watkins ranch to St. Elmo. Christison serves six years in prison for the crime.

Despite a $250 reward from the Governor, no one ever identifies the murderers of Edwin Watkins and the investigation gets quietly and quickly dropped.

The real cattle thieves are never uncovered. However, claims of massive theft of cows stop after the death of Watkins and the jailing of Ernest Christison.

In a curious but unrelated sidenote, Ernest Christison breaks out of the county jail in January of 1884.

Among his ten fellow escapees is Thomas Ninemeyer—the man who shot Baxter Stingley a year earlier.

Lawmen catch Christison as he hides in the barn of Thomas Cameron—the father of Edwin Watkins and Jesse Stingley’s wives.

Frank Reed manages to escape Chaffee County, which creates a big mystery because every lawman in the State and every detective hungry for a considerable reward re part of the manhunt.

It appears Frank Reed has help and a lot of it, especially considering the fact he received a gunshot wound from Marshal Stingley.

One set of rumors has Frank Reed working for the cattlemen who lynched Edwin Watkins, a double agent, so to speak, and says Frank Reed murdered Baxter Stingley, for money, to shut him up and ensure he couldn’t carry out his threats of revenge for the lynching of his friend, Edwin Watkins.

Surprisingly, Frank Reed does not vanish from public sight, and he never seems overly worried about being arrested for the murder of Baxter Stingley. Reed is spotted repeatedly in Arizona and Texas, working as a cowboy; yet no detective will arrest him as he was considered a vicious man. Even the law is afraid of Frank Reed.

It seems that many influential people in Salida and Chaffee County are also frightened of Frank Reed, or afraid of what he will say if brought to trial.

After his 1885 arrest in Birmingham, Alabama, the Salida town council, refuses to pay the reward and declines to pay for Frank Reed’s extradition.

As if to put a period on the entire matter, in 1887, the Salida town council takes back all reward offers for the capture of Frank Reed.

Frank Reed is again arrested in 1893 in Indiana, a decade after Stingley’s murder, and again the Salida city council says no to paying for his return and prosecution.

At least one law enforcement agency blasts the town of Salida for their unwillingness to pay for the extradition and trial of a proven murderer. “I doubt if any reward will be paid,” says the Indiana sheriff who arrested Frank Reed. “As the officials refused, then (he was referring to the past arrests), I suppose they will do nothing in the matter now.”

I leave you with a few final notes on the saga of Marshal Baxter Stingley.

T. Witcher, the man Mary Watkins successfully sued for stealing her husband’s cattle and claiming them as his own in court, becomes one of the region’s most prosperous cattlemen. In 1908, he sells his cattle, around 3,000 head in total, and retires. A decade later, Witcher’s son is elected District Attorney for the Eleventh Judicial District, which covers Park, Fremont, Custer, and Chaffee counties.

Ernest Christison is released from prison in 1891 at the age of 39. He gives up the life of crime, marries, and lives out his days near Salida as a farmer raising oats, hay, and potatoes. In the off-season, he works in a mine near Cripple Creek.

 

Jesse Stingley comes back to Salida in the 1890s, and he seems to share his brother's lack of focus and continuous search for purpose. Jesse Stingley opens a meat market in Salida, operates a mine for a time, and eventually moves to Gallup, New Mexico where he works as a meat cutter until his death at the age of 61.

And Frank Reed? Frank is never arrested for the murder of Marshal Baxter Stingley and eventually disappeared from the pages of history.

That wraps up this episode of History Does Rhyme. Thank you for listening. Next week, I’ll be back with another fascinating story from the past.

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If you enjoyed this episode, you’d probably like the ‘Salida Sam’ historical book series. Each book covers two years in Salida history, and there are now four volumes on local bookshelves. You can purchase the books online by visiting HistoryDoesRhyme.com and clicking Shop on the menu.

Until next week, remember the words attributed to famed writer Mark Twain, “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

History Does Rhyme is a copyright production of Salida Walking Tours, LLC. No part of this podcast can be copied, shared, or transmitted without the expressed written consent of the owner. History Does Rhyme is written and produced by me, Steve Chapman, Caleb Burgraff is co-producer and technical advisor, Alex Johnstone performed the original music, and the entire episode was recorded and mixed at the studios of Heart of the Rockies Radio in Salida, Colorado.

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Welcome!

History Does Rhyme is a weekly podcast exploring the fascinating past of Colorado. 

Together, we'll do a deep dive into the stories you only thought you knew, uncovering the amazing true tales of the men, women, and battles that shaped the Centennial State.

I'm your host, Steve Chapman, historian/founder for Salida Walking Tours and Buena Vista Walking Tours. I also write the best-selling 'Salida Sam' historical book series and write/produce the award-winning A Salida Moment in History radio program and A Buena Vista History Flashback.

So, yeah, I'm a history nerd--with a passion for engaging storytelling.  Join me every week and learn why famed writer Mark Twain is attributed with this quote: "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme." 

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