I don’t know that the sun will ever rise and set for me again, but I trust in God and his mercy. At eight o’clock, I sit in court. The mob have me under guard. There is no cowardice in me, Father. I am worthy of you in this respect. I am, in this one respect, like Him who died for all: I die, if die I must, for law, order, and principle; and too, I stand alone.”
My family and I, one Saturday when we were looking for something different to do, decided to head to the cemetery on Wolfensberger Road. It seemed a peculiar thing to me, the whole burial ritual being a bit of a mystery, but my boys had heard about people doing rubbings of epitaphs on markers and having just acquired sketch pads, they wanted to give it a try. So it was off to the cemetery.
Cemeteries are interesting places really. They are, in a way, the only places where notions of death and life live in peace and harmony. At least it seems so when standing amongst the pines drinking in the freshness of the loamy soil as it mixes with the scent of the trees. As we walked, the serenity of the area enveloped us as we got in to the spirit (pardon the pun) of our endeavor.
One of the last head stones we came across was toward the Wolfensberger Road side. It was a small stone, but not too small. Not just a square on the ground. But not a huge monolith either. A nice, but worn, stone for a person named Dyer. And there was a mysterious epitaph enscribed below the owner’s name:
A victim of the murderous mob ruling in Lake County. I trust in God
and his mercy. At 8 ‘o clock I sit in court, the mob have me under
guard. I die for law, order and principle.
It seems that back in 1875 there was a man named Gibbs, Elijah Gibbs. He was well liked in the area but there was talk he’d formed a group with his brother called The Regulators. These were tough hombres who, rumor had it, were planning to rustle cattle, jump claims, take over ranches and other illegal shenanigans.
Mr. Gibbs was drawing water from nearby Brown’s Creek and maybe it was that or something else, but on June 16, 1874, he got into an argument with his neighbor George Harrington. That night, some of George’s outbuildings were set on fire and when he ran to put out the flames, George was shot and killed.
There were no witnesses and no proof, but Elijah Gibbs, although known to be a good citizen amonst the townsfolk (no one knew of the clandestine Regulators) was looked upon with suspicion due to the earlier argument. Shrinking willows the men of those times were not. Who needs a lawyer when a nice piece of hickory or a rope was handy. They formed a lynch mob to go after Gibbs but when they arrived at the house, Gibbs’ friends (these gents were possibly part of The Regulators) stood by his side and the standoff prevented any bloodshed. Eventually, everyone agreed to let justice take its course.
Due to the unusual amount of rancor within the town of Nathrop and surrounding area, the trial was moved to Denver where Elijah Gibbs was found innocent and he returned to his farm. It had been about 7 months since the death of Harrington and the not guilty verdict still angered the Harrington supporters. They still believed Gibbs murdered their friend so they again went to his house on a cold night in January and demanded he come out.
Not the stupid fool, Gibbs refused (memories of the lynch mob no doubt fresh in his mind still, after just seven months). The angry mob was not to be turned away though. They started piling brush and wood against the Gibbs house. As they began to light it, Gibbs fired shots into the crowd hitting brothers Sam and Dave Boone. As one of the mortally wounded brothers fell (it’s not clear which) his gun discharged and killed their uncle Finley Kane. Remember, guns don’t kill people, bullets do and three men lost their lives that night.
This tragedy dispersed the crowd and the next morning Elijah Gibbs turned himself in.
This time Justice A. B. Cowen of Brown’s Creek found Gibbs had acted in self defense but, fearing the animosity toward him was too great, Gibbs fled to Denver where he felt he would be safer. That still left Gibbs’ supporters in Nothrop and a Committee of Safety was formed to “cleanse” the area around Lake Country of those still taking his side. In addition to that, Sheriff John Weldon was sent to Denver by The Committee to collect Elijah Gibbs and bring him back. He never caught up with him and word spread that he was arrested for public drunkenness.
Back in Lake County Gibbs’ supporters were rounded up and brought before the Committee of Safety. Charles Nachtrieb’s flour mill was the headquarters where rough “interviews” were held, a noose hanging behind to questioners’ table.
Enter Judge Elias F. Dyer. He was brought before The Committee during a trial where he stated that he believed Gibbs to be innocent on all counts. The Committee accused Dyer of protecting a cattle rustler and of “believing Gibbs to be innocent of the murder of Harrington; giving false testimony during the trial in Denver … being pompous … and last, being a Republican and securing his election in a Democratic county.”**
Dyer left town but returned shortly thereafter when acting govenor John Jenkins sent an investigator who returned a report that everything, strangely, was fine.
Returning to the country seat in Granite, CO, Judge Dyer issued warrants for the arrest of members of The Committee and secured the testimony of a man named Jesse Marion–who’d had a run in with The Committee before.
At the start of trial a mob of about 30 went down to the courthouse and surrounded it. Moreover, Marion didn’t show up. He’d seen the mob outside and decided it best to stay away. So Judge Dyer was on his own and having no witness ajourned court for the next morning. But he didn’t leave the courthouse fearing the mob. That night, he penned the letter above to his father.
The next morning, Dyer reconvened and dismissed the case due to lack of evidence. Still fearful of the mob outside, Judge Dyer lingered while the gallery cleared. Seeing their chance, the mob rushed up the back stairs to the empty court room shooting and killing Judge Elias F. Dyer.
As the thrill of silver in Leadville took hold, the furor of what came to be know as the Lake County War died out. And Judge Dyer was buried in Granite. But in 1878, he was moved the Castle Rock where his epitaph tells of an angry mob and to this day intrigues those who happen upon it.
Castle Rock, 2005
** story mostly derived from Colorado Central Magazine, Ed Quillen, 1997.