For holidays, I like to take the easy way out and have someone else write my column. Usually, I turn to the historic pages of Ouray County newspapers past. Here is my choice, not because it’s a heartwarming Thanksgiving story but instead because it gives a snapshot of the area over 130 years ago.
If unexpected guests come to your home this holiday season, don’t do what Charles Crosthwaite did in 1888, high above timberline in Ouray County.
Crosthwaite was accused of murder and sat in jail awaiting trial over the holidays. The Solid Muldoon Weekly, published this account on November 16, 1888:
A San Juan Prevaricator
Crosthwaite, who is lying in jail here in Ouray awaiting the trial for the murder of Johnson has written a letter to his former home which we take from the Coldwater (Mich.) Courier. As a way-up liar he has no equal West of Eli Perkins. Hearken:
“Some time since The Courier published an item, taken from an exchange, to the effect that Chas. H. Crosthwaite, a former Coldwater boy, was under arrest in Ouray, Colo., charged with murder. As he always bore an excellent character while here we were loth (sic) to credit the report. The following, which we are permitted to copy from a private letter, gives his version of the affair, and from a personal acquaintance with Mr. C. we are inclined to believe he tells the truth:”
OURAY, Colo., Oct. 9, 1888 — My dear old friend, Lon: … Three years ago a Coldwater man beat me out of $37,300 on a mine in Gunnison. This made me very sore, for I wanted to take the money East and pay my poor old mother for my education and at the same time get married, for I had been engaged a long time and I longed to be able to take the woman I married to a nice home.
Well, losing that money lost me that girl, and she married another man. I swallowed my sorrow and went to work to find another mine, resolved that no man would beat me again. I came here, and in two weeks had a good property; in fact four of them, I corresponded with a millionaire in Ohio and agreed to put up money to pay men to work it, and I was to give him half interest in each of the three properties.
We worked eighteen months, and I struck another large body of pay ore. I telegraphed him, and instead of coming out here and helping to put up buildings and get the ore to market, he shut right down, paid off my eight men and refused to do a thing. He was determined to freeze me out.
Thinks I, old fellow, I will fool you.
I only needed $250 to start me so that I could clear $1,000 per week, so I locked up house and all my private and business correspondence, then locked my mine and went to the Smuggler mine to take a job at $100 per month. I was happy, and was sure that I could come East, get my girl and my sister and return here.
Well, I had only been at work ten days when some friends came and told me my house was broken into and a lot of men in there. Most men in this country are hard cases, Lon, so I took a six-shooter, and after a hard day’s work climbed a mountain range 12,000 feet high and traveled eight miles to my cabin.
I got there at midnight and ordered them out. One of them made a dash for me and the other one was right behind him. They had a rifle and a six-shooter in the house. The first one grabbed me by the throat and shoved me over the stove. We were all going into the corner together — stove and all — when I made up my mind I was either going to get a fearful beating or get shot, so I pulled my gun and shot the first man dead. The other one escaped.
I gave myself up, and here I am. One of these men I fed and kept for two months, and the other one I kept from starving last winter, letting him live off me for eight months. When spring came I told him he would have to rustle.
The crew of the Smuggler mine, 110 men, foreman and all, threw in to make up a purse for me. I have been on the staff of the biggest newspaper in the state for five years and they are sticking to me like wax, so you see I am no murderer.
My lawyers say I have a strong case and will get clear, but I will lose my property. For now I will have to sell it for what I can get. It is worth $12,000 or $15,000. I will get $4,000 or $5,000 out of it and that will go to the lawyers, for they have already bled me for $1,500 already, and my trial don’t come off till December.
Things didn’t go well for Crosthwaite, however. He was sentenced to death for murder. The judge, during sentencing, said:
It is therefore adjudged and decreed by this court that you be taken by the Sheriff of this county from the bar of this court to the county jail…and that you be there condoned until the 25th day of January A.D. 1889; that on said day you be taken from the place of confinement to the place of execution in this county and there, between 10 o’clock a.m. and 3 o’clock p.m., that you be hung by the neck until you are dead; and may God have mercy on your soul!
But petitions to Governor Cooper were sent from fifty citizens of Ouray, including the sheriff, clerk of the court, two physicians of the town of Ouray, reverends, the superintendent of the schools and editors of both newspapers.
In the White Pine Cone newspaper, April 5, 1889, the governor’s response was published:
Therefore, having with careful regard alike for the majesty of the law and the benignant spirit of justice, I privately obtained the advice of a competent medical expert on the facts brought before me, and received his assurance of the probable insanity of the prisoner, and feeling that it is best to resolve all doubts in favor of merciful course, exercising the authority in me by law vested in answer to the prayers of the good people of Ouray county, I hereby grant and declare a commutation of the sentence of said Charles H. Crosthwaite from the death penalty to that of imprisonment in the State penitentiary for the full term of his life.
Alan Todd is a 35-year newspaper veteran who lives in Ouray County. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.