Deadly Grand Lake Feud is Recalled by Holiday
The Denver Post, July 5, 1931
Mystery still cloaks killing of three county commissioners and clerk and suicide of Sheriff in Fight for Political Control in 1883.
Holiday merrymakers who are spending the July Fourth weekend at Grand Lake will find it one of the beauty spots of Colorado. Yet those who look across the silver stretch of the lake may see reflected there the shadow on one of Colorado’s greatest early day political feuds which marked the celebration of the Fourth of July in 1883.
Three county commissioners and their clerk slain, and the sheriff of Grand county dead by his own hand, was the toll of a pitched gun battle between two political factions of the day.
Yet the mystery of these murders was never completely solved and no one was ever convicted for the crimes.
The town of Grand Lake was laid out in 1879, four years before the shootings, by a group of men led by William Redman, described by historians of the time as a rough and ready character, quick to shoot. He had an able lieutenant in his brother, Bass Redman.
Fight for County Seat starts bitter feud.
As the little town grew larger, ambitions to move the county seat there from Hot Sulphur Springs arose. A vote was taken and the seat moved in 1881, after much litigation and bickering.
This fight stirred up a bitterness between the two towns which split the county into two factions. Teller, the largest of the mining camps gave its aid to Hot Sulphur while Lulu was a friend of Grand Lake.
Redman and his brother were the leaders in Grand Lake. John G. Mills of Teller was an ally. Mills was a brave yet reckless man, who, it was said, left Mississippi to avoid the consequences of killing a man there. He had been well educated, possessed much ability as a writer and had studied law. His fellow citizens of Teller sympathized with the Hot Sulphur Springs faction, but Mills threw his fortunes with the Grand Lake crowd.
Royer of Hot Sulphur is elected sheriff.
Charles W. Royer of Hot Sulphur was another leader in the Redman-Mills group and was elected sheriff of Grand county in 1881. He had appointed Bill Redman as his deputy at Grand Lake.
Opposing this Grand Lake faction was another crowd equally desperate.
The leader was E. P. Weber, manager of the Wolverine mine, near Rabbit Ears.
Barney Day, famous Indian fighter and frontier marksman, was another leader in the Hot Sulphur faction: Captain T. J. Dean, fighter and crack shot, the third.
Bitterness Carried Over into Campaign of 1882
In the election of 1881, the Mills-Redman crowd was victorious and Royer was elected sheriff.
In the campaign of 1882, the bitterness raged with new vigor. Henry R. Wolcott was nominated for governor under the sponsorship of Senator Nathaniel P. Hill and was opposed by Jerome B. Chaffee.
A rump convention was held by seven delegates in the new county seat of Grand Lake, and Weber and Dean were sent as delegates to the Republican convention as anti-Wolcott men. Weber made a speech attacking Mills, calling him a murderer and a fugitive from justice.
At the beginning of 1883, Mills was chairman of the county commissioners and Barney Day was a member. Wilson Waldren and H. B. Rogerson made up the rest of the board. Rogerson found the feud becoming too bitter for him and he resigned, and Weber was named in his place.
This set the stage for the happenings of July 4. A report was circulated that Weber and Day were planning a meeting of the county commissioners to oust the county clerk and treasurer, without notifying Chairman Mills. A quarrel arose between Weber and Lew W. Pollard, the county clerk, as to the legality of the meeting and he refused to produce the records.
A date for the special meeting was set and on Monday, July 2, the commissioners met.
Board Starts Move to Oust Sheriff.
The board considered matters all day and at dusk an order was handed to Sheriff Royer, who was with the Mills faction, to appear before the board and show why his bond should not be declared insufficient and himself removed from office.
This was the first intimation of the plans of the Weber-Day faction, but public opinion was aroused to a higher pitch when it was found similar action was planned against the county clerk, county treasurer and county judge.
In those days the Fairview house owned by Mrs. M. J. Young, was the leading hotel. Here Weber, Day, Dean and many Teller people were staying.
About 9 o’clock July 4, a fusillade of twelve to fifteen shots was heard, but hotel guests believed it was only more holiday fireworks.
Suddenly a man rushed up the road from the town. “Weber has been shot,” he cried.
Hotel Guests find Four Men Shot.
Guests rushed down the road, among them Deputy Sheriff Max James of Teller.
About 200 yards away Weber was found shot thru his right lung. Not far off, Dean was found shot thru the bridge of his nose and the hip. His head was badly cut by blows.
At the corner of the hotel’s old ice house nearby, with his head in the lake, Barney Day was found shot thru the heart.
In the middle of the road close by was a fourth body afterward recognized as John G. Mills. Over his head was a flour sack with holes cut for the eyes and mouth. A bullet had been fired into his head at such close range the cloth mask was burned.
A trail of blood led from the scene to the outlet of the lake, 300 yards away, and then was lost. In following the trail, Deputy James found a second mask similar to the one on Mills. The bodies of the dead men were taken to Grand Lake and the wounded to the Fairview house. Weber died at midnight and Dean died on July 17.
Weber Shot First from Ambush.
All the circumstances indicated six to nine men were in the attacking party, although only three took part in the actual shooting.
Weber, it was believed, was shot first from ambush.
“I am shot,” he exclaimed and staggered into the arms of his friends, Day and Dean. They were then attacked and the fight became general.
Dean was shot in this melee, as was Mills, and Day ran from the scene. As he neared the icehouse he saw Sheriff Royer approaching.
Feeling relieved at seeing an officer of the law, he ran toward him. Royer, it was charged, pulled his gun and shot Day thru the chest. Day died almost immediately.
Conscience Drives Royer to Commit Suicide
Royer is alleged to have made a confession to Ad Kinney, a liveryman in Georgetown.
In the following August, Royer killed himself in the Innes House in Georgetown and saw Kinney just before.
“Ad, this thing is getting on my nerves,” Royer said. “They’re shadowing me all the time. I never saw a town so full of detectives. Everywhere I go, I am watched. And there is Barney Day, too. He is looking at me all the time. He haunts my thoughts. I see him there right before me, smiling at me like a friend.”
The wounded men who left the trail of blood to the outlet of the lake was believed to have been Bill Redman.
It was found Redman fled to the mountains and hid in a mountain cabin about four miles northwest of Grand Lake. His wounds were dressed by doctors brought by friends.
Redman Flees to Utah, then South America.
When he was able to travel he was taken by his brother, Bass Redman thru Middle and Egeria parks to a hiding place at the northern foot of the Flat Top mountains. He remained there some time and then fled to Utah.
The body of a man was found there, a suicide or murdered. To his saddle was pinned the name “William Redman.” Investigation revealed this was not Redman, and it was found later Redman had fled to Arizona and later, it was said, to South America.
Alonso Coffin was tried at Golden in connection with the murders, but was acquitted. Others also were tried, but no convictions ever were obtained.
The county seat was moved back to Hot Sulphur Springs in 1888 and that smoothed out most of the bitterness in the county’s politics.