Thursday, July 2, 2009

Of law and lawlessness in Leadville

Leadville got off to a rough start in the law and order department: In "History of Lake County," R.G. Dill described the situation in 1878 (from the lofty viewpoint of 1881):
The streets and alleys which had come into being with the growth of the town, were the hiding places of desperadoes who waited paitently for the coming of their victims, whom a blow from the bludgeon would put in a condition to be quietly robbed.

One year later in 1879, things are even worse:
Following in the wakes of the wealth which daily poured into the camp, were men whose trades were theft and robbery. To drug a victim, coolly rifle his pockets of every article of value, and throw him into the streets to be arrested for drunkennes, was among the most common ethhods of the thugs who infested the saloons and variety theatres... Men were robbed within the shadows of their own doors; stripped of their valuables in their own bedchambers... and no part of the city was so well guarded as to be safe...
Leadville's first town marshal lasted only a few days. The second lasted three and a half weeks before being shot. The third, Mart Duggan, was a man who, by some accounts, was no better than those he set out to bring to heel. Edward Blair, in his very readable Leadville: Colorado's Magic City, sums Duggan up nicely: "He was not overly concerned with the letter of the law or the rights of the accused. His methods were those of the 'roughs,' and his success was born out of his superior strength, determination, and absolute fearlessness."

The town (or city) marshal was not the only enforcer of law. Leadville also had a police force. in mid-1879, the Leadville Daily Chronicle sums up the typical officer in this manner:
... numbered and branded with a star and turned loose. He has no instructions as to what he is to do, or how he is to do it. He is amendable to nobody nor nothing. Makes arrests when he feels like it, and sometimes tries and discharges his own prisoners. If there is one place in the city where he can find more comforts than another, that place will be well watched.
In early 1880, Leadville appointed a "city collector" from the police force to collect all revenues (saloon licenses and fines of prostitutes and gamblers were the biggest sources of revenue for the city—around $3,500 a month). Some fees were collected by the city clerk and various police officers as well. Interestingly enough, however, it wasn't until October 1880 that the city council finally passed a resolution requiring that all officers collecting funds to account for them.

Hmmm, says I. Sounds like plenty of opportunity for corruption and for said funds to go astray... These mental musings were the genesis of one of the story lines in Leaden Skies.

Next up (because it's that time of year): Fourth of July in long-ago Leadville.


Patricia Stoltey said...

Must have been mighty wild on the streets of Leadville. You're turning me on to Colorado history with these posts, Ann. Another addiction....

Ann Parker said...

Oh good! :-) I feel like a Leadville booster here ... the more people who become interested in this amazing place and its history, the better.

KK Brees said...

I love these history posts. There's so much adventure and romance perking around that I just want to learn more. Nice job.