Weld County's Past

Explore the fascinating history of Weld County's rustlers, killers, outlaws and lawmen.

The Lynching of WD French Part II, Woodbury’s widow testifies.

 

The widow, Mary A. Woodbury, was escorted into the makeshift tribunal, an unpleasant feeling settling over the jurors for having to subject the grieving woman to testify before the dead body of her husband. If the widow was affected by the ordeal she certainly did not display it. She offered her testimony free of emotion.

“I am the wife of Harry Woodbury, the deceased. We have been married five years and have three children.”

“Mr. Woodbury had been in partnership with Mr. French and sold out to him. In this settlement, about 850 lbs. of flour became a portion of our share. We had appropriated about 250 lbs. of it. This flour was in this house. This settlement was made about the 1st of November 1888. A few days afterwards, we moved from the ranch, which is about five miles southeast of here, into this house.”

Besides the house he shared with Woodbury, French had acquired liens on additional properties in Evans. He held as collateral four lots along Central Avenue, between 7th and 8th Street on which the Cactus Hotel was located. The hotel and saloon had been built to serve the needs of the weary passengers arriving on the Denver Pacific Railroad.

“In a few weeks,” the widow continued, “when deceased was absent from town, French came to the house in company with Mort McCarty and his two sons Juny and Ed French. McCarty began removing the flour from upstairs. I told McCarty that that flour belonged to us and forbade him moving it.”

“French said it was on the agreement that he was to have that flour and I said it wasn’t. I got the agreement to show him it was not on it and he snatched it from me and put it in his pocket without looking at it, and told Mort to carry the flour down. And if it wasn’t right, he would make it all right. The flour was brought down and loaded in French’s wagon and taken away.”

The widow’s words were not lost on juror Albert Talbot. His parent’s house was the adjoining property to the French home. Living near provided plenty of opportunity for the young Talbot to gain a measure of French’s character. Any witnessed abusive behavior would have certainly been a source of conversation in the Talbot home.

Post offices in small towns distributed mail and gossip. Albert Talbot’s father as Postmaster of Evans was in a position to keep the town folks informed about the French disturbances if so inclined. Regardless of the source, French’s reputation as a cruel husband led many in the community to conclude French’s treatment of his sickly wife contributed to her death in the summer of 1887. The Howitzer, in the January 4th, 1889 edition served to propagate the gossip as a means to condone the lynching.

…We hear it stated that large numbers of the people of Evans were in a state of terror at the idea of allowing French to be liberated on bail, as appearances indicated he would be, and his brutality to his late wife was another cause of fear that he would wreak vengeance upon his neighbors in that town if he was turned loose on bail. …His family moved to Evans a few years ago, where his wife died about a year and a half ago, her death no doubt being hastened by French’s cruel treatment when on her death bed. It was the memory of that treatment that intensified the feeling against him.

“The next day,” the widow continued, “I think it was, Harry came home, and I told him about it and he went to the Justice’s office and replevined the flour. Since then, there has been considerable lawing between the two about the flour. And yesterday Harry and I went to Greeley to attend the last trial. We got judgment for the flour when Mr. French did not appear. On our return, Harry got the flour and hauled it to the house where it now is.”

The widow continued her testimony describing for the jury those last hours leading up to her husband’s murder, “In the afternoon, about half past 4 or 5 o’clock, I heard a noise in the front part of the house which is still occupied by French. We having rented only the rear part and not that part, and I knew it was French by his voice. There were several with him in the house. I heard the party go out the front door and I looked out the west window of my dining room and saw French and three others driving away from the house in a double seated spring wagon, going up town.”

“They came back about 8 o’clock and came in the west front room and stayed until about half past nine. Then I heard them go out the front door and come around to the kitchen door and rapped at the door. I had put the two older children to bed and was sitting at the table sewing. Harry was at the table reading when the tap came at the door.”

Mrs. Woodbury then provided an uninterrupted monologue of the exchange between her husband and French, “Harry got up and went to the door and said, ‘You can’t come in here. Go and get a responsible man to come with you and you can come in.’

“Mr. French replied, ‘Ain’t I a responsible man?’

“Harry said, ‘No you are not responsible.’

“Then French said, ‘You lying son of a bitch! You bastard you, I will come in! You better open that door!’

“Then Harry said, ‘You can’t come in here.’

“Then French said, ‘I can come in and I will come in.’ and then they all came around to the front door again and came down the hall to the door of the dining room that opens upon the hall, and unlocked that door. Mr. French has always had the key to that hall door since we have occupied this part of the house.”

“As they unlocked the door Harry took hold of the knob on this side and tried to prevent their entrance. French was still cursing Harry and said he wanted to come in and he would come in.”

“Harry said, ‘You better not come in.’

“And French said, ‘What would you do if I do come in?’

“Harry said, ‘It’s all right you better not come in.’

“Harry was still holding the door and I was standing by his side. He told me to go into the bedroom where the children were, and I went in and he pushed the door closed after me.”

“Almost instantly I heard a shot fired. I don’t remember hearing more than one shot, though there is evidence of several shots being fired. Nor do I remember the party’s going away, nor of any struggling.”

The widow intimating, she had a lapse in recall stated, “Apparently, a short time afterwards, when everything was quiet, I came to myself and said, ‘Harry are you hurt?’ Receiving no reply, I ventured out. The lamp was out, and I lit it and discovered Harry lying where he is now.” The widow looked down, her gaze fixed upon the body as she continued her statement, “I spoke to him and he did not answer, and I run out of the house through the kitchen door and across towards Mr. Black’s, one of my neighbors.”

“As I was going across the street, I think it was Mort McCarty who was standing near the barn, came running up to the front fence and said, ‘What’s the matter?’

“I said, ‘Go away!’

“He said, ‘Don’t go.’

“As I got near Black’s, I met several men coming down the street and I turned and came back with them. I told them that Harry was shot, and I asked them to come in, but they would not. I came in and bathed his face and then went out to the gate and saw French and the other three sitting in their wagon near the corner, about 100 feet away.”

“Presently, some other men came down the road and then French and party started off towards the ranch. Then Mr. Briggs and several others came in. And then I went to Mrs. Leavenworth’s and remained during the balance of the night until I came here to testify.”

The coroner inquired of Mrs. Woodbury regarding her financial situation. She announced for all to hear that she was penniless without the means to even provide a proper burial for the deceased.
The coroner thanked Mrs. Woodbury for her testimony and offered his condolences as he excused her. The jury members all stood as Mrs. Woodbury prepared to leave. She moved toward the door that was central to the nightmare she had just recounted. She walked out of the home with no means of support for her three young children and an uncertain future.

Before calling the next witness, House directed George Young to provide, at the county’s expense, a coffin and burial for the deceased, impressing upon Mr. Young the cost was not to exceed twelve dollars.

Louis Youngmark, an engineer for Greeley’s Electric Company and a deputy sheriff, was summoned into the room to testify. The deputy entered the room carrying a box containing the evidence that had been collected the previous  evening. After taking the oath, Deputy Youngmark sat in the witness chair setting the box on the floor.

Youngmark began, “Last night, about 11:45, Sheriff Wolaver and myself came over to this place and found the dead body of Harry Woodbury here lying same as now.”

“We procured warrants and with others went to W. D. French’s ranch in Beebe Draw and arrested W. D. French, John Sample and John Hogan for murder and brought them to jail at Greeley.”

French’s Beebe Draw ranch was located four and a half miles southeast of Evans. The Evans-Box Elder road led south out of town where a bridge allowed passage over the South Platte River. The road continued directly to French’s ranch cutting across his quarter section of land, then turning south towards Box Elder.

The ranch house was a single-story wood structure consisting of one large room. Beds were scattered throughout the sparsely furnished house. A cook stove provided the heat and the means to cook. French’s Beebe Draw ranch was one of five Weld County ranches owned by the cattleman.

WD French’s Weld County ranches at the time he was lynched.

Deputy Youngmark continued, “Afterwards, upon a search warrant, Mr. P.B. Morley and myself returned to the ranch and found two revolvers.”

The deputy reached into the box and pulled out a pistol to show the jury. “One .44 caliber, full loaded.” The deputy, while still holding the .44 revolver, retrieved a second pistol from the box—holding it high for the jury’s viewing and stated, “The other is a .45 caliber, as near as I can judge, full loaded.”

The deputy lowered the .45 revolver while still holding high the .44 pistol, offering additional information specifically about that gun. “The handle of the first one was and is still bloody. This revolver I found in Mr. French’s bed, under the pillow.”

Like a child at show and tell with his pet turtle, the deputy took his time, slowly allowing each member of the jury an opportunity to view the blood-stained grip in order to capture the significance of “his” find.
If the jury had concluded the blood on the grip to be Woodbury’s, they would have been wrong. The next witness to testify would offer compelling testimony offering evidence to whose blood it was—offering further insight into the deadly encounter.

WD French revolver evidence tag.

The original Sheriff’s evidence tag from the revolver WD French used to shoot Harry Woodbury.

“The other gun was taken from under a pillow in another bed, occupied by a hired man. The gun is claimed by a man named Cap. There were a few loose cartridges I found there which fit these two guns and I brought them with me.”

Concluding his testimony, Youngmark finishing by detailing the corroborative statements obtained from French’s hired ranch hands.

“The men at the ranch told me that French, Sample, Hogan and French’s boy, Juny, got home from Evans about eleven.”

The coroner thanked Deputy Youngmark for his testimony and excused him; requesting he ask the next witness, Mr. Al Leavenworth, to come forward and provide his statement.

Next up: Part III  Revealed, WD French injured during shooting.

 

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