Weld County's Past

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

Part III The jury learns WD French was bleeding from a wound.

Mr. Albert Leavenworth, the younger brother of Dr. William H. Leavenworth, stepped into the dining room and stopped in front of the coroner—raising his right hand as requested. The oath was administered and Leavenworth seated himself in the witness chair. Items he was due to testify to had been placed on a side table next to his chair.

Mr. House requested the witness to tell the jury what he knew of the events the previous evening.

“About 9:40 last night, I was at home four blocks from here and I heard what seemed to be four shots fired, two almost simultaneously and two at short intervals afterwards. I live in the same building where Dr. Leavenworth’s office is.”

“About ten minutes after the noise, Mr. French and two men and a boy came to the house and Mr. French asked for Dr. Leavenworth, my brother, who was absent. French’s face was very bloody. I saw an apparent wound over his right eye.”

Leavenworth’s testimony offered the first indication the victim had exacted an effective blow, opening a large gash to French’s brow.

Leavenworth continued with his testimony. “French and party went away and came back again in about ten minutes and this time John Samples came to the door and inquired if the Doctor had returned. Mother went to the door and told him no and asked if Mr. French was hurt very bad. Mr. French and two others were out in the road in a wagon.”

“After the first visit, I went over to the billiard hall and livery stable and came back again before they called the second time. In a short time, Pete Hughes passed by and told me they had done up Woodbury, and then I came down here and remained at the gate awhile and finally went to the telegraph office to telegraph to the coroner.”

Continuing, Leavenworth stated, “Afterwards I came back here and remained with the corpse all night. I found one of the bullets embedded in the plastering in the hall and I picked it out.”
The young Leavenworth scanned the items on the table and selected a handgun, picking it up—examining it while continuing to speak, “While staying here last night, in company with Mr. Beebush and Ed Matlock, about eleven o’clock I was fixing the fire and discovered this revolver lying right at the left leg of the stove, about a foot from the deceased’s right hand.”

Leavenworth held the gun aloft. Once he was satisfied the jury had sufficiently viewed the gun, he continued, “The revolver when found, contained two loaded cartridges and three empty shells, with the hammer resting on the center empty shell.”

He placed the gun back on the table and picked up two pieces of clothing. “I also found four candles out in the hall and Mr. Matlock found one candle out at the barn.” As he spoke, Leavenworth separated the two articles of clothing, grasping the collar of each separating them between his hands. As he held the items up he went on, “I also found Mr. French’s overcoat and dress coat in the hall. I recognize them as French’s clothing.”
With his testimony concluded, Mr. Leavenworth was excused. As he stood he placed the two coats back on the table, and with a final glance at the body he had maintained a vigil of, he made his way out of the residence.

Pete Hughes Liveryman

“I keep the livery stable here,” began Peter Hughes, settling into the witness chair. “About half past nine last night, Al Leavenworth came over to the stable and said French had been over to his house and his face was scarred up and bleeding and asked where Woodbury was and that he thought French and Woodbury had had a racket and that French and his mob had started up this way again.”

“Then I said, ‘Let’s follow them up.’ and we started up this way. Will Matlock, Ed Matlock, Ella Ward and Will Biebush came with me. Al Leavenworth stopped in his house.”

“We came near enough to see a squad of men near the gate and they went into the house and Mrs. Woodbury run out across the street, crying. I saw a man jump over the fence west of the gate. I thought it was French, and run towards the woman and when he reached her, he raised his hand to catch her, but she eluded him and ran on. At that time, I hollered to her to run towards us. We were running towards her. As I said that, the man turned and run across the street and down the alley towards the barn.”

When Mrs. Woodbury reached Hughes and his companions, she frantically told them her husband had been shot. This revelation obviously heightened Hughes’s concern for his own safety—made clear as he continued with his statement.

“It was a moon-light night. I suggested to the men, at the gate, to go after more men with guns and several started. In a few minutes, I heard a wagon coming down the road from the direction of Dr. Leavenworth’s. The wagon stopped a second or two and drove up a few steps and stopped again. There were four or five in the wagon all looking towards the house. They started up again and got to the crossing and stopped the third time, an instant, and then I said, ‘Hurry up boys with them guns!’ And then they whipped up their horses and started down the street just east of the house and went in the direction of French’s ranch. I recognize the rig as being French’s rig, or one just like it.”

The liveryman added, “I then came in the house and found the body lying on its back near the hall door. Mrs. Woodbury and quite a number were here at the time. I remained only a few moments and went out and went to my barn and hitched up a team for Ella Ward and Billy Matlock to go to Greeley after the Sheriff.”

Hughes then detailed how Harry Woodbury had come to be in possession of a gun, “About nine o’clock last night Harry Woodbury and Rocky Duell came to my barn and Harry said, ‘Have you got your pop with you?’
“I said, ‘Yes.’

“He said, ‘Loan it to me.’

“I said, ‘I can’t loan you my revolver, you will get in trouble with it. You don’t need it.’

“He said, ‘French and his mob is up there to the house.’

“I asked him what they were doing and I said, ‘Have they said or done anything to you?’

“And he said, ‘No, they are in the front part of the house and their team is at the barn.’

“While I was talking with Duell, Harry grabbed the revolver out of my pocket. I grabbed for him to get the gun and he rammed it down into his pocket and ran off. I called for him to bring it back, but he didn’t but went towards home.”

“As he started out he said, ‘All I want of this, Pete, is to protect my family. I am afraid they will break in on me and I haven’t a thing in the house.’”

“He also said, ‘I will go down home and go in my part and lock the door.’

“I then said to Duell, ‘You better go down with him.’

“Duell said, ‘Alright’ and started with him but Harry said, ‘I will go alone.’ And then Duell came back into the barn.”

The Coroner directed Hughes to pick up the revolver from the side table and asked if he recognized it. “I recognize this as my revolver, the same revolver found by Al Leavenworth near the stove. I had shot off two or three shots on Thanksgiving night. I usually carry my revolver with the hammer resting on an empty shell for safety.”

Guiding the witness, Coroner House said, “You may examine the empty shells in that revolver and state if, in your opinion, they bear evidence of having been recently discharged, or not.”

Hughes ejected the empty shell casings and looked at each of them individually. Upon completing his examination, he responded to the question from the Coroner, “I don’t think they do.”
“Why not?” asked the Coroner.

Hughes replied, “There is evidence of what is called canker about the edge of the shells showing some time has elapsed since they were discharged. A shell recently discharged will show fresh burned powder instead.”
Hughes’ testimony surrounding the firearm lacks credibility considering modern forensic firearm examination cannot determine if a firearm has been “recently discharged.”

The credibility of his testimony is further eroded given the recovery of bullets from the hallway were consistent with the caliber of Hughes’ gun. Hughes’ testimony was an attempt to wrongfully convince the jury that Woodbury had not fired the gun during the previous evenings encounter.

The coroner, having no further questions for Hughes, requested he leave the gun and bullets on the table. As Hughes did so, the coroner thanked him for his testimony and advised him he was free to leave.

Ed Matlock

Ed Matlock, the older brother of Will Matlock, was the next witness called to give his statement before the jury. Ed was one of six children of Woodford Matlock. Around 1875, Woodford Matlock had loaded his large family into a wagon and headed west from Kentucky. Like jurors Welch and Young, Ed’s father had served in the Union Army. Woodford Matlock was a sergeant in the Union Army’s 8th Kentucky Volunteer Cavalry, credentials affording him membership to the Grand Army of the Republic, US Grant Post 13.

Ed Matlock took his seat. The young man was visibly ill at ease with the presence of the dead body laying beneath him as he began his testimony. “I was in the billiard hall opposite Dr. Leavenworth’s last evening and Al Leavenworth came in and said that French was up town inquiring for the doctor and his face was all covered with blood.”

“Knowing the suits between French and Woodbury, I started out and met Pete Hughes, and we all came down here. As we were coming down I saw a man running in the road from the corner where Mr. Black lives across to the alley and run down the alley, just west of this lot, to the barn where the horses were hitched. Heard them backing out with the wagon.”

“Near Mr. Black’s corner we met Mrs. Woodbury and she said that Mr. Woodbury had been shot and we all came down to the house.”

Young Matlock, along with the others, had declined Mrs. Woodbury’s request to join her in the house. What exactly prevented them from rushing in to the house was never broached during testimony. Whatever his reasoning, what happened next created a stark sense of fear as the “killers” returned to the scene.

“While standing at the gate, I heard French’s wagon coming down from the direction of Dr. Leavenworth’s in which was four men, I think. The wagon stopped in front of the gate about a minute or less and Pete Hughes, seeing others coming down the road, said, ‘Hurry up boys, bring on the guns.’ At that the wagon started up and went off in the direction of French’s ranch.”

After the arrival of George Briggs, Matlock was able to overcome his reluctance to enter the house. “In a short time, we came into the house and found the deceased lying here as he is now—dead.”
Having no follow up questions for Matlock, Coroner House excused him. Matlock without delay left the house—the house he had never wanted to enter in the first place.

Up next, the autopsy report and the Jury’s findings!

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