Weld County's Past

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

Part IV; The Coroner’s Jury issues findings

Robert Conley, the 70-year-old father of the widow Mary Woodbury, slowly entered the dining room. He stopped briefly to look at the cold body of his son-in-law; the burden of such a senseless act caused him to shake his head as he took a seat.

His wife Elizabeth had already set about making room for Mary and her three young children. The Conley’s were accustomed to “making room” for their offspring and grandchildren. In the 1880 Kansas census 12 people were living in Robert Conley’s farmhouse; four of those were grandchildren. In a loud and halting voice Conley began, “Am the father of Mrs. Woodbury. I live three miles south of Evans on the road that leads to French’s ranch.”
“About two weeks ago, as I was riding into town from home. I met WD French going home. I met him in the road about a mile and a quarter from Evans. We both stopped our teams.”

“As I spoke I said, ‘Mr. French have you and Harry got that suit settled? He said, ‘No, but I’ll be God damned if he beats me; it will be the last man he’ll ever beat.’ At that he gave his horses a cut and started off on a gallop. There was one of his little boys with him. It was the youngest one. I think his name is Ed.”

“That’s all I know about the matter.”

Conley slowly lifted himself from the chair, pausing long enough to steady himself. With a parting shake of his head Conley walked toward the door—a gait slowed by age and the realization his daughter and her three young children had no means of support. He would head home to help his wife Elizabeth “make room.”

George Miller presented his brief statement. “I live across the street from this house. Last night about 9:30, I heard five shots sounding like revolver shots. I was in bed.”
“The first three shots were fired almost simultaneously, then an interval of three or four seconds there was another shot, and then after an interval of about fifteen seconds, the last shot was fired.”
“Billy Biebush came about fifteen minutes afterwards and told me about it and I got up and came over to the house. When I came over I met Mr. Briggs, Biebush, Al Leavenworth and Ed Matlock over here at the gate and we all come in the house and found the deceased lying as he is now.”

“We searched the room and found three loose bullets; one in the stairway and two in the hall. There is a bullet hole in the casing which I presume contains a bullet.”

As Miller left the residence, the coroner announced there was only one witness remaining to be heard: Charlie Wille, the son of juror Christian Wille.

The 14-year-old boy walked into the dining room the sight of the dead body stopping him in his tracks. He stared at the body, unable to divert his gaze until the sound of his father’s voice interrupted the moment. Christ, as he was known by most of the town, instructed his son to sit in the chair previously occupied by the numerous witnesses before him. Charlie gingerly, as if fearful of awakening Woodbury, made his way to the chair and seated himself. Overcoming an irresistible urge to gawk he settled for a side-glance at a sight he had never seen before—a dead body, began, “Am a clerk in George Briggs’s store where the flour was stored. Yesterday evening, while Mr. French and the others were in the store, and before Mr. Woodbury came in, I heard Mr. French say to the crowd, ‘I don’t care a damn for the flour, but I’ll make it alright before morning.’”

In a voice struggling between adolescence and manhood the young Wille concluded his testimony with the ne plus ultra; “After that, in conversation he called him, ‘a God damned son of a bitch!’ With that, the Coroner excused him. He made his way to the door, glancing toward his father who gave a nod of approval. The boy’s exhilaration of involvement had diluted any concern he had about the dead body before him. Leaving the house on a run, his thoughts focused on seeking an audience with his friends. He had plenty to tell them.

With testimony having been concluded, the coroner arranged for French’s body to be removed for an autopsy by Dr. William H. Leavenworth, the doctor WD French had unsuccessfully sought medical attention from the previous evening . The jury met later in the day to receive the results of Dr. Leavenworth’s examination.

He delivered his results using pathological terms unfamiliar to most, if not all, of the jury. “On post-mortem examination, I found the ball pierced the eighth rib at the cartilaginous articulation of the rib, passing downward and backward and lodging back beneath the skin in the region of the posterior portion of the crest of the ileum, immediately anterior to the posterior spheroid spine.”
“The ball passed through the right lobe of the liver, the upper surface of the transverse colon, the under surface of the stomach, ranging backward and lodging as stated before. The ball was in a side-wise position with the butt end of the ball flattened.”

Oblivious to the jury’s level of comprehension—or uncaring, he continued, “The crest of the ileum somewhat roughened as though the ball had come in slight contact with same. There was evidence of considerable hemorrhage the results of the rupture of numerous small blood vessels in the range of the ball, also of the injury of the liver.”

The Doctor concluded with his findings—information the jury was finally able to grasp, “I would say that such injuries would cause death in a very few minutes resulting from the hemorrhage and the severe shock caused by the injuries to the various organs. I would consider such injuries sufficient to cause death in deceased.”

The following day, E.P. House issued the jury’s verdict:

An Inquisition holden at Evans, County of Weld, on the 15th day of December A.D. 1888, before Edward P. House, Coroner of said County, upon the dead body of Harry Woodbury lying there dead, by the jurors whose names are hereto subscribed; the said jurors, upon their oaths do say that Harry Woodbury came to his death in the dining room of his residence, about 9:45 o’clock on the night of December 14th 1888, by means of a gun-shot wound penetrating his body, the ball entering at the eighth rib on the right side and passing through the liver, intestines and stomach, in a downward and backwards direction, and lodging beneath the skin on the left side just above the crest of the Ilium. That said wound was produced by the discharge of a pistol, revolver or gun of forty-four caliber, in the hand of one of the following named persons, to-wit: WD French, John Hogan, John Sample and June French, but the jurors cannot determine which of these four persons fired the fatal shot. We also find that the act was feloniously done.
Geo. H. Young, Foreman.
C.H. Welch.
A.M. Todd.
W.T. Taylor.
A.H. Talbot.
C. Wille
E. P. House, Coroner

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