Weld County’s lynchings, cattle rustlers, cold blooded killers and the lawmen who pursued them are the subjects of Weld County’s Past.
I have served Weld County for 40 years as a lawman. I spent those decades working alongside dedicated and gifted detectives searching for clues to ensure Weld County’s most heinous present day crimes were solved. Those responsible for the crimes were identified, captured and eventually tried within the venerable walls of the Weld County Courthouse. I used that experience to unearth and document fascinating details about criminals from the formative days of Weld County. It was a time of lawlessness unrestrained by a justice system so inept it lacked the trust and confidence of the early settlers of Weld County. This distrust often led to vigilantism. One such lynching occurred in 1888 when WD French was busted out of jail by a mob of “one hundred strong.” He was led to a nearby tree and hung, “suspended between heaven and earth, deserving of neither.”
I have no explanation for my preoccupation with criminals long forgotten. Perhaps my journey into investigating the old cases, truly deserving of “very cold case” status, was an out growth of my law enforcement career. The deep satisfaction of solving cases, uncovering clues, and finding answers to questions for 40 years has evolved into this pursuit.
With any good theater there is a cast of characters, both major and minor. Within the stories of Weld County’s Past you will meet the villains and their victims. You will also be introduced to the bit players who often proved to be worthy of much more time and effort than I was able to devote. The 1888 lynching of WD French in Greeley presented an endless cast of such bit players to include;
- Charles H. Welch of Evans, Colorado, a survivor of The Battle of the Little Big Horn and recipient of the Medal of Honor.
- Wilbur Maynard French, the 12-year-old son of WD French who was arrested along with his father and the rest of the WD French “gang.”
- Seth Hathaway, WD French’s maternal uncle, billed as “The Last Pony Express Rider” in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
Woven into the cloth of Weld County’s early and lawless beginnings are fascinating stories of rustlers, murderers and lawmen like;
The Greeley Police Chief who, along with his close associate, was tried for the axe murder of a man they later dumped into a well.
Newt Vorce, the Deer Tail Terror, whose history of deadly crimes was interrupted by a conviction in front of a Weld County jury, but renewed with a Governor’s pardon.
The ruthless “King of Rustlers” was caught during his stealing of cattle by a young man whose family owned the herd of the rustler’s intent. The young man’s brutally murdered body was found buried on the plains east of his ranch. Incredibly, the killer had taken the time to dig a hole large enough to accommodate, not only the victim, but the victim’s horse and saddle.
These are a few of the cases I will be presenting on Weld County’s Past. I hope you will find them entertaining.