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Bull Hill - 1894 Sheriff Boynton

Winfield Scott Boynton, was Innkeeper/owner Winifred Boynton Ledford’s great grandfather. At the time of the first Cripple Creek miners' strike in 1894, he was a county commissioner. The next year he ran for sheriff of El Paso County, which was the county where Cripple Creek and Victor were located until March of 1899 when Teller County was formed.


He was elected sheriff and served in that position for four years until 1898 or 1899; he was the fourth sheriff of El Paso County. Shortly after that he was appointed by Theodore Roosevelt to be commissioner of commerce in Denver.


He served in many roles in public service until his death in 1910. They closed the entire city for his funeral.


Here is a brief story about his role in the miners' strike.


Early in April 1894, John Calderwood decided to tour the state's mining camps on behalf of the Western Federation of Miners and Governor Waite. Some hated to see him go. They were afraid that the strike would get out of hand during his absence.


It did. Before he left, Calderwood named an Aspen friend Junius Johnson as regent of the kingdom of Bull Hill. Johnson had been a West Pointer a few years before and had been expelled for hazing during his senior year.


He had taken his dismissal hard and had left his Kentucky home for remote places where he would not meet classmates, which was how he got to Aspen and then to Cripple Creek.


Cripple Creek’s March troubles had drawn all kinds of men to Bull Hill, criminals especially. "General" Johnson began to feel that he was the employment office for every ex-convict fresh out of the Canon City pen. These fellows were truly rugged individualists. They had a gang leader, "General" Jack Smith, whom "General" Johnson had to accept as his right-hand man. "General" Smith favored forthright action. When two spies for the mine owners, Bill Rabideau and W. S. Ferguson, defended the nine-hour day at a miners' meeting, Smith and his gang grabbed them, carted them to Altman, made them drink from cuspidors, threatened to cut off useful parts of their bodies and drove Rabideau out of camp. Ferguson was thrown down an 18-foot prospect hole, suffering a broken leg.


Rabideau and Ferguson were gorillas who were asking for what they got, but the mine owners claimed that they were saintly men. They demanded punishment for the "General" Smith gang. "General" Johnson hastened to improve Bull Hill defenses. He built a log fort atop Bull Cliff, its fake cannon pointed at the Victor Mine below. He designed a bow-gun which could hurl beer bottles filled with dynamite to the bottom of Bull Hill. He collected rifles from the hardware stores and homes of the district. Bull Hill and Battle Mountain roads were mined. Strikers were supplied with pencil-sized dynamite cartridges to blow up attackers at close range.


Johnson tried to maintain discipline on the Hill, but he couldn't control Jack Smith and Company. This bunch roamed around soothing the complexes of its members by wrecking saloons, robbing stores, beating nonunion men and disturbing the peace of parlor houses. Their lawlessness was given full publicity by newsmen in the pay of the mine owners. The general public began to get tired of the strike.


That gave the mine owners a chance to enlist support for raising an army of El Paso County deputy sheriffs to capture Bull Hill from the Western Federation. No more appeals to "Bloody Bridles" Waite. No more talk with Adjutant General Tarsney. From here on El Paso County would handle its own affairs.


There was one hitch. Very few residents of Colorado Springs knew how to hold a gun, let alone aim one at a mob of mountaineers led by a West Pointer. The solution, supplied by Irving Howbert, seemed too good to be true.


A large body of tough and expert marksmen despised Waite, Tarsney and all their Populist rabble. The ex-police and lawmen of Denver, whom Waite had just kicked out of jobs for resisting his militia in the Denver City Hall, made up the 125 "EI Paso County deputies" - all from Denver. They passed through the Springs, boarded trains at Florence and approached the gold camp the south on the new narrow-gauge Florence & Cripple Railway. "General" Johnson got the news at Altman and decided on drastic action. These phony deputies hired by the mine owners must not be allowed to take Hill. They must be given a scare. On May 25, two F. & C. C. flatcars loaded with Denver ex-police and ex-firemen moved along the last mile toward Victor. From the flatcars they saw nothing unusual on the slope of Battle Mountain - just a work gang and a horse wagon pulling toward Stratton's Independence and the Strong Mine.


The flatcars moved near the Strong, the whole sky over around Victor town seemed to explode. The Strong Mine house flew 300 feet into the air and disintegrated under the force of a great blast. While the Denver men stared in terror, a second blast shook the district and echoed along the Rampart Range. The Strong's steamer shot skyward like a cork from a popgun. The ex-police dropped their rifles and covered their heads as hunks of frame, cable, and iron wheels pelted around the flat cars. They weren't those tough hombres now. They were scared senseless, as "General" Johnson hoped they would be. The locomotive engineer lunged at his lever and set his wheels spinning in reverse. The dinky train backed off toward the southern hills, slowly at first, then in urgent flight.


Half an hour later, the whole gold camp went into an emotional tailspin. A boil of resentment spilled over the district with resentment at Springs mine owners, Springs millionaires, Springs Episcopalians, Springs Republicans. Yelling mobs smashed the doors and windows of liquor warehouses, and drenched themselves in whiskey. "General" Johnson's crew who had blown up the Strong Mine, seized a flatcar, loaded it with TNT and rolled it downgrade to try to smash into the Denver force. Instead it left the track on a curve and exploded, killing a cow and three goats. The same crew drove 21 guards from Stratton's Independence and took over the mine.


"General" Jack Smith collected his drunken battalion, loaded two wagons with dynamite and set out to blow up every mine shaft, every super's home, every ore bin in the district. "General" Johnson intercepted Smith and ordered him to sober up and chase the retreating Denver force. Smith and Company stole a work train at Victor and met the enemy around midnight some miles south of Victor. In a brief, confused battle two men were killed. The hired Denver deputies captured five strikers.


Early next morning John Calderwood arrived back at Cripple Creek from his speaking tour. It was a sad homecoming. His fine work was ruined. The strike's original purpose was forgotten. It had degenerated into a futile class war. Calderwood had to move quickly and ordered the saloonkeepers to close their doors. He locked up “General" Smith in Altman. He persuaded "General" Junius to leave the district. He asked Father Volpe and other church leaders to restore order in their settlements.


He asked wives to get their men home. By nightfall the saga was over. Winfield Scott Stratton and Sam Strong got down the mountain a dozen hours after the Strong Mine explosion. Their reports started a reaction that swelled roared until it equaled the reaction in Cripple Creek. Springs people had great grievances too. Their fury hit a peak when they learned that Superintendent McDonald and two miners were in the Strong Mine at time of the explosion. The strikers took them from the mine afterward and jailed them at Altman.


In a stirring speech Judge Colburn said: "I call on every red-bodied man and boy to wrest Bull Hill from the insurrectionists before the insurrectionists despoil the Springs."


Miss Susan Dunbar announced that her Ladies' Auxiliary was ready to make bandages and fill canteens for the city's defenders, to bind wounds and to comfort the dying.


With the grapeshot seeming to fly already, the residents flocked around Sheriff Bowers demanding to be sworn in as deputy sheriff.


Irving Howbert sent coded telegrams hiring 100 more professional gunmen from Denver and 100 from Leadville. Stratton, still in high dudgeon over the seizure of his Independence by the strikers, told Howbert to buy him a full brigade to recapture his property.


Sheriff Bowers swore in altogether an army of 1200 deputies to oppose the 700-man miners' army on Bull Hill. The enlarged deputy army went into campaign headquarters at Hayden Divide, on the Colorado Midland 18 miles north of Cripple Creek. At Hagerman's request, William S. Slocum, president of Colorado College, went to Altman to try to settle the conflict. He didn't settle anything. But he did arrange an exchange of prisoners. It occurred on May 28, 1894, near Hoosier Pass, north of Bull Hill. The five strikers who had been captured by the Denver ex-cops were exchanged for Superintendent McDonald and his two comrades. The exchange was a unique event in United States history. Neither army had any legality, yet both behaved like international belligerents bound by the laws of war.


The exchange convinced Governor Waite that he'd better come up and end the explosive situation. That made it more explosive than ever. Waite was the last person the mine owners wanted to see in El Paso County. He journeyed to Altman and received full power to arbitrate for the strikers, provided they wouldn't be prosecuted for criminal acts. Then Waite and John Calderwood came to Colorado Springs to confer with Hagerman and other mine owners in a room at Palmer Hall, Colorado College. The mine owners stared through Calderwood as though he were so much air. It made Calderwood nervous so he remained in the hall.


The Governor tried hard. For four hours he pleaded, threatened, pounded the table. The mine owners agreed to one $3 eight-hour day. But they wouldn't agree not to prosecute the strike leaders for criminal acts. So the conference broke up. An angry crowd milled around Palmer Hall waiting to nab Waite and Calderwood. While Judge Horace Lunt made a speech to hold the crowd, Waite and Calderwood slipped out a back door and walked to the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad station.


Sheriff Bowers met Waite at his special train and handed him a written request for the State militia to return to Cripple Creek. This request was, of course, against the mine owners' wishes. But Bowers was at the end of his rope once more. The army of 1200 El Paso County deputies at Hayden Divide refused to acknowledge his authority. They had selected County Commissioner Winfield Scott Boynton as their boss.


Boynton, a hotel man and former Manitou shoe clerk, had risen from sleep one morning filled with a certainty that he was a military genius. He was the man who ought to be Sheriff of El Paso County. He could save Colorado Springs from destruction by leading the deputy army from Hayden Divide in a frontal attack on Bull Hill. He could and would. He made stirring orations and lectured the deputies on tactics and held drills and song-fests. He created drama by stoking up the newspaper reporters at Hayden Divide and cutting phone and telegraph wires. He published a front page announcement in the Gazette:







All this chest-beating by Boynton got the deputies into such a prematurely triumphant state that Sheriff Bowers decided to protect them against themselves. That is why he asked Waite for the militia.


He knew that the strikers would make mincemeat of the deputies if they walked up Bull Hill, armed only with brashness, one busted Gatling gun and a Parrott cannon nobody knew how to fire.


Early Wednesday morning, June 6, General Tarsney and the State militia left Denver for Cripple Creek. Boynton heard of it, broke camp at Hayden Divide and rushed his deputy army southward. His plan was to take Bull Hill, disarm the strikers and open the mines before the militia could interfere.


The deputies reached Beaver Park in the afternoon and set up their tents. Boynton could see no signs of life around Altman, three miles to the south, and he concluded that the strikers had withdrawn from their Bull Hill fortress. He moved jubilantly to the head of the deputy column and ordered the final victory march.


The 1200 men walked forward a mile or so. Suddenly Boynton felt his hat fly off. Then the air was full of small noises, like popcorn warming in a skillet. Tiny plumes of dust danced around the feet of the deputies, who flopped on their bellies and wondered "what the hell".


Boynton flopped too. The noise was rifle fire from every rock and tree and kinnikinnick bush ahead.


The strikers were dead shots. Boynton had to pull the deputies back in a hurry. He tried a night attack and it failed. Many deputies got lost and ended up shooting at one another. By Thursday morning the deputies had retreated to their Beaver Park camp. That is where the State militiamen found them when they reached the mining district at nightfall.


Adjutant General Tarsney placed the militiamen in Grassy Gulch exactly between the deputies in Beaver Park and the strikers on Bull Hill. Then he commanded Boynton to disband his army because it was an illegal force. Boynton flatly refused.


But the situation of the deputies and of Boynton was intolerable. Down in the Springs, 10,000 loyal souls awaited word of the deputies' glorious victory. The deputies had to do something, or at least seem to do something. Boynton split them into three units and sent them padding mysteriously about the fringes of Bull Hill. On Friday, the Stratton brigade marched part way up Globe Hill to within a mile of Altman. The strikers hurried forward to stop the brigade, and the militia drew between them. General Tarsney got hold of Sheriff Bowers and instructed him to assert his authority over the deputies.


Bowers ordered Boynton to order the Stratton brigade off Globe Hill and back to Beaver Park. The brigade obeyed, with its Gatling gun in reverse, as at funerals. As the deputies withdrew they sang: "The Sheriff of EI Paso County With all the Sheriff's men... He marched them up the hill, and then He marched them down again."


With the Stratton brigade out of the way, Tarsney sent the State militia up Bull Hill. The strikers welcomed it and allowed Altman to be occupied. Most of the strikers handed their arms over to the militia.


The Battle of Bull Hill was over. But Commissioner Boynton clung still to his particular dream of glory. To jack up his morale and that of his men, he staged a grand parade of all deputies from Beaver Park through Cripple Creek town and on south toward Victor. As the deputies approached the south slope of Battle Mountain, General Tarsney appeared and asked Boynton what he had in mind. Boynton declared that the deputies were going into camp around Stratton's Independence to protect it from the strikers. Tarsney approved this project but he warned Boynton not to move his men closer to Bull Hill. If they did move closer, the militia would be obliged to blast them right off the mountain into Wilson Creek.


A treaty of peace was signed next morning at Altman, Sunday, June 10, 1894. Sheriff Bowers and Commissioner Boynton agreed to disband the army of El Paso County deputy sheriffs. The miners agreed to surrender their arms. The militia would stick around until the mines were operating on normal schedules. John Calderwood and 300 strikers agreed to stand trial for criminal acts. The nine-hour mine owners put their properties on a $3, eight-hour day.


The strike had lasted 130 days, the longest and bitterest of all American labor disputes up to that time. It had cost $3,000,000 in lost production, lost wages, and upkeep of the three armies involved. It introduced dozens of weapons that have become standard in labor battles, spies, blacklists, propaganda, injunctions, assessments. Though rarely mentioned by labor historians among the great strikes of history, the Cripple Creek strike was tremendously important.


It brought enormous prestige to the Western Federation of Miners. By winning Calderwood's demand for a $3, eight-hour day at Cripple Creek, this pioneer industrial union was started well on its way to becoming the most powerful labor organization in the United States.


But nobody in EI Paso County thought of historical matters on Sunday, June 10. Cripple Creekers began a victory celebration that would last for many days. And Colorado Springs celebrated, too. An ovation was prepared for Winfield Scott Boynton and the deputies whose heroism had prevented the strikers from descending the mountain to pillage the city. A band led the parade up Tejon Street in Colorado Springs, followed by Boynton, the police, the 1200 deputies, the 500-man home guard, the firemen, the county jail guards, and Susan Dunbar's Ladies' Auxiliary.


The strike left in the minds of many people wounds that never would heal, but it did not take long for the gold camp to resume a normal appearance. John Calderwood holed up in Denver for a while, submitted to arrest, stood trial and was acquitted. Thereafter, he quit the organizing game and became an assayer in Victor. "General" Junius Johnson died a colonel in the Spanish-American War. "General" Jack Smith went to Missouri briefly, returned to Cripple and was shot to death at Altman, in May, '95. Of three 300 strikers jailed by Sheriff Bowers, only two served time in Canon City penitentiary, on charges of blowing up the Strong Mine.


Winfield Scott Stratton got over his pique at the strikers for seizing the Independence and resumed his efforts to keep the camp free of corporate domination. But he had had more than enough of Governor Waite's liberalism, and he did not support him in the November, '94, gubernatorial race. Waite was defeated by Irving Howbert's Republican candidate, Albert W. McIntire. Howbert's reward was a huge banquet at the Antlers Hotel, complete with blue points, roast quail and Mumm's extra dry. "Bloody Bridles" left office with these ominous words: "I will not say 'hail and farewell.' That would be too formal. We go, but we return. We will meet you, gentlemen, in two years 'at Philippi.'' But Davis Waite never had another chance to meet his enemies at Philippi. And yet, as we have said, he was a good and a brave man. Many people thought he was an extreme radical; today we would probably regard him as a conservative on the order of the late Harold Ickes. The manner of Waite's death somehow fitted him. It came of paralysis, in 1901, while he was peeling apples in the kitchen of his Aspen home.

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