An eyewitness account of early Archuleta County election fraud

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
James O’Neal in his Civil War uniform. The O’Neals were among the cattlemen involved in the bitter battle between Hispanics and Anglos for control of the Archuleta County government when the county was formed.

John Taylor, head of Archuleta County schools, wrote his memoirs years after leaving Archuleta County. He leaves us a good picture of the Anglo viewpoint concerning the election fraud alleged by the whites in their conflict with the Hispanics for control of the county during that first election of county officials following creation of the county in 1885. Taylor gives us the following eyewitness account.

“In the southern part of the county was a voting precinct known as the Archuleta precinct, here over a hundred Mexicans from New Mexico were voted to hold their gang in power. All this enraged the settlers who were engaged in the cattle business: Chas. Loucks, E.T. Walker, Judd Hallett, Wm. Dyke, John Dowell, Jake Dowell, Robert Chambers, Charles Chambers, Maurice, Willet, and Siegel Brown, Frank Cooley, James and Doc Gililland, John and James O’Neal, Mr. Whitaker, Judge Price and his two sons, and some 50 others including the writer organized the People’s Party of which I was elected chairman and we began a bitter four year’s fight to gain possession of the government of the county. The State administration and the Courts were against us.

“Three precincts in the county we carried Pagosa and Edith precincts with large majorities to gain which I and the above named men worked night and day, but 300 illegal votes polled under the supervision of the Archuleta brothers and Martinez defeated us. They worked to have me removed from the school every one of their wives and children were with me. This gang even paid a Mexican to kill me, he met me on the bridge one night, knife in hand. I carried a walking stick with which I struck him on the head, he fell and rolled into the river, he swam and came out at the old bath house. I walked into the old court house, the commissioners were in session and I invited the man who planned the deed to come out and settle the matter in any manner he wished but he did not function although afterward he killed two men and a woman. Charley Johnson, Durango’s criminal lawyer, cleared him though each was a cold-blooded murderer.

“The next May we had a school election and won out over the Mexican gang 15 to 1, and I taught the following year and had much pleasure in the work and was offered good pay to teach at Durango, Lake City, Silverton, and Telluride but preferred to stay where I was and fight … When the next election came E.T. Walker and I were sent to Conejos. We helped to defeat the Archuleta candidate for the legislature and I put in the nomination Billy Adams for his first office and he was elected. The fight in Archuleta County was fierce and hot. Maurice Brown and I on that election went to Archuleta and challenged 334 votes that lived over the line in New Mexico. Marceline (Marcelino) Archuleta accepted them all as legal. Sheriff Dyke had deputized me to bring the box to Pagosa. To reach there we had to ford the San Juan. My horse lost his footing and in this way the ballot box was lost. It never reached Pagosa and we elected all officers except that of County Clerk, E.M. Taylor, good fellow and an unbeatable politician.

“This was the election of 1886, Robert Chambers was elected County Commissioner; John Loflene (Laughlin) Treas; Charles Loucks, Assessor; Barzillla (Barzillai) Price, County Judge. One hundred of us led by E.T. Walker, who carried a band box with a rope in it, forced the commissioners to resign. The governor reappointed them. At their next meeting, Benedito Martinez led one hundred armed Mexicans to the old soldier’s barracks, about the same number of us were at the courthouse armed, it looked as though blood would be shed but the bravery of Sheriff Dyke led to a settlement of our differences and Pagosa has ever since been an orderly town.”

More on this next week.

This story was posted on August 30, 2017.