We’re writing about the Montoya/Howe Sheepmen’s/Cattlemen’s War, which took place in October of 1892.
Archuleta County Commissioner William Howe, a cattle rancher, is dead. Howe was shot dead by sheepman Juan de Dios Montoya.
The wounded Montoya is being held by Sheriff Billy Kern in the San Juan Hotel in Pagosa Springs.
A large number of heavily armed men are camped on nearby Reservoir Hill. They are friends of Montoya from the family home near Monte Vista. They have come to protect Montoya from the possibility of lynching by a partisan Pagosa Springs crowd.
Because of the likely impossibility of getting an unbiased jury to try Montoya in Pagosa Springs, Kern has obtained a change of venue allowing him to move Montoya to the Durango jail while awaiting trial for murder. The trial will also be held in a Durango courtroom in front of a District Court judge.
As Kern leaves Pagosa Springs with the wounded prisoner, he is accompanied by several deputies riding in one party and a large number of Montoya’s friends riding in another party. The deputies are charged with the responsibility of making sure Montoya’s friends do not overpower the sheriff and turn their friend loose.
Montoya’s friends have joined the cavalcade to make sure Montoya does not suffer a life-ending accident at the hands of the Pagosa people.
And so, the atmosphere along the stage road between Pagosa Springs and Durango is electrically charged. Almost any unintended movement by either party could result in blazing six guns and a deadly shootout.
Finally, the entourage reaches Durango and Kern turns his captive over to the La Plata County sheriff.
In the meantime, Montoya’s father has obtained the services of Adair Wilson, probably the top defense attorney in southwestern Colorado. Later in his career, Wilson became attorney general of the State of Colorado. Wilson practiced law in Del Norte before moving to Durango. During the earliest days of settlement in the San Juans, Del Norte was a very important city because it was one of the gateways to the mountains. Even in 1892, Del Norte may have been more important than Durango.
In any case, the wealthy elder Montoya likely knew Wilson as a personal friend. We do not know if Wilson bonded the younger Montoya from the La Plata County jail, but we do know his trial was not held for a couple of years.
I have read accounts of the shootout in the Pagosa Springs newspaper, in the Del Norte newspaper, and in Durango and Silverton newspapers. The Pagosa Springs News and the Del Norte Prospector showed extreme hometown bias for their hometown favorites. The Durango and Silverton newspapers did not seem to be biased.
While people waited for the trial, a number of articles about the shooting appeared in the Pagosa Springs newspaper.
Abe Howe claimed Montoya’s brothers had shot at him. An oldtimer I know in Pagosa told me he had heard that Abe claimed to have hunted down Montoya’s brothers one at a time and left their live bodies buried up to their necks in ant hills.
I know several people who are descendants of the Montoya family. They say the idea is preposterous.
Next week we’ll learn the results of Montoya’s Durango trial.
What do you think? In a time of strong prejudice between Anglos and Hispanics, in a time of bitter enmity between sheep and cattle men, could a Hispanic sheepherder obtain justice in the frontier town of Durango?