Ballots, bullets and bloodshed: Charlie Siringo’s account

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Henry Gordon was one of the “cowboys” in the 1886 revolt against the elected county officials (who happened to be Hispanic).

Last week’s column ended with a description of how famous detective Charles Siringo had slipped into Pagosa Springs using an alias and infiltrated the cowboy side of the conflict between Anglo cowboys and Hispanics for political control of newly created Archuleta County.
The county was created in May of 1885 and the county government staffed with officials appointed by the governor. An election was conducted, the Hispanics won all three county commissioner positions, and the cowboys accused the Hispanics of rigging the election by counting votes from fellow Hispanics living across the border in New Mexico.
The cowboys responded by entering the January commissioner organizational meeting, 100 strong with six-guns on their hips and displaying a hangman’s noose. The commissioners immediately adjourned and did not meet again for several months. We continue now with Siringo’s version of this conflict as written years layer in a book titled “A Cowboy Detective.”
“What the Denver papers called anarchy, and a great uprising, had broken loose in this county which contained about seventy-five voters. The residents of Archuleta County were mostly ‘Americans’ but the Archuleta brothers of Amargo, N.M., ruled politically by flooding the county on election day with their New Mexican sheep herders who voted.
“Finally the citizens rebelled and drove all the county officials with the exception of the sheriff and county clerk, who joined the insurgents, out of the country. They even burnt up some of their property and threatened death if they ever returned.”
“… Shortly after I had established myself in the home of Mr. Taylor, the county commissioners, with the county judge, J. Archuleta, and county attorney Jas. I. Russell, returned from New Mexico under an escort of sixty mounted and well-armed Mexicans.
“We revolutionaries, about seventy-five strong, met them at the bridge spanning the San Juan River, and prevented them from entering the town. Communications were carried on through flags of truce.
“Our side were wild and wooly cowboys and ranchmen, and we had plenty of liquor to keep up our fighting spirit.
“The county officials were camped in an old house on the opposite side of the swift flowing San Juan River, while their armed escort were housed in the vacated government barracks, a quarter of a mile distant from the river.
“A plot was laid to assassinate the seven officials at 3 a.m. Two men were to cross the river above town and slip under the bank to a haystack which adjoined the house in which the officials slept. The haystack was to be set on fire. This would burn the house. Men secreted behind rocks on our side of the river were to shoot down the gentlemen as they ran out of the burning building.”
There will be more of “Ballots, bullets and bloodshed” in next week’s column.

This story was posted on May 13, 2018.