Ballots, bullets and bloodshed: Siringo the suspect

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Fil Byrne was one of the “cowboys” in the 1880s fight between Hispanics and Anglos for control of the Archuleta County government.

Charlie Siringo, the most famous detective working for Pinkerton Detective Agency, the most famous detective agency in the Pioneer West, is on the job in 1886 working undercover in Archuleta County.
His job is to prevent the Hispanics, who won the first election for county officers, and the cowboys, who think the Hispanics cheated to win the election, from killing each other.
As our scene unfolds, “el Hispanos tiene approximadamente cien hombres armado a el diente” are in the old military barracks on the west side of the San Juan River. The cowboys have about 100 men armed to the teeth on the east side of the river.
The cowboys have a plan to set fire to the house on the west side of the river where the Hispanic commissioners are living. When the seven occupants rush out of the burning building, cowboys will be strategically located to gun them down. Hence, the title “Ballots, Bullets and Bloodshed” for this time of our county history.
Siringo has penetrated the cowboy group, but he feels responsible for ending the bloodshed. In his personal memoirs, we read: “About 11 p.m., I waded the river about a half mile above town [the old downtown area surrounding today’s intersection of San Juan and Pagosa streets] and made a swift run to notify the armed guards doing duty in the old government barracks.
“Jose Martinez, brother to Bendito Martinez, promised that he would give me ample time to get back to the saloon where our mob was congregated, before notifying the officials. But this he failed to do; the result being that our guards on the bridge saw the officials running with their valises over to the camp of the fighting men. Then the drunken mob began counting noses to see who of their party were absent to have warned the enemy. Of course, I was missed. Hence, when I returned, there was something ‘doing,’ and they were determined to hang me. But my friends, Taylor, Dyke and Gordon, believed my protests of innocence and my life was spared!
“They decided to set a trap for me the next night. They concluded that if I were the guilty party, I must have communicated the secret to Mrs. Scase, and she sent the news to her husband by one of the small boys. It puzzled them to know how I could have waded the swift river, which was waist deep, without wetting my clothes. They had felt to see if they were wet. They did not know that I disrobed while crossing the river.
“County Commissioner Scase had a Mexican wife, and when the mob burnt up their residence and livery stable and escorted Mr. Scase over the line into New Mexico, they allowed Mrs. Scase and her children to occupy an old shack on the bank of the San Juan River. So, at this place the trap was set to catch me.”
More next week. Add a noose to ballots, bullets and bloodshed.

This story was posted on May 20, 2018.