Ballots, bullets and bloodshed: ‘We had a dance that night’

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Eudolphus M. (Doc) Taylor was on the side of the cowboys during the 1886 fight for control of the Archuleta County government even though Taylor had been elected as clerk and recorder along with the Hispanics. The undercover detective Charlie Siringo, alias Anderson, stayed at Taylor’s house.

We’re in the middle of telling the true story of the battle between Gringos and Hispanics for control of the Archuleta County government.
The county was created by the state governor in May of 1885 and three Hispanic county commissioners — Martinez, Archuleta and Scase — were elected in the fall of 1885. Most of the Hispanics lived along the southern county border with New Mexico. A cowboy crowd from up Pagosa Springs way accused the Hispanics of winning the election by fraudulently voting their sheepherder friends from across the border.
In retaliation, when the newly elected officials were meeting for the first time in 1886, about 100 cowboys with six-guns on their hips and flagrantly displaying a hangman’s noose broke up that first meeting and, without asking for their permission, started escorting the newly elected commissioners on a one-way trip across the New Mexico border.
After carefully sizing up the situation, a couple of the commissioners enlisted the services of 80 or so of their New Mexican friends who were sufficiently armed to confront the cowboys bullet for bullet. The Hispanics lounged in the old Army barracks on the west side of the river, while the cowboys kept a bartender in one of the bars on the east side of the river busy while their itchy fingers massaged the six guns on their hips.
Meanwhile, famous frontier detective Charlie Siringo had surreptitiously infiltrated the cowboy camp, but is in danger of being hanged for keeping the cowboys from gunning down the Hispanic commissioners. Here is Siringo’s version of what is going on as told in his memoirs.
Scase’s wife and children are living in a shack on the bank of the San Juan River. The cowboys have decided Siringo saved the commissioners by communicating with Mrs. Scase. Two cowboys hid in a woodpile near Mrs. Scase’s front door, waiting for a chance to grab Siringo in the act.
“We had a dance that night,” Siringo wrote. “All attended but the men on duty guarding the bridge and the Scase shack.
“About 11 p.m., I walked in a round-about way to the Scase residence to deposit some short hand notes in the back of an old oil painting which hung on the wall and had escaped the fire.” (Motter: They had burned the Scase house.) “I passed within a few yards of the wood pile where the armed guard was doing duty.
“Securing the door key under a board — where Mrs. Scase had promised to leave it — I entered the front room and deposited the notes. Then I sat on the edge of the bed talking to Mrs. Scase a moment. The children were sound asleep.
“In taking my departure, I slipped a board out of place along the wall, facing the river, and made a jump of about 12 feet onto the rocky edge of the river. Mrs. Scase replaced the board.
“As soon as I entered the door, the young man in the wood pile ran to the dance hall to tell the half drunken mob that the suspect (Siringo) was caught in the trap. All grabbed their rifles or shotguns and raided the Scase shack.”
Siringo returned to the dance and the drunken mob prepared to hang him. Only the help of Gordon Grimes and Sheriff William Dyke saved Siringo’s neck from a hangman’s noose. More ballots, bullets and bloodshed next week.

This story was posted on May 27, 2018.