South Park Perils: Short Ropes & True Tales of Historic Park County, Colorado
(Filter Press, 2013), 237 pp., $14.95 softcover
Includes many photographs, four maps
Review by Linda Wommack, posted 02 December, 2013
The early history of the Wild West, including Colorado, is replete with criminal activity, from robbery to murder, vigilantism, and even massacre. One of seventeen original counties created in 1861 by the first legislature of Colorado Territory, Park County, most likely had more crime than any other county in its formative years. The county, over two thousand square miles stretches along the foothills of the great Rocky Mountains. The southern end of the county, commonly referred to as South Park, is the area that is covered in this well written book.
The author’s meticulous research has led to many little-known crimes in the Park, as well as the more notable. As president of the Park County Local History Archives, the author had access to district court records, county coroner reports, and a wealth of never before seen photographs.
Thirty-four chapters detail the various crimes committed in the Park, such as the murderous Espinosa brothers who spawned a reign of terror throughout the area and much of Colorado Territory. The Espinosas killed at least six men in the Park before legendary scout and frontiersman, Tom Tobin, was asked by the governor to track them down. The man hunt ended when Tobin returned to the governor with their bloody heads in a gunny sack.
The various chapters are cleverly titled, such as “A Widow in Hot Pursuit,” “A Killing Over Kerosene,” and “Park County’s Hatfields and McCoys.” The chapter titled “Committed, Tried, and Executed in One Hour,” recounts the tale of William J. Porter who was hung by a vigilante group in Alma an hour after he was arrested for shooting a miner at point-blank range. “A Courthouse Lynching” describes the 1880 lynching of John Hoover from a window at the Park County Courthouse after he murdered a well respected member of the community.
The author concludes each chapter with directions and a description of the crime scene. This is a fine volume of Colorado’s early criminal history and stands tall among the many works in such a category.