Add comment December 1st, 2012 Headsman
Like San Francisco and other western cities dissatisfied with the half-lawless frontier atmosphere, the city of Denver formed a “Vigilance Committee” — ominously known as “The Stranglers” — to maintain rough quasi-justice, “meted out innocent and guilty alike.”
This date in 1868 marks the end of one of the guilty.
Sam Dugan, aka Sanfourd Dougan, is seen here lynched to a cottonwood tree at Cherry Street, midway between 4th and 5th streets, in Denver.
(Denver’s city plan has changed quite a bit since those days, but I believe the present-day location of this lynching would be approximately Speer Blvd. in a knot of paving the edge of the downtown University of Colorado campus.)
The photo, snapped by the morning light of Dec. 2, 1868, showed the previous night’s work of the Vigilance Committee.
Dug(g)an was a young (23 years old) knockabout in the territories with a blackhearted reputation, having been thought to have killed a man at a camp the year before.
In 1868, he and buddy Ed Franklin robbed a justice of the peace, one Orson Brooks, at gunpoint. As one can imagine, Brooks was one of the little town’s more prominent citizens and the crime outraged residents.
Denver lawmen chased Brooks’s assailants to nearby Golden, Colo., where Dugan’s accomplice Franklin — blind drunk — was shot dead resisting arrest. An innocent Golden citizen named Miles Hill also died when he was caught up in the the shootout to take Dugan … but Dugan himself escaped.
Public fury over this bloodshed (on Nov. 22) precipiated the Nov. 23 lynching of already-jailed outlaw L.H. Musgrove from a Cherry Creek bridge, not far from where Dugan would soon stretch hemp. (Musgrove had ridden in a murderous gang with the late unlamented Ed Franklin.)
Our surviving fugitive Dugan, meanwhile, made a run for Wyoming but was picked up within a few more days at Fort Russell after he stole a mail carrier’s horse. Marshal David Cook, whose public-domain Hands Up! or Twenty Years of Detective Work in the Mountains and on the Plains is a major source for this post, went to retrieve him.
Given the Musgrove lynching, Cook must have had an idea of the danger Dugan would face in Denver. Denver papers anticipating the party’s arrival said that Cook’s team “will bring the prisoners dead or alive. The former condition would be preferred by many.”
About 90 to 100 vigilantes made that preference into fact after dark on Tuesday, Dec. 1, stopping a police wagon moving Dugan between lockups, just as it was crossing a bridge over Cherry Creek.
The hijackers redirected the wagon around the corner to a copse of trees and “in a moment a rope was thrown over the limb, and in another moment, Dugan was standing in the wagon immediately under the fatal noose.”
That’s from a newspaper report that appeared in several publications; our cite is from the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel on December 21, 1868.
Dugan, “completely unmanned, crying and sobbing like a baby,” wheedled and stalled, begging for a Catholic priest and making various professions of innocence or mitigation that would cut no ice with his judges.
After he had said all that he had to say, the order was heard, “Drive on,” and the wagon which had served as his frail bulwark between life and eternity moved from under, and the spirit of Sanford S.C. Dugan took its flight into the presence of Him who shall judge us all according to the deeds done in the body. The fall, about eighteen inches, broke his neck. He was a man six feet two inches in height, and weighed 205 pounds.
Cook, in Hands Up!, says he “would gladly have prevented” the lynchings, “but it was useless for [lawmen] to fly in the face of an entire community, which had been outraged and which was aroused, not so much to vengeance as to the necessity of protecting itself against the rough element of the plains.”
Also on this date
- 1865: The Jacksonville Mutineers
- 1922: James Mahoney, Seattle spouse slayer
- 2010: Shahla Jahed, the footballer's lover
- 1327: Adso's lover in The Name of the Rose
- 1945: Anton Dostler, gone commando
- 1842: Philip Spencer, Samuel Cromwell and Elisha Small, on the ship yardarm
- 1581: Edmund Campion, Ralph Sherwin and Alexander Briant