The Colfax County War
Senator Chaffee and the others who had purchased the land from
almost immediately sold the land an English syndicate for $1,350,000;
and, just six months later, it was sold again to a Dutch Firm in 1872. The new grant owners immediately began to aggressively exploit the
resources of the grant, opening a sales office at
old place in
They waited for the customers to rush in, and they continued to wait.
Faltering gold production and the shadow of Indian attacks spooked
potential buyers. Meanwhile, folks who had already settled on the
grant were riled at the brisk way the new owners tried to collect
rents, despite the Dutch companies legal right to the property.
of the first items on the Grant owners' agenda was the removal of the
squatters who had moved on the grant during the past 30 years. The
farmers and miners who had settled on the grant had held a grudging
Lucien Maxwell, but they felt no such loyalty to the absentee foreign
firm. The settlers, having invested their lives and money into homes
and businesses were not prepared to leave, especially in view of the
contested title Maxwell had conveyed.
an effort to remove the settlers from their property, grant officials, in
league with a group of lawyers, politicians and businessmen known as the
Ring, began making false allegations against locals. Two
locals were known to have been in support of the "Ring" -- Melvin Mills,
an attorney and Robert H. Longwell,
local doctor. In 1875 local elections were held with much
controversy and Dr. Longwell was made probate judge, while attorney
Mills was made a state Legislator.
Ring's two prime movers were attorney Thomas Benton Catron and his lawyer
partner, Steven Benton Elkins, later a Senator. Fellow "Ring"
members were chosen for whatever talent they could contribute, or
political or financial influence they could provide.
had already obtained a reputation for lawlessness and as the hired
gunslingers of the Land Grant company tried to force off the squatters it
quickly led to what became known as the Colfax County War. Unfortunately for the settlers, they were outnumbered and outgunned from
Reverend Franklin J. Tolby, one of two Methodist ministers holding
services in the area, quickly sided with the settlers in their opposition
against the land grant men. The 33 year-old Tolby was a
vociferous critic of the
Ring and sent a series of letters to the New York Sun exposing the group's
corrupt methods, as well as making public statements at every opportunity
that he would do whatever he could to break up the grant.
September 14, 1875 the minister was found shot to death in
Canyon, midway between
near Clear Creek. It was clear that robbery had not been the motive
because the preacher's horse, saddle and personal belongings were
untouched. It was quickly assumed that someone from the Land Grant
company had taken revenge against Tolby's opinions and quieted him
forever. Five days after his body was found, the Daily New
Santa Fe reported: "It is thought the murderer is a white man and paid
for the job."
However, if the murderer thought that killing Reverend Tolby would quiet
the opposition to the land grant, they couldn't have been more wrong. The settlers immediately blamed the Grant men and the politicians who were
said to have been "in their pockets." If anything, the murder further
inflamed the citizens and led to more concerted efforts to challenge the
approval of the grant. The Colfax County Ring, as the settlers
called themselves, rode like avenging angels cutting down the just and
Tolby's 34-year old minister friend, Reverend Oscar Patrick McMains, took
up the holy war, urging in a public speech, "Defiance! And Contempt
for that which is Contemptible." Further, he wrote, "The war is on;
the precious blood of settlers has been shed; and we must fight it out on
this line. No quarter now for the foreign land thieves and their hired