Showing posts with label Fremont County. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fremont County. Show all posts

December 11, 2019

Sheriff Porter Gets His Man, Part 2: Moonlight Subterfuge

First you should read Part 1: The Trip to Babcock's Hole
Babcock Hole, in 2004, looking south, before the forest fires of 2005 and 2011.

Babcock Hole, looking east, 2019. A ranch is in the farthest meadow, center,
and that was probably the site of Goodnight's line camp as well. In terms of tree cover,
this might be more similar to the 1877 version. The stage road came ran at the base
of the farthest ridge (right to left), passed the ranch site, and then passed out of the frame
at left.


On June 29, 1877, the moon was three nights past full. If Sheriff Porter and his companions left Greenwood at 10 p.m., they would arrive at Aikin's cabin about when a still-bright gibbous moon was rising.

The printed account suggests that storekeeper Morgan guided them over the saddle between the Hardscrabble Creek drainage and the small valley known as Babcock's (or Babcock) Hole, then turned back. Although Porter needed a guide — he was in unknown country and it was nighttime — the group was probably just following the Siloam Stage Road, which started in Pueblo, ran southwest to the community of Siloam, then into Babcock's Hole, and thence up Hardscrabble Canyon to the mining town of Silver Cliff in the higher Wet Mountain Valley.

Charles Goodnight, about 1880.
Babcock's Hole itself was part of the Rock Canyon Ranch, owned by the famous cattleman Charles Goodnight (1836–1929), who lived near Pueblo from 1868 to the mid-1870s, when he returned to Texas. He had established a permanent camp in the Hole, one of several "line cabins" used by his cowboys on the open range.

There was also logging in the Hole by at least 1873, with trees being cut for railroad ties, among other uses. A small stone foundation, possibly for a steam engine or boiler, still survives.

So the Hole was not exactly the deepest wilderness. Porter could probably have ridden into the valley in his wagon, but that was not his plan.
Learning that Aikin had a large family, Porter determined that it would be better, if possible, to get him away from his house before making the arrest, thereby avoiding the risk of hurting other members of the family.

It was therefore agreed that they should represent themselves as a party from Chicago who, in looking around the country, and desired to be piloted out to Greenwood. Going up close to the house, which was a low double-log cabin, Porter called until Aikin came to the door and inquired what was wanting. History of White County, Illinois, 1965 [1883].
Aikin agreed to guide them for $5. Porter assumed that he was armed with a revolver. They started out of the hole, "guided by the uncertain light of the moon, which was just breaking over the huge mountains and down into the dark valley."
When the party had gone about a mile from the house and reached an open glade where the moonlight fell full upon them, according to prearranged programme, one of the assistants walking behind suddenly, in a deep, stern voice, cried "Halt!" The prisoner turned to see what it meant, and at the same instant Porter, presenting his gun to his [Aikins'] head, ordered him to throw up his hands, which he did, and the shackles were put upon him and he was informed that he was arrested for murder.
One of the deputies returned to the Aikin cabin to inform the family that the man of the house was never coming back and also to procure additional clothing for him. Once he returned, the group walked back to Greenwood, retrieved their wagon, and rattled into Cañon City about six o'clock the following morning.

Then, with Aikin handcuffed to his wrist, Sheriff Porter retraced his rail journey to Carmi, Illinois.
The prisoner at all times denied his identity, refusing to recognize men with whom he had been acquainted for years, and while admitting that his name was John Aikin, denied that he was the man that had formerly been arrested for the murder of Stewart, until several weeks after he had been placed in jail his sister-in-law visited him, and seeing that was impossible longer to deny it, admitted his identity.
After trial in a neighboring county, he was found guilty and given a life sentence in the prison at Joliet (now a tourist attraction and concert venue).

My one remaining question: how did Sheriff Porter's no-doubt-modest budget cover this trip? Or did citizens of White County engage in a little 19th-century crowdfunding?

December 10, 2019

Sheriff Porter Gets His Man, Part 1: The Trip to Babcock's Hole

White County is in SE Illinois, part of "Little Egypt."
On the evening of March 19,1864, a prosperous farmer in White County, Illinois named Augustus Stewart was murdered in front of his family by home invaders. These were two robbers who, as it turned out, had a man on the inside, an apparently lone traveler who had arrived earlier and asked permission to stay the night. The three fled together.

Stewart's neighbors tracked the robbers' horses for some distance the next day. Two of them, the Glide brothers, escaped, but the "inside man," John Aikin, was captured and confessed. Held for trial, he broke out of jail and disappeared.

"Thirteen long years had passed away, the wife of the murdered man had gone to her grave, the children scattered, and the awful crime had almost faded from the public mind amid the ever-changing scenes and busy strife of the world." History of White County, Illinois, 1965 [1883].

The "old" White Co. courthouse, built
in 1828. Presumably Sheriff Porter
knew it well.

Then White County Sheriff Thomas I. Porter learned from one of Aikin's cousins that Aikin was in "the southern part of Colorado" and set out to bring him to justice. In June 1877 he left for Colorado, maybe on the Illinois Southern Railroad (later calld  the Cairo and Vincennes Railroad), which passed through the county seat of Carmi, according to the map above. It was a trip of more than 1,000 miles, back when trains poked along at 25 mph or so.

After reaching Denver on June 28, he procured "necessary papers from the authorities of Colorado" and started for "Cannon City" (Cañon City, that should be), presumably on yet another train with a change in Pueblo. He arrived on June 29th.

He learned from the Fremont County sheriff there that Aikin "lived about twenty-five miles southeast, in a place called Babcock's Hole, up among the Rocky Mountains; and to effect his capture the greatest caution and vigilance would be required, as he was considered a dangerous man."

Babcock's Hole is actually in Custer County, but Custer County had been carved out of Fremont by action of the legislature only three months before, and most of its population was up in the Wet Mountain Valley to the west.

How did the Fremont sheriff know Aikin was so dangerous, if he was living peacefully? Or is the author just exaggerating? At any rate, Sheriff Porter decided to make his move at night.
Taking two Fremont deputies with him, he rented a spring wagon and team and departed about three in the afternoon. The drive might have taken him four or five hours, presumably on dirt roads that approximated today's Colorado highways 115 and 67. Or maybe longer: the text says he arrived "about dark" in the settlement of Greenwood, south of Wetmore, three miles short of the Hole. The officers "put up" their team and ate supper themselves.
Greenwood in the 1880s, a decade later. Note store building in center distance.
Taking Mr. Morgan, the storekeeper, as their guide, they set off on foot about 10 p.m.