The Shooting

All throughout the United States during the 1800's were many struggles between towns vying for the county seat.  Burning a former county seat's courthouse to the ground or having armed men forcibly moving the county seat to another town were not unheard of.  Having the county seat could mean prosperity and life for a town.  Losing the county seat often times meant death for a town.  So rivalries were often bitter between towns competing for the county seat.  One of the bloodiest battles for the county seat was in Grand County.  A shooting was the climax of an impassioned battle for the county seat and bitter hatreds between those involved.

Hot Sulphur Springs was the only town in Grand County when it was formed out of Summit County, so was named the county seat.  But the discovery of gold and silver in eastern Middle Park caused several towns to suddenly spring up.  Soon the majority of the population shifted to this area and many thought the county seat was to far away to do county business.  Several towns, with Grand Lake chief among them, started challenging Hot Sulphur Springs for the designation of county seat.  In the fall of 1880 a petition was sent to the county commissioners requesting a special election for the permanent location of the county seat.  Most of the signers of the petition were from Grand Lake and thought to be Republicans.  This was unacceptable and perceived as a threat to the Democratic dominant commission, so they started a delaying tactic.  Finally a referendum was held with Grand Lake receiving most of the votes.  Of course those from Hot Sulphur Springs challenged the results.  After two long years of prolonged legal battles the district court ruled in favor of Grand Lake and the county offices were then moved.  There was a lot of dissension because of this, causing the County officials to split.  On one side were County Clerk, Thomas J. "Cap" Dean of Hot Sulphur Springs, attorney Edward P. Weber and County Commissioner Barney Day, the Hot Sulphur Springs faction.  On the other side were Commissioner John Gillis Mills, County Sheriff Charles Royer and Under-sheriff William Redman.  The conflict did not end there, as people and even the only newspaper in the area, the North Park Miner in Teller City, started choosing sides.  So the once political squabble had turned into a personal one.  The North Park Miner, pro Hot Sulphur Springs, started firing off caustic editorials against the Grand Lake faction.  Of course it wasn't long before the newspaper, Grand Lake Prospector, was founded to counter the Miner with support for Grand Lake.  The bitterness' only increased.  The conflict came to a head on the 4th of July, 1883.  A day when everyone should be celebrating American Independence three men and a possible fourth were in ambush for another three men.

The Grand Lake trio of J. G. Mills, Charlie Royer and Bill Redman, and possibly Bill's brother Mann, gathered behind boulders by the lake.  They masked themselves with black bandannas, loaded their guns, and waited for Cap Dean, Edward Weber and Barney Day to finish breakfast.  After the three finished their meal they leisurely walked to a scheduled commissioners' meeting.  As they reached the boulders, Mills jumped out, fired his rifle and hit Weber, who went down.  Both sides then began firing at each other, but no one in town noticed.  Children had been setting off firecrackers all morning and it just sounded like more celebrating.  The shooting was soon over with the ambushers getting on their horses and riding away.  J. G. Mills was not one of them, he lay dead in the road with a bullet through his head.  His victim, Edward Weber also lay dead in the road.  Barney Day, who was also dead, lay face down in the lake with a bullet in his heart.  Only Thomas Dean, severely wounded in the head and hip, survived the initial shooting and was able to give the only eyewitness account of the shooting.  He died nine days later from his wounds when they became infected.

Of the ambushers, Mann Redman can not reliably be identified as the seventh man.  This person will always remain a mystery.  Charles Royer is generally considered one of the ambushers.  Two weeks after the shooting he committed suicide with reports saying he confessed, claiming he had no idea there would be an ambush when he was invited to "see a little fun," but he admitted killing Day, whom he called "my best friend in the Park." Still others say he committed suicide because he was a sensitive man and it bothered him his best friend Day was killed, even if he wasn't part of the ambush he knew what was going to happen.  In any case the whole truth will probably never be known.  One of the ambushers was seriously wounded and it is believed to be William Redman.  Many say, suffering from his wounds, he committed suicide along the Utah border.  Others say he was killed in Wyoming, while others maintain he feigned his death to escape.  He has been reported in various places in Wyoming, New Mexico and Arizona.  This is one more mystery to the story that will never truly be explained.

No one was ever arrested for the shootings nor was anything ever settled.  Giving Grand County a bad name and a reputation of wild lawlessness was the only thing accomplished.  In 1888 after the mining boom died, Hot Sulphur Springs regained the designation of County Seat, where it remains today.  No one has successfully challenged it again.


 

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This page was last updated: Monday, 16-May-2011 23:02:02 MDT

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