Saturday, October 2, 1880

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FRODSHAM’S GIBBET.

A Stray Page from the History of Leadville.

Tearing Down of the Old Jail Office—The Tragedy It Witnessed on a Dark Night.

The frame structure which up to within the time that the new court house was commenced served the purpose of an office, guard room and kitchen, attached to the jail, was torn down yesterday. But little interest clings to the frame except in the character of the important service it rendered in connection with one of the most notable events in the history of Leadville, namely, the lynching of Frodsham and Stewart on the twentieth of November, 1879.

As the facts have nearly escaped the recollection of many who arrived in the camp about the time, THE DEMOCRAT regards the present an opportune occasion to briefly review the circumstances in the case, the facts being collected from an account of the tragedy, published the day after.

At half past one on the morning of Thursday, the twentieth of November, 1879, the slumber of the watchers at the county jail was disturbed by a knocking at the door of that institution, as of one of the deputy sheriff’s applying for admittance. As those officials had free entrance and exit at any time and all hours, the door was soon opened. The first man who stepped inside was Under-Sheriff Watson, and alongside of him appeared several men with pistols in their hands, pointed at the sheriff’s head. Nothing was left for the latter to do but to order the prison doors thrown open and permit the lynchers—for such they were—to have full sway. Fifteen men entered with the Under-Sheriff, but who they were no one knows to this day, except the members of the organization, as each of them wore a black mask which entirely concealed his features.

The control of the situation was summarily taken out of the hands of the guards. The moment the door of the jail was opened every man was covered with a gun and warned that the slightest motion would be to invite instant death.

[Fifteen] members of the vigilance committee filed into the jail, twenty more remaining outside to protect their companions, ready to hasten to their aid if resistance should be offered. [The] party discovered Frodsham, who had only been incarcerated a few hours previous, and, as the jail was at the time in a crowded condition, had not been locked up in a cell nor even in the cage, but had been confined simply inside the walls. The victim was no sooner spotted than a rope was thrown around his body, and the vigilantes began to prepare him for his end. Guessing his fate, Frodsham called out to the jailers, “Are you going to see me die, boys?”

One of the latter answered, “We can’t help you now, we are in danger ourselves.”

The victim then exclaimed, “Won’t you let me see my wife first?”

“We’ll see you in hell first,” was the boding reply, and therewith he was collared by the hemp and pulled out of the prison.

As he was being dragged out the doomed man cried:

“Murder!”

The slack end of the rope was then thrown over the rafter of a little frame that was being erected immediately south of the jail, about three feet from the walls of the prison and between it and the kitchen. The structure was intended for an office, as which it has since done service.

The vigilantes now turned their attention to the next victim, Patrick Stewart, the footpad. He was a beardless boy, and when the vigilantes confronted him and ordered him to come out, he beseeched them to spare his life.

But vigilance committees, like corporations, have no soul, or if on this occasion they had, their sense of duty prevented them from showing it, and the young criminal was soon made ready to meet his fate. The recollection of childhood’s days must have flashed upon his mind, for in his frenzy he implored for only a respite long enough to write a farewell letter to his old mother. This request was gruffly denied, and he was hustled out without any further parleying. He was dragged out with the rope around his neck and soon strung up to the same building.

All this time the deputies who were in charge of the jail were properly provided for. Deputy Bob Johnston was clutched by the hands of a powerful vigilante around the throat, while six others pointed the danger end of their revolvers at his heart. Deputy Harry Williams, as soon as he jumped up to see what was the cause of the disturbance, was immediately greeted with the muzzles of a half dozen guns and ordered not to move hand or foot. It was needless to state that this order was implicitly obeyed. [The vigilantes] did their work effectually and quick, for a quarter of an hour after the first alarm, both victims had been hurled into eternity.

The following placard was written on a half sheet of legal cap and pinned to the back of Ed. Frodsham as a warning to some of the marked men about the camp:

NOTICE TO ALL

Lot thieves, bunko-steerers, footpads, thieves and chronic bondsmen for the same, and sympathizers for the above class of criminals.

This is our commencement and this shall be your fate.

We mean business, and let this be your last warning.

VIGILANCE COMMITTEE.

We are seven hundred strong.

As soon as the vigilantes had finished their business, without in any way disturbing anybody else, they retired, the first squad which went out taking with them the Under-Sheriff, with a pistol pointed at his head, and conducted him from the premises. Not a sound was uttered, but one by one the committee backed out of the jail door, covering their respective men, until the last disappeared and slammed the door. A second after the last guard had disappeared from the doorway, Deputy Johnston looked out to see what was to be seen, but the silence of death had settled upon the scene, and the premises looked dark and deserted.

The two men, as they hanged by their necks in the darkness, lighted only [by] the lurid glare of the lantern, inspired a feeling of awe and terror—a ghastly tableaux to the drama enacted by the vigilantes of Leadville.

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