Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Lake County War

Here’s the short version of the Lake County War:

George Harrington was shot in the back when he went out to extinguish a fire in an outbuilding on the night of June 17, 1874. Elijah Gibbs was the immediate suspect because he and Harrington had an argument a couple of days earlier. Gibbs was tried and acquitted for the murder in October in a Denver court. The venue was changed because of the inflammatory nature of the case. Gibbs returned to his farm in Lake County, but peace didn’t last.

15 men showed up at Gibbs’ cabin on January 22, 1875 to hang him. They threatened to burn him and his family out of the cabin if Gibbs didn‘t walk out the door. They piled up kindling by the door, then as one of the men lit a match, Gibbs shot him and then fired more shots at the other men. 3 men were killed. Gibbs turned himself into the Justice of Peace, who held a trial the next morning. Wilburn Christison acted as the defense for Gibbs. The court found that Gibbs acted in self-defense. Gibbs immediately left the area.

Denied their revenge, the men formed a vigilante group called “The Committee of Safety.” They rounded up friends and supporters of Gibbs and held a trial where a noose was hanging over the witness’ chair. This was placed around the witness' neck and tightened when the committee found his testimony unsatisfactory. The line of questioning concerned whether the witness believed Gibbs had shot Harrington or not. Two of Wilburn’s sons, Leslie and Ernest, were questioned by the Committee of Safety.

The Lake County War culminated when Judge Elias Dyer, who had also been questioned by the Committee, swore out warrants for the arrest of 16 members of the Committee of Safety. Thirty armed men arrived in Granite on Friday, July 2, 1875. The next morning, Judge Dyer called court to order, but had to dismiss the case because the witnesses were too afraid to testify. After everyone left the courtroom, five men walked back in and assassinated Judge Dyer. No one was ever charged with the murder. The people of the county went on with their lives; the Lake County War died out, but the terror of the vigilante justice and secrecy of the conflict affected the people the rest of their lives.

If you are related to any of the people involved in the Lake County War or have information about it, please contact me at


Phill Gibbs said...

Have you heard of E.F. Paquette, MD of Boulder, CO? He contacted me in 1991 regarding my Gibbs ancestors. He was writing a book about the Lake County Wars. My grandfather was born in Alpine, CO in 1874. However, I am not related to Elijah Gibbs. I have been unable to find Dr. Paquette to see if he completed his book.

Gayle Gresham said...

Hi Phill,
Thanks for visiting Colorado Reflections! Paquette's name is familiar to me. I think I remember who mentioned his name to me and I will e-mail him to see if he knows anything.


Anonymous said...

dear me phill gibbs my name is greg stinnett i live 30 miles away from leadville my family have been friends of the Paquettes for many years (they own property next to my grandfather) unfortunatly Mr. paquette passed away about 5 years ago but his widdow stil resides here in town i will do my best to get her contact info for you if you would like but he did not finnish his book it is prety far along though she might be willing to let some one finnish it for him

Gayle Gresham said...

Greg, Thank you for writing. I'm sorry to hear that Mr. Paquette passed away before he completed his book. Could you e-mail me at

Anonymous said...

Hi Gayle,

Thanks so much for posting this article. Elijah Gibbs is my 3rd Great Grand Uncle, he is the brother of Harriet Gibbs who is up my direct line. I didn't know much about the Lake County Wars until just recently, and your article helped shed some light.

Did you ever hearing back from the Paquette family regarding the book that E.F. Paquette had been working on?


Michael Edwards

Gayle Gresham said...

Hi Michael! Glad you found the article helpful. If you put Lake County War in the search box in the upper left corner, you will find all of the posts related to it.

I haven't learned anything more about Paquette's information. But I would still like to. I plan to write a book about the Lake County War after I finish the cattle thieves book.

Gayle Gresham said...

Phill Gibbs, will you please e-mail me at Someone who is related to your family from Alpine has contacted me. Thanks!