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 GayleGresham@gmail.com