Over the years, I’ve found facts and documents in researching the cattle rustling story that have shocked and surprised me—a confession, an arrest warrant, a state Supreme Court case—to name a few. But stumbling across an article about a body found near Ernest Christison’s ranch in 1884, well, that sent more than a few tingles through my spine!
Here is the beginning of the article in the Buena Vista Democrat on April 17, 1884:
“Saturday afternoon John Dover, while prospecting found, nearly on the top of the divide between Christison’s and Cottonwood gulches, under a large cedar tree, the remains of a man in such a state of decay that it is impossible to identify him. He came to town early yesterday morning and notified Coroner Overholt, who this morning, accompanied by dozen or more citizens went out to view the remains with the result below given.
“He was lying on his left side, on his coat, with his head on a July, 1883 number of Frank Leslie’s Magazine, with his arms and legs drawn up. He wore a dark business suit, good pair of shoes and checked cotton shirt. Near him was a hat of black and white straw, a stump of a cigar, an Anhouser [sic] beer bottle and a .45 caliber nickle [sic] plated Colt’s revolver and a belt full of cartridges. In his pockets were a red morocco memorandum book containing a few figures but not a line of writing, a silver dollar, a peanut, an almond, a cartridge wrapped with a fishing line and fly and covered with a piece of newspaper supposed to be one of the Gunnison papers as it has advertisements from that place.”
The article went on to describe the appearance of the corpse. I won’t thrill you with that piece of information. The remains were taken to the hose house in Salida where “they were being viewed by the citizens of the town.” It gave a physical description of the man and then offered several theories as to his demise: he lay down to rest and died suddenly, or perhaps it was a suicide, and of course, others thought that upon further examination a bullet-hole would be found on the body.
As I consider this article, my gut instinct is it was a businessman who was passing through, decided to take a nap and died. However, I can’t dismiss the thought that it might tie into the cattle rustling story. Cottonwood Gulch and Christison’s ranch are several miles south of Ute Trail, the trail a traveler would use to pass through the area. There is a story of a private investigator who wasn’t seen again after visiting Watkins’ ranch, but this occurred a couple of years earlier. Yet, the investigator story has stayed in my mind and I’ve been on the look-out for stories about bodies and skeletons found in the Cameron hills.
Side note for researchers and genealogists: I found this article in Colorado Historic Newspapers, a database I check fairly frequently and was pleasantly surprised to find the Buena Vista paper had been added. Newspapers are being added all of the time to this digitization project as they are to projects all over the country. Be sure to check frequently for new additions in any digitization or database project.