Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Death of Judge Christison

Death of Judge Christison
He Succombs to Pneumonia on Monday Night
Sketch of a Notable Life
(Fairplay Flume February 9, 1882)

Judge Wilburn Christison passed from life into the unknown, about midnight on Monday, the 7th, and in his death the community mourns a pioneer in Colorado, a fearless advocate of justice and one who has, during a large portion of his life, been a faithful servant of the people. Whatever were his faults, his virtues so predominated that we have only good to write of him at this hour.

The Judge’s life was an eventful one, though he was but fifty-five at this time. It has been the pleasure of the writer to sit for hours at the time and listen to him discoursing on the many stirring events that marked the early history of the State, the transition period, when these western wilds were passing from a perfect wilderness to a state of semi-civilization. Those were the “times that tried men’s souls”, and brought out the mettle of the frontiersmen. The Judge was never boastful of the part he performed in working out these changes, but he always was interesting, and often eloquent in his description of scenes of danger and trial with which he had evidently been most intimate.

He was born in Jackson Co., Missouri, April 14, 1827 and Jackson Co. was then on the far frontier. Doubtless, his early education imbued him with a love of adventure, which could only be satisfied by following the Star of the Empire westward, or rather keeping the lead in the march, for we find that in 1856 he moved to Kansas. The history of that state, from that time till 1861, is too well known to need much mention. It was chaos struggling to find order and law warring against border ruffianism. By '60 the peace loving element had gained the ascendancy and Colorado was then causing a furore, on account of the gold discoveries. With a family of young children, the Judge and his faithful helpmate again joined the march, and 1861 found them located on Cash (also Cache) Creek, near the Arkansas, a then wild region, frequented more by Indians than any other people. The Judge practiced law, when there was opportunity, at Granite, the county seat of Lake County, mined, and opened a trading post with the Indians. His manner inspired confidence among the simple inhabitants of neighboring fastnesses, and he soon reckoned among his fast friends, old Colorow, Saguache, and other noted chiefs and braves. He served as County Judge of Lake County for one term and was re-elected, but resigned shortly after, having decided to remove to Fairplay in 1873. The same fall he was elected County Judge of Park County and served the people faithfully in that office for two terms. His mind was singularly bright and his judgment clear, during these years and he established a wide reputation for judicial acumen.

It was during these years that the Judge was connected with the exciting contest between two elements struggling for the supremacy in Lake County. He defended Elijah Gibbs, and secured his acquittal on a charge of murder, though Gibbs was know to have shot at least three men. Briefly summarized the facts were as follows: One night George Harrington, a storekeeper on Gas Creek, found that his house was on fire, and going out to quench it he was shot by some hid in the brush. There had been trouble between the two, and the neighbors were not slow to accuse Gibbs of the murder. A party started to lynch him, but he got wind of their coming and barricading his cabin, stood a siege in which he killed three of the vigilantes and wounded a fourth. The next day he gave himself up and was tried and, Judge Christison appearing for him, was acquitted. He left at once for Texas. Out of this affair grew a terribly bitter feud. The vigilantes were constantly warring upon all who had been Gibbs’ friends. Some terrible depredations were committed, and Judge Elias Dyer, who was then acting as District Judge, was shot dead in his chair in the court room at Granite, on account of an attempt of the court to punish this lawlessness. Incidently, it may be mentioned that all the leaders of this lawless element have since come to an evil end, as if an avenger were following them. William Nolan became crazy, Anderson Gerry drowned himself in a fit of desperation, James Moore was killed in a row at Trinidad, James Deeming went crazy and the frightful death of Charles Nichtrieb last fall is still fresh in the minds of our reader. All of these names will be familiar to those who know Judge Christison in pioneer days, and will serve to recall a thousand and one instance in which the deceased was an able and eloquent advocate of the right.

Judge Christison leaves a wife and eight children to mourn his untimely death. He leaves also a large circle of friends who will sympathize sincerely and deeply with them. The funeral service was performed at the house yesterday afternoon by Rev. H.J. Huston, in the presence of a large number of citizens. The members of Doric Lodge, A.F. & A.M. were present in a body to do the last service for a departed brother.


Phil Gibbs said...

There is one small error in the obit for the Judge. Elijah Gibbs departed immedietly to Umatilla, Oregon where he is buried. Elijah was from Texas. This information was from Dr. Paquette who I corresponded with years ago. My grandfather, Elmer Gibbs was born in alpine 15 days after the attempted lynching. My Gibbs family were not involved in the "wars" although they certainly must have known about them.

Phil Gibbs

Gayle Gresham said...

That's true. Thank you for pointing that out, Phil. I am in contact with some of the Gillilands related to Elijah Gibbs who corraborated that information. I'm not sure why the people in the area thought he went to Texas. Of course, this obituary was written seven years after the Lake County War. I appreciate your interest in the blog. Phil, can you e-mail me at I have a question for you about Dr. Paquette's research.