Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Musgrove Trivia: The Musgrove Gang

The Musgrove Gang
(L.H.) Musgrove...directed a network of horse and cattle thieves who raided government posts and wagon trains along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and followed the Cherokee Trail into Wyoming. 
Many of the thefts were blamed on Native Americans, and Musgrove was known on occasion to disguise himself as an Indian to thwart law enforcement officers.   


David J. Cook (1840/1842 – April 2, 1907) was an American western lawman and City Marshal of Denver, Colorado, responsible for over 3,000 arrests. Wikipedia
Denver Marshal
David J Cook

One of David Cook's many arrests was the horse thief gang leader, Lee H Musgrove (no relation to us),
" outlaw who was sprung from jail in Denver, Colorado, and hanged by a vigilante mob on November 23, 1868".  Wikipedia
Marshal Cook tells of his capture of the Musgrove gang in chapters 12 through 15 of his auto biography "Hands Up; Or Twenty Years of Detective Life in the Mountains and on the Plains".


In his book Detective Cook describes Musgrove as,
" cool a character as it was ever the fortune of a detective or criminal officer to fall in with. ...a man of large stature, of shapely physique, piercing eye and steady nerve...a man of daring,inured to danger, calm at the most critical times..." 
Hands Up: page 36
Californian Newspaper
first article of gold found
March,15 1848

Born in the early 1830s in Como, Mississippi, Musgrove had little education but was considered sharp and a natural born leader. By 1849 he had moved to Napa Valley, California, caught up in the gold rushWhen the Civil War broke out in 1861 his sympathies were with the South. He,
"...quarreled with a Napa man about the merits of the conflict, which quarrel resulted in his coolly shooting the other party down. He was compelled to leave the place..."
Hands Up: page 36
After a stop in Nevada where he argued with and killed two more men over the war, he moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming. When a man there derided the South he killed him, too, and headed for Denver, Colorado. 


The war was winding down and Musgrove, based out of Denver, was
Denver, Colorado in 1859
"..engaged as an Indian trader about old  Fort Halleck until a half-breed Indian had the temerity, half in sport, one day to call him a liar, when Musgrove calmly pulled his revolver from his pocket, and, taking deliberate aim, planted a bullet squarely in the middle of the Indian's forehead.  
This transaction served to put an end to Musgrove's Indian trading, for he was compelled to leave the Indian region on very short notice."  
Hands Up: page 37

After this he organized what Cook calls, " of the most formidable bands of desperadoes known to frontier history." 

The Musgrove Gang consisted of as many as two hundred men.

States and Territories as of July 1868
"Musgrove was a perfect organizer. 
He had his operators in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Texas, Nebraska, Kansas and others of the Western States and Territories, and carried on a regular business of stealing and selling stock.  
They would drive off entire droves of horses from one section and sell them in another five hundred miles away, and would steal another drove in the neighborhood of the late sale and drive it for sale back to the place at which they had made the previous raid."                             Hands Up: page 37
Musgrove planted gangs in mountains and plains, each with a leader and every member had specific tasks. The gang struck rural ranches in far-away, desolated areas so they could disappear with a herd into hundreds of miles of back-country before a posse could be raised.

Rocky Mountain
Detective Association

If Musgrove was " a perfect organizer" for outlaws, Denver's city marshal David Cook was the same for lawmen. He had founded,

"...Rocky Mountain Detective Association, a freelance, volunteer-only group of Colorado troubleshooters, similar in character to the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Although its offices were in Denver, its cases took him all over the west." - Wikipedia 
Networking with the contacts he made through the RMDA, Cook began to put pressure on Musgrove. In 1868, when thirty miles outside of the city Cook arrested four of his gang members, Musgrove left Denver and went into hiding.

Without a central meeting place and regular communication channels, his gang began to break down. 
Twenty or more gang members were arrested, killed or lynched. Even so, some of Musgrove's organizations were still active.

"Just a few days before his capture (Musgrove ed.) took shelter in an invulnerable place on the Poudre (River ed.), and sent out a flag of truce to the pursuing officer, telling him that he could come in and pick out any stock that he could recognize; that he could have that and no more.  
US Marshal badge
Mr. Haskell, the then United States Marshal, was in command of the pursuing party. He accepted the conditions laid down, as there was no alternative, and in doing so found the outlaw so barricaded, and his drove of stolen horses and mules so securely arranged, that he made no effort to dislodge him. 
The arrest was finally affected by a bit of detective strategy,and the people throughout the entire Western country rejoiced when it was announced."                                                                                      Hands Up; Chapter VI page 37-38


Abner Loomis
That Detective strategy involved Abner Loomis of Fort Collins, Colorado who lived near Musgrove close to the Poudre River.

Loomis long knew Musgrove as a horse thief but had struck a deal with him. He'd stay quiet if Musgrove left the local cattle alone. If not, the townsfolk would kill him.

Musgrove kept his end of the deal but, with Musgrove wanted in all the Western States, Loomis gave him up.

For some reason, Musgrove trusted Loomis. He sent Musgrove into a set up with United States Marshal Haskell in the Wyoming Territories, where he was arrested.


1869, woodcut, Harper's Weekly
Union Pacific Railroad
Sherman Station, Wyoming

After Musgrove's arrest in Wyoming, he was transported to Denver. Marshal Cook hoped to attract other gang members there for a 'jail-break'. In this he was, perhaps, too successful. Outlaws began trickling into town.


The Boston Building
Golden's 1st building, built in 1860
Later served as Golden's first prison
Ed Franklin, the most senior partner in Musgrove's gang, was shot dead by Marshal Cook on Sunday, November 22nd, 1868 in nearby Golden, Colorado, when he resisted arrest on robbery charges.It was presumed he was there to help Musgrove escape.

Cook slept in Monday morning, after riding back all night from Golden to Denver. When he woke, he found the citizens of his city in an uproar. 

They'd discovered Franklin had been in Denver and visited Musgrove in jail the day before his death, on Saturday, November 21st, and that, 
"After this interview, Musgrove made general announcement of the fact that his escape was planned for an early day, on such a perfect scale that it would not be within the power of the authorities to prevent it."                                                                                                  Hands Up; Chapter VIII page 49

1868 street map of Denver Colorado
It was November and the court's circuit wasn't until January. The people worried they couldn't keep Musgrove locked up until then.
"...the town was known to be full of bad characters, and the number was increasing every day. It was generally agreed that something must be done to teach these ruffians that Denver was no place for them.
Some one suggested that the proper and salutary thing to do would be to hang Musgrove. The idea was wildfire in a dry prairie."  

Hands Up; Chapter VIII page 50
It spread so fast and so loud that within thirty minutes Denver's inns and saloons were empty. The outlaws left town, quickly.

Cook tells us,

"Up to 3 o'clock there had been no organized meeting, not withstanding the talk of lynching had been general, and almost everybody had come to understand that a tragedy of this kind might be expected at any moment.

By 3 the people began to gather on Larimer Street."

Hands Up; Chapter VIII page 50

Larimer Street
Denver, Colorado
circa 1868
Minutes later, as if by unspoken consent, hundreds of Denver's finest citizens began marching towards the County Jail where Musgrove was held.
"There were no masks worn or disguises adopted. It was broad daylight. The best men in the town were in that procession—lawyers, doctors and probably ministers, business and professional men."
Hands Up; Chapter VIII page 50
They met no resistance from the jailhouse guards. Though initially he fought, Musgrove finally agreed to go peacefully if the crowd promised not to shoot him.


Larimer Street 1864 flood
The bridge over (in this painting 'under')
Cherry Creek 
is to the left.
Back on Larimer Street the pressure from the crowd pushed him forward, towards the bridge over Cherry Creek.
"He walked onward in a sullen and uncommunicative mood, glancing to one side and then the other as if looking for assistance. But none came."
Hands Up; Chapter VIII page 51
When they got to the bridge Musgrove, resigned to his fate, asked to write some letters. Given pen and paper, he leaned on the bridge's railing and wrote, legibly and with a steady hand, while his legs were being tied and a wagon prepared for his hanging, to his brother in Como, Mississippi and his wife in Cheyenne, Wyoming Territories,
General Cook preserved verbatim copies of the letters


Lynching on LH Musgrove
Novermer 23rd, 1868
He sprang into the wagon seat when he finished writing, was driven under the bridge and the noose was readied for his neck. Told he could make any preparations he needed for the coming end, he said, "Go on with your work."

When Captain Scudder, a well known and respected citizen, appeared on the bridge and chastised the crowd at length for the illegality of the situation, Musgrove rolled and smoked a cigarette and listened with " much composure as a Mexican ranchero sitting in his plaza on a summer evening.'

But Captain Scudder's,
" was not heeded. The crowd began to jeer, and to cry : 'Drive on!' 
Some one hallooed to Musgrove and inquired: 'Where are the rest of your gang?'
'I am sure I don't know,' came the reply, 'unless you are one of them.' 
Those were among the man's last words. His hat was pulled down over his eyes. Musgrove threw his cigarette from his mouth, and feeling the wagon starting, stooped and sprang into the air." (in order to secure a better fall ed.)
Hands Up; Chapter VIII page 52

Stories of the Century L.H. MUSGROVE

Stories of the Century is a 39-episode Western television series starring Jim Davis that ran in syndication through Republic Pictures between January 23, 1954, and March 11, 1955.   Wikipedia

NoteRelationships are expressed from the perspective of the grandchildren of Willis Edgar and Carrie (known as) Mae (Merritt) Musgrove. 

*Terms of relationship - grandmother, uncle, aunt, cousin, etc.  - are used here generically to include  relatives such as fourth great grandfathers, great grand uncles, second cousins twice removed, etc.

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