The Grafters Club

The Membership


Adjutant General Thomas J. Tarsney

BANNED, 1894

In 1894, when Colorado Governor D.H. Waite wanted to send the militia into Denver to break the influence of gambling on local politics, he needed a man in command who was willing to take up arms against the elected municipal government — even though the governor knew he lacked the authority to take such action.

Thomas Tarsney, adjutant to General Brooks, and Waite's fellow populist, took the challenge, bringing the militia and their field artillery, gatling guns, even signal corps on bicycles to downtown Denver to face down the Denver municipal employees, sheriff's police, and an army of deputized gamblers and thugs, all comfortably hunkered down within the fortified walls of City Hall. Ultimately the strength of the municipal force intimidated Waite and Tarsney, and the battle remained a standoff until the intervention of the state Supreme Court.

Still, Tarsney had made no friends in the halls of power, nor the gambling halls, of Denver, where the Blongers were major players. Shortly after the confrontation, Blonger's place was closed along with Soapy Smith's Tivoli and others.

A few days later, a miners' strike in Cripple Creek seemed to be getting out of hand, and once again Tarsney and his militia were pressed into service. Waite was openly sympathetic to the plight of the working man, and hoped the strike would end well for the miners, who wanted an eight-hour day instead of nine, and $3 a day.

On arriving, Tarsney determined that the local sheriff had called for the militia to help him serve arrest warrants on the strike leaders and others, and Waite gruffly recalled the troops, unwilling to assist the sheriff and his master, the mine owners association. When the violence increased, Waite sent the militia once again, this time to stand between the strikers and an army of "special deputies" numbering nearly a thousand, many recruited among the policemen and firemen that had been recently fired in Denver — those who had faced down Tarsney only days before.

In the end, the militia did disarm the strikers and allow the deputies to make their arrests, though many of the leading agitators had already fled. And so it was that those sympathetic to mine owners like Sam and Lou Blonger, who owned the Forest Queen on Ironclad Hill, found it easy to blame the disgruntled miners when Tarsney was tarred and feathered outside of Colorado Springs. He was in town to see to the defense of the arrested strikers.

Castle Rock Journal, June 27, 1894

Adjutant General Tarsney Tarred and Feathered at Colorado Springs.
Adjutant General Tarsney was kidnaped from the Alamo Hotel a few minutes after midnight Saturday morning, by masked men, taken to the suburbs in a hack, and there tarred and feathered.
General Tarsney has been in the city for several days past attending the examination of the arrested Bull Hill miners. Tarsney, together with Colonel B. F. Montgomery of Cripple Creek, appeared as attorneys for the miners.
At midnight the general, having just gone to his room, was called to answer a summons to the telephone purporting to come from Cripple Creek. While at the telephone two masked men entered and one of them ordered Tarsney to go with them. He objected, and they hit him over the head with a revolver. The clerk was guarded by another man while Tarsney was forced out of doors and put into a hack. The drivers of the two hacks when they saw the struggle in the hotel started to drive away but were forced to remain by armed men. The party went to the foot of Austin Bluffs, nearly three miles from town. The hotel clerk gave notice to the police and a party soon started in pursuit.
Three of the officers arrived before the miscreants had finished their rascally act, but the seven masked men were too much for them and they could not prevent them from escaping.
After the ordeal General Tarsney was left lying on the prairie. He was found to be not badly hurt, but was suffering from bruises caused by his rough handling and was in great mental anguish.
The kidnapping caused the greatest sensation and excitement at Colorado Springs as soon as the facts became public, and also at Cripple Creek, to which place the telephone immediately carried the news.
Governor Waite was notified of the outrage by a reporter of the Denver Republican and expressed strong indignation. He said he would offer a reward of $1,000 out of his own pocket for the arrest of the men who did it.

Another article a few days later lifts the above description in its entirety, but refutes the italicized above with a more detailed description of the incident, beginning with the party's arrival at Austin Bluffs:

Littleton Independent, June 29, 1894

Here the party found a large number of men waiting for them. General Tarsney was stripped of all his clothing and a coat of hot tar and feathers applied to his body, even his face and neck not escaping. During all this time he had been abused and cursed in unmeasured terms. After helping the general to dress, the men ordered him to go north and never show himself in El Paso county again. The men then disappeared. His condition was pitiable in the extreme. As a result of the severe handling to which he had been subjected and the drying of the tar, he could make but slow progress. Toward daylight, however, he reached the house of Andrew T. Malloy, a ranchman, who had been a deputy at Cripple Creek. Mr. Malloy, after giving General Tarsney his breakfast, hitched up and drove him to Palmer Lake. Here the station men cleaned the tar from his face. He was taken to Denver on a special train in the afternoon.
The greatest apprehension had been felt by his family and friends, as they feared that he had been killed. Indignation was expressed by all classes of people. The Republican Redemption League offered a reward for the apprehension of the criminals. Commissioner Boynton of El Paso offered to do all in his power to arrest them, and messages of sympathy were received from all sides. General Tarsney, on his return home, was well cared for and on Sunday it appeared that the results would not prove serious. He said that he had no idea as to who the men were that had so abused him.

One of the perpetrators was eventually caught, and under the questioning of Denver detective Peter Eales he confessed that the deed had been done by El Paso County deputies, who after the strike found themselves unemployed and without prospects.

Two weeks later Eales returned to the Springs, this time accompanied by two city detectives, and mine owner Lou Blonger in tow. But to what end?

The Rocky Mountain News, August 7, 1894 informs us that detectives Eales and Duffield were assigned by Chief of Police Armstrong of Denver to extract a confession from deputy Joe Wilson. In the same issue, we are told that Tarsney had since returned to Colorado Springs, where he was to face charges of contempt of court. He was guarded on his journey by the highest officers of the National Guard, the attorney general, and six Denver city detectives: Eales, Duffield, Connors, Peterson, Cross and Parker.

Newark Daily Advocate, Aug 8, 1894

A Tarsney Conspirator Makes a Confession.
The Conspiracy to Tar and Feather the Colorado Adjutant General Was [?] in the County Sheriff's
Deputy Sheriff's Wife Furnished the Feathers.
Sanctioned by the Sheriff.
DENVER, Aug. 8.—Wilson, the El Paso county deputy sheriff, who was captured by Adjutant General Tarsney in Missouri, has made a full confession and given to Chief of Police Armstrong the names of all the men connected with the outrage committed in Colorado Springs a few weeks ago. According to story the men engaged in the disgraceful enterprise were Sheriff Bowers, his deputy sheriff, Bob Mullins, Captain Saxton of Troop A., Sergeant William Bancroft of Troop A, Deputy Sheriff J. R. Wilson. Deputy Quackenboss, Sherman Crumley, "Shorty" Allen, Smith Suelleneger[?] and perhaps one or two others, including a woman. The police now have three confessions: those of Wilson, Parker and a prisoner in the El Paso mmity[?] who is being held as a witness to a murder committed in Cripple Creek. These men will all be brought before the grand jury now sitting in Colorado Springs.
On the day that Tarsney appeared at Colorado Springs for the purpose of assuming the defense of the Bull Hill strikers [...] T. Allen and Smith were the other men in the hotel office. Saxton, Bob Mulhns and the others waited outside. Wilson described the ride out to the open prairie, and said that most horrible threats were made against Tarsney. He was told that he was being driven to a place of execution, where he would be tortured to death. Capfola[?] gleefully told him they would first quarter him and then chop off his head. Tarsney asked for his life, as any man would do under the circumstances. On arriving at the place of torture Tarsney was dragged from the hack by Allen, Bancroft and Wilson and was told to strip. When he was informed that his life would be spared he shook hands with his persecutors and thanked them.

Aspen Weekly Times, August 11, 1894

JOSEPH R. WILSON, the man arrested in Missouri for being implicated in the tarring and feathering of General Tarsney, has made full confession. It is said that one or two others have also confessed to a participation in the outrage. As the confessions criminate officials and prominent men in Colorado Springs it is now conceded that the affair was concocted by General Tarsney's political enemies. It illustrates the methods of the republican redemption League, the moving spirits of which are such men as Soapy Smith, Burchinell and the rest of the gang at Denver and Colorado Springs.

Now that hits a little closer to home.

More yet about Thomas Tarsney