Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Killing of Kendrick Washburn, 1878

Bird's Eye View of Trinidad, Colorado, late 19th
century.  Courtesy Denver Public Library, Western
History Collection.
The 1878 death of Kendrick Washburn of Middleborough in Trinidad, Colorado, was clearly a case of being in “the wrong place at the wrong time.” However what most Middleborough residents of the day found shocking about the occurrence was not the circumstances of Washburn’s death, but what passed for justice in its wake.

Trinidad, Colorado, situated in the southeastern portion of the state midway between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Denver, Colorado, was a community which was described in 1868 as having “the most frontier style of living in the whole of Colorado Territory”. During the 1870s, it experienced rapid growth, in part spurred by the arrival of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad in 1878, and its population quadrupled in size during the decade. Despite - or perhaps because of - the town’s growth, the town remained one of the “roughest in the Old West”, and it was not until the tenure of Bat Masterson as sheriff in 1882-83 that the community was finally made safe for all.

Trinidad, Colo.  1882.  County Seat of Las Animas County. 
panoramic map (Madison, WI: J. J. Stoner, 1882).
The West retained its rough and tumble image among Easterners who were typically unaccustomed to frontier living. Among them was Kendrick Harlow Washburn who was born in Middleborough April 20, 1860, and who had learned the rudiments of both farming and stock rearing on the farm of his father, Sumner Washburn, a master farmer. By 1877, 17-year-old Kendrick had relocated West to Colorado where undoubtedly the lure of opportunity attracted him as it did many other young educated Easterners. Washburn, if reports in the Middleboro Gazette of the period are accurate, first located about August, 1877, to Mexico (although the newspaper may have meant New Mexico) to try sheep-raising with Willie Leonard of Middleborough. (Leonard is probably the same William H. Leonard who in later years served as postmaster of the gold boomtown Rawhide, Nevada).

Sometime following 1877, Washburn seems to have been employed on one of the large ranches in the section where he was engaged as foreman until his untimely death on December 9, 1878.

Kendrick Washburn, the second son of the late Sumner Washburn, of this place, was shot in the Theatre at Trinidad, Col., a short time since. He went some fifteen months ago, and has been employed as foreman on a large cattle ranch. It seems he had gone some sixty miles in search of a stray horse, and went to the theatre at the town where he stopped for the night. A drunken fellow came into the place saying that he was going to shoot, and shoot he did into the crowd, the ball hitting Washburn, who died about two days after. His body was embalmed and sent home for interment. The murderer was fined thirty-five dollars and costs, for carrying concealed weapons, and then went on his way unmolested. [Old Colony Memorial, December 26, 1878:4, “Middleboro’”]

The record of Washburn’s death at Middleborough lists the cause simply as “Accident.”

Mercifully, Washburn’s father had died that February (1878), though his mother lived until 1905. It’s not clear what impact Washburn’s death, its manner, or its unjust outcome may have had upon the family, though his younger brother Nathan became an attorney and later noted judge at Middleborough. Nathan Washburn’s son, born in 1893, was named in honor of his murdered uncle and himself later became a prominent judge in Middleborough, as well.


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