Friday, July 6, 2018

He Brought Law & Order To Leadville

Mart Duggan made news in September of 2005 when Denver historians discovered Duggan’s unmarked grave. Money was raised and a proper tombstone was erected for him in 2010.

Martin J. "Mart" Duggan was born on November 10, 1847, in County Limerick, Ireland. While some say he was born in 1848, I'm going with what's on his headstone.

Immigration to the United States is said to have come to a virtual halt at the outbreak of the American Revolution. It didn't began again until the so-called "Era of Good Feelings." The "Era of Good Feelings" was a period in America which reflected a sense of "National Purpose" and a desire for unity among Americans between 1817 and 1825.

The "Era of Good Feelings" saw the end of the Federalist Party as well as the end to the bitter partisan disputes between it and the Democratic-Republican Party. During those few years, a goal for all was to put politics aside and let what was good for the American people be the priority.

Many of the first arrivals from Ireland came to work on the Erie Canal. But that was the only canal project they worked on. And of course, many went to work for the railroads. Unlike the myth that they were just unskilled laborers, in reality most were skilled tradesmen.

A decade or so later by the mid 1840s, it's said the nature of Irish immigration to America changed because the potato blight destroyed the staple of the Irish diet. The blight in turn produced a famine, and hundreds of thousands of Irish peasants were driven from their homeland and forced to migrate to America.

Unlike the earlier Irish arrivals, most of the folks who arrived later had little to no skills or experience. Worst of all, they arrived with little to no education, very little money if any, just the clothes on their backs, and very little hope. Fact is, they came to America with very few resources of any kind to help them make it.

What they did have going for themselves was vital to their survival. First, they came with good intentions to make better lives for themselves. The vast majority of newcomers were God fearing, honest, hard working, and family oriented. Second, while they might not have known what the word "assimilate" meant, on the overall they did just that over the long haul.

According to records, the population of Irish arriving here between 1840 and 1851 was recorded as 6,552,385. And while they did assimilate over the long haul, being low on the pecking order meant that conditions for many Irish arrivals to American cities at the time was not much better than the conditions that they fled from in the old country. Sadly, the conditions they found themselves in were often crowded shanty towns, living in shacks, where sanitation was barely existent.

Jobs were hard to come by and employers made no bones about their unwillingness to take on the Irish newcomers. In many instances signs saying "No Irish Need Apply" were very clearly hanged out for all to see. And of those who did find work, Irish immigrant women found work as domestics while the men worked as servants and took whatever laborer jobs that could be found in construction.

The Irish newcomers felt the open hostility of those who arrived before them, and the slums took its toll on those there. The workhouses got many, but many also landed in the jails. Thankfully some made their way out of the cities of the East and headed West.

Mart Duggan was like thousands of other Irish children raised in America to immigrant parents. His family came to America and settled in the slums of New York City. He grew up among the bars and the drunks, the brothels, the poor, and the filth of the city.

By 1859 when young Mart was about 11 years old, the Duggan family had enough of New York and moved to Nebraska to take up farming there. After a few years in Nebraska, they moved to the Colorado Territory right after the Homestead Act of 1862 was passed.

Settlements were going up all over the West because of the Homestead Act of 1862. The Homestead Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862. It was meant to encourage Americans to migrate West. The enticement was 160 acres of free land. Those who took the challenge were called "homesteaders."

In exchange for that free land, a "homesteader" paid a small filing fee and they had to complete five years of continuous residence there. That might sound like a bargain before receiving ownership of the land, but only 1 in 3 actually made it through the 5 required years. It was tough hard work and many simply returned East.

Mart Duggan was in his mid 20s when he left the family farm to seek his fortune in the rich mining camps of Colorado. He drifted from one mining camp to the next. Along the way, as with everyone, needing to eat prompts people to take all sorts of jobs they might not necessarily take.

In Duggan's case, he found work as a laborer in the mines, a teamster, mule skinner, and even as a stock tender. And according to legend, he had almost a dozen notches on his pistol when he became a cowboy and Indian fighter. Of coarse, I wouldn't put any money on the later being true.

Georgetown was established in Colorado's Clear Creek Canyon in 1859 during Pike's Peak Gold Rush. She is known as the "Silver Queen of the Rockies." And contrary to what some say, that town of Georgetown was not named after George Washington. In reality, it was founded by two brothers who were prospectors. Their names were George and David Griffith. Georgetown was actually named in honor of the older of the two brothers. 

Coming twenty years later, the Colorado Silver Boom started in 1879 with the discovery of silver at Leadville. A friend of mine from that area once told me that Colorado means "colored red," and with the over 82 Million dollars worth of silver that was mined during the period is said to have kept Colorado out of the red and in the black for years.

By the time Mart Duggan was 29, in 1876, he found himself a Jack of many trades but master of none. Needing work, the stocky 5 foot 5 inch tall Irish-American started working as a bouncer in the Occidental Dance Hall & Saloon in Georgetown.

Not long after he started working as a bouncer there, he had to disarm a loud mouth drunk. It actually happened pretty quickly. At one moment the drunk was waving his pistol, the next moment the drunk was laid out. The drunk found himself on the floor looking up at Duggan who had taken the drunk's own pistol and used it to buffalo him over the head. The drunk became so angry that he actually challenged Duggan to go out into the street and shoot it out.

Duggan had never been in a gunfight up to this point in his life. The story goes that Duggan didn't hesitate a second and threw the drunk’s pistol across the room. The scrappy Irishman then told the drunk to pick it up, and that he'd be waiting for him outside. And with that, Duggan walked into the street and waited.

When the drunk came out for their gunfight, it's said patrons from the saloon went outside with him. They lined the sides of the street to watch what would happen next. The drunk is said to have seemed a lot more sober than he lead on to be when he walked outside. Soon people there were whispering that Duggan had bit off more than he could chew.

The two faced one another about 30 feet apart. It's said that the man went for his gun, and so did Duggan. Witnesses said that the first shots were close, but the drunk fired first.

Duggan followed his first shot with two more. The drunk was said to have been maybe a half a second faster than Duggan, but he missed. Duggan was not as fast, but he was accurate. He didn't miss. His three shots slammed into the man's chest, killing him instantly. Who was the drunk, no one knows. Fact is, he was unknown to everyone there because he hadn’t been in town long enough for anyone there to find out his name. Right after the shooting a Miners Court convened and acquitted Duggan when the shooting was ruled self defense.

About two years later, Duggan left Georgetown and headed for Leadville during the silver boom there. By then, Leadville, Colorado, was a booming mining town. It was a raucous, no holds barred town of gamblers, pimps, prostitutes, con men, and other seedy types all wanting to take as much gold from miners as they possibly could. 

It's said that when Mart Duggan arrived in Leadville, he was immediately mistaken for a thug by the name of Sanford "Sam" Duggan, Sam was known for attempting to extort money from miners in different mining camps. Sam's method was simple. He threatened miners with physical violence unless they paid him not to beat them up or kill them. While it was an easy mix up because of Mart Duggan's last name, the mistake was resolved with someone came forward to report that Sanford Duggan was lynched in Denver years earlier.

Leadville had a population of around 15,000 when Duggan arrived. The town appointed T. H. Harrison as its first City Marshal. While Harrison was appointed because of a great reputation as a no non-sense lawman, he was actually beaten up by local hooligans and ran out of town just two days after being appointment.

Horace Austin Warner Tabor, who would later become one of America's wealthiest men, was the Mayor of Leadville. When Harrison was ran out of town on a rail, Tabor appointed George O'Connor as City Marshal.

City Marshal George O'Connor is said to have had grit and was starting to bring about some semblance of peace in Leadville when he was shot and killed by one of his own deputies. That took place on April 25th, 1878, after Marshal O'Connor reprimanded Deputy Marshall James M. "Tex" Bloodsworth for spending too much time in saloons, gambling and frequenting dance houses.

After Marshal O'Connor informed Bloodworth that he would request that the City Council to fire him, the Deputy immediately planned the murder of Marshal O'Connor. The evening of April 25th, Bloodworth met Marshal O'Connor at Bill Nye's Saloon and soon exchanged words. Bloodworth then shot the Marshal several times and left him to die as he ran out of the saloon. Bloodworth then stole a horse and was never seen again after fleeing Leadville. 

Marshal O'Connor did not die quickly but instead lingered for several hours. He had only been City Marshal for 3 weeks before being killed. When he died, he was survived by his wife and son.

While Marshal O'Connor was still dying, Mayor Tabor called an emergency session of the city council. A few people who knew Duggan's work as a bouncer in Georgetown, and of course the shootout that he was in there, steered the Mayor toward Mart Duggan to replace Marshal O'Connor. It's said that Duggan hesitated at first, but then accepted the appointment as City Marshal on the grounds that he could maintain the peace anyway he saw fit.

The same hooligans who ran off Harrison and gave O'Connor a hard time for the short time that he was on the job quickly started threatening Duggan. The threats were not subtle, he was told to either leave town or be buried in Leadville.

On the same day of his appointment and swearing in, Duggan was summoned to the Tontine Restaurant over a disturbance by some rowdy miners. Once there, he stood down the leader of the rowdies by telling him to get out of the restaurant. When the leader balked and asked what if he didn't, Duggan told him that he'd kill him where he stood. The leader of the miners saw that the new City Marshal wasn't bluffing and left.

Soon a reputation of his being a no nonsense lawman was being talked about in town. It was right after his first encounter with the rowdies at the Tontine Restaurant that he started firing the deputies who were left over from the previous Marshal's office. If he thought one was crooked or not capable of doing their job, or if he thought a deputy was too friendly with the criminal element of the town, he would fire them on the spot.

After taking on his own department, Duggan is said to have actually walked right into the office of a local judge and ran him out of town at gunpoint. The judge was said to be too lenient when it came to handing out sentences, and may have been in cohorts with the criminal element there. So Duggan showed up at his office and fired him. The judge didn't take being fired lightly and told Duggan that he didn't have the authority to fire him.

Legend says Duggan pulled his Smith&Wesson .44 Double Action Frontier Revolver and stuck its barrel under the judge's nose. Then it's said he held it there as he walked the judge out of his office and into the street. He supposedly pointed the judge toward the end of town and told him to get out.

Marshal Duggan's Smith & Wesson .44 Double Action Frontier
As a piece of trivia, the Smith & Wesson .44 Double Action Frontier was not one of their best sellers. That's not to say it didn't have a following from some bad hombres. For example, killer John Wesley Hardin was carrying a Smith & Wesson .44 Frontier when he shot in the head in El Paso's Acme Saloon by John Selman in 1895. It's said that George Scarborough shot and killed Selman a year later with a Smith & Wesson .44 New Model.

To clean up Leadville, Duggan fired what he thought were crooked deputies and replaced them with his hand picked men. He also replaced that sympathetic judge with a man of his own choosing. Once his judge was in place, he supervised court sessions for a week while making sure strict sentences were passed down. It is interesting to note that there are sources which say the judge who was walked out of town actually returned later only to apologize to Duggan. He was placed back on the bench by Duggan after promising to lay down harsher sentences.

A few years later, Duggan told a reporter in a newspaper interviewer, "Immediately after I was appointed, I received a written notice from the roughs to leave town, and if I stayed 24 hours, I would follow George O’Connor. Paid no attention to notice but took every precaution to always be on guard. The town was not only full of thieves, thugs and desperate characters, but there was some quarrelsome, shooting miners -- determined that no newcomer should have authority over them.”

Duggan's heavy handed tactics were effective. While not liked by all, they were tolerated because he produced results. And while some may think his heavy handed approach didn't apply to everyone, it did. In fact there is a story of him arresting one of the wealthiest mine owners in Colorado for being drunk and disorderly. The story goes that when the mine owner resisted arrest, Duggan used his pistol to beat the mine owner over the head before carting him off to jail.

There was an incident that was almost made for Hollywood. That was when he responded to the Pioneer Saloon during a disturbance. Two miners were arguing over the pot in their poker game. One miner was a Black man by the name of John Elkins. The other was a White man named Charlie Hines.

When the argument escalated from words to fists, Elkins pulled a knife and stabbed Hines. Knowing that a Black man stabbing a White man would probably get him lynched before he finished telling folks what happened, Elkins fled. Two deputies soon found Elkins and immediately arrested him without incident. But when the word got around that Hines was close to dying, a mob quickly formed to string up Elkins from any tree that could be found.

Elkins being Black and Hines being White didn't help matters as the lynch mob wanted to do what they saw was there duty. But then again, with Elkins being Black, their duty may have just been an excuse to hang a Black man.

So now, here comes the scene almost made for Hollywood. Marshal Duggan received the word that his two Deputies had found Elkins and they had him locked up in jail. Duggan saw the mob and decided to head them off before they could get into the jail. So City Marshal Mart Duggan found a second pistol and stood in front of the jail with a pistol in each hand. Yes, two pistols.

He cocked both revolvers and told the mob that he would kill the first man who takes another step forward. As angry as the mob were at that moment, no one wanted to test him. No one wanted to find out if Duggan would keep shooting until he was empty and go out blazing away trying to keep a prisoner. So the mob which was supposedly about 100 men, in fact dissolved on the spot.

Luckily for Elkins, Hines made a recovery and the scene didn't have to be acted out again later. When he went to court, a jury of White men found that Elkins did in fact act in self-defense. But wisely, Elkins is said to have left town as soon as he was released from custody.

Duggan was fired by Mayor Tabor after a February of 1879 incident where the Marshal was drunk. According to some, Duggan was normally well mannered and soft-spoken. But supposedly when he was in a bottle, he became mean and as deadly as a rattler. And if pushed, he became even meaner.

A Leadville newspaper once wrote, "Sober, there was no more courteous, obliging person. But under the influence of liquor, he was the incarnation of deviltry and had as little regard for human life as a wild beast."

In that incident in February of 1879, Duggan assaulted a Tontine Restaurant bartender who told him that he was "violent and abusive." In fact, Marshal Duggan actually threatened the bartender's life after pulling his revolver and knocking the bartender to the floor.

Duggan was suspended. But he was then reinstated when the bartender, who didn't want to have Duggan as an enemy, withdrew his charges. For the few days that he was suspended, his deputies threatened to quit and the town went wild. With no law and order in sight, Mayor Tabor quickly reinstated Duggan and order was restored. 

In March of 1879, Bill and Jim Bush got into an argument with Mortimer Arbuckle. On a lot that belonged to the Bush brothers, Arbuckle built a shack. It was a shack that Arbuckle was using to conduct business out of.

Their argument went from shouting to pushing, and then Jim Bush pulled a pocket pistol and shot Arbuckle dead. Arbuckle was not armed, and he was very well liked there. So now, a lynch mob quickly formed. They wanted to lynch Jim Bush, but also burn down the hotel owned by Bill Bush. Duggan arrested Jim Bush and put him in his jail. And again, Duggan backed down a lynch mob.

But that time, Duggan knew that his backing down that mob was only temporary -- and that it was only a matter of time before the vigilantes acted. As soon as he started hearing talk that vigilantes were going to assault the jail going around, he knew he had to do something. Duggan took Jim Bush to Denver for safe keeping until his trial.

A month later, it was a year since taking the job. Believe it or not, since he was married by then, he stated that he wanted to move his family to Flint, Michigan, where his wife had relations. So in order to make the trip East, Mart Duggan quit when his term expired. He was replaced by Pat Kelly who did not have the same attitude of Marshal Duggan.

Within months Leadville reverted back to the way it was before Mart Duggan pinned on a star. Hooligans started running protection rackets openly and soon took over businesses at gun point.

Gangs of hooligans were led by a killer known as Edward Frodsham who was from Brigham, Utah. Frodsham had been sentenced to ten years in prison for killing John Peasley in Wyoming. Peasley made the mistake of having an affair with Frodsham's wife. Frodsham was released after only two years behind bars. Yes, that sort of thing where a killer gets out early happened even back then.

In August of 1879, Frodsham who was supposedly good with a gun, and a friend by the name of Lee Landers who was an escaped convict, were in a gunfight in Laramie, Wyoming.  The shootout which took place in Susie Parker's brothel resulted in the killing a cattle dealer named Jack Taylor.

Though Frodsham was wounded in the gunfight, he was arrested. He posted bail but then moved to Leadville. Almost immediately after arriving there in December of 1879, he shot and killed Peter Thams. Marshal Kelly didn't arrest Frodsham for the murder. Some say Kelly was scared of getting killed.

Lake County Deputy Sheriff Edmund H. Watson wasn't scared of Frodsham and did in fact arrest the killer. This time, with Kelly and not Duggan in charge, vigilantes stormed the jail and took both Frodsham and outlaw Patrick Stewart out of the jail. The vigilantes lynched them both.

Leadville was out of control, so the City Council didn't wait and simply fired City Marshal Pat Kelly. They also sent for Mart Duggan to return at once.

When Mart Duggan returned to take the position of Leadville City Marshal over again in late December of 1879, he immediately fired all of Kelly's deputies and replaced them with men of his own. Whether there was a law on the books or not, it's said that with a pistol in both hands -- Duggan arrested anyone who he believed was causing problems for the town. 

It took months, but soon enough Leadville was peaceful as could be expected. So in April of 1880, with Leadville again under control, Mart Duggan decided to leave. This time, his replacement was Lake County Deputy Sheriff Edmund H. Watson who was coaxed into the City Marshal's position by Duggan himself. Watson's arrest of Frodsham garnered him a great deal of respect in and around the town, and that was half the battle of keeping the peace back in the day.

A month later, Duggan was employed by former Mayor Tabor. He was hired to help end a miners' strike over wages. Some say it was his hiring that ended the strike, that his reputation did it. Either way, within a month of being hired, the miners' strike ended.

Later that year, in November, Duggan's personal reputation took a hit when he  got into an argument with a miner by the name of Louis Lamb. He and Lamb had argued before. This time when Lamb walked away, Duggan kept yelling at Lamb.

It's said that Lamb walked away but at some point turned and pulled a pistol. Duggan drew his and shot Lamb dead. Duggan turned himself in and was later cleared on grounds of self-defense. That shooting tarnished his reputation. He lost a great deal of prestige over the shooting of Lamb.

It's said that Duggan went into the Livery business and owned a livery stable in Leadville at the time of the Lamb shooting. After the shooting of Lamb, his business went under altogether by 1882.

Duggan moved to Douglass City, Colorado, where he became a City Deputy while also tending bar. There is a story about him tracking down con-artists in 1887. Supposedly a con-artist arrived there and fleeced a few dance hall girls.

The crook sold them fake jewelry. The girls talked to Duggan about it. Duggan hunted the man down. It's said that he beat the man pretty badly, then made him return the money that he had taken from the girls.

Believe it or not, it's said that the con-artist went to Leadville and filed charges of robbery and assault and battery against Duggan. Mart Duggan was summoned and appeared in court to face the charges. He brought along with him the dance hall girls who were cheated.

While the judge acquitted Duggan on the charge of robbery, he fined the former City Marshal $10 for assault and battery. When Duggan heard the fine, he became so angry that the con-artist decided that it would be a wise move to drop the charges and leave town. That con-artist was never seen in those parts again.

Later in 1887, former City Marshal Mart Duggan accepted a position as a Deputy in Leadville. Some say he was out of step with the times since many in Leadville saw themselves as no longer a mining camp and more a civilized city. Knowing that, one has to be sort of surprised that they asked for Duggan to return in any sort of capacity as the law there. They must have known that his techniques were the same as they were ten years earlier when he brought law and order to that town.

It didn't take long for his old ways to clash with what some saw as the modern and more civilized way of doing things. That happened in March of 1888 when  Duggan arrested a jewelry peddler who was cheating people in town. Because he roughed up the peddler when the no good cheat tried to resist arrest, the judge threw the charges out of court and Duggan was fined $25 for an unlawful arrest. With that, Mart Duggan had enough and resigned. He would never put on a badge again.

For one reason or another, Duggan started drinking heavily about that time. As I said earlier, he was known as a mean drunk. During that time, he was involved in a number of arguments. While he wasn't against using his fists if things escalated, he was also known to have little to no patience when challenged by bullies. And no, being outnumbered didn't seem to matter to him. As far as he was concerned, his enemies had the choice of guns or knifes if that suit them.

On April 9th, 1888, he had been in the Texas House Saloon most of the night. He didn't like people being picked on and soon had a run in with two gamblers by the names of William Gordon and Bailey Youngston over their treatment of someone else there. The story goes that it was in the very early morning hours that he took up for someone. That's what started the argument between he and the two gamblers.

After being threatened by the two who were said both bigger men, Duggan asked both to step outside and finish it in the street. Both of the gamblers knew of his reputation with a gun, so both decided against it and backed down.

It was about 4:00 am when Duggan finally calmed down and decided to head home. It's said that he only walked a few steps out the door of the Texas House when someone came up from behind and shot him in the back of the head.

His killer is said to have fled after seeing that Duggan didn't go down. Instead of immediately falling, he instead staggered next door to the Bradford Drug Store where he finally went down. Bystanders carried Duggan into the drugstore. His wife was called and she was told what had taken place, and that he wasn't dead.

When she arrived, she was met by many of his friends. Her husband was indeed not dead, so she sat with him well into the morning.

Legend says at one point he opened his eyes and asked for a drink of water. At that point, someone asked him if Bailey Youngston had shot him? He replied, "No. And I'll die before I tell you".

Mart Duggan died at 11:00 am on April 9th, 1888. He died almost 10 years to the day after taking office as City Marshal there. And yes, the mystery surrounding why he withheld the name of his killer has never been solved. Some say he may simply not have known who it was. But if so, why say "I'll die before I tell you"?

He was highly respected and Leadville certainly mourned his death. He was buried in Denver and many say his funeral was one of the largest ever attended.

Bailey Youngson, Jim Harrington, and George Evans, were arrested as murder suspects. Only Bailey Youngson went to trial. But because of lack of eye witnesses, he was acquitted.

No one was ever convicted for his murder. But that didn't stop the town of Leadville from confronting those who they suspected, and running them out of town. Of course, by now whoever did bushwhack him has long since met his maker and has had to answer for his heinous act. So hopefully, that cowardice individual is sitting in Hell.

As for Mart Duggan, born in Ireland, he was raised in the tough slums of New York City and then the Nebraska farmland. He worked at many jobs and became one of the Old West's great lawman. He was a true town tamer in every sense.

Sadly, he is mostly forgotten today. But there was a time not all that long ago in the Old West, when Mart Duggan made outlaws change their ways and think twice before breaking the law. He was the man who brought law and order to Leadville. He was truly one of the most feared lawmen in the West. That's just a fact.

Tom Correa


  1. This a great story. I enjoyed reading it and thank you for the effort. However, I would suggest you hire a good proof reader.

  2. It was hard out there for a lawman. Thanks for taking the time to post this interesting story. I loved it.


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