Friday, March 8, 2019

L. H. Musgrove -- Lynched Denver Outlaw

L.H. Musgrove was said to have been born in the town of Como which sits in Panola County in Mississippi. This is not to be confused with Como, Colorado, which sits in Park County. And while it's believed the town of Como, Colorado, was named by miners who originated from Como, Italy, there's no telling how Como, Mississippi, came by its name.

L.H. Musgrove left the South and set out to get in on the California Gold Rush in the early 1850s. According to legend, Musgrove supposedly killed two men in Wyoming and one in Nevada on the way to California. Once in California, some say he murdered a man in a mining camp near Sonora and left the area one step ahead of a vigilance committee who wanted him to swing for that killing.

During the Civil War, he was known to be in Wyoming again. It was there in 1863 that he was arrested for murder at Fort Halleck. After his arrest, he was taken to Denver to stand trial. While today, we hear about killers getting off on legal technicalities, the same sorts of things took place in the Old West. In Musgrove's case, he was released and didn't stand trial for the killing because of a legal technicality.

It's said that some folks learn from such things and take it as a sign to go straight, while others gain a sense of invincibility when it comes to evading the law. In Musgrove's case, he must have felt more of the latter since he was known to take up with a gang of horse thieves and cattle rustlers after getting out of jail.

Supposedly those outlaws raided settlers, travelers, wagon trains and even attempted to rob the government posts along the Front Range there in the Rocky Mountains. Some say that gang of outlaws and thieves were more in reality of a network of badmen who did business together at various times in that area of Colorado and Wyoming. Because they were such a loose confederation, they were hard to nail down. Also, much of what they did at the time was blamed on Indian tribes there. The reason for that was that Musgrove and other whites were known to disguise themselves as Indian on occasion just to through lawmen off their trail.

Musgrove was known to work out of an abandoned stagecoach station. In reality, it was said to be a natural rock fortress where he and his cohorts would be able to stand off the law if need be.

As with most such men in the Old West, they make mistakes and find themselves in the hoosegow. As with many, it wasn't the law who hanged them, the citizens committees did. Such was the case for L.H. Musgrove. He was arrested by Dave Cook's Rocky Mountain Detective Agency and put in a Denver jail. The lawmen had him dead to rights and there would be no getting out of it that time. But wait, that's what they citizens thought the first time before he got off on a technicality.

I read somewhere recently how there were very few outlaws who were actually hanged over stealing horses in the Old West. The article that I was reading was referring to legal hangings of horse thieves. Fact is, even that article admitted, in the Old West it was usually a matter of citizens finding a bridge or a tree or a telegraph pole to hang such outlaws.

Musgrove was arrested and taken to jail in Denver. While there, he let his mouth write checks that his ass couldn't cash when he said that he would soon escape. All the fool did by spouting off like that was ignite the local community who really thought he's get off somehow anyway. The locals were not happy that he wasn't swing from a tree somewhere and they wanted to remedy that situation.

A vigilance committee of more than fifty armed citizens met with no resistance from the guards as they removed Musgrove from his cell on November 23rd, 1868. It was apparent to those there that the guards wanted Musgrove hanged as well.

The Denver vigilantes stood Musgrove on the back of a buckboard wagon under the bridge over Cherry Creek. Soon the vigilantes placed a noose around Musgrove's neck. Someone is said to have asked him about his gang and he refused to give those there any names of his cohorts. When asked if he had any last words, he supposed had none. His hat was then pulled down over his eyes and the wagon lurched ahead. Musgrove is said to have danced a while before dying. 

As for his execution, it was actually pretty quick in comparison to some. But while that was the case,  believe it or not, there are two notes that are said to have been written by him just before being hanged. As for the notes, while some say he wrote them while waiting to be lynched, others say he wrote them in his cell hearing the crowd outside.

These notes have spurred all sorts of tales of his bravery when facing the end, as well as speculation that he may have been innocent. One story that sounds more like a tall tale more than anything else says that the vigilantes kindly offered him a cigarette which he's said to have smoked "in the most nonchalant manner." Another tale talks about how Musgrove asked for a cigar and the vigilantes gave him one. He supposedly smoked it as he wrote the notes. Supposedly, he "calmly puffed that cigar to its bitter butt."
Of course, there are witness accounts that say Musgrove was known as a murderer, a horse thief, and a cattle rustler, and was treated accordingly. He was sprung from jail in the middle of the night, and hanged without fanfare by vigilantes who disbursed as fast as they assembled. That's the long and short of it.

Authorities cut him down later. He was buried in the old Denver City cemetery. Years later the city required the removal of the bodies. The city wanted the bodies relocated to other cemeteries outside the city simply because that land was wanted for development. With that, it's estimated that only half of the bodies were actually moved when the old cemetery closed. So now, well it's believed that Musgrove is probably buried in Cheesman City Park. Then again, there's some speculation that he might even be buried under the camel pen at the Denver Zoo.

Tom Correa

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