restricted access 8. “Revenge for the Infamies Committed Against Our Families”: Serial Murder as Vendetta
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137 8 DOI: 10.5876/9781607322375.c08 “Revenge for the Infamies Committed Against Our Families” Serial Murder as Vendetta In his abortive attack on the Espinosa home, Lieu­ ten­ ant Hodt had set fire to their dwelling. Tom Tobin remembered it as a house of logs,1 perhaps a rude affair called a fuerte by the inhabitants of the San Luís Valley,2 but more probably the typical Hispano jacal made of adobe mud packed around a frame of varillas, or upright cottonwood poles, with a flat or pitched roof consisting of layers of leaves and dirt covering a lathe of wood in a herringbone pattern3 —a flimsy affair that would have quickly burned. Because of its framing of varillas, this type of house was sometimes thought of as constructed of logs, though the logs were vertical rather than horizontal . Or the house might have been a more substantial structure of adobe bricks set on a rock foundation , which usually replaced the jacal after a family became more established.4 But even such a sturdier dwelling would have been vulnerable to fire because of its wooden framing and its roof of latía lathing of aspen or cedar. The house may have been a freestanding structure facing on a central plaza or street or possibly one in a joined row of units called a corrillera, each living space walled off from its neighbors.5 In the latter case, a fire in one unit could easily have spread to the adjoining ones; thus, in the case of the Espinosas and Hurtados, whose households seem to have been located next “revenge for the infamies committed against our families” 138 door to one another, the dwellings of several members of both families might have been affected. We do not know whether the home or homes were totally destroyed, but they must have been at least partially consumed, and of course Felipe and Vivián themselves—or perhaps, as Tobin claimed, their womenfolk—had broken through some interior walls to gain possession of the weapons the brothers used to repel the soldiers. Whatever the extent of exterior and interior damage to the living quarters of the families, it is safe to say it was sufficient to inconvenience, if not entirely to dispossess, the occupants. Whose house was the focus of the attack? The records do not tell us. The 1860 Census suggests there were four households: that of Secundina’s parents and siblings, the Hurtados; the home of Felipe and his family; the house where Vivián and his wife and children lived with the Espinosa matriarch; and that of José Ledio Hurtado, probably a kinsman of Secundina, and his wife and sixyear -old child.6 By 1863 there may also have been a separate dwelling for Secundina’s sister Eugenia and her new husband José Francisco Lucero, though it is also possible the couple was living with Eugenia’s widowed mother in the home Ruined adobe dwelling, village of San Rafael. (Author photo) “revenge for the infamies committed against our families” 139 of her father, the late José Salvador Hurtado. But the availability of firearms and bows and arrows suggests the burned home or homes may have been Felipe’s and/or Vivián’s, the two Espinosas we can be reasonably certain were armed with a variety of weapons other than the odd fowling piece or musket sometimes belonging to poor peones.7 Nor were the losses of the families limited to destruction by fire. Eventually the army and US Marshal Hunt would return, confiscate, and sell the personal property of the men now referred to as “the Conejos murderers.”8 According to Captain Eaton, the proceeds of the sale were used to “pay expenses incured [sic] in hunting for said murderers,” including “horse hire[,] Spy and Guide, rations for citizens for the burial of the Corporal Killed.”9 Disposed of in this way were “two cows and one steer[,] four fanegas10 wheat and one ox[;] also one trunk.”11 Marshal Hunt took possession of other property and stored it at Fort Garland for eventual disposition by the assistant quartermaster there, including “8 cows and oxen, four beds and bedding[,] 1 beaver trap, [and] 2 water Buckets.”12 Eaton also noted that the murderers owned real estate of an undetermined value and implied that this property would also be sold. Beds and bedding especially would have been a luxury for ordinary farming families in the San Luís Valley at this...


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Subject Headings

  • Espinosa, Felipe Nerio, -1863.
  • Espinosa, José Vivián, -1863.
  • Vincente, José, -1863.
  • Serial murders -- Colorado -- History -- 19th century.
  • Murder -- Colorado -- History -- 19th century.
  • Serial murderers -- Colorado -- History -- 19th century.
  • Murderers -- Colorado -- History -- 19th century.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Colorado.
  • Colorado -- History, Local -- 19th century.
  • Colorado -- Race relations.
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