restricted access 11. “Ready for Any Duty, Untiring, and Full of Energy”: Samuel F. Tappan Takes Up the Hunt for the Espinosas
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207 11 DOI: 10.5876/9781607322375.c011 “Ready for Any Duty, Untiring, and Full of Energy” Samuel F. Tappan Takes Up the Hunt for the Espinosas “The summer of 1863,” wrote Frank Hall, early Colo­ rado legislator and later historian, “was marked by a protracted drouth which dried up the streams, and prevented growth of crops in the limited area then cultivated.” Then, “[e]arlier than usual, about the middle of October, one of the severest winters ever known in this latitude set in, with frequent heavy snows and very cold weather.”1 The extremes were indeed remarkable, since the winter of 1862–63 had been unusually mild and spring had come delightfully early.2 But by the beginning of August the scorch of summer was so severe it had begun to wear down the spirits of many, including an editorialist for the Weekly Commonwealth: Saturday morning came in close and murky as usual for the last few days. Before 9 o’clock the mercury was at 94. A few dark clouds casting heavy shadows towards the mountains and some bilious looking thunderheads peeping from behind the range, gave a slight promise of the long wished rain. About noon, the clouds dripped a little, just enough to wet a handkerchief, and then the rainy season passed inconveniently over. We resigned ourself [sic] to our fate in a very melancholy mood.3 Yet, before that month was out, signs of wintry weather were already showing themselves around “ready for any duty, untiring, and full of energy” 208 the Front Range. “There was frost night before last on Clear Creek, six miles west of here,” reported the Rocky Mountain News Daily on August 26, “and several inches of snow fell on the nearer mountains.”4 We do not know what conditions were like in the remote San Luís Valley where, two days before the News spoke of frost and snow, Lieutenant Colonel Samuel F. Tappan rode into Fort Garland to assume command.5 Tappan was relieving First Lieutenant William B. Moore, who had taken temporary charge of the post after Captain Davidson, of the E. Wayne Eaton affair, relinquished it twelve days previously, pending Tappan’s arrival.6 The onset of winter was always unpredictable in the San Luís. Frost was common in September and October and heavy snowfalls were erratic, sometimes holding off till December and on other occasions coming in early October, at times whitening the mountains while leaving the valley floor untouched. Sometimes snows were very light or even nonexistent until January, and then they could persist far into the spring months. The winters were almost always cold and blustery.7 But nothing in the records suggests anything but a sunny and agreeable clime on the day Samuel Tappan came to Garland. Tappan was not the kind of man to shrink from wind, weather, or hard duty. He was a slight but still imposing figure of medium size, and with a penetrating gaze. A heavy mane of dark hair swept up like wings from a part low on the left side of his head, complemented by a thick mustache and a rounded chin that was somewhat withdrawn but strengthened nonetheless by a firm, full-lipped mouth and evenly trimmed chin-whiskers. His manner conveyed an impression of coolness and composure, touched perhaps with a faint suggestion of superiority. Lieutenant Colonel Samuel F. Tappan, commandant of Fort Garland at the time of the Espinosas’ attack on Philbrook and Dolores Sánches. (Photo courtesy of History Colorado, scan no. 10035782) “ready for any duty, untiring, and full of energy” 209 Technically the San Luís was part of the Eastern Ute Indian Reservation, whose agency, under Lafayette Head, was located at Conejos. Fort Garland had originally been built in 1858, successor to Fort Massachusetts, the first military post in what was to become Colorado. The purpose of Massachusetts was to protect the largely Hispano inhabitants of the valley from the Utes and to guard the passes through the Sangres. But Massachusetts had turned out to be badly placed in a swampy, unhealthy area and six years later was abandoned in favor of Garland—though some would question whether the change was beneficial. With its short summers and long winters, Garland was generally considered the least desirable post in the entire Southwest.8 After initially resisting encroachment by Hispanos from northern New Mexico,9 the Utes had by 1863 begun grudgingly to accept the inevitable, that with increasing immigration from...


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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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