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221 12 DOI: 10.5876/9781607322375.c12 “If This Woman Is Found Dead, Tell the People the Espinosas of the Conejos Killed Her” The Attack on Philbrook and Dolores Sánches In 1863 the settlement of Trinidad in vast Huerfano County on the plains east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains was only about three years old.1 It consisted of a huddle of adobes and picket houses2 mainly on the south bank of a stream French trappers called the Purgatoire (Purgatory) and Hispanos had earlier named El Río de Las Animas Perdidos en Purgatorio, or the River of Lost Souls in Purgatory.3 A wooden bridge crossed the river connecting the dusty village to a few other structures on the north bank and to a large grove of cottonwoods and willows. The surrounding bottomlands were hospitable to both grazing and irrigated cultivation, and a number of small farms and ranches had already been established by the scattered Hispano and Anglo settlers. Trees, wild plums, and tangled undergrowth grew thickly on undeveloped ground.4 The Purgatoire takes its rise in the Sangres and wends its way for 150 miles through a fertile valley surrounded by “hills covered with piñon and sabina [a species of juniper], relieving somewhat the hard gray aspect of the bold cliffs beyond,”5 eventually emptying into the Arkansas River far out on the flats of eastern Colorado. An early directory mentions “inexhaustible beds of coal” underlying the town, with “outcrops of the same . . . visible in all the surrounding ravines.”6 The day would come when exploitation of this visible “if this woman is found dead . . .” 222 resource would make a boomtown of sleepy Trinidad and an expansive coalfield of the area around it, leading eventually to bloody labor unrest and the infamous Ludlow Massacre. But in 1863 the town and county were not yet widely settled; the few ranches and farms were strewn sparsely along the river and settlements of any size were few and far between. Though Trinidad had not been an actual town until 1860 or 1861, for over twenty years the river crossing at that point had been familiar to traders using the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail leading from Bent’s Fort on the Arkansas and over the Raton Mountains south of the river into New Mexico. In fact, the cottonwood grove on the north bank had been a favorite stopping place for traders, emigrants, and freighters, as well as for mountain men who also used this route to enter the ranges to the west hunting for pelts.7 Trinidad was, and is, dominated to the south by a rugged, square-topped basaltic mesa some have called Raton Peak and others Fisher’s Peak8 and on the north by the smaller, buttelike Simpson’s Rest, though the latter name did not come into use until later.9 The setting is quite agreeable, not at all suggestive of the gloomy appellation of the stream on which the village sat.10 Main Street, Trinidad, Colorado Territory, home of the Philbrook brothers and Dolores Sánches. (Photo courtesy of History Colorado, scan no. 10034750) “if this woman is found dead . . .” 223 In fact, the name of the town by the River of Lost Souls ironically invokes the redemptive trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. But reputedly it honors not the Santissima Trinidad but a woman called Trinidad, daughter of a Hispano founder of the town, Don Felipe Baca.11 Technically, of course, souls in Purgatory are not lost but are only waiting to be purified before ascending into Heaven, so to that extent the river ’s name is something of a non sequitur.12 But then the notion of Purgatory does imply some degree of suffering for those who, though in a state of grace, yet remain in need of forgiveness for certain sins. It might be said that the Philbrook brothers, Leander D. and Henry Clay, two of the earliest occupants of Trinidad,13 were spiritual sufferers indeed, not necessarily because they themselves had committed sins yet to be expiated but because a third brother, Darius, had recently been executed for the crime of attempted murder, and that blow must have afflicted the surviving two with personal torments. The Philbrook line from which the brothers descended was a long-established Maine family, respectable and law-abiding as far as we know. The father, Samuel, and the mother, Emily Twitchell, were natives of Gilead in Oxford County.14 At some...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781607322375
Related ISBN
9781607322368
MARC Record
OCLC
851417427
Pages
352
Launched on MUSE
2013-08-13
Language
English
Open Access
No
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