Jim Reynolds was a miner working at California Gulch, now Leadville. He got permission from the governor of Colorado to go down into Texas, his native state, and raise a regiment for the Union army. When he started for Texas, people believed that he was honest in his object, but on his return they soon learned that his undertaking was not to aid the government, but to take advantage of it during its struggles and help himself.
He left Texas with twenty-two men, but only had eight men and nine first class horses with him on the Platte.
The following narrative is only one of their numerous deeds. Nearly all of their attacks on the stage coaches were along the old Powell road. This road wound around through timber and over hills, down on the Platte again. Being a well concealed road, it afforded shelter along the sides of it for the outlaws to hide in so they could not be seen until they would spring out on their victims.
This stage line was owned by Billy Berry, Ad Williamson and Bob Spotswood. They ran the stage from Denver by Breckenridge, Fairplay, Alma and back into Denver.
On one occasion, Reynolds and his gang held up the coach and robbed it of eighteen thousand dollars in gold dust, the United States mail and express. Among the passengers was a young girl who had been working in the hotel at Fairplay and saved up four hundred dollars of her own money and had the same amount of her brother-in-law’s money, which the robbers took from her. Mr. Dunbar, one of the passengers, as soon as he saw the robbers, got a bottle and played drunk. When one of them came up to him he said, “If you fellers come, hic, hic, come over here, hic, hic, I’ll hit yer on the nose , hic, hic, with this bottle, hie.” The bandits just supposed he was a penniless drunkard and left him alone, so he saved all his money and had the most money of all the passengers.
A band of Denver citizens formed a posse under George Shoop and went in pursuit of Reynolds and his gang.
The outlaws were camped in the timber about ten miles down on the Platte below South Park. They were always on the alert and expected to be chased, so buried the money and other stolen valuables in a well chosen spot near the road. It is said that even today there are people hunting along the old road for the buried fortune, while others say they know it was found shortly after the execution of Reynolds.
The posse which was familiar with the vicinity around the outlaws’ camp, when once on their trail, was not long in finding them.
Reynolds and his men being overpowered and taken at a disadvantage had no other means to save themselves except scatter and take their chances.
Reynolds was shot through the arm, shattering it from the elbow to the wrist, but he and two others escaped. Four of their companions were taken prisoners, while one was killed.
A few days later, Reynolds was suffering so with his arm that he went into Pueblo for medical attention and gave himself up to the authorities there. He was taken to Denver and placed in jail with his four companions. It is said that while he was handcuffed and sitting on a box in front of his cell door, he sang in a clear rich voice and with such a depth of feeling, a beautiful hymn. Being in such contrast to the life he had been living and a song the men seldom heard since leaving their old homes, it touched the hearts of all who heard it.
The outlaws were given a trial under martial law and sentenced to be shot. Owing to the rebellious and antagonistic feeling among the people and the presence of rebels in Denver, who would be expected to interfere, it was decided not to carry out the sentence in Denver.
Therefore, Jim Reynolds and his four remaining comrades were confined in the jail during July and part of August.
August 19th, 1864, when Company A of the 3rd Regiment of Colorado Volunteers was ordered to Fort Lyons, they were also ordered to take the five prisoners along and send them on to headquarters at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
The soldiers marched up Cherry creek, conveying the bandits in the ambulance with Henry Crow, assisted by an escort having charge of them. The second day out they were guarded by Sloan and an escort.
Aston Shaw had been kept on guard and escort since the first day out. On the morning of the third day he went to Captain Cree and said, “How does it come, Captain, that I have to be with the prisoners all the time?’
“Shaw, I want a man with them that will keep those fellows prisoners and not let them escape.”
“Well, I will tell you this much, Cree, I am not going to herd ’em every night.”
“What will you do about it?”
“Go kill the whole bunch.”
“That is just what we want done; they were tried and sentenced to be shot. We dared not carry out the sentence in Denver, and sending them to Fort Leavenworth was just a bluff. We are to dispose of them on the road somewhere unknown to anyone. I have sent out Crow and Sloan, but they have failed to carry out orders, so now I will turn them over to you. You understand what you are to do with them.”
“I will do it, Captain, if you will let me pick my escort.”
“Pick any men you want.”
Picking Ad Williamson, Adam Smith, A. Neiland, Oscar Packard, Isaac Beckman and Frank Parks for his escort, Alston Shaw took charge of Jim Reynolds and his companions.
The ambulance containing the condemned prisoners followed the regiment down the Squirrel Creek road. After traveling a few hours Shaw noticed a little bluff that would conceal him from the regiment, so ordered Williamson to drive the ambulance back of the bluff. When the team stopped, he ordered the shackled prisoners out, then turning to Reynolds, he said, “Jim, you are supposed to be the captain of this company. I have your obligations where you were sworn to stay together until your bones bleached on the prairie.”
“That was our obligations.”
“Jim, this is your finish. If you have anything or any word you want sent to your people, give me their address and I will see that it is done.”
“No, I do not want any of my people to know what became of me.”
Reynolds, nor any of his companions, would not give a word of information concerning his home or people.
“Jim, you have no show. Here is an order from the commander-in-chief of the western department stating that you have been tried by court martial and sentenced to be shot.”
“That is just what I expected and I am ready.”
“Would you rather be shot separate or all together?”
“You read our obligations where it said we would stick together until our bones bleached on the prairie, and that is the way I prefer to die.”
Shaw placed Reynolds in the center with two of his comrades on each side, then had the escort stand sixteen feet in front of them.
Jim Reynolds knelt on his knees, pushed his hat back from his forehead, folded his arms across his breast and said, “I am ready,” being game to the last. But one of his men began to cry and said, “I never killed anybody.” Shaw replied, “Remember the story of old dog Tray. You were caught in bad company.”
Shaw loaded the guns, putting a blank cartridge in one so the men could not tell whose bullets did the killing. He then ordered them all to fire at the same time on the man to the right. Reloading the guns, he ordered them to fire at the next. They repeated this until all the prisoners were killed.
Just before the orders were carried out, one of the escort dropped his gun and began crying. “Frank, what’s wrong?” “Pick up your gun and hold yourself in readiness,” commanded Shaw.
To make sure that they were all dead, Ad Williamson shot each in the head with a big brass mounted revolver.
When the execution was over, Neiland, Smith and Shaw took off the shackles and handcuffs, and one of them said, “We will leave you free to carry out the last of your obligations, ‘To stick together while your bones bleach on the prairie.’ ”
The escort just let them lie as they fell and turned on down the road to join the regiment. On the way down they met Captain Cree, who demanded, “Where are those prisoners, Shaw 1 ?”
“We stopped down there in a hollow to dig some potatoes and they got away in the brush and we couldn’t find them.”
Cree whirled his horse and started in pursuit of the escaping prisoners. After a time he returned without them and that night in camp he wrote a report according to Shaw’s account of how the prisoners escaped and sent it in to Denver. The disappearance of Jim Reynolds and his gang was published in the Rocky Mountain News, the only newspaper in Colorado at that time, according to Captain Cree’s report.
The true statement of the execution was not made known for about twenty years afterward.
The executing of these men was a hard task for Shaw and his escort to do. But it was orders from headquarters and if they failed to carry them out before reaching Fort Lyons, they would have shared the same fate as the outlaws.
Source: True History of some of the Pioneers of Colorado, by Miss Luella Shaw, Press of Carson Harper Co, Denver, Colorado, 1909