Now and Then: The Espinosa Brothers – Part Two

By Loretta (Stevens) Bailey

This is the second part of three blogs about the Espinosa Brothers. The third and final part will be posted tomorrow, April 30. To read part one, follow this link.

Where was Espinosa Killed?

by Nelson D. Walker

I first learned about the Espinosa incident twenty years ago on my 57th birthday, when my wife gave me a copy of the “Historical Map of Fremont County, Colorado” for a birthday present.  The map, created by Nancy Calvin Hirleman, shows the locations of roads, railroads, schoolhouses, mines, settlements, and other miscellaneous places that existed during Fremont County’s early history.  One of the features on the map is a marker with the notation, “Espinosa Killed Here.”

I was already somewhat familiar with Espinosa Gulch because I had hiked the entire length of the drainage a few times, but I had no idea why it had been so named.  After seeing the notation on the map, I decided to visit the Local History Center to see if I could find out who Espinosa was and why the gulch was named after him.  The following is a summary of what I learned, as well as the story of the controversy that would later arise concerning the location of the place where Espinosa was killed.

In 2000, the Local History Center was located in the basement of the Fremont County Library (LHC), and Cara Fisher was the LHC Director.  When I asked Cara if the History Center had any information about someone named Espinosa, she replied that it certainly did…and then told me to take a seat while she went off to gather up some files.  Cara returned in a few minutes with three large file folders that were full of copies of articles about the “Bloody Espinosas” that had been gleaned from various newspapers, magazines, and books.

This was the first time I had read anything about the Espinosa raid and I was totally spellbound by the story.  At the same time, I was stunned to think that I had been living in Cañon City since 1978 and that it had taken so long for me to hear about it.

The item in the LHC files that most interested me was a newspaper clipping from the Pueblo Star-Journal and Sunday Chieftain dated Sunday, March 9, 1969.  In addition to having a summary of the Espinosas’ activities and the subsequent manhunts that ended their lives, the article contained a high-quality photograph that was supposedly taken at the site where Vivian Espinosa was killed. 

Two men are shown standing in the foreground of the photograph, and are identified as Frank Lamb, the son of Joseph Lamb, who was one of the men that shot Vivian Espinosa.  The other man is identified as Victor W. Miller, the author of the article.  Both men are pictured standing in a clearing in front of a tall rock outcropping.

I obtained photocopies of the newspaper photograph with the intention of using the cliff-face in the background to identify the location of the ambush site.  The fractures in the rock face were very distinctive and I was confident that I could find it.

In addition to the photograph, there were other pieces of information to help guide me in the search.  I had the “Historical Map of Fremont County, Colorado” that my wife had given to me, which shows the marker where Espinosa was killed located near the upper end of the gulch in the vicinity of the Bare Hills.

Geology is one of my interests, and as a result of my previous hikes through Espinosa Gulch, I was familiar with the locations of the different formations of rocks that lay along it.  I knew that the rocks in the low end of the gulch consisted of sedimentary formations; primarily dolomitic limestone, sandstone, shale, and conglomerate.  On the other hand, the face of the rock outcrop that was shown in the photo did not look at all to sedimentary in origin, but displayed fractures that were more typical of the igneous and metamorphic rocks that are found higher up in the drainage.

On May 7, 2000 I embarked on the long hike up Espinosa Gulch with a friend to find the place where Espinosa was killed.  As expected, we failed to encounter any formation resembling the rock shown in the photograph until we had reached a small open clearing with a free-flowing spring running through it and encountered a tall rock outcrop located on the south side of the drainage that looked exactly like the one in the photograph.  The spring was located on BLM land, so after checking at the local BLM office I learned that it was named, “Nash Spring”.

Believing that my friend and I had located the place where Espinosa was killed, I didn’t give the matter much thought until just before Christmas.  I was shopping in downtown Colorado Springs for Christmas gifts, and while browsing through the Chinook Book Store I spotted a new book, entitled, Tom Tobin – Frontiersman by James Perkins. 

Tobin was the man who hunted down and killed the second brother, Felipe Espinosa, along with Felipe’s young nephew, Jose Vincente, near the town of La Veta. After scanning through the table of contents, I was delighted to find that the book included an entire chapter, titled, “The Murder Raid”. 

Excitedly, I thumbed through the chapter to see if Mr. Perkins had also identified Nash Spring as the place where Vivian Espinosa was killed, but was disappointed to discover that he had located the site at a place called Grape Spring, which is situated near the lower end of Espinosa Gulch and about four miles, as the crow flies, from the place depicted in the Pueblo Star-Journal photograph.

Shortly after Christmas, I wrote a letter to Mr. Perkins to tell him about the site located near the head of Espinosa Gulch, and to explain how I had located it from Victor Miller’s newspaper article and photograph in the Pueblo Star-Journal and Sunday Chieftain.  Mr. Perkins responded to my letter very cordially, and shared the reasons that supported his finding that Vivian Espinosa was killed at Grape Spring.

Mr. Perkins and I corresponded by letter several more times and had a couple of phone conversations about the subject, but in the end, neither of us could change the other’s opinion about the location of the place where Espinosa was killed.  In my last letter to Mr. Perkins, dated February 8, 2001, I notified him that I had interviewed three local individuals who testified that the ambush site was located at Nash Spring.  All three were ranchers, and familiar with the Espinosa incident.

One of the men was David Nash, who was the owner of the land where Nash Spring is located before it came under the ownership of the Bureau of Land Management in a land exchange.  Even this information failed to convince Mr. Perkins to consider that the ambush might have occurred at Nash Spring. (See Exhibit 1) 

During the next seven years I occasionally restudied the issue and worked on constructing a map of the posse’s movements that was based on the only written testimonials left by participants of the manhunt and ambush: John McCannon and Joseph Lamb.  As a baseline reference for mapping the posse’s movements, I referred to the historically reconstructed route that Zebulon Pike followed from Cañon City to South Park, where he emerged into South Park in the vicinity of present-day Eleven Mile Reservoir. 

In his diary, Pike describes following an Indian trail that had been recently traveled by a party of what he believed might be a Spanish patrol, but which turned out instead to be a party of Indians.  The route of this trail is depicted on maps published by USGS, Miscellaneous Investigations Series, Map I-930, titled “Historic Trail Maps of the Pueblo 1×2 degree Quadrangle, Colorado.” 

Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact locations of the trail on a map of such small scale, it clearly indicates that the trail closely followed Fourmile Creek for most of the way between Cañon City and the West Fork of Fourmile Creek. For estimating travel distances, I used a GIS (Geographic Information System) computer mapping program, Terrain Navigator Pro (TNP).  The TNP program included standard 7.5 minute, USGS quadrangles as base maps.  With this program I was able to create travel routes and measure distances between features with a high degree of accuracy.

Then, in 2008, back-to-back articles appeared in the October and November issues of Colorado Central Magazine, titled, “The Rampage of the Espinosas,” by Charles F. Price.  In the introduction to the article, Mr. Price was described as a seasoned writer from North Carolina who was in the process of writing a book about the Espinosa raid.  The two articles basically recounted much of the information contained in James Perkins’ book, including Mr. Perkin’s contention that Vivian Espinosa was killed at Grape Spring.  I immediately contacted Mr. Price to inform him about Nash Spring.  A copy of the letter that I sent to Mr. Price was later published in January 2009 issue of Colorado Central Magazine.

Mr. Price’s wife is a native of Salida, and while he and his wife were visiting the area in June, 2011, I guided him and on a long walk so that he could see Nash Spring.  Mr. Price eventually finished his book, Season of Terror: The Espinosas in Central Colorado, March – October, 1863, which was published in June, 2013.  In the appendix of the book he acknowledged my Nash Spring theory and allowed both me and James Perkins to present our reasons supporting our chosen locations of where Vivian Espinosa was killed.

Exhibit 1 – Locations of the two sites where Espinosa was killed

To be continued….

Part One

Part Three

One thought on “Now and Then: The Espinosa Brothers – Part Two

  1. Just like the Anglos in the 1860’s your narrative is one sided. Those letters that were found when Vivian was killed were written in espanol. Anglos of the time were the only ones to see & translate them. Sad you make no attempt to explain why the Espinosa’s were blaimed & or committed the killing spree. Another Anglo telling a horrific story making the Hispano/Metizo, Mexicano look like a Hollywood bandito outlaw. This stereo type plays a huge role in today’s society. Affecting immigrants from Mexico & South America. It has changed the lives of many Mexican Americans those born on stolen US land. Majority of Colorado Latino’s never crossed the border, the border crossed them. One sided tellings/documentation of past events like this reiterate how the Espinosa’s and other Latinx/Hispanic communities of that time were made strangers on the land they lived on for years/generations. Your research, writing & enthusiasm is great for the Anglo perspective! Interesting even though witness accounts vary, there is never a question of the events being fact besides the location of Vivian’s death.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *