Museum Blog

Colorful Characters

Our museum collection holds pieces of many different lives in both papers and objects. One such paper is a note written by Victor Miller, a rancher from Cotopaxi. While the note primarily focuses on the antelope and bighorn sheep hunting seasons, a small section notes his involvement in the recapture of two escapees from the Colorado State Penitentiary on April 24, 1951. 

In April of 1951 I captured two escaped convicts three miles north of Cotopaxi. I was on way to ranch to repair fence that spring morning when I met the two convicts down the road. I had my .45 colt in a holster on the steering port, where I usually carried it at that time. I received a $100 reward, and my name was in the account of it by Associated Press across the nation…. 

Upon further research by our archivist, Rachel Smith, an article of the event was found in the Cañon City Daily Record. The two escapees were Gilbert Apodoca, age 21, and Raymond Baca, age 17. The two men were working on re-opening the Soda Springs, ripped up by construction in 1949, with two other prisoners under the supervision of Charles Bliley. Baca and Apodoca stole Bliley’s truck but were free for less than 24 hours. Baca was in for auto theft and was eligible for parole on July 6. Apodaca was serving a burglary term and was eligible for parole on December 9. The men abandoned the truck on Tallahassee Creek and apparently put up no fight against Miller. Miller turned the men over to Dal McCroy, a garage owner, who held them until prison officials arrived.

Victor Miller began homesteading north of Cotopaxi at the Little Badger Ranch in 1922. According to an article in the Pueblo Chieftain on February 9, 1986, he moved to Cotopaxi in 1947 and owned a house there along with the 1,800-acre Thunderbird Ranch north of the city. In 1976, the ranch land became the property of the Colorado Boys Ranch after lengthy court battles due to Miller’s shooting of his ex-wife. On February 19, 1971, Miller shot and killed his ex-wife and wounded her husband in their attorney’s office in Cañon City. According to his book, A Last Homesteader, he shot the couple because he felt they and the attorneys were trying to take his land.[1] Miller’s land had been put into joint tenancy with his former wife while they were still married so they were in a legal battle regarding the property. He shot his ex-wife before shooting her husband. Miller was wrestled to the floor before he could shoot himself and was sent to the State Hospital. Miller pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and was sent back to the State Hospital after the trial. He was released on July 10, 1976, just two years and 6 days after his sentencing due to a new law allowing patients to petition for their release. Miller passed away at the age of 88 in La Junta.

Each artifact housed in our collection has its own story to tell. You never know where each story will lead, such as this note which tells one part of the story of a colorful resident of Fremont County!

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

[1] Victor Miller, A Last Homesteader, (Cañon City, Master Printers, 1977), 45-6.

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